Chapter 1

The Good News About God and Man

The word election often conjures up the thought that because God chose some for heaven, He also chose others for hell. However, when we trace God’s electing activity through the Bible, we find that His election, which is connected to His foreknowledge (1 Pet. 1:2), is always good news. This truth is expressed well by Herbert M. Wolf in his article on foreknowledge in the Baker Dictionary Of Biblical Theology (p.266):

In each case, foreknowledge precedes election and is intricately linked with God’s will and purpose. Yet we should not think of this as some kind of fatalism or determinism. God does not force anyone to become a believer but works in a person’s heart so that the individual freely chooses to receive Christ as Savior.

A CHOSEN FAMILY Consider God’s election of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even a casual reading of the book of Genesis shows that when God chose to reveal Himself to these patriarchs, it was good news not only for them but for the whole world. By selecting the Jewish people, God created an ancestral line that culminated in the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all who would believe. Did God, by selecting Abram, reject the rest of the human race of that time? No. He didn’t reject contemporaries of Abram such as Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20) or Job. God’s choice of Isaac as the son of promise didn’t cause Ishmael or his descendants to lose the opportunity to have faith in God. On the contrary, Ishmael received God’s promise of blessing and multiplied descendants (Gen. 17:17- 27), all of whom had access to the evidence of God through creation, conscience, and by observing the blessings and judgments God gave His chosen people. Malachi 1:3 refers to Jacob as being “loved” and Esau “hated.” But this one statement describes the love that God was showing Israel while at the same time judging the descendants of Esau for rejecting His love. In time, Israel too would fall under the severe mercy of God. God doesn’t play favorites. But He does choose some to have a special role in revealing His love and truth to the world.

Some people find it virtually impossible to live with the tension between human responsibility and divine responsibility.

God sovereignly selected Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be a family through whom He would ultimately bless “all peoples.” But by selecting them, He did not reject their “non-chosen” contemporaries and keep them outside the offers of His mercy and salvation. God chose three men to play a unique role in His program of providing salvation for the world. Their election was meant to be good news—for everybody. A CHOSEN NATION From Jacob’s twelve sons, God brought into being one nation for the benefit of all other nations. In choosing Israel to be His servant, God did not reject the other nations. Just the opposite. He made Israel a special object lesson of His love so that she could be a witness to the nations. Israel’s election to be God’s messenger was not an easy calling. The dangers for disobedience were as bad as her opportunities for blessing were good. When Israel failed to remain faithful, she became “a people of holocaust” long before her misery in our own 20th century. Israel’s election made her an example to the whole world of both blessing and judgment. She was also chosen to illustrate the mystery of sovereignty and free will. On one hand, she was sovereignly chosen by God to be His servant. Yet, her own choices were real. God did not treat His people like rocks or trees that had no capacity for moral and spiritual choices. He treated them instead as having the capacity to at least cry out for His forgiveness and enabling grace. A CHOSEN LINE Having chosen one family line through which He would bless all the nations, God gave us another example of His election. In sovereign grace, He chose the Jewish King David to become part of the legal line to the Savior of the world (Mt. 1:6-16). Yes, David was chosen by God to be the royal ancestor of Messiah. But that election did not involve the rejection of the rest of the Israelites. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel were not in the Davidic line. Neither were the devout Jews who appear in Luke’s account of the Christmas story: Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna. A CHOSEN MESSIAH On the basis of Isaiah 11:1, Micah 5:2, and many other Old Testament passages, we see that the Jewish people of Jesus’ day anticipated the coming of Messiah. Most of Israel, however, expected their national savior to come in the form of a military deliverer.[shareimge2] Jesus did not fit that mold. So His claims to be the Son of God confused and then infuriated them. The idea that He was somehow the Anointed One chosen by God to be the Messiah was a central issue in the Jewish trial (Mk. 14:61-65) and the focal point of the mockery hurled at Jesus as He hung on the cross (15:31- 32). But they were wrong. Jesus was indeed “God’s elect,” the “Anointed One,” the one “Seed” in whom the promise to Abraham and his descendants find their ultimate fulfillment (Gal. 3:16). A CHOSEN MULTINATIONAL BODY Acts 2 records God’s sovereign action in giving birth to another elect group that was more international in scope than the chosen people of Israel. Known as the church, the first members of this elect “congregation” were all people of Jewish ancestry. Later the church became largely Gentile in makeup. Scripture calls this chosen group “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27) and His “bride” (Rev. 21:9). At the moment of faith, all who receive Christ as Savior become members of this body through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). In this body of Christ, the former distinctions between Jew and Gentile are gone (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:11-22). The church is an eternally elected community who find their identity and mission in Christ. Paul wrote, “He [God] chose us in Him [Christ] before the creation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). The church’s purpose is to carry out the mission of Matthew 28:19-20. This will continue until Christ returns to remove living believers from the earth and to resurrect those who have died (1 Th. 4:13-18). A CHOSEN GOAL It’s clear that the conclusion of the church age does not end God’s plan of salvation. The next chapter of earth’s history will not be finished until God has shown the whole world that in choosing some His purpose was to bless all who would trust Him. We still wait for the day when “all peoples on earth will be blessed” through the descendants of Abraham (Gen. 12:3). God later promised, “The whole land of Canaan . . . I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:8). Many Old Testament prophecies (e.g. Isa. 2:1-5; 11:1-16; Jer. 23:5-8; 31:1- 14; Ezek. 36:22-38; Zech. 12–14) declare that Israel will one day recognize and accept her Messiah. She will experience God’s unparalleled blessing in her own land and be the spiritual center of a kingdom marked by international peace, civil righteousness, universal prosperity, and a world free from the ravages of the curse. To fulfill His promises to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), God has predetermined that in the last days He will use Israel to bring peace and happiness to the whole world. For the last 2,000 years, however, God has been using believers in Christ to do what He originally chose Israel to do. In the first century,

