Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 5: Sunday
Today’s Bible reading is Romans 9–10. In these two chapters and in Romans 11, Paul turns to answer his critics about God’s promises and Israel. As F. F. Bruce frames it:
“At the outset of the letter Paul had said that God’s way of righteousness on the ground of faith was presented in the gospel “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). But it was a matter of common knowledge that Jews for the most part had not accepted the gospel, whereas Gentiles had embraced it in large numbers…
“If the order of proclamation was “to the Jew first and also to the Greek”, the order of acceptance was “by the Gentile first and (then) also by the Jew”.1
Davidson and Martin organize Paul’s answer into three parts:
“The first deals with the absolute sovereignty of God (9:1–29), the second with Jewish responsibility in the historical situation (9:30–10:21), and the third with the merciful purpose of God (11:1–36).”2
The absolute sovereignty of God: Paul is now going to discuss God’s absolute sovereignty in Romans 9. In The Gospel of God: Romans, R. C. Sproul titles his chapter on Romans 9:1–33, “God’s Sovereign Choice in Salvation.”3 People balk at this idea and raise the objections Paul anticipates in Romans 9 because we forget who God is, and we forget who we are.4 So let’s remember:
Who is God?
God is the King of the ages, the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Who were we before we believed in Jesus?
We were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
With these truths firmly in mind, let’s go back to Romans. Look at how God has dealt with us.
Paul has been writing about God’s grace, χάρις (cháris). In chapters 9–11, he writes about God’s mercy, ἔλεος (éleos). Grace is mentioned by Paul far more often than any other writer in the New Testament, and his letter to the Romans contains the most references. Mercy is mentioned by Paul more often than any other writer. Only Luke in his Gospel mentions mercy more often than Paul does in Romans.
Let’s look at these two words. God’s grace:
“God’s grace describes God as perfectly bestowing favor on those who cannot merit it because they have forsaken it and are under the sentence of divine condemnation.”5
In Romans 1–8 Paul clearly establishes:
We cannot merit God’s grace. We cannot demand it of Him because we are under His just condemnation.
Now look at God’s mercy:
“God’s mercy describes him as perfectly having deep compassion for creatures (people) such that he demonstrates benevolent goodness to those in a pitiable or miserable condition, even though they do not deserve it.”6
We conflate mercy with justice. R. C. Sproul writes,
“God does not always act with justice. Sometimes he acts with mercy. Mercy is not justice, but it also is not injustice. Injustice violates righteousness. Mercy manifests kindness and grace and does no violence to righteousness. We may see nonjustice in God, which is mercy, but we never see injustice in God.”7
Do we merit God’s mercy? To think that means we have forgotten who God is and who we are. We conflate mercy with justice, essentially saying God is unjust, and, by implication, unrighteous. Paul anticipates this objection in Romans 9:14.8
What a thing for those who were (or those who are) by nature children of wrath to say! Paul has already established all are under God’s just condemnation. He answers the objection in Romans 9:14 by saying:
Paul drives the point home. God is Sovereign.
And anticipates another objection:
To which he answers again, God is Sovereign:
And He acts according to His purposes:
Look at the very next verses in Titus and Ephesians.
Now go back to Romans 9–10, and read as a sinner saved by the mercy and grace of God.
FOR WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?
OR WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE REPAID TO HIM?
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
The Bible speaks of God’s sovereignty from Genesis to Revelation. Paul’s response was, “To him be glory forever. Amen.” May that be your response as well.
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Sky 49: Nancy Anburaj. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Making pottery: Randy Oostdyk. GFDL-1.2-or-later. (CC BY-SA 3.0).
1F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1977) 333.
2F. Davidson, Ralph P. Martin, “Romans,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 1033–1034.
3,8R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: Romans (Christian Focus Publications, Ltd; Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland, United Kingdom: 2011) 201, 206: regarding Romans 9:13, Just as it is written, “JACOB LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED,” Sproul writes, “When the Scripture speaks of God hating, it means that he did not bestow favor upon Esau. God did not give him grace and the benefits of salvific love. It doesn’t mean that God hates in the sense that human beings hate.”
4I think R. C. Sproul said words to this effect, but I cannot find the quote.
5,6John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, gen. eds., “God the Father,” Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Biblical Truth (Crossway, Wheaton IL: 2017) 182, 182-183.
7R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, 2nd ed. (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton IL: 1985, 1998) 111.
Further reading at Ligonier: “Why We Can’t Choose God,” “Justice and Mercy: Romans 9:14–18,” and “Our Faith Is God’s Mercy.”
I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.
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