SGBC Modesto

God’s Sovereign Purposes

March 28, 2024 by

William Heinrich

Romans 9:1-24

The sovereignty of God is a doctrine that Christians ought to learn, yet many of its aspects are hard to understand. Among them is God’s sovereignty in choosing whomever He wanted to save, even before time began. And this is what I’ll talk about, using Romans 9:1-24 as our text.

Because this subject is not easy for our human minds to comprehend, I think it would be helpful if we follow a few simple rules: First, we will not try to prove a preconceived theory by taking some verses out of context. We will carefully study every verse of our text.

Second, we shall speak only what the scripture says. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isa. 8:20).

Third, we will obediently hear with ears of faith, not trying to twist or argue any verses away. We’ll take God’s truth for what they are.

And last, we won’t quench or grieve the Holy Spirit by saying, “Why bother with all these heavy doctrines; all I need to know is that I’m saved.” Instead, we humbly ask Him to teach us the deep things of God and join the Psalmist in praying, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (119:18).

I. The Burden of Paul

With that in mind, let’s go on now with our study. Romans 9 can be divided into three sections. I call the first, verses 1-7, “The burden of Paul.” To put this burden of his in context, we really should reflect back
on Chapter 8.

Romans 8, many great theologians say, is the peak of the Bible because it talks about the wonderful blessings enjoyed by those who are in Christ. That chapter ends with the declaration that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

So, it is right after Paul has recounted his own blessings, in a sense, that he proceeds to reveal the great burden in his heart, saying:

I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh (vv. 1-3).

Note that Paul grieves for those kinsmen of his that are still unsaved right in the midst of explaining predestination, election and the blessings of being chosen by God.

What about your burden for the lost? Is it just an academic exercise? Does the knowledge of these great doctrines of grace and predestination transfer into a deep compassion in our heart for the lost? If not, would you confess to the Lord and ask Him to give you that burden?

Notwithstanding his burden for his kinsmen, Paul acknowledges that they have indeed had every opportunity:

Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (vv. 4,5).

He starts off by noting that the Israelites were the first to be adopted by God to serve Him and to see His glory, and ends up by showing that the chosen seed even came through them. In between, he says, they had the covenants, they got the law, they had the priesthood and they received the promises. They had every opportunity, every benefit imaginable.

What went wrong then? Answer:

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. (vv. 6,7).

No, the word of God hasn’t failed. It is just as trustworthy as it ever was. The problem is with Israel. They have misunderstood God’s promise, thinking that they are God’s people just because they have Jewish blood in their veins.

But natural birth does not make one a child of God. Just because the people of Israel are the offspring of Abraham does not make them children of God. To prove his point, Paul quotes from Genesis 21:12, where God told Abraham, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” In other words, Isaac was the promised child, not Ishmael.

II. The Promise and Purpose of God

This truth, which is quite different from what the Jews have hitherto taken for granted, requires some deep explanation. And that’s what Paul goes on to do in the second section of Romans 9. He starts by saying:

They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. (vv. 8,9).

In other words, blood relation does not automatically make one a child of God because what really counts is the promise and purpose of God. The line of Isaac was chosen because the promise stated specifically that Sarah would be the one to bear the promised seed.

In case people think that God rejected Ishmael because he was born from Hagar, a slave woman, and out of polygamy, Paul goes one step further in his explanation:

And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth. (vv. 10,11).

The twins conceived in Rebecca had the same father and the same mother. But even before they were born, before they had done anything good or evil, God chose one and not the other. Why? “That the purpose of God according to election might stand.”

You see, God has a purpose. It was to carry out that purpose that He had chosen the elect before the world was ever made. Whether we are chosen or not, therefore, does not depend on what we do, but on God. He is the One who does the calling.

To underscore God’s sovereignty in this matter, Paul quotes again from the Old Testament:

It was said unto her, “The elder shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (vv. 12,13).

The first quote was from Genesis 25:23. God said that to Rebecca when she was still carrying the twins. The second is from Malachi 1, where God stated unequivocally that He loved Jacob but hated Esau.

Did God love Jacob because he was such a cute little fella? No, in fact, he turned out to be a real rascal. He lied and cheated his brother Esau. But it was God’s purpose to change him into a more Christ-like man, showing the mercy and power of God thereby.

But did God really hate Esau? Maybe He simply loved Esau less, as some suggest. Well, at the beginning of this message I said that we should take God for what He says, that we wouldn’t try to twist His word into something else.

