Lesson 42: Romans 11:7-10
The Other Side of Grace
by Bob Burridge ©2012
One of the hardest teachings of Scripture for us to understand and accept is that God did not intend to choose every person to be redeemed by Christ. There have been many attempts to try to explain away this clear teaching that permeates God’s word.
In our last studies we saw that though the nation of Israel had become corrupt, it was not a failure of God’s plan. He chose her as a special nation to reveal specific parts of his plan, but he never promised to redeem all her citizens. All those with whom he made his eternal promise, those he foreknew (Romans 8:28, 11:2), could not be lost. Salvation is based upon grace alone. It does not come by physical heritage, by religious rituals, or by the performance of what is perceived as good works.
God redeems both the Jews and Gentiles of his choosing, but the time of Jewish special privileges has ended. What about those who are not foreknown by God in this way? those of whom Jesus said at the judgment, “I never knew you, depart from me…” (Matthew 7:23)?
In Romans 11:7-10, Paul shows us
the two sides of God’s promise.
Romans 11:7, “What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.”
Paul’s answer is very simple, but quite profound. Israel as a nation did not obtain the righteousness she was seeking so zealously, but the election obtained it, the remnant. The rest were hardened, blinded.
The thing being sought was righteousness. People want to be found acceptable to God, even if it is a god of their own imaginations. They want to be assured of divine tender care and salvation. However, not everyone will have that for which they seek.
It is the elect, not all of Israel,
who obtain deliverance from sin’s guilt.
Though they tried hard to be special to God, their whole motive was evil and self-defeating. They thought they would be accepted by earning God’s blessing. That was never the way God redeems his people. That is the fallacy and error of all man-invented religion.
Thinking they could deserve God’s blessing was evidence of what condemns them. It is what made the Jewish leaders reject Jesus as the Messiah. His message was not what they expected or wanted. They sought salvation by their own efforts and goodness. In contrast, God had repeatedly said that all our works are imperfect and would always fall short of what pleases him. No matter what sinners do, no act, word or deed can remove the guilt they already have. In Romans 9:15-16 Paul quoted God speaking to Moses when the Apostle said, “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”
Attempts to earn salvation are more than useless, they are condemnable and offensive to God. They deny what he tells us about our inherited depravity, and our need for his grace. They deny the absolute necessity for a perfect divine Savior to come to die in our place. They deny the greatness of God’s love that redeems the unworthy. Israel as a nation, in spite of all her zeal, perverted the way of salvation and blessing. She deeply offended God, her benefactor.
This is another of the direct biblical statements which affirm the doctrine of election. Israel was chosen and privileged to be God’s special nation, to represent him in the world. But it was not a promise that all of them would be redeemed. From among those marked out by the Lord outwardly as a nation, and now also from among the Gentiles, God has chosen some to be saved by the Savior’s death, to be preserved as his own children for all eternity.
Those redeemed would also be changed inwardly. They would truly grieve over their offenses against God and repent. They would respond in true faith, trusting in God’s promise alone for their eternal hope. They would try to live obediently, out of gratitude, not thinking it earned them salvation.
They are called here God’s “choice”, “called out”, or God’s “elect” eklogae (εκλογη) . They were by nature unworthy and sinful. Before God regenerated them they could not even seek after the true God (Romans 3:11). Yet they were redeemed by the Savior and drawn into the loving arms of the Heavenly Father. They obtained the righteousness that the majority of religious Israel missed entirely.
Next, Paul turned the issue to the other side. It is expected that some would ask this question, “What about those God does not redeem?”
Paul tells us that the rest were hardened.
Obviously the rest he is talking about are those not elected to obtain righteousness. These would be the ones left to what all fallen humans deserve.
The word translated “blinded” or more literally “hardened”, poro-o (ποροω), was mostly used of hardened hearts. It means to make a person unaware, unable to understand. It was sometimes used figuratively of being blinded, as when the eyes are hardened so they can no longer see. This is a hardening that effects both the person’s understanding and his desires. It makes him calloused and insensitive to things that truly please God.
