"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « Augustine on Psalm One | Main | A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert Reymond »

    Romans 8:28 - 9:24 (Overview) by Pastor John Samson

    In Romans chapter 9, the Apostle Paul is dealing with the issue of God's Sovereign Grace in election. Obviously, Romans 9 follows on from Romans 8, and in the latter part of Romans 8, Paul is stating the fact that nothing and no one can separate the true believer from the love of Christ. But this raises a huge question; namely, why is it that not all Jews, the chosen people, have recognized their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ? How can nothing separate God's people from the love of Christ and many of the Jews be separated from it? That's exactly the question Paul is seeking to answer in Romans 9.

    There are no chapter and verse divisions in the original Greek text, and actually, Paul starts talking about predestination and election in Romans 8. So let's start at Romans 8:28 reading through to chapter 9 so we can establish the context for Paul's argument.

    Romans 8:
    28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
    29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;
    30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

    In what theologians refer to as "The Golden Chain of Redemption," God is revealing to us an unbreakable chain that starts in eternity past, goes through time, and on into eternity future. This chain is forged by God Himself, and has five unbreakable links: God foreknows, predestinates, calls, justifies and glorifies.

    Notice that there is one ambiguity in the text; something that is not actually stated but is definitely implied - that being the word "all." Let's see this clearly by inserting another possible implication by way of contrast, the word "some."

    "For (some) whom He foreknew, He predestined; (some) He predestined, He called; (some) He called, He justified; and (some) He justified, He glorified."

    What kind of comfort and security would that give to us? Would we be able to say "who can separate us from the love of Christ?" I think our answer would have to be, many things could separate us (if the intended implication was the word "some" in this passage). It would make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and certainly would not give us any kind of security in Christ, the very thing Paul is seeking to do in this passage. Instead, I believe 100 out of 100 Bible scholars would all agree that the implication of the text is that all He foreknew, He predestined; all He predestined, He called; all He called, He justified; and all He justified, He glorified.

    When I realized this, in my studies, I began to see a key word in this text that opened up much to me. That is the word "called." Why?

    Because the text says "these whom He called, He also justified." All of the called are justified. At first, this puzzled me because I knew both by Scripture and experience that not everyone who received the call of the Gospel were justified, because not all believe the Gospel when they hear it.

    So how are we to understand this word "called"? The answer can be found in a distinction made by theologians for centuries. They have long distinguished between the outward and the inward call.

    There is the outward call of the Gospel, which while heard by the ears, can be rejected. Yet there is a second calling, an inward call (usually taking place when the outward call is made), whereby God, the Holy Spirit, calls His people to Himself effectually by working a miracle in their hearts, bringing them from spiritual death to life. I believe we can understand this passage as referring to the inward call here, for the text speaks of a call that always results in justification. Remember again what we have just read, "these whom He called, He also justified."

    To give you a mental picture: it would be likened to Lazarus while dead and in the tomb. Jesus cried out, "Lazarus come forth" and as we know, it was an effectual call, as it awakened Lazarus from physical death. Jesus didn't merely invite Lazarus out from the grave, or suggest the benefits of doing so, waiting for Lazarus' decision on the matter before He proceeded! No, it was gracious in the extreme for Jesus to call Lazarus from the dead. It was entirey an act of Divine mercy as well as Divine power. So powerful was this call, in fact, that there was no way that Lazarus would not be raised. If Jesus had not specifically named "Lazarus," perhaps all in the tombs would have come forth with Lazarus. More could be said, of course, but let's read on:

    31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
    32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
    33 Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies;
    34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
    35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
    37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
    38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
    39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    9:1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,
    2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.
    3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,
    4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises,
    5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
    6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;

    God's word has not failed in any way because God's promises always hold true for the true Israel. However, not all of what we see as ethnic Israel is the true Israel, according to God. "They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." God's saving promises are made only to the true Israel; and Paul is declaring that these promises have never failed.

    7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED."

    Paul makes a distinction between two kinds of "children." There is the group known as Abraham's descendants, and there is a narrower group in that number whom he calls "the children," or we could call them, "the true children," since the others are also physical children. Paul then goes on to explain:

    8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
    9 For this is the word of promise: "AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON."
    10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac;
    11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls,

    Before either son was born, God chose one and not the other. This was not because of anything done by either one, or with a view to the future actions of either one. It (the choice) was "not because of works." The "works" of either Jacob or Esau had absolutely no part to play in God's decision to choose one and not the other.

