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(Romans 9:14–18) Not for the Faint of Heart

(Romans 9:14–18) Not for the Faint of Heart

Ref: Romans 9:14–18

Not for the Faint of Heart. Have you ever taken a swim in the ocean and, as waves came in, you were lifted up so that you couldn't touch bottom?  At that moment you felt rather small, didn't you?  Well, that's the feeling you get when you swim in the deep ocean of election.  In fact, just the mention of the word keeps many Christians away from the water's edge, and Romans 9 is avoided at all costs.  In this series, join Stephen in a deep-sea dive that explores the mysterious depths of God's electing grace.


Not for the Faint of Heart

Romans 9:14-18

I want to warn you, this text I am about to read is not for the faint of heart. 

Romans 9:14.  What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!  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.”  16.  So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.  17.  For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout thewhole earth.”  18.  So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

Have you ever taken a swim in the ocean and realized that as those waves came in, they lifted you up to where you couldn’t touch bottom?  You know that feeling that this ocean is really big and powerful and you’re pretty small?

Well, if you’ve ever swam in the deep ocean of Divinely inspired  doctrine, you’ve also had that unmistakable feeling that comes when you realize your feet will never touch bottom.

You might have that feeling today. 

I have been treading water for hours in Romans chapter 9 and I can tell you that I have yet to feel the ocean floor.

And you read a passage like this and you may be tempted to say, “This is so far over my head I’ll never go swimming out here again.  I’m gonna stay away from the ocean . . . it’s too vast . . . too deep . . . too mysterious.”

Just verse 18 alone – God has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” – sweep you out over your head.   

Can’t you just preach sermons on how to feel good and improve your family life and fix your self-image?

This doctrinal stuff is way over our heads . . . let’s just stay away from the water.

I mean, what good is it to study the doctrine of election when you can’t understand it?!  What reason is there to study something that raises so many questions?

I’m glad you asked that . . . let me give you 5 reasons why.

The doctrine of election:   

  1. elevates the perspective believers have of God


When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, he taught them to begin with the words, “Our Father who art in heaven!”

He was elevating their perspective of God the Father!

In other words, “Our Father who is seated, majestically, powerfully upon His throne in the heavens, hallowed be thy name.”  Great is your name . . . holy is your name.

Whenever your perspective of God is elevated, the end result is pure and passionate worship.

So, the doctrine of election not only elevates the perspective believers have of God, but it also:

  1. encourages true worship a believer offers to God

When you believe in the justice and mercy, holiness and grace of God, you are enabled to worship Him with pure worship. 

The word orthodox - is actually derived from two Greek words:

            ortho – which means correct and,

            doxa – which means praise. 

The word orthodox literally means, correct praise or worship.

We use the word doxa in our word doxology – the hymn of praise.

True worship flows out of true doctrine. 

When correct doctrine is taught, the result is not a nose full of water, the result is praise!

  1. It eliminates the pride of believers before God

For one thing, it accentuates the fact that our understanding of God is so small.  Secondly, it accentuates the fact that our place in the presence of God is small.

Have you ever wondered why it is that when someone got a glimpse of who God was, they fell on their face.  Or they asked God to leave?

One author wrote these provocative words, “If God were to visibly show up today, many of us think we’d run up to Him and high-five Him for the good things He has done;  some of us think we’d run up and hug Him or ask Him for an answer to that nagging theological question;  others might even demand He tell us why that tragedy in our lives was permitted to rob us of our happiness and comfort.  The truth is, we would do none of these things.  We would, instead, all fall trembling at His feet as His awesome, mighty, and fearful glory filled the room.  We would be awestruck in the presence of a holy and all-powerful God.”

No doctrine fills us with such a sense of God’s awesome power and sovereignty over creation as the doctrine of election. 

Tragically, it is the most ignored doctrine of all.

The result is that God becomes small and man occupies the center of life.

God more easily becomes a divine custodian who runs around fixing everything in your life – because you are sovereign and God is servant.  So we’re told today by Christian leaders and teachers and authors that God lives to eliminate your aches and pains and He exists to make your life comfortable.  The Bible becomes a book of tricks whereby you learn how to manage God to your best interests.

No wonder people abandon God when life hurts – or when life becomes unexplainable.  God was supposed to come through and He didn’t!

The doctrine of election reverses all this corruption in our thinking.  It reverses the order so that our lives become small and God becomes the center.  He becomes the Sovereign and we become the servant – He manages us – He controls our destinies.

