God's Word Has Not Fallen
The Cove | Asheville, North Carolina
I would like to get through Romans 10 tonight. So I hope to spend some time on the remainder of this crucial section on the defense of God in his election. And then I have four things to say about chapter 10. And we won’t walk through it with every verse, but we’ll hit on those four things. And I think you’ll get the big picture if we do that. And we’ll end by singing “Softly and Tenderly,” and we’ll talk about invitations and how they relate to the sovereignty of God in prayer.
Is There Injustice with God?
Now he’s just said, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. I chose one before they were born or had done anything good or evil.” And so now Paul says, “What shall we say then?” Is there injustice on God’s part?” (Romans 9:14). So don’t feel like you’re alone. If you balk at what you just heard, Paul knows we’re going to feel that way, so he asks the question for us. We don’t have to impose it on the text. “Is there injustice on God’s part?” His answer: “By no means!” And then he gives an argument here.
I say it’s an argument because of that little word for, and I wrote a whole book to explain that word for. It’s called The Justification of God. I think they may have it down there. It’s the most unreadable book that I’ve ever written, I think — probably because it’s written like a doctoral dissertation with all kinds of Greek and Hebrew. And I did translate all the French and German and stuff, but it was written for scholars. Although some people here have told me it was helpful, which really surprised me. But the origin of that book was to explain that argument, which is a very puzzling argument. So I’m going to very briefly give you two hundred and fifty pages in about five minutes. I’m going to summarize the argument that I understand.
“For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’” (Romans 9:15). Now that, to me, sounds like a restatement of the problem, not an answer. I mean, how is that an argument? Is there injustice on God’s part in choosing Jacob over Esau? No, because the Bible says, “I’ll have mercy on whom I have mercy.” I spent nine months trying to understand that argument, and I think I’ve got it. Well, let’s read the rest before we do that.
So then it depends not on human will or exertion [literally: “It is not a man who wills or runs”] but on God who has mercy. For [here’s another argument] the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Romans 9:16–18)
There are two arguments, one in verse 15 and one in verse 17. And the big issue is: How do the arguments work? How in the world do the fors here function? He’s arguing. He’s trying to make a case that there’s no injustice with God. This is a defense of God’s unconditional election. And those two for statement are quotes from Scripture, verse 15 quotes form Exodus 33:19 and verse 17 quotes from Exodus 9:16. So I went back and in context tried to understand what Paul saw in Exodus 33 that makes it obvious enough for him to say, “There’s no injustice. Get it?” And we look at it and say, “No, I don’t get it. How is that a help? How does this quotation of Exodus 33:19 remove the apparent unrighteousness of God in choosing one over the other before they had done anything good or evil?”
So let me try to summarize as best I can what the argument is. I want you to see some very important contextual elements here.
‘Show Me Your Glory’
The situation is that Moses very much wants God, in his mercy, because the people don’t deserve this, to go up with them to the Promised Land, and he’s pleading with God.
“Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.” And [God] said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” . . . And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord [Yahweh].’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Exodus 33:13–14, 17–19)
Now there’s the context: “Show me your glory.” “I will show you my name. I have mercy on whom I have mercy. I am the Lord.” And I meditated for months on that trying to understand what Paul saw there that caused him to quote that right here as an explanation for why injustice is not in unconditional election.
God Governs All
And here’s my understanding: God’s name is an essential component or the essence of his glory. And I draw that out of the fact that Moses says, “Show me your glory” (verse 18), and God says, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and proclaim before you my name [Yahweh]. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (verse 19).
And that reminds us of chapter 3 where Moses says to the Lord, “You want me to go down there to these people. Who shall I say sent me?” Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you.” I Am Who I Am sounds very much like “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.” I Am Who I Am means “My being is absolute. I don’t derive my being and my identity from anything outside myself. I am the one absolute reality in the universe. Everything comes from me, starts with me, is defined by me. I am not determined by or shaped by or come into being by anything outside me. I am absolute reality.”
And when he says, “I have mercy on whom I have mercy,” I think that is the expression in his volition of the same thing that was said about his being: “I will what I will. Nothing outside of me governs ultimately what I do. I consult my own counsel. I do all things according to the counsel of my will (Ephesians 1:11). When I make choices, I don’t come to you for counsel and advice. I am not governed or constrained or coerced or determined by forces outside of me. Therefore, I have mercy on whom I have mercy. That’s who I am.”
That helps us understand now why he responded to the statement “Show me your glory” with that kind of statement. Because he’s really saying, “This is who I am. This is the essence of my glory. My freedom to be self-determining and not governed by things outside of myself is my glory.” That’s step one in the argument.
