Let us start with a word of prayer: Father in heaven, as we now come to Your Word, we know we are stepping onto holy ground. You speak continually to us through Your word that is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. We pray that You would open our eyes that we would behold wondrous truths in Your Word. And as we look into Your truth, I pray that You would shape us, mold us, make us, prune us, nurture us, grow us, develop us, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
Okay, we are in Romans chapter 9, and today we are going to be looking at verses 14 through 18, Lord willing, and you have heard me say, “We’re playing big boy football.” Well, this is smash-mouth football, okay? So, we are upping the ante here a little bit. If you are taking notes, the title of this is simply this, “Is God’s Choosing Unfair?” Is God’s Choosing Unfair?
So, beginning in verse 14 we read, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it at it does not depend on the man who wills or on the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’ So then, He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”
So, for most of us the first time we heard the doctrine of sovereign election our immediate response was, “That’s not fair” And if you are really thinking, that is an initial thought to have. Maybe, that was your initial response. It certainly was mine. I mean, I wrestled with this like Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord. It was a soul-searching time for me when I first was confronted with this, and I thought, “How can God choose to give salvation to some but not to others?” That just seemed so unjust to me.
And so, this teaching created great trauma and turmoil for me, and that was good because I needed to be humbled. I needed to be brought low before the Lord, and I needed to be reminded that God is God and that God will do what God will do, and it will be perfect whatever God chooses to do. In these verses in Romans 9, the Apostle Paul addresses this head on. And one great thing about the Bible is the Bible never tap dances around difficult issues. The Bible takes them on directly. The Bible tells it like it is, and the Bible speaks very pointedly to the most controversial of subjects. In fact, the Bible creates controversy. It doesn’t pull the plug from controversy. The Bible actually generates controversy, and it confronts controversy but it also gives us the answers that we need. The Bible does not give politically correct answers. It gives truthfully correct answers. And that’s exactly what we are going to see in this passage as the Bible tackles the sticking point without any equivocation, “Is God’s choosing some for salvation, is that unfair? Is that unjust?”
So, I want us to walk very deliberately and carefully through these verses, verses 14 through 18, and I have got six headings that I want to set before you. I want to take this like a piece of pie and just slice this up very carefully into smaller bite-size pieces.
And the first is the accusation. At the beginning of verse 14 is the accusation. So, let me read it again. “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there?” Question mark. So, Paul here is like a skilled debater who anticipates the objection of his readers. He knows what we are thinking. He is out ahead of us. And when he says, “There is no injustice with God, is there?” he knows that there is this natural accusation that people will raise against God accusing Him of injustice and accusing Him of being unfair. And so, rather than hide this dilemma, Paul actually brings it to the surface and puts it right there in the middle of the table for us to stare at. Rather than push down the accelerator and just speed past this difficult thorny issue, Paul actually pulls over and parks and says, “No, we’re going to talk about this. We’re going to deal with this.”
So, I love this about the Bible. The Bible never tries to cover up difficult thorny issues or just to try to explain things away just to salve our own understanding. No, the Bible digs into it. So, this is the accusation. He knows that there is this accusation being brought against God as soon as the truth of sovereign election is brought up.
So, that brings now, second, the repudiation. Paul just slams that door shut at the end of verse 14, and Paul says, “May it never be!” And you need to know this is the strongest negative denial in the Greek language. It is translated in the King James, “God forbid!” And to transliterate it in a colloquial way we could just say, “No. No. A thousand times, no! God is never unjust. God is never unfair.”
So, let’s just think about this now. What Paul is saying is that God is perfectly just to choose some for salvation and not to choose others. He does not owe salvation to anyone. “Fair” is to give someone what they deserve. There is not a one of us in this room that want that. We don’t want “fair.” “Fair” would be to go to hell. That is what you deserve. That is what I deserve. Every one of us deserves condemnation. Salvation is actually God giving to you what you do not deserve. That is unfair. “Fair” is hell. In a sense, “unfair” is heaven.
