Big Idea: From God’s Sovereignty to Man’s Responsibility
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we are continuing our study of Romans 9-11, thinking about God’s Sovereignty and what Paul means when he says; “All Israel will be saved.” What does that mean and what is God’s plan?
Well friends, I know the last few weeks have been TOUGH and I know it’s raised lots of QUESTIONS. If God has pre-destined everything what is the point in evangelism or prayer or even generosity? Does anything we do as Christian’s actually make a difference?
Well of course the answer “yes”. But it’s not an easy “yes.” If you look at this picture (Slide 2) – you’ll see a light-beam photographed with an ultrafast electron microscope. Most of us know that pass light through a prism it breaks into all the different colours of the spectrum. So, we’ve seen things similar to this before. But last century scientists began to realize that light follows both 1) the law of waves, and 2) the law of particles. You can see A) light is moving as waves in the top of the picture and B) moving as particles in the bottom of the picture. But this defies logic. The mathematical laws governing waves are completely different to the mathematical laws governing particles. So light should not be able to move according to two completely different sets of laws. Technically, what you are looking at is logically and mathematically impossible. Yet, science accepts both are true. They can’t fully explain how both are true. But they accept both are true.
Now this is the closest I can come to explain the Sovereignty of God and the human responsibility of man. 1) God is Sovereign in everything (that’s one law) and 2) man is truly responsible for all his actions (that’s another law). We need to accept both are true – even though they appear logically impossible. NOW IN PRACTICE this means I accept that God always has a plan. This helps me to process difficult events in my life. I don’t always understand why certain things happen in my life.
But I trust God has a plan and in the aftermath I sometimes grasp the plan. Meanwhile, in my daily life as a Christian, I also know I have certain responsibilities as a follower of Jesus. 1) I am told to share the gospel. 2) I am told to pray and 3) to love my neighbour. Yes, God is Sovereign. And yes, I have a responsibility to live by faith in Jesus. Both are true and as we finish ROMANS 9 and move into ROMANS 10, we begin to move from God’s Sovereignty back towards human responsibility.
Let me show you again Romans 9-11 with a slight tweak on God’s Sovereignty and human responsibility (SLIDE 2)
Point 1: God’s Sovereignty & Human Responsibility must stay Together
Show: Rom.9:19-21 (READ)
Explain: Well verse 19 – raises another common objection to God’s Sovereignty. If God is Sovereign over everything, then is it fair for God to blame us for the things we do. The implication is; aren’t we just robots doing whatever God programmed us to do? (Perhaps it’s a fair question). But Paul responds (in verse 20), “who are you, a human being, to talk back to God.” God has the right to shape some clay for noble use and other clay for common use. (Now at this point we all take offense). But Paul’s main point is – who are we to question God’s Sovereignty. God is infinitely bigger than us and at some point we just have to accept that God is Sovereign and stop trying to reconcile that with our responsibility.
When we think about God’s Sovereignty – our human logic often begins to get in the way. If God is in control of everything then He can’t hold us responsible for our actions. This thinking leads to what is called FATALISM. Fatalism – says – if the gods are really in control of everything we might as well all sit on our hands and sing Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be. But the Bible never pushes God’s Sovereignty this far. A famous English pastor named Martin Lloyd Jones says (SLIDE 3).
Now fatalism may seem like the LOGICAL CONCLUSION of God’s Sovereignty. But the Bible teaches God is Sovereign and our actions and choices matter. As Christians there are a number of places where God asks us to trust things that at first glance seem irreconcilable. For instance, A) Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. But that doesn’t add up to 200%. It adds up to 100%. B) God is also three persons in one God. But that doesn’t mean each person is 1/3 of God. Another example is C) we are saved by faith alone in Jesus, but faith alone without works is dead. There are certain truths in Christianity – that transcend normal logic, but still contain their own internal logic. Men and women are equal. But men and women are not the same.
The truth of God is often in the tension. THE TRUTH is not in A) either law alone, but B) in both laws held together. God is fully Sovereign, AND man is fully responsible for his and her choices.
But this lack of “rational logic” isn’t just a “silly” spiritual thing. Like I said earlier SCIENCE often holds contrary truths together; like the fact that light follows A) the law of waves and B) the law of particles. Another example is the HUBBLE CONSTANT is true AND the LAWS OF GRAVITY are true. Science has worked out the universe is expanding at about 70km/sec/megaparsec of space and this is called Hubble’s law. But it’s impossible to reconcile Hubble’s law with the law of gravity which says the universe should be slowing down and eventually collapsing in on itself. So what I’m explaining is NOT just a blind faith thing. The world of science is also full of irreconcilable truths – because God is a little bit bigger than us lumps of clay spinning around on the potters wheel. The law of God’s Sovereignty helps me continue in faith and hope when the world seems upside down. The law of man’s responsibility helps me to continue loving my neighbour, when I feel like punching them in the head. To continue in Christian faith, hope and love I need both the law of God’s Sovereignty and the law of human responsibility, even though I can’t reconcile them.
