As always, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 10. We’re going to continue to walk that fine line of respecting God’s sovereignty on the one hand, and man’s freedom, man’s responsibility on the other. I gave you the illustration of the Continental Divide last week. Let me offer you another simple little illustration that R. B. Kuiper, former Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary used back in the 1930’s. He said, “I liken salvation to a rope going through two holes in the ceiling and over a pulley above, with each portion of the hanging rope representing God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom. If I wish to support myself by them, I must cling to them both. If I cling only to one and not the other, I go down.”
Back in the late 1700’s, English evangelical clergyman, Charles Simeon, of Cambridge University in England put it this way:
When I come to a text which speaks of election, I delight myself in the doctrine of election. When the apostles exhort me to repentance and obedience, and indicate my freedom of choice and action, I give myself up to that side of the question… As wheels in a complicated machine may move in opposite directions and yet subserve a common end, so may truths apparently opposite be perfectly reconcilable with each other, and equally subserve the purposes of God in the accomplishment of man’s salvation.
Then again, maybe none of this has been helpful and you’re sitting there more confused than ever. If so, let me just encourage you to press on with me as we move into chapter 10. But before we do, let me quickly recap last week’s sermon.
Romans 9 is the first of three chapters that make up a footnote or an aside, if you will, by the Apostle Paul, to his kinsmen, the nation of Israel. Paul’s purposes in Romans 9-11 are three-fold:
- to demonstrate to the Jews that God’s plan of salvation has always worked according to grace by faith in Jesus,
- to illustrate that even at this moment – the moment they were reading Paul’s letter (and this moment in 2020) – God’s plan of salvation is still working this way, and
- to show them (and us) that God’s plan of salvation by grace through faith will continue to work this way.
So, one way of organizing Romans 9-11 in your mind (or even on paper) is to see chapter 9 as Paul’s argument that salvation has always worked by grace through faith. And we saw how Paul used several illustrations from Israel’s history to make his point.
He began by using Israel’s forefather, Abraham. Paul said, “Look, if salvation . . . if being right in God’s eyes was based on being one of Abraham’s children, then Ishmael would have been the child of promise. But that’s not how it worked, did it? No. Isaac was the child of promise, and so just being born to Abraham isn’t how you get into heaven.” The modern equivalent of this is that being born to Christian parents doesn’t guarantee your salvation. Salvation isn’t inherited.
Next, Paul anticipates the argument that salvation must, then, be based on merit – doing good versus doing bad – and so he uses the same family tree and points to Isaac’s children: Jacob and Esau, and makes it very clear that before either child was born or did anything good or bad Jacob was chosen and Esau was not. So, “going to heaven” isn’t based on being born to the right parents and it’s not a matter of living a “good life” versus a “bad life,” or doing more good things than bad things. Again, it’s grace… unmerited favor…
And this is where God’s divine election begins to rub the Jews (and us) the wrong way, and so Paul once again anticipates the argument: “That’s not fair!” And in response to the “That’s not fair” complaint, Paul says, “Hey, wait a minute. You guys didn’t argue about fairness when God rescued you from slavery in Egypt.” And he uses Pharaoh as an illustration of God’s justice and mercy.
God’s justice is demonstrated on Pharaoh when Pharaoh continues to harden his heart against God’s call to let the Israelites go free. In that instance God removes His hand of restraint, which, in its own right, is a demonstration of God’s grace, and Pharaoh gets justice (namely death and defeat) for his own sin. In that same illustration, while Pharaoh is receiving God’s justice, Paul is reminding the Jews that they received God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s favor, but it wasn’t because of their nationality or their merits.
So, Paul is basically saying, “Hold on. Let’s not be too quick to say ‘God isn’t being fair with salvation by grace,’ because you (Jews) received your own redemption, your own salvation, your own rescue from slavery in Egypt by God’s grace.” Isn’t it interesting that we don’t have a problem with God’s sovereignty when we are the recipients of His mercy? It’s only when something doesn’t seem to square with our sense of justice that we don’t like God being sovereign.
And finally, Paul anticipates one last complaint from the Jews (and us), and that’s the fact that God’s sovereignty sometimes leads us to actually blame God and point the finger at God and put Him on trial. To that, Paul uses the potter/clay illustration and basically says, “Who are you to talk back to God?” Or, as the kids say today, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” This is Almighty God we’re talking to. If He chooses to operate in this fashion and demonstrate His grace and mercy at His own bidding and for His own good and righteous purposes, then He has every right to. Remember Job…
That leads us to the end of chapter 9 and all of chapter 10, where Paul basically says, “Hey, enough complaining and arguing about God’s plan of salvation by grace through faith. God’s righteousness is still available. God’s redemption by faith is still working and . . . (listen carefully) from a human perspective, if you choose not to believe then you’re responsible. On the other hand, to everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord, they will be saved” (Romans 10:13). That’s the gist of Romans 10. God’s plan of salvation by grace through faith is still presently working (even for you, Israel), if you believe.