So, when Paul says, “May it never be!” what is going on in his mind is that none of us deserve salvation. So, if God gives salvation to any person, He’s not being unjust. And for God to pass over someone, He’s not being unjust. So, we need to have the right perspective, the right framework. And let me say it again. We don’t want fair; we need mercy.
So, this leads us now to the third main heading which is “The Explanation.” I don’t think I have ever moved this fast through these points. So, this leads now to the explanation, and Paul being the master teacher that he is, doesn’t just answer the question; he now explains his answer. And so, you notice verse 15 begins with the word “for,” F-O-R, and this introduces an explanation. You can read back through the book of Romans and see how many verses begin with the word “for.” It is all through Romans chapter 1. And Paul now will explain what he just said, and he does so by quoting from the Old Testament, Exodus 33 verse 19, “For He says to Moses.” And the “He” refers to God the Father. Remember, our emphasis on God the Father through all of this, “For He says to Moses.”
And please note the verb tense on “says.” He doesn’t say, “He said,” pointing back thirty-four hundred years ago, but no, it is in the present tense. And the idea here is God is always speaking through His Word. And, “For He says to Moses.” And what God said thirty-four hundred years ago, He is still speaking today, present tense. So, He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
Several things to note here. First of all, the speaker is God, is God the Father. It is not Moses. It is God the Father. And you will note the word “I,” the first-person singular pronoun “I” four times in this one verse: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” God is emphatically saying, “I am the one dealing the deck on this. I by My sovereign will and by My sovereign grace, I will dispense salvation as it pleases Me.”
You will note it does not say “we” as if we had a part in this. It doesn’t say, “We will have mercy on whom we will have mercy,” as if this is a joint decision between God and us. No, it is “I” to emphasize God’s supreme authority in making His sovereign choice. Now, when He says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,” we need to understand that the word “mercy” here means to show compassion on one who is afflicted. It means to provide relief for the destitute.
So, God looking upon the entire human race that has fallen into sin because of Adam’s original sin, God looking upon a human race that is perishing in its sin, God chooses to have mercy on those whom He will have mercy to pull them out of the human race that is headed towards destruction, on the broad path headed for destruction. How merciful of God to do this! And then He says, “I will have compassion.” And the word “compassion” means God’s tender feelings towards those who are suffering. It means for God to have pity. And these two words, mercy and compassion, are virtually synonymous though there is a distinction.
Mercy refers primarily to God’s intervening action, for God to step in and to relieve the misery of the one who is suffering. So, mercy focuses upon God’s action. Compassion focuses upon the attitude behind the action. So, it is God’s compassion that is driving His mercy. It is the attitude of compassion, the deep feelings of God towards those whom He chooses to save, He acts with mercy. And so, what we see here is sovereign mercy and sovereign compassion.
So, God is free to bestow mercy and compassion upon whomever He so desires because no one can lay a claim to His mercy and to His compassion. For example, a week from today is Kent’s sixtieth birthday, okay? So yes, his sixtieth birthday, so make those checks payable to Nevada Bob’s Golf Discount. Okay, so we are going to have a birthday party right here in this Herb’s House. Everyone is invited, okay? #benicetokent. So, it is once a year we are nice to Kent, alright. I am coming and I am bringing a birthday gift for Kent, which he has dropped multiple hints that he would like to have.
For me to give a gift next week to Kent, no one else can come up to me and say, “Hey, where is my gift?” because it is a gift. Because it is a gift, I am free to give it to whoever I want to give it to and I am free to withhold it from whomever I so desire to withhold it. If you had come over to my house and cleaned the carpet and washed the walls, you could then come up to me and say, “Hey, where is what’s coming to me?” but it wouldn’t be a gift. It would be wages that you have earned. But a gift does not operate on the basis of working for something. A gift is given to someone who has done absolutely nothing to deserve it, okay? In fact, it is in spite of the person that we give the gift, right? Can I get an “Amen”? Amen. Okay. So, for God to give the gift of salvation, He is free to give it on whomever He so desires and no one can say, “Hey what about me?” If we were to give you what you deserve, it wouldn’t be a gift; it would be wages. “The wages of sin is death.” You would be sentenced immediately to hell. So, we must have the eternal perspective. We must have the divine perspective on this, that God is free to give mercy and compassion to anyone. So, if God only chose one person out of the entire human race in all of human history to give mercy and compassion to, that would be mind-boggling. That would be amazing grace if there was only one person in the history of mankind to ever receive this, but the fact is that God has chosen a vast number, a vast multitude that no one can number.
