Sermon preached on Romans 9:6-26 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/30/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Even Us Whom He Called”
Today’s passage is a often called a proof text for the controversial doctrine of predestination. And that will be our topic for today. To consider Scriptures’ teaching on predestination, particularly this passage’s teaching on the subject. Yes, this is a controversial doctrine. The controversy often ends up pitting free will versus predestination, as if it’s either one or another. You can hear lots of extremes on this. Some people will say there is no such thing as free will. Others will outright reject predestination. The difficulty in both of those positions is that Scripture clearly talks about predestination, and so you have to explain what its’ talking about. And Scripture also talks about man having a will, and we have to understand what it says about the will of man, and in what sense is it free or not. In this controversy, many people want to affirm both, but then try to explain one away. For example, some say that free will exists, and so does predestination, but that God predestines all, so it’s up to man’s free will to decide to turn to Christ or not. That sounds nice, but is completely against what Scripture says. Others, maybe more commendably, will say that Scripture teaches both, but that it’s a mystery how they fit together. So they are content to affirm both and leave it at that. Well, both concepts are in Scripture. And surely there is some element of mystery involved. And yet there is a good deal of explanation about how these truths fit together in Scripture.
The Reformed have acknowledged that there is both free will and predestination. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith in chapter 1, affirms that God did “ordain whatsoever comes to pass,” but he does so in a way that there is not “violence offered to the will of the creatures.” It goes on in chapter 9 to affirm there is free will for humans, but that this free will is under a kind of bondage ever since the fall of mankind. That bondage of the will means that unregenerate humans won’t turn to God on their own. They are free to do so in a certain sense, but apart from God’s intervention, they won’t. This teaching has led some in Reformed circles to say that man has no free will, but what’s meant is simply that man’s not able to turn to God apart from divine intervention. So the Reformed do have a teaching of both free will and predestination.
And so in today’s message we’ll think first about the teaching here on predestination, specifically on divine election and reprobation. Don’t worry, I’ll define those terms. The second and third points will be then to address two common questions that Paul deals with here: both dealing in different ways about the justice of God in this all.
And so let’s look first at what this passage says about predestination, namely election and reprobation. Let me start with some definitions. First, predestination. This is the general term to talk about how God has predestined some until salvation, and some unto damnation. That’s two different groups of people. And yet we then usually use two different terms to talk about these two different groups: election and reprobation. And so the idea of election, is that God has chosen some, the elect, to be saved from their sins and receive eternal life as a gift. Others, the reprobate, God has chosen to leave to their sins and ultimately pour out on them a just wrath and punishment; that we describe as reprobation. The term election is seen in this passage in verse 11, for example. The term reprobation is not literally in the text, but the idea is.
The highlight here especially is placed on the election. God has chosen some to be saved, to be objects of his mercy, etc. But the corollary is that he therefore has chosen some to not be saved. If you chose one group, that means you didn’t choose the other group, which means you’ve effectively chosen for both their outcome. This is called in theological terms “double predestination.” That God predestined some to receive mercy and saving grace, and that he predestined some to be left in their sins and receive the judgment that comes along with it. Some people don’t like double predestination. They want to say that God only predestines to save people. They don’t like to think of him choosing to also send some to hell. But it’s the obvious conclusion that if he chooses some to be saved, he’s choosing some to not be saved.
And that’s what we have here in this passage. Isaac is God’s chosen one, Ishmael is not, verses 7-9. Jacob is God’s chosen one, Esau is not, verses 10-13. Or verses 15-17, Moses was chosen to receive mercy and compassion, whereas Pharaoh did not, but was actually further hardened by God in his state of sin and rebellion. We’ll talk about that hardening notion in a moment. But for now, notice the simple truth. God elects to save some. He chooses to not save others. Isaac, not Ishmael, Jacob, not Esau, Moses, not Pharaoh. That’s the idea of double predestination, of election and reprobation. It’s summarized in verse 18, “Therefore he has mercy on whom he wills, and whom he wills he hardens.”
And so notice then what God’s election involves. Notice how this passage discusses how God chooses to save some. First, it’s not based on man’s works. Nor is it based on man’s willingness. Verse 11 makes this case with regards to Jacob and Esau. God had already told their mother Rebecca about his plan to choose Jacob over Esau before they were born. Before either of them had done anything good or bad, God had chosen Jacob. Paul says that this shows that God’s election of them didn’t have anything to do with about their works. In other words, it’s not that God chooses to save someone because God looked ahead and saw that they would have worthy works. That they’d have some good works that would make them worthy to save. Rather, it’s actually the opposite. Our good works come from God’s saving love shepherding us. Jacob is a good example of that. Both him and Esau’s works look pretty bad at times, but we saw God intervening time and again in Jacob’s life to teach and train him toward godliness.
Verse 16 then says that it’s not about man willing himself to somehow get God’s mercy. In other words, even though we have a sort of free will, that free will isn’t what saves us. The reason as we see elsewhere is because man in his free will is a slave to sin. His freedom of will only goes so far. This is because man ever since the fall naturally wills to live for himself, not God. And so God’s saving of someone, is not because they first willed to be saved. That’s the point of verse 16. God is the one who willed to save them. That’s his election at work.
