Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Trusting Godís Heart
Pastor Steve Schell
Romans 9:19, 20
God plays by the same rules He sets for us. When He created and ordered the universe He established not only physical laws, He also established moral laws. And His moral laws are absolute and unchanging because they express His unchanging character. God isn’t simply asking us to behave a certain way, He’s asking us to become like Him. This means that right and wrong are standards which apply not merely to us, but to God Himself. He is not above His own moral laws, but, of course, He has a vastly different perspective from ours.

Some people when reading this passage assume Paul is warning us that we dare not question God on matters of justice. After all, they say, He is God so He can do anything He wants, and the way in which they say this seems to mean He can’t be held to the same moral standards to which He holds everybody else. But if that were true He would be a tyrant. Tyrants are people who do what they want because they have so much power no one can stop them. Tyrants answer to no standards at all beyond their own desires. But the Bible pictures God very differently. It reveals a deity completely consistent with His own standards because they express His eternal character. So let’s listen again to Paul’s words and this time hear him call us to trust God, to drop our defenses and rest in His arms even when we don’t understand what He is doing.

What does Paul say?
To understand the flow of Paul’s thought let’s begin at verse 14:
v14 - Paul anticipated someone challenging his claim that God does not award eternal life based on someone’s works. In verse 11 he said works had nothing to do with choosing Jacob over Esau. God made that choice based on His foreknowledge of Jacob’s faith, not anything Jacob did, good or bad. To any of Paul’s readers trying to earn eternal life by obeying all the rules in the Law of Moses, this would seem unfair. After all, hadn’t God promised to bless those who obeyed His Law (Dt 30:15-20)? “Is God unjust?” they might ask, to which Paul answers, “Absolutely not!”

v15 - God has always given mercy to people who don’t deserve it. He told Moses no one had a right to demand mercy from Him, but then gave mercy to Israel even after they worshipped the golden calf.

v16 - The lesson we should learn from this is that no one can earn or deserve God’s mercy. He gives it as a gift to those who repent and believe. That’s God’s “purpose” and “choice” (v11) which He determined before He made the world.

vs17-18 - There are also people to whom God doesn’t give mercy. It’s those like Pharaoh who stubbornly refuse to repent. When they reject Him, He rejects them by withdrawing His Spirit which leaves them in even greater darkness (“hardened”). As the Lord of unbelievers, as well as believers, He reserves the right to use unbelievers to spread His gospel. He had used Pharaoh to increase His reputation in Egypt and the surrounding nations. And as Paul wrote this letter He was using the violent hostility of some Jews to force Jewish believers to carry the gospel to responsive Gentile communities. In other words, God was using hardened hearts to serve His larger purposes.

v19 - Paul also expected someone to argue with him saying it would be unfair for God to punish people for the evil things they did after he hardened them. How could He find fault with those who violently persecuted believers when He was using their anger to spread the gospel? Let’s remember for a moment how personal this question is for Paul:
• Acts 22:1-5, 17-22 • Acts 22:6-11 • 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Paul had been the most violent, “hardened” opponent of the gospel.

Does hardening cause sin?
Those asking, “Why does He still find fault?” based their challenge on the assumption that hardening people meant God was making them do evil things. They must have pictured Him placing evil impulses into people’s minds and then judging them for doing the very things He prompted them to do. That, of course, would be unjust, but that was not what God was doing. Admittedly, He was using their hostile actions to serve His own purposes, and, admittedly, He amplified the intensity of their anger by withdrawing more of His presence each time they rejected His call. Their flesh grew stronger and demonic influence less restrained, but none of that makes God responsible for their evil actions. Who resists His will? they ask. The truth is, nearly everyone resists His will during this season of earth’s history, including a third of the angels (Rev 12:4, 7-9), and even the earth He created (Ro 8:19-22).

Paul’s answer (v20)
As we listen to Paul’s response we recognize he does not directly answer this moral challenge. Instead he asks a question of his own: “…who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded (plasma) will not say to the molder (Greek: plasso), ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” By asking this question he’s not warning us never to question God because He might get angry. He’s redirecting our attention back to God’s character and superior knowledge. He uses the illustration of a potter to remind us that God sees the world from a very different perspective from ours. As the Creator, His knowledge is so superior to ours we are like clay trying to understand the potter. God knows far better than we what is just, loving and needed in a particular situation. So we would be wise to trust Him when we are confused about what He is doing, rather than question His character. We can rest assured that He’s doing what’s best.

Basically, Paul is asking those who are questioning God’s justice to be humble and trust Him, to stop accusing Him and reflect on who it is they are judging. Obviously, their thinking is clouded by false assumptions about His character. They are sure He’s powerful, but they are not as confident He is just. And don’t we still struggle with those same issues today?

Are there two standards?
Does God play by a different set of rules? Does being divine mean the standards of justice that He applies to us, don’t apply to Him? Does His great power mean He is above His own Laws?
1) First, let’s listen to what God commands us: Deuteronomy 16:18-20.
2) Now, let’s listen to a conversation between Him and Abraham: Genesis 18:16-33. (50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10)
- “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? … Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
- Obviously, a human can appeal to God based on a common understanding of justice. The plain principles of justice are not something beyond our comprehension.

God’s perspective
Greater knowledge does not change right and wrong, it makes the distinction clearer. Yes, God’s omniscience gives Him a different perspective on reality, but it doesn’t give Him a different set of rules. Let’s reflect for a moment on His great knowledge:
• Psalm 8:3, 4
• Isaiah 40:12-27
• Isaiah 55:8, 9
• Job 38-41; 42:1-6

Unveiling God’s heart
Job was full of confusion when he tried to understand God based only on what he heard about Him, but that confusion went away when he actually “saw” Him for himself. The same is true for us. All doubts about the goodness of God went away when He revealed Himself to us in human flesh. In His Son, we have seen His heart perfectly. • John 1:14, 18 • John 14:9

This is the bottom line. I may not understand what’s happening or why, but in the midst of my confusion I can still trust God. If I were as good and loving as He, if I were able to see the situation as He sees it, I hope I would do exactly what He’s done. (But be careful not to make Him responsible for something He hasn’t done.)

So when issues like Jacob and Esau, or the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart—or the loss of a loved one, or the cause of natural disasters, or why wrong people win wars or elections or lawsuits—confuse us, we don’t have to question God’s justice or blame Him for the evil things that happen. We can respond humbly and with trust:
• We can be careful to interpret confusing passages of Scripture by the light of other, clearer passages.
• We can maintain a “to be answered later” file. We don’t have to wait to go on in our walk with God until some ethical confusion is cleared up.
• We can joyfully recognize that His knowledge is vastly beyond our understanding and trust that He will certainly do what is just and right.
We can respond this way, because we have “seen” Him, not just heard about Him with our ears.

1) Are there passages of Scripture that trouble you and make you question God’s character? How have you responded?
2) Is there an area of your life where you are trusting God, even though you don’t understand what’s going on? Tell us why you trust Him? 

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