Well, thank you. Again, it’s such a joy and a delight to fellowship with folks. Kind of moving around a little bit and saying hello to those who we’ve known in the past and making new friends; just a very, very enjoyable and wonderful time for me. Thank you again for letting me be here.
This is a very, very important question, and I think I’d find it hard to get any argument on this, that for folks who are new to the doctrines of grace, as they are known, folks who are new to reform theology, this is the big hurdle to get over. If God is sovereign, if God is in control of absolutely everything, then what place does human responsibility play?
Through the years as I have taught the Word of God this inevitably is the question that is asked me by people who are trying to come to grips with the doctrine of divine sovereignty, gracious election. It is also, I think, the most pervasive nagging question in the minds of people who have already embraced reform theology, who still grapple with the solution to how divine sovereignty and human responsibility work together. It is unquestionably a paradox, at least apparently. Certainly it is not contradictory to God, nor is it contradictory in reality, but it appears to us to be contradictory. I know all of you have struggled with this question, all of you have. I have. It’s not a question that goes away. You don’t get a short answer.
In wanting to prepare my thoughts for this occasion once I knew I was going to be given this assignment, I dug into the books that I have available and had some guys get me some things on the Internet, and I began to read everything I could find on how human responsibility comes together with divine sovereignty. What I got was a lot of philosophy, a lot of rational thinking, a lot of reasoning, a lot of adjectives qualifying absolutely everything, but I really didn’t get any satisfaction. And so in thinking this through, what I decided to do – and there’s a little bit of a risk in this I think – because I’m not really going to preach a sermon to you. What I want to do is have a Bible study with you. Can you imagine we’re just kind of hanging around together?
Get your Bible, put all the other stuff away. Just get your Bible; you don’t need to be taking notes, unless there’s divine intervention at some point, and you have an epiphany and you must grab your pen. I just want to do a Bible study with you, okay, because I want you to see the way Scripture handles this issue. There is a reason why nobody yet has given you a fully satisfactory answer, and I know no one has. You may be a teacher of reform theology and you haven’t read or heard a really satisfactory answer to this difficult dilemma from the standpoint of human reason. Where you have to go with this is to set all of that aside and just see what Scripture says, so I want to lead you on a Bible study, okay. You’re going to have to move with me a little bit quickly. I like to kind of go down deep into a smaller passage, but we’re going to cover a lot of ground, and we’re going to do a lot of reading of the Bible together, okay.
So get your Bible and your glasses and let’s start in Isaiah, chapter 10. Isaiah, chapter 10. And I actually am kind of excited about this, because I have no idea what I’m going to say either. So this, for me, I’m in the same position you’re in. This is an adventure. But I tested it out on Patricia a couple of nights ago and she liked the idea. But then she’s pretty biased, so who knows.
In the 10th chapter of Isaiah I want you to drop down to verse 5, and I want you to look at the opening statement in that verse and ask yourself if that is not a strange statement. “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger.”
Is that not a strange statement? If Assyria is functioning as an instrument of God, why is condemnation pronounced upon Assyria? Woe is an onomatopoetic transliteration of a Hebrew expression: why, how?. It speaks of calamity, massive judgment. How can a people come under divine denunciation and judgment while at the same time functioning as a rod of God’s anger? That is an instrument of God. The rest of the verse says that “Assyria will be the staff in whose hands is My indignation.”
Assyria, this pagan, godless, idolatrous nation is the instrument of divine judgment. And on whom? On godless Israel. In fact, verse 6 says, “I send it against a godless nation” – namely Israel; actually Judah, southern part of the kingdom – “and commission it against the people of My fury.”
The Jews are now designated as the people of the fury of God. God is furious with Israel. He is livid with their unbelief. He holds them fully responsible for their disbelief, fully responsible for their idolatry, fully responsible for their rebellion and their rejection of Him and His word and His worship, and He commissions the Assyrians to come against them – notice verse 6 – “to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets.” That’s pretty strong language.
Now here you have a divine decree. Here you have divine sovereignty in action. God, as it were, grabs Assyria by the nap of its national neck and says, “You will be My instrument of fury against the godless people of Israel who have rejected and rebelled against Me.”
