“He Cannot Fail”
Series: Not Guilty!
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
- Take God’s Word and open to Romans, chapter 9.
If you’re visiting with us we are preaching through the book of Romans, verse-by-verse through what is perhaps the greatest of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. We now begin a new section of material in chapter 9.
I was attending college at Georgia State University in the mid-1980s and I remember one particular afternoon in 1984. There was a total eclipse of the sun that year. I remember going outside in the central part of the campus and waiting for the eclipse. I had never seen one before and I remember everyone was outside, talking and laughing, students just hanging out, having fun and then suddenly it just became pitch black like the middle of the night. There was this strange, almost eerie sense that filled the air as the sudden black darkness of the eclipse caused the exterior lighting in the courtyard to illumine briefly, but the sudden darkness was quite a contrast to what was happening just moments earlier.
Romans chapter 9 begins like a solar eclipse. The sunshine of chapter 8 seemed like a great place to finish the letter. I mean, Paul concluded chapter 8 by saying there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God. Nothing can frustrate God’s purpose and plan. He works all things together for good to those loving Him. Then in the next couple verses the brightness of chapter 8 is eclipsed by the sudden darkness of chapter 9 as Paul writes of his “great sorrow” and “continual grief” in his heart. What is this? Well, we will see that Paul is heartbroken for his fellow Jews who have not placed their faith in Christ. Let’s read about it.
- Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
1 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.
3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,
B.B. McKinney was an American singer, teacher, and hymn writer, writing many of the hymns that appear in our Baptist hymnal. His popular hymns include “The Nail Scarred Hand” and “Let Others See Jesus in You” and “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go.” Some of you know that B.B. McKinney spoke one Sunday here in Henderson in this very church building many years ago. One of my favorite McKinney hymns includes a phrase that became the title of this week’s sermon, “He Cannot Fail.” That phrase comes from McKinney’s hymn, “Have Faith in God.” The chorus is:
Have faith in God, He’s on His throne,
Have faith in God, He watches over His own;
He cannot fail, He must prevail,
Have faith in God, Have faith in God.
I thought of those words, “He cannot fail,” as I studied the text this week because that is exactly what Paul sets out to prove in chapters 9-11. The church in Rome consisted of both Jewish and Gentile Christians, but there were likely far more Gentiles than Jews. And Paul anticipates that some of his fellow Jews who had trusted Christ may be wondering why that was so. Given that the Old Testament promises so much to these special, chosen people, the Jews, given that fact, why are there so few Jews following their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ?
So what Paul does beginning here in chapter 9 and going through chapter 11 is to treat this matter. And Paul essentially says that the Jews’ failure to follow Christ is not evidence of God’s failure. God does not fail because the majority of the Jews failed to embrace Christ. Not at all! God has a plan, He is working out that plan, and that plan includes the salvation of Gentiles, non-Jewish followers of Christ. The church is not some strange aberration or interruption of God’s plan. The church is part of God’s plan. God knows what He is doing. He cannot fail.
Sometimes when we preach through passages of Scripture I find it helpful to teach through all the verses first and then share some principles that surface from the text. That is the case this morning. I want to go first through verses 1-13 and then I want to take the remaining time and share with you four very practical truths by way of application.
Look again at verse 1. Paul says, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit.” This is Paul’s way of saying, “I’ve got something very important to say and I mean business.” What is it, Paul? Verse 2, “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.” Why is that, Paul? Verse 3, “I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh.” That’s a reference to the Jews, “my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh.”
The verb tense suggests verse 3 should be something like, “As I thought of my fellow unbelieving Jews, I found myself wishing, somehow wishing that I might be accursed from Christ if it meant my Jewish brothers and sisters could be saved but, of course, this is impossible.” Then Paul writes about specific blessings of the Jews. Verse 4:
4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption (specially chosen children), the glory (the symbolic presence of God), the covenants (like the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants), the giving of the law, the service of God (worship in the Temple), and the promises;
5 of whom are the fathers (the great Old Testament patriarchs) and from whom, according to the flesh (His human nature), Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.
That last phrase is a reminder that the Lord Jesus Christ came from the Jews, from the tribe of Judah. Also note there in verse 5 that Christ is referred to as “the eternally blessed God.” It’s an awesome statement! You have both Christ’s humanity and deity there in verse 5.
In verse 6 Paul begins a defense of God. He seeks to prove that God does not fail because the majority of Jews have failed to embrace Christ. Remember, that is Paul’s main point here. He seeks to defend God, proving that God does not fail because the majority of Jews failed to follow Jesus.
