“The Blame Game” is alive and well in the good ‘ol U.S.A. today! There is no shortage of arenas where the game is being played. You can find a good blame game to participate in no matter where you live in our country. The topics that are being bantered around are endless. The economy? Well, we all know that it is President Bush’s fault. No, it’s President Obama’s fault. It’s the fault of the greedy corporate executives. That’s false; it’s the fault of toxic mortgages. Or could it be Wall Street that’s to blame? Someone else might say, “Well, these are all merely symptoms of the problem, but the real problem is ‘the American Dream.’ We want more than we can afford and we will do anything to get it.”
If economics are not your forte then maybe you want to enter the “blame game” of education. For the past several years there has been a lot of discussion about the poor achievement of America’s students. Our governmental leaders have recognized the problem and poured their money and programs into the problem. Just a few years ago, The Wall Street Journal reported,
According to one study, only half of the high school students in the nation’s 50 largest cities are graduating in four years, with a figure as low as 25% in Detroit…Some new studies show far fewer students completing high school with diplomas than long believed. “Whereas the conventional wisdom had long placed the graduation rate around 85%, a growing consensus has emerged that only about seven in 10 students are actually successfully finishing high school in four years, said a study by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, a nonprofit group based in Bethesda, Md. It was released this year by America’s Promise Alliance, a nonpartisan advocacy group for youth. In the nation’s 50 largest cities, the graduation rate was 52%. (Fields, Gary. “The High School Dropout’s Economic Ripple Effect.” Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2008. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122455013168452477.html)
We have a problem, but who is to blame? The students themselves, their parents, poor teachers, poor administration, lack of money, lack of accountability, lack of common sense, lack of initiative, society at large? Fingers of blame are being pointed in all directions and for those who like to play the blame game there’s plenty of blame to go around.
We love to play the “blame game” don’t we? We see it on television talk shows, we read about it in newspapers and magazines, and the blame game takes place in every venue known to man.
The writer of Ecclesiastes said that there is “nothing new under the sun,” and boy was he right. The blame game has been going on since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. When God asked Adam if he had eaten from the tree that God told him not to eat from Adam gave God an answer. Read along with me in Genesis 3:12-13.
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12-13 NIV)
According to Adam it was Eve’s fault, or maybe it was God’s fault since He’s the one who gave him his wife. According to Eve, the fault could be placed on the shoulders of the serpent. Let the games begin!
If you will remember our study from last week I told you that Romans 9 really concerns two questions about God: His supposed failed promises to the Jews and the question of God’s justice. Is God fair? In our Scripture for today, which is a continuation of our study from last week, Paul puts a related question in the mouths of the Romans when he asks, “Then why does God still blame us? For who can resist his will?” The reasoning of the question goes like this: If God is Sovereign, which He is, then He is absolutely in control of everything, absolutely everything. If what God says about us, that we are sinners, a mess, incapable of saving ourselves, then this whole mess is really God’s fault. To strengthen the argument, if God saves whom He wants to save, if He is merciful to those He chooses to be merciful to, then why blame us? Let’s take a look at our Scripture and see if this is the whole story. Read along with me from Romans 9:19-24.
19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? 22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory– 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:19-24 NIV)
The question that Paul places in the mouths of some of the folks in Rome is one of the most talked about theological questions of all—the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the choices we make. There are those who say that we have no choices at all, but we have searched God’s Word in past weeks and learned that God requires us to make choices in life. The primary, ultimate choice is whether or not we will reject Him or fall on our knees and worship Him as the one true and living God.
Some might say, “Well, doesn’t that negate God’s Sovereignty? Either God is absolutely in control or He is not.” We, as people, like to keep things nice and tidy, but a thorough study of God’s Word shows that both, the Sovereignty of God and the call to choose God are present in God’s Word. Let me give you an example. Turn to John 6:37-40 and let’s read together. Jesus says,
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:37-40 NIV)
In this passage we can see both truths at work. Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” God’s choosing at work. God’s Sovereignty on display in all of its glory. The very next phrase says, “…and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” We must come to Jesus. In verse 40, Jesus says that it is God’s will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life. I want to urge you to never ever let go of either truth or you will mangle the Word of God.
