J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Hardened Hearts – Romans 9:14-18 Sermon Notes

hard heartsAudio for this sermon can be found http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/

I, like many other kids, tried to emulate my heroes in most everything they did.  At any point in time, I would play a game of football and act like I was Roger Staubach.  I would play baseball and pretend that I was Dale Murphy.  I would play basketball and dream of being Dr. J.  I played guitar and walked around my room like I was Ace Frehley.  In the smallest of ways, I was like my heroes.  I could throw football, hit a baseball, make a layup, and strum a guitar.  But the difference between me and my heroes was much greater than any similarities.

In the strangest of ways, that is one of the ways in which we relate to God.  We have some characteristics (communicable attributes) that we share with God.  He loves, and we can love.  He is wise, and we can be wise.  He is knowable, and we can be known.  God is merciful, and on our best day, we can be merciful as well.  But in all of those things, we are only like God in the smallest of ways.  God loves perfectly; we love incredibly imperfectly.  God is wise, and we are only wise as we reflect God’s wisdom.  We are merciful but only to the extent that we know God’s mercy.

There are some qualities of God that we do no share with Him in any way.  These are called incommunicable attributes.  For example, God is eternal, and we a have clear and definite beginning.  God is omnipresent, and according to your calendar or day timer, you definitely are not.  God is immutable (unchanging), and we are the worst at changing as the wind blows.  So we can imitate and be like God in some ways, but even our imitation is a pale likeness of God.  He is the truest representation of love, holiness, knowledge, wisdom, and pretty much every other description of Him.

So as we approach knowing God through scripture, we have to be careful.  Often words will be used to describe what God is doing (love, hate, patience, mercy) and we apply human definitions of those qualities to what God has done which severely limits our understanding of God’s actions and declarations.  Instead of reading how God is described and applying what we know of a certain to quality to Him, we should read what God does and understand that quality in its truest context and definition.  As you begin to understand those qualities, you can grow in your worship of God.

This week in Romans 9, Paul is going to emphasize 3 specific characteristics of God:  His mercy, compassion, and power.  In light of that, let’s ask this Big Picture Question.

Big Picture Question:  How should God’s mercy, compassion, and power transform your worship?

Last week, we looked at the story of Jacob and Esau as detailed in Romans 9.  The story went something like this:  God made a promise to create a people from Abraham.  Abraham had a child named Isaac.  Isaac had two sons:  Jacob and Esau.  In fact they were twins.  Esau was the older and Jacob was the younger.  Jacob was a quiet guy, probably listened to the Goo Goo Dolls or John Mayer.  Esau was rough and tumble kind of guy.  He probably listened to the Ramones or maybe Motorhead.  Esau was a pretty good guy; Jacob…not so much.  Let me give you an example.  It came time for Isaac to give his blessing to his sons.  Isaac and his mom tricked their dad and stole the blessing that was supposed to be given to Esau.  Like I said…not such a good guy.  Strangely enough, God created the people of Israel from…Jacob.  In fact, he even changed Jacob’s name to Israel.

In Romans 9, Paul says.  God’s blessings don’t come through natural descendants.  The blessings don’t come from where you think they will come from.  They come from God.  They come from the promise.  God decided what was going to happen to Jacob and Esau long before either one of them did anything good or anything bad.  God elected by His own desire and purpose and plan that He would bless Jacob and not Esau.

In a worldly sense, it doesn’t mane any sense at all:  Jacob was the shmuck and Esau was the good guy it would appear.  But God’s purposes and plans will not be thwarted.  Begin with God, hear His promises, work from there to here and things make sense.  Begin with us and work backwards, it’s a little harder.  You see, back in Genesis 25:23, God promised that Isaac would have these two sons and the older would serve the younger.  The promise came about through sinful means (the stealing of a blessing) but God’s promises cannot be thwarted.  God uses sin sinlessly.

You see God’s purpose of election is always sure.  He chooses.  He calls.  He justifies.  He glorifies.  God had a plan.  He loved Jacob.  He hated Esau.  If you want to pursue those thoughts further, I would encourage you to grab the sermon notes and audio at the church website and blog from last week.  But with that background let’s jump in Romans 9

Romans 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!

Paul, by the way, is an excellent writer.  He, through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, is often aware of the anticipated questions that arise when the reader hears the truths of scripture.  Romans 9 tells us that God chose Jacob and not Esau before either one of them had ever done anything good or bad because God had a plan to enact.  When people hear that, they might ask, “Well, God is not just to do that?  He is choosing people without them ever getting a chance.”  Paul’s answer of course is, “By no means is God unjust.”

Before we unravel the question of whether God is unjust or not, we need to understand one thing.  Paul asks that question because the truths about God and His nature are offensive to the human nature.  If the truths were not offensive, Paul wouldn’t ask the question.  For example, if you hear the scriptures speak of election and say, “Well God looks into the future, sees what people will do, and then chooses them,” then that’s not offensive at all.  If that’s what Paul means here, he would be dealing with the issue of whether or not God is just.To say that God ordains the destiny of people’s lives according to His purposes – can be offensive…but it is only offensive if God is not good.  Look at verse 15.

