God Displays His Glory
Romans – A Gospel Shaped Life God Displays His Glory Romans 9:19-29 Pastor Pat Damiani November 11, 2018 NOTE: This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript. I suppose in the current day where we’re overly sensitive to making sure we don’t make anyone feel bad that this process is no longer used, but I remember growing up how we used to choose teams when playing some kind of game. Two people would be designated as captains and then they would pick their teams. And during that process, every kid just wanted to make sure that he or she wasn’t the last one picked. And perhaps that is why some of us aren’t real comfortable with this whole idea of God choosing who He wants to choose that we’ve been talking about for the last several weeks. Maybe some of us are just afraid that God picks us the same way that we used to choose teams and that maybe we won’t just be the last one chosen, but we won’t be picked at all. But just because we don’t like the idea of God’s complete sovereignty or we don’t fully understand it, doesn’t mean that it is not true. If you’re struggling with some of these deep truths about God’s sovereignty that we’ve been learning about recently in Romans 8 and 9, you’re in good company. I can’t prove it for sure, but it sure seems likely that Peter had Romans 9 in mind when he wrote these words: And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15–16 ESV) Paul only writes about God’s patience in delaying His judgment in three places (Romans 2:4, Romans 9:22, 1 Timothy 1:15-16) and of the three, the section of Romans 9 that we’ll be looking at this morning seems to be the only one that could be considered to be “hard to understand”. And there is no doubt that over the nearly 2,000 years since Paul wrote these words, they have certainly been twisted. Before we move on, I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out the letters that Paul wrote were clearly considered to be Scripture by Peter and that Peter recognized that Paul’s words were written according to the wisdom given Him, presumably by the Holy Spirit. That’s just one more reason for us to give the proper attention to the passage we’ll be studying today. In Romans 9, Paul is answering the question that would have naturally arisen as a result of everything he had written in the first 8 chapters of his letter: Since the Jews have largely rejected Jesus as the Messiah, does that mean that God’s purposes for the Jews had been defeated? Paul began by revealing the heart he has for his fellow Jews, telling them that if it were possible, he would be willing to give up his own salvation so that they would put their faith in Jesus and be saved. Then last week, we saw him begin his explanation of why God’s purposes for the Jews had not failed at all. We looked at the first three of five illustrations from the history of Israel that Paul is going to use to support his claim that God’s purposes had not failed at all. Each of those examples – Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, and Moses and Pharaoh, served to reveal God’s complete sovereignty in deciding who to choose and who to reject and also reminded his fellow Jews that throughout history being a descendent of Abraham did not automatically insure that someone received God’s mercy. This morning, we’ll look at the last two illustrations. [Read Romans 9:19-29] Once again this morning, I’ll begin with the big idea and then we’ll go through the passage and develop that idea further: I think the best way for us to make sense of this passage is to just work through it rather methodically and identify the important truths that Paul reveals to us: FIVE IMPORTANT TRUTHS 1. God has the absolute right to do what He wants with those He has created. (vv. 19-21) We could paraphrase the question that Paul asks in verse 19 something like this: “If God has mercy on whom He desires and hardens whom He desires, doesn’t that make us all robots? And if we don’t have free will to either choose God or reject Him, how can God judge us since were just acting according to the way He programmed us?” It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t really answer that question directly. Instead He points out the folly of trying to question God’s sovereignty. Certainly God is not bothered by the fact that we ask questions, especially when we are genuinely seeking to know Him better. Many of the Psalms are certainly evidence of that. But what God is not pleased with at all is when we question His right to deal with those He has created however He wants. I’m reminded here of Job. After Job and his friends all claim to speak for God for most of the book of Job, God finally speaks to Job: Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. (Job 38:2–3 ESV) After listening to God speak for a while, God challenges Job to argue his case and Job responds with these words: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:4–5 ESV) Paul uses the metaphor that his readers would have been familiar with to make his point. In Job, Isaiah and Jeremiah, God is compared to a potter and His people are compared to clay. Obviously the potter has the right to make the clay into whatever he wants. The clay has absolutely no rights or no say in the matter. The potter is in complete control and he does whatever he wants with the clay in order to form it into something that will accomplish his purposes. That is exactly the same position we are in with God. God is free to do whatever He wants with the lives of those He has created in a way that will accomplish His purposes. And just like the clay we have no rights or input into those decisions since God has the absolute right to do with us whatever He desires. And God does not owe us an explanation for what He chooses to do. The other thing that is implied here is that every decision that God makes with his absolute right to make those decisions, is perfect and 100% consistent with His character. We’re going to see that more as we proceed through this passage. In His perfect wisdom, God chooses to make some vessels for honorable use and another for dishonorable use. From an earthly perspective, those honorable vessels bring honor and glory to God and those dishonorable vessels dishonor God. But as we’ll see, ultimately God is able to use even those dishonorable vessels as an instrument through which He receives glory. This means that none of us have a leg to stand on when it comes to arguing with God about how He chooses