The other key ingredient that we must be mindful of as we approach our lesson for today is this: If God passes over some, or hardens some, as Paul says, it is not as if He is hardening innocent people. He only hardens those who are already hardened because of their own sin.
James Montgomery Boice, in his commentary on this passage, references a sermon by Jonathan Edwards called, “The Justice of God and the Damnation of Sinners.” In that sermon he raises the question, “If God should reject and destroy you, would that not be appropriate, considering how you have behaved toward both God and others?” I would encourage you to get a copy and study it thoroughly. I want to share some of the ideas of Edwards and Boice and hopefully they will have the same effect on you that they have had on me this week.
He makes mention that when someone is in love he or she thinks of the object of their love constantly and wants to be with the person at all times, doing whatever he or she can to bless the love of their life. Dr. Boice writes,
But you have not done that. You do not think often of God. In fact, you think of him hardly at all, except to blame him when things do not go exactly as you would like. You do not want to be with God. You do not go to church often or spend much time in prayer or Bible study. You do not try always to be doing something for God. If you have not shown any particular affection or love toward God, why should God be obliged to love you? Why should he be obliged to show you any favor whatsoever?
Again, you have slighted God in thousands of ways throughout your entire life. Everything you are and have comes from God. But you have not been thankful for it. Nor have you made any serious effort to find out why God has given you the abilities, advantages, and opportunities you have been given. You have used these things for yourself, trying to accumulate as much money or pleasure or praise as possible, without any thought of him. Why should God pay attention to you in any saving way when you are negligent of his bountiful gifts and favors?
You have also refused to hear God’s calls to you, even though they have come to you many times and in a variety of ways. You have heard the gospel preached. You have read the Good News. You possess a Bible. Has God never spoken to you, calling you from sin to Christ by these means? Have you never felt your heart moved, your will challenged by these truths? Some, in some parts of the world, have not received these calls, but you have received them again and again, and still you turn a deaf ear in God’s direction. You will not hear him. Why should he hear you, even if you should cry out to him in grief and desperation at the last day? (James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Vol. 3. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI. 1993. pg. 1103-1104.)
Do these words have the same powerful effect on you that they have had on me this week? When I read them they pierced my heart. It is like he has been following me around throughout most of my life taking notes. At the right time, when the question of God’s fairness, or justice, is raised, he holds a mirror up to my heart. Oh, Lord how could You be so kind to me when I have put You off, neglected Your call upon my life, and taken Your blessings for granted over and over again?
After reading those words I was reminded of a time when Job had questions about God’s justice. Job said, “If God would just show up I’d have some questions for Him.” God did show up and after God put some questions of His own to Job we read,
1 The LORD said to Job: 2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” 3 Then Job answered the LORD: 4 “I am unworthy–how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. 5 I spoke once, but I have no answer– twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:1-5 NIV)
Job says, “I am unworthy. I’m just going to put my hand over my mouth and be quiet.” Do you know what that means? It means that Job came to his senses and realized that God is God alone. It means that Job realized that he didn’t know much of anything so it would be better for him to just be quiet and trust God.
Paul takes a similar approach in Romans 9. After he places the question of “why does God blame us?” in the mouths of his adversaries in Rome he doesn’t give us an answer as much as he appeals to the lesson of Job. Paul writes,
20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:20-21 NIV)
From his opening words in verse 20 Paul draws a very clear distinction in the argument. He uses two important words when he writes, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” The first word I am referring to is the Greek word, “????????” (anthropos), and it means, “a human being, whether male or female.” It is used also to distinguish man from animals and plants and from God and Christ. The second key word for us to notice is the Greek word, “????” (theos) which is “God.” Paul doesn’t stop at drawing his contrast between us, as mere humans, and the infinite, Sovereign God.
In verse 21, Paul presses the contrast even further by comparing the Potter to the clay. This contrast was not unfamiliar to those who were in Paul’s audience. Throughout the Old Testament we see many references to the Potter and the clay. In Isaiah 29:16 we read,
16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”? (Isaiah 29:16 NIV)
In Romans, Paul had asked the question, “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” We see a similar statement in Isaiah 45:9-11. Read along with me.
