Romans 9:20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?
Having raised the idea of predestination, Paul anticipated his readers’ reaction and told them, in effect, to shut up. This is seldom a good argument, but in this case it is. If a squirrel cannot understand calculus, we should not be surprised if we cannot understand God perfectly. If everything the Bible taught about God was easy to understand, it would not be about the one true God, but one of our own making. We should thank God for what we do understand, and trust him with the rest.
We should also keep in mind something Jesus said: whoever comes to me I will never drive away (John 6:37). Our first concern is not what God has decreed, but whether we have come to Christ for salvation. Whoever comes to Christ with a believing heart will never be turned away.
Romans 10:3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
Some people refuse to come to Christ because they will not let go of their sins. Others refuse to come to Christ because they will not let go of their righteousness. Many to whom Paul preached were religious, and were pretty good people, compared to many others. But religious people often resist the gospel because they do not think they need it. They may have spent a lifetime being good, and believe that heaven’s gate will open wide for them.
What they fail to see is that even our best deeds are contaminated by sin. It is like a mechanic who cleans the house while his hands are covered with grease. Everything he touches becomes dirty. No matter how good his intentions, the outcome is unacceptable.
This why the Bible says, all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). If God asks why he should let you into heaven, and you list one hundred of the best things you have ever done, it will be like waving one hundred filthy rags in the face of God while saying, This is why you should let me into heaven. The very things you thought would get you into heaven will be enough to keep you out.
Here is the problem: the more we are trusting in our good works to save us, the less we are trusting in Jesus Christ to save us. Jesus not only died for our sins; he lived for our righteousness. Therefore, he is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), wrote Paul. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, he not only takes away our sins, but gives us his record of complete and perfect obedience. We do not get into heaven because of our righteousness, but because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Romans 10:9 If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Paul wanted his readers to know that salvation is available to anyone, at any stage of life, no matter what they have done. The gospel is unlike anything else, and applies to everyone who is drawing breath.
A hospital chaplain called on an older woman and asked how it was with her soul. She replied, Not good. I know that God cannot forgive me because I cannot forgive myself for the sin of my youth. I got drunk one night and committed incest with my brother. Now I am dying and going to hell.
The chaplain explained that Jesus did not come to save the righteous, but sinners, and does not want anyone to perish. Then he read this verse, and promised to come back the following day. The lady died that night, but not before leaving a note. Tell the chaplain everything is okay because I made my peace with God.
When sin is dragging us down to hell, and time is almost gone, we can still be saved. If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 10:15 As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!
When a distant battle was fought, a runner was sent to announce the outcome to his people. If the battle was lost, the runner might shout, Run for your lives! But if the battle was won, he would proclaim the victory. His feet were dirty and smelly, but they were considered beautiful, because of the good news that he carried.
As Paul went around preaching the gospel, he thought of himself as this kind of messenger. The battle against sin, death and the devil has been won by Jesus Christ, and all who believe share in his victory. We do not need to run for our lives; our king has won the battle.
The gospel is not a way of life, or something we could figure out. It is the crystal clear announcement that God came down from heaven to bear our sins on a cross, and that he rose from the dead victoriously for all who will believe in him. Those who proclaim the gospel are like messengers with dirty feet. But those same feet are beautiful to all who believe, because of the good news that they carry.
The church’s obligation to take the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) did not die with the apostles. Many have left the comforts of home to carry this message elsewhere. Some became slaves in order reach slaves. Others live in garbage dumps in order to reach the poor. They follow the one who left his home in heaven to bring the gospel down to earth. Their feet are dirty and smelly, but to those who believe they are beautiful.
Romans 11:22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God.
We prefer the kindness of God to the sternness of God, but the Bible insists that we consider both. Christian ministers are ordinary people who want to please their congregations, and they may be tempted to emphasize God’s kindness at the expense of his sternness. If they do this well enough, they will enjoy a growing church, and the approval of their listeners. But Paul was more concerned about truth than popularity, so he emphasized God’s kindness to those who were living for him, and God’s sternness to those who were not.
Paul taught that the Israelites who rejected the Messiah were not God’s people, and that Gentiles who received the Messiah were God’s people. Then he warned believers that they too would be cut off if they did not keep the faith. The proper response to this kind of God is not only love but fear.
A Woman told her pastor she was leaving her husband to move in with her boyfriend. Don’t you fear God? asked her pastor. Not at all, she replied. I’m a Christian and that means God will forgive whatever I do. But that kind of attitude is never taught in the Bible, and reveals an unbelieving heart.
Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell (Luke 12:5). Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31), says Hebrews.
The healthiest Christians are not those who dwell on the kindness of God alone, or on the sternness of God alone. Nor do they blend the two together to cancel each other out. The healthiest Christians are overwhelmed by the kindness of God toward those who belong to Christ, and are stunned by the dreadful wrath of God toward those outside of Christ. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God.
Reflection and Review
Why is God hard to understand?
Why do some people think they are good enough for heaven?
Would you rather hear about God’s kindness or sternness?