Salvation Through Sin

Romans 9–11 is challenging on so many levels. Predestination and apostasy walk side-by-side in this part of the letter without even a line of explanation of how the two work together. This is the way things are. No explanation is needed.

As much as these realities are focused upon by exegetes and theologians, these doctrines are not the focus of this somewhat climatic part of the letter. They (and other Scriptural presuppositions with them) provide the foundation for Paul’s main subject: how God maintains his righteousness by keeping his promises to the fleshly children of Abraham when he has ordained their rebellion in order to accomplish salvation in Christ. (Got all that?) Earlier in the letter (2.17–3.8) it was established that it was through Israel’s sinful rebellion that salvation–God’s saving righteousness–was revealed in Jesus Christ. That is, Israel’s sin in rejecting her Messiah and crucifying him brought salvation to the world. God used Israel’s rebellion to display his righteousness. 

That provoked some questions with which Paul had to deal immediately: “If our unrighteousness brings about the righteousness of God, should we continue to sin so that the whole world will be saved?!” Those questions were dealt with, but some other questions were left dangling; namely, “What about God’s promises to the physical descendants of Abraham?” Paul is answering that question throughout Romans 9–11. This goes to the greater concern, “Has the word of God failed?” (cf. Rom 9.6)

Though much of the way God worked can now be understood as we look back through what he has done in Christ Jesus, the wisdom of God’s plan remains inscrutable. He chooses to harden some in rebellion so that he might show mercy to others. He hardens Pharaoh to show mercy to Israel. He hardens Israel to show mercy to the Gentiles. But then he will use the mercy shown to the Gentiles to make the Jews jealous so that they will come join in on the promises that were given to them in the first place.

This is God’s plan. It is the way things are. Though we are called to connect as many dots as we can in studying the works of God, there are some things we will never figure out. If we are following Paul, our inability to comprehend everything doesn’t lead to frustration but, rather, doxology. “ Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11.33-36)

There are graces given to you by God that you will never figure out. How is it that someone with your family history can experience the salvation that you have experienced? How is it that with all the bad things that people have done to you, you have a healthy relationship with God? How is it that a sinner like you can know God like you do? There is no other explanation but the grace of God. He chose to harden some so that he could show mercy to you. In the story of redemption he did this with Israel. In our personal stories within this story, it is possible that he has hardened others in order to show mercy to you. 

Why? I don’t know. That’s just his plan. He hasn’t called you to figure out why. Ours is to respond in grateful allegiance and praise, enjoying the mercy we’ve been shown.