The great London preacher Charles Spurgeon was once asked how he reconciled the apparently contradictory doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in the matter of salvation. “Why should I attempt to reconcile them?” he said. “The two are old friends.” What Spurgeon meant was that both doctrines are taught throughout the Bible, sometimes in the same passage (as with today’s reading from Romans). Whenever the Bible talks about people being saved from sin and going to heaven, it emphasizes the absolute and total gift of God’s unearned grace. So in Romans 10:20, the salvation of so many Gentiles from pitiful lives of pagan darkness is a miraculous work of God’s mercy. The Gentiles had not sought after God, but He had pursued and sought after them. They were dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1), but God gave them new spiritual life through Christ (Ephesians 2:5). This was total, undeserved grace. And indeed, if you ask any Christian today about their salvation, they will immediately give all the glory and credit to God. They will tell you how they once loved sin and did not care about obeying God. But then God changed their heart and they are so thankful for it.
Yet whenever the Bible talks about the judgment and punishment of the lost, the responsibility is always placed squarely on the rebellious sinner and never on God. See it here in Romans 10:20. God says, “All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” Do you hear the compassion and love, the divine sadness in God’s words towards Israel? The image is of God as a father pleading with His lost children to come home but knowing that they will not. God had clearly offered salvation to the nation of Israel first. They had heard the gospel just like the Gentiles (Romans 10:18). But the Gentiles had repented and believed, while the Jews, who should have been prompted through sheer jealousy to copy the Gentiles’ example and come to Jesus, had not.
When sinners reject the gospel and the plain salvation of Christ by grace through faith, it is their own fault. They are deliberately choosing themselves and their sins instead of Jesus, so in hell they will get the punishment that they have justly earned. Indeed, even in this life, the lost sinner often suffers many natural bad consequences and hardships, as the Bible describes in Psalm 32:10 – “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked.” But never think that God is too blame for the tragic fate of unbelievers or that He in any way rejoices over their death. Listen to these pleading words from God to Israel from the time of the prophets: “Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!” (Ezekiel 18:31-32). Does that sound like a cold and unjust Judge? By no means! We struggle to understand how God gets all the glory for saving those who go to heaven while lost people get all the blame for sending themselves to hell. But this is what the Bible teaches, so in the mind of God and the reality of the world He created, there is no contradiction. Our place is not to put ourselves in judgment over God or His Word. Our place is to repent of our sin, trust in Christ, and give Him all of the praise and honor that He deserves for giving us the will to want to be saved and the power to actually be saved by His amazing grace.
The Text (Romans 10:18-21)
18 But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.”
19 But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: “I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation,
I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.”
20 But Isaiah is very bold and says: “I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.”
21 But to Israel he says: “All day long I have stretched out My hands
To a disobedient and contrary people.”
Questions to Think About
- In what ways did God draw you to Himself to be saved? How did He find you when you were not seeking Him?
- In what ways has God continued to work in your life since becoming a Christian even when you were not being obedient to His Word and will? How has God brought you back when you have wandered from Him?
- Can you think of lost people in your life to whom you can see God reaching out in love, but they are rejecting that love in favor of their sins and selfishness? How can you pray for such people? How can you minister to and witness to them?