Does God love all humans and want to save them or does He love certain ones and hate others? This portion of chapter 9 which we are reading today is a central passage to which people will turn to prove that God chooses who will or will not be saved. According to that doctrine the most important truth to emphasize about God is His sovereignty, meaning His control of everything. It is assumed that if humans have any choice in the matter of their eternal destiny then God isnt totally sovereign. So repentance is renounced as a basis for salvation because it involves the human will making a choice. Even faith in Christ is discounted. This doctrine says faith is something God gives to a person only after He regenerates them, meaning after He places His Holy Spirit inside them. Those who teach this say it is wrong to think a person can choose to believe the gospel. We dont choose God, He chooses us, they say. This makes grace all the sweeter, they say. And on what basis, you might ask, does God choose one person but not another? The answer, they say, is found in this passage of Romans. After all, God loved Jacob but hated Esau before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad (v11). So there you have it, they say, the decision of who will or will not be saved is determined by God before we are born. And if you take this passage out of its context you can indeed make it say that. But the God you end up with is very different from the loving Father Jesus reveals to us. And the conclusion you draw is very different from Pauls own conclusion at the end of the chapter (vs30-33). Though all of this may sound like a pointless theological debate, whats at stake is nothing less than the character of God. These two views of Him are so different they really present two different Gods.
What does Paul say (Ro 9:6-13)
The question Paul is dealing with is: Whats gone wrong, why have so few Jews responded to the gospel? He asks: Does the fault lie with the gospel we are preaching? Is it untrue, has God failed to anoint it? By the term word of God he means the apostolic proclamation that he and the other apostles were preaching (Ac 17:1-5).
He immediately answers his own question. He says no theres nothing wrong with the gospel, but the gospel has exposed a problem: not all the physical descendants of Abraham are his spiritual descendants (true Jews).
This distinction between those who have only Abrahams DNA and those who share his faith goes back to his own sons. One had his fathers faith (Isaac) and one didnt (Ishmael).
That the issue was faith not works (birth order, personal holiness) is proven further by Jacob and Esau. God foreknew Jacobs faith and loved him before he was born. The younger inherited the spiritual blessing because he had faith while his older brother did not.
Jacob and Esau
Lets look briefly at the lives of these two men:
Malachi 1:1-5: Malachi is prophesying against Edom, the nation descended from Esau. God is saying His covenant is with Israel (His lovingkindness) not Edom.
How did God treat the man Esau (Ge 33:1-11)? He prospered him.
By hate Malachi means rejected from the covenant promises.
Gods purpose (v11)
There are two alternatives: either God chose Jacob based on nothing, or He chose him because He foreknew Jacob would have faith and Esau wouldnt. Paul says Gods choice was made based on His purpose meaning His overall plan for salvation. He shows us the key elements of this plan in Romans 8:28-30. Lets review it:
Foreknew: God knew each person who would come to Him before He made the world.
Predestined: He also decided what kind of people we would become. He determined that we would be conformed to Jesus so that in the age to come He would be the head of an eternal family of resurrected humans. He purposed to accomplish this goal by three major actions:
Called: He would offer salvation by sending the gospel on the lips of His people (Ro 10:13-15).
Justified: He would send His Son to atone for all sin so those who would repent and believe would be free from judgment and qualify for His blessings.
Glorified: Believers would be filled with the Holy Spirit and finally resurrect in glorious bodies.
Not because of works (v11)
Paul says Gods choice had nothing to do with what the twins would do whether good or bad, that His decision was not based on works. There are again two alternatives as to what this means:
1) God chooses who He will save based on nothing they do or dont do.
2) God chooses based only on faith. He doesnt give salvation as a reward to those whove done enough good works to deserve it.
You might think the answer is obvious, that of course, Gods choice is based on faith, not works, but those who favor the sovereignty of God argue that repentance and faith are good works. They say if a person freely exercises their will to repent and believe then they have performed a good work, and since salvation is by grace and not works (Eph 2:8, 9) then not even repentance and faith can effect who will be saved. They say God places these qualities into a persons heart only after He saves them. For grace to be grace He must make His decision based on nothing including repentance or faith.
Can God be loving and sovereign at the same time? Yes, of course, Hes both, but the question we face today is has He limited that sovereignty, at least to the point that we humans have the power to make free moral choices? The God-is-Sovereign doctrine says no, but the God-is-Savior doctrine says yes, He has sovereignly limited His sovereignty so that we humans determine our own eternal destiny, whether heaven or hell, not by earning heaven through good works, but by responding to His call in the gospel. Aided by the Holy Spirit each of us can choose whether or not to repent and trust Christ.
Pauls conclusion (Ro 9:30-10:3)
The whole of chapter 9 is talking about one subject: Why did so many Jews reject the gospel while so many Gentiles received salvation. And Pauls answer here has nothing to do with a sovereign choice made before people are born. He says its because the Gentiles repented and believed when they heard the gospel, yet most Jews refused because they were determined to earn salvation by zealously observing the rules of the Law of Moses.
Please notice, Paul does not say God sovereignly chose Gentiles instead of Jews. He says one group chose Gods righteousness by faith and the other didnt. In fact, in a very few verses he will go on to describe God as
abounding in riches for all who call on Him, for whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Ro 10:12, 13). And later on he says that if these Jews who had been rejecting the gospel changed their minds God would gladly restore them (Ro 11:23). The entire impact of his language is to say, God wants to save and will if we will only call in Him.
Pauls open invitation to come and be saved sounds just like Jesus who said, For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). So which God is He? A sovereign Lord who chooses a few, or a loving Savior who invites all? Do we end up in hell because we have refused His grace or because He didnt want us to be in heaven with Him?
We might be tempted to think of this as an ancient debate that really doesnt effect us today, but that isnt true. This sovereign view of God is deeply entrenched in the American culture, and many assume the God of the Bible is harsh, arbitrary and responsible for everything that happens on the planet. They especially blame Him for disease, injuries and natural catastrophes. But there is another reason we need to understand this matter and that is because this doctrine of Gods complete sovereignty is being taught by some of the largest churches in the U.S. and is influencing the younger generation. Heres the danger: Where this is taught the emphasis on sovereignty tends to grow stronger and stronger and the emphasis on Gods love grows weaker and weaker until the spiritual atmosphere becomes so oppressive people walk way in disgust from what they assume to be Christianity and turn to what appears as kinder alternatives like atheism or universalism (everybody will be saved). These two camps really present two different Gods, and each will mold His followers into His image.
Application: I believe the truth is:
You and I will never meet a person God doesnt love and want in heaven with Him.
You and I will never meet a person for whom Jesus didnt die.
No human on earth has lived a life good enough to deserve to go to heaven (except Jesus).
The gospel has the power to save anyone willing to repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ.
No matter how sinful we are, the Holy Spirit will empower us to do this.
God is not threatened by our freedom to choose. He gave us this freedom. We are responsible for our eternal destiny. Those who go to heaven have chosen to repent and believe. Those who refuse enter eternity apart from Him.
God wants me to love, pray and share His call with as many as possible.
1) Which of these two Gods was taught to you as a child: the Loving Savior or the Sovereign Lord? What effect did that have on you? How did that effect the way you viewed yourself and others?
2) Has this passage been confusing to you in the past? Tell us how you would explain this passage to a young child.