Do you have family members who are not believers?
Maybe you are the one in your family who is not a believer.
The message of salvation has been clearly presented, everywhere. The simple message of the Gospel is as follows. Each one of us is separated from God because of our sin. However, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, took our sins upon Himself and died in our place. Because of His great love and sacrifice, if we accept Jesus as our Savior, our sins are forgiven and we enjoy the promise of eternal life.
As simple as this message is, many reject this offer of salvation. When it is a family member, it is painful. As family members, we mourn for those who do not believe. The Apostle Paul speaks of this pain in chapter 9 of his letter to the Romans. He says:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. ()
Let’s focus on what Paul calls “great sorrow and unceasing anguish.” We see in this Paul’s heart as a believer. Of course, we know he was a true believer because he was willing to die for his beliefs. However, beyond his willingness to die, he bent every effort of his life to preaching the gospel. Stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked and beaten; he proved his complete devotion. Hardship did not stop him. In Romans 9:1-3, we see the love that motivated such devotion. His love is so great that he was willing to be accursed and lost for eternity for the sake of his kinsmen. He believed that those who did not believe were lost and therefore his heart was broken on their behalf.
The truth of our salvation from eternal lostness causes us to love God. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” In addition, the truth of the lostness of humanity motivates us to preach the Gospel. Great sorrow and unceasing anguish of heart come because we believe that others are lost. How does your heart respond to John 3:36?
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. ()
My heart rejoices at the realization that because of my faith in Jesus Christ I have eternal life, but does it grieve for those who will not see life? Do I mourn for those upon whom the wrath of God remains?
The scary truth of the Gospel is that many are lost.
However, consider all that God does for the sake of the lost.
Let’s start with Israel, Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh. In Romans 9:4-5, he says:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. ()
Look at all that Paul recites as having been done by God on behalf of his kinsmen. They were adopted as God’s children. They had the visible presence of God with them in the wilderness and in the temple (the glory). They had the covenants that God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. They were the descendants of these men. And, what is more, the Messiah was given through them. All of these blessings were theirs, and yet most of them remained lost.
The same can be said of many of our family, friends and neighbors. The Gospel is preached everywhere. The Bible is available everywhere. The Gospel is preached so pervasively that many are offended and tired of hearing it.
This brings us to a question. Has the Word of God failed?
This question comes up because not all are saved. If Jesus died to save the world, why are not all the people in the world saved?
Paul makes a statement in Romans 9:6.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed.
He anticipates the question, “Has the Word of God failed?” God has done so much so surely something must have gone wrong. However, Paul takes us through the purpose of God as seen in the promises of God to help us understand what is happening.
First, he shows us that not every person descended from the person Jacob was necessarily a part of the nation of Israel. He says, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel...” He then uses a parallel example of Abraham, saying, “...and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring...” (Romans 9:7)
The Word of God had not failed because God’s purpose had never been to save every descendant of Abraham or every descendant of Israel. With Abraham, we have the example of Ishmael and Isaac, and with Isaac we have the example of Jacob and Esau. Paul zeros in on the example of Jacob and Esau and how God chose Jacob before they were born. The Scriptures say they “...had done nothing either good or bad” when God made His choice (Romans 9:11). The reason God made this choice is given in the same verse. It says, “...in order that God’s purpose of election might continue.”
At this point, it will be helpful if we consider what God’s purpose of election was. What was God’s purpose? We must remember God’s promise to Abraham. God told Abraham:
“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” ()
According to this promise, God’s purpose was to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham. From our current place in history, we know that this was accomplished through the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. The lineage of Jesus is given in Matthew and Luke. Jesus was a descendant of Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, David and many others. This was God’s purpose of election that needed to continue, and it is why we can be assured that the Word of God has not failed.
So, we see that God’s purpose was to bring a Savior into the world and this purpose was accomplished through the descendants of Israel, and therefore the Word of God has not failed. However, this raises another question.
Is God unjust?
He chose Jacob, and therefore did not choose Esau. The Scriptures do not shy away from the question of fairness. The Scriptures take us to a statement that God made to Moses. Romans 9:15 says:
For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." ()
The question of fairness then is an issue of mercy. Let’s consider it from this angle.
Who among us deserves to be saved?
Who among us deserves to be in heaven?
We began by considering the fact that not everyone is saved. The other side of this fact is that every one of us is lost. We are all sinners. The Bible attests to this fact and we all know it in our hearts. Our consciences condemn us in regard to our faults and shortcomings. We know we are not perfect.
Pharaoh stands in as our example. Pharaoh was lost. Pharaoh opposed God, and we know it does not get any worse than that. We know instinctively that to oppose God is bad, and yet we do it anyway. The Bible says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:18) Pharaoh is a good example of this. God told Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” And, Pharaoh said, “NO!” God gave Pharaoh ten chances to repent, and each time Pharaoh said, “NO!”
About this, the Scriptures say:
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." ()
Pharaoh’s rebellion did not upset God’s plan, and neither does yours or mine.
The worst rebellion that we ever perpetrated was when we crucified the Son of God. This is what the Scriptures say:
...this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. ()
The worst that we ever did went according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.
God is absolutely sovereign. By this I mean that He does what He wants, when He wants and how He wants. He even numbers our days before there is yet one of them. (Psalm 139:16) Not one of us is saved unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see the truth. John 6:44 tells us that no one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him.
In these matters, we enter in to a realm that it is best if we tread reverently. Pharaoh chose to rebel against God. In some places, it says Pharaoh hardened his heart (Exodus 8:15, 32, 1 Samuel 6:6). And, in other places, it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Which is it? It is both. This is why the Scripture teaches both. In Pharaoh, we have an example of how the grace and patience of God allows a person to harden his or her heart. Since punishment is withheld or withdrawn, a person tends to think he has gotten away with his rebellion. Therefore, hardening his heart, he persists in further rebellion.
We started out asking why everyone is not saved. With the question we are looking at, we would be better asking why anyone is saved. We all, like Pharaoh, harden our hearts. With each opportunity to repent, we get a little harder. We harden our hearts until our hearts are like stone.
Why is anyone saved?
This passage has the answer. It is because of God’s mercy.
Only because of God’s mercy is anyone saved. Romans 9:16 says:
Salvation is never the result of our effort. Salvation always comes as a result of God’s mercy.
Lamentations 3:21 says:
The miracle is that any one of us is saved.
When Jesus looked over the city of Jerusalem, He said:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! ()
Notice He says, “...you were not willing!”
We know from Scripture that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13) The question for each one of us is: “Are you willing?”
God warns us:
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,” ()
If we ask, God is willing to save us. He pleads for us to come to him. Even Pharaoh was given ten chances to repent and he refused. In all his hardness, determination, power and position, Pharaoh did not manage to upset or change God’s purpose and plan. Why should we resist God? Why would we harden our hearts against God? Pharaoh resisted because he wanted to keep his slaves, he wanted to keep his power and he did not respect God. Why do you resist God? He offers His mercy. He sent His Son. He let you read this message today. He has preserved your life to this day, and I do not know how many chances He has given you. Is it ten chances like He gave Pharaoh, or is it more? God is extending His hand of mercy to you right now. Will you not reach out and take it?