APPLY: To answer the question “what happened to the Jews” Paul needs us to see things through both laws. So, in Romans 9 – Paul teaches us that God is Sovereign and his plan is slowly being worked out both for us and the Jews. But Romans 10 still speaks about our human responsibility. Paul goes on to speak about the importance of doing evangelism with Jews and sharing the gospel. Yes. God has predestined some people to salvation and knows who will be saved (Romans 9), but we still have the human responsibility to share the gospel (Romans 10). Now for me, personally, I tend to put the emphasis on God’s Sovereignty because that is where my HOPE lives. God promises to look after me. But if I put my focus on my human responsibility, my HOPE gets smashed because I fail every day. But I accept both are true.
Point 2: God’s Sovereignty & the Existence of Evil must be held Together
Show: Rom.9:22-24 (READ)
Explain: Well Paul is now trying to explain how 1) God is Sovereign and 2) how evil exists. This is another logical conundrum. Paul begins in verse 22 talking about people who sin and are destined for hell. Then he says in verse 23; “What if God allows some people to go to hell to reveal His glory to the objects of His mercy. Now this is a tough answer to a tough question (and I would never want to accuse the Apostle Paul of over-reaching, but he’s coming close to over-reaching).
At this point Paul is trying to answer a question – that most Christian scholars believe is an unanswerable. People who object to God’s absolute Sovereignty usually make arguments against God’s justice. They say things like “If God predestines people to hell, he is a monster” – ie last week. But other questions about justice also get thrown up, like if God is Sovereign he has no right to judge us” (Romans 9:14) OR “why does God still blame us?”, (Romans 9:19).
But in verse 22 – Paul is now trying to answer the toughest question of all. Technically, what Paul is doing is offering a THEODICY. Let me explain. (Slide 5). Now this is the toughest question of all questions in human life. THE FIRST QUESTION we all tend to ask is “Why do I exist?” THE SECOND QUESTION IS “If God is good why does evil exist? Did it come from God?”
Show: Slide 6: Options
- God is not good ??
- God is not Sovereign People are in control – Karma
- God does not exist Atheism
- God is not alone Dualism (polytheism)
- Evil does not exist Buddhism (?)
The first answer to the question – is maybe God is NOT GOOD. The reason evil exists is God himself is evil. But this does not align with human experience or the way God has revealed Himself in the Bible.
The second option is maybe God is not Sovereign. God is not really in control of anything. Therefore, the origins of evil have nothing to do with God. Evil was just an unforeseen accident of creation. Some churches who reject the idea of God’s Sovereignty – end up teaching a type of Christian karma. Everything revolves around mans choice, not God’s Sovereignty. So if I do good, I’ll reap good. If I do bad, I’ll reap bad. But none of this is pre-determined by God, it’s all determined by my own choices. Hence, what I call Christian karma. It’s very common.
The third option is God might NOT exist – ie atheism. One of the biggest objections to belief in God – is the issue of suffering and evil? People say; “If God is good, why is their evil and suffering?” Unable to reconcile these two truths they decide God must not exist.”
The fourth option is what is called DUALISM. If God is good, but evil does exist then there must be a second party who is equal to God, but evil. (Of course, we believe in Satan. But he is not God’s equal. So something else is going on). Many of the ancient polytheistic religions of Greece and Rome had a dualistic belief where they concluded some god’s were evil, and that’s why evil existed.
Finally, some religions (like Buddhism) take a different route and they say God exists but evil doesn’t really exist. Evil is just a problem with our perception. Everything is actually good (even evil is good) when it is kept in balance.
Apply: Friends, all these philosophies are trying to explain how God can be good and evil still exist. But I believe “why a Sovereign God allowed evil” into the equation is the ultimate unanswerable question.
I think the answer Paul offers is Romans 9 is about the best we can do. But I think Paul’s – “what if” kind of signals Paul is having an educated guess. What if, (hypothetically) God allowed evil into the world because it helps us to grasp His glory and His mercy to us – all. Maybe? But remember when Job asked God the question about the existence of evil – God told him the answer was ABOVE HIS PAY GRADE. And even when we come to the NEW TESTAMENT – this question is not answered logically or philosophically. It is answered in Jesus.
THE EXISTENCE of 1) a good Sovereign God and 2) the reality of evil is best understood at the cross. At the cross we see that God is good. At the cross we see Jesus (God’s Son) loves us so much he dies to save us. Jesus takes the penalty for our sin – so that we can be saved. So there is a good God. This is the gospel. But right there on the cross – clothed in our evil, sin and suffering – God’s goodness and glory is truly revealed. Not as a God who is evil. But as a God who swallows up evil, in order to bring us – mercy and salvation.
So friends we now have a SECOND CONUNDRUM – that we also need to humbly accept. 1) Human responsibility should not be used to negate the Sovereignty of God, but neither 2) should the existence of evil be used to negate the Sovereignty of God. DESPITE ALL THE ARGUMENTS against the Sovereignty of God, Paul is trying to help us accept God’s Sovereignty is real, otherwise we won’t grasp Romans 11.
But having now made his case for God’s Sovereignty (and having addressed the common objections), Paul returns to his first point that God’s Word to the Jews has not failed.