This is mercy upon mercy and compassion upon compassion. This is actually the most loving doctrine that there is. This is what even set the cross in motion. This is what set the work of the Holy Spirit in motion in the new birth. This is the taproot. This is the fountain from which every blessing of saving grace is flowing from. So, never think of the doctrine of election as a harsh doctrine. And when I first heard it, I thought this was the harshest thing I have ever heard. I had it totally backwards. This is not the harshest truth. This is the most loving truth that God has chosen not to leave us in our sin, but to choose us for salvation.
So, this now leads to number four, “the implication.” Paul in verse 16 now spells out what is the implication of what he just said. In other words, if A and B is true in verses 14 and 15, then C must be true logically and rightly in verse 16. So here is the necessary implication of what he just said in verse 16, and he will do it as the master teacher that He is; negative denial, positive assertion. He will begin with negative; he will conclude with positive. He will start with “not” and then he will transition to the “but.” This is very effective teaching. It is a sharp two-edged sword that cuts both ways.
So, let me tell you how this does not work out, then I will tell you how it does work out. So, there can be no misunderstanding by any one of us on this. So, he begins with a negative denial, verse 16, “So then.” And so, the “so then” really is to draw the consequence of what he just said. “So then, it,” referring to salvation, “does not.” Just underscore the word, “not.” “Does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs.”
If there was ever a verse that is a deathblow to the pagan myth of free will, this is it. It does not depend on the man who wills. Now, you want to know why? Because the will of every lost man is dead and it is inoperative and it is inactive toward God. Now, horizontally, it can make decisions like which tie will I wear, but vertically towards God, the human will is in bondage to sin. Now, just think of the total person: mind, affections, and will. The mind of the unconverted person is darkened in sin. It cannot see the truth nor its need for the truth. The heart is defiled and does not desire the truth and does not desire a relationship with God, and the will is therefore dead. The mind is darkened. The heart is defiled. The will is dead.
Now, you need to understand that the will is simply the handmaiden of the mind and the heart. Wherever the mind and the heart goes, the will follows. The will is not driving anything. The will is the caboose on the train. The engine that is driving your life is your mind and your affections, your desires. Your will simply chooses what you desire. You are not choosing contrary to your desire. R.C. Sproul uses this illustration, that if a man comes up to you and puts a gun to your head and says, “Give me your money or I’ll take your life!” you may say, “Well, I don’t want to give my money.” But you still reach into your pocket and you hand the guy your money, why? Because you love your life more than you love money. Your will make the choice that it wanted to make. It doesn’t make a choice contrary to what it wants. It always makes the choice in accordance with.
So, when he says, “So that it does not depend on the man who wills,” of course, it does not depend upon the man who wills, because no man wills to believe in Jesus Christ, apart from the sovereign intervention of God. We only will to believe when God changes our will, and God must change our will by His sovereign will. So, he says, “So that it does not depend on the man who wills.” Most accurately translated out of the Greek, it reads, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills.” It translates exactly as it reads.
So, the implication of this is it is the goodness of God’s sovereign will that overcomes the resistance of our fallen will, and God gives the gift of faith and He gives the gift of repentance to those who do believe in Jesus Christ. You see, faith does not originate within any one of us. Faith comes down from above. All faith in God is faith that has come from God. God is both the source and the object of saving faith. Hebrews 12 verse 2 says that Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith. We are not the author of our own faith. We simply exercise the faith that God gives to us.
