Mercy Is God’s Choice, Not Ours (Romans 9:14-18)

Every NRCA teacher wants every student we teach to love Jesus and do what He says. We are passionate about the specific subjects we teach, but we are more passionate about the God we serve and the students we seek to disciple. We want to be God’s instruments to help form a biblical worldview in the young minds and hearts entrusted to our care. Sometimes we get bogged down in the nuts and bolts challenges of teaching so many students at a time: discipline, lesson planning, grading, and handling various interruptions and special circumstances…😔. But if you catch an NRCA teacher on a good day (probably after a few days…or weeks…off) and ask them, “Why do you teach in a Christian school?”, you will hear something about helping children and young adults become like Jesus in their thoughts, desires, and actions.

And yet not all of our students seem to want that for themselves. The cost of following Christ seems too great for some to be willing to let God change them. For others, the cares and worries of this present life seem more important than eternal spiritual matters. For a few, they remain unconvinced for different reasons that Jesus really is God, that there really is a life after this, and that Christianity is more than a human invention to get people to behave. In biblical terms, such students are “hardened” by sin and unbelief and cannot see the awesomeness of God and the urgency of His kingdom. They are spiritually dead and not alive to Christ. And it is absolutely heartbreaking to watch from our places as teachers. For reasons beyond what we can understand, Romans 9:17-18 tells us that God allows some people to remain hardened in their sins and even somehow strengthens their unbelief as He did with Pharaoh, who would not let God’s people go in the face of countless miracles proving God’s power. But God cannot be blamed for the hardness of anyone’s heart. Unbelievers will bear the full responsibility for their sins both now and on the day of their judgment; there is no “unrighteousness with God” for not waking them up and saving them (Romans 9:14). This may seem unfair to us, but we are not God, says Paul, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit (who is God) when He wrote today’s verses.

Instead, God directs us to focus our attention on His incredible mercy in saving some, namely us as Christians! Just as God chose to show mercy to Moses, a runaway murderer, and Israel, an ungrateful and disobedient nation, He chose to show mercy in saving us, people who were not loving and seeking Him before our salvation (Romans 9:15). If you are a Christian, it is because of God’s mercy and grace in changing your heart to hate sin and love Jesus. In the midst of going your own way in life, in the middle of your sin and selfishness, the Word and Spirit of God went to work on you and you were saved by the power of God. Our conversion or new birth from the Spirit did not come by our own will or doing – it was “not of him who wills, nor of him who runs” – but was accomplished by “God who shows mercy” (Romans 9:17). This truth about God’s sovereignty is humbling and freeing because it gives God all of the glory for our salvation. And it helps us to persevere in our attempts to make disciples because we realize that God alone has the power to change hearts, not us; our job is just to be faithful witnesses for Jesus. Finally, this leads us to pray for God’s mercy and compassion to reach out and save those whom we so want to see saved. May God continue to save and redeem people in our school community, and may He get all the praise for it.

The Text (Romans 9:14-18)

14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” 18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

Questions to Think About

  1. Can you think of some examples from the Old Testament of famous Israelites who sinned greatly but still received God’s mercy and grace?
  2. As you heard the teacher and staff testimonies in chapel, what examples did you hear of people sinning and ignoring God for a time but still receiving His mercy and grace?
  3. In your own life, give some examples of sin and unbelief that God has chosen to forgive you of and blessed you with grace in spite of.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Jacob I Have Loved (Romans 9:6-13)

Why do some people get saved whenever others don’t? How is that one person can respond to the preaching of the gospel in chapel, church, or the classroom with heartfelt repentance and faith, while another can hear the same message and respond with no fear of God by laughing, growing angry, or even sleeping? Even more incredibly, how can two siblings raised in the same godly Christian home go completely opposite directions as young adults, with one choosing to embrace their parents’ faith and the other hardening their heart against it? No one should be so bold as to say that they completely understand the mysteries of salvation. Jesus Himself said that the working of Holy Spirit in giving spiritual life to dead souls is like the wind: We cannot see it; we can only see its effects (John 3:5-8). But in today’s passage in Romans 9, Paul begins to give us perhaps the clearest answer in all of Scripture for this very difficult question. In essence, Paul tells us that finding the answer begins by asking the right question. The real question we should ask is not, “Why doesn’t God save everyone?”, but instead, considering humanity’s incredible sinfulness and rebellion, “Why is God gracious enough to save anyone at all?”

