Today on Summit Life with J.D.
Greer. God is the center of everything. Every time you walk outside and look up at the stars, it is screaming at you, you're not the point. The exaltation of God's glory is the greatest good in the universe.
And that might offend us in a culture who grew up thinking and being told all of our lives that we were the point of it all, that we're special, that we're unique, that we're snowflakes, but that is true. Thanks for joining us today on Summit Life with pastor, author, and theologian J.D. Greer. As always, I'm your host, Molly Vidovitch. So I have a question that many people have struggled with for all of history. You ready?
Here it is. If God is merciful, then why does he choose to save some and not others? We've all heard the arguments. A loving God would never condemn anyone to hell, right? Well, Pastor J.D. Greer will answer this and some other tough questions as we continue our teaching series in the book of Romans. We'll learn that the mystery of God's ways should always point us to his sovereignty most importantly, and secondly, to our unworthiness.
The gift of God is on full display today here on Summit Life. So grab your Bible and let's get started. Meet us in Romans, chapter nine. This is the chapter that most people would prefer to skip in the book of Romans. In fact, I'm surprised that all of you are here today.
Quite frankly, maybe you won't be next weekend. Honestly, it's hard to find good resources to help teach this chapter because most Bible teachers skip it. More than once, I have been tempted just to say, read it on your own and I'll come back with chapter 10. But this is a crazy important chapter.
Crazy important. It's the most extensive discussion in scripture of the tension between God's sovereignty and man's free will. Today, you hear terms like Calvinism or predestination or reform theology. These are all the kind of things that get raised in this chapter.
This chapter deals with those questions. The central question is, how much is God actually in control of the details of history? Does he choose people for salvation or do they choose it for themselves? Now, whenever this topic comes up, people always immediately want to know, okay, Pastor JD, what side of this debate are you on?
And honestly, I take it as a little bit of a compliment when people don't know. And you see the Bible, I believe the Bible maintains a tension between those two. And so when I am dealing with a text of scripture that emphasizes God's sovereignty, well, I want to sound like a Calvinist.
But when I am preaching those parts that emphasize our responsibility to choose and why our praying and our sharing Christ makes an actual difference in the eternities of others, well, then I want to sound like a non-Calvinist. And I am perfectly okay if that creates an unresolved tension in my preaching. I determined a long time ago that I would rather get to heaven and have God look at me and say, son, you preached my Bible a little too literally than have him say, why did you explain away all those things that didn't fit with your theories? Y'all listen, I know that scripture and God never contradict themselves, but that doesn't mean that you and I have the capacity to resolve everything in our relatively tiny little minds. After all, we're talking about the ways of God. You ought to expect some mystery. I mean, if things like quantum physics and chaos theory and mathematics have taught us anything, it is that apparent contradictions are often resolved by expanded knowledge into dimensions that we weren't familiar with yet.
And of course, if that's true in the natural world, how much more would we expect it to be true in the supernatural? Whenever I get into this, I remember the words that my wise dad gave me when I first came home from college with all these questions, because I've been introduced to all these questions and Calvinism. And I came home and just peppered him with all these questions and was talking about all the stuff I was reading.
And my dad, listen very patiently. And he said, son, just want you to know that people are a lot smarter than you have been arguing about this for 2000 years and they haven't figured it out yet. So be encouraged, okay?
You're probably not going to be the guy to figure it out either. You should just go ahead and resolve that you're going to preach Jesus. And so that's what I've been trying to do now for as long as I've been in ministry. By the way, just so you know my background, I was not raised in a church that you would call reformed. In fact, the Christian school I grew up in was fiercely non-Calvinist. We loved all those whosoever will passages.
We gave invitations every week. We wanted people to get saved all day, every day. We talked about why the world's salvation was all up to us and why no true Christian would ever drink, play cards, get a tattoo or go to the movies. Not sure how all that tied together, but that was the world I grew up in. I'm grateful for a lot of the things that I learned there. Obviously not everything I've continued on. I've left some of that behind, but that's how I grew up. And then in God's wonderful sense of humor, He led me to fall in love with a beautiful Presbyterian girl. And you know, the Presbyterians tend to emphasize those passages about God's sovereignty. In fact, she told me, she said in her youth group, they had a class on the five points. We never had on five points of Calvinism.
