How Shall People Be Saved? Part 2
From Gospel Translations
For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 14 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for "Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world." 19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, "I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry." 20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me." 21 But of Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people."
Today I hope to finish a message I began on Romans 10:13-21. I pointed out in the previous message that after the death and resurrection of Jesus for our sins, there are five things that God beings to put in place so people can be saved. Paul mentions them in verses 13-15: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?" So salvation comes from, 1) calling on the Christ, 2) believing in him, 3) hearing the gospel about him, 4) someone preaching Christ, 5) and God sending the preacher.
In the previous message I described what it means to believe and to call on the Lord. I will come back in a few minutes to deal with the last three of the five steps. But first there are two other matters that this text pushes forward into our consideration. One is the unbelief of the people of Israel, and the other is the sovereignty of God in relation to the responsibility of man. So we will deal with these two and then close by coming back to hearing, preaching, and sending.
The Unbelief of Israel
This has been the brokenhearted, painful theme of Romans 9 and 10 ever since we began with Romans 9:3 where Paul said, "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." This is the terrible reality Paul is wrestling with in Romans 9 and 10. How to understand, how to explain, how to feel about, and how to respond to the unbelief and lostness of God's chosen people, Israel. By rejecting Jesus as their Savior and Messiah and Lord and Treasure, they are accursed and cut off from eternal life.
Paul comes back to it over and over. Romans 9:27, "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved." Romans 10:1-2, "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." Then in today's text, Romans 10:16, "They have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?'" And verse 21: "But of Israel he says, 'All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.'"
This will be Paul's burden all the way to the end of chapter 11. Notice how chapter 11 begins, "I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin." In other words, Israel's present unbelief and rebellion is not the whole story or the end of the story. Look at the warning to us Gentile Christians in Romans 11:25, "Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.'" So from beginning to end in Romans 9-11 Paul's burden is: What does it mean that Israel is unbelieving, rebellious against her Messiah, and accursed and cut off from Christ?
One of the main things Paul wants to say in these chapters is that Israel's unbelief and lostness does not mean that the word of God has failed! Romans 9:6 rings the central bell, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed." His first argument for this central truth is built on the doctrine of sovereign, free, unconditional election in chapter 9. In other words, the unbelief and lostness of Israel does not undermine the plans of God, because he is sovereign over their unbelief and built it into his plans from the beginning. "'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 9:15-16).
Some of us, over the duration of our lives, have been shaken to the foundations by this truth of God's sovereignty over man's belief and unbelief. We have run from it, pretended it wasn't there, argued against it, wept over it, and finally bowed our heads and hearts before it, and then discovered it to be one of the most deep and firm and precious foundation stones in the house of our fragile faith. We see now, with trembling joy, that without it we would not have believed, and we would not endure to the end and be saved. We saw that especially in Romans 9.
The Sovereignty of God in Relation to the Responsibility of Man
Now today, here in this text, without losing sight of any of that (he will return to it immediately in chapter 11, and so will we), Paul says something very crucial and very different to balance our way of thinking about his sovereignty over the unbelief of Israel. And here I am moving to the second point of the message. The first was the unbelief of Israel. The second is the sovereignty of God in relation to the responsibility of man. Paul says, Israel's unbelief is not owing to the absence of what she needs in order to be held responsible to believe.
That's the point of these five steps in verses 14-15. To be saved you have to call on Christ. To call you have to believe on Christ. To believe, you have to hear the word of Christ. To hear, you have to have someone proclaiming the message of Christ. And to proclaim with divine authority, you have to be sent by God. And the point of saying all this in these verses is to stress: they have happened for Israel! And therefore her unbelief is not owing to the absence of anything she needs in order to be held responsible.
Look at verse 18: "But I ask, have they not heard?" In other words, "Have not these conditions of sending and preaching and hearing been met?" And Paul answers, "Indeed they have." Then Paul uses the words of Psalm 19:4 to emphasize this. "Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world." I am not sure whether Paul means for us to understand these words in the context of the Psalm (general revelation in nature) or if he is simply using the words (without claiming to be quoting them in context) to stress the wide extent of the gospel in the world for all Israel to hear. But his main point is clear: The message of Christ has been preached to Israel and she has heard it, and so is responsible for her unbelief.
Then Paul underlines this in verses 19-20, "But I ask, did Israel not understand [literally: "know"]? First Moses says, 'I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.'" In other words, the fact that pagan, uncircumcised, unclean, uninstructed Gentiles are believing on the Messiah and inheriting the promises made to the Israel was predicted by Moses, and is happening all around them and should waken them to the truth of the gospel they are rejecting. Their accountability is greater because of the Gentile response.