And then in verse 7 He says – and this turns a corner – “Yet it” – meaning Assyria – “does not so intend, nor does it plan so in its heart.” Assyria is the instrument of God’s judgment and is clueless about that. That is not Assyria’s purpose, that is not Assyria’s motive, that is not Assyria’s intention. They have no interest in the God of Israel. They do not believe in the God of Israel. They are sure that they have no connection to the God of Israel. They have no intention, no plan to act as Jehovah’s agent.
What is their purpose? “Rather it plans or purposes in its own heart to cut off many nations.” This is just another opportunity for the Assyrian power to knock off another neighboring nation. They’ve already done it to Calno, and Carchemish, and Hamath, and Arpad and Samaria, and Damascus. “Their hands” – verse 10 – “have already reached to the kingdoms of the idols, whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria.” And all Assyria knows is, “Look, we knocked off all the other nations who in their judgment had greater divine protection, greater gods than the God of Israel.”
They must be greater than the God of Israel, because they had already conquered the Northern Kingdom. They had no intention of being agents of Jehovah, they were just going to do to everybody left in the vicinity what they had done to all the rest. That was their only motive. They thought they were acting completely independently. They were certainly acting in a godless way. They were certainly acting in a vicious way, in a wicked way, in an evil way, in a murderous way.
But if, in fact, they are the instrument of divine wrath. Does that not somehow exonerate them from responsibility for what they’ve done? If this is divine decree that brings them in, if this is the divine power of God which is irresistible that grabs them and brings them toward Jerusalem and Judah to bring destruction, if this is the work of God, then what culpability do they have? Can they resist it?
And yet in verse 12 – and this is an amazing turn here – “So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion, when He is finished using Assyria as an instrument of His fury, He will say, ‘I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.’” “As soon as I’m through using them, I’m going to turn on them and punish them for their sins.” The very act that they carried out under divine decree was an act of evil that reached such a high level that God turned on them and brought on them destruction.
In a very strange way, perhaps a way you’ve never thought of it before, they bear full culpability, full responsibility for every evil intent, every evil motive, every evil action, every murderous act, every part of that slaughter and that destruction, they will be guilty before God for every bit of it, even though they are functioning within a divine decree.
And not only did God pronounce judgment on them for the deeds, but for the motives behind the deeds. Look what it says there: “I will punish” – verse 12 – “the fruit of the arrogant heart. I will punish them for the acts which is the fruit, but also for the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.” For he has said, “The power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this.” Wow, is that amazing? He will punish them for their acts, He will punish them for their motives, and he will double punish them for a failure to recognize the glory of God, taking credit for what they had done. They think they’ve done it by the power of their hands and the wisdom of their own design.
They say, “For I have understanding. I removed the boundaries of the people and plundered their treasures. And like a might man, I brought down their inhabitants.” So proclaims the king of Assyria. “And my hand reached to the riches of the people like a nest, as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth, and there was not one that flapped its wing or opened it beak or chirped. I just went in there and just raided the nests without protest.” God says, “I’m coming after them for that. I’m coming after them for that motive, for that haughtiness, for that pride. “Is the axe” – verse 15 – “to boast itself over the one who chops with it?”
Is that not strange? It’s God who’s wielding Assyria like an axe to chop down Judah and Jerusalem, and yet God holds the axe head responsible. Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a club wielding those who lift it, or like a rod lifting him who is not wood. Therefore the Lord, the God of hosts, will send a wasting disease among his stout warriors; and under his glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame. And the light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame, and it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day. And He will destroy the glory of his forest and of his fruitful garden, both soul and body. It will be as when a sick man wastes away.”
It’s another way to look at the juxtapositioning of divine sovereignty, divine decree, and human responsibility to see it in this negative sense. It’s very important for us to understand that though God controls by divine decree and divine sovereign power, everything that goes on in the world to His own purposes and His own intense, that does not remove one iota of culpability from those who do evil. They will be judged by God both for the act, and the motive, and the failure to give Him glory and to worship Him. By the way, Scripture doesn’t say anymore in Isaiah about how we resolve that; doesn’t say anymore.
