May 31, 2010

It Depends

“So then” Paul wrote, famously, in Romans 9.16, “it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”

What does not depend on man’s willing or running? Well, exactly the thing Paul has been writing about all along in this book – namely, our salvation from sin; our right standing with God; our forgiveness; our hope of eternal life. None of that, ultimately, depends upon us! O yes, we must repent and believe. Make no mistake about that! But, Paul says here in Romans 9, our repentance and faith is not the crux of the issue. The crux of the issue; the very bottom line reason why we are saved; indeed, the very reason why we are able to repent and believe in the first place … does not depend upon us! Not on our running, or working, or striving to make ourselves right with God. And not even upon our wills! We repent and believe; we are saved from our sin, ultimately, because God wills it; because God reaches down, in His “mercy”, and opens our hearts to believe!

That is the bottom line! And I realize that it is sometimes a controversial bottom line. Our sinful human natures are not very comfortable with the fact that our destinies could be completely out of our hands. We are, by nature, all little Frank Sinatra’s running around (not in voice, of course, but in worldview). We want to be able to say, at the end of the day, that ‘I did it myyyyy way’! And so the idea that our eternal destiny might ultimately rest upon our own decision making capacity appeals to us. We would like Romans 9.16 to read: ‘So then, it depends upon the man who wills. God has done everything that He could do. And now it’s up to you and your decision.’ Indeed, that is how the gospel is often preached in our country. But it’s not exactly biblical is it?

No, the Bible says (in many more places than just Romans 9!) that our salvation does not, ultimately depend upon our wills! Yes, our wills come into play! We do (and we must) repent of our sins and believe! A decision is required! Don’t misunderstand that! But the reason any of our wills ever make the right decision is, ultimately, because God willed to have mercy on us. God willed to open our hearts to believe (see Acts 16.14). God appointed that we would believe and be saved (Acts 13.48).

And why should that idea really be controversial? For, when someone asks us: ‘Why are you so different? How did you change? How can you be so certain that you are going to heaven?’ … surely we don’t respond: ‘Well, you know, it really all boils down to my free will. I just made a really good choice. It was really all up to me.’ Of course that is not what the Christian says! When someone asks what happened to us to make us so different, and so assured of God’s love, our answer is: ‘O, what mercy God has shown me in Jesus! What a blessing that I once was lost, but now I am found. He found me! He saved me! That is why I am different today. It’s God, not me!’

It’s like we know, by a Holy-Spirit-given instinct, that “it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” So let’s not allow the old, sinful man to rob us of what the new, spiritual man knows to be true. If we are different, if we are forgiven, if we are bound for heaven … the reason is all of God and none of us!


Anonymous said...

O yes, what glorious mercy He has shown toward me! Have you written anything on Rom 6, verses 1,2,3,4,5,6? Or do you have sermons that you preached available? Refresh me on where/how to access them, please. Our summer Ladies' bible study is on this chapter-we're reading DML-J's book. Your posts have been so helpful to me and I'd love to read/hear your thoughts on these early verses...AnnMarie is better--I did finally put her on medication that is supposed to help with 'mood stabilizing' but she does still have difficulties in a was she did not before all this. Every day is from God. Thank you much for your prayers. Kathy

Kurt Strassner said...

Kathy ... I don't have anything on the first six verses of chapter 6. Sorry! We are reading through Romans in our prayer meeting, so I have just been posting brief devotional thoughts from each section as we've gone along. I think we read verses 1-11 in one setting ... and I wrote only on verse 11.

I am sure Lloyd-Jones is far more quotable than me anyway! But thanks for reading. Hope you get some small benefit from these little articles.

Praying for you and AnnMarie...

Anonymous said...

Kurt, am just now checking back..sorry you haven't anything on those verses. I'm not really looking for 'quotes',sir, but for a clearer understanding...(though I'd be quick to quote you, too.) so, what does it mean to be baptized into Jesus' death? I'd just love to hear your words---but won't expect it since I know how busy a pastor/husband/daddy can be...FYI, my comment on your posts to anyone is:'they are always worth reading'. Come to MS soon, K

Kurt Strassner said...

Coming to MS in mid July! Planning to preach at CCC, Lord willing.

On being baptized into Christ's death ... briefly, I think it refers simply to water baptism as a picture of the old man's death with Christ. The burial under the water is a perfect symbol of what happened to the old man. He/she is as good as dead and buried because Christ was dead. We are buried ... or, via the symbol, baptized ... with/into Christ.

In the NT, water baptism is almost inseparable from faith (though not the same thing, as the thief would tell us). Therefore, Paul can speak of our being "baptized into Christ's death" as a synonym for entering into the experience of death to sin by faith in Christ ... because the act of faith (when we enter into the experience of death to sin, with Christ) is symbolized and always followed, in the NT, by water baptism. The two are almost synonymous in this passage.

So in essence, being "baptized into His death", I think, simply another way of referring to placing your faith in Jesus (followed by the symbol of baptism) ... by which faith we enter into the reality of being dead and buried to sin and with Christ.

Of course one has to be baptistic to interpret these verses in this way. But I think it is correct. Especially since the resurrection to newness of life (v.4) also fits right into the symbol. We go under the water to symbolize that we are dead to sin, with Jesus and like Jesus. We come back out of the water as a symbol that, with Jesus and like Jesus, we have been raised to new life.

Thoughts? Hope this is somewhat helpful. Perhaps a different track from MLJ?

Anonymous said...

well, a different track from Lloyd-Jones regarding Rom 6...though he certainly had a high regard for baptism--just didn't think those verses were talking about water baptism, but about being placed into Christ--about union with Christ. He felt too many miss this most important doctrine in this passage by being 'diverted' by the word baptism. Of course, he makes a stunning case and I find it hard to disagree (when I'm reading his writing)--almost all others I've looked at think these verses have water baptism in mind EXCEPT for Kenneth Wuest in his word studies, which are excellent, in my very small and, I hope, humble opinion. He asked pertinent questions of the translators. You may know some 'reason' why he would tend toward this in his thinking. I cannot find much about him, except that he was a 'beloved professor'and on the panel of translators for the NASV (i think). Was he baptist, I wonder? thanks for your thoughts, Kathy Do I rate a visit from the Strassners in July??? hey, I know it's hard when you're so popular! I'll take whatever I can get..a meal, overnight, or just a few minutes ..sniff, sniff.

Kurt Strassner said...

Don't know Wuest (though the name sounds familiar). But I agree with MLJ that the passage is, indeed, all about union with Christ ... just think Paul is using water baptism as a symbol of that immersion into/union with Christ (and thus conferring a high level of importance upon believer's baptism). It's the perfect picture of what God has done for and to us in Jesus.

But again, as a baptist, I suppose that interpretation plays into my hands, doesn't it? :)

You all surely rate a visit! Not sure what our plans are yet, but we hope to arrive in the afternoon on Tuesday the 13th ... and not leave 'til the following Monday AM. We'll keep you in the loop.