God Is Righteous in All
Step two is Paul, following the Old Testament, believes that God’s righteousness (which is the word behind “injustice” in Romans 9:14) is being called into question. God’s righteousness is his unswerving allegiance always to uphold and display the worth of his glory. That’s the meaning. That’s the most essential bottom-line definition of the righteousness of God. You could say very simply, if you’re talking to an eight-year-old, “God’s righteousness is doing what’s right always.” And that would satisfy an eight-year-old. But a thirteen-year-old might say, “How does God decide what’s right? Does he have a book outside himself? Does he consult a list, a lawbook? How does he decide what’s right?” And then you’re forced into God’s essence to understand what is right?
And of course, God doesn’t consult anything outside himself. He is the definition of what’s right. And if you ask, “Well, what makes something right?” He would say, “What upholds and displays the fullness of my glory is right. That’s the meaning of right. I am the essence and definition of right. My glory is the essence and definition of good and right and upright. And therefore, what upholds and displays, magnifies, shows the worth of, makes much of my glory, is right. I am righteous in that I do whatever I do in order to continue to uphold my full glory on display.” That’s the meaning of righteousness.
Now, if I had time, and I will not take the time — I’ll resist with all my might here showing you why I believe that’s the righteousness of God. I’d just send you to Romans 3:25, where God puts Christ forward as a demonstration of his righteousness. And if I say anymore, I’ll get really involved there and I’d love to, but I shouldn’t.
God at the Center
So now here’s the argument: Is there unrighteousness on God’s part when he chooses Jacob over Esau; Isaac over Ishmael; and chooses you, even though you don’t deserve it, and there’s nothing in you to commend it? Is it unrighteous when he exerts freedom and sovereignty and unconditional election in that way? And Paul says no, because this freedom is an expression of what his glory is, and his righteousness consists in expressing and upholding his glory.
This is really huge in implication for a pastor, teacher, Sunday-school teacher, small-group leader, evangelist, because what it means is the answer to many questions in the Bible will not be possible for people whose minds operate with man-centered paradigms. I mean, the answer that I just gave you is unthinkable as a satisfying answer to a person who doesn’t have God at the center of the universe. If God is not the sun of your solar system, that argument will just kind of leave you unsatisfied. God is righteous in exerting his absolute freedom and election, because that is the essence of his glory, and the upholding of his glory is the meaning of his righteousness. That argument will only satisfy a person who has been broken in half in his own self-exaltation and wants God to be all in all, and the center of his universe, the center of his emotions, the center of everything. And Paul was that kind of person, and I think he was inspired by God.
And therefore, my biggest challenge as a pastor is shattering American paradigms of thought and trying to reconstruct people’s brains with God at center, trying to reconstruct a worldview that makes the Bible work for people, because there’s so much of the Bible that just won’t work. And when a man-centered person gets an intellectual hold on the Bible and won’t let his man-centeredness go, he wrecks everything. Theologies are created that are way off base, and evangelistic styles are created, and attitudes are created, and marriages are created, and all kinds of things come into being that are not rooted in Scripture, because the centrality of God has been dislodged.
I remember my son Karsten, my oldest (married, with three kids, teaches English at a community college in Worthington, Minnesota), when he was doing graduate studies at Boston College in literature, and I could tell by a couple of conversations on the phone and a couple of letters (he had just gotten married to Shelly), and I could just tell they weren’t settled into a church yet, and he seemed adrift spiritually. And I was starting to worry about him because. This is the first son, “perfect kid,” never does anything wrong.
And I wrote him a long letter, a three-page, typewritten letter, sharing my heart of what I was trying to read between the lines. He hadn’t said anything; I was just reading between the lines. And the analogy I used was: “Son, if God is dislodged from the center of your solar system as the sun, all of the planets fly out of orbit.” Wife will fly out of orbit, money will fly out of orbit, sex will fly out of orbit, studies will fly out of orbit, view of government will fly out of orbit, everything will fly out of orbit. And they’ll start banging into each other and emotional problems will come. And I just said: “Is he in the center, exerting his massive gravitational pull on every piece of your life — church life and sex life and leisure life and money life and relationship life? Is he exerting his pull? Because if he is, the planets will work perfectly.”
He called me immediately. He said, “Daddy,” and I was just trembling. I thought he might say, “Bug off. I’ve listened to you preaching over twenty years. I don’t need to be preached to anymore.” And he didn’t say that. With tears he said, “That was a really timely letter. Thank you so much.” It came at a key point. So I pray about those kinds of letters you need to write your kids. Karsten’s an elder in his church today. He’s just a devoted, loving, 32-year-old husband. And I’m thrilled. But I’ve got to resist telling stories because we’ll never ever get through.