We never had that in my youth group. And then we got married and yes, yes, we got married. You say, well, what was that? What was that marriage like? A legalistic, we got to save the world, independent Baptist and a free in Christ, frozen, chosen Presbyterian. I always say our first year of marriage was basically I baptized her. I made her quit drinking and consented to the fact that it was all predestined to happen.
That's how that went down. That was our compromise. Well, just like our marriage, I consider my own theological approach, my own approach to this, to be a blending of two perspectives. And so when I get to those passages that emphasize our responsibility to choose, I'm going to try to preach them just like they're written.
And when I get to the ones that emphasize God's sovereignty, I'm going to preach those just like they're written also. Okay. So don't hate me.
I'm just the mailman. Maybe you're smart enough to figure out how it all works together, bully for you. I'm going to let God sort it out for me one day, but here's what all of us need to understand when we jump into this.
Okay. Romans nine is in our Bibles for a reason. It is no accident that Paul includes this discussion about God's sovereignty immediately after all those triumphal declarations in chapter eight about God's unwavering commitment to fulfill his purposes in our lives. Because we're asking, well, how can I be sure that what God has started in me, he'll actually finish? How do I know that somebody else isn't going to mess that up?
How do I know that I'm not going to mess that up? You see, as Paul says in chapter eight, as he is proclaiming in chapter eight, that those you foreknow those who predestined and those who predestined those he called and those he called, he justified and those he justified, he glorified as Paul is saying that he hears in his head and objection. Remember he's been doing this all throughout Romans.
He's hearing these objections that people have. He hears this objection where somebody says, whoa, wait a minute, Paul, wait, what about the Jews? They were chosen by God, were they not?
And clearly they have fallen away. They rejected Jesus. So that is the question that Paul starts answering in chapter nine. Why did the Jews reject Jesus? And if God failed with them, how do we know he won't fail with us also?
In the first three verses, if your Bible's open there, Paul makes clear that this is not just an academic or philosophical question for him. In fact, he says something rather astounding. He says, if I could, I would revoke my own salvation if it meant that would lead to the Jews getting saved. These were his countrymen. These were his friends. These were his family. This is not some ivory tower seminary discussion for him.
It is deeply personal. I just need you to understand that going in, that this is a very personal thing for Paul, not just a philosophical musing to him. In verses four and five, Paul acknowledges and laments the fact that Israel, of all people, he says they should have believed. He identifies in verses four and five, several spiritual privileges, let's say, that Israel had, that no other nation on earth had. God adopted them to himself by delivering them miraculously out of Pharaoh's control in the Exodus.
He didn't do that for any other nation. And from that point on, he poured out on them manifestations and miracles, and he spoke to them through the prophets. He gave them pictures and foreshadowings of the gospel through Moses. He gave Israel his law, which was the perfect reflection of his nature. They hosted the temple where God himself dwelt and that had all these different things that depicted the salvation process. Every single one of the prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah was a Jew. And when Jesus finally showed up, he was born as a Jew and he lived his entire ministry exclusively in Israel. So of all people, Paul says, of all people, the Jews should have recognized Jesus when he came. These were a people of deep spiritual privilege. So what happened?
What happened? And more importantly, how was this not a failure of God's purposes? And if God failed then, how can we be sure that God will do any better with us? Paul breaks this question down into four questions. He's going to break the whole passage down into answers to these four questions. So I'm just going to walk you through the chapter section by section and show you how Paul is answering these four questions that him frame the thing. And then at the end, I'm going to give you some conclusions on it, okay? Question number one.
Here's the first question he deals with. Has God failed to keep his promises? The answer is no. No.
