Picking up after our Summer break, we're continuing through our study of the Epistle to the Romans. The road to salvation we have seen so far is as follows:
Chapters 1-3 show us that God's wrath will be against all who are wicked and godless and that we are all sinners:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, (Romans 1:18)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
Chapter 4, using Abraham, shows us that we are saved by faith, and not by works:
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. (Romans 4:16)
Chapter 5 tells us that we are all dead because sin entered the world through one man, Adam, and that life now comes into the world through the one Christ - Jesus:
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)
Chapter 6 tells us that we are no longer slaves to sin, but are instead slaves to righteousness:
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)
Chapter 7 tells us that while there is a link between sin and the law, it is that the law shows us our sin, it does not cause us to sin:
What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless... (Romans 7:7a)
Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died (Romans 7:9)
The wonderful 8th chapter tells us that those in Christ are not condemned and that we can not be separated from Christ's love:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, (Romans 8:1)
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39)
We have now moved into chapters 9-11 and seen that the Jews are part of God's sovereign plan, but not because they are the nation of Israel (descendant of Abraham), but because they share the same faith as Abraham (see chapter 4):
For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. (Romans 9:6b-7)
And that it is all part of God's plan, including the path of the promise, first to Issac (9:7-9) and then to Jacob (9:10-13).
The issue we come to here is how much are we involved in our own salvation. We have seen that it is through faith that we are saved, but is faith a work, or is it part of God's sovereign plan? This has led to Israel (of faith) being a sub-set of Israel (nation). The point put forward is that God's hand has been in the story of Israel all along. That Isaac was blessed, not Ishmael, even though Ishmael was the firstborn male of Abraham. If you want to argue that Ishmael was not Sarah and Abraham's, the second point is that Jacob was loved, while his twin (firstborn) Esau was hated. Therefore the line of descendant is not through the line of firstborn males, but through faith.
We can now read Romans 9:14-23:
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— now pick it up
Now we see another Old Testament story, Moses and the Israelites held in captivity by the Egyptians. We see the idea of mercy being provided by God. People receive mercy and become objects of mercy, while others do not, and therefore experience a hardening (v18), such as Pharaoh. The idea is pretty clear, it is that God's sovereignty chooses some for salvation, while the rest have an appointment with His wrath.
The question here then becomes is this fair?
It is up to Him who saves, to do the saving? This is the concept of election. The Jews believed they were the elect through birth, but here we are shown that it is through faith we are the elect.
We've just seen Israel (the nation) told that they may not be saved (unless they are part of the Israel (of faith). This is a response to their perceived and assumed outrage and outcry to this truth.
The answer to whether it's fair is that being just or unjust needs a measure to be tracked against. The flat (unpopular) answer is that the measure is God's own character and that He is free to bestow mercy on whoever He wishes. This confirms that being saved is not of our own desire or effort, but rather God's mercy and love for us who are saved. Faith is therefore not willing (desire) or effort (doing). The result of not providing mercy is that He can harden who He wants to. "To harden" is to create an insensitivity to God, His word and His work. It is God who determines who is saved and who is therefore destined for glory, and also, who is kept in spiritual blindness. Jesus's own ministry was filled with many healings of the blind, shown as a miracle and a metaphor for spiritual blindness.
This, therefore, leads us to the next question posed, “Then why does God still blame us?" To which I'm not sure Paul answers, he rather doubles down on his initial response... answering who are we to question, to talk back to God? He then draws on a few Old Testament scriptures to give us a fuller picture of who we are in relation to God. We are the clay in the potter's hands.
Read Isaiah 29:16 and Jeremiah 18:5-10.
It is through this illustration that we are to recognise that God is sovereign and that while we are all destined for judgement and wrath, it is through our faith in Jesus and having an active relationship with the living God, that we experience His love and moved to be an object of His mercy.