Fame of His Name
One more question on this paragraph: Why this quote from Exodus 9:16? Why that quote? Because he draws from it: “So then he has mercy on whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills,” which is like saying, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” And of course, you all know the story of Exodus and the ten plagues, and how over and over again, it says that either God hardened Pharaoh’s heart or Pharaoh hardened his own heart or his heart was hardened. Why didn’t he choose one of those verses that mentions hardening? There are a dozen of them. He chooses a verse that doesn’t have the word hardening in it. He could have chosen a verse that really says clearly, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” And he didn’t even choose one of those. Why? What’s in this verse that he really needs for his argument? Everybody knows, his readers know, hardening is all over the place in Exodus 4–10.
And what he needs is this: “that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” This is a missionary text, but here it’s a text that’s picking up on this issue that there’s no unrighteousness on God’s part as he shows his absolute freedom in mercy because he is utterly and totally therein committed to making his name great. That’s what his righteousness is: his righteousness is always acting in a way that will make most of his name, his glory. And so, that element of the argument is drawn out here, as he illustrates again from Pharaoh’s life, the truth of unconditional election; namely, it is very purposive, and therefore not unjust because the purpose is infinitely wise in displaying the glory of God.
Who Are We?
Let’s go to the next paragraph. Paul’s not done helping us. “You will say then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’” The answer, of course, is that no one can resist God’s will. Do you see how much he’s with us here, how much he’s inside our skin feeling our problems with his teaching? Here’s his answer: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:20). Now, I don’t think that’s an indictment of a humble question to God: “I don’t get it. Help me. How can this be?”
Remember, the angel Gabriel came to John The Baptist and to Mary with similar messages. “John The Baptist, your wife’s going to have a kid.” “Can’t happen. Elizabeth doesn’t have kids.” “Mary, you’re going to have a kid before you have sex.” Now, Zechariah, sorry, Zachariah, John’s father, says, “How can I know this?” And Mary said, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). The angel got mad at Zechariah’s question and said, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God. . . . You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place” (Luke 1:19–20). He got mad at him. Zechariah respond with, “Prove it.” Mary’s responded with, “I don’t understand. How? How?” Not “Prove it,” but, “How can a virgin have a baby?”
“And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35). He answered her. It’s not wrong to ask humble questions to the Bible. Please don’t hear that.
The word right here “answer back” in Romans 9:20 is used in the Gospels for talking back — like, a kid talking back. “Don’t talk back to your mother that way. You can ask your mother a legitimate question for why you do what you do, but don’t sass your mom. Don’t get in her face. Don’t talk back.” I think this is a statement of an indictment of an attitude, not an indictment of humble questions.
God Is Infinitely Wise
Now what’s his support? “Will what is molded say to it’s molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” I think that’s an indicting question. “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump [before they were born or had done anything good or evil] one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:20–21). The answer to that question is yes.
So his first argument is basically that potters are wise in how to use their skill to make the array of pottery that displays the full range of their competencies. And we, O man, are not smart enough, wise enough, or good enough to stand up to God and elevate our values to the point where we call him into judgment. We can’t do it. “Who are you, O John Piper, or any of you, to say that the way I’m doing things is defective? I’m the potter. I am wise. I know how to use my skill to make the whole range of pottery that will display my glory.”
God Reveals More Glory
Let’s go to his next argument. This right here is, in my judgment, the closest thing you get to an absolute answer to why there’s evil in the world, why God decrees the fall, why God does not elect everybody, why there’s reprobation — for all those ultimate questions, this is as close as you get to an answer in the Bible. It’s worthy of a lot of thinking, which we won’t devote to it right now, but you can later.
“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction . . .” (Romans 9:22). If you’ve got an NASB here, contrary to all its usual accuracy, it inserts the word “although” before “desiring,” which is dead wrong. I am totally persuaded. This is not “although.” We know that from the way he talked about Pharaoh. It’s: “Because he desired to show his power that he raised Pharaoh up.” But literally this is right just to use the participle “desiring.” And then you can decide for yourself, which is what a translation ought to do. It shouldn’t answer those questions for you. You have to decide: What adverbial relationship, what logical relation, does this have?
