26 Jan Sovereign Mercy
Read: Romans 9:14-29
Last Sunday, Pastor Ken preached from Romans 9:6-13, where we considered how God’s Word has not failed but is actually upheld through God’s mercy in election. This Sunday, he will preach from Romans 9:14-29, as we continue our study on God’s sovereign purpose of election. In preparing our hearts for our corporate gathering, let us continue pray that the Lord would grant us great humility and understanding of his Word. Further, let these words from Tim Keller aid your understanding of God’s sovereign mercy displayed in election.
The beginning of Romans 9:14 suggests that Paul has taught this material before! He has just stated that when people don’t believe, it is because God has not chosen them. Then he immediately says: “What then shall we say? Is God unjust?” He asks that question, of course, because he knows it is the first reaction of everyone who hears this teaching! It is normal to ask: To choose only some and not all—that is not fair! Isn’t God being unfair? But Paul counters: “Not at all!”
In verses 14-18, he moves on from looking at the faith of the patriarchs to focus on the time of the exodus; the time of Moses and Pharaoh. And his central argument is that God has mercy on those he chooses. In Exodus 33:18-19, as Moses begged God to continue to be present with Israel even though they had rejected him, Moses asked the LORD: “Show me your glory.” Moses was asking: Please, God, show me who you are, what it is that makes you God. God’s response? “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” So in Romans 9:15 Paul is talking about an aspect of God that is at the very core of his character.
Yet at first, these sound almost like the words of an arbitrary bully… until we reflect. Mercy by its very definition cannot ever be an obligation. To say that mercy is “unfair” is to say that it is owed to all. But a mercy is undeserved, and thus is totally free. So see Paul’s argument. To say: It is unfair for God only to have mercy on some is a self-contradictory statement. Paul is reasoning: Are you saying that God owes anyone salvation? Of course not! And if he owes no one salvation, then he is free to give it to (a) all, (b) some, or (c) none. John Stott says:
“Paul’s way of defending God’s justice is to proclaim his mercy. It sounds like a complete non sequitur [illogical]. But it is not. It simply indicates that the question itself is misconceived, because the basis on which God deals savingly with sinners is not justice but mercy.” (The Message of Romans, pages 268-269)
So salvation “does not … depend on man’s desire or effort” (v 16)— that is, on anything we want or strive for or achieve—“ but on God’s mercy.” And therefore no one can accuse God of unfairness in not extending his mercy to more than he chooses to. Salvation is about his mercy and his gift, not our work and our right.
As an example, consider a rich person who decides to choose twenty inner-city kids and guarantee their full college tuition. There are literally thousands of equally worthy recipients. And this rich woman could help a lot more than twenty children. But can anyone say that since she has helped some, she is being unfair to everyone else? No. She has no particular obligation to help any of the children. Since all she has given is sheer mercy, there can be no talk about being “unfair.”
Nobody has any claim upon God’s mercy (if they did, it would no longer be mercy). Since “the wages of sin is death” (6:23), the shock is not that God does not extend his compassion to everyone, but that he extends it to anyone.
Romans 8-16 For You, by Tim Keller
Song List for Sunday
1. “Indescribable,” Arr. by Shane & Shane
2. “Behold Our God,” by Sovereign Grace Music
3. “O Church of Christ, Invincible,” by Matt Boswell
4. “Grace and Peace,” by Sovereign Grace Music