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A View from the Altar / Nettlesome revelation
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Nettlesome revelation

I’ve been working my way through the book of Romans lately and just finished the chapter 9 which so many people love to hate.  But as an internet acquaintance said about a different subject, “the words say what they say.”

And they do indeed.

I should point out that Romans 9 doesn’t stand alone.  It goes together with the text that begins in the latter part of Romans 8 and treats the subject of election all the way to the end of chapter 11.  The big picture theme is that God has an election of grace and he makes no apology for that.  The key passage is quoted from Exodus 33 which is the place where Moses asked to see God’s glory.  The Lord placed him in a “cleft in a rock,” then passed by proclaiming, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”  And Paul adds, perhaps to remind us of the fear of the Lord, “whom he will he hardeneth.” (Romans 9:18)

Part of what’s being conveyed is that this is a truth you can see only after you’re safely in that cleft of the rock and covered by the hand of God.  That’s certainly true in my case.  When I was a lost man, the biblical doctrine of election would have been the most abhorrent thing in the world to me.  How could God make any claims of justice unless he permitted the sinner to do his own choosing?  To me that seemed the height of unfairness.

Only later did it occur to me that, if not for his grace sovereignly bestowed, I would never have chosen him.  Had God settled for what seems fair to a lost soul, not one would ever have been saved.  There is none who seeks after God, explained Paul (Ro 3:10).  A missionary to China once said, “I have never met a sinner who was looking for God.”  The whole thrust of the incarnation and Gospel story is that the Savior came looking for us, and even when he came unto his own, his own received him not. It’s Christ who came seeking the lost sheep (Luke 15:4), the lost coin (Luke 15:8), the lost publican (Luke 19:10), the lost of Israel (Matt 15:24), the lost Pharisee (Acts 9:3-5), and so on.  He sends us to spread the news to others because they aren’t going to come looking for us to get it.

So if it weren’t for the seeking, saving grace of God, none of us would ever have gone looking for him.  We would have instead stood like the Pharisee thanking God that we are not like other men (Luke 18:11).  The Christian’s joy is in learning that I am just like other men, and yet Christ came and saved my wretched soul anyway.

This mystery of the sovereignty of his grace is not to be taken as nasty sort of explanation about why some people go to hell.  It’s rather to be viewed as a humbling explanation of how, despite man’s hard heart and dead soul, anybody ever gets saved at all.  Had it not been for the Lord coming to us, giving himself on Calvary, sending the Gospel our way, then sending his Spirit to minister truth and new life to our hearts, not one of us would have have received him.  So the doctrine of election is not about his eagerness to damn, and it’s certainly not about Calvin’s decretum horibile.  It’s rather about the Lord’s gracious determination to save us despite our stubborn rejection of his Son.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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