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Divine Election - Part 6

Tom Pennington • Romans 9:6-29

  • 2018-11-04 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons


Well, we continue this morning our wonderful journey through Paul's letter to the Romans. We find ourselves in the deep waters of chapter 9. We are studying the profoundly rich and, yet at times, admittedly troubling issues of divine election and the opposite side of that, divine reprobation.

As we study these truths together, it occurred to me this week, I need to remind us all that we ought to do so with two basic attitudes, and we have to maintain these attitudes in balance in our souls. First of all, there must be a genuine interest in, passion for, and obedience to all that God has revealed about even these hard and difficult truths. In other words, we must never, through apathy and indifference, sheer laziness, or frankly a sort of inherent dislike of these things, fail to grapple with them, and fail to believe what God Himself has revealed in His Word.

Secondly, another attitude that we have to hold on to is humility; a humility that acknowledges there is a God and we're not Him. We must never, through our arrogance or our erudition, our intellectual pursuits, go farther than God Himself goes in His Word. In fact, listen to how one author put it; I love this. Listen carefully, this is really helpful. "The predestination of God is indeed, in reality, a labyrinth from which the mind of man can by no means extricate itself. But so unreasonable is the curiosity of man, that the more perilous the examination of the subject is, the more boldly he proceeds so that when predestination is discussed, as he cannot restrain himself within due limits, he immediately, through his rashness, plunges himself as it were into the depths of the sea." We all know people like that. The writer goes on to say, "What remedy then is there for the godly? Must they avoid every thought of predestination? By no means! For as the Holy Spirit has taught us nothing but what it behooves us to know, the knowledge of this would no doubt be useful provided it be confined to the Word of God. (And then, this is how he ends.) Let this be our sacred rule to seek to know nothing concerning it except what Scripture teaches. When the Lord closes His holy mouth, let us also stop the way that we may not go farther." It's a great quote. That quotation was written 500 years ago from the pen of John Calvin. Calvin was actually reflecting the teaching of the Scripture itself.

There's a verse that if you don't know, you must know, and you need to learn it and pin it to the walls of your mind. It's Deuteronomy 29:29, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God." Listen, there are things that God, in His own designs and providence, has determined not to tell us. Those are not ours to know. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever."

What's in this Book, what God has told us here, this is for us and for our sons and daughters forever, and these things must be the object of our care and our study. So, let me say it this way, we must exercise our minds. We must make our minds sweat, and I'm going to do that this morning, to understand everything that God has revealed about these difficult matters of election. But that is also where we must stop with God's revelation. Again, quoting Calvin, "Let this then be our sacred rule, to seek to know nothing concerning it except what Scripture teaches us. When the Lord closes His holy mouth, let us also stop the way that we may not go farther."

We're studying Romans, chapters 9 through 11. Paul introduces the issue that he's addressing in these three chapters in the first five verses of chapter 9. There he poses this question, "Why have a majority of God's chosen people, Israel, rejected their Messiah and rejected His gospel?" Over the next three chapters, Paul provides three answers to that question. The first answer is The Reality of Divine Election - that's what we're studying in chapter 9, verse 6, down through verse 29. His second answer is The Reality of Human Responsibility. That section begins in chapter 9, verse 30, and runs all the way through the end of chapter 10. His third answer to the question comes in chapter 11 and it is The Reality of God's Faithfulness. There he reiterates that God has a plan for Abraham's ethnic descendants. He's not done yet. He'll be faithful to His promises.

We're slowly, methodically, carefully working our way through Paul's first answer to his question, and his first answer is The Reality of Divine Election. Now I've noted for you that this paragraph begins with Divine Election: Explained and Illustrated, in verses 6 through13. In verse 6, there's a foundational explanation that says not every physical descendant of Abraham belongs to true spiritual Israel. In other words, not every ethnic Jewish person has been redeemed. Why? His answer is because of divine election. And he demonstrates that in verses 7 through 13 with three biblical illustrations: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And we looked at that explanation and illustration in detail.

Now last week, we began to study the second section of Paul's answer, here in chapter 9, and it's Divine Election Defended, verses 14 through 23. As the master teacher that Paul is, he anticipates the objections that his readers, (that all of us) are going to have to the doctrine of unconditional election, and then he answers those objections, in fact, he demolishes them.