this willingness of God to use Gentile believers raised many questions. Had God broken His promise to use Israel as His chosen servant? How could He set aside the nation He had set apart for Himself? In response to these questions, the apostle Paul wrote Romans 9–11 to Jewish countrymen, undoubtedly believers in Jesus, who were having a hard time with the idea that God had set Israel aside. After expressing his deep love for his Jewish brothers, Paul developed the theme of 9:6, “It is not as though God’s Word had failed.” He wanted his readers to know that God still had a future plan for the people through whom He had chosen to bless the whole world. Understanding Paul’s purpose will help us to see that Romans 9–11 is not a treatise on predestination or individual election as some have supposed. It is not saying that some people have not and never will have an opportunity to be saved. Rather, it is saying that God has the power and prerogative to choose the servants He will use to point the world to a salvation that comes not from works but from grace alone. God’s Undeniable Rights (Rom. 9:6-29) God has the right to choose the line of promise (vv.6-13). In choosing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be the line of promise, God was neither being unfair to nor rejecting those who were not chosen. He was simply exercising His right to choose those through whom He would bless all mankind. God has the right to choose His candidates for mercy (vv.14-18). In choosing Israel as a people on whom He would show compassion, and in choosing the Pharaoh of the Exodus as an object lesson of His wrath, God was being neither arbitrary nor unfair. God brought to the throne of Egypt a man who was proud, obstinate, and defiant, gave him ample opportunity to repent, and then hardened his heart only after he had chosen his own way. As Romans 1:18-32 dramatically demonstrates, this hardening or spiritual blindness occurs in those who instinctively know God, who refuse to worship Him as God, then push Him out of their minds and make themselves or other created things into gods. When God’s patience runs out, He confirms them in the path they have chosen. It is in this context that Paul wrote:

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy (Rom. 9:14-16).

God has the right to choose His method of dealing with rebellious subjects (vv.19-29). In being merciful and patient with some while exercising His wrath on others, God is not acting unfairly as charged by a hypothetical opponent (v.19). Paul turned the tables on his critics by transferring to them what he had said about Pharaoh. He pointed out that just as God for a short time endured the perversity of Pharaoh and used his obstinacy to bring redemption to Israel, He did for a long time endure

Israel’s unbelief and is making it a means of blessing to all mankind (vv.25-29). In fact, a special point is made in verse 22 that God was patient in awaiting the repentance of “the objects of His wrath.” Romans 2:4 also indicates that the purpose of God’s patience is to await repentance. We see in the words of Peter such patience tied to God’s desire for all to repent:

Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:8-9).

The “objects of His wrath” became such when God’s patience had finally run its course. Israel’s Accountability (Rom. 9:30–10:21) Many of the Jewish people thought that because of their knowledge of the law they deserved God’s salvation. It was this self-righteous attitude that led them to reject God’s grace, even when it was personified among them in the person of Jesus Christ (9:30–10:13). Paul’s message was powerful. Unrepentant people are to be blamed, not God. He sent His chosen people authentic preachers and heavensent messengers, but the majority continued to grieve Him through their unbelief (10:14-21). God’s Vindication (Rom. 11:1-36) In always preserving a saved remnant, God has shown that His choice of Israel is unchangeable in spite of her continued unbelief (vv.1-10). In making Israel’s fall the means by which He opened the door to the Gentile world and grafting them into Israel’s stem, God has given us a foreshadowing of the tremendous benefits that will attend Israel’s restoration when the natural branches are reattached (vv.11-24). This ultimate triumph of God’s grace at the end of the long discussion of Israel’s story compelled Paul to offer one of the Bible’s great doxologies in verses 33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay Him?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.