Do you have a curious mind? What do you do when a question pops into your head? Do you search out the answer? Do you ask others their opinion? Do you look for information online?
Not long ago, my youngest daughter came to work with me. She sat at one end of my desk reading a book, while I worked at the other end. She has a curious mind, and throughout the day she would regularly pause what she was doing to ask me questions. The book she was reading was theological in nature, so many of her questions had to do with God's purposes and plans for people. I enjoyed the conversation and I did my best to give her thoughtful answers.
I think most of us have an abiding curiosity about God and His plans. Why does He do what He does? Why does He do what He does in the way He does it? What will He be doing next and how will it impact me? Are these the kind of questions you find yourself asking God? Is there something you've never asked Him that you'd like to learn more about?
In Romans 9:19-33, we are shown a few things that the Lord knew we'd have questions about. This passage explains some of the background details about God's plan for the redemption of mankind, but it becomes clear when reading this passage that God may often do things that seem puzzling to us, at least at first. In time, however, as our faith matures, our appreciation for His manner of accomplishing His work deepens. But for now, it's likely that we still have a few questions that we'd like Him to answer.
I. Do you question God's motives?
In the previous half of this chapter, the Apostle Paul spoke about things like God's calling and election in regard to salvation. These are subjects that people have debated for thousands of years and they continue to be debated, sometimes hotly, today. I used to engage in those debates with the goal of convincing people of my perspective regarding these subjects, and then somewhere along the way the desire to argue about these issues went away. I stopped enjoying it because it never felt fruitful to me. It seemed to become needlessly divisive more than it edified. In the end, I'd rather let the Holy Spirit be the one to convict our hearts and enable us to understand these truths.
Because I believe the word of God is true and accurate, I'd rather let it be what informs our beliefs, and I'd prefer to stick with what it says, even if it reveals things to us that we find uncomfortable or find difficult to explain. God's methods and motives in choosing to save sinful people can certainly be one of those "difficult to explain" subjects. Do you ever question His motives in this particular area?
This portion of Scripture gives us a picture that's used multiple times in Scripture. At times, God's word speaks of people like we're clay in the potters hand. God who gave us life also has the power to mold us and shape us. He also has the authority to use our lives however He chooses. But admittedly, we don't always understand or appreciate the ways He molds or what He chooses to do with the finished product.
In recent years, my wife has come to realize just how much she enjoys making pottery. She's created some beautiful objects, but to my knowledge, none of her artistic creations have argued with her about their design or use. It would be illogical for them to do so, but isn't that exactly what we do to the Lord, and isn't that precisely what we do with the topics that make us uncomfortable in this passage?
Consider what Paul teaches in this chapter. He tells us that God is perfectly just when He shows His wrath and when He shows His mercy. If God shows His wrath to someone, all we can say is that He is just and they deserved it. If God shows His mercy to someone, all we can say is that He is kind and they didn't deserve it. In this world, there are people who live under His wrath and people who live under His mercy. Those who trust in Jesus are the recipients of divine mercy, those who reject Jesus will forever experience God's wrath.
Because many of us desire to see all people saved, we may be uncomfortable with that truth, particularly when we look at Romans 9 which tells us that ultimately this is a decision that rests in the sovereign will of God, not the efforts of man. But here's the thing, if you have learned to trust God to provide your daily bread, and you trust that His word is accurate, is it too much of a thing to trust that His plan for the redemption of mankind is also perfect? Salvation is a work of God, from start to finish, and we can trust Him to do a good job. We don't need to question His methods and motives, because His ways are perfect.
II. Do you question why God invites certain people to be part of His family?
I'm grateful for my extended family, but I'm also entertained by the different personalities that make up the cluster of people I spend my holidays with. Some of our family dinners would honestly provide great material for a sit-com if we could convince a television producer to sit in and take notes. I still laugh when I remember the early years when my wife was first introduced to my family. Thankfully, she loved our eclectic group, but I know it was a very different experience from what she was used to.
It's fair to say that the family of God is rather eclectic as well. There are quite a few people who have become part of His eternal family that we wouldn't have expected to be included. Have you ever questioned why God would allow certain people to be called His children? When you hear about people who make death-bed conversions, do you think God should honor their faith? When you read about people who lived terrible lives or committed unspeakable atrocities, that come to faith in Jesus later in life, do you rejoice over their repentance or do you question God's willingness to accept them?
There were certainly people living during the era in which Paul wrote this book that questioned God's approach to bringing people into His family. Among the people of Israel, there were plenty who despised the Gentile nations and couldn't imagine considering them brothers or sisters in faith, but that's exactly what God was facilitating. Scripture tells us that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved, regardless of their background, and that's what God was bringing to pass in that generation, but it took time for some people to get used to it.
This wasn't new information. In the book of Hosea, the Lord revealed through the prophet that, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’". And in the book of Isaiah we are told, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,." So again we see that only some of those who directly descended from Abraham would be saved, and the Lord had eternally intended to call unto Himself people who at one time would not have been commonly expected to be recipients of His blessings.
Here's the strange thing about this reality. The fact that God calls people unto Himself that you wouldn't expect to be part of His family seems wonderful when we're first on the receiving end of that calling, but can sadly become less appreciated by us over time once we settle into our new designation as His children.
But let's not allow that to become the attitude we develop. God hasn't called us to be smug. He's called us to be grateful. We should thank Him for everyone He calls unto Himself. We shouldn't disparage them just because they may not be exactly like us. His family has some eccentric characters as well as some who are prim and proper. His family includes Jews who trust in Jesus and Gentiles who trust in Jesus. Instead of resenting who He welcomes in, let's adopt His mindset and rejoice over His kindness in welcoming all kinds of people unto Himself.
III. Do you still wonder how to obtain righteousness?
Gentiles were not seeking a right standing with God, yet He graciously offered that standing to them. On the other hand the people of Israel were seeking a right standing with God, but they were convinced they could obtain it through their ability to keep His law, which they couldn't actually do. Jesus kept the requirements of the law for the Jews and the Gentiles. The law is fulfilled in Him, and His righteousness is available to all who call on His name in faith.
This is one of the most difficult concepts for many people to grasp because we refuse to accept God's plan for us to obtain true righteousness. In fact, this Scripture tells us that Jesus is both an offense and a stumbling block to those who would rather rely on their own fleshly efforts to please God. It's hard to accept that Jesus has done the work for you when you'd still rather rely on the works of your own hands. It's hard to accept that righteousness can only be received as a gift when you've been spending your entire life trying to earn it like a wage.
By the way, a great way to drive yourself crazy is to attempt to earn righteousness instead of receiving it. It's also a great way to drive away your friends and associates because the second you believe you've obtained righteousness through the work of your own hands, you'll become completely intolerable. You'll judge everyone else who doesn't meet your arbitrary standard, and your spirit will convey condemnation instead of mercy.
Admittedly, this portion of Paul's letter to the Romans is the type of Scripture that reveals that we probably still have a lot of questions we'd like God to clarify, but we're also shown a beautiful glimpse of the undeserved grace and mercy of God that has been show to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.
We don't need to question God's motives. We don't need to disparage those He graciously invites to be part of His family. Rather, we can rejoice over the fact that He's willing to take sinful people like us and make us righteous through faith in Jesus Christ.
© John Stange, 2019