by Roger McCay
2 February 2020
Sermon Passage: Romans 9:1-13
Link to Audio Version
“Well that makes God kind of a jerk!” During a discussion with a certain gentleman, I came to find that he was angered by the teachings in Scripture about how God works. What was particularly upsetting to him was the doctrines (the teachings) of God’s foreordaining all that comes to pass; electing his people (those he wants to save); allowing sin to come into play; and then condemning people for sins that (in this fellow’s mind) God could have prevented, or not let happen in the first place. He claimed “that makes God a kind of jerk.”
Such a sentiment is actually not uncommon. The idea that God has all the cards (that he is sovereign in electing people to save and the judge who will condemn some people for their sin), is hard to wrap one’s mind around. Despite this difficulty, the balance of “God’s sovereignty in election” and “human responsibility in sin” is a reality, clearly taught in the Scriptures. Every Christian needs to come to terms with and understand these doctrines, not only for our own peace of mind, but also so that we can obey the command in 1 Peter 3:15,
“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
The balance of “God’s sovereignty in election” and “human responsibility for sin” can be a struggle to come to terms with both mentally and emotionally. This is particularly true when we see people, whom we know and love, reject the Lord.
The apostle Paul even admits his struggle in this concerning the Jews. It was not that Paul did not rest in the Lord’s faithfulness, it was that the Jews unbelief was a very emotional issue for him. Verses 1-3:
9:1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Paul’s emotional response to this truth is a tribute to the veracity of his words. He loved his Jewish brethren. It was extremely painful to him to see them reject Christ.
Notice how Paul starts his exposition on sovereign election and human responsibility. He starts it with tears, sorrow, anguish, expressing a desire on the brink of wishing to lose his salvation, if only it would save his fellow Jews. Paul isn’t stoic about it. He doesn’t say, “Well I’m a chosen apostle. I’m saved. Too bad about everybody else.” No, he grieves for them, and he pleads for God to save them.
This shows how our attitude ought to be when we consider these doctrines—in a word, loving. These are not doctrines to get puffed up about. These are not doctrines to use as an excuse to write off the rest of the world. These are doctrines that should cause us to grieve the state of sin that those outside Christ find themselves, and to, in an utterly heartfelt way, plead with the Lord on their behalf. These doctrines, rather than stifle our witness, should drive our witness of the gospel to those who don’t know Jesus. It certainly did for Paul.
We also find permission in this passage to grieve when those we know and love refuse to believe, and reject Christ. I cannot imagine a more heart-churning issue.
Perhaps you relate to his pain a bit. Maybe you have a loved one who is lost. You enjoy them, love their company, but, even so, there is always pain underneath – knowing they are lost. Maybe you’ve suffered the loss of such a loved one, an unbeliever. You know the terrible grief that ensues, a grief that is so different than that which you feel when you know your loved one, as a believer, is now with Jesus in Paradise.
In such a way, we can relate a bit with Paul’s pain in v. 2: …my sorrow is great and unceasing anguish is in my heart.
Consider though, this remarkable statement in v. 3:
3 For I could almost wish that I myself were accursed – cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Can you even begin to fathom being willing to suffer eternal damnation to save those who don’t know Jesus?