Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lord have mercy

As I read books and study scripture, the things I thought I knew as truth I find to be only half true and sometimes untrue.  This is one of those times.

I'm reading a book by A.W.Tozer on the gospel of John called "And He Dwelt Among Us".  In the seventh chapter entitled "what really matters to God" he takes up the lofty goal of speaking and writing on the famous verse John 3:16.  He writes much about God's love for the individual, every individual.  He speaks of how God demonstrates His love toward the unrighteous by sending His only begotten Son.  He tells of the message contained in this all-encompassing passage that is for every man.  "I matter to God, God loves me".

While Tozer writes with great eloquence, these are all things I have heard before.  Nonetheless, there is a sense of awe that comes over us when we see the wonder of this statement.  God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.  For me there is a lot of teaching which I received from the feet of the "reformed" that I read into that simple verse.  Those teachings deal with defining the "whosoever" as those elected and chosen before the foundation of the world.  References are made to Romans 9 and God's purpose of election along with His right as God to do whatever He wants to.  He can harden whomever He wills and He can show mercy to whomever He will.  My understanding of election still stands, but my interpretation of John 3:16 according to that set of doctrines has changed.

Since Tozer is very respected among the reformed camp, I was surprised to see him write these words:
"Do not listen to those interpreters of truth who say God has chosen some and not chosen others, and that the ones He has chosen are good and the ones that He has not chosen are no good.  They are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, and God created them to have the fun of damning them.  There is nobody like that in the universe...everybody matters to God."

Of course, at this point I close my book and turn to the passage in Romans 9 he is speaking of.  It reads:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—(Romans 9:22-23 ESV)
So as I meditate on this passage and ask God what it is that I have missed, what it is that I misinterpreted, where I've gone wrong, I begin to see things differently.  Paul is not saying that God has predestined some for eternal wrath and others for glory.  Paul is saying that God has endured the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.  Does he say eternal destruction in Hell?  No, he says destruction.  Well I can certainly testify to that.  I was once a child of wrath and now my flesh is being destroyed by the power of God as I walk in the Spirit according to the mercy He has shown in Christ Jesus.

I was a vessel of wrath and I am a vessel of mercy.  God loved me so He sent Jesus so that if I believe in Him I would have His life.  This can be true for every unrighteous, unbelieving, destitute, depraved and evil person.  There is no-one you and I will ever meet whom God does not love enough to send His Son to die for and that is a very great love.  That is the kind of unstoppable love that doesn't take no for an answer.  The kind of love that can be rejected over and over again and not condemn.  How can we further condemn an already condemned person?  Christ did not come in to the word to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him.  These extraordinary statements in John's gospel have lost their lustre to our over-sermonized ears.  There is much wonder wrapped up in these two verses.  Christ came because God loved, not to condemn but to save and redeem.

Lord have mercy on your children when we condemn others for unrighteousness and think that they are hopeless because they have been predestined to be apart from you forever.  Rather let us hope in their destruction only in that they will be made new in Christ and know the riches of your glory as a vessel of mercy.


  1. Wow, I love what you have written here brother. I'll never look at that passage in Romans 9 again the same. It truly is amazing to see the 'filters' that come from our past religious backgrounds. Thx for sharing this bro.

  2. Bobby, this is slap-your-own-mama good.

    Love, love, love it.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. @Shane - slap-your-momma! ROFL but I agree, awesome!

    @Bobby, I've found the Holy Spirit will "change", or perhaps inform is a better word, our understanding of Him in subtle ways all of our life. It's a journey of learning.

    God's love is what it's all about, and I love what you wrote. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Bobby,
    I think you would enjoy reading, "The Naked Gospel" and "God Without Religion" by Dr. Andrew Farley. He is a pastor & professor at Texas Tech University.

  5. In shared joy that I have with you in the Son of God, I'll try and take a look at this from a middle perspective to be fair to opposing views; and in doing so I have found a few straw men/misunderstandings in your argumentation.

    Let me start by mentioning that I know of no reformed person who would say God chooses because one is good and one is not good; or that God has fun in damning people (from the Tozer quote). That, indeed, would be an absurd position to take and Tozer is right to blast it. Perhaps out of hyper-Calvinists you would hear such a thing, but not reformed evangelicals (at least, mature ones).

    Second: The idea you present of "whosoever" is absolutely correct. Anybody who believes in Jesus will have eternal life. No reformed person would ever deny this. I think where the disagreement comes in is with what one thinks of man's natural ability to believe while still in Adam (yet to be born again). The non-reformed perspective would say "well, John 3:16 must mean all men in Adam have the moral capability to believe;" and that is an exegetical error which reads something into the text that is not there. Let us allow the text to say what it says: if one believes, they receive eternal life. Praise God! But it does not speak of the moral ability to have that belief. This is where election comes in and that question is answered elsewhere in Scripture (for just one example, Jesus in John 3:3-8). But it is not answered in the wonderful words of John 3:16.

    As to Romans 9, you commit what is known as the fallacy of equal ultimacy. This is probably the most common misunderstanding when interpreting Romans 9. You equate the preparation for wrath with the preparation for glory; which brings us to question the justice of God. Equal ultimacy says "nobody deserves punishment, God just predestined some people to destruction and some to glory." This is incorrect. The way to look at it is that nobody deserves God's grace; as the Scriptures tell us, all have sinned and fall short and there is no one righteous, no not one. We are all, as Jesus said, evil. In Adam, in the flesh, we are all slaves of sin and appropriately objects of wrath (as you mentioned). Therefore, all people deserve destruction; yet only by the grace of God many receive glory.

