Main Idea: We can’t save ourselves, just as the characters in a story can’t save themselves. They need the author to save them.
If you ever want to have an argument with other genuine Christians, read Romans 8-11 with them. Because genuine Christians are all over the place on these chapters. I’ve seen so many pastors get so heated about how other pastors understand these verses, and they start attacking one another, and accusing one another of not even being Christians, and I’m just like, “Guys, we all love Jesus!”
So it should go without saying that when I preach on these chapters, this is my understanding of these verses, and you might see things differently, but I hope that we can agree to love another as we truly have all things in common in Jesus.
I titled my sermon this morning “Talking Back to God.” You know, prayer is simply talking to God, and it’s good to talk to God in prayer, but the kind of talking back to God that we’re talking about this morning is the kind of thing that would have gotten us in trouble when we were kids.
I can’t remember why or what the specific circumstances were, but I remember several times growing up saying to my parents, “That’s not fair!” Did you ever do that? I think we probably all have at some point. But I think that if we were to remember what we said it about, most of the time, we’d find that it actually was fair, or at least reasonable, but we just didn’t like the fact that it was fair and reasonable.
Andrew Carnegie was one of the richest Americans in history. There’s a story about a socialist who once came to see Andrew Carnegie and complained that it wasn’t fair that Carnegie had so much money. In his view, all wealth should be divided equally. So Carnegie asked his secretary for an assessment of everything he owned and at the same time looked up the figures on world population. He did a little math on a pad of paper and then said to his secretary. “Give this gentleman 16 cents. That’s his share of my wealth.”
Now, even that 16 cents wasn’t owed to the man. Andrew Carnegie didn’t owe the man anything, but gave it to him out of charity.
Most of the time that we’ve cried out, “That’s not fair,” it wasn’t really because we cared about fairness, it’s because we were greedy for what we thought we deserved, right? Or, we were jealous of something somebody else got.
In the parable of the vineyard, Jesus told about how the master of the vineyard graciously gave the same payment to his workers who worked all day and those who barely worked at all. So the workers who worked all day grumbled and said, “That’s not fair!” But the problem with them saying that, of course, is that they didn’t own the vineyard, and the master of the vineyard has the right to be generous with his blessings.
And that sits pretty well with us, because we like God’s grace. But what about God’s wrath?
We talked a couple weeks ago about praising God not only for His love toward sinners, but even for His hatred toward sin and even sinners. We saw how the Psalms praise God for His hatred of evildoers, so we talked about how if we can’t do that, then something is probably wrong about our understanding of the love and hate of God.
And that leads us directly into our passage this morning, because when we think about the fact that God is love, we praise Him for showing us grace, but how should we respond if we haven’t yet been shown His grace? Is that fair?
What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? (Romans 9:14)
Father, if we’re honest, sometimes we can feel like the lives You’ve given us are unfair. We look around and we think we don’t have as much as others, we’ve experienced troubles and trials that others seem to have completely avoided, and we even see others who often have it even worse than us, and we think “That’s not fair.” So help us. Help us to see and long for Your justice. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
We just read Romans 9:14, so does anyone know what comes right before it? That’s right, Romans 9:13.
As it is written: I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau. (Romans 9:13)
So we talked two weeks ago about God’s sovereign choice. It’s God’s choice when and how we get saved. It’s God’s choice whether we experience a life of relative ease or of suffering. Even when we think we choose, even our choosing is part of God’s choice, even when we think it’s completely random, God is still in control, as it says in Proverbs 16:33:
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:33)
Now, that probably makes you uncomfortable. Because that seems to blame God for all kinds of injustices that happen in the world. Is God to blame for Putin leading Russia to invade Ukraine? Is God to blame for China slowly taking away the freedoms of the people in Hong Kong? Is God to blame for cancer, for children starving to death around the world, or for school shootings? Is God to blame for unbelievers dying in their unbelief and going to hell? Is God unjust? Is He unfair? I mean, we say that God is in control, and we can clearly see that there’s plenty of injustice in the world, so is God to blame?
Paul immediately addresses that. Continue reading verse 14.
What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! For he tells Moses, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy. (Romans 9:14-16)
So Paul says, “No! God’s not to blame for a person not receiving Jesus.” God’s not to blame for injustice! And then Paul goes on to say, “Because God has the right to show mercy and withhold mercy from whoever He chooses!” It’s not injustice to show mercy to some, because mercy by definition is undeserved, and it’s God’s right to do whatever He wants!
And yet, in giving this answer, Paul kind of also seems to say that not even humans are to blame. Paul clearly says that salvation doesn’t depend on the human will, but on God who shows mercy. This is so that we can’t boast in our ability to save ourselves, so that God would get all the glory. Verse 17.
For the Scripture tells Pharaoh, I raised you up for this reason so that I may display my power in you and that my name may be proclaimed in the whole earth. So then, he has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:17-18)
It’s interesting that when you look at the account of Moses and Pharoah, and how Pharoah continually refused to let the people of Israel leave Egypt, at times it says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and other times it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. So which is it?
Well, the answer is yes. Both. Pharaoh hardened his heart, because that’s what all of us did apart from God’s grace, and God hardened Pharoah’s heart so that God’s power would be displayed through the plagues and the deliverance of Israel out of slavery, and so that eventually His name would be proclaimed in the whole earth. And that’s what we’re doing now. We’re proclaiming His name, the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.