Jonathan Edwards preached 250 years ago, very instrumental as God’s man in bringing about the Great Awakening – a time of great spiritual harvest as well as a spiritual revival in the churches of his generation.   He preached often on the sovereignty of God – in fact, you’re well aware of his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God.” 

That’ll improve your self image.  That’ll fix your marriage.  It will!   God happens to be angry with your self-centeredness . . . He sees your immorality and despises it . . . He knows about your stubbornness and pride and rebellion. 

Who God is has a way of fixing who we are.

My parents often had evening meetings as missionaries.  When we were old enough to stay home, they would leave us there to supposedly to get our homework done.   When I was 12 years old we got our first television.  Black and white – you had to use a pair of pliers to turn the channel because the knob was broken off.  Not soon after, my parents had to go to a meeting.  Before they left, my mother said those dreaded words, to her four sons (oldest was 14, the youngest was 6)  “Do not turn on the television.”

They left . . . we finished our homework and then what?  I  don’t know who suggested it . . . I think it was Eve . . . no, maybe it was the serpent, I can’t remember, but we turned on the forbidden fruit.  And we watched television that night for at least 2 hours, until our scout, which we four boys took turns on duty, shouted that Mom and Dad had pulled up in the driveway.  We turned off the television, put the pliers where they belonged and ran for cover.  They walked in . . . we’re sitting on the couch – at the dining room table – reading our books . . . doing extra credit math problems.  I’ll never forget it; my Mother asked, “Boys, have you watched television?”  We said, “No ma’am.”  Then she walked over to the television, which in those days had those large glass pipes inside that heated up . . . and she put her hand on the back of the television . . . I don’t know where she learned that trick from . . . she nearly burned her hand. 

We thought we were getting away with it – but she knew how to find out the truth.  “Sinners in the hands of an angry Mom.”  That was some sermon!  And that night my brothers and I all experienced a great awakening.

Jonathan Edwards, who preached a similar sermon, those not as well as my mother, defined sovereignty as “God’s absolute, independent right of disposing of all creatures according to his own pleasure.”

Let me read that again . . . “God’s absolute, independent right of disposing of all creatures according to his own pleasure.”

James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume 3 (Baker Book House, 1993), p. 1095

In other words:

  • God can choose to save some and condemn others; 
  • God can show mercy to some and judgment to others;
  • God can call some for heaven and leave some for hell; 
  • God can raise up those whose sin glorifies His justice

and He can raise up those whose salvation glorifies His grace. 

This God is virtually unheard of today.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons we don’t hear from Him today – in respect to spiritual revival.

The doctrine of election eliminates pride, elevates our perspective; encourages our worship, and fourth,

  1. It energizes the service believers render to God

Paul will apply all of this doctrinal truth when he arrives at chapter 12 and begins to apply it as believers are told to offer themselves as living sacrifices to this awesome God.

One more . . .

  1. It exalts the mercy and grace believers receive from God.

Paul writes in verse 18 of chapter 9:  “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”

As soon as we begin to think that God owes us something or that God must do something for us, we minimize His glory.

Election magnifies the character and glory of God choosing those upon whom He will show mercy and grace.

Paul’s letter to the Romans has already taught us that everyone is under condemnation; everyone is a sinner; every one represses and suppresses the truth about God; no one seeks after God; no one desires to please God unless God intervenes and creates spiritual life.

And God intervenes . . . pulling from condemned humanity – this mass of unregenerate wriggling corrupt worms, some whom He will save.

And we don’t like that picture do we?!  That doesn’t fit very well with, “God loves you because you’re so special.”

That’s why the lyrics of Isaac Watt’s hymn was changed in our generation.  Isaac Watts originally wrote, “Alas and did my Savior bleed and did my Sovereign die . . . would He devote that sacred head, for such a worm as I?”  For nearly 300 years, those lyrics were sung.

We gotta changes those words.  We’re bad but we’re not that bad.  So the lyrics today in our hymnals ready, “Would he devote that Sacred Head for sinners such as I?” 

It won’t be long before the word “sinner” will be exchanged for “confused person who makes poor choices.”  That’s gonna be hard to sing.

The reason the church can’t picture itself as redeemed worms is because they no longer view God as a merciful sovereign.

But you get a glimpse of what the doctrine of election means and you cry out, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Well we need to end this introduction and get into the paragraph.