Then he says it again in verse 20: "Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, 'I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.'" In other words, Gentiles are finding salvation in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, just as Isaiah prophesied. They are being saved by faith alone, not by works of the law. All this was a megaphone to make the message of free grace through the Messiah Jesus understandable to Israel.
But Paul draws the sad result in verse 21: "But of Israel he says, 'All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.'" In other words, all the prophecies and all the fulfillments and all the gospel that Israel heard was not believed by most of them.
But notice how Paul describes their unbelief. This is very different from Romans 9. There he said, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy . . . So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (v. 15). God is portrayed with absolute sovereignty over the human will and its unbelief. But look and wonder at how Romans 10:21 describes God's relation to Israel's unbelief - and our unbelief: God says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people." So here is a picture of God beckoning, calling, inviting, wooing through his prophets and preachers. But the hearers do not believe; they are "disobedient and contrary."
My aim here this morning is not to analyze how this can be, but to urge us all to embrace the paradox of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. The sad thing is that some embrace the sovereignty of God over the human will and say: "It is wrong to portray God with his arms stretched out, inviting and calling." And others embrace the responsibility of man and say, "If God invites and calls and beckons, then he can't really be sovereign over man's will, and man really is ultimately self-determining and God is not really in control of all things."
Both of these are sad mistakes. It is sad, because one group rejects something deep and precious that God has revealed about himself for our strength and hope and joy and love - namely, his absolute sovereignty. Oh, how sweet it is when all around our soul gives way, and we need a reliable and firm rock in a world that sometimes seems utterly out of control and meaningless and cruel. Oh, how sweet at these times to know that God is not good and helpless, but good and sovereign. And the other group (who embrace the sovereignty of God) sometimes rejects something utterly crucial for understanding the justice of God in dealing with people, and they fail to see how we should plead with people and persuade people and invite people and woo people with tears, to Christ, and on behalf of Christ.
So my aim is not to explain the paradox but simply to underline it with three other examples (and there are many more), in the hope that God will cause your mind to submit to his word, whether you can explain it all or not.
In Matthew 11:25 Jesus says, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children." And then in verse 28, he says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He has hidden the truth from some, and he invites all. In John 6:35 Jesus says, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." And one verse later he says, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." All are invited to Christ. And the Father gives some to Christ. In Acts 13:38 Paul says to the synagogue in Antioch, "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed." And in verse 48 Luke says, ". . . And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." All are invited to believe and be forgiven. And as many as were appointed to life did believe.
I am not explaining it this morning. I am simply proclaiming it. This is what it means for God to be God. Man is not the final, ultimate sovereign over his own life. God is. God is the potter. We are the clay. But on the other hand, God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). He holds out his hands all day long to Jews and the Gentiles of the Twin Cities. He calls, he beckons, he invites.
Sending, Preaching, Hearing
Which leads us to our final point. I said that I would close by returning to the three steps of the five in verses 14-15 that we did not cover in the last message. "But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent?"
The first two points of today's message come together and produce the third. First, there is the unbelief and lostness of Israel - and of the world without Christ. Second, there is the fact that though God is sovereign over the human soul, whether believing or unbelieving, he holds out his hands all day long to the Twin Cities, its Jewish people and its Gentile people, its students, its old and young and single and married, and to all the ethnic groups near and far.
These two points come together and force the question: how is the voice of this God heard? How are his extended hands seen? How is his patience known? The answer is point three: He sends messengers and entrusts to them the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19). They open their mouths and say, "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). And people hear the gospel. And in the gospel they hear Christ calling and inviting and drawing.
Here we need another message. But I leave it for the Holy Spirit to preach to your own heart. Effective messengers of the gospel are sent by God. Speaking for Christ is not a merely human impulse. God blesses God-sent messengers of the gospel. But be careful here! Don't say to yourself, "I am not sent, and so I will not speak." Rather say, "Here I am, Lord, send me. Send me to an unreached people. Send me to the urban neighborhoods of Minneapolis. Send me across the street in my perishing suburb. Send me across the office. Send me to the telephone today. Send me across this room when the service is over."
Yes, there is a divine calling and a sending that is more official and vocational - that is what I have as a vocational pastor of this church. That is what some of you will have. But there are more spontaneous, occasional callings and sendings. If you have Christ within you, you will experience this. So let's all pray for this to happen to us more and more: Lord here I am, send me. Open my mouth with the gospel. May many hear and believe and call on your name and be saved. Oh how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news!