RPM, Volume 19, Number 39 September 24 to September 30, 2017

My Prayer Is That They Be Saved

By Justin Huffman

"My heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved" Romans 10:1.

What is your heart's greatest desire for your family members? For your friends and co-workers? For your fellow citizens?

Is your dream for your children that they graduate from a good school and get a good job? Is your greatest desire for your friends that they enjoy good health? Does your deepest longing for your fellow Americans revolve around social agendas or capitalistic ideals? Is "world peace" your grandest vision for your global community?

Put another way, what do you pray for when you pray for others? Our prayers reveal our heart's desires and priorities. If all our prayers for others center around temporary blessings, it reveals that temporal things have captivated our hearts. Yet Paul here reminds us that the important things are the eternal things; Paul's great desire and prayer to God for his family members and fellow countrymen was that they might be saved.

In a world full of countless distractions, endless temptations, and competing truth claims, how did Paul keep his attention and affections on eternity? And, just as importantly, how can we emulate Paul's razor-sharp focus in our own desires and prayers?

Align Your Theology To God's

In the verse immediately preceding the opening of chapter 10, Paul quotes Isaiah's Old Testament prophecy concerning Jesus as the Messiah: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame" (Romans 9:33). Jesus is God's watershed revelation to the world. God's own righteous character, and God's only way of salvation for sinners, is wrapped up and perfectly reflected in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And when sinners come face-to-face with Jesus, and his own claims concerning himself, they respond in one of two ways: they are either irresistibly attracted to Jesus and put their faith in him, or they are repelled by the unrelenting glory of God in Jesus.

What makes the difference between these two drastically different responses? Peter explains, quoting the same passage from Isaiah, that those who believe on Jesus do so because they are among those "chosen" people through whom God has purposed to bring praise to himself; those who stumble at the word, being disobedient, are those "appointed" to this tragic end (1 Peter 2:6-9). Faith in Jesus is the sovereign work of God in the hearts of his people.

This is the point Paul is making in Romans 9, as well. Those who did not even look for righteousness found it through God's mercy, while those who sought to establish their own righteousness by their works did not find righteousness or mercy. Clearly, salvation is by God's sovereign mercy, and damnation is according to God's perfect justice. What was the reason for Israel's damnation? That—as God had predestinated and prophesied—they did not seek salvation by faith, resting in Jesus Christ as the only source of acceptable righteousness. They stumbled at Jesus, rather than believing on him.

Yet, in the context of Romans 9—perhaps the New Testament's strongest teaching on the sovereignty of God in salvation—Paul also expresses his passion to see others saved: "I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:1). Having just shared one of the most glorious promises of eternal security with us at the end of chapter 8, Paul turns to his own kindred and wishes the same glorious end for them. Paul expresses his sorrow, desire, and compassion for unsaved Israelites, as his fellow kinsmen. He actually expresses that he would be willing to be cursed himself, if it would mean the salvation of his kindred!

Moses had expressed the same intense love and interest for his own people (Exodus 32:30-33). Clearly, for both Paul and Moses, embracing God's sovereignty in salvation fed, rather than hindered, their desires for the salvation of those around them.

In Romans 10:1-3, we once again see Paul's heart for his countrymen's salvation. He reiterates the reason for their damnation: that they were determined to establish their own righteousness rather than trust in the righteousness that God promised to those who rest in the person and work of Jesus Christ. These aren't humble men who are burdened by sin and seeking forgiveness, but men who believe they will stand before the throne of God and be justified by their own merit. Paul is, of course, speaking from his own personal knowledge, having been a Pharisee himself and being well acquainted with their efforts toward outward righteousness. But, not only does Paul understand their unbelief, he also prays in verse 1 that they will be saved!

How do Paul's prayers apply to us? Well, surely it is clear that if we want to have Paul's eternal perspective in daily life, we must embrace the full spectrum of Paul's theology. The great preacher of sovereign grace also pleads that God would save sinners! Indeed, surely it was because he believed in God's sovereign power to save sinners, that Paul was passionately engaged in prayer to God for the salvation of others. What greater motivation to prayer could there be than knowing that God has the power and authority to answer those prayers?

Have a Heart Like God's

Paul's heart yearned to see others brought to faith in Jesus Christ; he longed for others to experience the wonderful salvation that he himself had found in Christ. And in this regard Paul's heart not only resembled Moses'—Paul had a heart like God's.

In the Old Testament, the same God who had plainly declared his sovereign rule over all had also plainly stated that he does not delight to see sinners go astray. Century after century, God displayed his longsuffering mercy toward wayward sinners; prophet after prophet was sent to call them to repentance and faith. Finally, through his prophet Ezekiel God sends notice of Jerusalem's necessary fall and Babylonian captivity. Yet, even in the midst of this prophecy of coming doom, we are reminded of God's benevolence and mercy:

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? … As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways… (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11).

It is no coincidence, then, when we see Jesus in the New Testament reflecting this same spirit. In fact, it is perhaps one of the most poignant reminders that this man Jesus is also the "I AM" of the Old Testament, when we read of him weeping over Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Luke 13:34).

So Paul's heart is like God's heart as he expresses compassion for those around him that are still under the bondage of sin and unbelief. And Paul did not only pray for those who were like him—his fellow Israelites—he also prayed even for those who opposed him. As he stands before Festus and Agrippa, after being falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, Paul addresses everyone in the courtroom with these gracious and winning words: "I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains" (Acts 26:29).

Paul prayed for his family members and fellow citizens; and Paul prayed for his enemies and those who persecuted him. And what Paul prayed for them was that they would be saved, and enjoy the wonderful grace of God that had transformed his own life.

Submit Your Will to God's

It is plainly God's will that we should pray for the salvation of others:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

There should not be anyone on earth you are not willing to pray for. We are often too much like Jonah. He wanted to see God have mercy on him and people like him, but not on people that were his enemies, that didn't like him or that he didn't like. We may even feel uncertain that we can pray for those whom we do not know are among the elect. But here Paul reminds us that it is our duty to pray for people everywhere, from all walks of life, even including pagan political rulers and those who are persecuting us.

While God, according to his sovereign purposes, has chosen a particular people whom he has purposed to bring to faith in Christ—who knows whether my next door neighbor, or the person sitting next to me on the plane, or the employee three cubicles over at the office, or the Hindu priest in India, or the president of the United States is one of those persons whom Jesus ransomed by his blood?

Of course, this also brings great joy and freedom as we—like Paul—pray for those who are kin to us and close to us. What good would it be to pray for my children's health or grades, if I could not pray for the one thing in all the universe that I know matters most—the salvation of their souls? What a sorrow it would be if I could not talk to God about the souls of my children, when God himself tells me in his Word that the eternal things are the important things.

Yet, even as I pray for the princes of the world and my princess in her bunk bed, I must pray—as always—"not my will, but Yours, be done." As with every other prayer, I must be willing to trust the goodness and wisdom of God to do what is right and best. I bring my greatest requests, my heart's deepest desires, and I lay them at God's feet. And in Jesus' name, I trust that God will hear and do according to his good pleasure.

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