We could spend weeks here, but we’re gonna cover some of it and keep moving on.  I plan to finish, Lord willing, chapter 9 before our summer series – next school year cover chapter 10 and 11 and then into chapter 12 where we all want to be.

I hope this all provides a foundation so that when we arrive at chapter 12 we’ll understand what it means to be a living sacrifice unto God.  A living sacrifice?  You mean Paul wants us to sacrifice our lives for God?

You see, when you understand that you are elect, by the mercy and grace of Sovereign God, you then understand what it means for God to own everything about you.  And you will offer up yourself to God as a living, ongoing, sacrifice.

Throughout chapter 9, Paul pulls out illustrations from the Old Testament that reveal God has always acted through sovereign election in the world.  

He chose Abraham over everyone else living in Ur (v. 7);  He chose Isaac over Ishmael (v. 8-9); He chose Jacob over Esau (v. 10-12).

Sovereign choice!

Now, in verse 15, he repeats Exodus 33:19 where God says to Moses,  “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

This revelation came on the heels of 3,000 Israelites being killed by the sword.  Moses had received from the Lord the 10 commandments and when he returned he found the people involved in idolatry, dancing before a golden calf.  God spoke to Moses saying the entire nation deserved to be destroyed, but instead, only 3,000 died in judgment.  Why 3,000 and not everyone?  And why them?  We’re not told, except that Paul uses that event to illustrate God’s sovereignty in judging some while on others, showing mercy.

What Paul implies is interesting.  He says, “If you are going to say that God is unrighteous because He chooses one person and not another, then God was unrighteous at Mt. Sinai when He let any person live.  Everybody should have died, but God said, “I will show mercy.”  Alva J. McClain, Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace (BMH Books, Winona Lake, 1973), p. 181

Next, Paul will pull from Israel’s past one of the greatest illustrations of God’s sovereign power know to the Jew.

The demonstration of God’s power in Egypt that liberated the nation from Pharaoh.

Notice verse 17.  For the Scripture says to Pharaoh.  Stop here for a moment and take that in.

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh.

The Scriptures weren’t in written, completed form back then.  But Paul considers the word of God, spoken through Moses, to be tantamount to scripture.

You ought to circle the words “He says” in verse 15, referring to God speaking, and draw a line as I have, down to the words “the Scripture says” in verse 17.

It’s clear that Paul considers the two to be equally authoritative.  They are synonymous terms.  In other words, when the scriptures speak, God is speaking. 

So,  what did God say to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.”

One author commented, “Being an absolute monarch, Pharaoh assumed that everything he said and did was by his own free choice to serve his own human purposes.  But the Lord makes clear through Moses that Pharaoh was divinely raised up to serve a divine purpose, a purpose of which the king was not even aware.”

John MacArthur, Romans: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1994), p. 33

Would God do that?  Is God that sovereign, that he can raise up an unbeliever to accomplish the purpose of His own will?

That’s exactly what Paul said.

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 16:4, “The Lord has made everything for it’s own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.”

Can you believe that?

Peter wrote, “For those who disbelieve . . . they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.” (I Peter 2:7-8)

You might say, “Well then, does God make unbelievers disbelieve in Him?”  No, He doesn’t have to do that.  The unbelieving world already disbelieves all by themselves.

Jesus said in John 3 that the unbeliever has already been judged and is already condemned. 

God has to do nothing for the unbeliever to disbelieve.  But God does have to intervene for the elect to believe.

You say, aha – I have you now . . . why doesn’t God intervene and elect everyone?!

I don’t know!  Well, what are we paying you for?!

Now wait a second . . . I don’t know any Christians who really believe that everyone’s going to heaven?

Do you believe that everyone in the whole world who has ever lived is going to heaven?  No?

Well then, we agree!  Some are going to heaven and some are going to hell.

Don’t get upset with me, I’m just telling you why.

You say people aren’t going to heaven because they didn’t choose God; I’m saying people aren’t going to heaven because God didn’t choose them and that’s why they didn’t choose Him. 

I like your answer better, but mine’s Biblical.

I believe Paul is too clear to be misunderstood here . . . though it boggles our mind . . . God is sovereign . . . God is the initial chooser . . . He raises up those who will believe and He raises up those who will not believe . . . He is the primary cause . . . He is the original mover in salvation, He is the initiator of redemption.

That doctrine puts Him on the throne and humanity bowing at His feet!