6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,
So Paul says, “It is not that the word of God has taken no effect,” or, “It is not as though God’s word has failed.” There’s nothing wrong with God and His promises. God is not the problem. Israel is the problem. He says in the latter part of verse 6, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” That’s another way of saying, “Not all Israel are true Israelites.”
Paul said that back in chapter 2, Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart,”
So just being born a Jew does not make one automatically accepted by God. Jewish race and ethnicity do not make one a believer. He or she must embrace Christ. So you have a large body of ethnic Jews, but from that large number of ethnic Jews, you have a smaller remnant of true Israelites, true believers who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Or think of a large circle with a smaller circle inside it. The large circle contains all ethnic Jews. The smaller circle contains those Jews who are true believers. This is what Paul means by saying, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” That’s verse 6. Then Paul explains this further in verses 7 and following. He just unpacks this further.
7 nor are they all children because they are the seed (or, descendants) of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called (that’s a quote from Genesis 21).”
8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”
Paul is reminding his hearers that God came to Abraham and promised Abraham and Sarah a son. That son was Isaac. From Isaac will come all the specially chosen people of God who will believe the promises of God and, like Abraham, live by faith in God. God’s blessings do not fall naturally fall upon all who descend from Abraham. Abraham had also fathered a son named Ishmael, but the blessing came through Isaac. God chose Isaac over Ishmael. So God did not simply guarantee His blessings upon all the physical descendants of Abraham. God chose Isaac over Ishmael. Election is a matter of God’s sovereign choosing. God chooses those upon whom He wishes to set His affection. He chose Isaac over Ishmael and He chose Jacob over Esau:
10 And not only this, but when Rebecca (Isaac’s wife) also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac
11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),
12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”
13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
Paul again illustrates that election is a matter of God’s choosing. Election is not a matter of birthright or human decision. God chooses whom He will. To stress this Paul, in verse 13, quotes from Malachi 1:2-3 where God says, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Those words do not mean that God literally hated Esau in the way we use the word “hate” in our English language today. Rather, the phrase, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,” reflects the language of election. God loved Jacob with a special love. Neither of them deserved anything, but God chose Jacob over Esau even though Esau was born first. Election is a matter of God’s choosing that is not a matter of birthright or human decision.
Paul’s point in bringing up Isaac and Jacob is to prove that it is not God who has failed, but unbelieving Jews who have failed. God has always had a spiritual remnant, a certain people upon whom He has set his affection. Some will believe in Him and some will not. Somehow, in the mystery of it all, those whom God chooses are the very ones who come to believe in Him. I can’t explain it satisfactorily. I simply know it is true. God’s sovereignty works harmoniously with our freedom. So the majority of the unbelieving Jews do not surprise God. He is not “caught off guard” by their actions. They are presently “blinded” to the truth of the Gospel (11:25), a blinding that is actually part of God’s plan. More of that later.
In the remainder of our time I want to share with you four practical principles that surface from these verses, four things from our study of “the God who cannot fail.” First:
I. A Converted heart is a Concerned heart (1-5)
Look again at what Paul says back in verses 2 and 3, “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.” Do you hear the concern there for his lost fellow Jews?
It’s a remarkable statement. Paul essentially says, “I was just thinking if it were somehow possible that the salvation of the Jews could happen by my being cursed forever in their place. If I could somehow trade places with them—but of course this is not possible.” Such concern! Are you not challenged by that? How concerned are you for lost people?
Honestly, how many family conversations do you have that center upon the Lord Jesus Christ? Dads, when you talk to your sons and daughters about football or music or a thousand other things, do you also talk about the Lord Jesus? Do you say, “Now, I want you to know, son, that nothing is more important to your dad than that you follow Christ?” How concerned are you for the conversion of your family?
What about at the workplace? How frequently do you bring up the name Jesus Christ at work? You don’t have to come across like a loud televangelist. Just say something simple like, “Do you know what I read in the Bible this morning?” Or, “I was at church yesterday and the pastor read this verse.” How concerned are you for the conversion of others?
How important is it to you that your husband, wife, future husband, future wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, have a real, vibrant relationship with Jesus? How frequently do you mention the name of Jesus in your everyday relationships?
What of your concern for lost people all over the world? What of the unevangelized people groups living in the 10/40 window of Asia, India, and North Africa? What of those who have not even had the opportunity to hear the Gospel? How will they hear unless someone tells them? How concerned are we?