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul is asking in Romans chapters 9-11 how it can be that a few of the Jews like himself have embraced Christ as Savior and Lord, while most have not. Aren’t the Israelites the people God’s chose to first receive His promised salvation? The answer? Yes and no. “They are not all Israel who are Israel,” Paul writes (Romans 9:6). God’s promise of salvation by faith in Christ has not failed because God did not promise to save the entire physical of nation of Israel. Instead, He has only promised to save a remnant from within the nation, only those who are the faith descendants of Abraham and Isaac, not everyone who is their physical “seed” by natural birth (Romans 9:8). This principal of some physical Israelites having faith while others do not goes all the way back to the nation’s original families described in the book of Genesis. Abraham’s son Isaac received the promise of earthly and eternal salvation and blessing, while his first son Ishmael did not (Romans 9:7, 9). Similarly, Isaac and Rebecca’s son Jacob received God’s promises of grace while his brother Esau did not (Romans 9:10, 12-13). Paul’s point here is simply that salvation was not guaranteed to anyone born into the physical nation of Israel, but only to those who received God’s grace by faith in Jesus Christ.

So how does this passage apply to us today? Does Romans 9 help us with our opening question about why some people raised in Christian communities do not choose to follow Christ? The answer, which begins to be seen in verses 12-13, is “Yes.” The next section, Romans 9:14-23, will dig much deeper into this topic. But for now, verse 13 tell us simply that God set His love and grace upon Jacob, but He did not so for Esau. “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,” God says through Paul. And God loved Jacob unto salvation because He wanted to, not because Jacob was a better man than Esau. In fact, Jacob was a liar, a deceiver, and a manipulator. He tricked his brother into selling away his birthright as the firstborn of the two twins, and then he tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing by dressing up as Esau. When Jacob later lived for years with his worldly uncle Laban, he continued his wheeling and dealing ways with his uncle’s flocks of animals, even after he had gotten a taste of his own medicine by being tricked into marrying Leah as well as his beloved Rachel. Even in his interactions with God Jacob tried to bargain. He told God after his vision of the ladder to heaven that he would follow God “if” God kept his promises. Finally, he wrestled or strived against God in all night battle before demanding that God bless him (Genesis 32). No, the truth is that God’s decision to love and save Jacob and not Esau was pure grace that Jacob did not deserve. In the same way, if you are a Christian, it is because God chose to soften your heart to repent of your sin and believe in Jesus. Not because you deserved it, but because He loves you. Think about it and more on that next time.

The Text (Romans 9:6-13)

6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” 8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”

10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

Questions to Think About

  1. Do you have any friends and family that you are burdened to see God save? Do you pray for them? What exactly do you pray?
  2. When you think about your own salvation, did it ever feel like God was chasing you before you finally accepted Him? How did he work in the circumstances of your life to bring you to a saving faith in His Son?
  3. Do you have any objections to what Paul is saying in today’s passage? Does anything in these verses upset you? If so, please don’t give up and walk away from Romans or this blog! Hang in there and give God’s Word a chance to shape your thinking as we keep reading through Romans together. Wrestling with the deep truths of God will strengthen your faith in the end even when we do not fully understand everything as we would like.

In Christ,

Mr. Reel

Do You Cry for the Lost? (Romans 9:1-5)

People who know the Lord want those closest to them to know Him, too. Lost people don’t care about the souls of others. They are not spiritually capable of it because they are still self-centered at heart, not God and other-centered. They don’t burn up inside to see their unsaved friends and family be born again because they have never been born again themselves. They don’t have any desire to share their faith and introduce others to Jesus because they don’t know Him either. They have no urgency about the state of other people’s souls because they feel no urgency about the state of their own souls. But people who have received the salvation of God and have tasted and seen that the Lord is good desperately want others to share their joy. They KNOW that people they care about who die without receiving Christ will be judged for their sins and spend eternity in hell apart from God. And that truth is on their conscience every day, guiding what they do and say and think and how they pray and live.