    So what was the reason or deciding factor, if it was not to be found in either Jacob or Esau?

    Hear the Bible's clear answer to this question .... "because of Him who calls."

    The choice was not based on anything done by Jacob or Esau, but entirely on God's electing call, and nothing else!

    12 it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER."
    13 Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED."

    To quote Dr. John Piper in his comments on these verses, "After saying in verse 11 that God determines the destiny of Jacob and Esau before they were born or had done anything good or bad, he supports this with a quote from the Old Testament. "Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." [Malachi 1:2-3]

    What did Paul see in this quote from Malachi that made it right for him to use it in this way to support the unconditional election of Jacob over Esau? Let's go read it in context. What we will see is that Malachi's way of arguing is exactly like Paul's. Malachi 1 declares:

    1 "The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.
    2 "I have loved you," says the Lord. But you say, "How have You loved us?"
    [Then God answers]
    "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the Lord. "Yet I have loved Jacob;
    3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness."

    Do you see how God is arguing for his love for Jacob?

    They say, "How have you loved us?" And He answers, "Wasn't Esau Jacob's brother?"

    In other words, "Didn't Esau have as much right to be chosen as you? Wasn't he the son of Isaac? Wasn't he a twin in the same womb with you? Wasn't he even your elder brother? Nevertheless, I chose you." The whole point of that question, "Wasn't Esau Jacob's brother?" is exactly the same point Paul is making here.

    Paul saw it in Genesis. And he saw it in Malachi. Jacob and Esau had an equal claim on God's choosing, namely, no claim. And God chose Jacob unconditionally. That is the meaning of "Jacob I loved." In fact, we will never understand or experience the fullness of God's love until we grasp what it means to be chosen freely by God on the basis of nothing in us."

    What should amaze us is not that God hated Esau, for he was a sinner by nature like the rest of us, fully deserving God's wrath and justice. What should shock us to the core is the fact that God for no reason in Jacob, set His love on Jacob.

    Jacob was not in any way more deserving of God's love than Esau. So why was Jacob loved and Esau not... at least not in the same way or to the same extent? Verse 11 has already told us the answer to that, "so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls."

    What about God's hatred of Esau? How are we to understand this "hatred?"

    Again, let me quote Dr. Piper, "I think we should put aside all speculations here and get the meaning strictly from the context in Malachi and Romans 9. Let's read Malachi 1:3-4,

    3 "But I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness."
    4 Though Edom [i.e., Esau] says, 'We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins;' thus says the Lord of hosts, 'They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.'"
    Verse 4 points to two ways of understanding God's hatred.

    The first meaning is seen in the word "wicked." Near the end of verse 4 God says,

    "Men will call them the wicked territory." "I have hated Esau . . . I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory." In other words, God gives them up to wickedness. This is important in view of what we said earlier about the conditionality of God's final judgment. God does not bring judgments on an innocent Esau or Edom.

    Edom was judged as wicked. When God passed over Esau and chose Jacob before they were born, there was no decree that an innocent Esau would be judged. Rather what God decreed was to pass Esau by, to withhold His electing love, and to give him up to wickedness. And as Esau acted in wickedness, he was accountable for that wickedness and deserved the indignation and judgment of God.

    Which leads to the second meaning of God's hatred. At the end of verse 4:

    4 "And men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant [or angry] forever.'"

    In a sense you might say there is a passive and an active side of God's hate. Passively, He withholds electing love from Esau and gives it only to Jacob, and hands Esau over to wickedness - a wickedness for which he is really accountable and blameworthy. Then actively, God is angry with this wickedness forever. And if Esau is finally condemned, he will not be able to say "I do not deserve condemnation." His own sins will shut his mouth, and his own conscience will condemn him. And Jacob on the other side will tremble with fear and wonder that he was chosen to believe and be saved."

    As we continue in the text of Romans 9 we see that Paul then anticipates the response of an imaginary objector: namely, that God's choice to have mercy on some but not on all, but for the rest to receive His justice, is unfair or unjust.

