|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2007|
|Before getting into a study of Romans Chapter 9, Dr. Barber explains God’s sovereignty, and why it is important to understand that in order to grasp what Paul teaches in the next few chapters.|
I want you to look at one more thing before we enter Romans 9—the Sovereignty of God. Now I am not trying to cover the whole subject. I am just trying to give you a glimpse of the sovereignty of God. We have seen His attributes. We have seen first of all that He is omnipotent. God can do anything, absolutely anything. Not only that, we know that He is omniscient. He knows everything. But not only that, He is everywhere. If I turn around, He is there. If I face forward, He is there. He is above me. He is beneath me. He is wherever I go.
These are the basic attributes of God. You have to understand that in the light of Israel. Paul goes from the pinnacle of joy in chapter 8 to the very valley of defeat in chapter 9. He is a Jew, a converted Jew. He understands that the Jews, Israel, have rejected the Messiah. But he also understands the promises that God has made to Israel that are irrevocable. Therefore in chapters 9-11 he begins to explain the power of God for salvation, not only to an individual, but now even to a nation. This is what it is all about.
But to understand what he is doing, you have to realize some of these attributes which really hinge on the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God involves all the things we looked at the last time but it goes a step further. I suppose of all the doctrines in Scripture that comforts me, this doctrine of the sovereignty of God is the most comforting. Paul touched on it in Romans 8:28-29 when he said, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew [and foreknowledge is such a basis for all of this], He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.”
I want you to enter into this very deep area with me. Remember that we are not trying to teach an intellectual class in a Seminary about the sovereignty of God. We just want to make sure we get a glimpse of what the sovereignty of God is all about. There are three things that I want to share about it. It won’t take us that long, but I think it will help us.
First of all, the definition of the sovereignty of God. What do you mean when you make the statement, “God is sovereign”? What are we talking about? Well, basically three things. The phrase, the sovereignty of God, refers to the fact that God alone is the supreme ruler and authority. There is none other like Him. Secondly, God alone ordains whatever comes to pass. Nothing gets by without His ordaining it. God ordains what comes to pass. Thirdly, God alone makes sure that what He decrees is always accomplished. So you have to remember when you study the sovereignty of God that God is not only self-existent, but He is self-sufficient. This is why it boggles our minds, our little finite minds. We are human beings dependent upon everything, but God is independent, self-existent and self-sufficient.
In Exodus 3:14, to affirm there are no other gods, he says, “And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’” In other words, there is nobody else to send. I AM the God. There is no other God. I am self-existent.
In John 5:26 it says, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.” In other words, they didn’t receive life. Life was already within them. They are the essence of life, therefore, they can be the giver of life. They are self-existent. They depend upon no one. God is sovereign.
In Psalm 50:12b he says, “For the world is Mine, and all it contains.” So for God to be sovereign is for Him to make decrees and for Him to carry out what He has decreed. That is a sovereign God. Nobody helps Him. He certainly asks for nobody’s help. He is God and carries out what He intends to do. The decrees of God mean those things in which He is predetermined and inflexible. He is predetermined and He is inflexible.
I tell you what, the more you start studying about the sovereignty of God, the more insignificant you feel. You feel like a little grain of sand on the beach of time. All of a sudden you begin to see this vast God. No wonder the Psalmist said, “God, what is man that You are even mindful of him.” He is a sovereign God. He spoke the universe into existence and needed no help to do it.
I love what one preacher said: “And God stepped out on nothing because there was nothing to step out on. And God spoke and He created. Then He said, ‘That’s good,’ because there was nobody else to say anything about it.” That is a sovereign God. He has needed none of us. This is all His idea. Whatever He decrees, He has predetermined and fully capable of carrying out and will carry out.
One of the best examples of His predetermination and His sovereign will to carry those things out is found in Acts 2:23. This is the act of the sovereign God. Nobody will get in His way: “this Man (Jesus), delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Now there are two words there that we have seen in Romans 8. The word “predetermined” is normally proorizo. Pro means before and horizo is the idea of a horizon, to set a boundary of some kind. But the word used here is the shorter version, just the word horizo—He determined. He determined what? He determined that Christ would come and die on the cross. That is before you and I were even known about. God predetermined. God made a decision based on what He knew. It is perfect passive. The fact that Christ was to be crucified was the result of God determining that it would happen. He decreed it and He brought it to pass.