I’m answering: causal: “What if God, because he desired to show his wrath [first motive] and to make known his power [second motive] has endured with much patience vessels of wrath [Esau, Pharaoh, and others] prepared for destruction?” So the first rationale for why God does what he does in election is to display wrath and to show power. That’s what he wants to do. If there were no such thing as a fall — if there were no sin in the universe, had Lucifer never fallen, and Adam and Eve never fallen, and there’d be no sin in the world — there would be no wrath anywhere in the universe. There would be no manifest holiness of judgment against sin. Many of the things that the Bible extols about God in his justice and his judgment and his wrath would never be known or seen.
Is that a good thing? A lot of people would say, “Oh, that would be all right. Everybody would be happy and nobody would be doing any sin. You don’t need to know any of that about God because all’s well.” That’s what many would say. That’s just not what Paul says. It’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says that God wants to display the full range of his attributes. Why? What follows is as high as it gets. The highest level of the argument would be this one right here: “In order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23). Evidently, if his wrath were not displayed and his power were not shown, the riches of his glory would not be on display, would not be made known, for the vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand to enjoy that glory.”
God ordained and, in mysterious ways that I cannot explain, rendered certain the fall of Lucifer, Adam, and Eve. Take Paul, as an example. We know from Galatians 1 that Paul believed he was set apart from his mother’s womb to be an apostle. It says that in Galatians 1:15. Then you get thirty or forty years of murderous persecution and opposition against the church and others. And then God knocks him off his donkey on the way to Damascus, blinds him, and totally takes charge of this man’s life. He didn’t just ease up to him and say, “Want to consider Jesus?” He just blasts him, just blasts him, right out of heaven. He blinds him. Speaks to him, “‘Why are you persecuting me?’” And [Saul] said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus. . . . Enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:4–6). I mean, he just took him. He just took him. He could have done it five years earlier before he killed so many Christians.
God wants to display the glory of his wrath, and power, and the riches. In 1 Timothy 1:15–16 Paul says,
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
Now you start to get the big picture of what God was up to in choosing him in his mother’s womb to be an apostle and letting him become an absolute rascal. “The foremost of sinners,” he calls himself. And God sovereignly saved him on the Damascus road for you: “To display in me, the perfect patience of Jesus for those who would believe on you for eternal life.” That’s you. God was about displaying the full range of his patience and his wrath in the life of Paul during all that stuff.
In other words, it seems — and we say it with trembling, we say it with fear — that God ordains that there be evil in the world in order that the fullness of all that God is in his hatred of evil, and his just wrath against evil, would be displayed for our stunned worship. That’s huge. Those two verses right there are as heavy and as big and as ultimate as you find anywhere in the Bible. And I’m done with that section.
Beneficiaries of Election
“It is not as though the word of God has failed” (Romans 9:6). So you can believe Romans 8 and bank your life on it, and be radical people who live out Romans 12 in mercy. That’s the big picture. Argument: “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6). Now, in verses 24–29, he returns to that level of the argument, only he adds one crucial thing: “Not only are not all Israel true Israel, but some Gentiles are Israel.” That’s what he’s going to say here in verse 24: “Even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only . . . ” And it’s the “from” that he’s been defending. In other words, not all Jews, but some from Jews. “Not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles.” That’s the new thing. He hasn’t said a word about Gentiles yet in chapter 9.
So here he is, twenty-four verses into it, and now he’s saying, “You were surprised when I said not all Israel is Israel? Get ready for another big surprise: some Gentiles are Israel.” That’s nothing new. That was in Romans 2:25–29: A true Jew is not one who is circumcised by the flesh, not one who is born of the flesh. A true Jew is the one who believes in the Messiah.
Paul continues in Romans 9:25–26: “As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved.”’ ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “sons of the living God.”’” Now that’s the end of his Old Testament argument for “from Gentiles.” Now here comes his argument for “only some from Jews”:
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,
“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.” (Romans 9:27–29)
And so he left us a little offspring. He left us a remnant. And so there are vessels of mercy, vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory, from Jews and from Gentiles. He’s just broadened out the beneficiaries of this unconditional election.
Now, what he does beginning at Romans 9:30 and into chapter 10 is ask: All right, having just said the startling thing to Jewish people anyway — that Gentiles are included as his people, his elect — what should we say then? His answer is:
That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel, who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him [Christ] will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:30–33)
Think about what he’s doing here. He has just spent a chapter arguing that not all Israel is Israel, and now some Gentiles are Israel because of God’s absolutely free, divine unconditional election. And then he takes verses 14–23 to argue for the justice of that. Now he’s back up to the argument, and here a major shift is happening. The shift is no longer is he talking about the divine, sovereign ground of who is saved and who’s not; he’s talking about what you have to do to be saved. He shifted up from the subterranean work of God in his sovereignty, now asking, “Why is it that there are Gentiles in the kingdom? Why is it that there are Gentiles included in the covenant people of God and not all Jews?” He’s not answering any longer with, “God’s divine, sovereign election — that’s why.” That’s the foundation he’s just laid. And now he’s ready to talk about a way of salvation that accords with the freedom of God in election. That’s what justification by faith is.
