Sermon on Romans 9:6b-16
Text: For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”
10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad — in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls — she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
It’s not fair! How many times haven’t you heard or spoken those words? The child sees their friends going to a movie and they are told that they can’t go. You see that your favorite team gets all of the penalties called on them and, it seems, that their opponents get none. Someone does the same job that you did and they get praise, while you get nothing. It’s not fair! We are built with a sense of justice, that things should be fair. It bothers us when they are not. This morning, the apostle Paul is teaching some important truths and he seems to be anticipating some objections. He writes, “What then shall we say? Is God unjust?” (Verse 14) Is God not being fair in these things? We will look at this thought as we ask IS GOD BEING FAIR 1. In Regard To Election and 2. In Regard To Our Salvation?
Paul begins this section of God’s Word by writing, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.” (Verses 6&7) Paul is addressing the fact that it is not the nationality that makes a person a child of Abraham. There were many Jews, by nationality, that weren’t Jews, spiritually. They did not share the faith of Abraham, who put his hope in the coming Messiah. They had put their faith in what they were doing, as if they could do enough good things to get into heaven. If you wanted to get into heaven, if you wanted to be one of Abraham’s spiritual descendants, you share his faith in the Savior.
Then, Paul introduces the thought that God chose those who would be reckoned as one of Abraham’s descendants. First of all, he writes, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” (Verse 7) This is a reference to the account in Genesis 16. Since Abraham and Sarah were barren, and God had promised that Abraham would have an heir, they decided to help God out. Sarah gave her slave Hagar to Abraham and a child was conceived, whose name was Ishmael. God came to Abraham and told him that Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, would not be his heir. Rather, the son, Isaac, who was the child of Abraham and Sarah, would be the heir. Paul sums this up by writing, “In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” (Verse 8)
Then, because some might think that it was only logical that Isaac would be the heir, even though he was not the first son of Abraham, Paul continues by bringing another Old Testament story to mind: “Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad — in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls — she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’” (Verses 10-12) This is the story of Esau and Jacob. Rebekah was pregnant with twins. Before she gave birth, she was told that the older child would serve the younger. This would go against the societal norms of the day. Usually, the older son, in this case, Esau, would receive the birthright. He would receive double the inheritance. He would be the one through whom the lineage was passed on. However, God chose Jacob to receive these blessings, which also included being the ancestor of the Messiah. Paul notes that this choice came before the boys were born. It was before they had done anything to show themselves worthy of God’s choice. God chose Isaac instead of Esau.
This reminds us of another choice that God made and that is his election, his choosing of those who would be his children. Paul speaks of this in Ephesians 1:3-5, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” This takes us back to the time before the world was created. From eternity, God chose us to be adopted into his family, with all of the blessings and benefits that accompany that adoption. Obviously, since it was before the creation of the world, it was before you or I had any chance to show that we were worthy of the choice. It wasn’t that God looked down and saw that we were better than other people so he chose us. Also, it wasn’t that God looked into the future and saw that we would be good people, so he chose us before the creation of the world. Before we could do a single thing, God chose us to spend our eternities with him. He saw to it that we would be brought to faith and become his children. This gives us great comfort.
Now, there will be some who will ask, “But, what about those people haven’t heard the gospel message or who haven’t had the same advantages that we have?” Did God choose them to be lost forever? If so, that’s not fair. In regard to this question, we need to keep a couple of things in mind. First of all, there is no place in the Scriptures that speak of a double predestination, that is to say, that God chose some to be saved and he chose those who would be lost. This would fly in the face of the clear Scripture passages, such as 1 Timothy 2:3&4: “God our Savior . . . who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” If a person is lost for eternity, it is their own fault. It is wrong of us to bring God into our ideas of justice. Our God is far beyond our understanding. Since he is a perfect and holy God, whatever he declares is in itself good and right.
In actuality, a greater question might be: “Why would God be merciful to anyone?” As you read through the Scriptures and meditate on God’s law, you see that there is absolutely no one who deserves the mercy of God. Go through the earlier chapters of this letter to the Romans and you find very condemning statements. For example, we find in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is no wiggle room in the word “all,” is there? “All” includes every single human being that has ever been born. It includes you and me. If we take a moment and examine our lives, we see the truth of what Paul writes. God has set the level of perfection in order to enter heaven. That means that we cannot transgress his laws in any shape, form, or fashion. Yet, we know that we have broken his law times without number. We have not always loved God above all things. We have not treated those around us the way that God demands that we do. Paul shows us the results of these sins in Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death.” If God was going to be fair, you and I would have no chance. We would be lost in the torments of hell for all eternity.
How beautifully the words of verse 15 fall upon our ears: “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’” A bit of context will help us see the beauty of these words. In the chapter before these words are recorded we have the incident of the people of Israel worshiping the golden calf. God would have had every right to wipe the Israelites off the face of the earth for their blatant idolatry. He would have been just in doing so. However, Moses pleaded with God for the people. Instead of wiping the Israelites out, God chose to have mercy on them. He continued to be with them and led them to the Promised Land.
In the same way, God has had mercy on us. We rightly deserved to be banished from God’s sight forever. Yet, God has had mercy on us. How can that be? How can God be a just God, who hates not only sin, but also the sinner, and yet be a merciful God? The answer lies on the hill of Calvary. It is at the cross of Christ that God’s justice and God’s mercy meet. God’s justice was fully carried out as he punished his own Son for the sins of the world, including your sins and my sins. He didn’t hold back his wrath against sin. At the same time, God’s mercy was shining brightly as Jesus paid for every single sin. God took all of our sins and placed them on Jesus. God took the perfect life that Jesus lived and credited it to our account. Our sense of justice might say that it wasn’t fair that Jesus be punished for our sins. Yet, the mercy of God chose to have compassion on us and rescue us. We know that God’s justice was satisfied in the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. This assures us that we have been forgiven and that an eternity in heaven is waiting for us. God further showed his mercy on us when he brought us to faith. We praise and thank God for his immeasurable mercy and compassion that he has shown to us. In Jesus, God’s justice has been met and his mercy is shown to us.
So, is God being fair in regard to our election? He is not, if you look at it from a human perspective. He chose us to be his children without any merit or worthiness of our own. As Paul states in verse 16, “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” What about our salvation? Is God fair with that? The answer again, humanly speaking is “No.” He didn’t give us what we deserve. That’s called mercy. As a matter of fact, he gave us what we didn’t deserve and that’s called grace. And for that, we give him all honor and glory. Amen.
St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches ©2023 All rights reserved.