Turn to John 3, John 3. Very familiar; love this passage. Man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, comes to Jesus. He is a ruler. Literally in the Greek: the ruler of the Jews; maybe the formidable teacher among the Pharisees, at least in that area. Comes by night, doesn’t want exposure. Said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know You’ve come from God as a teacher; no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” He draws the obvious response to the miracles of Jesus that they’re divine.
Jesus ignores what he says and goes to the question that’s on his heart. He reads his mind; we just found that out, didn’t we, at the end of chapter 2, the last verse. He didn’t need anybody to come and testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
Here’s the illustration: He knew what people were thinking, and He knew what Nicodemus was thinking, and what Nicodemus said had to do with miracles and the fact that He was a teacher sent from God. What he was thinking was, “How do I get into the kingdom of God?” and Jesus goes to his thoughts: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he can’t see the kingdom of God.” Boy, that is a straight shot: “Unless you’re born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.”
“Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’” Now, look, Nicodemus knew what it was to speak in analogies, he knew what it was to speak in similes, he knew what it was to speak in metaphors, he knew what it was to speak in parables, they did it all the time; that was the normal way of discourse in that time. He’s not a dumbbell. He’s not saying, “Oh, how can I be physically born again?”
He knows this is a spiritual conversation, he knows that. But he also knows that that’s not something that you can do humanly. “How can a man be born when he is old? How can you be born again? How can you start all over? How can you experience true new life?”
He can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he? In other words, the analogy of birth precludes any action on the part of the one that is born. “You didn’t bring yourself into the world the first time, and you’re not going to be able to do it the second time,” - and he understands that analogy.
“So I want to see the kingdom of God, but I need to be born all over again. I need to start again at the very beginning with new life. I can’t do that. How does it happen?”
“Jesus answered and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he can’t enter the kingdom of God.’” And here He takes him back to Ezekiel’s prophecy, right, the prophecy of the new covenant where you’re washed with water, sanctified with water. Stony heart is taken out, you have a new heart, a heart of flesh. This is all part of new covenant regeneration, taken from Ezekiel. You must be washed, and you must be given a new heart, and then Ezekiel talks about the Spirit being planted in you.
So He talks to Nicodemus. First He talks in analogical terms, then He talks in scriptural terms. “You’re talking about the new covenant, aren’t you? You’re talking about the time in the purposes of God when by His own power, He removes the heart of stone and gives you a heart of flesh; when by His own power, He washes you and cleanses you; when by His own power, He plants His Spirit within you, aren’t you?”
Of course, that’s exactly what He’s talking about; and unless that happens, you can’t enter into the kingdom of God. Unless God sovereignly comes in – and that’s what Ezekiel is saying – and takes out your old heart and gives you a new one, and gives you His Spirit, and washes you from above, you can’t enter the kingdom, because, verse 6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Flesh can only produce what? Flesh. So you’re dependent on a spiritual work of God. “You cannot enter the kingdom unless you are born again. And people don’t birth themselves, that’s the analogy. You can’t enter the kingdom of God unless God in divine sovereign power comes into your life and totally transforms it. All you can produce is flesh, flesh, flesh, flesh. So he shouldn’t be surprised that I say to you you must be born again.” Born from above is the actual Greek, anóthen, born from above, born from above.
Now if somebody came to you and said, “How do I do that? I want to be born again.” You’re there that day and you’re hearing Nicodemus, “What do I do to get into the kingdom?” “Well you must be born again.” “What do I do to be born again?” “Well here’s three things. Pray these three things.”
“Really? All you have to do is say this, say this, say this?” “Say it after me: ‘blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah.’” “Is that how it works?”
You just give them three principles, four principles, six principles, or – one book I read many years ago: Forty Steps to Salvation. That may be a few more than necessary. But look what Jesus says to him: “Oh, how do you do it?” Verse 8: “The wind” – or the Spirit pneuma – “the Spirit blows where He wills.”
What kind of answer is that? If a guy comes to you and says, “What do I do to enter the kingdom of God?” “You must be born again. You must be born from above, because all you can do is flesh. You have to have power from on high. God has to come down and give you a new heart, and wash you, and plant His Spirit in you.”