So whenever God hardens a heart, it’s for a time and a purpose.
It’s like how when an author writes a good story, sometimes the author includes all kinds of terrible things in that story. In fact, only the worst, most boring stories don’t include at least some terrible things. In every good story, there’s conflict, which leads to a struggle, which the characters in the story must overcome so that there’s a satisfying conclusion. But it’s actually the author who writes all these things.
You see, we can’t save ourselves, just as the characters in a story can’t save themselves. They need the author to save them. We can’t do enough good things. We can’t prove ourselves worthy. We can’t even believe hard enough to be saved. We’re saved by grace through faith, and even that faith is the gift of God. It’s like a seed that God implants in us, as small as a mustard seed at first, that grows and produces fruit.
But if that’s the case, if salvation is completely of God, then certainly God won’t fault unbelievers for not believing, right? Verse 19.
You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does he still find fault? For who resists his will?” On the contrary, who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” (Romans 9:19-20)
What’s interesting about this is that Paul doesn’t dance around it. He just makes it clear that we have no right to accuse God of withholding His mercy from whoever He wants for as long as He wants, and God has every right to do exactly that.
Here’s the thing. Not a single one of us can resist God’s will. If God wants something to happen, that thing will happen. If it didn’t happen, then we’d have to say that God was not really in control. But God is in control, so His will will happen.
And when it seems like God’s will doesn’t happen, it’s only because we haven’t yet understood the fullness and comprehensiveness of God’s will. God’s will even includes the free actions of sinful people so that in the end He can redeem those things by His grace.
So Paul doesn’t deny that unbelievers are unbelievers because God didn’t yet give them grace to believe! Instead, Paul makes it clear that even though that’s the case, we have no right to question or blame God. God has the right to do whatever He wants! Paul makes this even more clear through an analogy. Verse 21.
Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? And what if God, wanting to display his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath prepared for destruction? And what if he did this to make known the riches of his glory on objects of mercy that he prepared beforehand for glory— on us, the ones he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:21-24)
Now this is interesting, and it’s where a lot of Christians start disagreeing again, because I think they try to force the Scripture to say something it’s not saying.
I’ve said this many times now over the years, but it’s interesting that we always interpret Scripture as if we’re the good guys. We like to think that we’re the good guys, and those people that we disagree with are the bad guys. But the Bible is clear that we’re all the bad guys. We’ve all fallen short. We’ve all disobeyed God. So once again, when we come to this passage, we assume we’re the objects of mercy, and we are, but we overlook that throughout all of Scripture, it’s clear that we’re also objects of wrath.
We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. (Ephesians 2:3)
So most Christians, when they read Romans 9, think that we’re all either one or the other. You’re either an object of wrath, or you’re an object of mercy. But I think Scripture teaches that we’re all both, or at least that we were both. Which makes sense in this text because it says that the potter made both from the same lump.
Each one of us is a lump of clay, and God makes each one of us into an object of wrath prepared for destruction, the old man, and an object of mercy, the new man, a new creation, saved by grace through faith in Christ, and the old is gone, dead, destroyed, and behold, the new has come.
Paul then quotes three passages of Scripture to prove this point. Verse 25.
As it also says in Hosea, I will call Not My People, My People, and she who is Unloved, Beloved. And it will be in the place where they were told, you are not my people, there they will be called sons of the living God.
But Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, Though the number of Israelites is like the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved; since the Lord will execute his sentence completely and decisively on the earth.
And just as Isaiah predicted: If the Lord of Armies had not left us offspring, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah. (Romans 9:25-29)
Each of these examples really deserves a sermon for itself to unpack. But I’ll just say this: in order to be saved, we must first realize that we need saving. In order to be made alive, we need to see that we’re dead. In order to be called the people of God, we first need to recognize that we definitely were not the people of God because we followed our own way rather than God’s way. We all like sheep have gone astray, but Jesus left the ninety-nine in order to rescue each one. And all of this is according to the plan of God.
For a time, God hardens us. For a time, God allows us to choose sin. As we’ve already read in Romans, part of the purpose of the Old Testament law was to make sin sinful beyond measure. He allows many of us at times, and even all of us before we knew Jesus, to be objects of His wrath so that His power can be shown toward sin. We’ve all been objects of wrath that were prepared for destruction. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, our flesh needed to be destroyed so that He could raise us up imperishable. God doesn’t just want to conquer a little sin, as if God’s grace is only a little good. No, God wants to conquer all sin, in all its ugliness, so that His grace is magnified as all-powerful, and all-encompassing. And that is what gives us a much bigger picture of who God is. I mean, who do we think we are to talk back to God? He’s the God who saves sinners.
You see, I don’t think hate is the opposite of love. I used to think that, but now I think the opposite of love is something like apathy. If hate were the opposite of love, then God wouldn’t be able to hate, because God is light and love, and in Him is no darkness whatsoever.
Instead, God hates as an extension of His love. He hates sin and sinners so that sinners might see what their sin leads to so that they would trust in the love of God and be saved.
Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009. He and his wife, Abby, have four children. Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)