Sovereignty and free will

How many debates and theological discussions have looked for the line between a Sovereign God and a responsible human?  If God decrees can man ever be held accountable for his actions.  In considering the choice and destiny of the Jewish people Paul addresses this most important subject and draws a conclusion which is music to the ear of the old fashioned Gospel preacher.

God’s Plan For Israel

(f) The Rock of Offence

Romans 9:30-33

In chapters 9-11 Paul is dealing with the purpose of God in relation to the Jews, his ancient people.

In this final passage of ch9 Paul shows that the sovereignty of God is not a doctrine which eliminates human responsibility. It is vital that this point is emphasised because the apostle has been teaching that God chooses some and passes others by. Therefore, the unbelief of Israel was not something that could be excused simply because God allowed that to happen.  This brings us into the mysterious realm where God is Sovereign, while at the same time man is creature with a free will for which he is responsible.

It is not as if God’s sovereign will runs athwart all that obtains in the sphere of human will and action. The case is rather that what occurs in one realm is correlative with what occurs in the other, not because the human will governs and determines God’s will but because God’s will is concerned with men there is a correspondence between what God wills and what men subjectively are” (John Murray).

In our last study we noted the proof texts from Hosea and Isaiah that Paul used to show that God from eternity intended to work in a saving way among both Jews and Gentiles. In this study we will once again observe the apostle’s use of the Old Testament as he teaches this doctrine of human responsibility in relation to the Jews’ rejection of Christ and the Gentiles’ acceptance of the gospel. At the heart of this study is an intriguing yet important term, the “rock of offence”.

1: The Stone

It is important that we identify this stone. What is apparent from our studies of the Scripture is that the rock is a common figure for the person of Jesus Christ:

Isaiah 28:16 – a foundation stone, precious stone, one to be believed

1 Peter 2:6 – Peter confirms the Isaiah passage to be Messianic.

Psalm 118:22 – There is an old Jewish tradition that when Solomon’s temple was erected a stone was sent from the quarry which was not used by the builders. When they looked for a stone to place at the head of the corner, the capstone, they could not find it, so they sent a message to the quarry. The reply was, we have sent you the capstone, they had rejected it. Whether this is true or not we cannot tell but this is precisely what the Jews did to Christ, they rejected the one sent by the Father , the chief corner stone.

Matthew 21:42 – Christ clearly applies the Psalm to himself.

2: The Stumblers

This stone, which is Christ, has, however, become a stumbling stone to the Jewish people. The picture is actually of an athlete jumping over the hurdles but tripping right at the last and failing to cross the finish line. Throughout their long years Israel have been attempting to follow the law of righteousness. Despite their best efforts they have failed to reach the mark. They have constantly fallen short. The reason being, they have stumbled at the hurdle, marked faith in Christ alone. How many do we know in our society? Devout Catholics and religious Protestants stumble over this very stone because they will not admit their sin and their need of Christ to be their Saviour.

3: The Steppers

Those who do not stumble over a stone succeed in stepping over it. This is precisely what the Gentiles did. Even though they had not been following the law and had fallen far short of God’s standards they succeeded where the Jews failed because they had discovered that righteousness can only be found through faith in Christ alone. In discovering their sinfulness they trusted in the merits of Christ and found his righteousness purchased for them at Calvary. Paul’s conclusion is most blessed, “whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.”

Therefore we learn that it is not the sovereignty of God nor the doctrine of election that divides the world between those who are saved and unsaved. It is the choice that sinners make where Christ is concerned for which they are personable accountable. Therefore the appeal of the Gospel preacher must ever be “What will you do with Jesus”.

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