And it strikes me, too, that Paul’s concern for lost people is greater than any personal hurt he received from them. He entertained the idea of somehow trading places with his unbelieving Jewish brothers and sisters. They are on their way to hell for failure to embrace Christ and he’s got such a big heart for them he’s thinking, “If only I could somehow trade places if it meant they could be saved.” And that in light of what they had done to him! Remember what he writes in 2 Corinthians 11:24? He writes, “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one,” thirty-nine lashings. The Jews did that to him and yet he says, “If only I might somehow be able to sacrificially die for their salvation.”
Do you love lost people like that? Or do you expect lost people in your neighborhood to treat you kindly, to bow down to you, to worship you?! Lost people need Jesus. Lost hearts cannot be converted until loving hearts are concerned for them. Secondly:
II. Not all Believers are True Believers (6)
Paul says in verse 6, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel.” Some Jews believed they were okay before God just because they were born into a Jewish family and stood among Jewish people and lived in a Jewish nation. But one can be a Jew outwardly and not be a Jew inwardly.
And the same is true for Christians. Some people think they are Christians because they are born into a Christian family or stand among Christians or live in a so-called Christian nation. But this doesn’t make one a Christian. Some people think just being in a church makes one a Christian. It’s as illogical as being inside a garage makes one a car. But you see, some believe this.
Not all believers are true believers. Merely saying one is a Christian does not make one a Christian. We must believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. We must live under His Lordship. We believe He died on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead for our justification. We must believe that. We must turn from our sin and turn to Jesus. He must be number one in our lives. There must be a time where we come to terms with that truth and follow up that truth by biblical baptism and by living unashamedly and publicly for Christ.
When we make FAITH visits, do we just assume that everyone with whom we are speaking is a Christian? Do we assume this just because these people seem good, morally upright, and sweet in disposition? Paul says in Romans 3:20 that by the deeds of the law will no flesh be justified. We are all sinners in need of the Gospel. Ask that key question about spiritual things. Enter into spiritual dialogue because not all “believers” are true believers. Thirdly:
III. Salvation by Grace means More than most Think (7-12)
Most Baptists are quick to say, “Yes, I believe we are saved only by grace through faith in Christ. We can do nothing to earn our salvation. It is all of grace.”
But salvation by grace means that we are entirely saved by grace. We could not earn our salvation, that is true. But have you ever thought of how you came to believe in Christ in the first place? How did God see to it that you heard the Gospel? Have you ever thought of that? The answer is grace.
How were you able to say “yes” to Jesus when so many others have said—and continue to say—“No?” Have you ever thought of that? The answer is grace.
How were you able to repent of your sin? Where did that come from? Before you proudly answer, “Well, I did it.” But how did you do it? You were dead in trespasses and sins? You see? The answer is always grace. Salvation by grace means more than most think.
Paul reminds us in verse 11 that these two children—Jacob and Esau—were inside their mother’s womb. They had not yet even been born. They had no chance yet to do “good or evil.” And Paul says God chose Jacob over Esau “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls.” Think that over deeply. Jacob did absolutely nothing to earn his salvation. He was chosen by God. O, there is a mystery in it all. Jacob loved God and served God, but don’t you see, He was empowered to love God and respond to God only because God set His affection upon him. Salvation by grace means more than most think.
Once you and I think through our salvation, we realize there is no room for boasting. When we think more deeply about grace we fall more deeply in love with God. I was a sinner, enslaved to sin. I was dead in trespasses and sins, but God woke me one day by His saving, electing grace. He gave me the ability to believe, to repent, to live for Him. Praise God! I deserved nothing and He gave me everything. Finally:
IV. God is Just and always acts Justly (13)
Perhaps some of us scratch our heads in wonder at God’s sovereign choosing. How can God love Jacob and choose Jacob over Esau? How does all of that work? We’re going to explore that more fully next time as we study the justice of God.
That solar eclipse I witnessed years ago in Atlanta made everything dark, but very soon the light shone again and everything was clear again. When the darkness comes suddenly, have faith in God. He knows what He is doing. The light will come. For now, just know that God is just and always acts justly. He always does what is right. He cannot fail. What appears to be darkness now will be dispelled by the light of God’s justice.
Have faith in God, He’s on His throne,
Have faith in God, He watches over His own;
He cannot fail, He must prevail,
Have faith in God, Have faith in God.
Stand for prayer.
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