by Roger McCay
9 February 2020
Sermon Passage: Romans 9:13-21
Link to Audio Version
You may remember the news from a few years ago, when the PCUSA wanted to change the words of the song “In Christ Alone,” so that they could include it in their new hymnal, titled Glory to God. The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song had been working on the hymnal for three and a half years at the time. They wanted to include the song, but only if they could change one lyric from saying “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” Well, the songwriters’ (Keith Getty and Stuart Townend) refused to allow that change. They thought it was too great a departure from the original hymn. As a result, the PCUSA dropped the song from being included in their hymnal.
Now, while the PCUSA has gotten some heat over this from Bible believing Christians, they actually got the idea for the change from the Baptists. The Celebrating Grace Hymnal, a Baptist hymnal published in 2010, had already changed the verse to the altered text: “the wrath of God was satisfied,” to “the love of God was magnified.” So, the PCUSA committee members thought the authors had already, once before, authorized the change. Come to find out, the Baptist hymnal was changed without the songwriters’ approval.
Perplexed over the reasoning behind wanting to change the lyrics, Keith Getty asked, “Why do many Christians shrink from any thought of the wrath of God?”
Good question. Yet, the “In Christ Alone” embarrassment for the Baptists and PCUSA folks is not really all that surprising. Some people, who are affiliated with God’s church, do not like to talk about God’s justice and wrath, much less about hell and damnation. They want to focus on love, faith, prosperity, heaven, soft clouds, and rainbows, as talking and singing about such things makes people feel good. They want everybody to think happy thoughts and bolster attendance with good feelings. That talk about God’s justice and wrath might make people feel bad, and have them run for a “safe-place.”
People underplay God’s justice. And, if you think that gets people spun up, wait until you bring up the doctrine of double-predestination. This is the Scriptural teaching that not only does the Lord justly destine some people to salvation and eternal life (called election), but he also justly destines some people to eternal perdition in hell (called reprobation). Furthermore, God does not make his decision on who is elect or reprobate based on anything whatsoever that person will ever do (good or bad) or their heritage. He chooses based on “his most wise and holy counsel of his own free will” (Westminster Confession of Faith III.1-3).
We touched on this doctrine last week, in Romans 9:1-13. Paul sums up the concept of double-predestination, election and reprobation, with his quote of Malachi 1:2-3 in v. 13 saying, “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” Before either of them was ever born (v. 11), God had determined their eternal destinies and elected one to salvation and the other to perdition.
Verse 14: “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!”
Now, as I implied, despite the Bible’s teaching of election and reprobation, some people object to God’s way of doing things. Paul was dealing with this long ago, and there is a long history of it, which I won’t go into now. Paul also understood that this doctrine is difficult to wrap one’s mind around along with its emotional elements (vv. 1-5). Yet, Paul does not sweep it under the rug and replace it with rainbows and unicorns. Rather, he addresses the hard reality of God’s double-predestination head-on with the question, “Is God unjust, then?” In other words, Is the Lord just some arbitrary God creating people to damn and creating people to glorify? Does God’s elective purpose mean he is unfair? Paul emphatically answers “By no means!”
Consider this. One reason the doctrine of election might not seem fair is that we do not see ourselves as criminals in God’s courtroom of justice. Yet, measured by God’s law and his perfections, we are criminals (James 2:10). We are rebels deserving death (Rm. 6:23; 8:7-8). An illustration some use is this:
Suppose 25 men are on death row. Suppose every one of them is a proven serial killer. Suppose the evidence was irrefutable, and that each had even taken people to discover the bodies and that they had each discussed the killings. Now suppose that the governor decided to release one of them. Would you be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute! That is not fair. If you are going to release one of them you need to release every one of them!”
Not one in a million people would think that. Most would consider it a travesty of injustice for that man to be set free as though he had never done anything.
We must see election against the backdrop of our sin, our criminal activity against God. It would have been perfectly fair and perfectly just for God not to elect anyone.
Election, however, is not about God’s justice. It is about God’s mercy.