In Romans 9:1-5, the Apostle Paul models this constant burden for other people’s souls that every Christian should possess. In Romans 8:31-39, Paul has just finished describing all the incredible blessings that belong to every true Christian. He has ascended to the very heights of heaven in thinking about all that it means to be in Christ by faith and to know that God is always for you. But now his thoughts turn to those who have rejected Christ, specifically his Jewish brothers and sisters who have been unwilling to believe in Jesus as their Messiah. And Paul is moved to weep tears of sorrow for his lost nation (Romans 9:1-2). In fact, Paul is so wrecked by the thought of his own Jewish brethren dying without Christ that he even wishes that he could give up his own saving relationship with Christ to see them be saved instead (Romans 9:3). Have you ever felt that way about someone that you wanted to see saved? Well, Paul felt it about untold millions who had rejected and were still rejecting their promised Savior.

These people for whom Paul wept daily were so much like the students at NRCA. They had been given every possible spiritual advantage and blessing to draw them to humbly embrace Jesus with joy and thanksgiving. The Jews had received all the covenants and promises of God as descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the same way, NRCA students are taught daily in a community of faith by passionate, believing Christian teachers. Some are also raised in strong Christian homes and church families. The Jewish people had received God’s holy Law through Moses and the glory of God’s presence dwelled among them daily in the tabernacle and then the temple (Romans 9:4). And from their earthly line had come the Messiah, the one and only Savior of the world (Romans 9:5). In the same way, NRCA students daily hear the Bible taught to them with conviction, clarity, and compassion. The gospel of Jesus Christ and the way of salvation through Him is constantly poured into their ears and eyes. Any student who attends and leaves our school without submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ will be without any excuse on the day of their judgment. Shouldn’t that very possibility drive our believing students, teachers, and parents to daily tear-filled prayers? If we want to reach our community and world for Christ, we must begin with our own backyard. Yes, we must maintain our own joy just as Paul did, as one who rejoiced in the Lord always and encouraged every Christian to do the same. But we must also let God’s Spirit give us a steady, burning passion for the souls of those nearest to us who have yet hardened their hearts against Him. That’s what God says to us today in Romans. How will you respond?

The Text (Romans 9:1-5)

1 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.

Questions to Think About

  1. Do you feel a burning passion to see people you see often be saved? For whom do you feel such a soul-burden right now?
  2. When was the last time that you shed tears in thinking about an unsaved friend or family member?
  3. Are there people close to you with whom you have never talked about your faith?
  4. Have you ever tried to share your faith with someone else in the hope that they might become a Christian? What happened?
  • In Christ,
  • Mr. Reel

    The Never-Ending, Unstoppable Love of Christ (Romans 8:35-39)

    The love of Jesus Christ for His people is the most powerful force in the universe. It can save your soul to the uttermost and carry you through every up and down of life until you safely arrive in heaven. If you are a Christian, then it is because God in His unbelievable mercy and grace chose to set His saving love upon you before you were even more. And God never changes His mind! As He spoke through the prophet Balaam, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19). God’s love towards you is never-ending and unstoppable.

    Nothing can separate you from the love that Jesus Christ has toward you. No amount of trials, suffering, danger, ridicule, or even physical harm can tear you from His undying kindness and care (Romans 8:35). You may have endured much darkness this school year, or last school year, or in years to come. You may feel like the original Romans audience, that life has literally been killing you every day (Romans 8:36). Take heart! If you are a Christian, your God is with you always and you will conquer every one of your soul’s enemies in the end through the power of Christ’s love for you (Romans 8:37). When death finally comes for you, hopefully many years from now after a lifetime of living for Jesus, His love will carry you safely to your eternal home in heaven. Death will not break your bond with Christ, and neither will the struggles and temptations and sorrows of life; not even the demonic forces arrayed against you will take away your guaranteed redemption by the blood Jesus shed for you (Romans 8:38).

