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Our God is a great BIG God (6)

Previous post: Romans 9v10-13: Election is not by works.

3. Election is not unjust (Romans 9v14-18)

Someone once said that if you find yourself naturally asking the questions scripture raises, as you read it, then it proves you're understanding it. v14 presents one of the ultimate questions to test our understanding... to test our hearts. If people get saved because God says, and based on nothing in them...and consequently others don't get saved for the very same reasons... Then isn't God unfair... isn't God unjust. That's precisely the question raised in v14. Is there injustice on God's part? How can he save some and not others.
Warning! It is dangerous to plead for justice before God... why? Justice is what the innocent plead for... and Romans has made very clear that we are not innocent... Furthermore, its quite right to say that the real scandal of the cross is not that God doesn't save everyone, but rather:
...the scandal is that anyone gets saved at all.
That's a scandal! That's what was at stake in chapter 3 of Romans... God appeared unjust. Not because he didn't save anyone, but because he was saving people – and appeared not to be punishing sin... until Jesus was punished for our sin. The word of God puts us in our place – not trusting in ourselves...never letting us think we deserved to be saved.

And so to his argument in v14-18. This is perhaps the climax of the chapter... though v19-29 are vitally important too. Read again. Climax? Yes. At first glance its a simple repetition of the previous section.
Look: Paul said: God saves who he wants to save...
We said: isn't that unjust?
Paul said: God saves who he wants to save...
But dig deeper. He's quoting the Old Testament and the key lies there; in Exodus. God's purpose of election.

God has mercy, freely. Just like in Exodus 33. Its the aftermath of The Incident with the Golden-Calf in the Desert. Moses is pleading for God to first save Israel.. and then to be with them... This is something to revel in. And something that ought to be seen for the scandal it is. The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Israel personify what it means to turn from your Creator to worship creation. And yet The LORD is shows mercy not wrath to Israel.

And this is the foundation of Romans 9! The free and outrageous grace of God. We are like Israel, deeply deserving of wrath for committing the same offense as they did - suppressing the knowledge of God. As James Jordan has said:

James Jordan said:
"The purpose of ethics, etc., according to Romans 1 is to help man escape God and suppress all knowledge of Him. Rebel-lious man never tries to reach God."
He is not coerced by us. He does not show us kindness because of our works, race, heritage, efforts, desire. Out of the essence of his character he is gracious. It seems outrageous. Human beings deserve wrath, and God is not swayed by anything in us.... and yet he shows mercy. Why?

In Chapter 33. Moses says – God go with us or we don't know you favour us and neither will the nations. That is to say – God your reputation with us and with the nations is at stake. In Chapter 32. Moses says- God saves us or we'll think your promise failed, and the nations will mock you. That is to say – God your reputation with us and with the nations is at stake.

In both cases God acts to show mercy to whom he will show mercy. Not because it's deserved. Its not. The crimes of Exodus 32 were heinous... God's people rejecting the worship of their Creator and Saviour to worship creation... much like the charges against us in Romans 1. But God shows mercy for his fame and among his people and the nations.

God hardens, freely: The second quote is from Exodus 9 and is to defend God hardening some. More straight forward. Pharaoh is hardened so that God will be fame worldwide. The idea of God hardening people is difficult for us to swallow but here we gain window into the mind of God. When God hardens it is for his global glory. Whether we can understand how hardening can glorify God, it does. His word says so.

How then is that righteous? Think. What does it mean to be unrighteous? It is to reject God's glory. What is it to be righteous? It is to make God's glory famous. God's purpose of election is the definition of righteousness! Making himself famous!

God isn't coerced. God is freely sovereign in grace and hardening. And when he does it is so that he will be famous among his people, and among all nations. God's purpose in election is God-centred... spreading his glory.
God is God-centred! And further, we too are to be God-centred. God saved us in an act of God-centredness, and that is the purpose of our lives in him. Are we obsessed with selfish-ambition, satisfaction with sex or shopping, indulging our sinful nature... or is Christ our obsession in all things.... doing all things to the glory of his name... God-centred? What is the purpose of all things? Whether to harden? Or to be merciful? To make God famous. Don't settle for less than making Jesus famous!


  1. Amazing post Dave. It is so humbling, so scary even, that had mercy on me and then hardened others...

    I was thinking about it a little in the pub after work today. How gracious was/is God to have opened my eyes and to see how great is the gospel, and not just have heard about it (if you know what I mean).

    Your post made me read the passage again, and I remember the emphasis of Steve Motyer's interpretation of it that I read last year.

    I wondered if you noticed the great biblical theology that Paul is talking about too. In Romans 9-11 of course Paul is not just about predestination as a atemporal concept but about the specific election of Israel and god's purposes in it.

    The hardening of Israel we find is the vehicle of spreading the gospel to the world for Paul (e.g. 11:12, 31). In this passage he reminds us that God had a right to do what he wanted with his chosen people who he had moulded like clay. He had a right over them by Mount Sinai and he had a right over them in 1st cent AD. Now the roles have reversed somewhat as it is not Pharaoh but Israel herself being hardened in order that God's 'name might be proclaimed in all the earth [ie among the gentiles]'. It is shocking but it was always part of the plan that Israel rejected her own Messiah, it was necessary to bring the gospel to the whole world - to us! God truly works in mysterious ways and for the love of all of his creation, not just the tribe of Israel (even though they forgot that).

    I am then challenged as I read Rom 10 because Paul goes on after explaining how Israel's hardening is to bring about the salvation of the gentiles to challenge the Romans he is hoping will support him in his mission to take part in this spreading of God's fame over the earth for: 'how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?'

    God has been moulding history like pottery to bring in the gentiles - to bring in me - for his glory. Am I going to take part this work to the nations and spread the news?

    Just earlier today I was listening to a Crowded House mp3 challenging me about whether I am making my life decisions for the benefit of the gospel and God's fame. I suspect I have not been doing, and must beg forgiveness for failing as Israel did to be a light to the world.

    phew! that's why your post is so encouraging, because although I fail and worship idols 'The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Israel personify what it means to turn from your Creator to worship creation. And yet The LORD is shows mercy not wrath to Israel.'

    Thanks again Dave.


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