15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

God is merciful and He owns the giving of mercy and the demonstration of compassion as His right.  Now a Sovereign God who has the right to do whatever He wants could express His desires in many ways.  God could be sovereign and be merciless.  Sovereignty and mercy are not mutually exclusive.  You don’t have to be merciful if you are absolutely sovereign.  So God could ordain what He wants and He does not have to be merciful to anyone.  Sovereignty is not dependant upon mercy.  God could be sovereign and be just while not being merciful.  God could ordain what He wanted, be just in punishing all sin, and not decide to be merciful to anyone.  Again remember, mercy is not earned.  If mercy were earned, then it would be justice.  Mercy is caring for those that don’t deserve help.  Mercy and grace are synonymous.

But God is sovereign.  He is just, and He is merciful.  God ordains what He wants, He is just in the punishment of sin, and He is merciful to those that He chooses to be merciful to.  Sovereignty, justice, and even fairness do not dictate that God be merciful.  His merciful character dictates that He be merciful and compassionate.  Our God is worthy of all praise and all honor because of this.  The clearest picture of our God being sovereign, merciful, just, and powerful is seen in Jesus in that God would take on human flesh to be compassionate to those that sinful and hated Him.  We learn of God’s mercy, compassion, and justice best by loving and knowing Jesus Christ.

Now consistent with God’s nature, He is merciful to whomever He wants to be merciful to.  And also consistent with His nature, He is compassionate to whomever He wants to be compassionate to.  There is no obligation on God to do these things other that the perfect purpose of His will.  No one else’s desire or will compels Him to be merciful because no else is perfectly sovereign, perfectly just, or perfectly merciful  There is not one single person or creature or anything in all creation that can either make demands of God or can speak to who God is aside from God Himself.  Paul wants to exclude any and all arguments outside of God’s expression of Himself.  Look at verse 16.

16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

This is a big verse here, so we definitively need to understand what the “it” here is.  Because what ever “it” is, it does not depend on what humans want or will or put effort or exertion into.  Whatever “it” is, it completely depends on God who has mercy.  Well the “it” here is the mercy and compassion that is mentioned in verse 15.  The mercy and compassion that is God’s exclusive property that is mentioned back in chapter 8.  God chooses His children.  God then calls them to Himself.  God justifies them or fixes their relationship.  And ultimately, it is God who glorifies them.  He does all of these things out of His mercy and compassion, and who receives these things completely depends on God.  It does not depend on human will or exertion.

Why?  Because as Romans 1 tells us, apart from God, the human will does not seek God, does not know God, and only choose to sin.  Now there are not people running around repenting of sin, asking for forgiveness, and proclaiming faith in Jesus that are then rejected because God hasn’t chosen them.  Those things, repentance, asking for forgiveness, faith in Jesus are evidence OF being chosen by God.  If someone’s will is moved to call out to God, it is only because God has transformed them from death unto life, and then their will is transformed and reflects the work that God has already done.  Paul gives us an example of how all these things work.

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

The Pharaoh here is the Pharaoh that Moses challenged in the book of Exodus.  The story goes like this.  God’s people fell into slavery after Joseph passed away.  After a period of time, a wicked, evil Pharaoh came into power and he didn’t have any relationship with, allegiance to, or commitment to either Joseph’s family or to Joseph’s God.  In fact, he felt the exact opposite about God’s people.  He saw them as an annoyance, and not only did He deny any privilege to them, He saw them as the cheapest labor possible.  He made them slaves.  Whenever they grumbled, he made their work much harder and placed larger burdens on them.  So, God raises up a stuttering murderer named Moses to go and in Exodus 7, Moses is given his message.  He is to tell Pharaoh, “Hey, let my people go.”  But before Moses ever heads out, God promises Moses that Pharaoh’s hard is going to be hardened by God so that the already very wicked man does not repent.  Pharaoh didn’t

want to repent in the first place, but He definitively won’t now.

Now, we’ll stop here for one moment.  Why would God prevent someone from repenting?  Well, the truth is, God never prevents someone from repenting.  No one is ever going to repent unless God moves in their heart to repent, so God is not keeping Pharaoh from being saved.    What is God doing then?  Well, He is handing Pharaoh over to his sin.  God restrains sin in all human beings.  If He didn’t this world would be like the “Lord of the Flies” and eventually we would all be snuffed out.  This called God’s common grace on all mankind.  And for some people, God withdraws that common grace, hands them over to their sin, and they pursue it even greater than before.  Pharaoh here, becomes more sinful and therefore will receive more judgment.