“Well, how do I do that?” “The spirit blows where it wills. You hear the sound of it, you don’t know where it comes from, you don’t know where it’s going. So is everyone born of the Spirit.”
“What? What do I do?” “Nothing at this moment. If the desire of your heart is for the kingdom, God will respond. But this is a divine miracle, this is a divine miracle.”
These are the words of Jesus. Jesus didn’t give him three things to pray, three simple steps. He said, “This is a divine miracle.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus said, “Are you the teacher of Israel and you don’t get it?” We’ve got a lot of people today who don’t get it. That is divine sovereignty.
Drop down to verse 27. “John answered and said,” – this verse may have escaped you – ‘A man can receive nothing unless he prays these three things.’ – is that what it says – ‘A man can receive nothing unless it be given him’ – what – ‘from heaven.’” All you can do is plead for God to give you life.
I walked into a hospital room, it was a guy dying of AIDS, but he was in a Christian family, attended Christian schools, went to a Christian college, became a leader in the gay pride movement in LA, became one of the people involved in the gay pride parade where a million people marched, but now he’s dying of AIDS. Somebody called me and said, “He wants to see you. He knows about your ministry. He’s in a hospital not far away.” So I went to the hospital, I walked in and walked up to his bed, and when I walked in the room was full of homosexuals sitting there; and even some of the homosexuals that worked in the hospital were there. And when I came in I was like Roundup; pshhh they were out of there.
And I walked over. His name was David Chastain. I walked over to his bed and I took his hand, and he said to me, he said, “I don’t want to die, and I know if I do I’m going to go to hell. I’m going to go to hell. What can I do?” I said, “Robert, you can’t do anything, but you can pound on your chest like the publican in Luke 18 and say, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ That’s all a sinner can do. You can’t pray a magic prayer, you can’t pray a magic formula, you can’t take these three steps, you plead for heaven’s divine grace.”
And so I stood there holding his hand and he just gushed the repentance of years and years of this sin, because it destroyed him. And then I prayed. I prayed the way I always pray in case like that, “Save him, Lord. Save him. Show him your grace. Put your glory on display in your saving grace. Humbly I ask, that’s all I can do, if it brings You glory.”
Same thing I pray over somebody dying of cancer. Same thing I pray over somebody with a terminal disease. All I can say is, “Be merciful, O God. Be merciful if it’s for Your glory. If it pleases You to be merciful, be merciful.” And as he poured out his sins and then pleaded with God to be gracious and affirmed his confident faith in Christ as Savior dying for sinners and rising from the dead, tears coming down his eyes, he finished his prayer; and I prayed a rather long pleading prayer with God to be merciful to him in spite of his rejection of the truth. You know, you never know in a case like that whether someone is not an apostate, right, and past the point where they can be redeemed.
And it got real still and quiet, and he stared off at the wall, and I just looked at him, and he kept staring there and I said, ‘What are you looking at?’ He said, ‘I’m looking at the time.’ And I said, ‘Why are you looking at the time?’ He said, ‘I want to remember the moment of my new birth.’ I said, ‘Robert, have you been born again? Have you been born again?’ He said, ‘I believe I have.’ The time will tell; you don’t want to give false assurance.
“He lived another couple of weeks and proclaimed the gospel to everybody who came in the room, and they stopped coming pretty quick; and he had me drop by and give him things to feed his soul.” It’s divine sovereignty, and yet John 3. It’s divine sovereignty; it comes down from heaven.
And, yet, how about this? Go back to verse 15: “So whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” “What? He just said it’s divine sovereignty. What do you mean whoever believes?” That’s what it says, isn’t it? Doesn’t your Bible read that way?
How about this: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Verse 18: “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Whoever believes will be saved. Whoever believes will escape judgment. And people are judged because they love the darkness rather than the Light. There is a human responsibility for faith and human culpability for rejection. They’re put side-by-side.
Verse 36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” You know, you’d think that at least the Lord would have separated that by a few chapters. And if you’re looking for a verse in there that explains it, you won’t find one. Turn to John 6; and this is just introduction, by the way. And I knew I’d get in trouble with this deal.