Linked with that word is another familiar word, “foreknowledge.” God knew that man would sin and that Christ would be the Lamb sent from heaven to die for that sin. Therefore, God decreed that Christ would be nailed to a cruel cross and saw to it that it took place. No man stops what God decrees. God wills. God decrees. That way He is sovereign. He is sovereign enough, first of all, to make that decree. He is sovereign, secondly, to carry it to its fullest fruition.
In Ephesians 1:11, he says it another way: “Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose, who works all things after the counsel of His will.” The word “will” is thelema, which means His intended purpose in any given matter. When God makes up His mind, He works all things within the counsel of His will.
The best way to illustrate this is to go to the Old Testament, because the Old Testament is filled with examples of how God made a predetermined resolve, a decree, and He carried it to its fullest fruition. He needed no one to do it. He is a sovereign God.
First, look in Daniel 4. Nebuchadnezzar is the king of Babylon. He had a dream and in the dream he was warned. He knew it was a warning but he couldn’t understand all that was going on. It caused him a great amount of fear. So he finds Daniel to come and interpret his dream. His dream was that there was a tree out in the midst of this field. The tree was huge. It had plenty of fruit on it. Everyone was benefiting from the tree, even the animals, from the shade of the tree. Of course, the tree was him and his kingdom, Babylon. But something happened in the midst of his dream, and an angel came and said to cut the tree down. Verse 14 of Daniel 4 reads, “He shouted out and spoke as follows: ‘Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit; let the beasts flee from under it, and the birds from its branches. Yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field; and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts in the grass of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man, and let a beast’s mind be given to him, and let seven periods of time pass over him. This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers, and the decision is a command of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men.’”
Nebuchadnezzar is being warned about his own pride. He thinks he is the greatest power in Babylon. The angel comes to him in this dream and is trying to show him, “No, you are not. You would have no power unless a sovereign God decrees it. And that sovereign God can take it away from you as fast as he gave it to you.” That was the whole message that was being sent to Nebuchadnezzar.
Well, Daniel had to give him the bad news. The bad news was, “If you don’t repent, you are going to be given a mental illness, your kingdom is going to be taken away from you and you are going to be put out to graze with the cattle. You are going to eat grass like the cows eat grass.” They tell me that same mental condition exists today. People can know you person to person but they have the behavior of an animal. They eat grass. They literally want the very vegetation that the animals eat. That is what happened to him.
Well, he was warned. God gave him the dream and he was warned, Daniel interpreted it for him. What did he do? Just a few verses later it says he was sitting up there looking over the garden there in the kingdom and he is saying, “Man, what a good job I have done.” We will pick up there. It says in verse 33, “Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.” Well, for seven year he lives this way. His hair grows out long like eagles’ feathers and his nails like eagles’ claws. Finally he comes to his senses and in verse 34 it says, “But at the end of that period (seven years later) I,
Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What has Thou done?’”
If most believers could come to that one resolve in their life, we would have a whole lot different way of living day by day. This was a pagan king who was brought to that conclusion. God spoke to him in a dream and said, “You think you have power. You don’t have any power unless I give you that power. Don’t you try to fool around with Me.” And He didn’t fool around with him. God did exactly what He said He would do, and it brought the man around to finally say, “Who am I dealing with? This God does according to His will with all the creatures that are on this earth and no man is going to get in His way.”
That is a sovereign God. A sovereign God is who we serve. God has decreed certain things. God has predetermined and resolved certain things and is going to bring them to pass.
Well, back in Daniel 2 is the first dream that Daniel interpreted for Nebuchadnezzar. (You would think he would have learned after the first one!) But Daniel prays a prayer and in his prayer we find the same truths that we are talking about of the sovereignty of God. Daniel 2:20-21 reads, “Daniel answered and said, ‘Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him.’ And it is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men, and knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him. To Thee, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for Thou hast given me wisdom and power; even now Thou hast made known to me what we requested of Thee, for Thou hast made known to us the king’s matter.”