The Gentiles, they weren’t pursuing righteousness. They didn’t have a law. They were just going along their merry way. And along comes the gospel, and a righteousness that is by faith was imputed to the Gentiles who believed in Jesus. And suddenly, the Messiah’s righteousness is imputed to Gentiles. They are clothed with Christ the Messiah’s righteousness, and they’re in the kingdom by faith alone, without works of the law (Romans 3:28).
Self-Exaltation and the Law
Now here’s the practical explanation in life for why they’re going to be judged. Election is unconditional, but judgment and heaven are not unconditional. In order to go to heaven, you have to be a believer. You have to have the righteousness that comes by faith. In order to go to hell, you have to stiff-arm God, resist him, try to do your own self-righteousness, like it says in Romans 10:3: “Being ignorant of the righteousness of God [that comes from God], and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”
In other words, the Old Testament was a testimony: “Look away from yourself. Look away from yourself. There’s coming a redemption.” It’s as plain as day in Isaiah 53: he’s coming. You have to put yourself in a substitute, in a redeemer. There’s no way you can fulfill this law adequately to measure up to what God’s perfect requirements are. It’s always pointing a way to a substitute and a redeemer, and they didn’t get it.
Instead, they took the law, turned it into a ladder and tried to measure up with a righteousness according to the law, and they stumbled over the stumbling stone. When he came and offered himself as the one who could save them for all their vaunted law-keeping, they spurned him. He healed on the Sabbath day. The Gospels are just mind-boggling when you read about why Jesus was taken to task. “‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent. . . . And he said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’ And they could not reply to these things” (Luke 14:3–6). What was it with these guys? Why didn’t they want Jesus to heal? The law was the means whereby they could exalt themselves. And to despair of themselves, they did not know how.
Four Points on Romans 10
So now I’m going to launch into my four main things I want to say from Romans 10. Instead of walking through every verse, I want to step back and draw out four things from Romans 10.
1. Unconditional election leads us to pray.
Based on unconditional election, rooted in that theology, Paul prays for lost people, the very people that he has just described as not being in true Israel. “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them [these Jews who have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God] is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
So that’s the first thing I want to stress. And you take it away from this seminar, which has been dominated by the doctrine of unconditional election, that those who know this theology best — namely, the apostle Paul — pray hardest for lost people. Don’t ever, ever, ever let anyone mock Reformed theology by saying, “Well, if God predestined, then there’s no point in praying.” Just don’t buy it. Rather, take them to the experiential part of Reformed theology — namely, irresistible grace — and say, “If God can’t take out the heart of stone and make a heart of flesh, nobody will be saved. Therefore, it’s right to ask him to do it.”
I think Paul said, “O God, I don’t know who the elect are. I’m going into Philippi. I’m going into Corinth. I’m going into Thessalonica. I get beat up everywhere I go, and I’m going to preach the gospel. And I pray, O God, draw people to yourself, especially when I go into the synagogue. My kinsmen according to the flesh, I want to see them saved. Break into their hearts, O God, and draw them to yourself when I preach tomorrow morning in Philippi.” I think that’s the way he prayed.
He left the mystery of who would be saved and who wouldn’t totally to God. In fact, when he was very discouraged — do you remember this from Acts 18:9–10? He’s discouraged in Corinth, and the Lord comes to him at night and says, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” What does that mean? That means: “You don’t know who they are; I know who they are.”
Your job is not to sniff them out either. That’s hyper-Calvinism by the way. Do you want to know what a definition of hyper-Calvinism is? Some people use the term hyper-Calvinism for real Calvinism — like Piper’s. “He’s a hyper-Calvinist. He really believes it.” Historically, hyper-Calvinism means you don’t believe you should preach the gospel to anyone who doesn’t give evidence of being elect. That’s hyper-Calvinism. It was against missions. It was absolutely unbiblical. And the Bible proves it, every page.
And Paul walks into Corinth and God says, “I have many people in this city. Your job is to go there and suffer and preach. Display me. I’ll draw them to myself. You just go preach.” And that’s all you’re called to do. You’re not to be in on who’s elect at all — that’s God’s business. Your job is to sow seed like crazy, lay down your life for every unbeliever you know, and pray like crazy that God would open their hearts. And God uses your prayer as part of the means whereby he saves his elect. It pays to pray because God has ordained to answer the prayer as part of the means whereby he saves his elect.