We need to be careful not to think that God hardens innocent hearts. The basis of God’s hardening is always Judicial in Scripture. The sinner is hardened because of his sin. God does not make people do what they do not want to do. Their hearts already love sin. Remember Romans 1:24-26 where it says, “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.”
There are no innocent individuals to be hardened. We all are fallen in Adam. It is the “the lusts of their hearts” that underlies their sentence of impurity (1:24). As Pastor Haldane put it: “Condemnation supposes positive criminality.” Their hardness came from their sin, it was not an imposed hardness that made them sin against their true desires.
Paul gives two reasons for God giving them over to cling to sin all the more (1:25),
1. They abandoned the truth God had made known.
2. They worshiped and served created things instead of the Creator.
This is the root of sin — when we put ourselves, or our ways, over honoring God first in our lives, when we put our preferred realities above his revealed truth.
Those who are forsakers of God, are also forsaken by God. He gives them over to their forsaking hearts. When the sinner is hardened, he sins all the more. He does it quite voluntarily. God gives them over to their corrupt desires. Hardening is part of their punishment.
The term used for the non-elect is “reprobate”. In reprobation, God passes by some leaving them to what all of Adam’s descendents deserve. Those passed by are justly condemned for their sin. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death …” That includes the eternal spiritual death that follows our own physical death which is unavoidable. All deserve to be eternally separated from God and tormented forever. That is not an easy truth to accept, but it is undeniably true. This is a clear biblically revealed fact.
The natural dessert of all the human race is eternal alienation from God because of sin. Some are chosen to become part of God’s family due to nothing special they have done. God chose them to display his glory and mercy. The rest are left for what is also an important function. They show God’s justice, power and wrath.
That’s the purpose Paul gives in Romans 9:21-24 using the Old Testament example of the potter, “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”
The facts in God’s word are as plain as can be. There are two groups in God’s plan: the elect, and the reprobate. The Bible is filled with clear statements that can not be reasonably denied. These truths are only hard to accept because our small human minds and sin infected hearts struggle with such infinite and holy concepts.
When Peter wrote about how some were chosen from within national Israel to be saved, he too showed that it was by the appointment of God for his own purposes. 1 Peter 2:8-9 says, “… They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”
Jude makes this doctrine clear too in Jude 4 where he calls the ungodly, “who long ago were marked out for this condemnation.”
Sinners sin most willingly. It is never because God coerced them against their will. In Scripture, those not redeemed by Christ are always said to be condemned for sin, not for being in the wrong group. To try to explain more than what God tells us in the Bible is to step into very dangerous territory. How does it all come together in the eternal and unchanging mind of a holy God? We dare not imagine because we do not have all the facts. The infinite mind of God cannot be contained in the little mind of a human, no matter how smart it is.
It is not unfair that some are left to the condemnation we all deserve as covenant breakers. Those who are passed-by show God’s power, justice and wrath just as we all deserve. Those chosen by God for salvation, show his undeserved grace and glory.
In the next few verses Paul quotes
Scripture to support this hard lesson.
He combines several familiar Bible quotes the Jews would have known very well.
Romans 11:8, “Just as it is written: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.’ “
The Bible confirms that the ungodly are hardened, made unable to understand or to love God’s truth. Isaiah used this language in several places. For example in Isaiah 6:9-10 God said, “… Go, and tell this people: ‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.”
Then in Isaiah 29:10 it says, “For the LORD has poured out on you The spirit of deep sleep, And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.”
Moses had said this to Israel from the beginning in Deuteronomy 29:4, “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.”
The same purpose and result of reprobation is confirmed in Romans 9:17-18. “For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.’ Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.”
This hardening of the hearts of those left in sin, continues all through history. There are many great minds of science, literature, history, art, mathematics and other fields who have proven that lack of comprehension about the spiritual truths of Scripture and of life.
