The friend who originally started me on this series has been letting me know that she is learning a lot and it has been helpful to her. The topic is proving a little more difficult for others. I understand this difficulty. Much of it has to do with our conception of what we call free will. Questions might include, “Who saves whom?” or ”Do we choose God, or does he choose us?” Almost all of us have been taught from childhood that we choose God. Some scripture says we do. My life verse, for example, says “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13) On the other hand, you have verses like this: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Is this an example of the chicken or the egg? I say both are true but our calling on the Lord is a result of the gift of faith.
Let’s look more at Romans 9. We established yesterday that God in his divine providence “elects” some people. He “chooses” some over others. He chose Israel over all the other nations. He chose Jacob over Esau. Why? Come to think of it, he was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Why? Let’s see if we can put this together.
Romans 9:14-18 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
At this point Paul anticipates the obvious reaction to this.
v. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
In other words, if we are all guilty, how can he blame us for being the way we are? Inherent in this is the implication of injustice on God’s part while explicitly ignoring the injustice on our part. We assume that if God pardons one, he is evil if he doesn’t pardon all. Paul’s response to this reminds me of God’s response to Job. If you recall, God told Job to adjust his underwear then blistered him with questions back to Job. This happened not once, but twice!
v. 20-21 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?
He goes on to explain by asking another question. See! I told you this part was like Job!
v. 22-23 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory –
Most people skim right over this when they read it. Others look at it closely only to wonder if they read it incorrectly or misunderstood the true meaning. Others wonder if there isn’t a problem in translation. However, it says what it says. Now, granted, it is in the form of a question. It does not state that this indeed is fact. However, given that the teacher is posing such a question meant to lead us to the conclusion he intends, we can safely interpret this as God’s intended purpose.
What is God trying to do? To reveal the riches of his glory. To whom? To those whom he has mercy. When did he choose them? Beforehand. For what purpose? Glory. We see in other places that beforehand means before the foundation of the world. In other words, before time began.
There is also a comparison. He shows his glory and makes it known by comparison. Comparison to what? Vessels of wrath. God also desires to show his wrath. And, He desires to make known his power. How? Through the destruction of vessels of wrath. We learn in other places that this destruction is everlasting torment in the lake of fire. God is putting up (enduring) these people so that he might destroy them. Why? To show his wrath and make known his power.
Read it yourself, folks. That’s what it says. Furthermore, it is supported and confirmed throughout the pages of the bible, from the first page to the last. It is here that we start to lose people. Lots of people. None of this fits with what we grew up to believe as true. If this is true, we simply conclude that there is something terribly wrong with God, so we immediately reject the whole idea. Some, when presented this teaching, will reject Christianity outright as inherently evil. In a sense, this drives people away from the gospel rather than attracting them to it.
Does this sound familiar? Remember when Jesus fed the 5,000? The next day he started yapping about him being the bread of life and that whomever eats his flesh and drinks his blood shall never die. What happened? Everybody left. He even invited the twelve to leave. They were the only ones who stayed. That teaching was too hard for the masses to accept, so they turned their back. No doubt, they thought he was out of his mind.
This election business is another tough teaching. Will you be willing to at least have an open mind to let the Word of God penetrate your soul?
Here’s my thoughts on this. Mercy is foremost in God’s plan. God has consigned all to disobedience (Romans 11:32) so that he may have mercy on all. May, not will. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne (Psalm 89:14), so sin must be punished. The only way around that is by God’s mercy. If mercy isn’t the only means, that would mean that we have the ability to be righteous on our own. Do we? Are you sin-free yet? Certainly, you know sin is bad, don’t you?
It seems to me that it is necessary for us to be such miserable creatures that we don’t even desire God, if indeed God is to have mercy. If any part of us desires him, then we have some inherent merit. If that is the case, God is obliged to have mercy – but then it would no longer be mercy. It would be compensation.
If then people are so wretched as to turn every which way except to the one true and living God, then it would make sense that the punishment must fit the crime.
John 3:19-20 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
Matthew 25:41,46 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
We may not like these things, but it doesn’t mean that God is unjust. We must be careful with all this. A little bit of doubt will lead us into all sorts of trouble. We either doubt God’s goodness or deny the Word of God. Certainly, believers may harbor some of this. Indeed, we prove it each time we sin. However, consider the blessings we deliberately deny ourselves when we do.
More importantly, we find that a good understanding of the doctrine of election will radically change the way we share the gospel. We are finally getting close to answering my friend’s questions.
Father, please open our hearts and minds to difficult teachings. Let us not doubt you or mistrust you. Let us be willing to learn your truth. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Scott Powers