(NOTE: I request that you please read the 9th chapter of Romans
before reading this essay.)
II ROMANS 21
GOD IS NOT SUBJECT TO THE RULES OF MAN
At this point, we begin a study of one of the most difficult chapters in the entire New Testament. What makes it so hard is that it records actions on the part of God that do not fit into the reasoning of man, nor human standards of behavior.
Few people seem to really realize what is being said in Hebrews 11:6, when the writer says, “He that cometh to God must believe that He is”. This does not mean simply to believe that God exists. It means to believe that He is all that the term “God” implies. He is the first cause, the Creator of all things, the One who is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. Present everywhere, all powerful and knows everything past, present and future. He is not limited by space or time and does not perceive with human faculties such as eyes and ears but can perceive the very thoughts and intents of our heart. That He can know us personally and individually while also knowing and perceiving every other being in the Universe. That He can be here but also everyplace else at the same time in the vast Universe. And finally, that He can love even an insignificant creature like me. No wonder He does not behave according to man’s rules or standards of behavior.
Before getting into that, let us look at Paul’s concern, which caused him to write this chapter.
Paul was a Jew. Being a Christian and an Apostle of Jesus Christ did not change his national heritage. He still loved his people, and his main concern was that they had rejected Jesus Christ and had cut themselves off from God. To show his sincerity, he even went so far as to say that he would gladly be lost himself, if it would cause them to be saved. Paul then lists all the great blessings and advantages the Jew had, including, especially, the fact that Jesus Christ was born a Jew. In spite of all of this, however, they still rejected the Messiah, and insisted that keeping the law was the way to be righteous and pleasing to God.
The problem with this was not simply that man could not perfectly keep the law. Rather, it was that by depending on the law they were depending upon themselves instead of placing their faith in God. This was the sin of Adam. He wanted to depend upon himself to give meaning and purpose to his life, instead of trusting completely in God.
It is difficult for men to understand and accept this, but it is the fundamental fact of life. We are created beings. Therefore, our lives are the result of a Creator, and we exist for His purposes, not our own. Paul makes the analogy of the Potter and the clay. The clay has no right to say the Potter should have molded it differently. This is very difficult for human beings to accept, but it is true that our only reason to exist is because God made us for His own purposes.
In order to fulfill the purpose of God, which was to have a creature with whom He could share a loving relationship, He gave us freedom of choice. You cannot have a love relationship without it. But, “sin” is using that freedom to choose to serve ourselves, instead of trusting and following the will of God. That is why the Jew, in depending upon his own merit in obeying the law to become righteous, was not walking by faith in God, and repeated the sin of Adam. This is why no man can forgive sin, and no set of rituals or repeated pious phrases can have any effect on our sins. We must depend upon God, and His mercy alone, for our forgiveness and our righteousness.
In this chapter, Paul points out that God does not act according to the standards of men. When He chose Jacob instead of Esau, He violated the Jewish rule that the eldest son should inherit. No one can explain the actions of God, but we may speculate that God, knowing the kind of man Esau was going to choose to be, picked the one who would better follow His guidance.
In another difficult situation, Paul quotes the Biblical record with regard to Pharaoh. God raised up Pharaoh to be the bad man in the story of Israel’s deliverance. God created Pharaoh, but He gave him the same freedom of choice He gives all of us. Pharaoh chose to be evil, and God used him to show His power, and to deliver His people. When He “hardened Pharaoh’s heart”, He did it by removing the power that softened it in the first place, and let it return to Pharaoh’s own choice of evil.
Finally, God says, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy”. This is not a statement that God acts unjustly, for He is a Just God. All of us are sinners and depend on the mercy of God. He is the determiner of who will receive that mercy. He knows who is worthy, because of his faith, to receive mercy. God’s knowledge of what is good and best is greater than man’s, and He does what is best to fulfill His purposes, and that, in the final analysis, is what is best for mankind. This is not always evident to man, whose knowledge is limited, and so, God’s actions do not always coincide with man’s standards. However, we must have complete and unchanging faith in Him, for that is the path to His mercy, and to our salvation.