A good word from John Piper:
Romans 9 makes me hopeful that God has the will, the right, and the power to answer prayer that people be changed.
Sometimes people try to pit prayer against the sovereignty of God. They ask “Why should we pray if God is sovereign?” To which I respond, “Why pray if he’s not?” All the things I care about God doing, he doesn’t have the right to do if you believe in absolute free will. By absolute free will, I mean ultimate self-determination. If you have self-determination, God has no right to intrude on you and change you. So why would we pray?
But if you believe that God has the right to break into any life, overcome the will, make someone his, take out the heart of stone, put in the heart of flesh, and cause someone to walk in his statutes, then you’ll pray. You probably have people that you’ve been praying for over decades who are not believers, and you’re frightened that they may not be elect. You’re frightened that they might go to their grave not believing in Jesus. I do.
There’s simply no hope if God is not sovereign for those people. If there is any hope for the most hardened sinner that you love, if there’s any hope that that person might be saved, it is God. God can save. God can just stop them in their tracks, take out the heart that’s been rebelling for fifty years, and put in a new heart. That is why we pray.
(read his other observations on Romans 9 here)
Has God Failed?
9:1-5 Paul is anguishing over the fact that so many of his fellow Jews have rejected Christ. After all, God has been so good to them in the past: He has given them the promises, the law, even the Christ! So what does the unbelief of the Israelites mean in regard to God’s promises? Has God failed? Did what He say not come true?
9:6-13 The answer is “no!” But more specifically, it is to realize that just because somebody is an Israelite ethnically, this does not mean that they are an Israelite spiritually. While we often blur the two together, Paul (and all of the Scriptures) keep these two distinct.
The examples given here are from the Old Testament and continually show that God chooses some (the “elect”) and not others for salvation. Thus, the Israelites as a nation are not saved by their ethnicity but – just like anybody else – individuals are only saved by trusting in God’s promised Messiah.
9:14-18 Does this make God unjust? No – because nobody deserves to be “elect.” We all deserve eternal punishment. So God’s sovereignty is a good thing. We benefit by His showing mercy to those whom He has chosen. We don’t deserve His grace, but all in Christ receive it and enjoy it forever!
God is For Us
8:31-32 The summary not just of these verses, but of Paul’s entire train of thought in chapters 5-8 is this: God is for us. This is proven by the very fact that He sent Christ to take our punishment. And since this is true, why would we ever doubt that He would give us anything less than what we need?
8:33 Can any charge be brought against us? No! In Christ, God has justified us so that we have right standing before Him.
8:34 Is there any condemnation that applies to us? Again, no! Christ Jesus took our condemnation upon Himself on the cross. He has paid the price and continues to aid us as our High Priest who intercedes on our behalf.
8:35-37 Can anyone separate us from the love of Christ? Can any trial or tribulation of life drive a wedge between us and our Savior? No! Nothing can separate us. Though we will suffer in this world as we wait, nothing will come between our Lord and His people.
8:38-39 Therefore, this great and hopeful truth must drive us to worship, to faithfulness, and to absolute confidence that what the Lord has promised to us will hold firm in spite of anything and everything thrown at us.
While We Wait
8:12-17 Our obligation – as those who are no longer condemned, as those who have been given new minds, and as those who will someday receive new bodies – is to live the Christian life here and now. We have been and are being adopted, we shall be heirs, and therefore we have both great reward coming and great responsibility while we wait.
8:18-21 As sons and daughters of the King, we must never think that our lot will be different than Christ’s. He suffered, so we too must suffer. But that suffering amounts to little in comparison to that glory that is coming! He was raised and glorified, so – too – shall we be through Him.
8:22-25 Just as we are waiting to be made new in whole, so is all creation. We have the first fruits of God’s promise – the Holy Spirit. And that initial down payment will produce in us patience as we wait for the promise to be fulfilled.
8:26-27 While we wait, we are aided by the Spirit. Our calling is not a hopeless one, but instead one that God Himself aids us in.
8:28-30 And as we wait, we hope, knowing that God has promised since before time to redeem those who are His. He will keep His promises for all who are His.
He Makes All Things New
8:1 Paul’s statement only has the impact it should if we remember what he spoke of in chapter 7: though we are new in Christ, our fight with sin still continues. The fact that we are not condemned is only possible because of God’s good grace by sending Christ to die for our sins.
8:2-4 Paul sets up (as he has earlier in the book) a portrait of two ways to live: we can either follow the law of the flesh (and therefore be condemned by our sin) or the law of the Spirit (and so be saved by God). For Christians, we live as disciples, and so are no longer under the condemnation that we deserve.
8:5-8 Not only that, but we have also been given a new mind which loves the things of God rather than the things of the flesh. We have literally been changed by the Lord so that we can love those things which He commands.
8:9-11 In addition to having freedom from condemnation and a new mind, we are also given a promise for the future: we shall have a new body. Just as Christ was physically raised from the dead, so shall we be. Our hope is not in vain, but instead is rock-solid as we await Christ’s return.
Endure! – Revelation 2:8-11
2:8-9 The words are written by John but given by Christ. Smyrna was a church in a city where Christians were persecuted not just by the Romans, but even by those calling themselves Jews.
2:10-11 The call from Christ is for these Christians to remain faithful – even as persecution ratchets up! They are to hold firmly and endure even as some are thrown in prison, and even as some are killed for their faithfulness. How can Christ command this? What confidence can the Christians of Smyrna – and all Christians of every age – have that enduring trial and tribulation is worth it? For that answer, we turn to passages like Daniel 7 to show us that Christ has promised victory.
Daniel 7:1-8 Daniel – who is himself under tribulation on account of being exiled to Babylon with all the Jews – receives a dream that he writes down to encourage not just his fellow countrymen, but also people like us. The dream is of four terrible beasts, representing powerful, wicked, earthly kingdoms.
7:9-13 But the hope Daniel is given – and our hope – is that God Himself will destroy these evil kingdoms and that His very Son is given glory and His good kingdom will last forever.
Conclusion: We can endure because Christ will win the victory and we will enjoy Him forever.