What an illustration Pharaoh made of God’s power.

God said through Moses, Paul writes in verse 17b “I have raised you up.”

Exegeiro is the Greek word which is used to refer to the promoting of world leaders.  The same word is used by the prophet Habakkuk of the bloodthirsty Chaldeans whom God raised up to do His will (Habakkuk 1:6).  The prophet Zechariah prophesied of the antichrist whom God will raise up to devour humanity. (Zechariah 11:16)

God said to Pharaoh, “I raised you up to demonstrate My power in you.”

By the way, this is a quotation of that very conversation between Moses and Pharaoh that is recorded in Exodus 9.

The conversation occurred between the 6th and the 7th plague that had come into the land of Egypt.

Each plague had attacked one of Egypt’s primary gods, revealing the sovereignty of God over them all.  But Pharaoh remained resolute – we know from Paul that God had hardened his heart.

Although several times in Exodus, you read that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, God had already said to Moses several chapters earlier that He was going to harden his heart to he would not let the people go free. (Exodus 4:21)

And through the stubbornness of this world leader, God’s power will be unmistakably revealed.

You need to know something about this Pharaoh.

He was Amenhotep the Second.

His empire and He himself believed he was the son of God – the highest god of the universe – the Sun God - Ra.

His throne name meant, “Great are the manifestations of Ra” which is ironic, given the fact that the God of Israel will overpower all the gods with His manifestations.

Amenhotep II was renowned for his athletic ability and physical strength.  While he was still young, his father put him in charge of the royal stables where he trained stallions for battle.  His reputation grew even more legendary after he shot arrows through a target while driving a chariot with the reins tied around  his waist.  The deed was so incredible that it was recorded in several inscriptions in several different cities. 

When Amenhotep II became Pharaoh, he still insisted in leading the troops into battle and fighting in hand-to-hand combat.  He became a fierce dictator and would be known as the most bloodthirsty, cruel leader of the 18th Dynasty. 

Once, when several cities rebelled against his kingdom, he led his army and defeated them.  On the way back, he hung the 7 defeated kings upside down on the prow of his ship and then, when he arrived home, hung them on the temple walls as trophies.

This is the man before whom Moses would dare insist, “Let my people go.”

“Go?  You slaves are commanding me?  You are resisting my sovereign control over you?”

And so God, in one display of power after another, revealed his sovereignty over the sovereign of Egypt, the most powerful kingdom in that part of the world.

Until the 9th demonstration – when God seemed to say to Pharaoh, “So, you are the sovereign descendant of the great Sun god Ra?  Well, I will blot out the sun!”  And darkness fell over the land.  And Pharaoh said to Moses, if I ever see you again I will kill you.” 

Then, the last of the plagues involved the command of God for the Israelites to put the blood of lambs on their doorposts.  For without the blood, the death angel who would sweep into Egypt one night soon, and kill the firstborn of every family.

God would demonstrate that He was sovereign.  And that includes having the power over life and death.

They found the royal tomb of Amenhotep II around 1900 AD.  He was mummified and still well preserved.  His wife was in there, another woman as well and, even though Amenhotep had several sons and daughters, only one of them seems to have been mummified and placed in that tomb with them.  

One Egyptologist I read said the likeness between Amenhotep and this unidentified male was remarkable, even after thousands of years the flesh was still on their bones.  It was a boy around 9 or 10 years of age – unusually placed beside the wife of Amenhotep.  No doubt, her little boy . . . their first-born son.

God’s power over Egypt would never be forgotten.  And the Passover where the angel of death passed over the homes where blood had been displayed on the doorposts, that Passover meal is still observed by Jews all around the world.

A symbol of the mercy of God toward those who were covered  by the blood of the lamb.

Maybe you ask, “How do you know if you’ve received the mercy of God?”

That’s simple.  You asked for it.  God elects those who will receive His mercy . . . and those whom God has chosen to receive His mercy are the same people who come to God for mercy.

They are the ones who have said, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me?”  If you said that to your Lord and Savior, “Oh Sovereign Master of all there is and all I am – I claim no right of my own but only the shedding of your blood for my sin, have mercy on me” – have mercy on me – have mercy on me. 

You, my friend, are one of God’s chosen, redeemed by His mercy and grace.

Alas and did my Savior bleed and did my Sovereign die,

Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I;

At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away,

It was there by faith I received my sight,

And now I am happy all the day.

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