So, let’s read Malachi 1 with an open mind: “I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them the border of wickedness and the people against whom the Lord hath indignation for ever” (vv. 3,4).

What does that mean? He loved him less? Let’s be honest. And be careful also. God is perfect in all that He does. He is perfect in His hatred. I don’t understand everything that God does; I’m just taking God at His Word. And I ask you to do that too.

III. Rebuttal to Man’s objections

Now we go on to the third section, where Paul anticipates man’s objections and then presents God’s rebuttal to those objections. The first involves God’s righteousness. Haven’t you heard people say, “But that doesn’t seem fair!” Humanly speaking, we think that God should save everybody.

But God’s view on this subject is quite different. Paul explains:

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. (vv. 14-16).

Is God unrighteous somehow? No way. The problem is that man thinks God owes mercy to everybody. What God really owes everybody is hell, the lake of fire, eternal damnation. The wages of sin is death, but our perverse mind twists it around to where God owes all of us His mercy.

In His rebuttal, God says, I am the sovereign God. I am the One who decides to whom I will give mercy. I don’t give anyone mercy on the basis of what he decides, or how he behaves. You get mercy from me only if it is my purpose to pity you.

To further show that God’s purpose is that which really counts, Paul continues:

For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. (vv. 17,18).

Did you see the word “purpose” there again? What was God’s purpose in raising Pharaoh up? We read in Exodus 9:16, “for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee My power; and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth.”

You see, Pharaoh was the Pharaoh at that time only because it was God’s purpose to put him there. God used him to show His power so that the nations would know His mighty name.

Indeed, because Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, Moses had to demonstrate God’s power by doing ten great miracles before he finally led the Israelites out of Egypt. During their 40 years in the wilderness, he performed many additional ones. By the time they got to Jericho, news about the great works of God had gotten around so that great fear had fallen upon the people there.

God is therefore saying here: “I’m God and I do whatever my purposes deem best. So, whether I show mercy to someone or whether I harden him is entirely my business.”

Next, Paul anticipates yet another objection that man would raise:

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? (v. 19)

Since God decides whom He hardens and to whom He shows mercy and since no one can go against God’s will, what right then does God have to judge those whom He has hardened?

I’m sure all of us have thought that at one time or another. But we should not. We’d better not, because God says:

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? (vv. 20,21)

Notice Paul does not seek to appease the people by making excuses for God. Without backing up an inch, he says, Who do you think you are that you dare to judge God’s judgment? Can the creature judge the Creator? Can the one who is totally dependent upon the life and the breath that he has judge the one who gave them to him?

You see, even before sin entered the world, there was a tremendous gap between man and God. The Almighty God created the heaven and the earth. He then came down and made man out of dirt. Yes, we are just dirt. “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” So, even sinless man was beyond comparison with God.

Then, sin entered the world and we all turned selfish, sinful, and rebellious. We have sunk even lower. How dare we question the purpose of our Creator, who is perfect and holy and righteous and just and all-

Is God less than the guy down at the corner pottery shop who pumps the spinning wheel and shapes a piece of clay into a vessel, a pot? He has the right to make a pot that is meant to be trashed once it has served its purpose, or to make a really good one to be put on a high shelf for display. That’s his privilege; he’s the potter. He makes the pottery.

Who do you think you are? And who do you think God is? Besides, do you have any idea what God is doing?

What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory. (vv. 22,23).

Remember why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart? He did that to show the world His power, which is one of His attributes. Is it then so hard to understand that God also wants to display His other attributes through the vessels He’s made? Is it so wrong for Him to make some vessels fitted for wrath so that He can display His patience as well as His power? And to make some other vessels to display His mercy, His grace and His love?

Who are the vessels of mercy that God had prepared unto glory even before the world was created? Paul writes:

Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (v. 24)

“Even us,” it says here. Yes, each of us believers is a beautiful pot God sets on a high shelf to display His glory.

If we’ve learned from this passage that it is God’s purpose for the world to see the riches of His glory in us, then let’s get to bringing Him glory. Let’s get praising and lifting Him up and acting like a vessel of honor ought to act.

Meanwhile, make sure we remember that we are the pot, He’s the potter. So, let’s not question God’s fairness and judgment. You may not understand all that. But all I ask is that you search the scripture with a sincere desire to know God as He’s revealed in the Bible. Then you’ll get to know Him, not the one you make up, not what you imagine God ought to be like, but the one clearly presented to us in the Scripture.