/ Timothy McCracken


At each of the state prison chapels where I have fellowship, my brothers and I have been studying the New Testament letter to the Romans since the middle of October.  In recent weeks we have been slowing the pace to take extra time to reflect on the truths and hope detailed in chapter eight.  It’s no wonder that chapter eight is treasured among the men, when we think of such principles conveyed as…

there being no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

our having been set free from the law of sin and death

God’s accomplishing for us what the law was powerless to do

having the requirements of the law fully met in us

walking by the Spirit because we are fundamentally of the Spirit and not of the flesh

the Spirit of God in us

life in us because of the Spirit of life and because of Christ’s righteousness

the hope of bodily resurrection

belonging as a child of God, being an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ

the reality that the glory to come far outweighs the sufferings of the present

the hope of the restoration of creation

the Holy Spirit’s help in our weakness, when we still groan under the curse

the certainty of God’s will and purpose to work in all things for the ultimate good of us who love him and to whom has come his saving call

God’s determined will to conform us whom he has known and chosen to the likeness of his Son

the unbreakable connection between predestination, calling, justification, and glorification

the fact that no accuser can bring legitimate charge against those whom God has chosen to justify

Christ’s intercession, as it relates to our justification

the fact that nothing and no one can separate us from the love of Christ

I must admit, though, that it was with some trepidation that I anticipated the questions we would face in chapter nine, which we touched on in each group a week and a half ago.   Chapter nine, of course, has in it the quote from Malachi…

Romans 9:13 …“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” [1]

Concerning God’s dealings with Pharoah of old, there is the statement that the Lord…

Romans 9:18 … hardens whomever he wills.

The chapter speaks of…

Romans 9:22 … vessels of wrath prepared for destruction…

When in chapter nine our Apostle himself raised questions he knew souls would ask; when I knew that attempts at working through those questions have been matters of contention in the respective Christian training backgrounds of different members of my audience; and when I contemplated the limitations of my own capacity to process and understand what the Apostle was bringing to bear, I found myself unsettled.  How would those chapel interactions go?

What I’ll relate here are some things that came to be encouragement for me.

evident love

The first was the evident love out of which the Apostle wrote.  Chapter nine is of one piece with the Gospel message of chapter eight and of all his letter.  Paul’s purpose in writing was not to say to his readers, “Get used to the fact that you just might not be chosen!” but to direct his kinsmen’s faith-understanding to the hope upon which they could truly depend.

Romans 9:23 … the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles…

The aguish in Paul’s heart for his kinsmen was that some were placing their confidence in their descent-association with Abraham or on their law-keeping for their safety on the day of judgment, and the intensity of his passion for their redemption is expressed in words that go beyond comprehension.

Romans 9:3 …I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers…

The elements of chapter nine were no ivory tower theological musings.

mercy as the core subject

The second encouragement was that the fact of mercy was the reality Paul was describing.  Whatever questions stir in us about whether Ishmael or Esau or Pharaoh were treated fairly, we can at least register that mercy was the core subject Paul was putting forward.  While we might read the verse fifteen statement from God …

Romans 9:15… “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

…and wonder whether in it is an arbitrary favoritism, we should not overlook the declaration of mercy:  “I WILL HAVE MERCY.”

justice declared

Further, the Apostle gave us a definitive answer to the question that twists inside us.

Romans 9:14 … Is there injustice on God's part?

Whether or not we can provide a self-satisfactory explanation for how it can be that a choice to bestow mercy on one twin and not another before either were born has in it no injustice, there is an appropriate rest in registering the unequivocal answer given.

Romans 9:14 … Is there injustice on God's part?  By no means!

That God in fact has a rich and hearty explanation for the justice involved while I may still struggle with the thought is not only likely but certain.  Paul’s inspired answer to the question makes me think of the quote from Calvin’s commentary on this chapter, where he speaks of the…

“…counsel of God; whose justice it behoves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.” [2]

a lesson taught

And there is a stated lesson.  The phrase “God’s purpose of election” (9:11) is crucial here.  If we ask what we can learn from God’s choosing to bestow His grace in the way that He did, the lesson is declared:

Romans 9:11 … not because of works but because of him who calls…

verse sixteen’s conclusion

Actually, it’s tomorrow and Friday and Monday that we in the various chapels of the three facilities will go on to look at verses seventeen to thirty-three.  Last time, we dwelt in conclusion on the message of verse sixteen.

Romans 9:16 …it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

“It depends.”  What depends? The receiving of that mercy for salvation.  The chapter is about mercy.  To that you may entrust your hope.

[1]Malachi 1:2-3