So, this morning, I just want us to focus primarily on verses 9-17 and consider a few observations about faith and belief. Follow along as I read:
9 …if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing His riches on all who call on Him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
(Skip down to verse 21)
21 But of Israel He says, “All day long I have held out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
As I said last week, in Romans 9 and 10 we have God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, man’s free will put side-by-side. Last week we heard these words from Romans 9:16, “So then it [salvation] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” And this week we end with Paul quoting from Isaiah who, remember, is speaking for God and says, “All day long I have held out My hands…” So, here’s a picture of God beckoning, calling, inviting, wooing through His prophets and preachers. But the hearers don’t believe; they’re “disobedient and contrary.”
My aim this morning is not to analyze how this can be. Rather, I want to urge us all to embrace the paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. The sad thing is that some embrace the sovereignty of God over man’s will and say: “It’s wrong to portray God with His arms stretched out, inviting and calling.” And others embrace the responsibility of man and say, “If God invites and calls and beckons, then He can’t really be sovereign over man’s will, and thus man really is ultimately self-determining and God isn’t really in control of all things.”
Both of these are sad mistakes. It is sad, because one group rejects something deep and precious that God has revealed about Himself for our strength and hope and joy and love – namely, His absolute sovereignty. Oh, how sweet it is “when all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay” (The Solid Rock by Edward Mote) And the other group (who embrace the sovereignty of God) sometimes rejects something utterly crucial for understanding the justice of God in dealing with people, and they fail to see how we should plead with people and persuade people and invite people and woo people with tears, to Christ, and on behalf of Christ.
So, my aim is not to explain the paradox but simply to underline it with three other examples (and there are many more), in the hope that God will cause your mind to submit to His Word, whether you can explain it all or not.
In Matthew 11:25 Jesus says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” And then three verses later (in verse 28), He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He has hidden the truth from some, and yet He invites all.
In John 6:35 Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” And one verse later He says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.” All are invited to Christ. And the Father gives some to Christ.
In Acts 13:38 Paul says to the synagogue in Antioch, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by Him everyone who believes is freed.” And in verse 48 Luke says, “. . . And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” All are invited to believe and be forgiven. And as many as were appointed to life did believe.
Again, I’m not explaining this today. I can’t. I’m simply proclaiming it. This is what it means for God to be God. He’s the potter. We’re the clay. But on the other hand, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). He holds out His hands all day long to the Jew and the Gentile. He calls, He beckons, He invites.
In the brief time that we have left, I just want to make four (4) observations about faith and belief. Listen, verses 9-17 are rich in their assurance of our salvation, but they’re also tremendously informative about evangelism and how important it is that each of us (and corporately, as a church) be passionate about verbally sharing the gospel.
Saving faith believes on Jesus as Lord and calls on Him as Lord, from the beginning.
You can see that mainly in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” If you don’t confess Jesus as Lord, you’re not saved. Romans 10:9 makes plain that the “Lord” that we call upon to be saved in verses 12 and 13 is the Lord Jesus. That’s what saving faith does. It calls on Jesus as Lord.
Some have been taught that their experience should be interpreted like this: “I accepted Jesus as my Savior, and not much changed, not much happened. Then, I later surrendered to Him as Lord, and something else happened.” That’s not a biblical description of what has really happened.
It would more biblical to say: “I trusted Christ but understood little of His great salvation and sovereign rule in my life; I was immature in my faith and in my affections for Christ. Later, I had experiences that opened my heart more and more to the richness of Christ as mighty Lord and beautiful Savior and more and more of my life was conformed to Him.”
For some, this happens in a series of crisis events; for others, it happens gradually and without crises. But it’s wrong to say that there’s saving faith where there’s no submission to Jesus as Lord. Saving faith IS faith in “the Lord Jesus Christ,” even if at first, we grasp very little.
Saving faith believes facts. (It’s more than believing in facts, but not less.)
This is plain from Romans 10:9 as well: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a historical fact. It really happened in time, in space, and in history. Saving faith believes that.
This is one reason faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior can be so weak in so many. Faith is rooted in facts. Yet, for many, the facts are not known. The gospels are there to give us the precious facts with all their personal and powerful significance. But the facts are basic and essential. Saving faith believes facts, and sees them as glory-revealing facts.
