Don’t Abuse God’s Patience
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 9:23a And what if He did this to make known the riches of His
glory on objects of mercy…
The Lord delights in mercy, not punishment. Wrath eventually comes, but arrives slowly. Mercy flies; anger creeps. Though punishment knocks on the door, God stands inside, patiently waiting, lingering, hesitating to open.
People are so depraved that most of them criminally abuse God’s long-suffering. They use His delays in punishment to justify their becoming more entrenched in evil. “Because the sentence against a criminal act is not carried out quickly, the heart of people is filled with the desire to commit crime” (Ecc. 8:11). A minority responds with repentance to God’s patience.
God’s mercy is a soul-saving process for some, and a soul-destroying process for others. It is obvious truth, but a mystery understood only by God.
If we want to see what God wants to do, look at a Christ-follower. The believer, one born again by God’s grace, reveals the riches of God’s glory. Every saint is a trophy of God’s mercy. Lest we be proud, Paul reminds us…
Romans 9:23b …that He prepared beforehand for glory—
God by grace prepared us for salvation. Absolute justice would have resulted in the destruction of everyone, but God found a way to save some. “Election was God’s secret weapon which made it possible for some men to be saved. If He had not retreated into His sovereignty… there would have been nothing but curse and no one would have been saved” (Barnhouse).
Contemplating God’s Sovereignty and people’s free will causes our minds to overload. The deeper we investigate, the more confused we become, it seems. Our reasoning powers feel flooded with a tidal wave.
This maze fascinates us, but we usually get lost in it. We must teach this doctrine as laid out in Scripture, and not spend time embellishing it.
The Bible presents both doctrines with equal fervor. When speaking of salvation and assurance, the emphasis is God’s sovereignty; when speaking of lostness and Hell, the emphasis is people’s free will.
They both exist, though they seem to be contradictory and to nullify any possibility of the other existing. Vincent says we have never found the point where God’s sovereignty and man’s free will touch each other. Years ago, our family drove down from Pike’s Peak. Our road would face one way and then turn a corner and be headed the exact opposite way. It was a perplexing trip, but the road brought us safely to the bottom. Had we tried to make our own trail, and drive a straight line, the result would have been disastrous.
Salvation is as perplexing as that road on Pike’s Peak. Sometimes we face directly toward God’s sovereignty, other times we face exactly opposite: toward free will. It confuses, but is the only safe way. If we try to make a straight road to either, excluding the other, the result is catastrophe.
Christian, revel in God’s sovereignty and predestination. It is the basis of our assurance. Lost friend, “Choose today the one you will worship” (see Joshua 24:15). God does not want “any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 P 3:9). His grace extends to any who will believe on Jesus.
Romans 9:24 on us, the ones He also called, not only from the Jews but
also from the Gentiles?
God has liberty to choose whomever He desires to receive mercy, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Many of the Jews would find this doctrine irksome. Jews, holding a deep-seated disdain for Gentiles, would have rejected any teaching about salvation that made provision for Gentiles.
Peter and his Jewish Christian friends were amazed when Cornelius and his other Gentile friends were saved (Acts 10:45). When Paul addressed the Jews at the Temple, they were attentive until he mentioned taking God’s message to Gentiles. The crowd immediately went wild and tried to kill him (Acts 22:21-23). In Rome, the Jewish leaders were happy to hear Paul, until he said Gentiles could receive salvation on the same basis Jews received it.
Most Jews would have opposed any notion of election by God based solely on His grace. In light of this error, Paul now demonstrated election by grace was nothing new. It had always been God’s method. God never made a commitment to save every Jew regardless of his or her own faith.
Romans 9:25-26 As He also says in Hosea: I will call Not My People, My
People, and she who is Unloved, Beloved. And it will be in the
place where they were told, you are not My people, there they will
be called sons of the living God.
Paul buttressed his arguments by quoting the Old Testament, Israel’s own Scriptures. Paul was a man inspired of God, but never hesitated to quote Holy Writ. The Apostle could have used his own words, but the Holy Spirit directed him to Scripture. This is the best way to speak authoritatively. Follow Paul’s example. Refer to the Bible. It contains the oracles of God.
These Hosea quotes refer to Israel’s 10 wayward tribes, which became so wicked that God had to disown them. They were deemed as heathenish as any Gentiles, but God in mercy decided to spare some from these backslidden tribes. They were as unclean as Gentiles, yet God reclaimed them. Reaching out to take castaways as His own was nothing new for God.
The Jews did not complain when God elected by grace to save the ten tribes. Thus they had no ground on which they could issue a valid complaint now. God was doing with Gentiles what He had done with their own tribes.
Romans 9:27-28 But Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: Though the
number of Israel’s sons is like the sand of the sea, only the
remnant will be saved; for the Lord will execute His sentence completely and decisively on the earth.
There was no need to be shocked at Israel’s rejecting God. At times in the past, a majority of them had been wrong. When the Assyrians invaded, the northern tribes were so sinful that few were spared from the ravaging.
Once God begins to execute punishment, He does it swiftly and thoroughly. Yes, the Lord is long-suffering and forbears long (9:22), but once His patience is extinguished, punishment falls suddenly and severely.
This was true of Jews as well as Gentiles. Being a Jew by birth has never been a source of security. The fact the Jews came under God’s wrath in physical things illustrated they were also under His wrath spiritually.
Romans 9:29 And just as Isaiah predicted: If the Lord of Hosts had not
left us offspring, we would have become like Sodom, and we
would have been made like Gomorrah.
Many Jews objected to election based on grace, but had God not chosen this way of salvation, their whole nation would have been destroyed in the days of Isaiah. Only sheer grace prompted God to save any Jews at all.
“Hosts” means armies. God could have come against Israel with full destruction, but chose to save a few. He retained seed for sowing. A small group would be a nucleus from which a new, purified Israel would sprout.
What was true in the physical world was also true in the spiritual. Salvation of only a minority in Israel was nothing new. The great matter of salvation had always been carried on by a faithful few rather than by the nation at large. God’s spiritual dealings with the Jews had never been wholesale, but rather had always been on the basis of election by grace.
With regard to Israel, the same truth was still applicable in Paul’s day. The Jews at large had rejected Jesus, but Israel’s rejection was not absolute. Election was still at work. A seed was being saved from which the true Israel was blossoming. The disciples, Paul, Barnabas, and other Jewish believers were carrying the message of God’s salvation to every corner of the globe.