Now last week, we considered objection number one. The first and most common objection to the doctrine of unconditional election is this - God's will isn't fair. And he deals with this objection in verses 14 to 18. The very first reaction that people have when they hear that God selects - God chooses, for salvation, those He chooses based on no condition in them, it's unconditional; God doesn't look down through the corridors of time and see who's going to believe; it is unconditioned on anything but God. When you hear that, the very first response that we're all tempted to have is, "That's not fair!"

Paul anticipates that objection and he responds with two answers, and we looked at them last week. First of all, he argues that Scripture teaches that God justly selects some to whom He shows mercy, and he deals with this answer in verses 15 and 16; and of course, he uses Moses as his example. Paul immediately provides scriptural evidence to show that it is perfectly just for God to choose to give unearned mercy to some in order to display His grace. As I said, Moses is a perfect example of that, and that's the example he uses.

The second part of his answer to this objection "it's just not fair", is that Scripture teaches that God justly passes by others to whom He shows justice; this is verses 17 and 18. Again, Paul provides scriptural evidence to show that it is perfectly just for God to choose to give earned and deserved justice to some in order to display His glory; that's verse 17. And of course, the example that he uses is Pharaoh. So he makes it clear, then, that this idea that it's not fair of God, cannot stand. Think about it this way, and I finished this way last time by saying, look, God chooses, out of all mankind who deserve justice, He chooses some on whom He will show mercy, and He passes by the rest and allows them to face His justice. Not one person is treated unfairly; there's not one bit of injustice in that. In fact, let me just put it bluntly. You don't want justice, and you don't want everybody to have justice; because if we got justice, all of us would end up in eternal hell. Instead, God chooses to give mercy and grace to some, and He passes by and treats justly, as they deserve, the rest of mankind; that's God's prerogative.

Now, since we're still contrasting today and comparing the biblical doctrines of election on the one hand, that's God's active choice, and reprobation on the other, that's God's passing by; that's the two words for those doctrines. I want to remind you of what we learned last week at the very end when we compared the two: election to reprobation. There are several crucial distinctions. I'm not going to go through them again. Let me just remind you of them and you have them in mind today.

Number one. In election, God actively chooses. In reprobation, He passes by. Number two. In election, God chooses with great delight. In reprobation, He passes over with great sorrow. In election, the cause for the sinner's salvation lies in God alone. In reprobation, the cause for the sinner's damnation lies in the sinner alone, as God gives the sinner justice. Fourthly, in election,

the ground is God's grace. In reprobation, the ground lies in God's justice.

I used the illustration of the Governor of Texas. The Governor of Texas may choose to select a prisoner, who deserves death, for pardon. When he does that, he makes an entirely different kind of choice to pass by the other death row prisoners and to leave them to justice. It's not unjust for the Governor of Texas to do that, and it's not unjust for God to do exactly the same.

Now today, having answered objection number one, we come to the second most common objection to this whole issue of unconditional election. Objection one: God's will isn't fair. Objection number two: Man's will isn't free. This is the objection Paul answers in verses 19 to 23. Essentially, this objection says this - if divine election and reprobation are unconditional, that is, they are not conditioned on anything in the person, but only on God alone, then that must mean, the objector says, that man's will isn't free.

Now let me, first of all, call your attention to the fact that this objection, again, validates our interpretation of this passage; because if Paul were teaching, as some teach, that God looks down through the corridors of time, and He chooses those whom He foresees will believe, then this objection would have never been raised because He would be choosing on the basis of man exercising his free will. But that isn't the objection; this objection is only made if Paul is, in fact, teaching unconditional election; and so, even the objection he anticipates only validates our interpretation, what we've learned in this passage as we've walked our way through it.

Now, Paul gives an absolutely devastating response to this objection. Let's read it together, Romans, chapter 9, beginning in verse 19. "You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?' On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this' will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory."

