He Hardens Whom He Desires

 

Does God harden the human heart? This question has been asked in reference to Romans 9:18 where we read: “So then He has mercy on whom He desire, and He hardens whom He desires.”

As we look at this passage in its context, we discover that it has nothing to do with an individual’s salvation. Nor can we interpret this passage in a way that removes a person’s free moral agency. The question raised in verse 19 sheds light on the meaning of the passage. Paul writes, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” If the mercy discussed in this passage made it easier for one person to be saved than another, then one might argue: “Why does He still find fault?” Similarly, if the hardening discussed applied indiscriminately to one person and not to another, one could still argue: “Why does He still find fault?” In other words, our salvation would have nothing to do with our faith response. That position violates other clearer passages of Scripture (Acts 10:34-35; Eph. 2:8-9; Hb. 11:6).

So, in what sense does God show mercy on whom He desires and hardens others whom He desires? In the context, two examples are given. One has to do with the selection of Jacob as the child of promise rather than Esau while the other example has to do with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in the process of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage.

In the first example, God chose Jacob to be the one through whom the lineage of Christ should come (Rm. 9:12-13). This choice did not make it any easier for Jacob to be saved nor any more difficult for Esau. It was simply an act of mercy extended to Jacob by the hand of our sovereign God. It has nothing to do with his individual salvation.

In the second example, we observe that, in the process of delivering the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh (Ex. 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8). This allowed God to work all ten of His plagues and demonstrate to the world His superiority over the gods of Egypt. While it may puzzle us to observe that god hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we should also note that Pharaoh first hardened his own heart (Ex. 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35). God did not make it more difficult for Pharaoh to find salvation, but allowed the stubborn will of Pharaoh to a more complete, God-glorifying deliverance.

The matter might be illustrated as follows: The sun shines on wax and on clay. It melts the wax, but hardens the clay. Pharaoh by his own free will chose to be clay. If he had chosen to be wax, God (the sun) would not have hardened him. In other words, Pharaoh would not have been hardened by the actions of God had he chosen to submit and obey His will.

So, the matters addressed in the above passage have to do with choices God has made in influencing human history rather than matters which influence individual salvation. God’s justice will not allow Him to act in such a way as to make it easier for one person to be saved and more difficult for another. All are saved on the same conditions.

Hearing and Speech

 

Our two grandsons, Carter and Sawyer, both had tubes put in their ears this past week. The procedure involves a small incision and placement of tubes to drain excess fluid behind the ear drum. It is a relatively minor procedure designed to prevent recurrent infection as well as aid in hearing problems and speech delays. A couple of spiritual applications may be in order.

First, there is the matter of hearing. A buildup of fluid behind the ear drum prevents it from vibrating properly and passing sound along on its journey to the inner ear. It is like trying to hear underwater. The problem is not unlike what happens when the ear canal is plugged with wax. In both cases, something must be removed to restore proper hearing.

In discussing the proper reception of the word of truth, James exhorts us, saying, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). Proper listening to God’s word is hindered by sinful behavior. In his commentary on James, William Barclay says that, when used in a medical sense, the original term translated “filthiness” can refer to “wax in the ear” (57). If so, then, James is telling his readers to get the wax out so that they might be able to humbly receive the implanted word which is able to save the soul. What sin keeps us from truly receiving the life-giving word of truth? We must put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness in order to properly receive God’s word.

A second spiritual application involves the matter of speaking. Our daughter, who is a speech pathologist, tells us that proper speech development is dependent upon proper hearing. Output is determined by input. As Christians, accuracy in communicating the message of Christ is dependent upon humble reception of God’s truth. This is true of the message we speak as well as the message we live. James warns his readers, saying, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jas. 1:22). Faulty listening skills result in distorted messages. We must get the wax out—put aside filthiness and all that remains of wickedness—so that we might prove to be effective communicators of Christ’s message to the world.

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Unanswerable Argument

In the face of religious opposition, we may defend our belief in Christ in a variety of ways. We may argue for the Bible on the basis of archaeological evidence. Or, we may rely on its scientific foreknowledge. We might even choose to use examples of fulfilled prophecy as proof of the Bible’s inspiration. All of these are viable forms of argumentation, but there remains one unanswerable argument. This argument, when properly used, will utterly confound the enemies of Christianity. Are you interested? Then, let us proceed.

In the fourth chapter of the book of Acts, we read about two ordinary fishermen who had become followers of Jesus Christ. They were arrested for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. When the Council assembled for the purpose of dealing with these men, they observed that a change had taken place within them. The text says that “…as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply” (Acts 4:13-14). There was nothing they could say—it was an unanswerable argument! They could not deny the miracle that these men had performed in the name of their Lord.

We are not in a position to do what Peter and John did through the special gifts they had received through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). However, the fact remains that good works provide an amazing, if not unanswerable argument, in our lives as well. The works we do out of love for Jesus demonstrate to the world our faith in Him. As James pointed out, “someone may well say, ‘You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works’” (Jas. 2:18). Works done for the Lord demonstrate our faith and shine like a beacon in a world of darkness. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). We will have little lasting effect on the world if we argue for Christ merely on the basis of words. Actions that reinforce and illustrate our message bring things together in a way that attracts the seeking heart.

The world may ridicule our faith in God. People may mock our good behavior in Christ. But, they can never adequately answer the argument rendered by changed lives that are filled with good works offered in the name of Jesus. Remember that one unanswerable argument for Christianity is Christianity!

 

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In Pursuit

 

Oliver Cromwell said, “He who stops being better stops being good.” It is worth noting that a life worth living will be an uphill pursuit. For no one coasts through life who wishes to leave the world a better place.

While the life of the apostle Paul was marked by incredible accomplishments, he was always in pursuit of becoming a better person. As Christians, our definition of “better” is “Christ.” Paul could have boasted in the persecutions he had endured for the sake of the gospel. He could have gloried in the number of souls he had won to the Savior or the number of churches he had planted around the world. He could have. But he did not. The same cause which produced such untiring effort in the proclamation of the gospel, also kept him from indulging in self-glory. His life was marked by reaching forward and striving to be more and more like the Master who bought him. In his letter to the Philippian brethren, we hear him say, “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus, Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

A Christian has but one purpose, motivation, and goal for life and eternity. In a word, that purpose, motivation, and goal is “Jesus.” Our longing for spiritual growth must lead us in the direction of becoming as close to and as much like Jesus as possible in thought, word, and deed. When such is our pursuit, the hope of a home in heaven with Him becomes a powerful force deterring evil and promoting good in our daily lives.

Paul writes, “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).

Make Christ your hope and pursuit in life. Strive to be more life Him in specific ways each day. It will be an uphill struggle. Becoming like Jesus is a goal we never fully attain; but we are made better in the pursuit.