Within the last thirty minutes, I just finished listening to Dr. Ken Keathley’s chapel sermon from September 2009, titled “The Soulwinner’s Burden.” Dr. Ken Keathley, as you all know by now, is the author of “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” as well as a Professor of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I attend.
Dr. Keathley preached his sermon on Romans 9:1-3, 10:1 with a lot of grace and strength. I sat and listened, spell-bound as he explained the Word with such clarity. And when it was over, I found myself with a new level of respect for someone who has been a wonderful professor as well as a dear friend. If there’s anyone I know who practices what he preaches, it would be Dr. Ken Keathley. I could go on, but as I always say, I’m a little biased...
Now, on to the content of the sermon itself. The text was Romans 9, the famous proof-text of Calvinists who attempt to convince the world that God picks the saved and damns the unsaved. What impressed me most about the sermon was his take on Romans 9:11 and the purpose of election. As he stated it, the purpose was not according to “works,” that being “works of the law” as Paul writes in Romans 9:32. “The dividing line,” as Keathley said, “is not the elect and the reprobate, but the believing and the unbelieving.” When we get to verses like Romans 9:16, that have been misappropriated by Calvinists, the references to “him who wills” and “him who runs” cannot refer to “those who believe,” seeing that works and faith are not the same thing (Rom. 9:32). If they are the same thing, then the Bible contradicts itself. However, like Paul, I too say “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).
In his discussion of Jews and Gentiles, Keathley showed us just how skillful Paul was at crafting this chapter of the epistle to the Romans. In his discussion of Rom. 9:15-17, Keathley stated that here we find that God had mercy on Israel, the Jews (v. 15), but hardened the heart of a Gentile, Pharaoh himself (v.17). However, beginning in verse 19, we see the Jews questioning their responsibility if everything is going according to plan and God’s word has not failed (v.6). Paul’s answer is that God has the rights over the clay, to use the clay as He sees fit. If He decides to have mercy on Israel, for example, but then use Pharaoh in his unbelief, then it’s God’s prerogative. The “vessels of wrath,” being unbelieving Israel, are the ones in verse 22 who are now being used in their unbelief; the “vessels of mercy,” being the church, is now being used in its belief to win the world for Christ. God is now having mercy on the church, while still using unbelieving Israel to bring the world to Himself (Rom. 11:15).
Keathley connected verses 25-29 with the earlier portions of the chapter, stating that, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (v. 6) is demonstrated by verses 25-29, which refer to the multitude of Gentiles who believe, versus the “remnant” of Jews who believe. Paul quotes from the Old Testament to show that God’s Word foretold that things would be the way they are--- that few Jews would believe, while great numbers of Gentiles would.
Verse 30 concluded with the reason for the mass Gentiles and the few Jews: “that Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, HAVE ATTAINED TO RIGHTEOUSNESS, even the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH” (NKJV). While the Gentiles have received salvation, the Jews have not. Why? “because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by THE WORKS OF THE LAW.” The reference to works in verses 11 and 16 then, are not referring to faith. Contrary to Calvinist thought, faith is not a work. Faith, however, is the reason to why the Gentiles are now being shown mercy, while the Jews are being used to bring many to glory.
While all the above points made my heart leap with joy, nothing made me pause more than Dr. Keathley’s emphasis on the anguish and sorrow in Paul’s heart: “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that 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” (Rom. 9:1-3).
Keathley emphasized the great sorrow that Paul had---after just taking the reader to one of the “highest mountain peaks” of the Scriptures, Romans 8, where the believer is encouraged in Christ!! In Romans 8, Paul becomes introspective, focused on the believers in Christ; but in Romans 9, Paul becomes “extrovert,” focusing on the lost condition of his own countrymen, Israel (the Jews). Keathley told us that he prayed that we would have hearts like Paul---that our hearts would bleed for the lost peoples of the world, that they would come to Christ and be saved.
. Keathley didn’t get to preach all of Romans 9-11 (I wish he had!), but he knows, as do I, the hope that Paul had in the plan of God. For if one reads Romans 11, we find that Paul still held out hope for his people: “and they also, IF THEY DO NOT CONTINUE IN UNBELIEF, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Rom. 11:23). There is hope for Israel yet...and when Israel is ready to receive the Messiah, He will embrace Israel with the love that a father has for his son.
This is the hope we have: that, despite what seems to be a dark situation, God is still there and is still in control of everything. Paul had that same hope for his people...that, despite their current situation, God was still crying out for them to come to Him in faith. And for the lost peoples of the world, as well as our loved ones who refuse to yield, God is still working in their hearts as well. Thank you, Dr. Keathley, for such a timely message. It is only this message of hope and belief for all who are willing that will change the face of our world and please the One who has given us the Great Commission.