So, that’s why in verse 16 we have to bring really the entire teaching of the Bible, the whole counsel of God, in order to understand verse 16. So, it doesn’t depend on the man who wills because fallen man would never will to believe in Jesus Christ apart from sovereign mercy and sovereign compassion. And then he adds, “Or the man who runs.” And when he says this, he is referring to it is not by man’s efforts, it is not by man’s doings, it is not by his good works, it is not by his merit, and it is not by his will.
George Whitefield, the great English evangelist, put it this way, “Man has a free will to go to hell but none to go to heaven.” And I think that is stated correctly. Free will is found nowhere in the Bible except in the book of Leviticus as a “freewill offering” that would be over and above the normal tithe. Other than that, it is imposed upon the Scripture. And back in Romans 3 and verses 10 and 11 and 12, I mean we see man left to go his own way. This is what we have, Romans 3 verse 10, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”
That is the indictment of God on the entire human race. So therefore, if God did not choose some to be saved, no one would ever be saved, no one would ever choose to believe the gospel. So, this is the implication of what he has just said put in the negative. Now, he puts it in the positive at the end of verse 16, “but,” and now this goes in the positive direction, “but on God who has mercy.” And we could add “but on God who wills to have mercy.” So, you may be thinking, “Well, I thought I really did choose to believe in Christ. I mean, was someone else in the room and did that for me? Was it done by proxy? I mean, how did that happen? I just remember praying and committing my life to Christ. And the answer to that is, “Yes, you did. You actually did choose to commit your life to Christ, but it was only because God was previous and God was already at work in your heart.” And it was God who was convicting you of your sin and bringing pressure to bear upon your soul that you need to be made right with God. And it was God who drew you out of your sin to Christ, and it was God who gave you the gift of repentance and faith. It was God who opened your eyes to see Christ and the beauty of who Christ is. It was God who opened your ears to hear Him calling to you. It was God who opened your heart like He did Lydia’s in Philippi that you would receive the gospel message, and it was God who gave you a new heart with which to believe in the gospel. It was all of God.
And the longer you study your Bible and the more careful you study your Bible, you discover that it was more and more of God and less and less of me until you realize that my salvation is of the Lord. So, you really did believe upon Christ, but it was God who induced the labor. It was God who brought you out of the womb and into His kingdom. And so, that’s why when we get to heaven and there is a crown put on your head it will be there for one millisecond, and you will cast it back at His feet in recognition that it has all come from God, and even this crown must now go back at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ because my salvation is the result of God’s being at work in my life.
So, verse 16 is totally congruent with the entire rest of the Bible. “So then it does not depend upon the man who wills or upon the man who runs, but upon God who has mercy.” This is why all praise goes to God. This is why we don’t pat ourselves on the back for our salvation. This is why we sing, “How great Thou art!” because of His sovereign election.
So, this now leads to verse 17 to number five, “The Reprobation.” The Reprobation. And Paul now addresses those not chosen for salvation. He now speaks of those who are passed over. And so, in verse 17, “For the Scripture says,” and please note again the verb tense for “says,” it is in the present tense. The Scripture continues to speak in this present hour to each and every one of us. “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh.” You remember he was the ruler of the Egyptian dynasty in the time of Moses.
And he now quotes Exodus 9 and verse 16, “For this very purpose.” Now, let us just stop right there. Please note how purposeful God is, how intentional God is. Nothing is random in His selections. He is not flipping a coin in heaven and nothing is capricious. God has divine design for everything in the entire universe, even those who are passed over and God allows to remain in their sin. And let me give you a cross reference at this point, Proverbs 16 verse 4, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil,” close quote.
Now, let us be clear. God is not the author of evil. God is not the author of sin, but God is the author of a master plan that includes evil and includes sin. And God has created everything, even the wicked for the day of evil, yet God is not charged with being the author of evil but let us be absolutely clear He is the author of the plan that includes evil. The mystery of all mysteries that no one can answer is the origin of evil. Every theologian has a mystery point, and we must be careful where we put that mystery point. And for us who are careful students of the Scripture, the mystery point is the origin of evil, but God is not the author. He has not created evil in the heart of Pharaoh.