In these verses, Paul answers this second objection to unconditional election and reprobation. And it's an objection in the end that has to do with man's free will, so let's look at it. First of all, let's consider, in verse 19, the second common objection to election, look at it again. "You will say to me then, 'Why does he still find fault?' For who resists His will?" In essence, this objection says - God has no right to hold us responsible for our sin if what Paul is teaching is true.

Now the argument, let's take it apart a little bit, the argument goes like this. Let me give you three parts of this sort of objection, this argument. The first part of it is the person who's objecting to unconditional election will say this - Paul, you teach that God decides who gets mercy and whom He hardens. Notice how verse 19 begins, "You will say to me then," notice that key word. That is, you will say this to me in light of what I have just said back in verse 18. Look at verse 18, "(God) has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." Paul says, when you hear me say that, this is the objection you will raise.

And here's the second part of the argument. If that's true (this is the objector talking now) if that's true, then it's God's will that determines our destiny. Notice how he puts it in verse 19, "who resists His will?" The Greek word for 'will', here, is not the ordinary word. Instead, it's a word that speaks of the deliberate purpose of God. And the word 'resists' literally means 'to set oneself against'. So, here's how it goes, if God shows mercy to whom He will and if He hardens whom He will, then who is able to set himself against this deliberate will and purpose of God? What's the answer? No one! No one!

And that brings us to the third part of the argument, the objection. Go back to part one. You teach that God decides who gets mercy and whom He hardens. Part two, if that's true, then it's God's will that determines our destiny. Part three, that means God has no right to blame or to judge us at all. Look how he puts it in verse 19, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" In other words, how can God blame us for our sin if He hardens us and for our unbelief if He hasn't chosen us to believe? Is it fair of God to hold us accountable when He makes all the decisions? That's the objection.

Now understand that this objection is not, let me say it again, not what Paul teaches. In fact, this is a gross perversion of what Paul taught. Paul nowhere teaches that God makes people sin, that He creates sin within their heart, that He makes them refuse to believe. Here's how, and we saw that by the way with Pharaoh in the previous verses. But here's how Charles Hodge puts it in his systematic theology. "It is not the doctrine of the Bible that God first makes men wicked," (notice that expression), "that God makes men wicked, and then punishes them for their wickedness. Nowhere does the Bible teach that." Hodge goes on, "The Scriptures only assert that God permits men, in the exercise of their own free agency, to sin and then punishes them for their sins and in proportion to their guilt." You see the difference? God doesn't make anyone sin. God simply made man a free moral agent. He permits him to sin. Man sins and God responds to that sin in proportion to the guilt of the person. Understand that this second objection is really about man's free will; that's the essence of the problem. So, Paul goes on to provide us with an answer regarding man's free will in verses 20 to 23.

Now, before we look specifically at Paul's response in those verses, I want to first step back from Romans 9 and make sure that we understand the question, this issue about free will. So I want to start with an understanding of the question about free will because this issue has been at the crux of many battles and many debates throughout the history of the church. And, I'll be frank with you, many, perhaps even some here this morning, think they know the answer when they don't even really know the question.

So what's the question? Here is the real question. To what extent is man's will affected by original sin? Or, to put it differently, does man have a free will? And if we even want to say that, in what sense do we mean that? In what sense is man's will free? Now this issue seems, on the face of it, like it would be fairly simple to deal with; it's not. And that's because even the words themselves, both the words, 'free' and 'will,' can be used in various senses. So, for clarity, let me start with some foundational definitions.

First of all, what do we mean by 'will'? Will is that faculty of the soul that makes choices. Jonathan Edwards made a point that this is not some separate compartment in your soul. Don't think, you know, I have these little compartment boxes in my soul, and one of them is my will. No, he rejected the idea that the will is a separate mechanism in the soul. He simply defined the will as "the mind choosing". That's your will. I think he's absolutely right. When we speak of the will, we're not talking about a separate compartment in your soul. We're describing the reality that, because you are made in the image of God, your mind has the capacity to choose. That's what we mean by 'will.' So when we say that the mind's capacity to choose is free, what exactly do we mean?