9 “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’? 10 Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to his mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’ 11 “This is what the LORD says– the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? (Isaiah 45:9-11 NIV)
When we read these verses it should clear our thinking so that we might realize that we don’t have any idea what we are talking about. Our questioning God, and calling God on the carpet for the way He does things, is like a 5th grade science student badgering and mocking Albert Einstein about the theory of relativity. This is really what the words “talk back” means in this context in Romans 9:20. These are not sincere, humble questions, but quarreling with God.
The most familiar of all of the “Potter and clay” illustrations is found in Jeremiah 18:1-11. In this section of Scripture, Jeremiah is told to go to the potter’s house and he will get a message from God. Read along with me.
1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. 11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ (Jeremiah 18:1-11 NIV)
Jeremiah saw the potter forming items at his wheel. When the potter didn’t like what he had formed, he formed it into something else, what seemed best to him. God’s message to Jeremiah was, “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, as the potter has done with his creation?” God says that all nations are like clay in His hands.
I want us to notice something that goes along with the relationship of the Sovereignty of God and the choices God calls us to make. Do you see verses 7-11? God says that if He announces that He will uproot or destroy a nation and that nation repents of its evil, then He will not bring judgment on it. If, at another time, God announces that He will build up and establish a nation and then it does evil and refuses to obey Him, then God will reconsider His plans to bless that nation. God ends His lesson for Jeremiah by saying, “I am preparing a disaster for you (O House of Israel). So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.”
“Turn from your evil ways.” Why would God call His people to turn from their evil ways if it were not for the fact that He did not want to carry out the judgment He had planned for them? There are many in our society today who see God as a harsh, wrathful, angry God who is just looking for something in us so that He might destroy us. I want you to consider something for a minute. If this is truly God’s nature, how hard would He have to look to find something in you and me to justify wiping us all out? Not too hard huh? God is merciful. He comes to His people over and over again calling us to repent of the sin that is destroying us. In Ezekiel 18:23 we read,
23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:23 NIV)
It was a difficult time for the nation of Judah during the ministry of Ezekiel. The Babylonians came in and took the brightest and best into exile in Babylon as they destroyed the city. The people of Judah wondered out loud, “Where is God? Where is Your justice O Lord?” They would not face the truth of their own sin. They played the blame game. In Ezekiel 18:29-32 we read,
29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 30 “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:29-32 NIV)
“Repent and live! Repent and live!” That is still God’s word to us today—Repent and live! Before we get out of here this morning let’s take a look Romans 9:22-24.
22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory– 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24 NIV)
Paul has to still have Pharaoh in mind as he writes these verses. How many times did God show His mercy to Pharaoh? For how many years did God “bore with great patience” Pharaoh and his refusal to learn the lessons God had for him? Yet, Pharaoh would not listen and God’s wrath came.
I want to show you something very interesting to me as we close this morning. When we take a look at verse 22 and we learn about the “objects of his wrath,” we see that they are “prepared for destruction.” The word “prepared” is in the passive voice. God is not the subject doing the preparing. John MacArthur believes that Paul is being very precise in using this word to make it known that God did not create people to destroy them. What makes this really interesting is when we compare it to the same word that is used in verse 23.
23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—(Romans 9:23 NIV)
Here we read about those who are the “objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory–.” In this verse the word “prepared” is in the active voice. Who does the preparing? The subject doing the action is God. God does the preparing!
God bears with great patience those who have heard His call, those who have experienced His grace, those who have witnessed His power, and yet have turned a deaf ear to His voice of mercy. He bears with great patience, but He will not be patient forever. Today is the day of salvation. Today, if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts.
We need to stop playing the blame game. We need to spend more time becoming familiar with the hardness of our hearts, our hypocritical ways, and our shallow, feeble commitments and less time questioning the fairness or justice of God. God has come to you and me over and over again throughout our lives, giving us experiences and opportunities to turn from our destructive ways, but we put Him off, we’ve made excuses, we’ve refused to answer His call.
Jonathan Edwards and James Montgomery Boice are so right—If we have no affection or desire for God, then why should He be obliged to rescue us from the prison we are constructing with our own hands? We need to stop playing the blame game and fall on our knees in confession before our gracious, patient God. Won’t you cry out to Him this morning? Won’t you confess your sin to Him this morning? Won’t you ask Jesus into your heart this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 1, 2014