It is difficult to take a passage of Scripture and preach from it as if it stood monolithically over us but that is the task of the circuit preacher. Last time I was here I preached on Ephesians 1:1 fully intending on preaching the entire book expositionally. But seeing as it has been 2 months since I have been here and at the pace of one verse per sermon, in order to finish the book for you fine folks would take me 144 and a half years. At this point I am not willing to dedicate that much time to seminary training so I have decided to try and do justice to a much larger passage today. We will still be considering Paul, but this time we will look at his letter to the Romans and, more specifically, chapter nine.
1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,
2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.
3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,
4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises,
5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;
7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.”
8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.”
10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac;
11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls,
12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”
13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!
15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
17 For the Scripture says 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.”
18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”
20 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?
21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,
24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
25 As He says also in Hosea,
“I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’
And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’ ”
26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”
27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved;
28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.”
29 And just as Isaiah foretold,
“Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity,
We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.”
30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;
31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,
33 just as it is written,
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
The church in Rome was founded by Jewish Christians but the emperor Claudius had the Jews expelled from Rome sometime in the 40’s AD. Thus the church was an entirely Gentile congregation until Claudius’ death in 54 AD. The Jews were then allowed to return to Rome but a tension developed as Jews and Gentiles had differing ways of expressing their faith in Christ. Paul thus must address a church experiencing tension between two valid cultural expressions of the Christian faith.
Given this situation, what the Roman Christians needed was what we would call racial reconciliation and crosscultural sensitivity. Paul reminds Jewish readers that they are as damned without Christ as Gentiles (chaps. 1–3); that spiritual, not ethnic, descent from Abraham is what matters (chap. 4); that Jews are also descended from the sinner Adam (chap. 5); and that the law does not justify Israel (chaps. 7, 10). He reminds Gentiles that they were grafted into Judaism and therefore dare not be anti-Semitic (chap. 11) and that they must respect the practices of their Jewish siblings (chap. 14). Christ and Paul (chap. 15) are agents of racial reconciliation, and unity (chap. 16) is the paramount issue.
Protestants have traditionally stressed justification by faith, a doctrine emphasized in Romans and Galatians, because Luther found this doctrine helpful in addressing indulgences and other ecclesiastical corruptions in his day. But it is important to understand not only this doctrine but also why Paul needs to stress it. Most Jews already believed that the Jewish people as a whole were saved by God’s grace, and Jewish Christians recognized that this grace was available only through Christ; the issue was on what terms Gentiles could become part of God’s people. In arguing for the ethnic unity of the body of Christ, Paul argues that all people come to God on the same terms, no matter what their ethnic, religious, educational or economic background; Jesus alone is the answer to all humanity’s sin. Paul stresses justification by faith, a truth most of his readers would know, especially so he can emphasize reconciliation with one another, a reality they still need to learn.
This stressing of the difference between Jew and Gentile is what has led some to read into the text that chapter nine is talking about the election of nations to sevice and not individuals to salvation. The problem with this is two-fold, first this is not what the text says, those who do this want to find a way around God’s sovereignty in electing individuals to salvation so they can maintain their own autonomy, and second, who are nations comprised of? Individuals, so this is no real solution ultimately.
James Boice calls Romans 9 the most difficult portion of the entire Bible. The controversy mainly surrounds the interpretation of Paul’s idea of election. Is Paul talking about election to salvation or election to service? Based on the scripture at hand, Paul is talking about God sovereignly electing people to salvation. To interpret this chapter as speaking of election in any other manner does violence to the text, and such an interpretation can only be arrived at through eisegesis, the reading into the scripture of one's own presuppositions.
Paul begins the chapter with a testimony of his truthfulness through the Holy Spirit. “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” He then speaks of wishing he could himself be condemned to hell on behalf of his fellow Jews. “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” This comes on the heels of chapter eight where Paul says: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” He says nothing can separate us, but then wishes for his own separation on behalf of his brothers. This is reminiscent of Moses in Exodus 32 when he cries out to God, “But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” Both men understood that God would never do this, but the passion they had for their brothers was so strong they would, if they could, sacrifice their own eternal wellbeing for them.
Paul gives us a testimony of Israel and her place in God’s plan in vs 6-8:
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
He tells of all the blessings God has poured out on her, even of the privilege of being the race through whom the Messiah would come. When Paul talks about the promises, he is speaking about the promises God made to Israel. These are promises God made to Abraham and his offspring. The promises of the temple, the covenants, the inheritance—all of these point to the ultimate fulfillment of these promises in Christ and His death on the cross.