So, let us look at this verse again, “For this very purpose.” So, this is not something again that happens haphazardly; no, God very purposefully, “I raised you up to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” Again, God is the speaker and please note these personal pronouns: I, My, again My. This is very much God. And please note, this is not Satan saying this. This is not the devil saying this. This is God saying this.
You know, I used to see the bumper sticker, “God votes for you, the devil votes against you, and you have the deciding vote.” Well, nothing could be more contrary to the Bible and to the truth of the Word of God. All that matters is, what does God vote? The world is not being run by democracy; it is being run by a theocracy, the vote of One, that being God Himself. So notice, “I raised you up,” and He is speaking to Pharaoh. God raised Pharaoh up to be the ruler of Egypt and God raised Pharaoh up to be the object of His wrath and His judgment. God is the one who raised him up. Why did God raise him up? That God would be glorified even in Pharaoh by putting the power of His judgment on display in Pharaoh. “I raised you up to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” We are still talking about Pharaoh. We are still talking about what God did with Pharaoh.
And God is glorified. We see the power of God unleashed in Pharaoh’s life. We see God’s wrath and His vengeance and His fury, even His long-suffering and patience to endure and put up with a sinner like Pharaoh. And yet, God raised him up that God would use him in order to release the people of God in the Exodus so that they would be free now to go to the promised land. And so, in this verse we see the doctrine of reprobation. So, this is what theologians call “double predestination.” Double predestination is, not only has God chosen some to be saved, but God has passed over others to suffer the torment of their own devices and their own choices.
If some are elect, others are non-elect. It has to be that way. If there is a Jacob whom I love, there is an Esau whom I hated. If there is a Moses upon whom God has shown mercy, there is a Pharaoh whom God has raised up actively to be put under His wrath. So, this is double predestination, and I want to clarify that the non-elect are already sinful and are already filled with all sorts of evil. God is hardening those who are already sinful. God is not creating sin and putting it into the heart of Pharaoh. God is not creating evil and depositing that into the soul of Pharaoh. No, there is evil and there is sin already in Pharaoh because he was conceived in sin. He came forth from his mother’s womb speaking lies. The sin of Adam has already been charged to his account. The sin nature of Adam has been passed down through each successive generation to Pharaoh. Pharaoh entered into this world with his mind already darkened, his heart already defiled, and his will already dead. God is now hardening the one who is already sinful and already evil, and God is hardening Pharaoh in his own willful sin. It is the doctrine of reprobation. So, everyone in heaven is there by God’s sovereign will. Everyone in hell is there by their own will and by their own choice. So, it is a careful distinction.
So, this leads now to number six, “The Conclusion.” Paul now synthesizes the point that he has been making starting in verse 14 in addressing the issue, “Is God’s choosing unfair?” So, now the conclusion, verse 18 begins, “So then,” and that has a conclusion feel to it, doesn’t it? “So then,” and I want you to note now how many times the word “He” is mentioned in verse 18. “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” Four times in this one verse Paul says “He” and each mention of “He” refers to God the Father. It is the doctrine of election, “He has mercy on whom He desires,” and it is the doctrine of reprobation, “and He hardens whom He desires.”
So, with these two doctrines we see that God is free in dispensing His sovereign mercy as He desires, and God is free to leave others in their own sin and hardening them in the sin that they have chosen. I would remind us of Romans 1:24, 26, and 28, “God gave them over.” God gave them over three times. Here, God is hardening those whom He has given over to their own sin. So, this clearly teaches the sovereignty of God in salvation, right? I think of two verses, Psalm 115 verse 3. It says, “God does whatever He pleases.” God does whatever He pleases. God does all that He pleases. God does when He pleases, with whom He pleases, how He pleases, where He pleases. Psalm 115 verse 3, “For our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” And Psalm 103 verse 19…I remember one time R.C. Sproul asked me to preach on this verse. R.C. told me, Dr. Sproul told me, he said, “The sovereignty of God is God’s favorite doctrine.” And he said, “It would be your favorite doctrine if you were God because it means you are totally in charge of everything.”