Paul next quotes from King David
showing the tragic results of this hardness:
Romans 11:9-10, “And David says: ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always.’ ”
The quote is from Psalm 69:22-23, “Let their table become a snare before them, And their well-being a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; And make their loins shake continually.”
Our table is where we lay out our provisions, the food we eat to become stronger. But for the ungodly, they who take glory for themselves for what God gave them, they live as if they deserve the things they have. So their food is made into nonnutritious filler that adds nothing to their health. They are snared by their blessings because they pervert them, and fail to honor God in them.
God had warned that even the blessings become a curse for the ungodly. Malachi 2:2 says, ” ‘If you will not hear, And if you will not take it to heart, To give glory to My name,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will send a curse upon you, And I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have cursed them already, Because you do not take it to heart.’ ”
Their backs are to be bowed down. They were to be humbled as slaves, serving God’s glory unwittingly as vessels of his wrath. Their backs are bent by work they did not fully comprehend or appreciate. God used their efforts to display the awesome attributes of a just and holy God.
This hardness and its effects are a recompense, a retribution because of their sin. It is a judgment that keeps the mind spiritually dull all the way to the final judgment scene. What horrors they will then face when at last they see their future laid out before them. Until that day, God justly blinds their eyes to the truth of that which fallen hearts have already despised.
Some imagine that the most dreaded temporal judgments in this life are the obvious things such as natural disasters or personal tragedies. But these things come to us all whether we are his or the Devil’s children. The judgment in this life we ought to fear the most is one that never makes the headlines. It is not one likely to get sympathy from others. It is the closing of our hearts to the true knowledge of God and of his redeeming love.
Israel with all her privileges and blessings, showed her spiritual depravity. The Jews took the law that exposes sin, and perverted it into a means for earning God’s blessing. They denied their need for the cross, and hated the idea of a suffering Savior. They killed the Messiah when he pointed out the error of their beliefs and ways. They showed themselves to be spiritually blind and foolish.
Today too, we are surrounded with God’s blessings, and the liberating truth of the gospel. Yet some still think they can merit forgiveness, or that our debt to God can be worked off. Some think that the cross was a nice idea, but not absolutely necessary for all to believe. Some think they can claim to love the Savior, yet knowingly excuse the breaking of his commandments. They make excuses as if their special circumstances justify their particular sins.
These attitudes do not belong in the heart of those redeemed to be the eternal children of God. When we detect them in us they should set of alarms.
Awareness of our bad attitudes is in itself a good sign. Those forever left to their lostness never admit the plague in their souls. This conviction is a work of the Holy Spirit as he applies the work of our Savior to our hearts to assure us that the guilt for our sins was paid for already on the Cross of Mount Calvary. This conviction drives us to God in humility resting in his grace alone for what we come to understand we do not deserve.
We will not be perfect in this life, even when we are given that new life by God’s grace. We come again and again to admit to our own inabilities, and to thank our Redeemer for his infinite love and mercy. We pray diligently for him to mature us in our Christian walk so that we might give clear evidence to the world around us of our love for God, and of the transformation he produces in the heart willing to admit its own total dependence upon him.
Hardened reprobates see God’s honor as unimportant, and his revealed moral principles as annoying. As Peter said in 2 Peter 1:10 “be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you” As a child of God — repent and repair you walk with God today.
Think about this hard but amazing exercise of undeserved divine love, that from among the whole undeserving fallen human race, from among the vessels of wrath destined to show God’s power and righteous judgments, some are chosen, and gathered in love, to be honored as joint heirs with Christ. Their sins are forgiven and new life is infused into them, making them into vessels of mercy showing God’s glory and redeeming love.
Fall in humble gratitude before our Lord Jesus Christ, that you were gathered into his special people by the secret counsel of his will.
NOTE: For a more in-depth look at the decree of God as it relates to election and reprobation, see our Syllabus article about God’s Effectual Calling.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)