:In Romans 9, Paul has boldly taught and defended God’s sovereign, monergistic, unconditional election of individuals to salvation. He has also dealt with three objections that usually arise against this biblical teaching:
- How can God elect if he is just? Or, It’s not fair! Paul’s answer – salvation is not about justice or fairness, it’s about mercy. If it was about justice or fairness, we would all be damned.
- How can God elect some to salvation and leave others in their sin if he is loving? Paul’s answer – God demonstrated his love in sending his Son to die, but this was done for a greater purpose. It was done so that he might be praised through the demonstration of his glorious grace. Don’t be too narrow in analyzing God and his purposes.
- How can God elect someone in eternity past before they have even existed? This violates free will and God wouldn’t do that! Paul’s answer – Oh really!?! Who are you to question your Creator. You are the creation after all.
But there are two objections left. I hear them both all the time, and they are both straw men. The first one says, ‘if God elects to salvation why pray?’; the second says ‘if God elects to salvation why witness?’. These can be expanded thusly:
- The prayer objection – ‘If God knows what will happen in the future, and everything is already planned out, and if people are elect and their salvation is certain – then why pray for people? God will do what he will do, he doesn’t need my prayers. They’re a waste of time.’
- The evangelism objection – ‘If God has chosen in eternity past those to whom he will give salvation, then what is the point of evangelizing? If God has already chosen to save them, why witness? God will do what he will do, he doesn’t need me to witness. It’s a waste of time since he will save them anyway.’
As with the first three objections, these two are often trotted out as though they are legitimate objections to the doctrine of election. Now to be fair to Paul, Romans 10 does not deal with these objections directly. We don’t want to rip his thoughts out of context. Yet at the same time, what he says in this chapter does speak strongly against these straw man objections.
In the first 3 verses Paul reiterates his desire for Israel to be saved and the reason why they are not. They have rejected Christ and have sought salvation through their own works. At this point he shares that it is his “heart’s desire and prayer to God” that they be saved. (v. 1) Notice that Paul sees no conflict between the doctrine of unconditional personal election he so strongly articulated in ch. 9, and the need to pray for the salvation of his countrymen. Since he sees no issue neither should we. Sam Storms reminds us,
Our attitude towards people is not to be governed by God’s secret counsel concerning them. If anyone should argue that the truth of divine election (chp. 9) negates the necessity of prayer (chp. 10), he must explain why Paul felt no such tension. Human logic/reasoning says: “Why bother praying for people if they are elect or non-elect by God’s sovereign decision? They either will or won’t come to salvation because of God’s predestination, not your prayer.” But Paul will not let us reason this way.
We must follow Paul’s example and pray diligently for the salvation of others. Objection #1 obliterated.
In vv. 5-13 Paul outlines the gospel in clear terms and he calls on the help of Moses and Isaiah to do so. It is a beautiful articulation of what must be done in order to be saved and why. Christ has brought salvation through his work on the cross. He has been raised from the dead as confirmation of his work, and if you believe in him and his work and repent of your sins you will be saved. He concludes the section with a clear universal gospel call – “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Now at this point, if Paul believed that God’s election is actually fatalistic or a form of destiny, he would say something like this in v. 14:
‘Thankfully all who are elect will call on the name of the Lord, no matter what. So let’s not get too anxious about what is going on with Israel. All we need to do is just sit back relax and wait for God to do his thing.’
Then he would jump right to his benediction in 11:33-36. But he doesn’t do this. In fact, if Paul believed that witness is not important to salvation he probably would not be in such anguish over the spiritual state of his people in the first place (cf. 9:1-5; 10:1-4; 11:1-3; et. al.) and Romans 9-11 would probably not have been written.
What Paul does do, however, is to articulate the desperate need of gospel witness. His line of thinking is REALLY simple. Let me paraphrase the ESV Study Bible notes:
- People will call on Jesus to save them only if they believe he can do so;
- Belief in Christ cannot exist without knowledge about him;
- One hears about Christ only when someone proclaims the saving message; and
- The message about Christ will not be proclaimed unless someone is sent by God to do so.
This is why Paul is filled with such gospel witnessing urgency. He understands that Israel is fallen and without Christ they will be damned. He also understands that unless the gospel is preached to them, they will not be able to come to faith in Christ and be saved. For Paul, election and gospel witness are NOT mutually exclusive. For the latter is the divinely appointed means of salvation. We could put it this way:
- God unconditionally elects in eternity past those whom he will save
- God appoints Christ and his work to be the way in which salvation will be won
- Nobody knows who is elect.
- People are saved by personal repentance and faith in the work of Christ who has achieved our salvation.
- Therefore, the gospel must be preached to all, knowing that gospel preaching awakens God’s elect to saving faith and repentance.
Paul sees no contradiction in any of this, so neither should we. As Sam Storms says:
Paul’s belief in the sovereignty of God in salvation, as expressed in Rom. 9, in no way diminished his belief in the absolute necessity of preaching the gospel. Paul did not believe that divine election negated the requirement that one believe in order to be saved.
But Paul doesn’t just teach this. He doesn’t just write it. He LIVES it! He tells Timothy, a pastor that he has mentored, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Paul understands that God has chosen those whom he will save. He has believed in predestination and taught election in just about every book he wrote. BUT he also recognizes that no-one is getting saved unless they have faith in Christ, and no-one is going to have faith unless the gospel is preached to them. This is why he is willing to suffer and be bound like a criminal the way he was when he wrote to Timothy. (2 Timothy 2:8-10)
As Kim Riddlebarger reminds us, God determines who will be saved as well as the means by which he will save them. Paul connects the ends – who will be saved – with the means by which God will save them – the preaching of the gospel. Thus, we need to be the champion of election as well as gospel witness. We must follow Paul’s example and boldly witness so that others will hear and be saved. Objection #2 obliterated.
Now that all of Paul’s teaching has been put forth and all of the objections to the doctrine of unconditional election have been answered our response should be to worship our God – sovereign in all things, including salvation. Let me conclude with Pauls words from Ephesians 1:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Soli Deo Gloria
Note: In my last blog I said that this was going to be the last one on Romans… turns out I spoke prematurely. I had a request to exegete and comment on Romans 11:26, “And in this way all Israel will be saved…” This one will be my last in Romans. Unless of course there are other requests in which case, I may just have to go through the entire book. But I digress.