    When life is awesome and you feel at the very heights of heaven spiritually, God’s love will be there, holding you firmly and reminding you that it is by His grace alone that you win the victories. And when you find yourself in the depths of despair and feel that nothing is right in your world, Christ’s love will be there to pick your chin up and keep your head above the waters of depression (Romans 8:39). How powerful is Christ’s love for His disciples? It is so strong that nothing in all of creation can stop it. So wherever you are in life right now, be encouraged today that if you are a Christian, Christ love is with you in all power and He will never take it away. Let us today and every day be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

    The Text (Romans 8:35-39)

    35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword

    36 As it is written:

    “For Your sake we are killed all day long;

    We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

    37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Questions to Think About

    1. Have you faced any hardships lately that have forced you to cling to the love of Christ?
    2. Why is it so important for Christians to know and continually reminds themselves that God’s love for them will never change?

    In Christ,

    Mr. Reel

    If God is For Us… (Romans 8:31-34)

    In class Friday, our history lesson was about the origins of democracy in ancient Athens. For the bell work, I had the students write a paragraph answering the question: “What does democracy mean to you?” I use that question each year to help students recognize all the freedoms that we enjoy in a democracy compared to the lack of freedom that people in communist countries like North Korea, Cuba, and China battle every day. In several classes, students talked about our freedom of religion. I built off that truth by explaining that in many countries, Christians must worship in secret and are often arrested and tortured for their faith in Christ. In one class, a student responded by asking, “What about the people who are Christians but hide their faith and pretend not to be Christians?” I said that Jesus talked about that topic and then showed the class His words from Matthew 10:32-33: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” According to Jesus, there is no such thing as a “secret Christian.” Jesus says that if we are not willing to publicly identify with Him, even in the face of persecution and suffering, then we are not worthy to be His disciples. But if we are willing to stand up for Jesus, then He is willing to stand up for us before a much more important audience – His holy Father in heaven.

    In today’s passage from Romans 8, Paul was writing to encourage Christians who were facing serious persecution and even death for their faith in Jesus. He was writing to encourage people who were being unjustly condemned, arrested, and mistreated by the government and their neighbors. Christians still encounter such hardships today and can also take great courage from these words in verse 31: “If God is for us, then who can be against us?” The implied answer: NO ONE and NOTHING! When you know that you belong to Jesus, then you know that He is always on your side. And if Jesus is always on your side, then no amount of people laughing at you, shunning you, being mean to you, or even hurting you physically can compare to the joy of having eternal life in Him. Even more importantly, when you know that Jesus is for you, then you no longer have to fear a coming judgment by a holy God for all your sins. The thought of standing before the Judge of all earth at the end of your life does not have to terrify you any more. God gave His one and only Son up for you (verse 32); Jesus took all the punishment that you and I rightly deserved upon Himself when He shed His blood on the cross. God has justified us, or declared us “not guilty” forever, and He will never condemn us; the charges that should be brought against us for our sins have been eternally dropped from heaven’s court (verse 33). Jesus died for us and then God raised His Son up from the dead, proving that His sacrifice had been accepted. Now, that same Jesus stands before His Father’s holy throne in heaven, continually making “intercession” or pleading our case so that we can receive God’s mercy and grace (verse 34).

    So how about you? Have you publicly identified yourself as Christ’s disciple? Have you taken your stand for Jesus? Have you trusted in His death and resurrection to save you from all your sins in the coming judgment? Then know that this day and every day for the rest of your life, God is and always will be for you. Keep standing up for Jesus because He will always be standing up for you.

    The Text (Romans 8:31-34)

    31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

    Questions to Think About

    1. When do you first remember be willing to publicly identify yourself as a follower of Jesus Christ?
    2. Why do you think it is important for Christians to make public profession of their faith in Jesus? How does a public profession of faith help the individual Christian as well as the church as a whole?
    3. In what situations are you currently finding it hard to stand up for Jesus?
    4. If you are a Christian, how can remembering that Jesus is always on your side help you in your life right now?
  • In Christ,
  • Mr. Reel