If we read only this little snippet of the book of Romans without putting it into the context of what the entire Bible teaches about God, or even what Paul has already written in this letter to the church in Rome, we might read this and come to the conclusion that man has no free-will –that God chooses and orchestrates and decides every detail of life. With this understanding of Scripture, we would conclude that those whom God calls to be His children will be His children, and those whom He doesn’t call won’t be –it’s out of our hands. And if we push that thought just a little we might decide that ultimately it doesn’t matter if we share our faith with others or pray for others or do anything to advance the Kingdom of God here on earth because whatever God decides is going to happen anyway. This view makes God out to be arbitrary and unfair and the relationship that I’m always talking about is a lie.
Of course, it is true that God’s ways are higher than our ways and His measure of fairness supercedes our standards –nevertheless, if we do not have the capacity to choose right from wrong –if that has been predetermined by God and yet God holds us accountable, God is unfair. And we know that God is not unfair. In fact we know that God is not arbitrary and petty and we know that the relationship with God that Jesus died and rose again to establish is very real and meaningful.
Let’s be real clear where we are headed with this though. God is sovereign –there is no doubt about that. He is in control. That’s true. And whatever God decides is going to happen, He clearly has both the authority and the power to make sure of it. But ultimately the issue here is not about God’s power or His authority, it’s about His nature -His character. In order to get even a glimpse, even a hint of an accurate picture of God, we’ve got to take the reality of God’ sovereignty and power and factor into that His character. Let’s look for a few minutes at what God has revealed to us about Himself –what we know to be true about God. We are going on a quick tour of the book of Psalms:
Psalm 11:7 -righteous, loves justice
Psalm 34:8 -good
Psalm 68:20 -A God who saves
Psalm 71:19 -righteous
Psalm 86:15 -compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, faithful
Psalm 116:5 -gracious, righteous, full of compassion
Psalm 145:8 –gracious, compassionate, slow to anger
So, here is what we know about the character of God: He is righteous, just, good, merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, faithful, gracious, and willing to draw near to all who will call on Him.
As we read in Romans about the sovereignty of God, we need to make sure we understand that God’s sovereignty is guided by His character. So, He is not and cannot be arbitrary and petty and unfair –that’s against His nature. And that means that the point of Paul’s argument here is not against our free-will. We need to ask ourselves, what is his point then? I’m glad you asked.
One of the main themes of the entire book of Romans is that the God of Israel has opened the doors to the Kingdom and it is longer about being Jewish, it is now about trusting Jesus. Paul is so adamant about this that he begins chapter nine (Romans 9:1-3) by saying that he would give up his own salvation if that would bring his Jewish brothers into a saving knowledge of Jesus.
Every person, Jew and gentile alike must trust Jesus. That is God’s plan. It is a plan that many Jews found –and still find offensive. And that is why Paul pulled out the sovereignty of God card here.
We don’t have the right to question God’s plan. The clay cannot argue with the potter. God does not operate within the framework of man’s traditions. God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy and compassion on whom He has compassion.
So, what does this now mean to us today? I can’t tell you exactly what this might mean for you, but let me tell you what it means for me. It means that I, a non-Jew, am now one of God’s “chosen” people. I, through faith in Jesus, have been grafted into the spiritual lineage of Abraham. This process did not happen and never could happen by my being a good person and keeping the right spiritual laws and rituals and traditions.
This new covenant between God and me was activated when I recognized my own sin and agreed with God that my sin was an act of rebellion against Him –I wanted my own way and did not care about His ways. And my rebellion against God was deserving of the full punishment of spiritual alienation and death that God decreed. But when I trusted that Jesus’ death covered my sins, my sins were forgiven and I could begin following the guidance of the Holy Spirit who is now in me.
My salvation is in this relationship with God that results from following the Holy Spirit. God could have kept this all for the Jewish people with whom He had made the Old Covenant –but He didn’t. And I am a grateful benefactor.