John 6:37. Who is going to be saved by divine decree? Verse 37: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” Huh. Who is going to come to Christ? Who’s coming to Christ? All whom the Father gives to Him.
Verse 44: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Who comes to Christ? The people that the Father determines to give to Christ; and those people are the ones He draws to Christ. We understand that.
And then look at verse 40, right in the middle of it: “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life.” Huh. You see the picture here? The Scripture never equivocates on presenting these two great side-by-side realities in the very same place. “Everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
And you might say, “Well, either You’re going to raise up the ones the Father give You, or You’re going to raise up anybody who comes.” But how can both be true? So verse 36 says, “I said to you that you’ve seen Me, and yet don’t believe.” The problem is you don’t believe. The problem’s not divine sovereignty, the problem is you don’t believe. Human responsibility both for faith and culpability for unbelief is crystal clear, and it is put in the passages where sovereignty is emphasized strongly.
Verse 47: “Truly, truly,” – let’s get the emphasis right. Truly, truly, I say to you,” – all of that is just to pile on the strength of this statement – “he who” – what – “believes has eternal life, he who believes.”
You’re all familiar with Acts, chapter 2, and verse 22, Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know,” – then this – “this Man,” – here is the indictment of Israel for the crucifixion – “this Man, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”
Is that true? Absolutely true. Were they guilty of that? Better believe they were guilty of that; and judgment came, and it came not too many decades later in the devastation of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were massacred, women and children alike. The temple was crushed to the ground, never to be rebuilt, and yet in the middle of the verse it says, “Oh, by the way, this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.”
See, the Bible doesn’t tell you one side of this in this book and then four books later sneak in the other side, it’s in the same place over, and over, and over again. So, folks, what I’m getting to say is simply this: I can’t resolve this; you just need to enjoy the pain, because nobody is going to go anywhere other than where the Scripture goes. And you certainly don’t want to come up with a hybrid in the middle which denies the reality of both; they are what they are. And if you’re under the illusion that you can figure it out, you’re on the level of a man who thinks he’s a poached egg.
In the 4th chapter of Acts in verse 27, there’s another indictment. “For in this city truly there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles,” – the Romans – “and the peoples of Israel,” – I love this – “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” What a statement. You did it, and you are fully guilty, fully culpable, and it fulfilled the divine decree to the very smallest detail.
You could use the illustration of Judas. Judas, Acts 1, verse 15, prophesied to do what he did in the divine decree; yet in the same chapter it says, “This man who went out and hanged himself the rope broke, and his bowels smashed and gushed out on the rocks below where he tried to hang himself; this man went to his own place.” Now that’s my introduction.
For the message turn to Romans 9. Having trouble seeing the hands of my watch here. How much more time do we have? Huh? Are we going somewhere? Okay.
Now are you enjoying the pain of the dilemma a little more? Are you starting to be comforted in the fact that it’s okay, it’s where everybody is, it’s where God expects you to be? Well, let me give you the – I think the Locus Crucis on this is Romans 9.
I preached from Romans 9, 10, and 11 for a year at Grace Church. Can you imagine that? My people were screaming for mercy, “We get it. We get it. We get it.”
Chapter 12 was like euphoria when we finally got there. When the words came out of my mouth, “Present yourself to God a living sacrifice,” “Hallelujah, we’re out of 9 to 11.” So what I’m going to try to do tonight is impossible.
But I want you to see something. Let’s look at Paul as the evangelist, okay, let’s look at him as the evangelist. And what he wants to let us know is he has a passion for sinners and their salvation, and it is particularly strong among the Jews, as we would understand, because they were His people. So in chapter 9 he starts by saying this: “I’m telling the truth in Christ, I’m not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.” What are you so sorrowful about, Paul? Aren’t you supposed to be rejoicing, “And again I say rejoice, rejoice always.”
What’s the sorrow? Well, along with perfect joy in his heart was a perfect sorrow. What’s the thing that makes you so sorrowful? “I could wish that I myself were accursed.” That, my friends, is a zeal that I don’t know anything about. I will admit to you that my salvation is so precious I can’t hear those words coming out of my lips.
