Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

3:9–20—Conclusion: OT confirms that humanity is under sin’s power
(January 26th 2019)
Romans 11:32—God imprisons sinners so they might escape through the gospel.

32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

As Paul closes his argument about God’s plan for salvation of Jews and Gentiles, he makes one more point: God treats all people impartially, in both his response to human disobedience and his provision of mercy.

Humanity trapped in disobedience
For three chapters Paul has been discussing God’s dealings with Jews and Gentiles—the two groups that constitute all of humanity. Each group in its own way and time has obstinately opposed God and his rule. “All, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,” Paul charged earlier (3:9).

Now Paul says, “God has consigned all to disobedience.” What does he mean by consigned? Other translations use such terms as locked up, imprisoned, bound over to, or confined. Charles Swindoll comments,
The Greek term is a compound word, joining “with/together” and “to enclose.” It’s the same word used in Luke 5:6 to describe a fishing net “enclosing together” a great quantity of fish. The idea is that God is surrounding us with our own sin and drawing the net closed to cut off any means of escape. Why? To give us grace.

Imagine the fishing net baited with all the temptations that attract humans to swim happily inside. It’s our nature, before we are born again with renewed desires, to chase after sin. By repeatedly sinning, we become what we do. Then God closes the net, “giving us up” or “handing us over” to the way of life we think we so enjoy (1:24, 26, and 28). In this way God “binds” or “confines” people to the state they have chosen for themselves.

“The conclusion of the whole matter,” Everett Harrison says, “is that God magnified his mercy by the very fact of disobedience, binding all men over to it that he might have mercy on all. So disobedience does not have the last word.” As Paul wrote elsewhere, “The Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22). This gospel message is the God-provided way of escape.

God’s “mercy on all”
At first glance, Paul seems to preach universalism, the idea that everyone will be saved regardless of a faith response. While noting the ambiguity of this phrase, we should understand Paul to be saying something similar to what he made clear previously. God offers his free gift of saving mercy to all (6:23), with no distinction between Jew and Gentile (10:12), but not everyone calls on the name of the Lord to be saved (10:13).

Douglas Moo explains that Paul is still talking about Jews and Gentiles as groups:
Considering the corporate perspective that is basic to chap. 11, then, it seems best to think that “all” refers to “all the groups” about which Paul has been speaking; for example, Jews and Gentiles. Paul is not saying that all human beings will be saved. Rather, he is saying that God has imprisoned in disobedience first Gentiles and now Jews so that he might bestow mercy on each of these groups of humanity. How many from each of these groups will ultimately be saved Paul does not say.

Charles Cranfield thinks it wise both to refrain from establishing on the basis of this verse a dogma of universalism and also to refrain from treating the warning passages of the NT as the basis for confidently proclaiming the final exclusion of some people from the embrace of God’s mercy.

The cry for mercy
Let’s now apply what we have learned. We know that God is not like any other judge, because his mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13). Even when he imprisons sinners in their sin, it’s for the very purpose of setting them free through the gospel. “God’s punishment, while still a punishment, has an ultimately redeeming purpose: to bestow mercy” (Moo).

This is why everyone who sins, whether saved or not, can appeal to God with confidence he will grant mercy. Maybe you are looking through prison gates now. Have your unwise choices turned into habits that became a lifestyle from which you cannot escape? The sooner you take advantage of God’s mercy, the shorter your time in prison. Cry for mercy now. The Son will set you free, and you will be free indeed (John 8:36).

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. (Psalm 23:6)