You are aware of the saying, “You can be anything you want to be; you can do anything you want to do, if you just try hard enough.”
I am intentionally working to burst bubbles and change thinking when I say, “Bologna.” That saying is just wrong. Completely wrong. And foolish. And deceiving. And hopeless (because we will ultimately fail to be what “we want to be”).
I cannot be a pianist, never mind the winner of the Cliburn Competition, because I don’t read music, have never played any instrument, and while I love music, I am unwilling to put in the hours of practice to gain competency.
I never will be and never could have been a neurosurgeon, because I lack the mental acuity to pass all the courses and medical exams I would face along the way, and (as all my family and friends know) I am prone to fainting at the telling of a bloody medical story, never mind the actual sight of blood in a hospital room.
For similar reasons, I will never climb Mt. Everest, play professional athletics, have a cooking show on television, or run a business (large or small). It’s not within my current abilities, and not even a capability that might be developed.
And I haven’t even mentioned my greatest desire that is unattainable — my desire not to sin. My spiritual longings are greater than any of my other desires, and they are largely unattainable. While Romans has taught us that the believer in Christ is freed from sin and given liberty to obey God and not sin (see Romans 6, especially vv. 5-14), it is also true that we all still have fleshly bodies and we will never be fully free from sin on this earth. There is no perfection on earth. While growing in Christlikeness, we still will sin throughout the rest of our lives.
We have limitations.
That is not true of God. There are no limits with God. Nothing impedes His ability to act. Nothing is a barrier to Him. Nothing precludes Him from acting. Not even sin. There is no sin that cannot be overcome by Him. There is no sin that hinders or changes His sovereignty. He will always be able to act and accomplish His desires for us and all men, regardless of what we do.
In his conclusion to God’s sovereignty in salvation, Paul simply says in Romans 11:32, “God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.”
How does God “shut” sinners in their rebellion against Him. He encloses and imprisons all sinners in their sin and rebellion against Him. He keeps them in the “net” of their sin. This is the truth that we have seen through Romans, but particularly the first section of the book: all mankind has rebelled against God (3:9). Gentiles have rebelled against God (1:21, 24, 26, 28ff). Jews have rebelled against God (2:3ff). No one that can say that he has is not a convicted sinner, and that sin is not a snare and prison to him. The rule of sin is that it keeps every person from doing anything righteous on his own (6:20). It is in this way that God “shuts up all in (their) disobedience.”
Why does God do this? To demonstrate the magnificence and power of His mercy. He keeps people entrapped in their sin for the express purpose of showing the magnitude of His mercy. He keeps sinners in their sin so they realize that they are hopeless to change on their own. He keeps sinners in their sin so that when He acts to free them that they realize that He alone is the reason they are freed. He keeps sinners in their sin so that they realize just how sinful their sin is and how merciful His mercy is when He frees them.
He keeps them in their sin so that when He is merciful they learn the lesson that His wrath is not (necessarily) the end of the story. God’s wrath means that He convicts sinners of their sin and exercises eternal judgment against that sin to demonstrate that there is final accountability and full justice for all sin. In that way, He makes the diamond of mercy shine most brightly. Mercy is merciful only because of what we escape and are freed from — God’s infinite, eternal wrath. There is no mercy without wrath (cf. 9:23), and mercy only is merciful when we are spared from that awful wrath. The greater the wrath the greater the mercy that spares us from that wrath. When God keeps sinners in their sin and judges some sinners eternally for their sin, then mercy really is and also really feels merciful.
Finally, God keeps sinners in their sin and then frees some from that sin so that we learn the lesson that His mercy is not inhibited by sin. Sin does not limit God’s ability to act.
Romans 11 teaches that it took the sin of the Jews to bring about the salvation of the Gentiles. And despite the continued sin of the Jews, all Israel will one day be saved as a nation. This chapter is a reminder that God uses sin to accomplish His purposes. That doesn’t mean that we should sin even more to get more grace (that perverted thinking was addressed in 6:1-2). But we must also recognize that sin is no encumbrance to God’s ability to be gracious to the Gentiles. Or Israel. Or you. Or me. Or those whom we love who are still rebellious.
There is hope for every sinful rebel, because God and His mercy are not limited in any way by any thing, including sin.