Barnhouse believes that in verse five, we see one of the strongest attestations of Christ’s divinity in the Scriptures. Some of our modern translations, especially the RSV, make this statement somewhat ambiguous. The RSV inserts a false punctuation almost entirely removing the deity of Jesus: “and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. period God who is over all be blessed for ever.”(RSV Rom. 9:5) Whereas the New King James captures the meaning beautifully: “and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God.”(NKJV Rom. 9:5)
In verses six through thirteen, Paul labors to show how men have attempted to bring God, and therefore Christ, down to their level. Paul says God’s word has not failed; the people’s understanding had failed. It was prevalent in Paul’s day to consider oneself saved based on being Jewish alone. Paul makes very clear that this is not so. It was not so then, and it is still not so today. Paul is not only saying that no one is saved based on national origin, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;” but that they had the wrong idea of the Messiah as well. The Jewish people today are still awaiting their Messiah, but they await a political Messiah who will deliver them in this world only.
Paul then turns to the sovereign election of God. He shows through the example of Jacob and Esau, two men born to the same mother and at the same time, that it is fully dependent on God who is saved. He says, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” To be sure, that quote from Malachi is speaking of the election of nations, but Paul’s application here is not. One commentator says, “Whether or not Jacob is saved, that depended on Jacob. Whether or not Esau was damned, that depended on Esau. But whether the Messiah comes through Jacob or Esau, that depended on God!” These are nice sentiments, but they do not do justice to the text. Paul says these words immediately after saying not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. He is speaking of the eternal salvation of individuals here. To say he changes to nations in mid-thought does an injustice to Paul’s rationality.
Ironside says the debate surrounding verses 11-13 is needless in light of God’s dispensational dealings. But that, too, is a presupposition not everyone holds. If one does not hold to the dispensational viewpoint, the needlessness of the debate falls away.
With his next point, the apostle focuses us on the eternal issues. Paul now anticipates the obvious objection, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”” The answer is simple; God is sovereign. God is not unjust. Some receive justice, others receive mercy. Some receive justice, others receive non-justice, but no one receives injustice.
This is not teaching double predestination. Everyone deserves hell because of Adam’s sin. The fact that God in His mercy chooses to save some does not show that he condemns others. The fact that God’s love is manifested by the sovereign election of some to eternal life does not prove God sends certain people to eternal death.sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss
Sproul says verse 16, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” should put an end to the debate. Unfortunately, it does not. The same commentator we disagreed with earlier concludes, in a footnote, “There is legitimate doubt” this passage is about salvation. But he does not expand on what it is about if it is not about salvation. Jack Cottrell is even more condescending when he states this whole chapter is about election for service. However, these issues are both a matter of the authors bringing their own presuppositions to the text. They do not want God to unconditionally elect people, so they do all the linguistic gymnastics they can to make the text say what they want it to say. In hermeneutics, if one can apply the plain meaning of the text, one should. When this verse says it depends on God to do the choosing, it means God does the choosing. Believing something does not make it true; we must believe what is true. And what is true is what the Bible says is true.
Paul goes on, in vs. 17, to cite an example of when God chose to pass someone over: “For the Scripture says 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.”” God bore with Pharaoh patiently to show His glory through the most powerful man alive. Not only does Paul give an example, but also the example explains exactly why God did this—for His glory. John Calvin explains this beautifully when he says Paul “endeavours to make it more fully evident, how God, in rejecting whom he wills, is not only irreprehensible, but also wonderful in his wisdom and justice.
“So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” Vs. 18 Again, taking the plain meaning of the text, it should be simple enough to understand what this means. We encounter bad hermeneutics when Barrett says that God’s purposes are governed by mercy. God’s purposes are not governed by mercy, God governs them. God does not do only what is good, Whatever God does is good. There is an important distinction there that many people fail to understand. Calvin makes it clear when he says our mind may not like it or be content with the difference between the elect and the reprobate, but we must not enquire of God why. God told us why: it is because of his will, both choices are God’s will, and we may not ask further. Paul does not fail to understand this. In verse 20, he answers the objection. “who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” We think we know so much, and then Paul puts us in our place. God is sovereign. We cannot make God into our image. Many try to do just this, but His holy word warns strongly against it.