    Paul raises this as an anticipated response from someone taking exception to what Paul was writing. In all probability, this was not the first time he had taught on this theme, and therefore, he would know all too well the objections that would usually be raised to his teaching. He says, in so many words, "I know exactly what you're going to say in response to this. You're going to say that this election idea is just not fair, for God is obligated to show the same kind of mercy to everyone or else He is not being fair. Right?"

    Many today believe this exact same objection to be true, but it is important to point out that those who believe Divine Election to be unfair, believe something the Apostle Paul raised as a possible objection to his own teaching. There is absolutely no doubt that the Apostle Paul would not be counted amongst those who thought it unfair of God to choose some but not all for salvation. In fact, he couldn't have been more clear as to where he stood on this issue.

    It should at least make us stop in our tracks. How can we accuse God of being unfair in this doctrine of election, when the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said that there is absolutely no injustice on God's part to show mercy to whom He will? If God is the author of Scripture, which I believe He is, then it is God Himself, through Paul, who is flatly denying any alleged injustice on His part!

    Mercy can never be demanded. If mercy can be demanded, then we're no longer talking about mercy. Mercy is always given at the discretion of the one showing mercy; for if this is not the case, we would be talking about justice and not mercy. For example, if a Governor pardons one criminal on death row, it doesn't mean he has to pardon every criminal on death row. Showing mercy to someone is not unjust, nor unfair, and neither is showing justice to others. It is never unjust to be just. There is no crime committed when a Judge dispenses justice; and likewise when a Judge shows mercy.

    Let's continue with Paul's argument....
    14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!

    Regarding this issue of election, of God choosing one and not another, the Apostle denies in very clear and emphatic language that there is unrighteousness or unfairness in God. There is no injustice in God, and lets remember, there was no righteousness in us, which would require God to be gracious to us. As Paul writes elsewhere, predestination and election occurs "according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace." (Eph. 1:5, 6) Mercy is always given at the discretion of the one showing mercy. God reserves the right to dispense His mercy as He sees fit, to the person or persons He chooses.


    We must notice verse 16, where Paul starts with the words, "So then..." These are key words to help us as readers to know that Paul is summing up his teaching here, and saying, in so many words, "on the basis of what I have made clear, I am now giving you my conclusion." What is Paul's conclusion?

    16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

    Dr. James White has commented, "After introducing the freedom of God to act outside of man's merits or deserts in regard to Jacob and Esau (9:10-13), Paul allows the "imaginary objector," who sounds oh so much like your average "free will is the answer to all things" evangelical, to speak: "What then shall we say? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!" Whenever God's freedom is asserted men cry out "Unjust! Unfair!" Paul's response must be understood within the context of the passage itself. 9:15 is explaining why there is no unrighteousness in God when He exercises the kind of sovereign freedom He did in the case of Jacob and Esau. He draws from Exodus 33:19 as a second example of His freedom drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures. It should be remembered that 9:16 provides us with the apostolic interpretation of 9:15; interpretations ignoring this will, by so doing, convict themselves of their eisegetical nature."

    I don't know how Paul could have been more clear here. This is perhaps the chief passage on the subject of election in the New Testament (along with perhaps John 6:37-45, and Ephesians 1:3-14) and here Paul concludes by saying that election does not depend on the will of man, or the efforts or exertion of man in any way. Election depends on God alone who has mercy. This conclusion should end all arguments on the subject, don't you think?

    So, in conclusion, what is the deciding factor in election? Is it the will of man? Paul says "no, it does not depend on the will of man."

    Is it the efforts of man? Again, Paul denies that is a factor.

    So Paul, tell us plainly; what is the deciding factor? Paul's answer is unmistable and clear; "God who has mercy."

