Today we are talking` about the sovereignty of God. That is the title of my message, and it has been the underlying subject of Paul’s message in the last couple of chapters of Romans. We have not highlighted God’s sovereignty so much up to this point because there were other sub-elements of God’s character that Paul was emphasizing in those passages. But nevertheless, the underlying principle of much of what we have studied over the past couple of chapters is the the sovereignty of God.
Now what do we mean by that term, sovereignty? Sovereignty refers to the authority to govern. And in the case of God, it means His supreme authority over all, His right to determine, to predetermine, to govern, to rule over every thing that He has made. After all, He made everything, He set in motion the courses of the stars, the sun and the planets. Everything that was made, He made. He is the Sovereign God of the universe and He reigns over all things.
Now it’s one thing to say that, but it’s another thing to believe when you really examine what that means. Back in chapter 8 vs 17 and 18 we learned that God is sovereign over our suffering. Suffering, however it may come, even when it comes by evil intent, is superintended under the sovereignty of God to bring about our sanctification.
And in chapter 8:28 we saw that declared even more clearly; God uses all things (even evil things, even hurtful things) for good, to those who love God, who are called according to His purposes. That is the sovereignty of God in action.
Then in the last part of that chapter, starting in vs 35, Paul makes a lengthy statement that establishes that God is sovereign over our circumstances. Whether tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword. He concludes by saying, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God is sovereign over all our circumstances, in all of life even unto death. And now in this chapter, Paul is going to establish that God is sovereign over our salvation. He has already alluded to that fact back in vs 30 by saying, “and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
That verse is sometimes referred to as the chain of salvation. But what should be apparent is that it clearly establishes that God is the author and finisher of our salvation. He is the author of our salvation. He planned it, He predestined us for it, He called us to it, He justified us by faith, and He will glorify, or finish our salvation by His second coming.
Now imbedded in that verse is a doctrine that is particularly troubling to us. It is the doctrine which is called election. Election is comprised of foreknowledge, predestination, and calling. And it’s troubling to us because we can’t understand it. Our finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite. God is outside of time and space as we understand it, and we cannot comprehend that which we cannot handle, or touch, or measure, or calculate. We want to put God in a test tube and conduct a bunch of experiments on Him so we can figure Him out.
But we cannot. Isaiah 55:8 says, His ways are not our ways. And our thoughts are not like His thoughts. God says in vs9, “For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
So we cannot know God unless He declares Himself to us. God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. We cannot examine Him as Spirit, but He has manifested Himself in the flesh as Jesus Christ and disclosed Himself to us in His word. Otherwise we are left to our futile imagination. But thankfully, God has revealed Himself to us as much as we can understand, and as much as we need to know. It remains for us to believe His word.
So the primary invisible attributes of God which we should recognize is that He is sovereign, and we also are told in scripture that He is holy, He is just, He is merciful, He is love. Yet sometimes it seems like those characteristics contradict each other. But if we are to know Him, and believe in Him, then we must believe that all those attributes reside in Him in perfect harmony with one another. One does not cancel out another. For instance, God’s love does not cancel out His justice or His holiness. And vice a versa. We cannot always understand how it works, but then again we can’t understand atomic energy either, but that does not make it untrue. And similarly we can not understand the eternality of God. And so we must believe in Him by faith.
Now as I have pointed out, Paul has emphasized God’s sovereignty over all things, even our salvation. And as a component of God’s sovereignty we then read that Paul declares God’s mercy. God says to Moses in vs 15, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” And from that statement Paul concludes in vs16 “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”
God is a God of mercy. And He has the sovereign right to declare mercy upon whomever He wills. No one earns mercy. No one deserves mercy. Mercy by definition is that you are guilty and undeserving of any favor. Yet the Judge of All has the sovereign right to show you mercy.
And corresponding to that, we would not need mercy unless we were condemned. Jesus said in John 3:18-19, coming just after the famous verse about God so loved the world. He said, “He who believes in Him is not judged [the KJV says condemned instead of judged. They mean roughly the same, but perhaps it’s helpful from our perspective to read condemned] ; he who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. “This is the condemnation, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”
So we understand from that statement that man is already condemned. All men are condemned. We were born in trespasses and sin. There is none righteous, no not one. Now God didn’t make man condemned. God made man good, He put man in a perfect environment, He walked with man and talked with man each day. And yet man choose to do evil. And as a result man became evil in his nature, so that we are all born in sin. All men are naturally born sinners. Furthermore, we naturally love darkness rather than light. Thus being condemned already, we need mercy. We don’t deserve it, but we need it. And God has the sovereign right to bestow mercy on whom He decides to bestow mercy.