to deal with us or with other sinners. And to blame God for our sin is undoubtedly one of the most arrogant and misguided charges we could ever bring against God. 2. “Vessels of wrath” reveal God’s wrath and power (v. 22) The question that Paul asks in verse 22 – “What if?” – is not a hypothetical question that may or may not be true. In the underlying Greek it’s actually an incomplete sentence that is more of a statement of fact than a question. In effect Paul is saying. “What’s it to you if God chooses to show mercy to some and harden others?” Paul begins his argument here by talking about “vessels of wrath”. And he reminds his readers that God has endured these people with “much patience”. As Peter confirms, God loves us so much that He is long-suffering toward those lumps of clay that have been hardened by sin: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV) While that patience is good news for those who do choose to put their faith in Jesus, it is equally bad news for those who continue to reject God because that patience toward sinners increases their guilt to the point that when they are finally judged, that judgment reveals God’s wrath and power. This verse at least helps us to answer the question of why God allows sin and evil in the world. God’s justice, wrath, judgment, holy anger and His power are just as much a part of who He is as his love, grace, mercy and compassion. And there is a sense in which it is necessary for there to be sin and evil in the world in order for God to display those attributes. When God judges man for His sin and makes known His wrath and power, He displays an important part of who He is. And that brings Him glory. If that is the case, then does that somehow mean that God intentionally created evil men for the purpose of punishing them just so He could show that side of His character? Paul helps us answer that question, too. • Vessels of wrath are prepared for destruction by their own sin There are some very important differences between the verb translated “prepared” in verse 22, and that same word in verse 23. First, they are two different Greek verbs – the phrase “prepared beforehand” in verse 23 is actually just one verb in Greek and it is a different word than the one used in verse 22. But even more importantly, the verb in verse 22 is what is known as a reflexive verb which could be translated “prepared himself for destruction”. In other words, God is not the one responsible for man’s destruction, but rather man is responsible because he chooses to reject Jesus. So it is not as if God is creating men with the predetermined purpose of damning them to hell, but rather He is dealing with men who are already sinful in a way that is 100% consistent with who He is. The Bible is clear that God does not create evil. As we’ve seen this morning He does allow it for the purpose of displaying his wrath and power, but he does not create it. Nor does He cause man to sin (James 1:13). 3. “Vessels of mercy” reveal the riches of God’s glory (v. 23) In verse 23, we see that God takes some of those vessels of wrath and He transforms them into vessels of mercy. And in turn that reveals another side of God’s character – His mercy, grace and compassion which lead to the riches of His glory. But unlike the vessels of wrath who prepare themselves for destruction, God takes an active role in preparing these vessels of mercy for glory… • Vessels of mercy are prepared for glory by God In verse 23, the verb “prepared beforehand” is an active voice verb, which means that it is God Himself who has actively prepared these vessels for glory. And as we’ve seen all throughout Romans, he does that merely because He chooses to do so, not because we in any way earn or deserve it. He does that in order to display His glory, not to give credit to us. So once again we see two seemingly competing ideas which are difficult for our finite human minds to reconcile. On one hand, there are those, who because of their own rebellion against God and failure to put their faith in Jesus, prepare themselves for destruction. And since they bring God’s wrath upon themselves, they can’t blame God for that. On the other hand, there are those who God has prepared beforehand to receive God’s mercy. And since they have done nothing to earn or deserve that mercy, all glory goes to God. Ultimately, both vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy bring glory to God because both wrath and mercy are 100% consistent with God’s character. 4. God always intended to call both Jews and Gentiles (v. 24) Paul goes on to explain that those vessels of mercy are not just going to be Israelites. God is going to take both Jews and Gentiles who are by nature objects of His wrath and transform them into vessels of mercy by extending His mercy to them. The Jews should have understood this since way back in Genesis 12, God promised that He would bless all the nations of the world through His chosen people, the Jews. Unfortunately, the Jews had focused so much on their privileged status that they had become proud and forgotten their purpose of blessing both Jews and Gentiles. But Paul reminds them of that again here. 5. God always expected that many Israelites would reject Him (vv. 25-29) With his last two examples from Israel’s history, Paul is going to show that God was not caught off guard when many of the Jews rejected Him by refusing to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. In fact, God had revealed that was going to be the case through both Hosea and Isaiah. • Illustration of Hosea (vv. 25-26) Hosea was a Jewish prophet who was commanded by God to marry a prostitute as an object lesson of Israel’s spiritual adultery. Gomer, Hosea’s wife, bore three children, each of whom God named in order to reveal something about how His people had rejected them. In Hosea 2:9, which Paul cites here in Romans, we read that one of those sons was named “Not My People” to reflect the fact that God’s people had been cut off from God because of their sin. That prophecy had an immediate fulfillment in Hosea’s day when the people of Israel were carried off into captivity. But the point Paul is making here is that that same prophecy is also being fulfilled again in his day by the rejection of Jesus by the Jews. Paul then cites verse 23 of Hosea 2 in which God promises to restore His people and once again call them “My People.” That promise had been fulfilled in the past when many of God’s people returned to Judah and rebuilt