    James White adds a further commentary at this point: "Paul is ready with an Old Testament example to buttress his arguments: Exodus 33. This tremendous passage contains themes which find their full expression only in the New Testaments full revelation of the doctrines of God's free and sovereign grace. God showed mercy and compassion to Moses, choosing to reveal His glory as an act of grace. We must understand, in light of the prevailing attitude of the world around us, that Gods mercy, if it is to be mercy at all, must be free. Literally the text speaks of mercying and compassioning, again verbs of action which find their subject in God and their object in those chosen by His decision. It does not say, "I will have mercy on those who fulfill the conditions I have laid down as the prerequisite of my plan of salvation!" Both the source of compassion and mercy and the individual application find their ultimate ground only in the free choice of God, not of man. This divine truth, so offensive to the natural man, could not find a clearer proclamation than Romans 9:16. We truly must ask, if this passage does not deny to the will of man the all-powerful position of final say in whether the entire work of the Triune God in salvation will succeed or fail, what passage possibly could? What stronger terms could be employed? The verse begins, "so then," drawing from the assertion of God that mercy and compassion are His to freely give. Next comes the negative particle, "not," which negates everything that follows in the clause. Two human activities are listed: willing and literally "running," or striving. Human choice and human action. Paul puts it bluntly: it is not "of the one willing" nor is it "of the one running." Paul uses two singular present active participles. The fact that they are singular shows us again the personal nature of the passage. The interpretation that attempts to limit Romans 9 to "nations" cannot begin to explain how nations "will" or "run." In contrast to these Paul uses a present active participle to describe Gods act of "mercying," showing mercy. Man may strive through his will and his endeavors, but God must show mercy." (James White, The Potter's Freedom)

    Let's then read Paul's conclusion again in verse 16 and read on in the passage, and I think you will agree with me, that Paul does not back down for one minute on the issue. Without any apology at all, he writes that to question God in this matter is unparalleled arrogance. He writes:

    16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
    18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
    19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?"

    Again, Paul anticipates the objection that would be raised to his line of reasoning, namely that God is finding fault. How can God find fault with the non-elect, when, if all that Paul writes is true, then the non-elect are not responsible for their unbelief, God is. Why? Because both the elect and the non-elect are doing only that which is God's will. And here is the kicker: They cannot resist God's will!

    This seems, at first glance at least, to be a strong argument against Paul's teaching. Its also the one raised in our own day to this exact teaching.

    Lets keep in mind that Paul brings up this objection, knowing that it would be voiced by those who would not embrace Paul's apostolic message here in Romans 9. What we should not do, if we want to understand and believe the Scriptures, is to agree with this objection, and make it our own. Paul only raises the objection to dismantle, destroy and annihilate it, with apostolic authority, once and for all!

    "The example of Pharaoh was well known to any person familiar with the Old Testament. God destroyed the Egyptian nation by plagues so as to demonstrate His might and power in the earth, and key to this demonstration was the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. Before Moses had met with Pharaoh the first time God told him: When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. (Exodus 4:21)

    It was God's intention to bring His wrath upon the Egyptians. God's actions were not "forced" by the stubborn will of the Egyptian leader. God said he would harden Pharaoh's heart, and he did. Listen to the impudent response of this pagan idolater to the command of Moses:

    And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.'" But Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go." (Exodus 5:1-2) Is this not what God said he would do? Will someone suggest that Pharaoh's heart is "soft" here? No indeed, and Moses well knew that God was behind this for when the Pharaoh then increased the work load of the Israelites, Moses complained to God in Exodus 5:22. Why complain to God if, in fact, God had nothing to do with it and it was all just a matter of the Pharaoh's "free will choice"?

    This provides the background of Paul's citation of Exodus 9:16. The portion of truth that here stings the pride of man is this: it is more important that God's name be magnified and His power made known than it is any single man get to "do his own thing." Pharaoh was surely never forced to do anything sinful (indeed, God probably kept him from committing many a sinful deed). He acted on the desires of his wicked heart at all times. But he is but a pot, a creature, not the Potter. He was formed and made and brought into existence to serve the Potter's purposes, not his own. He is but a servant, one chosen, in fact, for destruction in the waters of the sea. His destruction, and the process which led up to it (including all the plagues upon Egypt), were part of God's plan. There is simply no other way to understand these words.

    Paul then combines the fact that God showed undeserved compassion and mercy to Moses (Exodus 33) with God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 5) and concludes that whether one is "mercied" or "hardened" is completely, unalterably, and utterly up to God. The verbs here are active: God performs these actions. He "mercies" whom He wills and he hardens whom He wills. The parallel between mercy and hardening is inarguable. We may like the mercying part more than the hardening, but they are both equally a part of the same truth. Reject one and you reject them both. There is no such thing as preaching God's mercy without preaching God's judgment, at least according to Scripture." (James White - The Potter's Freedom)

    How exactly does God 'harden' a human heart?

