But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Romans 9:6-9 ESV)
There may be some of you who hear that and say, “That takes my choice completely out of the equation and I don’t like that.” Well, I would respond to you in a couple ways. First…of course you don’t like that! We come onto this planet hating authority and we hate it until we are put in the ground. We don’t like the idea of anyone telling us what to do. The problem with that perspective is simple: if it was all your choice without the action of God, you would choose hell every time (Romans 3). But, secondly, your choice isn’t completely out of the equation, either. You do place your faith in Jesus. You are trusting in Christ to save you. You have to see, though, that faith isn’t a work you do (Ephesians 2:8-10), and that faith is an effect of the work of God, not a cause. You are born again and that’s why you have faith. You don’t have faith and then you are born again (John 10: Jesus reminds the Pharisees, “You don’t believe because you are not already my sheep”). Third, God uses means: Notice that Abraham and Sarah still came together as husband and wife. Isaac wasn’t immaculately conceived. This was not divinely inspired artificial insemination. God superintended the means of Abraham and Sarah to produce Isaac, the son of promise. I am sometimes asked, “If you believe in election, why do you care about missions and evangelism?” Well, Jesus told us to be his witnesses, and we are the means by which God comes to arrest the attention of people: Romans 10 (Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of Christ, but how will they hear without a preacher?).
There may be someone reading this who responds antagonisticaly. Why does it matter? Who cares about all this theological stuff? Tell me something practical, like how to have a good marriage, or how to handle my grandchildren. Okay, sounds good. Let’s look at your marriage through the lens of sovereign grace, big guy. Paul David Tripp says it this way: “A marriage of love, unity, and understanding will flow out of a daily worship of God as sovereign.” Maybe your life is different than mine, but I have noticed lately that my plans don’t work out the way I think they will most of the time. 10 years ago, I couldn’t have told you that my life would work out the way it has. In the same way, your marriage is an unfolding story of God’s sovereign grace lived out one day at a time. It may not seem like grace all the time because your spouse doesn’t worship you as much as you worship you, but if you look clearly at Romans 9, you find a God who saved you in spite of your idolatry and wickedness. He saved you independent of your good days and bad days. He saved you independent of the fact that you are a lazy childish punk who watches ESPN 12 hours a day and never helps his wife with anything. He saved you independent of the fact that you are a controlling nag who obsessively tries to get her way by conniving and manipulating everyone around you. Now your perspective is lifted from the horizontal to the vertical and, to quote PDT: “When you begin to celebrate the sovereignty of God and how he formed you and brought you and your spouse together for his glory and your good, you quit being irritated by your differences and start celebrating how your life has been enhanced by them.” He didn’t save you because you are awesome. He saved you because he is sovereign. She didn’t marry you because you are awesome. She married you because He is sovereign. (If you would like to learn more about this, or if there are those in your sphere of influence that you know would benefit from a biblical examination of marriage, look in your bulletin at the Help For Today course and come, or invite them.)
If you want to look at grandchildren, we can do that one too. Romans 9 has a lot to say about grandchildren. When you look into the lives of your children and grandchildren, you have to remember that a sovereign God knit them together and has plans for them that you may not even be able to fathom. When Spurgeon’s mother read “Alarm to the Unconverted” to him every morning, she had no idea he would become the titan he became. Do you know what made Spurgeon Spurgeon? He often visited his grandparents who had an enormous Puritan library and he read the Puritans with his photographic memory and became the prince of Preachers through the sovereign work of God in his life as he sat at his grandmother’s bookshelf. You don’t know what will happen in the lives of your grandchildren because of your faithfulness. But you have to come to grips with the fact that even if Spurgeon had that kind of mother and those kinds of grandparents, he still could have rejected the truth of the gospel. God arrested Spurgeon’s attention and he used his godly family to do it. Romans 9 reminds you that God will use your faithfulness, but will ultimately save by his own decision and his own power. Take heart grandma and grandpa. God is not finished with your family and you still play a part in the sovereign grace of God.
There may be another thinker staring at their computer screen that looks to justify himself or herself and say, “Nope. I just don’t think that’s how it goes. God chose me because he looked down the corridors of time and saw that I would choose him.” Well, there are several problems with that. First, the Bible is clear that God’s election is before the foundation of the world and independent of any human action. Second, Jesus is clear when he tells the disciples, “You did not choose me, but I have chosen you.” Third, 1 John tells us, “We love him because he first loved us. Not, he loves us because we first loved him.” God initiates. God arrests. God saves. That tells us something very comforting (salvation is not dependent upon my actions), but also very frightening. There may be those in our church who are members of our church body but not be members of Christ’s body. Remember, not all Israel is Israel? Right, not all church members are kingdom members. Hebrews 6 says that there are those who have experienced the truth of the gospel being preached, they have seen the Holy Spirit do marvelous things. They have been a part of what God was doing in the local church, but they don’t know him. There were those in Israel who walked with the people of God, drank the water from the rock with the people of God, ate manna with the people of God, saw Jericho’s walls fall before the people of God but wholeheartedly rejected the God of the people. Church can’t save. Jesus saves.
The next question is obvious: how do I know that I am saved? Repentance and faith. Repentance over sin and faith in Jesus to save you is a result of the work of God in you. This occurs at the moment of conversion and all throughout the rest of the Christian life, not as a work being done, but a result of a work God is doing. Does that actually occur in your heart? If not, repent! If so, rejoice in the sovereign grace of God.