Vs16, “So then it [salvation] does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” If we are to be saved, it will be because God shows us mercy, not because we have deserved salvation, nor because of our merits.
Now on the other side of the coin of mercy is condemnation. And in regards to the world under condemnation, Paul uses the illustration of Pharaoh. Egypt is a picture of the world under condemnation. They had enslaved the Israelites for 400 years. And Pharaoh as their leader is unwilling to let the people of Israel go. Moses, speaking as the spokesman of God, tells him repeatedly to let his people go free. But Pharaoh continually hardens his heart and disregards the word of God.
So Paul says in vs17 “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.’ So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”
Once again we come to a terminology which causes us concern. How do we reconcile the mercy of God with what the scripture calls the hardening of God? What we have to understand is that God is not acting independently of us. If you read the account of Pharaoh during the exodus of Israel, you will see that half the time it says God hardened his heart, and the other half of the time it says Pharaoh hardened his heart. Which is it?
Well, the answer is not either or, but both. Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” But on the other hand, Jesus said in Matt. 11:28 “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” So which is it? God calls, God convicts, God illuminates, God moves you and draws you, but you have to come. You have total responsibility to come. The invitation is to all. Rom 10:13 “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” So it is necessary for God to move man, but it is also necessary for man to move to God. James said “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
But Pharaoh hardened his heart against God, and God hardened Pharaoh’s heart as well. God was working in conjunction with Pharaoh’s will. Pharaoh had a choice, but he hardened his heart and God worked in coordination with that.
The question then arises in vs 19, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” The answer is man resists God’s will. Pharaoh had more messages given to Him from God, more opportunities to see the power of God and to see God manifest Himself than almost any other man. He had many opportunities to repent. But Pharaoh hardened his heart. So the word of God goes out to everyone, and God is patient towards everyone, but some resist God and some obey God, some remain condemned, and some are saved.
What Paul is illustrating here is the insolence of man in questioning God’s purposes. It’s as if man wants to blame his condition on God. He is more or less saying, then God has made me this way. Therefore, I am under no condemnation, because I don’t control my destiny. I don’t have a choice in the matter. God has already decided. He has made me this way. Therefore, God is unjust, not me.Man’s question aimed at God was accusatory, as if to say that God really isn’t good. God really isn’t fair. He plays favorites. He is unjust.
But Paul’s argument is that we don’t have a right to accuse God, first, because He is the Creator, and the Creator has sovereignty over anything He has made. He says in vs 20 “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”
So God is the Creator, but furthermore, as I mentioned a moment ago, when God created man He made him good, in a world that was good. God provided all that man needed to stay good. But man chose evil, not God. It was man’s choice that condemned him, not God. God doesn’t make man choose evil. James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” So man’s sinful desires originate in man, not in God.
But Paul’s answer is to ask another question. A question that emphasizes the mercy of God even though it is directed towards those who are condemned. He says in vs22 “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And [He did so] to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, [even] us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.”
Now this question at first glance may seem to emphasize that God made some people that He will hate and some people to whom He will be merciful towards. But I think that is a misunderstanding. And to perhaps help us understand better, let’s examine this word translated in the NASB as prepared. As in He endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. The word in the Greek can be interpreted as mended, fitted, or destined. The NLT says “endured with much patience vessels of wrath destined for destruction.”
So if we understand it in that light, then we can see that God did not make them for destruction, but they have chosen that path. And if they keep on going in that direction they are destined for destruction. It’s like a highway sign that says “Road Out Ahead.” If you disregard the sign and continue on, you will end up going off a cliff to your destruction.
What Paul is asking then is; What if God, in order to demonstrate His character, showed great patience towards those people who are destined, or headed for destruction, in order to make known HIs glory upon vessels of mercy, those whom He has called?” So the way that God shows mercy is to first demonstrate His judgment. If the sinner is not first convicted of his sin, and shown the penalty for his error, then how can God demonstrate His mercy? Mercy only is given to those who are under judgment.