Why would God do that?  Well God does this because He receives great glory in the punishing of sin.  But in addition, we see another reason why God does it in Exodus 7.  He tells Moses this in verse 4:  “Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s already hard heart serves to bear witness to the sovereignty and power of God.  All of Egypt knew that Jehovah God was the Lord because He stretched His hand against Egypt and ultimately rescued His people from slavery.  The human heart might say, “That’s not fair.”  God says, “I am sovereign, have mercy on whom I have mercy and have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  And I do both or don’t do either all for my glory.”  That’s the purpose God speaks of.  He elects some and does not elect others to salvation so that He might be shown as Lord God by choosing to rescue His children and punishing everyone else.

Just to make sure that there is no confusion about how God goes about demonstrating His sovereign will and desire, we have verse 18.

18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

This is Paul’s concluding statement on the topic.  He says, “So” or “therefore” or whatever your translation says, but the point is, “hey just in case you didn’t get it” God has mercy on whomever He desires to have mercy on and He will harden whomever He wills.  Now as we consider these things, there are several practical observations of these considerations of God’s power, mercy, and compassion.

  • First, if you or anyone else in this world proclaims true, saving faith in Jesus Christ, it is because God in His own desire and will has chosen to show you mercy through Jesus Christ.
  • Secondly, if you or anyone else in this world denies the work of Jesus and refuses to live in repentance and faith, it is because God has left you in your own sinful desires and ultimately hardened you to remain in that state.
  • Third, and this one is the kicker.  God receives equal glory by both.  God is worthy of all glory and worship because He chooses to show mercy to some.  God is equally worthy of all glory and worship because He chooses to harden others and leave them in their sin.

Now, these truths of God are not intended to paralyze the believer in Jesus Christ.  We are no less responsible for our actions or obedience than before recognizing God’s sovereignty and power.  In fact, we are more responsible.  For example, now through many commandments in the scripture, specifically the Great Commission, we are to just like Moses proclaim Jesus Christ to a hurting, lost, and sinful world.  There is one slight difference between us and Moses.  We don’t know whether or not people’s heart will be changed by the proclaiming of the message or hardened by the message.  Moses knew that He was to proclaim God to Pharaoh until he was blue in the face and Pharaoh was never going to believe or repent.  But Moses was faithful to the task.  We are to proclaim the mercies of Jesus until we are blue in the face, and we have no idea whether people are going to believe or repent.  Whether people repent or not, God is glorified either way, and we give God glory in the proclaiming of His person and character to the world.

Borrowing from Robert Peterson’s wonderful book, “Election and Free Will” we 6 wonderful applications.

  • Praise – Augustine – “God’s grace in not given according to the desserts of the recipients, but according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise and glory of His own grace; so that he who glorieth may by no means glory in Himself, but in the Lord.
  • Thanksgiving and humility – Augustine – “Wherefore if I am unwilling to appear ungrateful to men who have loved me, because of some advantage of my labour has attained to them before they loved me, how much rather am I unwilling to be ungrateful to God, whom we should not love unless He had first loved and made us to love Him.”
  • Incentive for Evangelism – Spurgeon – “This is why we preach!  If there are so many fish to be taken in the net, I will go and catch some of them.  Because many are ordained to be caught, I spread my nets with eager expectation.  I never could see why that should repress our zealous efforts.  It seems to me to be the very thing that should awaken us with energy – that God has a people, and that these people should be brought in.
  • Perseverance and Service – some say it promotes lazy Christian living – John Calvin – “They say they go on unconcerned in their vices; for if they are of the number of the elect, vices will not hinder them from at last being brought to life.  Yet Paul teaches that we have been chosen to this end:  that we may lead a holy and blameless life.”  Ephesians 1:4
  • Confidence in God – Calvin – “As Christ teaches, here is our only ground for firmness and confidence; in order to free us all from fear and render us victorious amid so many dangers, snares, and mortal struggles, He promises that whatever the Father has entrusted into His keeping will be safe.”  John 10
  • Assurance of God’s Love and Care – Spurgeon – “For I am persuaded that the doctrine of predestination – the blessed truth of providence – is one of the softest pillows upon which the Christian can lays his head, and one of the strongest staffs upon which he may lean in his pilgrimage along this rough road.  Cheer up, Christian!  Things are not left to chance:  no blind fate rules the world.  God had purposes, and those purposes are fulfilled.  God hath plans, and those plans are wise, and never can be dislocated.  Oh trust in Him and thou shalt have each fruit in its season, the mercy in its time, the trial in its period, and the deliverance in its needed moment.”

There is a tendency in our approach to scripture and our approach to knowing God to either stop once we begin to see the deeper truths of who He is or define God in such a way that He is comfortable and fits into our safe spots.  When we do that, we miss out on the best part of Who God is.  He is completely other.  If your interpretation of God and who He is safe, you have missed God.  If your interpretation of God and who He is mysterious and completely other, then you have found God.

October 11, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

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