Have you ever read or quoted Romans 12:1? “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” That verse is familiar to most of us who have been in church even for a short time. But have you ever stopped to think about the mercy Paul is referring to? What’s that got to do with Romans 9 you might be asking? Everything! We have to remember that Romans 12:1 doesn’t exist in a contextual vacuum, it is the necessary result of the foundation Paul lays in Romans 9, 10, and 11. The thought of Paul urging us to surrender our lives and offer them as pleasing sacrifices to God will seem completely outlandish until we feel the weight of the absolute sovereign mercy that God unconditionally bestows on those who are His. Understanding that mercy begins in Romans 9, so let’s go there now.
The first thing you will notice in Romans 9 is Paul’s tone. He uses strong language to convey how broken hearted he is that his fellow Israelites have rejected the Messiah, in spite of the benefits they had as God’s chosen people. Which begs the question, if God’s people have rejected the Messiah sent by God, what does that say about God’s ability to keep his promises? Anticipating that question, Paul answers it in v. 6 – “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” Just because someone was a physical descendent of Abraham, doesn’t necessarily mean they were children of the promise. God had decreed that Sarah would have a son and the promise would be through Isaac, not Ishmael, even though they were both Abraham’s children. In the same way, with Isaac’s children – “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (v.11-13).
What we see in both of these examples, as well as many others in the Old Testament (David is a great example) is that God’s choice isn’t dictated by human performance. Jacob didn’t determine that the covenant promise would extend through him, God did…while Jacob was still in the womb. While God’s unconditional election is incredibly good news you might ask: Is God unjust? Not at all! (v.14) God is not unjust, he is God. God is sovereign, and as he told Moses “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (v.15) This is the essence of what it means to be God, He is not beholden to us or anyone or anything in the universe, and yet God still demonstrates his sovereignty through absurd displays of mercy to those who don’t possess the capacity to earn it.
What we see in Romans 9 is that in spite of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, God’s word has not failed, he has preserved a remnant by pouring out his mercy on the Gentiles (that’s most of us), which is a glorious display of God’s sovereign choice. Because God’s election is unconditional, because it doesn’t “depend on human effort or desire but on God’s mercy” (v.16) no one, not even the worst sinner is disqualified as a potential recipient of that mercy! And it’s in view of that mercy, that mercy that we didn’t earn or deserve, but that we have received, that Paul urges us to offer our lives as a sacrifice to the one who sovereignly gave it.
Today’s author: Joey Sutton