Paul has established that God predestined an elect group of people before they were born from among the Jews and gentiles. As the creator, He has a right to choose and justify a people for Himself. As the created, we have no rights over our own bodies or souls. Salvation (justification) is, therefore, by grace alone through faith alone and not a result of works so that no one can boast. Why would God, though, not simply predestine everyone to be conformed to the image of Christ and be justified? Why would He not call everyone into His kingdom? Why would not all people be made vessels for honorable use? Paul presents an answer.
What if God patiently endured the reprobate people (those being prepared for destruction) so that the riches of his glory upon the elect (those being prepared beforehand for glory) may be known? God’s work of election is not about getting as many people to heaven as possible. He desires to make the riches of His glory known. Just as without evil one cannot know what is good (cf. Genesis 3), without the inglorious one cannot know what is glorious. So, God creates vessels for dishonorable use and honorable use—some prepared beforehand for destruction and some prepared beforehand for glory. He does so that He may be known, particularly the riches of His own glory by Jews and Gentiles.
Paul now calls this doctrine of predestination a stumbling stone, quoting from the Old Testament to prove God’s work. In Hosea, God says that He will call gentiles His beloved people. Isaiah prophesies that only a remnant of national Israel will be saved. Though gentiles did not pursue righteousness (by the Jewish religion), they can attain righteousness by faith. Though Israel pursued the religious law of righteousness, many Jews do not arrive at the law because they do not pursue it by faith—but as though it is by works. The very thing many religious people hope will save them, the keeping of a religious law, is actually their stumbling block that keeps them from being justified because justification is through faith alone—even according to the Law. Paul also shows from the Old Testament that God placed the stumbling block in Israel. According to Isaiah’s prophecy, the stumbling stone would be a person who would be life to some and wrath to others in Israel—either a stone to strike and receive water or a rock to stumble over.
Thus, Paul centers the conversation about salvation by grace alone through faith alone on the work of Christ. For the elect, Christ is their source of life. For the reprobate, Christ is their stumbling stone. Those who reject the doctrine of predestination and God’s right to choose in favor of works-based religion have stumbled over Christ rather than receiving His life. They are religious but entirely lost. One cannot both surrender to the will of Christ and also try to take control of it by trying to choose and work to advance self. This is the greatest incoherence I see in popular religion today. Many are stumbling over Christ rather than falling into His arms.
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