the Temple and the wall. But, as we’ll see when we get to chapter 11 of Romans, Paul is also looking ahead to a future fulfillment of that promise when many in Israel will come to know Jesus as the Messiah and become vessels of mercy. • Illustration of Isaiah (vv. 27-29) No doubt Paul uses this reference to Isaiah because it contains similar language to the prophecy in Hosea. In Isaiah 10, which Paul cites here, God reveals that those who were once called “not my people” are going to one day be called “children of the living God.” There God also proclaims that the number of the children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea. But even as numerous as they are, only a remnant is going to be saved. Perhaps some of you have purchased a carpet remnant or a cloth remnant. That remnant is just a small piece of the entire roll. And here Paul is reminding his readers that God has always intended that only a remnant, a small part, of the Israelites were going to be saved. So the fact that so few Jews had accepted Jesus as the Messiah and put their faith in Him was exactly what God had predicted hundreds of years earlier. So, no, God’s purposes had not been thwarted at all. Once again, Paul is confirming the idea that we’ve been focusing on now for nearly 2 months – God is very selective. And that has been His plan from the very start and it has been demonstrated over and over throughout history: ◦ Out of all the people on the earth at the time, God chose only 8 people – Noah and his family – to be saved from the flood. ◦ God had chosen only the nation of Israel from among all the nations of the earth to be His people. ◦ And even out of those who were the descendants of Abraham, God had chosen only a small remnant that He prepared beforehand to become vessels of mercy. And, as Paul reminds his readers and us in verse 29, had God not done that, then every single one of us would have ended up like Sodom and Gomorrah, because that is what we all deserve. So what are we to do with these truths? How do we apply them in our lives? HOW TO APPLY THESE TRUTHS 1. Don’t try to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility As humans, we want to be able to figure everything out and be able to put things into nice neat little boxes that we can get our minds around. But with God, that is not always possible. And as we’ve talked about frequently over the last couple of months as we’ve worked our way through Romans 8 and 9, that’s actually a good thing. If we could completely figure out God then that would make us equal to God and we are not. I love what Pastor John MacArthur said about that when commenting on the passage we’ve been studying this morning: To fully understand God, we would have to be equal to the God who made us – a notion even more absurd than a clay pot’s being equal to the potter who molded it.” In our human minds, the ideas of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility seem to be paradoxical. But as I hope you’ve seen, those two ideas are not mutually exclusive, even though they might seem so to us. Both are taught clearly in Scripture. So it seems to me that we would be wise to follow the advice of Charles Spurgeon. When asked how he tries to reconcile the ideas of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, he said, I wouldn’t try. I never reconcile friends. In his book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God J.I. Packer, cites Spurgeon’s words and then adds this: In the Bible, divine sovereignty and human responsibility are not enemies. They are not uneasy neighbors; they are not in an endless state of cold war with each other. They are friends, and they work together. If that is the case, then every one of us here this morning, needs to make one of two applications: 2. If I have become a child of God through faith in Jesus, thank God! If you have put your faith in Jesus, that is only because God has chosen to make you into a vessel of mercy. It is not because you have done anything to earn or deserve it. Even the ability to have faith in Jesus is a gift from God. So what I want to do right now is to give you a chance to thank God for that in prayer. And as we pause for a few minutes to pray and thank God for His sovereignty that has allowed us to be His children, if you’d like to pray aloud during that time, please feel free to do that. Or you can just pray quietly. [Prayer time] 3. If I am not yet a child of God, put my faith in Jesus today. I still don’t fully understand how this works, but I do know that God has chosen to save only those who have placed their faith in Jesus alone. And that is a decision only you can make. God won’t make it for you and He won’t force you to make that decision. And no one else can make that decision for you either. As we’ve seen the past couple of weeks, no one becomes a child of God because of their heritage or because of anything that they can do to earn God’s favor. So if God is tugging on your heart today, you need to make the decision to put your faith in Jesus right now. You don’t want to be like Pharaoh, who hardened his heart against God over and over until it became so hardened that it was impossible for him to turn to God. As we sing our closing song, some of our Elders will be at the back and they would love to talk to you some more about how you can become a child of God this morning. Please make sure that you don’t leave here today until you’ve settled that with God. Fortunately for all of us, God doesn’t pick teams the way we did when we were kids. He doesn’t just make arbitrary decisions based on what He thinks we might have to offer him. So we don’t have to worry that we’ll be picked last or maybe not be picked at all. We can rest in the fact that God, in His complete wisdom and sovereignty always picks perfectly in a way that is 100% consistent with His character. And that means that… Discussion Questions for Bible Roundtable 1. How do you think God responds when we question Him? What kind of questions does He welcome? What kind of questions does He reject? 2. This morning we read 2 Peter 3:9 and learned that God desires that “all should reach repentance.” How do we reconcile that with the fact that He only chooses a remnant to be saved? 3. If God is sovereign, how do we know that He did not create evil or sin? 4. How would you answer someone who asked why God allows evil in the world? 5. If God chooses some, but not others, how can He hold those He does not choose responsible for rejecting Him?