But rather than focus on the negative side of the equation and try to impugn God’s motives and goodness, we should recognize the positive side, which is to see the purpose of God is to show mercy. God’s goal is to show mercy and He waits patiently for the sinner to turn to Him, rather than mete out immediate justice as is His sovereign right. As Peter says in 2Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” The emphasis is not on condemnation, but on mercy as God is patiently waiting for men to come to repentance. God isn’t sitting in heaven going “enemenminemo, I’ll pick this one, and let that one go,” but notice Peter says God wishes for ALL to come to repentance.
To that argument then Paul gives an illustration of God’s mercy. He says in vs 25 “As He says also in Hosea, ‘I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.’ AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’ THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.””
I wish I had the time this morning to tell the story of Hosea. I would encourage you to read that little book. What Paul is referencing here is just a short excerpt from that story which indicates that God has a right to chose those who were not His people to become His people. Hosea had a wife who was an adulteress. And she had three children which as the names of the children suggest that they were not his biological children. But even so, God is stating His plan to be merciful to those who were unfaithful. His plan to be merciful to those who are estranged from Him. His purpose to restore those who had been rebellious towards Him. God is merciful, and He shows mercy to those who do not deserve it, even those who have been unfaithful. I think that this is a reference to the salvation that would come to the Gentiles, because of the statement Paul made in vs 24 which says, “whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.”
But in the next quotation from Isaiah, Paul also speaks of the salvation that was rejected by unfaithful Israel. Look at vs 27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED; FOR THE LORD WILL EXECUTE HIS WORD ON THE EARTH, THOROUGHLY AND QUICKLY.” And just as Isaiah foretold, “UNLESS THE LORD OF SABAOTH (Hosts) HAD LEFT TO US A POSTERITY, WE WOULD HAVE BECOME LIKE SODOM, AND WOULD HAVE RESEMBLED GOMORRAH.”
So again Paul is talking about the sovereign plan and purpose of God to bring about salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. God has a plan to save a remnant of Israel and He will accomplish it, even though it may seem that the nation of Israel has totally rejected Jesus Christ. If it were not for God’s sovereignty and mercy, then they would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah. God totally destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and it remains a desolate wasteland until this day. But look at Israel. God has brought Israel back into it’s homeland after all these centuries, and He has a plan to bring them to salvation as well in His time.
In the final paragraph of his argument, Paul makes the case again for salvation by faith, not according to works, or heritage, or nationality, but by the mercy of God. And he makes it clear that the Gentiles who were not by heritage the children of God were becoming children of God, and the Israelites who had been the children of God were stumbling over the means of their salvation. Listen to what he says starting in vs30 “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at [that] law. Why? Because [they did] not [pursue it] by faith, but as though [it were] by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
Notice that Paul says the Jews stumbled at salvation because they did not seek it by faith. We might expect Paul to answer the question of “Why?” again from God’s perspective, and simply throw the matter back on God’s sovereignty. Instead, he places the responsibility with Israel: Because they did not seek it by faith… they stumbled at that stumbling stone. They were presented with the truth. They had light enough to see the truth. And yet they rejected Jesus because He didn’t fit their template. He didn’t promise them the national restoration they were looking for. They weren’t interested in spiritual salvation, they were interested in economic, in political, in national restoration to preeminence in the world. And they stumbled over Jesus Christ who came to save sinners.
So Paul shows that Israel is responsible for their present condition, just as all men are responsible for their sinfulness. Has he contradicted everything he has previously said, which emphasized God’s sovereign plan? Not at all, he simply presents the problem from the other side of the coin – the side of human responsibility, instead of the side of God’s sovereignty.
The Jews were determined to work out their salvation on the basis of their own behavior, their own good works before God, their national heritage, and consequently they stumbled over the stone. They didn’t want to admit that they need a Savior, that they were not able to save themselves. As no man is. But for those who see that they need a Savior, they have already been drawn by the Spirit of God, and awakened by his grace, and made to see their need for a Savior. Therefore, they have a desire to be saved, and the confession of their need for a Savior causes them to accept Jesus. Consequently their salvation rests upon the stone which is Christ.
Anyone who trusts in Christ will never be put to shame. Jesus is God’s mercy and love poured out to those who will accept Him. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. The manifestation of God’s mercy is Jesus. You cannot blame God for your judgment, you can only blame yourself. But you can come to Christ for your deliverance from that judgment. He was condemned that we might be shown mercy. The choice is up to you. Jesus said, He that comes to me I will never, never cast out,” (John 6:37).
Paul says in chapter 10, Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Call on Him today.