You know, Daniel had no problem in understanding that it was God who raised up kings and took them out of their power. Daniel had no problem with the fact that God had His hand on the epochs and the times and the seasons. And as a sovereign God, He was orchestrating events to take place as He had ordered them to take place. Nobody stops Him. No dictator, nor anything or anyone else, stops Him.
I want to tell you something. God raises people to power and God takes it away. We have forgotten that. We forget that God is not asleep on the back porch in a retirement home. God is busy working about the purposes that He has had before the foundation of this world. He is a sovereign God and He is going to do what He has decreed to do and no one will stop Him.
In Isaiah 46:9-11, God says, “Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’” Verse 11 of Isaiah 46 goes on, “Calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.” That is a sovereign God. He not only plans it, He does it. He carries it out.
I Samuel 2:6-8 reads, “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts. He raised the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor; for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and He set the world on them.”
All this is just to give you a glance of what sovereignty is. He is a God who is interested and a God who determines and resolves and makes decrees. But He is also a God who is self-existent and self-sufficient and therefore, carries out those resolves in the lives of those to whom He has decreed them. He is a sovereign God. He is busy with everything that is going on and He works within the counsel of His determined and intended will.
Now, once you begin to realize the sovereignty of God, there are a lot of things that spin off of this. There is a problem with the sovereignty of God in many people’s minds. For instance, you heard about the man who fell down the steps and when he stood up he said, “I am glad that is over.” In his mind, that is the sovereignty of God: God is orchestrating all the events, therefore, God threw me down the steps. There is a problem here. The problem is, if God is absolutely in control, if God is orchestrating events, then what about man’s choice and what about man’s responsibility? Is God causing man to sin? Can a man sin and hinder the purposes of God? This is an honest question. If God is sovereign, then it is like some people say, “Then why even go to work? Whatever is going to happen is going to happen?”
It seems to some as if we are puppets on a string and we can’t do anything but whatever God says we can or can’t do. We have no choice of our own. But we do have a choice of our own. You have to understand this. God has nothing to do with sin. This is where you have to remember that, in His sovereignty, He understood that sin would come to be. He knew that because He is omniscient. He knows everything. But He is not responsible for sin. Man is responsible for his own sin.
Look in James 1:13: “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. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it bring forth death.” You have to realize God did not make man a sinner. I have heard people say, when they have lustful thoughts or something, “Well, God made me that way.” No, He didn’t. Sin made you that way. You have to understand Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” The lusts that are perverted in our flesh were perverted when Adam sinned. And therefore, man became a sinner. God didn’t make him one. Man became a sinner when Adam sinned. All of us sinned in Adam. So, therefore, it is not God’s responsibility for sin. Man’s responsibility is there and man will be held accountable for that sin.
So then, here is another question that comes up about God’s sovereignty: “If God is bringing about His purposes, can a man’s sin hinder those purposes?” God is absolutely in control. No, it does not hinder what God has planned to do. Now this is where we get in trouble. You can’t get over now and think like God because you are not God. We have to just trust some of these things. God is a sovereign God.
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Back in the second part of Acts 2:23 it balances the equation. In the first part God predetermines and carries out His predetermined resolve. But the second part is, even when man fails, He weaves that into His resolve. God is not about to be stopped or thwarted with any purpose that He Himself has resolved to do. Verse 23 of Acts 2 says, “this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God [that is the sovereign hand of God], you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” This is beautiful the way Peter does this. God used sinful man’s evil action, their choices. They wanted to get rid of Jesus, the Messiah, the High Priest. They were sinful men. They were men who wanted to murder a man. But God used their sin and their choice to accomplish what He predetermined to do and then holds them guilty for it. That begins to balance the fact. Can a man’s sin hinder God’s purpose? Absolutely not. God is the Master Weaver who can take a man’s sin and still bring about His predetermined purpose of whatever it is that He set out to do.
Man is responsible for what he does. You can never, ever, ever teach the sovereignty of God at the expense of the responsibility of man. Man chooses and man is responsible for what he does. Matthew 18:7 reads, “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes.” You see the responsibility that is placed back on man.