That’s my first observation from chapter 10; namely, prayer for the lost flows from the free election of God.
2. The law leads people to Christ for righteousness.
The law leads to Christ for righteousness. “Christ is the end [telos] of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). And I think the word telos there would just as well, or perhaps better, be translated “goal.” This means that the function of the law, among all of its other functions, was to direct people to the Messiah, direct people to Christ for righteousness. And oh, how I would love to teach on justification by faith and the imputed righteousness of Christ.
Let me just direct your attention back to Romans 3:20–22, because this is too good just to speed over, even though it’s all over chapters 1–8. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Justified means “declared righteous and accepted by God.” If you try to rely upon the law, you’ll just find out how much sin you have. Next is the great, incarnational, redemptive Christ event: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.” Which righteousness are you talking about? “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
That’s what Paul’s talking about here when he says, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” If you try to make law-keeping the ground of your acceptance with God, you will not be accepted by God. Nobody is justified by the works of the law. You must turn away from law-keeping, and I mean away from not committing adultery, and away from not murdering, and away from not stealing, and not lying — not that you do those things, but you don’t rely upon those things for acceptance with God. There is one righteousness that cuts it with the Almighty: his Son’s righteousness. It was perfect. He fulfilled all righteousness.
“As by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). His obedience was the perfect obedience. Now by faith, we are grafted into Jesus, and his righteousness becomes our righteousness, and we are thus accepted by God. And all we’ve done for the last two hours before tonight was go underneath that to how God decides to whom that will happen. But please don’t let that minimize this. When we preach and when we share the gospel, this is what we talk about first.
We talk about how sinful we all are. We put ourselves in the context with other believers. We say, “We are all sinners. God is infinitely holy. He cannot accept us in our present condition, loving us and not just hating us. He inserts a glorious substitute, his own divine Son, between himself and us. That Son not only absorbs all of his wrath and thus enables him to forgive all of our sin, but that Son performs a perfect fulfillment of the law, a perfect righteousness, so that in him, that righteousness becomes imputed to us by faith alone. That’s the gospel. That’s the glory of the gospel. There’s nothing you’ve ever done that can disqualify you from being holy and just and righteous before God, because Christ became a righteousness which you can have imputed to you, counted to you, if you will bow, despair of yourself, and trust in him. That’s a big if, it’s a condition. You see now I’m talking conditions. Do you want to be saved? You’ve got to believe. If you want the righteousness of Christ, you must believe.
But why a person believes and doesn’t believe, that’s all down here in chapter 9, and it’s good to know that eventually because it breaks us of some of our pride. It gets all praise for God, takes the roots of our security down deeper, gives God all the glory. But right here, we’re talking widespread Billy-Graham-type gospel, which ought to be preached all the time. That’s number two: the law leads people to Christ for righteousness.
3. Attachment to Christ saves.
I’m skipping over Romans 10:5–8, which just spells out more of how the law points to Christ. I’m going to Romans 10:9 and what follows, and my main point here is: therefore, attachment to Christ saves.
Paul comes out of his exposition of the law in verses 4–8 with “Because 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.” Now he got the words heart and mouth from Deuteronomy 30:14: “The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” And so he’s asking now: In essence, what is in our mouth and in our heart that makes us right with God? And the answer is: in our mouth is a confession that Jesus is Lord, and in our heart is faith — faith and confession. Believe and confess God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved. It’s attachment to Jesus by faith that saves us.
For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame [the opposite of saved].” 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. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
So attachment to Jesus is what saves. Let me just draw something out here because I’ve been seeing it in other places, and it feels urgent. I felt a burden in recent years that I should have fellowship with my wife and Jesus at the same time. And I’ve asked myself: What does that look like? I’m going to commend this to you, that you consider this and do this or something like it. It just seems like if Jesus is real, if he’s part of the family, if he’s as close to us as our children and our wife, then he ought to be included in the family — just like I date my wife, and just like I have devotions with the family, just like we’ll have playtime with Talitha. You do special things together; you don’t just exist and say, “I’m married. We see each other, but we don’t ever do anything together.” That would not be a good marriage. You’ve got to plan, do things together, date each other. It seems like God ought to have some special times too.
