Introduction to Romans 9

Look at the Book Live Seminar | Houston, Texas

Before I pray and ask for the Lord’s help, let me tell you what I’m going to pray and why. In my devotions yesterday morning, I was reading John, among three other passages, and came to the end of John 8, and on the way to the end, John 8:47 says, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” That’s just devastating, for Jesus to talk like that. “The reason my words are finding no place in you,” that’s another phrase he uses, “is because you’re not of God,” meaning born of God.

Unless you’re born of God, you can’t see what I’m talking about. So on the way over to church to attend the Bethlehem College and Seminary chapel at 12:45 p.m. yesterday, I asked the Lord to confirm or give me a word from Lewis Guest, who was the fourth-year seminary student who was preaching in chapel. I said, “Just cause him to say something that I need for this.”

And his first point of application was that very point from John 8:47. So I grabbed him afterwards and I said, “Thank you for being sensitive to God’s leading.” And so that’s what I want to pray. I know that unless God is at work here, awakening you from the dead and giving you a spiritual taste and eyes of the heart to see, you won’t hear, or you will hear and resist. So that’s one prayer. And then, of course, I could get it wrong, and then you should resist. So we got two big needs, one here and one there. And so let’s pray.

So Father, here we are knowing that we’re dealing with no ordinary set of words since they are given by the Holy Spirit. And no one knows God’s mind except the Spirit. And when the spirit teaches by his own word in scripture, we get sight into your mind that we can’t get any other way. And I pray that we would see it for what it is. That I would see it and say it in truth, and that these friends would have hearts and minds awake, alive, discerning to see what’s really here.

So I ask this now for the glory of your name and the strengthening of our hearts and for the good of the churches represented here and for the advancement of your mission in Houston and across America and around the world to the nations that are so needy and that the thousands of needs that are represented in these rooms right now, needs; family needs, children’s needs, health needs, job needs, church needs, relational needs that seem so disconnected from Romans 9 would prove to be totally connected. And that miracles would happen in meeting needs in ways that nobody anticipated. I ask this in Jesus’s name, amen.

The Most Controversial Passage

We’re going to devote detailed attention to one of the most controversial passages of Scripture in the Bible. A passage that contains sentences like these. In case you’re wondering, this technology here is unbelievably simple. This is a free app. It’s called “neu.Annotate.” So if you want to do what I’m doing with your Sunday school class, just go get the app. It’s free at the app store. So I am low-tech. The guys at DG are not low-tech, but I am.

In case you’re not familiar with Romans 9, we’re going to read it in detail, but it’s got sentences like these. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Romans 9:2). What a way to start a chapter. That’s a big word for a man who said, “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). We’ll come back to that. That’s a massive problem. I mean, can you handle that? Is that true to your experience? “Rejoice always.” “Unceasing anguish.”

It’s got sentences like, “I could wish I myself were accursed, cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” (Romans 9:3). Could you say that of anybody? It’s got sentences like, “Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Romans 9:5). Sentences like:

  • “It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of promise” (Romans 9:8). I could wish that the children of my flesh were automatically children of God.
  • “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13). That’s God talking.
  • “It depends not on human willing or on running, but on God” (Romans 9:16).
  • “He has mercy on whom he wills and he hardens whom he wills” (Romans 9:18).
  • “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (Romans 9:19).
  • “God’s aim is to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23).
  • “I’m laying in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense; whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).
  • “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them [my Jewish kinsman] is that they would be saved” (Romans 10:1).

That’s an array of emotions and an array of theological statements that are astonishing. So that’s what we’re going to focus on is Romans 9–10:4, Lord-willing, and those sentences and others like them.

Romans 9 as a Watershed Chapter

Why? Why such detailed attention? First of all, to the Bible. I want to start there. There’s a lot of introduction tonight. You’ll wonder when’s he going to get to Romans 9? Well, it’ll be a while, but I won’t do any of this in the other three sessions. We’ll go right to Romans 9. So I’m not sure. I’m hoping we could get through verse nine tonight, but maybe not. We’ll see.

So my first question is why would you choose to look at this book? Why not the Koran? Why not the scriptures of Hinduism, Book of Mormon? Why this book? And before I put up my sequence of reasons, I have six reasons. There are sequence of arguments as to why the Bible is so precious and so compelling to me.

But here’s just an anecdotal insight, especially with regard to Romans 9. When I finished my graduate studies in 1974 and took my first job teaching the Bible at Bethel College in St. Paul, I began to teach Bible. And I did it for six years. And what came totally clear to me after about four years was I must write a book on Romans 9.

And here’s the reason. Every class, no matter what it was about, without my particular design, it brought up the issue of God’s sovereignty and human free will. And at the end of the day, I would go to Romans 9 to solve the issues, at least to give God’s perspective on the issues.

And they said, coming out of other classes, “You can’t use Romans 9 that way. Romans 9 doesn’t apply to individuals like that. Romans 9 doesn’t apply to eternal destinies like that. You can’t use it like that.” And I would come back over and over and say, “Yes, I can. And here are the reasons.” And it will always result in a conflict, which it probably will here too. But I knew that I had to go there. I have to settle this for myself. This chapter became a watershed chapter.

You go one direction on this chapter in regard to man’s will and God’s sovereignty, go another direction, and all the water flows to a different coast in your theology and in your life. And so that was — after I wrote my doctoral dissertation — the next book I wrote was The Justification of God, which is an exposition of Romans 9:1–23. And so for the last, whatever that is, forty years now, it’s been foundational, and I think it will prove to be for you. It will be. I mean, whether you want it to be or not, how you come down on understanding the God of Romans 9 will shape everything in your life.