God of Mercy
A couple of years ago, I was working bi-vocationally as an engineer and a student pastor. This led to a lot of rushing from place to place for me as I tried to fulfill my responsibilities in both roles. One morning, I was meeting with some church leaders before work, and the meeting ran a bit long. I was in a hurry to get to work so I was cruising along at a reasonable 50 mph in a 45 mph zone. Until of course, the speed limit dropped to 20 mph. A police officer was waiting for me about 100 yards past the speed limit change. Blue lights. I plead for mercy. I explained that I was working at a church and trying to get to work and that in my rush I forgot about the speed limit drop. The officer was gracious that day and let me off the hook. I thanked him profusely. As he walked away, I put my truck in drive and thanked God profusely also.
Question: Who should I have thanked in that story? God or the officer? Was it God looking down from heaven choosing to be gracious to me, or was it a kind hearted God fearing police officer that let me off the hook that day? I think my practical theology came through that day on the way to work as I genuinely thanked both.
Today’s chapter is Romans 9. This chapter discusses this tension. God’s control over salvation and our responsibility in it. I want to offer just a few thoughts that I hope help you navigate this chapter.
Paul starts the chapter talking about the Jewish people who have not accepted Jesus. He sees this great tragedy of all the Jews knowing God’s law, but not knowing God himself through Christ. But he clarifies: It has always been the case that God doesn’t save everyone. He doesn’t even save every Jew. In fact, God says who he saves is really his call. That makes sense right? Paul says it like this:
“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!  For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:14-16 ESV)
This is good news! God is in control of salvation and he has the right to save who he wants how he wants. Imagine if man was in control of salvation! I have enough trouble staying in control of my daily to do list, much less people’s souls! So, who does God save and how does he save them? Well, we could spend all our money on books that tease out different view points on this, but I think there is a pretty simple two part answer. First, God saves everyone who “believes on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Or, in Romans terms, he saves everyone who receives Christ’s righteousness by faith.
“What shall we say, then? 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 if it were based on works.” (Romans 9:30-32a ESV)
So who receives salvation? Everyone who trusts Christ for it!
But there is a second part to how he saves us. A deeper reality that is true for everyone who trusts Christ. We learned in Romans 1-3 that we humans aren’t really inclined to trust and obey God are we? So there is more good news! Not only does Jesus give his life to provide a way of salvation, God reaches down into our hearts and shows us the way. I love the way 2 Corinthians 4:6 says it, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (ESV)
Back to my speeding ticket evasion story, I knew that ultimately, God was in control of everything, even speeding tickets. I also knew that this police officer really decided not to give me a ticket. In the same way, if you are saved, if you have trusted Christ, take great comfort! Jesus pursued you by coming to earth and giving his life, and shining a light into your heart so that you could see the beauty of what he did. Your salvation is sure in his sovereign hand. At the same time, pursue others with this good news you’ve been given! Invite them to trust Christ to and see that his salvation is sweet and his presence in our lives transforms us. It turns out this is what Romans 10 is about, so we’ll finish this conversation Monday :).
Grace & Peace.