What are you so worked up about? “I could wish myself accursed, separated from Christ forever for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” You say, “Well, he certainly wasn’t reformed. Huh. No self-respecting reformed person would get that riled up. Everybody’s going to show up anyway, what are you worrying about? Relax.” You identify with that I know.
Paul didn’t relax, it fired up his heart. “Look what they’ve had, they’re Israelites. They’ve been given the adoption as sons – the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, the promises. They come from the fathers from whom that is from that very line of people is Christ, according to the flesh who is over all. God bless forever. Amen,” - and he has a small doxology. It’s like a doxology is like a release valve for Paul. He just wants people saved.
Chapter 10 sounds almost like an echo: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God,” – deésis, to beg. Talked about begging with sinners earlier today; this is begging God for sinners. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”
This is a man who is consumed with the salvation of sinners. It is a passion that drives him all the way to the point where one day he lays his head on a block in the city of Rome, an axe head flashes in the sun and severs it from his dedicated and devoted and battered body. This is a passion for sinners to be saved.
Now Paul knew what was essential if sinners were to be saved, that’s what I want you see here, okay. First of all, he understood divine sovereignty. One must recognize that this is a supernatural, spiritual, heavenly, divine work; and that’s his theme in chapter 9. And we don’t have time to go through the whole thing, only to touch the high points of this.
Verse 6 he says, “What do you think, the plan of God has failed? You think God somehow lost control of what He was trying to pull off? No. Israel doesn’t believe. My heart is broken over Israel’s unbelief. But the Word of God has not failed, and here’s why: for they’re not all Israel who are descended from Israel.”
God never intended to save all Jews, right? No. God has always been selective. The blessing came through Isaac, then the blessing came through Jacob, verse 13, “Jacob I loved; Esau I hated.” You say, “Wow. You mean God is that discriminating?”
Verse 14 then says – and this is what the responder would say: “What shall we say then? Is this unjust? There is no injustice with God, is there? Mé genoito, the strongest negative in the Greek language: “No, no, no, no.” This isn’t out of character for God to be selective. God never intended every Jew to be in the kingdom.
“For He says to Moses,” – and he goes all the way back to Moses, all the way back, and he says, even to Moses, verse 15: “God says, ‘I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy. I’ll have compassion on whom I’ll have compassion. And it doesn’t depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.’ – and then he goes to Pharaoh – ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’ So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” Wow.
“You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? How can God then find fault with us is He’s the one who makes the decision? For who can resist His will?’”
And the next verse says, “Shut up.” That’s what it says in the vernacular. “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Pots don’t talk back. The potter has the right over the clay.”
“What is God,” – verse 22 – “willing to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” Do you understand that God has a right to put His wrath and His judgment and His justice and His fury on display to His own glory as much as He has a right to put His mercy and His grace on display to His own glory? Do you understand that God gets as much glory out of His wrath as He gets out of His grace? This is really the strongest statement of divine sovereignty in the New Testament, really strong, very strong. Paul understands that, that this is a sovereign work, and that God is not unjust.
Psalm 119 says, “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness.” Psalm 7:9, “You are the righteous One.” God will do what God will do. Paul understands that this work of salvation is a sovereign work done by God.
But then come to verse 30: “What shall we say then? Gentiles, who didn’t pursue righteousness, attained righteousness.” Ha, isn’t that something? He’s talking about the church, the Gentile church. They weren’t even pursuing it, but they received it, even the righteousness which is by what? Faith.
But Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness – that is righteousness by law – did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they didn’t pursue it by faith. Yeah, they didn’t pursue it by faith, because the One in whom you must place your faith was to them a stumbling stone and a rock of offense. So he says, “It’s all the sovereignty of God. He hardens whom He hardens; He has mercy on whom He decides to have mercy.” He loves who He loves; He hates who He hates.
But Israel didn’t receive the imputed righteousness of God, because they sought it by law and not by faith in Christ. They’re fully responsible for pursing righteousness in a false way, and denying righteousness in the only way that it can ever come to the center through faith in Christ. This is a non-ambiguous statement. The Gentiles attained righteousness by faith; the Jews forfeited righteousness by pursuing it through works. There again you have the same juxtaposing of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. John 8:24 Jesus said to the Jewish leaders, “Unless you believe in Me, you will die in your sins.”
