"Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth." (Romans 9:18).
It is a mystery, but this is the truth:
"The human agent sees what he has to contend with--a strange power opposed to the idea of attaining the perfection that Christ holds out." Maranatha, p. 274.
When one considers the options--living with Christ in the heavenly mansions throughout eternity or experiencing a horrific separation from God and a fearful looking forward to eternal death--it is astounding to think that anyone would (and in fact most of the world's populace will) choose the latter. Why? Because of that strange power that works in us and opposes any notion of our becoming Christlike in character.
This strange power is at work in all of us -- Jew and Gentile alike. The pull of our sinful flesh is real and powerful, as we have already seen in Romans 7. Yet the book of Romans doesn't leave us in a state of hopelessness. In this book Paul lifts up Christ as the sacrifice and permanent solution for the sin problem. Paul teaches that where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. His words bring hope.
After Paul's thrilling gospel summary in Romans 8, culminating in his conclusion that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, Paul pauses to field questions, as it were, from his reading audience, which cover topics he has already touched on in the previous eight chapters.
Let's imagine some of the questions that might have been brewing in the minds of the newly-converted Christian Jews:
Question: Paul, you've experienced a huge paradigm shift in recent years. You've gone from being an influential Pharisee to a converted Christian. How do you feel about your former Jewish colleagues in ministry?
Paul: "I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh. . . "
Note: Paul's remarks show a more-than-human love for his brethren, like Moses' love for the children of Israel when he asked God to blot out his name from the book of life. Moses would rather die with Israel than be saved without them; we see a similar evidence of God's agape love working in Paul's heart.
Question: Paul, doesn't God promise that all Israel will be saved? Don't we have assurance of salvation because we are Jews?
Paul: "They are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham."
Question: What do you mean? I am a Jew.
Paul: "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." Romans 9:8.
Note: Abraham believed God and it was counted to Him as righteousness. "The greatest deception of the human mind in Christ's day was that a mere assent to the truth constitutes righteousness. In all human experience a theoretical knowledge of the truth has been proved to be insufficient for the saving of the soul. It does not bring forth the fruits of righteousness. A jealous regard for what is termed theological truth often accompanies a hatred of genuine truth as made manifest in life. . . . The Pharisees claimed to be children of Abraham, and boasted of their possession of the oracles of God; yet these advantages did not preserve them from selfishness, malignity, greed for gain, and the basest hypocrisy. They thought themselves the greatest religionists of the world, but their so-called orthodoxy led them to crucify the Lord of glory.
"The same danger still exists. Many take it for granted that they are Christians, simply because they subscribe to certain theological tenets. But they have not bought the truth into practical life. They have not believed and loved it, therefore they have not received the power and grace that come through sanctification of the truth. Men may profess faith in the truth; but if it does not make them sincere, kind, patient, forbearing, heavenly-minded, it is a curse to its possessors, and through their influence it is a curse to the world."
Desire of Ages, p. 309.
Question: Does God treat people differently according to whether or not they choose to serve him?
Paul: "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? . . . For the Scriptures says to the Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.' Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens."
Note: "One thing is certain: [this verse] does not teach us, as is commonly supposed, that God brought Pharaoh to the throne for the purpose of wreaking his vengeance upon him.
"The purpose of God in raising Pharaoh up, or causing him to stand, was that He might show to him and in him His power, and that His name might be declared throughout all the earth. This purpose was accomplished in the destruction of Pharaoh because of his stubborn resistance. But it would have been accomplished just as well, and much better for Pharaoh if he had listened to the word of God. Pharaoh saw God's power, but would not believe. If he had believed, he would have been saved, because the power of God is salvation to every one that believeth." Waggoner on Romans, p. 155.
In considering the story Paul uses in this example, we see that God's purpose for Pharaoh--and all men--is that they would be saved. He showers us with blessings and comforts us in trial. Gently, persistently, He leads us along. When we resist, as Pharaoh did, He utilizes stronger measures to get our attention and bring us to repentance. In Pharaoh's case, his heart only grew harder.
In a sense, Seventh-day Adventists are the spiritual descendants of the Jewish people. To this church God has entrusted light to be shared with the world: His law of love, the covenants, the gospel, His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, and news of our soon-coming Savior. The judgment will reveal our heart response to this sacred calling.
Paul quotes Hosea, "I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her beloved, who was not beloved. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' There they shall be called sons of the living God." Romans 9:25, 26.
God had called the Jews, His people, to be a light to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, the Jews rejected this light while many Gentiles responded to the gospel message. Now He calls the Gentiles "His people."
"Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved. For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth." Romans 9:27,28.
The true Israel of God are those who believe God's promises and take Him at His word. God is not looking for numbers. The world needs to see a demonstration of God's agape love in real people, not just in the dusty pages of history. He has promised to cut His work short in righteousness. The earth will be lightened with His glory, and Jesus soon will come.
"For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God." Romans 8:19.