Well, this also is a challenging question, because, when you look at the word 'free,' historically,

there have been three views of free will. I told you I was going to make your mind sweat, now stay with me, this is important, it will matter. So, there have been three views of free will. View number one is called "the freedom of indifference." This is also called "the neutral will theory." This is the most common, secular, non-Christian definition of free will. R. C. Sproul defines this view this way; it is "the ability to make choices (Listen to this.) without any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition." In other words, this view argues that we make decisions that are completely free of any influences.

Now, this makes no sense! I mean think for a moment about the parent-child relationship. I was kid number ten; and when I was a kid, almost all of my decisions were not like this. My decisions were heavily influenced by my parents and their will; in fact, the threat of what would happen to me if I tried to exercise 'the freedom of indifference' kept me on the straight and narrow path. You know, as R. C. Sproul used to say, "My will is free, and my Dad's will was free, but his will was freer than mine." So, this view of 'the freedom of indifference' is both irrational and it is, as we will learn, un-biblical.

Christians have historically landed on one of the other two views of free will. Let me give them to you. Number two, view number two, and many of you have been taught this, "freedom of contrary choice." This view teaches that our wills were damaged by the fall, but that every human being, without exception, is still able to cooperate with the Spirit and to choose Christ; that through the grace given to every sinner, the effects of Original Sin are erased and reversed which enables every sinner, without exception, to respond on his own to the gospel invitation. The unregenerate sinner can freely choose to reject Christ and remain in his sin, or that same sinner has the power to make the contrary choice to receive Christ. This view is usually held by Armenians. It's based on a basic fallacy; here's the fallacy, the power to make contrary choices is not the essence of what it means to have a free will, and I'll prove it to you.

Let's take God. Here's a trick question. Does God have a free will? Yes! God has a free will in the sense that many people mean it. However, God, when we say that, what we really mean is this - God is absolutely free to make the choices He decides to make; His will is free in that sense. However, even God does not have the power of contrary choice in every way. He can always choose and does choose the good and the right, but He cannot choose to do anything sinful. He is forced to make certain choices by nothing outside of Himself but by His own nature. So even God doesn't have the freedom of contrary choice. His will isn't free in that sense; it's bound by His nature. Alan Cairns writes, "God's freedom consists in choosing and acting according to the disposition of His will, but without the power of contrary choice."

The third view of human will is what the Scripture teaches as I will show you in a moment. Stay with me! We're going to get to the Scripture. I just want to lay this foundation. And the third view is "the freedom of self-determination." This is what the Bible teaches, "the freedom of self-determination." This is what we mean when we talk about man having a free will - the ability to choose according to the disposition of your own will without external control. Again, listen to Charles Hodge. "Man is free, not only when his outward acts are determined by his will, but also when his volitions are truly and properly his own, determined by nothing outside of himself but proceeding from his own views, feelings, and dispositions so that they are the real, intelligent, and conscious expression of his character or of what is in his mind." That's the freedom of self-determination and that's what we have. Every human being has a free will in this sense. His mind or her mind is able to choose what we want [he wants].

Now there's where the problem comes in because Edwards says, "The will always chooses according to its strongest inclination at the moment." Uh oh! Now we're in trouble; because this means, now listen carefully, this is not political speak; I know it's political season and all that, but I'm not talking out of both sides my mouth. Listen carefully. That means every choice you and I make is free, and every choice we make is determined. It's free in the sense that the choices are really and truly our own, but it's determined, not by some external force, (God doesn't make us think that), but by our own desires and nature, and this is where the problem lies. Our nature, our desires, are corrupt. That's why Augustine said that we have a free will in the sense that we make real choices, but we still lack liberty. We can choose what we want, but we never have the liberty to want God and to want righteousness. Robert Raymond writes, "Man is incapable of changing his character or of acting in a way that is distinct from his corruption."

Now you understand why Martin Luther said, when he was talking about this in his book, The Bondage of the Will, he said, "When you understand what the Bible really teaches about free will, you understand that that is much too grandiose of a term." So, that's the question. We understand the question now of free will.

Let's move on then to a biblical perspective on man's free will, a biblical perspective on man's free will. I will tell you that, at one point this week, I had five separate points under this, and I decided it was just too much. So I've shortened it to two.