And here's why. In verse six, Paul explains that not every Jew born in racial Israel was a member of the actual Israel. From the very beginning, Paul says, being a true Jew was a matter of the heart and not simply something of the flesh, not your ethnicity. Now it is not as though, he says, verse six, and not to know the word of God has failed because not all who were descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are all of Abraham's children, his descendants. Now that would have left the average Jew in Paul's day scratching his head.
What does that mean? What it means is that even in the Old Testament, there was a distinction between Jews who were only Jews by heritage and those who embraced Abraham's faith from the heart. The covenant that God had with Israel, Paul explains, was never about ethnic identity.
It was always about personal trust and its promises. In fact, do you remember when we were back in chapter two, how Paul explained that circumcision, true circumcision, was not the cutting away of skin on your physical body. True circumcision was the cutting away of spiritual deadness from your heart.
The real circumcision was a circumcision of the heart and not everyone in Israel experienced that. Paul uses two examples there to drive that home. The first one is there in verse nine. Abraham has two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac represents the son who embraces the promise. Ishmael represents the other son of Abraham who rejected it. All of Abraham's descendants fit into those two categories, promise-embracers and promise-rejectors.
Maybe even more clearly, look in verse 13. Isaac, who was Abraham's son, himself had two sons. One was Jacob who, though he had a pretty rough past and was by all estimations a sleazebag, he eventually embraced God's promises.
The other was Esau, a rather impressive young man who traded his stake in God's promise for a bowl of soup. The writer of Hebrews is going to say Esau represents those Jews who failed to embrace God's promise in their heart because they would not bring the lust of their flesh under the submission of God's law. Those two kinds of people always existed in Israel, Paul said, and God never had a relationship with the Ishmaels and the Esau's. So Paul concludes, you can't say that the Jews' rejection of Jesus is evidence that God sometimes loses the sons and daughters he foreknew and predestined. He never knew a lot of those people.
Those were the ones who rejected Jesus, and you can see that even in the Old Testament. That's his first question, okay? Thank you for listening to Summit Life with Pastor J.D.
Greer. Do you have a question or even a prayer request? Send it to us anytime by emailing requests at jdgreer.com. Now we'll get back to today's teaching in a moment, but I wanted to make sure that you heard about our new featured resource. It's a Bible study by Pastor Tim Keller called The Gift of God. It'll take you through the first half of the book of Romans, and each of the seven studies includes about 12 key verses to dig deeper on, as well as application questions and prayer prompts. You'll see Paul teaching about the gift of being right with God and what being righteous means for your future. This is a great way to dive deeper into the rich teaching of the book of Romans, either for your own personal growth or to facilitate discipleship conversations with someone else.
To get your copy, give us a call right now at 866-335-5220 or give online at jdgreer.com. Now let's get back to today's teaching. Once again, here's Pastor J.D.
on Summit Life. Question number two, is God unfair in how He dispenses mercy? Answer again, no. Verse 14, what should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not, for He tells Moses, I'll show mercy on whom I will show mercy and I'll have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
The question here is one that you've probably had, honestly, and I've had, is whether God somehow did something wrong by only showing mercy to Jacob and foreknowing him and not doing the same thing with Esau. But the definition of mercy, Paul explains, listen to this, the definition of mercy excludes any sense of obligation. The definition of mercy is that you receive something that you do not deserve.
If you deserved it, it would not be mercy, it would be justice. And so if God doesn't owe anyone mercy, you can't say it is unfair for him to not show it to somebody. Paul's reasoning goes like this, are you saying that God owes somebody salvation?
Well no, of course you're not saying that. And if God owes no one salvation, well then that means that God is free to give it to all people if He wants, He's free to give it to some people, He's free to give it to none people, right? It's His choice. In fact, God would have done us no injustice by leaving all of us to perish. What was fair is that all of us be left in the condemnation that we had chosen for ourselves.
That's what He established in chapters one through three. We chose a condemnation, we chose it freely. What was fair is that God leave us there.
The fact that any of us know Him, His sheer grace. So Paul is saying, let's make sure that we're framing this question in the right way. John Stott, the old British theologian, used to explain it like this, Paul's way of defending God's justice is to proclaim His mercy.
