What About Those Who Do Not Believe?
What About Those Who Do Not Believe?
In February 1974, I had an encounter with Jesus Christ that totally changed my life. I understood he had died for me. I experienced his love. I knew God was real. I knew the extraordinary blessings of a relationship with Jesus. But almost immediately afterwards I experienced what Paul speaks about in this passage: ‘A huge sorrow... an enormous pain deep within me’ (Romans 9:2, MSG).
I longed for everyone to experience and know what I had only so recently experienced. I longed for my family and friends who were not yet Christians to know Christ.
The apostle Paul cared so passionately about his own people that he was willing to be cut off from God and the people whom he loved, if they would be saved. He writes, ‘I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ [a definition of hell] for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel’ (vv.3–4a).
Yet at the same time Paul trusted that God had the whole situation under control. God is sovereign. He rules and reigns in his universe.
How do we balance this anguish and passion for those we love, with a trust in God’s ultimate sovereignty?
Thank God for his rule and reignPsalm 89:9-13
We do not know the answers to all the questions. But we do know that God is in control of his universe. This is God’s world. He loves you and you can trust him not only with your future, but also with what will happen to everyone else.
‘The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it’ (v.11).
Not only did he create the world, but he also continues to act in history. ‘You rule over the surging sea… Your arm is endued with power; your hand is strong, your right hand exalted’ (vv.9a,13).
‘And we know that in all things God works for the good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).
You are the Sovereign Lord. You are the creator of the world, and the author of history. Thank you that I can trust that you are in ultimate control of all the circumstances of my life.
Trust in his mercy and compassionRomans 9:1-21
‘That’s not fair’ is the cry not only of children, but also of many adults considering the Christian faith.
Having reached the ‘peak’ of the epistle at the end of chapter 8, Paul turns to consider the race of Israel in chapters 9–11. Paul did not think of becoming a Christian as being converted from Judaism. Rather, he thought of it as becoming part of the fulfilment of true Israelites and true children of Abraham. For Paul, it was intensely personal. He calls Israel ‘my people’ (9:3), meaning not Christians but Jews. They were his family. He had grown up with them. He said that he suffers ‘great sorrow and unceasing anguish’ (v.2).
Some seem to suggest that there is no more sorrow in life after someone becomes a Christian. But for Paul, with great joy also came great sorrow and pain. It is a strange paradox. You too may feel this great sorrow about members of your family or friends who seem to be outside the kingdom, or when people reject Jesus.
Paul cared so much for their salvation that he was prepared not just to die for them but ‘to be cut off from Christ’ (v.3) – the ultimate terror for Paul.
Moses prayed a similar prayer when he prayed for the people who had sinned against God: ‘Please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written’ (Exodus 32:32). God would not accept either Moses’ (vv.33-34a) or Paul’s offer and sacrifice because neither of their lives could atone for the sins of his people.
It is only the life of the sinless Jesus who could do that. Jesus was willing to be ‘cursed and cut off’ (Romans 9:3) for us. He was not only willing; his sacrifice was accepted and effective. There is nothing that you can add to it.
Yet, to Paul’s great sadness, he realises that most of his own people have rejected this extraordinary gift of redemption and forgiveness. God has offered them (and us) everything – and yet they can choose to reject it.
What makes it even sadder for Paul is that they are God’s chosen people. God in his sovereignty had chosen the people of Israel: ‘They had everything going for them – family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises, to say nothing of being the race that produced the Messiah, the Christ, who is God over everything, always’ (vv.4b–5, MSG).
With that background, he faces the burning question that must have tormented him throughout his ministry: ‘Did God’s promise fail?’ His answer is, ‘No, it did not.’ What then is the explanation?
His first answer is to say, in effect, ‘Have you never noticed that God never made promises to all Abraham’s descendants?’ He then gives two illustrations, one of Isaac as compared to his brother (vv.6–9), the other of Jacob as against Esau (vv.10–13). In both cases the promise was given to one and not to the other.
Is that fair? ‘Is that grounds for complaining that God is unfair?’ (v.14a, MSG). His answer is that if anyone says God is unfair, they do not know God.
The doctrine of election is based on God’s mercy: ‘“I’m in charge of mercy. I’m in charge of compassion.” Compassion doesn’t originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God's mercy’ (vv.15–16, MSG). The words ‘mercy’ and ‘compassion’ appear seven times (vv.14–18). You can trust God about your future and those you love. He is in ultimate control. It is his sovereign responsibility.
The Bible goes no further in answering the questions. It speaks of both God’s great compassion and his justice. It teaches both election and free will. Free will means we are responsible for our own choices.
Very often the truth in the Bible is not at one pole or the other, nor in between, but at both poles at once. This is not a mystery that the Bible solves for us – there are some things about which we have to conclude, with the psalmist, ‘Such knowledge is too wonderful for me’ (Psalm 139:6). We need to hold onto the truths of election and free will at the same time.
Lord, thank you that you are loving and merciful, slow to anger and rich in love. Thank you that you died for us on the cross, so that all who believe in you can be set free. Help me to trust you when my understanding fails.
Turn from sin and return to GodHosea 11:12-14:9
God’s unconditional love has the power to forgive our sins, heal our wounds and mend our broken hearts. Not because we deserve it or have earned it; he loves you freely (14:4). He wants to heal our faithlessness.
God calls us to turn from sin and return to his love: ‘Therefore return to your God! Hold fast to love and mercy, to righteousness and justice, and wait expectantly for your God, continually!’ (12:6, AMP). This sums up the message of Hosea.
God calls his people to repentance (14:1–2) and promises, ‘I will heal their waywardness. I will love them lavishly... I will make a fresh start... Everything you need is to be found in me’ (vv.4–8, MSG).
Israel’s sins were not very different from the sins of the twenty-first century. For example, there was fraud in the city: ‘The businessmen engage in wholesale fraud. They love to rip people off!’ (12:7, MSG). People sought security in their finances. ‘Ephraim boasts, “I am very rich; I have become wealthy. With all my wealth they will not find in me any iniquity or sin”’ (v.8).
When God blesses we become satisfied (13:6a). When we are satisfied we become proud (v.6b). Then we forget God (v.6c). We see this cycle in our nation and in our own individual lives:
‘I took care of you, took care of all your needs,
gave you everything you needed.
You were spoiled. You thought you didn’t need me.
You forgot me’ (v.6, MSG).
In spite of their sins, God promised redemption: ‘I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?’ (v.14, see also 1 Corinthians 15:55). Through Jesus, death has lost its power over our lives. When we return to God he promises we will flourish and blossom and that our fruitfulness will come from him (Hosea 14:7,8).
Lord, please forgive my sins, receive me graciously, heal my waywardness and love me freely. Help me to blossom like a vine and be fruitful.
‘I will heal their waywardness and love them freely.’
It’s amazing the effect of being loved freely. When we experience this love from God it changes our hearts.
Through this, God has healed quite a lot of my waywardness but there is still a little way to go!
Verse of the Day
‘I will heal their waywardness and love them freely…’ (Hosea 14:4).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.