Point 3: God’s Sovereignty & the Word of God must stay Together
Show: Rom.9:25-29 (READ)
Explain: Well ultimately God’s Sovereignty over all things is seen in the fulfillment of Scripture. Paul began in Romans 9:6 asking the question whether God’s word had failed the Jews? Again, at first glance it looks like A) God’s promises to the Jews and B) actual history can’t be reconciled. But Paul now uses four quotes from God’s Word – to show that God’s Sovereign plan has not failed the Jews. Look with me;
Verse 25; comes from Hosea 2. Paul reminds us there was a point in Israel’s history where the Jews fell into the category of “NOT GOD’S PEOPLE.” They all forfeited God’s promises. But in that very context of guilt – God showed them mercy. In Hosea 1 (verse 26) God speaks of a new day – when “they” will again be called “children of the living God.”
Now who is “THEY”? Does they mean “all Israel”? Well Paul then quotes Isaiah 10 and says “THEY” means remnant or elect Jews. Verse 27 clearly says; “Though the number of Israelites be as numerous as the sand on the seashore – God promised “ONLY the remnant will be saved.” And to back up the idea that God only promised to save A REMNANT Paul also quotes from Isaiah 1. “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants we would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah.” The fact is God didn’t write off the Jews completely like Sodom and Gomorrah. He left descendants or a remnant. Jews like Paul, Peter and the 3000 saved on the Day of Pentecost who believed in Jesus Messiah.” So God’s Word has not failed the Jews because a remnant have been saved – END OF STORY. But if God’s purpose is ONLY a remnant of Jews saved – why bother writing Romans 10 and Romans 11?
Apply: The climax of Paul argument appears to be Romans 11:25-26 (Slide 6; Romans 11:25-26). Now what does “all Israel” mean? There are three main options.
The first option is (ENTER) – all Israel = the church or spiritual Israel. Based on the idea that the CHURCH has replaced the JEWS some scholars have argued that “all Israel” means all Christians. They say that a true Jew is anyone who has the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all (Rom.4:16) So “all Israel” symbolically means all Christians whether Jew or Gentile. Such greats as JOHN CALVIN and MARTIN LLOYD JONES went down this path. But there are very few evangelical Christians who would make that argument today. Although, there is much to love about John Calvin and Martin Lloyd Jones – most scholars agree that interpreting “all Israel” as the church in the context of Romans 9-11 is not a valid interpretation.
The second option is to say “ALL ISRAEL” in Romans 11:26 simply means all elect or all remnant Israel. Some Christians believe that when Paul says “all Israel will be saved” he means all elect, predestined Jews will be saved. Not all national Israel (at some future point in history), but all predestined Jews (down through history). The first positive of this position is that does not arbitrarily turn Israel into the church. It accepts that when Paul says Israel, he is talking about Jews. The second positive is that Romans 9:6 “not all Israel is Israel” is used to explain what Paul means when he says “all Israel will be saved.” All Israel means all elect/predestined Israelites as explained in chapter 9.” This is plausible.
But here is part of my problem. If Paul is simply repeating in Romans 11 what he already explained in Romans 9, why bother? Why would you waste two more pages of valuable papyri paper simply to repeat what you’ve already said? Although argument 2 is plausible in the context of Romans 9-11, I’m still leaning towards option 3 (ENTER); that “All Israel” = all national or biological Israel being saved at some future point in history.
You see, Pauls final quote in Romans 9 – about Sodom and Gomorrah – comes from Isaiah 1. But if you read Isaiah 1 you’ll see God begins by redeeming a remnant of Israel and then He redeems national Israel. In fact, many Christian scholars believe the end of Isaiah 1 (and the beginning of Isaiah 2) explains how “all Israel will be saved”. If you read Isaiah 1 (later today) – it begins with most of Israel guilty before God. But nonetheless God preserves a remnant of true faith. Paul quotes Isaiah 1:9 in verse 29 – to support his point that God saved a remnant; (Romans 9:29 – READ). Now you may again think END OF STORY. That’s great a remnant was saved.
But if you continue to read Isaiah 1 you see God doesn’t give up on the “unfaithful” Israelites. Instead, God continues to plead with them saying (Slide 8). This is God speaking to the “non-remnant.” Then towards the end of Isaiah 1 – it also says (SLIDE 9). So the last quote Paul offers in Romans 9 about “a remnant” actually comes from a chapter – that clearly says; “But wait there’s more. God didn’t just leave us with survivors. He also purges and saves the rest from sin.”
Now we may decide this is just a coincidence. Paul just wanted us to read Isaiah 1:9 (and ignore the rest of the chapter). But truly, Paul could have quoted many passages from the Old Testament that talk only about the remnant of Israel being saved. There are heaps of them that speak about a remnant. But Paul chose Isaiah 1, that speaks of not only a remnant being saved, but also the rebellious being purged and in Isaiah 2, – we see a restored national Israel bringing further blessing to the world. COINCIDENCE? Believing in the Sovereignty of God I’m inclined to think not. Although man is responsible for his actions and evil is real, God’s Sovereign plan revealed in Scripture seems to be bigger than just the salvation of a few elect Jews.