The two main points, here they are: a biblical perspective of man's free will. Number one, man's will is free to make real choices in keeping with his own desires. The Bible is full of the affirmation of this basic principle but let me show you how right here in Romans 9 and in the context of Paul arguing for divine election, he makes the point that we make real decisions. Let me show you. Look in verse 20; Romans 9, verse 20, "On the contrary (Paul says) who are you, O man, (notice this) who answers back to God?" The very fact that we are free to answer back to God shows that we are not automatons; we are not robots.

There's a second argument here that we make real choices in keeping with our desires; it's found in verse 22 where it talks about "(God enduring) with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction." What does that imply? If God endures unredeemed man's sinful choices with much patience, then that means what about man's choices? They are not God's choices; they're his own, and God has to endure them; He has to put up with them. Man makes real choices. This implies that man is continually making choices contrary to God's will.

And there's a third way to illustrate this idea that man's will is free to make real choices. We're going to get there because Paul's entire second answer to the question is "The Reality of Human Responsibility;" so beginning in chapter 9, verse 30, and running all the way through chapter 10, Paul is going to show us that man refuses to choose God and His gospel, and every person is fully responsible for that refusal. So, man is free; his will is free in the sense that he makes real choices in keeping with his own desires even when those are contrary to the will and purposes of God. And again, I could take you to countless places in Scripture to illustrate that. I just thought it was interesting that right here in this context on divine sovereignty, that's illustrated.

So let's go to a second point, "The Biblical Perspective on Man's Free Will." Man's will is not free from his own depravity; man's will is not free from his own depravity. Go back to Roman, chapter 3; we saw this in detail as we walked our way through Paul's indictment of all mankind, beginning in Romans 3, verse 9, and going down through verse 20. I'm not going to go through all of it in detail; let me just show you. First of all, you'll notice, beginning in verse 10 in your Bible, there are a lot of verses in all caps, why is that? Because, those are quotations from the Old Testament. Paul puts together a series of Old Testament passages to explain to us just how profoundly sin has affected each one of us. He begins in verse 10, "Just as it is written, there is none righteous, (This is sort of an overarching 'here's the problem.') there is none righteous not even one." But then we get to verse 11, and he sort of unpacks that a little bit. He begins by saying, at the beginning of verse 11 that, "We all have darkened minds." He says, "There is none" - notice the all-inclusive nature of this. "There is not one who understands." What does he mean? Who understands God? Who understands God's truth? Who understands His condition before God? Not one who has a spiritual comprehension of reality. We have darkened minds.

But it gets worse. Verse 11 goes on to say we have enslaved wills. "There is none". Again, notice the word there is "none" (who seeks for God). Not one person truly seeks for God. You say, "Well, what about, you know, people who appear to be seeking?" Well, either they're really running away into false religion, they're running away from the true God; or if they're truly seeking the true God, it's because God is seeking them. But "not one!" That's what he says, "None who seeks for God."

That leads to rebellious lifestyles. Verse 12, "All have turned aside together they've become useless." That's a sort of overarching description of a person's entire life. And that rebellious lifestyle is characterized and full of sinful behavior. Verse 12 goes on to say, "There is none who does good." This has to do with the choices and the practice of righteous things. "There is none who does good; there is not even one." No exceptions!

Now Paul's point here, don't miss it, is that not even one person chooses God, chooses God's path, chooses to actually do what God considers good, not one; that's human depravity! Doesn't mean we're all as bad as we could be, thank God. It just means, apart from Christ, we are all permeated by sin in those ways. And so our will is not free of our depravity; that's his point. "There is none who seeks God, not one!"

Martin Luther, in what he considered to be his magnum opus at the time of the Reformation, The Bondage of the Will, if you haven't read it, it's heavy sledding, but you should read it. It's a classic and it drives this point home. In, The Bondage of the Will, Luther is commenting on Romans 3. Listen to what he says. "Let him that dares defend free will against these indictments, and I will gladly give way and recant and be a confessor and asserter of free will myself." In other words, he lays down the challenge. He says, Look, try to come to this passage and prove to me that man's will is free in the sense that most people mean it's free, not self-determination, but contrary choice. He said, It can't be done. The truth is, apart from Christ, no one has the ability to act contrary to his depraved nature.