Verses 22-23 have as much controversy surrounding them as any other passage in the Bible. “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,” Whenever someone points to others and says “What about them?”, we must turn it back and say, “What about you?” If God has, with great patience, prepared vessels of destruction to make his great mercy known to us, we should praise him for His mercy. Does this not make our salvation even more precious? To say that the “enduring patience” Paul speaks of is God patiently waiting for those who call down wrath on themselves to repent is, again, bad hermeneutics.
I do not know how Paul could make it any clearer. God does the choosing, not man. I came to this realization on my own as a young Christian. A man at my church asked me to a movie, and afterwards, we were walking through the mall and talking about the movie and the Bible. He asked me if I had read Romans 9. I told him I had and he asked me what I thought it meant. I will never forget my answer. As a young Christian who had no idea what a Calvinist or an Arminian was, I answered honestly. I said, “I think it means what it says.” He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Good luck with that viewpoint.” I had no idea what he meant at the time, but over the years, I have been amazed by how people will try and explain away the simple meaning of a text when it does not line up with their presuppositions. When anyone will honestly and humbly consider the passage, this becomes clear.
In verse 23, Paul calls attention to who exactly the vessels of mercy are—those called from the Jews and the Gentiles. In His sovereignty, God chooses people from all nations. This is not at all what the Jews would have considered possible in their understanding of salvation. They thought they were chosen for salvation, and that they attained it by keeping the law. How wrong they turned out to be. Even though the Old Testament has much to say about this, Hosea 2:23 says: “I will call those who were not My people”, the Israelites did not seem to understand.
Paul gives numerous examples from the Old Testament showing that God has not changed. He has always dealt with sinful man the same way; He always will deal with sinful man the same way. Those in the Old Testament looked forward to the coming Messiah; we now look back to the finished work of the Christ.
In verse 30, Paul is summing up his argument against his fellow Israelites, once again telling them they are no different from the Gentiles. “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith” Keeping the law does not save anyone; salvation comes by faith in God keeping the law for us. Israel wanted to do something to earn salvation, to get it on their own by keeping the law. Paul tells them the error of their ways and goes on in verse 32-33 to warn what will happen if men continue to try to reach God on their own. “Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.'” They will stumble over the stumbling stone. Why is this a stumbling stone? Because men think it too easy, the gospel is God doing the work for us. We tend to think we must do something. Paul makes it abundantly clear, if you try to do anything to contribute to your salvation, you will stumble.
Let us be sure we know what he means. What is this stone of stumbling? The stone of stumbling is Jesus Christ, but why is he a stone of stumbling? Well it’s because of sin, the sin of the Jews, the sin of the Gentiles, my sin, your sin. This was not just written so we may look at the Jews and say, “See there, they stumbled over this Christ.” We stumble over Him as well, we have false ideas of what pleases Him, we justify our sin to ourselves and claim Christ’s approval. You sin everyday and think it no big deal, but it is a big deal. Our sin causes us to stumble because we do not want Christ on his terms, we want him on our terms. We want him to acquiesce to our wants and desires, not that we should bow down to his righteous demands. This is the only cause of everyone who stumbles, sin. But fortunately for us Paul’s point here is if we are of God’s elect, if we are found in Christ then we are justified, we are seen by God as righteous because Christ is righteous and God sees his spotless glory applied to us, we are forgiven because Christ paid the price our sin deserved on the cross. Our sin, your sin, my sin, every single sin of every single elect, God graciously applied to Christ. Christian this ought to cause you to do nothing other than repent and believe, for Christ died for you. And finally Christ rose on the third day, assuring us of the truth of these doctrines and giving us hope, in the Greek sense of the term, hope for the future, hope that is the awaiting of something certain, not hope that is wishful thinking. Rejoice Christian for He is risen!
Paul begins Romans by showing that no one is righteous, Jew or Gentile. All have sinned. All fall short of God’s glory. He goes so far as to say no one even seeks after God. Paul follows this up in chapter three with two little words that mean the world to sinful man: “but now.” With these words, Paul announces that, apart from the law, righteousness from God has come. He goes on to show that salvation in the Old Testament was by faith alone. Using Abraham as an example, he shows us that it is not by works, but by faith. Paul shows us in chapter six that we are free from the condemnation of the law through grace. In chapter seven, Paul uses himself as an example of how the believer will sin and do the very things he does not want to do, and not do what he should, but he follows that up in chapter eight with the promise of deliverance in Christ Jesus. He shows us how God will work in our lives to make His glory known and keep us safe until our sanctification is complete