Romans 9: “God Can vs. God Does”

And here we are, Romans 9. If you thought Romans 7 was hard, read 8, if you thought 8 was hard, don’t even start reading 9! This means 10 and 11 are right out! I’m obviously saying this tongue-in-cheek, because the reality is, if we only read the “easy” parts of the bible, we would be done reading in a day or two. This isn’t a shocking fact, but some parts of the bible are hard to read! There, I said it!

The truth about Romans 9 is that it can’t be read without 10 and 11. It’s only when you read Romans 9, 10, and 11 together that you begin to get a broader context of what exactly Paul is saying in Romans 9. At first glance, God comes off as a tyrannical jerk who does what He pleases and you better get used to it. Now to be fair, God can do whatever He pleases, but the question isn’t whether or not God “can,” the question is whether or not God “does.” It’s not a challenge to believe or understand that God knows all thing, but it is a challenge to understand how his knowing fits into our choice. I want to be very clear up front, I will be reading a sharing on Chapter 9 from a Wesleyan/Arminian theological view.

Foreknowledge

Longtime Asbury Professor, Ben Witherington, asks a challenge question that’s really at the heart of Romans 9: “What is the relationship between what God knows, and what happens?” 

To begin, in order to wrestle with God’s foreknowledge (Predestination), you have to wrestle with a just and holy God choosing, on purpose, that some of the people of his creation would not, and frankly should not, be saved. This means that before time began, God would intentionally create disposable people. People who’s lives ultimately are meaningless, don’t matter to God, and are without hope. Now this doesn’t make sense to me. Multiple times throughout scripture we see a just and holy God indicating that he would desire that none would perish. 2 Peter 3:9 (NLT) The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

It doesn’t mean that some won’t perish, but that’s not God’s choice. So if it’s not God’s choice, then who’s choice is it? Well, that the beauty of free will.

Article 7, Prevenient Grace (Nazarene Manual 2013-2017). We believe that the human race’s creation in Godlikeness included the ability to choose between right and wrong, and that thus human beings were made morally responsible; that through the fall of Adam they became depraved so that they cannot now turn and prepare themselves by their own natural strength and works to faith and calling upon God. But we also believe that the grace of God through Jesus Christ is freely bestowed upon all people, enabling all who will to turn from sin to righteousness, believe on Jesus Christ for pardon and cleansing from sin, and follow good works pleasing and acceptable in His sight.

 

Election

Foreknowledge is one things, election is another, and salvation is yet another from that! Paul even shares here that you can be a part of an elect group, like the Israelites, but in the end still not be saved. Paul communicates clearly to his Jewish brothers and sisters that, just because you’re Jewish, doesn’t mean you’re saved. In fact, Chapter 9 isn’t about individual believers at all. Instead Chapter 9 is in reference, just like the consistent theme of Paul’s letter, to the people of Israel.

We have to be careful when we associate “election” with “salvation.” Election is about God calling a specific group of people to a specific task on earth. God chose Israel, and here in Chapter 9, Paul is dumbfounded how Israel could have gotten it wrong. Here me, election does not have eternal purposes associate with it. Again, look at what Paul indicates in Romans 9. Who was the “elected” person in Romans 9? verse 17 reads, 17 For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed (elected) you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” So when we read in Romans 9 that God “foreknew,” it doesn’t mean he chose for them, but that ultimately it points to is God’s supremacy and sovereignty.

Again, the key takeaway from Chapter 9 is not whether or not God “can,” the question is whether or not God “does.”