In fact, Christ said this. In Matthew 7, verse 18, He says, "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, (and here's the point) nor can a bad tree produce good fruit." You hear that word 'can'? It's actually a Greek word from the family of dunamis or dunamai, a word which means power or ability. He says a bad tree does not have the power or capacity to produce good fruit. We can't change our nature, and we can't make moral choices that conflict with our nature, what we are by nature. This is our problem.

Do we have a free will? Well, if you mean self-determination, yes, we make real choices according to our desires. But if you mean free to choose God, you've got a real problem. In fact, go over to Romans, chapter 8; Romans, chapter 8. We went through this in detail and one of my greatest joys was working through Romans 8 with you. But, look at Romans 8 and notice verse 7. He's contrasting believers and unbelievers, and he starts with unbelievers. He says, "the mind set on the flesh (that's the mind of an unbeliever) is hostile toward God"; so that the mind of all unbelievers is at enmity with God. It's hostile toward God and here's why, "it does not subject itself to the law of God." It's not that every unbeliever is walking around mad with God and holding up his or her fist at God; that's not the point. The point is, this hostility shows itself in an unwillingness to do what God says. It doesn't subject itself to the law of God. And then notice the end of verse 7. "For it is (and here's our word 'dunamai' again) it is not even able." It doesn't have the power or capacity to do so. We can't obey God with a depraved nature.

Look at verse 8, "and those who are in the flesh (again, unbelievers, here's our word again) cannot (does not have the power or capacity to) please God." Unbelievers don't have the power to even please God. Why not? Well, Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him."

Let me take it one step further. And I've shared this verse with you before. If you're familiar with it, you don't have to turn. If you're not familiar, I urge you to turn because you need to see it. John 6:44, John 6:44. Here's our word dunamai again. And here it's teaching us that unredeemed man is so depraved that he cannot choose to come to Christ for salvation. John 6:44, "No one" - notice again the all-inclusive nature of it. "No one can". There's our word. "No one (has the power or capacity) to come to Me." In context, Jesus is talking about coming to Him for salvation. Not one person has the power or capacity to come to Jesus for salvation, "unless (here's the one exception) the Father who sent Me draws him." In other words, the only way this happens, the only way a depraved will decides to come to Christ is that the Father powerfully, irresistibly draws that person to Christ. That's what Jesus taught.

So, man's will, then, is free to choose sin, but it is not free to choose God and the gospel. In fact, let me show you how man responds to the truth. Go back to Romans 1; Romans 1, verse 18. I just want you to notice man's response to the truth throughout these chapters. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men". Here's what unbelievers do. Notice what they do to the truth. They, what? Suppress the truth in unrighteousness." They hold it down. They ignore it. They try to deny its reality. They suppress the truth. Go down to chapter 2, verse 4: "…do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God (He intends it to) leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God".

How do unbelievers respond to the demonstration of God's character and kindness in their lives when He gives them food and clothing and gives them family and love and all of those things; how do they respond? They say, "Oh, God, thank you! I want to serve you and love you and worship you; I decide for Christ." No! They're stubborn and hardhearted and unrepentant.

Go to chapter 10; chapter 10, verse 3. This is where he is dealing with people who were exposed to the gospel to some extent and then refused it. Verse 3, "For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, (now watch, watch the expression here) they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God." They refused to submit themselves to God's way of salvation.

Go down to verse 21 of chapter 10, "as for Israel He says, "ALL THE DAY LONG I HAVE STRETCHED OUT MY HANDS (God says, I've made a genuine invitation) TO A DISOBEDIENT AND OBSTINATE PEOPLE." That's their response to the truth of the gospel. That's all humanity's response. Man suppresses the truth. He resists the truth. He refuses to subject himself to the truth. He disobeys the truth. Why? Because he loves his sin.

Now you tell me. Can anyone of his own free will, in light of those passages, choose God? Obviously not. We have a free will to choose what we desire. But left to ourselves, we will never choose God. Our only hope is for God to exercise His free will and choose to save us. That's our only hope. That is the gospel. And that brings us back to Romans 9.