So Noël and I were here a couple of weeks before you guys showed up, up in the cabin. We prayed our way through the First Epistle of John. We’ve done this often on our retreats. We’ll take together and we’ll pray through Philippians or pray through Galatians or pray through Colossians. And what it means is you take a text, a Bible, and it’s got heading breaks, and you say, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll pray and invite Jesus to come and be with us in a special manifest way in which he communicates with us through his word. And then I’ll read the first paragraph, and we’ll just pause and pray whatever comes to mind from that text. And when we feel like we’re done, you read the next paragraph, Noël, and we’ll pray some more. And then when I feel like we’re done, I’ll read the next paragraph. And then we pray some more.” And you can fill up an hour that way fellowshiping with Jesus and each other by just reading a paragraph or two of Scripture and praying about whatever comes to mind — usually it’s family, church, missions, but sometimes bigger issues like government, the globe, and often us and our marriage.
The point is that in 1 John, you read things like, “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2). Or “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). I’m reading that as I was praying with Noël, knowing full well the devil believes that: The devil knows Jesus is the Son of God and believes it as a fact (James 2:19). So that can’t be what this means, right? “Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” or “Believe that he’s the Son of God” or “Believe that he died for sins,” that can’t save anybody as just a fact in your head. Belief must be here: embrace, trust, bank on, be satisfied by.
I like to move into the hedonism language, because I really think the Bible is pervaded with it, and it calls our bluff better than other language. Are you satisfied with Jesus and the demonstration of his power in rising from the dead? Does that satisfy your soul and wean you off of idolatry? That is where 1 John ends: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). So I just want to underline that here again. When I say what saves is attachment to Jesus, I don’t mean merely that confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord saves anybody unless you really like having him as your Lord — which the devil does not; he hates his lordship. He knows he’s Lord.
The Gadarene demoniac said, “Have you come to torment us before the time?” What does that mean, “before the time”? They know they’re doomed. They know there’s a time coming when they’ll all be thrown into the lake of fire, and they’re just angry that he came early, messing up their habitation in this demoniac. The devil knows all orthodox doctrine better than any theologian. And it does him no good. We must delight in Jesus as Lord.
First Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” You read that and you say, “I can. Watch this: ‘Jesus is Lord.’” I can imagine an unbeliever reading that text, I can imagine the devil reading that text, and saying, “I can too. ‘Jesus is Lord.’ I did it.” So clearly, when Paul says “Nobody can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” he means the same thing as “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord you’ll be saved.” He means: “Confess it and say it from the heart with a delight: Yes, he’s Lord. He’s mine. I love his supremacy over my life. I love his rule over the nations. I love his conquering power over my sin.” That’s what confessing Jesus as Lord means — not just words.
4. Missions and evangelism must still happen.
Lastly, missions must and has happened — must still happen and has happened. Missions, evangelism, global evangelism, cross-cultural missions must happen.
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? 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!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” (Romans 10:14–18)
Verse 18 uses a quote from Psalm 19. But I think he takes the words from natural revelation, and applies it to the missionary enterprise to say, “The gospel has gone far and wide.” He doesn’t mean it’s finished. But it has already gone far and wide. It needs to go farther. He continues,
But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:19–21)
The first part of that unit is a very clear, historic, well-known argument that salvation doesn’t happen without the hearing of the gospel. Do not conclude from sovereign, unconditional election that God saves people who’ve never heard the gospel. He doesn’t. You must call upon him. But how can you call if you haven’t believed? And how can you believe if you haven’t heard? And how can you hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless there’s an authentic sending from God, and probably the church?
In other words, missions is paramount, missions is huge in God’s economy. And here’s the really striking thing that I’ve had many people throw back in my face. I remember Clark Pinnock responded to my book on Romans 9–11 in a footnote of his, and said something snide. I don’t think scholars ought to talk snide. But it was snide. I wrote my book on Romans 9:1–23 and stopped in mid-sentence. I knew I’d be criticized for stopping in mid-sentence. He said, “If John Piper had read to the end of chapter 10, he would have seen that what he said about chapter 9 is not true.” Now, the reason you can tell that’s snide is because he knows I’ve read through chapter 10. I have read chapter 10. I read it before I wrote the book.
But this would be what he’s referring to: “Of Israel, he says, ‘All day long, I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’” Here’s the picture of God standing before rebellious Israel, like Jesus weeping over Jerusalem:
How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37)
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:1–2)
And someone like Pinnock says, “You can’t picture a God doing that if you believe in election. That’s just contradictory. If he has chosen whom he will choose, then to have him standing like that before disobedient Israel, as though he’s inviting them, is contradictory.” That’s what he would throw back in my face.
So I want to draw things to a close like this. Billy Graham has used “Just As I Am” for forty or fifty years to close his crusades. And it’s an interesting thing.
Just as I am — without one plea;
but that His blood was shed for me,
and that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee.