Saving faith is a personal confidence that these facts mean Christ has saved me.
James 2:19 says, “Even the demons believe – and shudder!” The devils believe that the Son of God was incarnate, and that He lived a perfect life as the spotless Lamb of God, and that He died for sinners, and that He rose again from the dead and that He reigns and will one day cast all of them into the lake of fire. This belief does them no good at all, because they are Jesus’ enemies. They believe and shudder.
Saving faith rests in the facts. Rests! Reposes. Feels at home and secure. Saving faith experiences confidence. Assurance rises in my soul that these facts have paid my debt and provided my righteousness and opened paradise for me. So, saving faith is confidently resting in these facts, that God saves me.
Saving faith includes a spiritual satisfaction for all that God is for us in Jesus.
You can call this an emotional element, or an effectual element, or a spiritual taste that delights your heart with Christ. Or you can call this aspect of faith a cherishing or a treasuring of Christ. Whatever you call it, it’s an essential part of faith.
I could take you to several places to see it most plainly. For example, we could go to Philippians 3:8 where Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” This is a treasuring of Christ. A cherishing of His beauty and worth. That’s part of what saving faith is. To be sure, we grow in this. But there is always a seed of it in saving faith.
Or we could look at John 6:35 where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” This means that believing in Jesus is finding Him to be the bread of life and the living water that satisfies the deepest longings of my soul.
So, saving faith is not just believing in facts, and it’s not just confidence that all will work out for my good forever, but it’s also a spiritual sense that this “good” is Christ Himself and that having Him is better than life.
But, in order for people to have saving faith, in order for people to believe they have to have someone that has been sent to proclaim the Word of God. And God, by way of the Holy Spirit, sends messengers and entrusts to them the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19). They open their mouths and say, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). And people hear the gospel. And in the gospel, they hear Christ calling and inviting and drawing.
Now, be careful here! You’re going to be tempted to say to yourself, “I’m not sent, and so I won’t speak. That’s the pastor’s job.” But the body of Christ, a church with genuine born-again believers will prefer to say, “Here I am, Lord, send me. Send me to an unreached people. Send me to the urban neighborhoods of Greenville. Send me across the street. Send me across the office. Send me to the telephone today. Send me across this room.”
Yes, there’s a divine calling and a sending that is more official and vocational. That’s what I have as a vocational pastor of this church. But, dare I say it, some of you might receive that call too. You say, “Pastor, I’m retired, that’s for young people.” Not so fast. Might I remind you that this church ordained a retired businessman to be a chaplain at one point. In fact, in a sense, every time that Garron and Sharon go to Haiti we’re commissioning them with the gospel. Every time Tom and Dave and Ron and Mike and others go to Tyger River, they’re being sent by this congregation (and the Holy Spirit) with the message of reconciliation, with the message of the gospel. There are some of you in this church that are a part of the Good News Club at Tigerville Elementary. In a sense, you’ve been sent out by this church and, more importantly, by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.
If you have Christ within you, then you not only have the Good News to share but you have the capacity and ability to accomplish the mission.
Before I offer a closing prayer, I want to read to you a poem written by Sandra Goodwin. You know, those of you that have been around here for a while know that I use all sorts of methods to preach God’s Word. I use stories. I use illustrations. We play games and do trivia. I use songs. So many different approaches to helping get the truth of God’s Word into your hearts and heads.
One approach that I hadn’t much care for was poetry. I was never one to take to poetry when I was growing up. But I think that’s because, until you hear someone read poetry that’s very good at it, it just sounds like an odd assortment of words. Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, died back in May of this year. His teaching and his approach to preaching has had a tremendous impact on my own teaching and preaching. And Ravi was the first minister that I remember (with great clarity) using poetry as an effective way of driving a sermon home. So, in conclusion this morning:
Last night I took a journey
To a land far ‘cross the seas;
I didn’t go by boat or plane,
I trusted on my knees.
I saw so many people there
In deepest depths of sin,
And Jesus told me I should go
That there were souls to win.
But I said, “Jesus, I can’t go
And work with such as these.”
He answered quickly, “Yes, you can
By traveling on your knees.”
He said, “You pray; I’ll meet the need,
You call and I will hear;
Be concerned about lost souls,
Of those both far and near.”
And so, I tried it, knelt in prayer,
Gave up some hours of ease;
I felt the Lord right by my side
While traveling on my knees.
As I prayed on and saw souls saved
And twisted bodies healed,
And saw God’s workers’ strength renewed
While laboring on the field.
I said, “Yes, Lord, I have a job
My desire Thy will to please;
I can go and heed Thy call
By traveling on my knees.”