    There is never injustice with God. God is either just in condemning those who hate him (which all by nature do) or merciful in election, which is not arbitrary but according to His counsel and will (Eph. 1), and so as Paul writes in Romans 9:16 "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy."

    Also, consider the context of Romans 9. Paul uses Pharaoh as the example. So which is true: God was holding out hope that Pharaoh would turn to Him? or, as the text says, God raised Pharaoh up for the expressed purpose of demonstrating His power with the plagues and the Exodus - and so hardened Pharaoh's heart so His plan of salvation would be brought to reality. Could Pharaoh have thwarted God's design and plan for the Exodus by turning to God? In the same way: Could Pilate and Herod have thwarted God's design in the salvation of sinners through Christ if they just released Jesus? The answer to both of those questions is "no." These things happened, as it says in Acts 4:27-28, "according to whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."

    I apologize for the length of this response but let me just close with this: We are to obey Christ and freely offer the Gospel to every single creature on the planet. We are to plead with all to come to their Savior and in so doing receive eternal life and a new King. We are witnesses to the love of God, and we are not in any way in a position to condemn, for "vengeance is mine, says the LORD." Let us obey God in the proclamation of salvation to all; and let us also leave the saving to Him according to His love, His mercy, His grace, and His will.

    Grace be with you -

  6. JR, I necessarily disagree with your point of view on grace and God's "hardening" of Pharoah's heart, and probaby many other points. However, probably far wiser people than you or I have debated these points that we all know we disagree on for hundreds of years, spawning entire denominations in their wake, so the disagreement here is not what I want to focus on.

    Agree or disagree on the points above, I think Bobby hit the nail on the head when he said, "Lord have mercy on your children when we condemn others for unrighteousness and think that they are hopeless..."

    Whatever we think on election or free-will, it is not our place to condemn anyone, at anytime. God alone is the judge, and His judgment is right, in whatever form He will do it. (Remember, whatever we think about God does not change the nature of what/who God is. He is who he is, period. Our opinions are just that, opinions.)

    Our job is to love as Christ loved, give of ourselves in service and sacriice to one another, especially within the family and body of Christ, and to "outsiders" if you will, in an effort to show God's love and win them, in whatever way God chooses, to Christ. This, I think we can agree, is what Jesus commanded and what we must do in obedience to Him.

  7. I have learned an explanation from NT Wright that has made sense of these verses for me. Paul is not talking about individuals, but nations. All of Romans is about God's covenant faithfulness. Israel was the nation created for dishonorable use, since the law was given to it in order to magnify its sin and then for that sin to be placed upon Israel's representative, or King, Jesus our Christ. Israel was a vessel of wrath, so that the Gentiles could become a vessel of mercy. I think you will like this explanation Bobby, since I have seen how you beginning to see that everything is corporate :)

  8. Shane,

    If you go and slap-yo-mama, keep my name and my blog outta yo mouth :)

  9. Mike,

    Jesus' love is completely amazing! I'm glad you're here sharing in it with us as we are all being changed from one degree to another.

  10. Harry,

    Do those books deal with these topics or verses? I'd love to read them, book recommendations as responses to blog posts have been some of the best. Regretfully, we are in no financial position to purchase books right now. You could always send them to my Kindle as a gift (;

  11. JR,

    The intent of this post is not to have a doctrinal debate. It was intended to display to my readers the love of Christ "while we were yet sinners" and the wonder of our Holy God loving unholy creatures so much that He comes to save rather than condemn. I'm simply sharing the morsel of Christ that was fed to me with you all. Hopefully you enjoyed it as it was intended and were able to partake of the spiritual value.

  12. Peter,

    I've had others ask me if my understanding of election is corporate like Wright. Interesting you bring that up. I haven't read any of his thoughts on the matter but I do see election as being both corporate and individual with corporate being the goal. I don't know how well the whole "national identity" interpretation plugs into the overall context of this passage. Some places it fits well, other places you'd have to force it. Nevertheless, I was filled with joy by what it says about Christ without either of those the unnecessary filters. I am intrigued by the corporate election thoughts though...and inclined to look for some of N.T.'s writings on the subject. Thanks for the suggestion.

  13. Great Blog posting. I was having the same thoughts actually about God and Romans 9 in that God truly is Sovereign over all things under the Heavens and Earth.

    God Bless!


  14. Romans 9 has long since been a favourite chapter of mine. Blessings :)

  15. hey bro! i appreciate what you've posted here. i wasn't prepared for it when you told me you'd be posting on Rom 9. i was thinking more reformed in nature :)

    i can't wrap my mind around all of it because i come from a similar perspective as JR. but i absolutely agree with how beautiful and amazing the love of Christ is! it's a shame that we can cheapen His love in our minds through our religious baggage (i'm guilty of it). But it's awesome that the depths of His love is infinite so that we never grow tired speaking of and resting in His love.

    i appreciate what Mike said as well. condemnation is far from our calling in Christ. we have no corner on righteousness or holiness. Christ alone is both! we are righteous in Him and must never forget that. We should be a people known for our love because of His love pouring out of us.


As in a biblical church gathering, my word is not complete or final. Participation is allowed, encouraged and expected. Please, don't leave without adding something.