That may seem backward to us, but it's not. Paul is indicating that the question itself is misconceived because the basis on which God deals savingly with sinners is not justice, thank God, it is mercy. But still you ask, well, why did God choose some and not others? Paul explains in verse 16, well, first you got to realize that it had nothing to do with your inner goodness or how much you or I deserved it. Look at what he says in verse 16, so then it does not depend on human will or effort, but entirely on God who shows mercy. That means God did not look down from heaven and say, oh, that one, yeah, He's got some potential. Oh, I see a little good left in that one. Okay, that one's really sincere. Okay, He's just been dealt a bad hand.
Let's go down and let's save that one because I can see, I can see that deep down He's good. No, none of us deserved it more than anybody else. God's choice to bestow it was undeserved grace from top to bottom. Now, that does not mean that God's choices were arbitrary as if God shut His eyes metaphorically and started going eeny, meeny, miny, moe and just started picking people at random. Paul never said that God had no reasons for His choosing, just that the reasons for His choosing do not correspond to goodness in us. We believers can feel no superiority over unbelievers because it was not anything in us, any kind of goodness that called forth God's choice. In verse 17, Paul gives you a hint at God's reason.
It's just a hint. It's not a full answer, but he says, he uses Pharaoh. He says that God's not choosing a Pharaoh was so that through Pharaoh's resistance, God would have an opportunity to put His power and glory on display. If you know anything about the Old Testament, you remember Pharaoh was the guy that said no 10, 11, 12 times to Moses when Moses said, God commands to let my people go, right?
And he said, no, I'm not going to do it. Verse 17, for the scripture tells Pharaoh, I raised you up for this reason so that I could display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in the whole earth. In other words, Pharaoh's hardness of heart gave God an opportunity to show His power over wickedness and His loving commitment to save His children that God would have not had if Pharaoh had not resisted God so strongly. So that leads you to question three. Is God unjust then in holding us accountable?
Again, no. Here's the question. If Pharaoh was just playing the role that he's supposed to play, well, how could he be held accountable for that?
For many of you, this is your question. You're like, look, if God is the one who's in control of who hears and who believes, how can he condemn those who are simply playing the role that he's been assigned to play? Paul's first answer to this is to show you that God's rejection of Pharaoh was consistent with Pharaoh's own choices.
In fact, here's the key question. Who rejected whom first? Did Pharaoh reject God first or did God reject Pharaoh first? Well, scripture does indeed say that God hardened Pharaoh's heart to resist his message. But listen, that statement comes only, listen, after the sixth plague.
If you go back and read the first five plagues, you will find this statement. Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Five times it says Pharaoh hardened his heart. And after Pharaoh had done it five times, God just said, okay.
And God began to harden it. The point is God is not to blame for Pharaoh's hard heart, Pharaoh is. Someone's rejection of God is always presented this way. When Jesus lamented the Jews' rejection of him in Matthew 23, this is what he said.
Look at this, Matthew 23, oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets, you stone those that were sent to you. How often I longed to gather your children to gather like a hen gathers your chicks under her wings, but it was just not in God's sovereign choice and so you weren't predestined and that's why it didn't happen. No, what did you say? But you, you weren't willing.
I was drawing you, I was calling you and you would not come. I know this might hurt your head a little, but C.S. Lewis correctly says that hell is always a door that is first lock from the inside. In other words, it's true that if anybody's saved, the credit is God's and God's alone. But if anybody is lost, the blame is 100% entirely theirs. The late D. James Kennedy, who is Presbyterian, uses this really helpful illustration. He says, say five friends of mine decided they were gonna rob a bank and I found out about it.
Okay, I'll just use it here. Say that five of our campus pastors I hear are gonna go down and rob a bank, right? And so I find out about it, I go over to the place where they're getting ready to go and I'm like, guys, this is a terrible idea, you shouldn't do this.