Man’s will comes into place only secondarily here. For God’s elect, he at some point in their life makes them born again. He brings the gospel to them at that time and holds out salvation to them. Having been born again, then that person exercises their will and believes in Christ. But God’s will to save them had to act first to make that person alive spiritually. So that they would want to freely will to come to Christ. That’s the difference. God’s will acts first to enliven their hearts. So that the gospel does not fall on deaf ears or a hard heart.
We can also point out here that election is not based on ethnic lineage. In other words, God doesn’t choose you to be saved, or not, because of your parents. No, this chapter makes that point very clearly. Not all ethnic Israelites were chosen to be saved. And plenty of Gentiles have been chosen to be saved.
And so there is nothing in man that is told to us is a reason for God to elect to save us. Rather, it’s God’s prerogative and good pleasure to show mercy to whom he wants to show it. When then about the reprobate? Does he choose to damn some to hell in the exact same way? Well, we should make some distinction here. There is a difference in how he does this. For the elect, he chooses to remove them from the state of damnation. He’s choosing to not give them something they deserve. For the reprobate, he chooses to leave them in a state of damnation. He chooses to give them what they deserve.
Now that makes his reprobation sound a little more passive. And there is a sense in which that’s very true. But we must also do justice to the language of verse 18. As much as there are some he shows mercy to, there are some he hardens. It’s the reprobate that he hardens. We have to ask what that means. What does it mean for God to harden some, with the result that they are not saved? Well, Romans 11 describes a little bit about what such a hardening looks like. It talks about God giving people a spirit of stupor, having eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear. Jesus talked about the same thing in Matthew 13:14, saying that some hear but don’t understand. Some see, but not perceive. The idea of this hardening is that at times God doesn’t give someone the grace needed to understand the gospel. Remember, fallen sinners have had their minds darkened. It’s God’s grace for us to truly grasp the gospel. For the elect, he gives that grace to understand it. For the reprobate, he withholds that grace. That would seem to be the hardening described here.
Let me clarify this. It’s not that God is working wickedness or even unbelief, per se, in such people. Rather, it’s what we saw back in Romans chapter 1. It talked there how many people have rejected God and gone after sin. It then talked about how God brought judgment against those people by handing them over to even more depravity. In other words, part of God’s punishment on them for turning from them, was to not hold them back as much as he could in terms of their sin. He allowed those who had freely chosen the bad to go from bad to worse.
That is consistent with what we see about Pharaoh in Exodus even. Romans 9 talks about how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But Exodus describes both. It sometimes says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Other times, it says that Pharaoh hardens his own heart. That’s how this works. God doesn’t work evil in people of his own. He doesn’t tempt people to evil, per James 1:13. Man chose to rebel in sin against God. Man hardened his heart against God. With the reprobate, God is giving such people more of what they wanted. He hardens those even more who have hardened themselves already. By the way, Romans 11 also talks about some having received only a partial hardening. In other words, that they have been hardened against the gospel for a time, only temporarily. Such people are thus part of the elect, just those who for a time have not yet turned in faith.
And so the point is that God’s hardening described here should not be understood as God forcing someone to do some evil action. It’s rather a giving people over all the more to their hardened state against God. The result is that the reprobate will not truly hear and receive the gospel. And the elect will. It means that God will succeed in making sure every one of his chosen ones will exercise their wills to freely choose Christ, but only because he has given them new birth to do so. And the rest will remain calloused against God, and fall even moreso in a state that doesn’t want God or even his forgiveness in their life. This will result in their remaining in a state of judgment, and not being saved from it.
And so it’s at this point that we turn to the questions Paul addresses about this doctrine. Verse 14 is the first one. He anticipates that people will then ask this: “Is there unrighteousness with God?” This is of course the common question I often get from people when I explain this doctrine for the first time. They question God’s justice. They ask how this can be right of God to only save some people, when God could save everyone. Paul emphatically denies this charge. Certainly not, he says. There is not unrighteousness on God’s part. He responds with an Old Testament quote. It’s from Exodus 33 when Moses and God are dialoguing. Moses is concerned about whether God will go with the Israelites, so that they would be distinct from the rest of the peoples in the earth. Moses was concerned God might not go with the people, because they had just committed the sin with the golden calf. God replies that he will have mercy on whomever he will have mercy, and compassion on whomever he will have compassion. In other words, it’s God’s free prerogative to show grace and mercy to people. But, he has no obligation to do so. He has no moral compulsion to save everyone or anyone. He has no debt to justice or righteousness to graciously give mercy to people that have rejected him. The irony here is that the gospel should raise a different question about God’s justice than this. The concern should not be how God could be righteous in not forgiving a sinner. The concern should be how could God
be righteous if he does forgive a sinner. But of course, that’s a question Paul has already dealt with back in chapter 3. That God is just and the justifier of the sinner who puts his faith in Jesus. Because Jesus solves the injustice question. Because Jesus makes it just to pardon a sinner. Because Jesus satisfied the debt of such sinners.