See, I told you I was going to get back there. All that we've studied so far is really just necessary background to understand what Paul is going to teach us here; because Paul's answer to the question of man's free will isn't the answer I just gave you, at least not here. It is his answer in other places. I just showed you that. But here, Paul doesn't track through all of that. He doesn't say, Well, let me tell you, yes, man has a free will, but, no, he can't do this, and he's able to do this. No, here Paul's answer to the question of man's free will isn't about us at all. Instead, God's free will is really the point of the entire section beginning in verse 14 and running down to verse 23. It's about the freedom of God's will to decide who gets His justice and who gets His grace, and that is especially the point of verses 20 to 23.

In these verses, in answer don't miss the sort of switch Paul makes. In answer to an objection about man's free will, we have a biblical apologetic for God's free will; a biblical apologetic for God's free will. That's the message of verses 20 to 23. If I could reduce it to its simplest form, it would be this - you have no right to question God about His free decision to show mercy to some and to give justice to others. That's the message of verses 20 to 23. Paul argues for God's right, or the freedom of God's will, to do whatever He decides (here's the parameter) as long as it is in keeping with His own character and nature.

Why does he do that? Why doesn't Paul kind of go through and teach what I've just done about free will here in this passage? It's because Paul knows that our real problem with election is not the question of man's free will, but rather a distorted view of God. Because most people come to election and they read chapter 9 of Romans; they kind of, even Christians, kind of want to stay away from Romans 9. I don't know, I don't know if I really like that God. It's because that shows our own characters. We take the whole story and we turn it on its head. We take the whole story, and we make God come out to be this capricious, uncaring God who chooses and sort of dangles joyfully and gleefully sinners over hell. That isn't the story of election of all.

The story of election is this - that our wills are so depraved that we would never, left to ourselves, ever choose God. Our only hope is if a good and generous and gracious God reaches out in His Son to rebels who would never approach Him, and in the free decision of His own will chooses to make them His sons and daughters. That's the story of election, and that's why Paul responds as he does (verse 20), "On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it? Or does not the potter have (notice this word) a right (literally, authority) over the clay, to make from the same (terrible, sinful, undeserving) lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?"

Lord willing, next time that we study together, we'll look at these verses in detail. But, as we finish today, I want to bring out some implications for us. Here are some implications of what the Bible teaches about the limitations on man's free will, or let's put it the way Luther did about the bondage of man's will. Here are some implications, and I want to take you to Ephesians 2 to show them to you.


Go to Ephesians, chapter 2. Here in Ephesians 2, the first 10 verses, we see several implications about this idea of the bondage of man's will. The first implication is found in the first three verses. Paul says, "You, (meaning all mankind, the believers particularly in Ephesus, but this is true of all unbelievers) You were dead (spiritually unconnected to God, spiritually dead) in (the sphere of) your trespasses and sins, (or perhaps because of your acts of rebellion and your sins, and he says) in which (that is in your sins and trespasses) you formally walked (the word 'walked,' has to do with the lifestyle, this was the pattern of life, and here's how we walked. Because of our sin, we walked first of all, in lockstep with the spirit of the age. Notice what he says). You formerly walked according to the (literally, the age of this cosmos). The word he uses is a word that has to do with the collective mindset of an age. And every age has it. Ours has it, you understand that. He says, when you were dead to God, you walked in lockstep with the spirit of the age (the mindset of the age) in which you lived.

And secondly, you walked in lockstep, verse 2, "according to the prince of the power of the air". This is Satan. You walked in lockstep with your old father, Satan himself. But notice how he describes Satan, not only the sphere of his power around, the prince of the power of the air, but then he talks about how Satan works, "of the spirit (that spirit is not Satan; that spirit is the sort of zeitgeist, the spirit of the age) that is now working in the sons of disobedience." Here I think he's talking primarily about what Satan does, and the primary thing Satan does is false religion. You were in lockstep with false religion, with Satan, and all of the ideologies and philosophies and false religion.

Verse 3, "Among them (among the sons of disobedience) we too" (notice Paul includes himself now). He says, "we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh." Paul was a Pharisee; how much trouble can you get into as a Pharisee? The answer is, "A lot." He says we all formerly lived in the cravings of our fallenness. That's what I think he means by the word 'flesh' there, the first appearance. And that meant, we indulged, literally, the will of the flesh and of the mind. I think the second appearance of flesh is the body. We indulge the cravings of our body, and we indulge the craving of our minds. And then he ends verse 3 with the worst of all, we "were by nature children of (God's) wrath, even as the rest." We were under the judgment and approaching and looming wrath of God. That's where every human being is apart from Christ.