The second thing then you have to understand if you’re going to do evangelism biblically, one, the sovereignty of God that salvation is a work of God, but secondly, salvation also requires faith. So the second point is human responsibility. Let’s go to chapter 10 just briefly.
What’s wrong with Israel? Well, for one, they rejected Christ. He was the stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. But Paul said, “Here was their problem; they had a zeal for God,” – verse 2 – “but not in accordance with knowledge.”
Very zealous for Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but not according to knowledge. They actually had made a god who was not the true God. They had fabricated a Jehovah of their own making, just like they, in the wilderness, made the golden calf to represent Yahweh. “They had a zeal for God, but not in accordance to knowledge.”
Then he goes on to say – he kind of breaks down some of their other grave errors: “They didn’t know about God’s righteousness.” In other words, to put it simply, they didn’t know how righteous God was. They didn’t know God was as righteous as He is. They should have known if they read Leviticus, don’t you think? “Holy, holy, holy, be ye holy, for I am holy.”
But they thought God was less holy than He is, they thought they were more holy than they are, and therefore they could please God. They thought their standards were higher than they were, and God’s standards were lower than they are, and therefore they could attain unto righteousness by their own moral and religious achievements. That was the first of their problems; they were ignorant about how righteous God really is. They were also ignorant about how unrighteous they really are. The gulf is infinite, impassible.
They were also ignorant, in verse 3, about the need to not try to establish their own righteousness, but submit themselves to the righteousness of God. They were ignorant of the fact that they needed an alien righteousness. Like the apostle Paul who was a Pharisee, who thought he could go about and establish his own righteousness, until he met Christ; and then he said he was “given a righteousness not of my own,” – Philippians 3 – “but the righteousness of God imputed to me.” They didn’t know God, they didn’t know themselves, they didn’t know how holy God was, how unholy they were; they did not understand, and therefore they did not subject themselves to the only one way that righteousness would ever come to them, and that was as a gift of grace imputed to them.
They also didn’t understand Christ was the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. They didn’t understand that Christ frees the penitent, believing sinner from the condemnation of the law. They lacked knowledge about God. They lacked knowledge about sin. They lacked knowledge about Christ. And, of course, they lacked knowledge about salvation by faith. “They were still practicing righteousness” – verse 5 says – “based on law.” And if you’re going to do that, you’re stuck with it, right, like Galatians 3 says, if you’re going to try to get there by the law, you’ll end up being damned.
What they didn’t understand is in verse 6, that “righteousness is based on” – what – “faith, faith, faith.” So don’t say in your heart, “We’ll ascend to heaven.” Don’t say, “We’ll go down into the abyss.”
What is that talking about? Spiritually transcendent works, legalistic efforts, super-spirituality – going up to heaven or down to the abusos, the abode of the dead. This is language of self-righteousness. This is language of mystical legalism.
They didn’t get it. And all the time, “The word is near,” – verse 8 – “in your mouth, in your heart, the word of faith which we are preaching.” That’s what we preach: faith, faith, faith, faith.
So they didn’t know God, they didn’t know themselves. They didn’t submit to the only righteousness available. They didn’t understand that Christ was the one who brought them out from under the bondage of the law. They didn’t understand any of it, and they had heard it, verse 8, it had been preached. They had heard, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you’d be saved; for with a heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness; with a mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
You want salvation, you want righteousness? Believe, believe. Is it shocking to you that this chapter on the necessity of faith is plastered against chapter 9? “I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy, and compassion on whom I’ll have compassion. I’ll love who I choose to love and hate whom I choose to hate.” Amazing.
Scripture in verse 11, what does it say? Read verse 11. “Whoever” – what – “believes. Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed. For there’s no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him. Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Wow.
So dear friend, can I just encourage you; if you’ve been struggling with this – of course you’ve been struggling with this. You’ve got it. You understand it as perfectly as it could be understood. You understand it as perfectly as Scripture has revealed it. These two things go together and there is no explanation beyond that. You’re there. You’re there. You don’t need to buy another book. You don’t need to get another CD. You don’t need another download, you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
There’s a third thing Paul understood. He understood divine sovereignty, he understood human responsibility, and thirdly, he understood evangelical duty, evangelical duty. He understood the role that God plays in divine sovereignty, the role the sinner must play in faith, and he also understands the role of the saints.