And so Paul’s simple answer is that God is not obligated by justice to save anyone. Man rebelled against God. God would be perfectly just to let us all be damned. Even with his hardening of some people, that hardening is only on people who’ve first rejected God. People who’ve already incurred judgment. God’s hardening them is part of his punishment for their existing sin.
Well, then, Paul’s second question he addresses is in verse 19. Verse 19, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?'” This also is the question I get a lot when explaining this doctrine. By the way, I tend to figure I explained it right when I get these same two questions from people! And so here the question is how can God blame us? How can God blame someone for not heeding the gospel call if it’s God’s secret will that such person won’t heed that call? The question essentially is a complaint that we don’t like that God shows mercy to only some people and leaves some people to their sins. The question complains against how God is handling his creatures. Well, you have to love how Paul answers this question. There are several answers he could have said that would have seem to begun to more directly answer this kind of question. But that’s not Paul’s response. Instead he says this in verse 20, “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?'”
Paul essentially says the question shouldn’t even be asked. At the heart of the question is us setting ourselves up as judge over God. We are interrogating God’s divine counsel in such a question. It’s not for us to interrogate, question, or judge God, in his government. We do not have the wisdom to do so. We don’t have the authority or position or right to do so. This is where we really do need to “know our place.” It’s not ours to reply against God in such a way. He’s the potter. We are the clay. That’s the analogy to say we shouldn’t think it the other way around. Job’s interaction with God comes to my mind here. Job at the end of his trials began to raise some serious accusations and questions directed toward God. God finally appears and confronts Job. He has a lot to say to Job, but if you notice, God never really answers Job’s questions. God’s response to Job is more like, “Who are you to question God and his ways?” God asked Job things like, “Where were you when I made the world?” Or, “Can you govern the earth like I do?” Things like that. Same basic answer here though. We need to remember, we are not God. We may not like his choices. But if the choices are just and right, who are we to tell him how to run his world?
Interestingly, Paul does nonetheless go on to begin to suggest a sort of answer to this question, nonetheless. I say that he “suggests” this answer, because verse 21 uses the phrase “what if.” Verse 22. “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory.” The “what if” tells me that we shouldn’t take this suggestion as all that can be said to answer this question. A question that arguably shouldn’t even be asked. But Paul essentially suggests that there is way that the elect can appreciate all the more their election because some are not elected. Because some are not chosen to be saved, we can know the “riches of God’s glory” better as the elect. Because some actually do go to hell, we who go to heaven can appreciate our salvation all the more. And since God is the one who saved us, and not the other way around, all the glory goes to God, not us. And all the more, since we can see so clearly the alternative. The alternative of hell. That judgment on humans does happen. That we’ve been saved from that. That makes us appreciate what God has done for us all the more. This is surely part of the answer to the question of why God would make some people that he knows will end up in hell.
Well, as we conclude our sermon for today, don’t miss how all this comes back to us today. Remember the context of Romans. Last sermon on Romans I said that Romans 9-11 deal with the question of Israel. Paul’s addressing the fact that so many Israelites have not believed in Jesus. So many Gentiles have. And he makes that point again here at the end of our passage. Verses 23 and 24. Verse 23 talked about the riches of God’s glory for the elect. And so then he applies that to us in verse 24. “Even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” That’s where I pulled the title of our sermon today. “Even us.” Even us, the Gentile believers. We too have been seen to be God’s elect. God’s chosen ones are not just born of the nation of Israel. Even us, non-Jews, people from the nations, are being shown to be God’s chosen ones too.
You see, this is a bit of surprise, isn’t it? But this is how this passage relates to us. If we believe in Christ, we are those chosen of God! We are the ones saved in this wonderful way! We are the elect! Even us! We went through that list before of those who were elect and those who were reprobate. Isaac, not Ishmael, Jacob, not Esau, Moses, not Pharaoh. We might have thought the list would go on to say Israel, not the Gentiles. Jews, not the rest of the peoples. We might have thought that this talk of God’s chosen ones applied to Jews and Jews alone, but that’s not true. Not all Israel are of Israel. And even us, even us who are in Christ, we are his elect. This phrase in verse 24, “even us” is good news for Gentiles. Even us are called. Even us are beneficiary’s of the death of Jesus Christ.
So then, elect of God, let us glorify God. As we consider our election compared to so many who do not believe. As we consider how many are lost. Remember our place. Remember that we deserve to be lost. We deserve to be damned. And then remember that we did not save ourselves. All along, God had a plan to save you! He’s worked it out. He’s made sure you heard the gospel. He’s opened your mind to understand it. He’s softened your heart to receive it. He’s made you born again and so impressed the need for him that we freely turn to him and are saved through faith in Christ. And so glorify God. Praise him. For his sovereignty in our salvation. For his love for us. For choosing us! Praise be to God! Amen.
Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.