Psalm 103 verse 19, here is the text he gave me to preach. “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.” So, God by Himself has established His own throne of sovereignty. No one voted Him in, and no one will vote Him out. No one ushered Him in and no one will impeach Him from His throne of sovereignty. God has established His own throne in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all.
So, what is the application for this? I want to leave you with three “so what’s.” So what do we need to take from these verses? Number one, these verses give us correct thinking about God. And I would remind you what A.W. Tozer said: “The most important thing about you is what comes into your mind when you think of God.” Everything else is an overflow of what is at the epicenter of your heart and soul. It’s what comes into your mind when you think of God. What we have just looked at has to be at the very center of what we think about God. It is not everything about God. There are many attributes of God, but this is a part of what must be in our knowledge of God, and any knowledge of God that is without this is an inadequate and insufficient understanding of who God is. And so, these verses give us the picture of God’s supreme authority over His creation to deal with his creation as He pleases. That is number one.
Number two. These verses humble hearts before God. They humble our hearts before God. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ today, I can tell you, you are a believer not because this originated with you to believe in Christ. This originated with God for you to believe in Christ, and this should drop us to our knees this day that God did not pass us over. He would have been perfectly just if He had left us as we were, but that God chose to have mercy upon us. Every one of us in our heart right now this moment should say, “Why me,” comma, “Lord?” Question mark. And for reasons known only to God, based upon nothing that was any good within us because there was nothing morally good within us, God chose to have mercy and that mercy was motivated by His compassion toward us. So, it would be an oxymoron for us or oxymoronic for us to be proud and arrogant because we know this. No, we should be the most humble people, that God has opened our eyes and opened our hearts to behold this.
And the last thing that I want you to see is not only should this correct our thinking about God and humble our hearts before God, but this should strengthen our faith in God, that it is this God who is it work within us both to will and to work for His good pleasure, being “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you shall perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” This sovereign God who chose you in eternity past now within time will never abandon you. He will never walk away from you. He will always be at work in you, and He will accomplish good things through your life. This sovereign God who has laid hold of you will never let go of you, and He will accomplish all of His good pleasure in your life. He has foreordained good works for you to walk in, and this God who has called you to Himself now walks with you to enable you. He goes before you to open whatever doors need to be opened, to remove whatever obstacles need to be removed. He comes behind you to protect you from any ambush. He is under you to uphold you. He is over you to sustain you. He will provide everything that is necessary in your Christian life for you to advance and to be used by Him.
So, this truth of the sovereignty of God in your salvation should bolster your faith and your confidence in Him. Further, it should give you great assurance of your salvation because you wouldn’t even be here today, you wouldn’t even have love in your heart for God, you wouldn’t even have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ if God had not chosen you from eternity past and worked within your soul within time. Because it is all of God should give you greater confidence in your salvation. If it was dependent upon me, I would be second-guessing myself. I would be wondering, “Am I in? Am I out? Have I done enough?” If it was eighty percent God and twenty percent me, then I would still be in Nowheresville about any assurance. There would still be gaps in my confidence. But the fact that “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things,” I now have confidence in my salvation that it is God who has begun this work, and it is God who is at work within me, and it is God who will bring this work to completion.
So, this truth gives us great confidence that God will see us all the way through to heaven. What He started in eternity past, He will bring to completion in eternity future, and there will be no dropouts along the way. No one will slip through the cracks. God is God, and God will see this through.
So, is there any unfairness with God? The answer is no. Genesis 18:25 says that God does only what is right. And so, with us He has chosen to have mercy. On others, He has hardened their hearts. We will not censor God in this Bible study. We will not edit the Bible. The Bible speaks pure unvarnished, unadulterated truth. And so, “Let God be God and let every man be found a liar” as Romans 3 verse 4 says.
So, Kent will take some questions however you feel like we should do this. Let me just say we will be here next week. And Paul doesn’t take his foot off the gas pedal. Next week is, “God is the potter and we are the clay,” and He will make from the same lump vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath, and it will only intensify yet further.