And they're like, no, no, no, we're gonna do it. And all six of them start walking out the door and I pick the weakest one, I tackle him and I pin him to the ground. The other five go, robbery goes bad, you know, they get caught, a guard gets shot, two civilians. These guys are tried, they're convicted and they're sentenced to life in prison. Here's how D. James Kennedy asked it, whose fault was it the other men were arrested and sentenced? Can they blame me because I didn't stop them? No, this other man who's now walking around free because he never went through with the act and he never got convicted, can he say, oh, it's because my heart was so good and because I was so wise that I resisted that temptation, that's why I walked free.
No, the only reason that he is free is because of me, I restrained him. So it is that those who go to hell have no one to blame but themselves. Those who go to heaven have no one to praise but Jesus Christ. Thus we see that salvation is all of grace from its beginning to its end. Question number four, is God's choice to save only some, is that inconsistent with his goodness? Honestly, this is probably where I most struggle, but Paul hears in his mind the objection that a good God, a good God would save everybody. Why would a good God let anybody perish? Paul's answer, verse 20, but who are you, oh, mere man, to talk back to God? Well, what does form say to the one who formed it?
Why did you make me like this? Now keep in mind, Paul's already established, God didn't make you reject him, that was your own free choice, but he's saying having understood that that was your free choice, why would you and I look at all of creation and say, why did God let this happen? Or has the potter no right over the clay to make from the same one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? If God uses your own free choices to reject him, to set up a display of his glory, can any of us accuse him of injustice? And if you say a good God would have had different plans for his creation, Paul says, really?
Really, you think that you are as wise and as smart as God? What if God, wanting to display his wrath and to make his power known? What if he endured with much patience objects of wrath prepared for destruction? And what if he did this to make known the riches of his glory and objects of mercy that he had prepared beforehand for glory? Summit Church, here's a tough truth, the ultimate end that God pursues in all things, including my and your salvation, is his glory. Tim Keller says it like this, if God had mercy on all or condemned all, we wouldn't have seen his glory. I don't think Paul has given us much more than a hint here, but it's a very suggestive hint. For the biggest question is this, if God could save everybody, why doesn't he? And here Paul seems to say that God's chosen course to save some and leave others, will in the end be more fit to show forth God's glory than any other scheme that we could imagine.
And honestly, that's a hard truth to wrestle with. And that is because you and I are used to thinking of ourselves and our interests as the most important element, the most important reality in the universe, but we are not, and it is not, God's glory is the ultimate thing in the universe. God is the center of everything. Every time you walk outside and look up at the stars, it is screaming at you. You're not the point. The exaltation of God's glory is the greatest good in the universe.
And that might offend us in a culture who grew up thinking and being told all of our lives that we were the point of it all, that we're special, that we're unique, that we're snowflakes, but that is true. God is at the center of everything and he keeps his promises to us. Isn't it assuring to know he's always in control, even when we don't feel like it? I hope you've been enjoying this series in the book of Romans as much as I have. In fact, Romans is the subject of the newest premium resource that we are offering to our Summit Life family.
It's the first part of a two-part study through the book of Romans written by our friend Pastor Tim Keller. To reserve your copy, simply give a gift of $35 or more to support this ministry. You can call us at 866-335-5220.
That's 866-335-5220. Or you can give online at jdgrier.com. And while you're there, why not consider becoming one of our gospel partners? This generous group of regular monthly supporters truly makes Summit Life possible.
And in return, we say thank you by sending them a copy of every featured resource you hear about on this show. Again, head over to jdgrier.com today to join the gospel partner team. While you're on the website, be sure to sign up for our email list. You'll receive ministry updates, more information about our featured resources, and Pastor J.D. 's latest blog posts, all delivered straight to your inbox.
Sign up when you go to jdgrier.com. I'm Molly Vidovitch, and I'm so thankful for another strong week of biblical teaching from Pastor J.D. Join us next week when we conclude this challenging message in Romans chapter 9, right here on Summit Life with J.D. Greer. Today's program is produced and sponsored by J.D. Greer Ministries.
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