Summary: The sovereignty of God in reprobation
November 21, 2010
Can you imagine what it must have been like when it was first discovered that the earth is round? Imagine all the chaos and surprise! Or how about when they found that the earth revolves around the sun? Everything people had always believed was found to be wrong, and they had to look at the world in a new way.
The book of Romans has done something similar to me (and probably to many of you). Some of my most sincerely held religious beliefs have been challenged through this study, and I’ve sometimes had a hard time accepting what’s written.
I’ve always thought that God offers salvation to whoever wants it; some accept the invitation and others reject it, but basically it’s up to men to respond. Of course God has to call anyone who’ll be saved, but He loves everyone, so He calls everyone. If there’s such a thing as predestination, then those who are predestined are only so because God knows beforehand what they’ll do.
But I don’t think Romans (especially chapters 8 and 9) will let us hold a view like that. It’s almost like I’ve just heard that the earth is round—it’s foreign to everything I’ve ever believed; this isn’t what I’ve been taught.
This may be difficult to understand and accept, but we’re commanded to be on our guard and to grow in knowledge:
Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (II Peter 3:15-18).
Last week we read that God elected Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. In fact, we read that God loved Jacob but He hated Esau. This introduced us to what’s been called the doctrine of reprobation.
Reprobation is closely tied to all the other doctrines we’ve already covered and it comes naturally from Paul’s argument: man is utterly depraved because of sin (1-3), and as a result he doesn’t seek God (3:11) nor can he do so (8:7-8) because he’s a slave of sin (6). But God has given His Holy Spirit (5:5) and faith (4-5) to those whom He foreknew so that they would be conformed to the image of His Son (8:29).
Nowhere in Scripture are we taught that men respond positively to a proposition from God for salvation. Rather, those who belong to Him are called and justified, and those who are not are left for judgment. To put it in Scriptural terms: “it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (9:16).
Think about this: it’s God who calls and justifies. No man can come to God on his own—the Holy Spirit must draw him (Jn. 6:44).
And it’s at this point that I used to say, “Well, I believe God has to call first, but I also believe that He calls all men. After all, God loves the whole world (Jn. 3:16) and doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked (Ez. 18:23). He’s patient not wanting any to perish but for all to come to repentance (II Pt. 3:9).
But this is not what we read in Romans. God has chosen certain individuals from the foundation of the world because He loved us, and therefore He has called and justified and glorified us!
But to say that only some men are predestined for mercy means that (at least by default) others are predestined for wrath. If so, there are usually two questions raised, and these are the two questions Paul answers here in Romans 9. They are: (1) is God just in predestination? And (2) if man has no free will, then how can God blame him for doing what’s been predestined to do?
Let’s start with the first question:
What shall we say then?
This goes back to the fact that God has chosen Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau:
There is no injustice with God, is there?
Some people see that God has been picking men throughout history, and they don’t think that’s fair of God. Paul responds:
May it never be! 15For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION."
This is a quote from Exodus 33. You’ll remember that Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, and while he was there, the people formed a golden calf to represent their god who brought them out of Egypt. When Moses came down and saw their sin, he threw the tablets to the ground and had the golden idol ground into powder, and he scattered it over the surface of the water and made the people drink it.