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Here’s another very remarkable invitation hymn that I sang many times growing up: “Softly and Tenderly.” Sing it with me. You know this:
Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling,
calling for you and for me.
See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching,
watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home.
You who are weary, come home.
Earnestly, tender, Jesus is calling,
calling, O sinner, come home.
Now that’s not a trick. I’m not playing a trick on you here. I can sing that and say that without any pang of conscience. I think that’s a biblical way to see Jesus. It’s like the Parable of the Prodigal Son and others. I think that’s a good song. And to many people it implies, “Well, if Jesus is standing there, just in a portal, in a window or a door, waiting, and watching, and tenderly calling, he’s not out there doing any sovereign work to bring anybody.” And that’s not true. It just implies that to so many people, which is why, if you’re going to use a song like this, you probably should do some heavy-duty teaching.
Pray for God to Move
Here’s my question. This is the way to get at people’s hearts. Ask them this: How do you pray while this song is being sung? I just want you to be honest right now, in your own heart. You’re sitting in a church service. Somebody has brought a powerful gospel message. You’re surrounded by unbelieving family members. Some have grown up in the church, maybe some are outside. They came to the meeting with you for some reason. And this song is being sung. And the portrait of Jesus standing at a portal, a window, a door, with his hands extended like Romans 10:21 says, saying, “Come home. Come home.” What are you doing? What are you asking God to do?
I guarantee you are not saying, “Don’t make a move from that door, lest you overcome their resistance. Just stay there and watch. Don’t act in their hearts. Don’t act on their wills.” You’re not praying like that.
You’re saying, “Father, would you move on my son right now? Would you move on my mom, my uncle? Would you come in power?” You could say, “Holy Spirit, fall upon them, soften them, open them, open their eyes, take away hardness.” You start talking to God like that, don’t you? Which means in your heart of hearts — whatever your theology — you know this song doesn’t contradict a move around behind them. Yes, he’s in the window saying, “Come, come, come.” And he’s also God in heaven, reaching out, reaching out and saying, “I’m going to take you. I’m going to overcome your resistance.”
This song that Billy Graham uses has two verses that don’t get sung very often. And they’re very interesting. I love this song. This is a very good song.
Just as I am — Thy love unknown
hath broken every barrier down.
I don’t know whether that gets sung very often at crusades, but that’s glorious. And the person who comes needs to understand that.
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone.
O Lamb of God, I come.’
Just as I am — of that free love.’
There’s a mega freight behind that word free right there, I believe. It’s not a coerced love. I didn’t love you first. Your love came after me, broke every barrier down.
The breadth, length, depth, height to prove
here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come.
So I do not infer from verse 21, that God, all day long, has held out his hands to a disobedient and contrary people, I don’t infer from that verse that it rules out the possibility that God not only beckons, but that by his Spirit, he moves out there in the audience. You extend your arms, you expend your voice, you invite and woo and long and pray and yearn and gather. But you’re also asking, “Now God, move. Move.”
And first, “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15). So God calls you, calls an evangelist, and says, “Now I want you to go talk to that person.” Or “I want you, preacher, to preach this message.” Or “I want Billy Graham to preach.” And then out goes the word, the gospel, and that gospel is Romans 10:15: “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” So they’ve got to hear. This is Romans 10:21: “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” This is Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden.” This is the song “Softly and Tenderly.” This is Isaiah 55:1–3. All this yearning, longing, wooing, this is the invitation going out to the unbeliever.
And what we want from this unbeliever is faith toward God. But we’re not there yet. It hasn’t happened yet. Because that’s not enough. This heart right here is hard as stone — rebellious, fallen, corrupt. And the gospel is landing on it. What must happen? Romans 9:15 must happen: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.” This is John 6:44: “No one comes to me unless the Father . . . draws him.” This is Acts 16:14: “The Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to pay attention to [the gospel].” And when this effectual grace or effectual call happens, then the heart is open to and faith goes to the to Christ.
And I just want hold it all together. I don’t want to belittle, or minimize, anything that’s happening with our response to God. And in view of what I’ve seen in Romans 9, and all over the Bible, I don’t want to take away the glory of God by minimizing what’s happening with God opening our hearts. And I don’t know how you survive in evangelism, especially in the hard places of the world — like Muslim places. If you don’t believe that God is willing to do this, and if you feel like you’re shut up to your own persuasive abilities, your own ability to ring out a tear from an audience and tell a moving story — there are speakers who can get people to the front in a minute. But if you really believe this is a miracle of transformation that no human can perform, you know that the dimension of effectual call is so utterly, utterly indispensable.