Verse 14: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord” – verse 13 – “will be saved. But how will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Here’s evangelical duty.
If you want to understand the marvelous work of salvation, you understand divine sovereignty, human responsibility, and evangelical duty, or gospel duty, if you will, or the duty of the saints, “How will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they’re sent?” Oh, no wonder it’s written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”
Verse 17: “Faith comes from hearing, hearing the word of Christ, the message concerning Christ.” Paul got it; he understood it. He understood that salvation was a work of divine sovereignty, salvation required faith, and the sinner himself was culpable for rejection and accountable for faith. And he understood that an essential means by which divine sovereignty and human responsibility come together is gospel duty as we proclaim the truth.
Our time is gone, so let’s go to the end of chapter 11. I was going to take you through 11, I won’t do that. Let’s go to the end of chapter 11. You say, “Look, I’m struggling a little bit with this.” Good, it means you’re human.
I love this: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” Are you surprised that you’re struggling with this? Get over it. Who do you think you are? Ninety-eight percent water. Are you kidding me? Why should you expect to understand this?
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” That’s where we all end up, folks, this is way beyond us. But we love these truths, don’t we? We love the truth of divine sovereignty, we embrace the truth of human responsibility, and we cherish gospel duty.
Psalm 39 says, “The ways of God are too high.” Psalm 92 says, “The ways of God are too low.” These mysteries for us are inconceivable, incomprehensible, unfathomable, unsearchable. You don’t need more information, okay, you’ve got it.
Then verse 34 – I love this: “For who has known the mind of the Lord?” That ought to stop all further concerns. What’s the answer to the question? “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” What’s the answer? Nobody. No one. No one. That’s taken out of Isaiah 40, verse 13, the Septuagint version: “Who has known the mind of the Lord?”
Listen, folks, not your individual intellect or our collective intellects are going to be able to comprehend the incomprehensible, inscrutable mind of God. And I like it that way, right? If the Bible didn’t have things that were vastly beyond me, I would know it was a human book written by a committee.
And you say to yourself, “Well, this doesn’t quite seem right; I’d like to talk to God about it.” Oh, really? Who became His counselor? Did you make an appointment to give Him counsel? You have some suggestions? Do you understand God is perfectly independent; He’s gotten along very well to this point without you, without your suggestions.
And then he quotes from Job 41:11 in verse 35: “For who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?” Do you think God owes you something? Do you think you got leverage with God? “Hey, God, I want an answer on this one. You know what I did for You.”
Really? You think God’s in your debt? You think He owes you an explanation of everything that you’d like to have an explanation for; even though an explanation wouldn’t satisfy you, because you couldn’t comprehend it if you got it, and that’s why He doesn’t give it? I mean don’t you really want some things to become everlastingly clear only when you get to heaven? I mean doesn’t that add an attraction to heaven?
I don’t know about you, but heaven doesn’t appeal to me because I’m going to be sitting on a cloud playing a harp. And I know there won’t be any golf in heaven, because everything would be a hole-in-one, and that’s no fun. I don’t need the perfections of it, I’m not looking. I guess I can be happy with transparent gold cube cities and all of that; I can handle that. But what makes life exciting to me is discovery. God owes you no explanation of anything, doesn’t need your suggestions, and you are incapable of comprehending His mind.
At this point, Paul can’t contain himself, and so in verse 36: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” Let’s say that last line together: “To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” Let’s pray.
What a glorious trek through these profound portions of Scripture. We love You, we adore You, we are content to understand You to the degree that You permitted us to. We ask nothing more, nothing more. We have enough. We have enough to worship You, to love You with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; to be lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Save us from foolishly thinking we deserve more, we need more, or even contemplating making suggestions to You. We give You all the glory, and will forever and ever, and offer our deepest thanks that You redeemed us with Your sovereign love. We love You, O God; we love You, Christ; we love You, blessed Holy Spirit. Amen.