Now, what is the implication of that? Well, that means, if we understand the bondage of the will as it's reflected in those three verses, it means that, if anyone's going to get saved, it requires election. It requires God's choice. Nobody is coming on his own out of that condition. We're dead!

You know, when I was growing up, there was a popular way to share the gospel. You know, that somebody had fallen overboard off of a ship, and was floating on the ocean, and needed, you know, God to throw him the life preserver, then he locked his arms around the life preserver. . . You know, what Paul is saying is, the story is entirely different. That person jumped off the ship because he hates the generosity of the Father. He jumps to his own death; he's completely dead, unresponsive, doesn't know his condition; he's floating on the water, and he'll never grab a life preserver because he doesn't even know he needs one. The only hope he has is for God to intervene, and that brings us to verse 4.

Here's the second implication. First implication is the bondage of the will means, if anybody is going to get saved, it has to come through election; God has to choose. Second implication, election and salvation must be sovereign acts. Verse 4, "But God". We're dead! "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, (here it is) made us alive."

The bondage of the will reflected in the first three verses means that both election and salvation must be sovereign acts of God, whereby, He brings a person who's dead, floating on the surface of the water because of his rebellion against God…to life!

Third implication comes in verses 8 and 9, and it's that election and salvation have to flow solely from the grace of God. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it (meaning either salvation as a whole or faith specifically) is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Listen, election and salvation are only possible because of God's grace; that quality in God that moves His great heart to want to do good to those who are rebels against Him; who deserve exactly the opposite from Him. There is, in the beating heart of God, that quality that permeates His entire being. He's gracious! That was our only hope.

And then there's a fourth implication in verse 10. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Paul says, Listen, the bondage of our will, the slavery we were in in the first three verses means that in the end, God gets all the glory. "For we are His workmanship."

If you're here this morning and you're not a Christian, what I want you to get is this. You have no hope on your own - zero, none, you are dead! You are a child of wrath. You're in slavery to your sin. There is zero hope for you on your own. Your only hope, and I plead with you to do this even today, is to throw yourself on the gracious mercy of God. Just cry out to God, plead with Him to save you in and through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. Only God can grant you repentance and can give you faith. Only God can say, Let there be life where there's death. And only God can say, Let there be light where there has been darkness. Your only hope, and I plead with you even today, is to throw yourself literally on the mercy of God, on the grace of God, and say, God (like the man in Jesus' story), God be merciful to me the sinner. God always responds to that because that's His heart. And if you do respond like that, it'll be because what we saw in John 6, the Father is drawing you to Himself.

If you're a Christian, it's imperative that you come to grips with how important this truth about the bondage of the will truly is. It is the heart of the biblical gospel. Our wills were bound by our sin. We would never have repented and believed if God had not made us alive and given us repentance and faith to believe in His Son. But God exercised the right of His free will and decided to have mercy on us, based solely on the redemption that is in His Son, Jesus Christ. Don't read chapter 9 and think of God as this capricious, ungracious, unloving God who chooses some and leaves others. Understand what Paul is saying. Left to yourself, you would never come. Your only hope is that the great generous heart of God is moved to show you His grace and that's what He did. That's our God and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let's pray together.

Father, we've covered so much this morning, but I pray You would protect us from missing the big picture, the main point, that You are the only Savior, and that You must initiate everything, or we would be eternally lost because we would never choose You. Thank You, Oh God, that because You are good and generous and gracious, compassionate, that You decided to choose us and to show us mercy when we deserved only justice. And Lord, You are good and right to make that choice, and we allow You, we acknowledge Your right to be God. Help us to trust You.

I pray for those who are here this morning who are not in Christ. Lord, may they throw themselves on Your good and generous and gracious nature; and like the publican in Jesus' story, may they cry out, "Oh, God, be merciful to me the sinner," and find You to be just that. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen!