Scripture Text: Romans 10:16–21
Last week, we looked at a passage that described the process by which God uses to make unbelievers into believers. It involves faith. It involves hearing. It involves people. People come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because others tell them about Him. God could use any means He wants to save people, to bring people into a right relationship with Him, but He chooses to use us to tell others about His Son, Jesus Christ. We now come to the end of chapter ten in Romans and Paul raised the question, “Why do his people, the Israelites, not believe?” Maybe you have asked that question? Maybe you have walked someone through the plan of salvation. Maybe you have been a faithful witness of Jesus Christ to someone else. Maybe you have faithfully proclaimed the Gospel message to someone that there is no way a reasonable person could not understand it. If you tell me that I am dying and you show me the way to save myself, I think I would listen. Why would anyone not believe the Gospel? Is it not as important?
Paul’s main concern in this section of the letter is why Israel, God’s chosen people, has not accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. Jesus came to the world so that the world would be saved from judgement and death. Remember, Paul is the same man who could wish himself accursed and cut off from Christ if it meant that his fellow Israelites would be saved. (Romans 9:1-3) Paul was adamant that the reason many of them have not been saved was not a failure on God’s part. God had not failed and He had not broken His promises. So what Paul did in the last verses of Romans chapter ten was show once more that the reason most of Israel was cut off from salvation was that they did not believe in their own Messiah, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was not because God was unfaithful. It was also not because the Gospel had not been heard or understood. Why did they not accept the grace and salvation God provided to them? Why does anyone not accept it?
God is Sovereign and Mankind is Responsible
Do you remember back in Romans chapter eight when Paul wrote, “Those whom [God] predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified?” (Romans 8:30) And then in Romans chapter nine, Paul wrote that God will have mercy on whom He has mercy, and He will have compassion on whom He has compassion.” He followed that up saying, “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16) For two chapters we read about God’s sovereignty and His role in our salvation. Remember, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation. (Romans 1:16) It is not our power. Then we get to Romans chapter ten and Paul mentioned that people are saved because they believe in Jesus Christ and because they call upon Him. This call to Christ is born out of a response in hearing about Christ. People hear about Christ because they are told about Him. These are human actions. And then at the end of this chapter, Paul mentioned that people do not believe and do not call because they do not obey. It is their choice.
How can both of these things be? Some embrace the sovereignty of God at the expense of the human will. They believe it is wrong to portray God with His arms stretched out, inviting and calling people to Himself. On the other hand, there are those who believe mankind is ultimately in control of his own destiny and that God could not possibly choose people for salvation. Both of these views are mistakes. God has revealed Himself to be absolutely sovereign. That ought to give us great comfort when the world sometimes seems utterly out of control and meaningless and cruel. While God is absolutely sovereign, though, He is also completely just, loving and gracious to us. He pleads with people to come to Him. I am not going to try to explain how God is sovereign and mankind is also responsible. My goal is to simply proclaim these truths. God is the potter. We are the clay. But on the other hand, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). We have a loving God Who holds out His hands all day long to people. He calls. He beckons. He invites.
God’s Word is Heard but not Obeyed
So, why did most of Israel not accept their Savior? Why do unbelievers not come to Jesus Christ? It is not because they have not heard. God sent prophets and messengers to tell Israel the message. They had heard the message and understood it.
Romans 10:18–19 18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” 19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
Paul insists that his people, the Israelites, have heard the Gospel message and have understood it. We read earlier that to be saved you have to call on Christ. To call you have to believe on Christ. To believe, you have to hear the word of Christ. To hear, you have to have someone proclaiming the message of Christ. And to proclaim, you have to be sent by God. According to Paul in this chapter, all of this had happened for Israel! God had sent many prophets and teachers to them. God had also sent His very own Son to them. They had heard God’s message. Therefore, their unbelief was not because God’s Word was not heard or understood. Their unbelief was their own doing. They were still responsible for not believing in the Savior.
As we saw last week, hearing is not enough. The appropriate response to hearing anything God says is not to just hear it, but to also obey it. We can hear many things and not respond to it. This means we must submit ourselves to the truth of God’s Word. We must submit ourselves to what He tells us to do. We hear it. We believe it. We obey it. If people who hear God’s Word still persist in sin, it is because they have chosen to do so. It is because they have rejected God’s Word. Ultimately, it is because they have rejected Him. What has God told you to do but you still have not obeyed? Is there some sin or some area of your life that you know is opposed to God’s will? What have you not repented and submitted to God’s perfect will? Is there some area of your life which you know God is telling you to do something and you are still being disobedient? God has spoken. Are you listening? Hear God! Believe God! Obey God!
God is Present but not Sought
Just as Israel could not claim they had not heard from God, they also could not claim that God could not be found. Look at verse twenty.
Romans 10:20 20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
Have you ever felt like God was a million miles away? Have you ever felt like you have searched and searched for Him and He was playing hide and seek with you? Maybe you felt like God did not want you to find Him? The good news of the Gospel is that God can be found and He wants to be found. Paul quoted the prophet Isaiah in this passage where God said, “Here I am, here I am.” You can almost hear the desperation in the voice of our great God pleading with people to come to Him. But, they did not listen. They were not looking. We get so busy doing our own things that we miss God calling to us. There was a picture someone recently took that showed a man on his sailboat looking at his phone. While that may not be all that remarkable, what was remarkable was that while he was doing that, he missed an opportunity to see a humpback whale just a few feet from him. C. S. Lewis described us like children who are happy making mud pies in the slums when we are offered a vacation at the beach.
The question is, “Are we seeking Him?” Are we really seeking God or are we just living our lives the way we want? If God seems a million miles away, maybe He has not left you — maybe you have left Him. If God seems to be hiding from you, maybe you are the one playing hide and seek with Him. Seriously ask yourself this question: Is there something I am doing, something in my life, that might be hindering a relationship with God? Are you too busy with your own desires, the things that you want, that you are missing the best God has for you? Let me encourage you to turn to Him. Pray to God that He will reveal to you where you have turned from Him. Ask Him to reveal His presence to you in a powerful way. Pray He will remove those obstacles in your life that are hindering a genuine relationship with Him. He is there and He wants to be found.
God is Calling a Rebellious People
In the 1955 movie Rebel Without A Cause, two emotionally confused teenagers, named Jim and Judy, struggled with their families and the choices they made. Jim admitted to his parents that he had never done anything right. Judy’s mom said about the teenage years, “It’s just the age where nothing fits.” Teenagers are rebels and often grieve their parents. I know because I grieved my parents many times with my rebellious behavior. Some rebels are heroes, though. We celebrate the American Revolution and even call the rebels of that war our “Founding Fathers”. Rebelling against tyranny or against injustice is good. We rally around rebels who rise up against an unjust or oppressive government. We can even sympathize with Jim in Rebel Without A Cause as a decent guy trying to do the right thing. But, there are rebels who are rebellious for really no good reason. There are rebels who are just disobedient and contrary. And yes, there are rebels even among God’s people. Look at the following verse:
Romans 10:21 21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
Israel was God’s chosen people. They were His people. Paul paints a picture of God beckoning, calling, inviting, wooing His own people through the prophets and preachers. But the hearers did not believe. Why? They were “disobedient and contrary people”. They were stubborn. They were disobedient, but not just disobedient. They opposed God. They were rebels, and rebels without a cause, at least not a just cause. The majority of Israel rejected God at their own peril. Paul was saying that the Jews heard the Old Testament prophesies and they heard the Gospel message, but they simply did not accept it. On the other hand, the Gentiles heard the same message, and many of them embraced it. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, boldly told the Jews of his time why they rejected God. He called them “stiff necked with uncircumcised hearts and ears.” He said the same thing God had said through Isaiah years earlier:
Isaiah 65:2 2 I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;
Why do so many people today reject the Gospel? According to this passage, they do what they want to do regardless of what God has said. It is not necessarily because they have not heard or do not understand what God has said. People can hear and understand perfectly the message of Jesus Christ and still not believe it. Perhaps it is hard to see God still pleading with them through the outstretched arms of a Savior on a cross. Perhaps it is that they are more in love with their sin than they are with their God. Perhaps it is that they want to be god of their lives and reject the one true God of all creation. All of these reasons are valid, but they are also true for us. We, too, are rebels. Rebellion does not necessarily end when one accepts Jesus Christ. It does not necessarily end when we join the Church. It would be nice if it would. It would be great if when we accept Jesus Christ and join His Church that we all become perfectly obedient people. That is not the reality, though.
Ask yourself these questions. Do I desire something more than God? Do I pursue some sin when I know God disapproves it? Do I lie to myself and to God saying that my sin is not so bad or say that I am not as bad as that other person? Am I hateful or ambivalent to others? Do I refuse to share the time, the treasure and the talents God has given me to help others? Do I refuse to tell others about Christ when I know that He wants me to do it? Yes, I am a rebel, but, the good news of the Gospel is that God helps rebellious people. He reaches out to people who turn from Him. God’s outstretched arms are a symbol of His constant love pleading to a people who have consistently despised Him. God is faithful and just and will forgive us if we only come to Him. We have this promise that if we confess our sins, which means to agree with God about our sin and ask for His forgiveness, He will forgive us our sins. (1 John 1:9) Will you do that? Will you stop rebelling against God and fall into His outstretched arms? Will you?
In closing, we ought to be honest about our rebellion to God. We all need to honestly examine our own lives to see where we are rebelling against Him. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you are living in complete rebellion to God. The consequence of that is deadly, for the wages of sin is death, but the grace of God means life. The Gospel is simple. We are sinners separated from God and deserve judgement and death. Thanks be to God, He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to save the world. You just need to believe in Him and confess Him as your Lord and Savior. God is pleading with you with arms wide open for you to come to Him. Will you come?
If you know Christ but are still rebelling against Him, you also need to turn to Him. If you do not know how you are being rebellious, pray to God. He will show you. The consequence of persisting in rebellion is that we may become like Israel. God may take what He has given us and give it to someone else. God’s Word tells us that when His people refused to listen to Him and rejected His will, He looked to another people as His own. I am not talking about losing our salvation, but I am talking about losing our witness and our usefulness. The most important thing for the Church is whether we are faithfully serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If we are not, if we are just going through the motions or worse, just serving ourselves, then God will shut us down.
So, let us all have this attitude, that we go to God and ask Him to help us not be a rebellious people but to completely submit to Him. Let us pursue Him Who wants to be found and let us submit to His perfect will. Will you be obedient? Will you go to Him. May it be so! Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.