I think the best illustration can be found in Habakkuk. This was about five or six years before Judah was taken into captivity by Babylon. Habakkuk is very, very much overcome by the sins of his people. In the first part of the chapter he says, “God, why don’t you even hear me when I pray?” Well, God speaks to him in verse 6: “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs.” Now, why would God do that? Well, He had already told them that if they ever turned away from Him, He would take them out of their land. Now He had decreed that. And so God, being a sovereign God, is going to carry out His purpose. At the same time, He is going to judge His people and is even using wicked people to do it.
Now look at Habakkuk 1:11: “Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, they whose strength is their god.” God said, “I am going to do what I said I was going to do. I am going to use people, wicked people, but I am going to hold them responsible for what they do.” You see, God is a sovereign God, and nobody gets off the hook. When a man makes a choice, he answers for that choice. A man is responsible. However, that does not get in the way of the sovereignty of God to carry out what He is determined to do.
God is like a master weaver. Have ever seen a person who is a skilled weaver or artist? When they make a mistake, with their skill, they are able to cover that mistake and blend it right into what they are doing. In a sense, that is how God does. It is almost as if He adjusts to man. When man won’t adjust to Him, God just adjusts to him but continues to carry out His predetermined resolve no matter what that might be.
So we see then the definition. God determines, God decrees, God carries it out. He is omnipotent, He is omniscient, He is omnipresent. We see there are a lot of problems with the sovereignty of God if you don’t balance it and if you get into the subject of election. Does man have a choice? Certainly he has a choice. “Whosoever will may come.” The choice is there. But God chose. Yes, He did choose. Remember what I said so many times. Take that plum bob, especially in that area of election, and on one side put the election of God, the right of God to choose and the fact that He does choose and on the other side put the freewill and responsibility of man to choose. Put them together and don’t touch it because if you move either way you are out of balance. Just take your shoes off and walk in on holy ground and say, “God, this is bigger than me. You chose for sure. I chose. Somebody chose. I am just glad to be a part of what all You have done.” Stop trying to figure out some things that are too big for us to figure out. They are both taught, they are both very clearly taught in Scripture.
Well, the third thing I want you to see is the encouragement of God’s sovereignty. There is an encouragement to it and that is really where I want to lead you as we go into Romans 9, 10 and 11, especially when it deals with Israel. That is a tremendous encouragement. That encouragement is what He has decreed to do. He will do it.
Now I tell you, this gets real encouraging when you get to the nation of Israel. Why is that? Look in Romans 11:25. This is why I think it is important to understand just a little bit of the sovereignty of God. If you have ever studied it you know that I haven’t even scratched the surface, but at least it gives us an idea that Somebody is in control and that Somebody is bringing events to pass that He has decreed. You might be thinking, “I believe that the Christians now are the spiritual Israel and the nation of Israel no longer exists.” Well, keep that thought in your mind. God is going to do what He says He is going to do. God is faithful to His purposes. In verse 25 of chapter 11 he says, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.”
“Do you mean to tell me that there is an appointed number of Gentiles that will come in and then something else is going to happen?” I don’t know. What do you think it says? Evidently God knows exactly when the last one is going to come in. God knows exactly what He is doing. He is the one who determined it before the foundation of this world. Verse 26 continues, “and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Delivered will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’” Jacob is Israel. You remember Jacob’s name was changed. Israel had twelve sons, who became the tribes of Israel.
Verse 27 reads, “‘And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’ From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake [speaking of Gentiles], but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.”
Then beginning in verse 33, whew, listen to this. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”
As you go into chapter 12 it says, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice.” Then he goes into verse 3, “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.” You are a part of something God decreed, based on His foreknowledge and He is carrying that out. Surrender to Him. There is no other way to go.
If you follow chapter 12 on down every idea you ever had of church changes because no longer is it an organization, it is a body. It is the body of Christ with gifted people in that body and they function together in their gifts. Boy, it is beautiful what he does. He nails it down. Oh the depths of the riches of what God has done. You see, the power of God for salvation is not only to an individual but to a nation. God does what He decreed to do. And only God can bring it about. Only God can bring it to pass. This is the encouragement to me of God’s sovereignty. God is going to do what He says He is going to do.