    Well there two possible answers. One is to actively put evil into the heart of man - which I do not believe to be true of God biblically. The second, and I believe scriptural view is that in some people's cases, God withholds mercy, (let's always remember mercy by definition can never be demanded) and leaves them to the stubbornness of their own (hostile to God) nature. God doesn't need to actively put evil in a human heart, to harden it - He can just withold mercy and leave us to our own evil desires. The worst thing God can do for us while we are in a state of spiritual deadness is to leave us in the hands of our boasted free will.

    God holds people responsible for something they cannot do, which is to come to a saving knowledge of Christ by their own power and will! (v. 16) In this case, they cannot resist His will, but yet they are still at fault. Still the pot screams, "THAT'S NOT FAIR GOD!"

    Today, the vast majority of Christians hold the unbiblical idea that God does not hold us responsible for things we cannot do. Why do they hold to this idea? Because they believe the alternative is not fair. What is Paul's answer to this?

    Well lets read it in the next verse:

    20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it?

    Paul's answer is to point out that God is God, and man is man, and man has no business telling God what to do with His creation.

    21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

    The implication in Paul's question here is that yes, indeed, God as the Potter has every right to make what He likes from the clay. Though man will shout loud and long about what seems to be man's lack of freedom in all this, God's answer is to shout back, "What about My freedom as the Potter?" In Romans 9, Paul contends for the Potter's freedom to have mercy on whom He will.

    22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

    Though these words are phrased as a question, it is obvious that these words are indeed Paul's continued answer to the claim that this idea of election is unfair.

    Paul refers to "vessels of wrath" which were created for the purpose of destruction! When seeing these words we immediately think that we have misunderstood them, for surely they can't mean what they appear to say.... or can they?

    Actually, if we hold to the inspiration of the Scripture, we have to submit to its teaching as God breathed revelation, and here Paul says that there are some, (obviously the non-elect) who were created for the purpose of destruction. These "vessels of wrath" are created for this purpose, and yet remember, as we follow Paul's thinking here, God still finds fault with them.

    How can this be? Well, the fact that mankind will not come to Christ without God's intervention is not due to a physical handicap that man has, but rather to a moral inclination, to avoid submitting to God and His ways at all costs. (Rom 3:11; 8:7, 8) Man cannot come because he will not come. As Jesus declares in John 6:44, "No man can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." The only ones who can come are those drawn by the Father, and all that are drawn in this way are raised up to eternal life. God will have His way with His creation, and He has every right to rule in this way. He is God!

    "Why are there vessels prepared for destruction? Because God is free. Think about it: there are only three logical possibilities here. Either 1) all vessels are prepared for glory (universalism); 2) all vessels are prepared for destruction; or 3) some vessels are prepared for glory and some are prepared for destruction and it is the Potter who decides which are which. Why is there no fourth option, one in which the pots prepare themselves based upon their own choice? Because pots don't have such a capacity! Pots are pots! Since God wishes to make known the riches of his grace to His elect people (the vessels prepared of mercy), there must be vessels prepared for destruction. There is no demonstration of mercy and grace where there is no justice. The vessels of wrath, remember, like being vessels of wrath, would never choose to be anything else, and they detest the vessels that receive mercy." (James White, The Potter's Freedom)

    23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,
    24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

    If God had mercy in this way on only one sinner, He would forever be called a God of mercy. The fact that He elects to save a number that no man can count (Rev. 7:9) is the wonder of all wonders. God had every right to send all mankind to the lake of fire, but in His amazing grace and mercy, He has Sovereignly decided to save a people for Himself.

    God's grace will be marvelled at throughout the eternal ages because of the great contrast between the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy. Why is this? Because the only difference between the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy is a five letter word called GRACE - Sovereign grace which changes the hearts of hostile, rebellious, God-hating sinners into those whose hearts love God. Because this change in the heart is wrought by God alone, for He along takes out the stony heart and puts in a heart of flesh - there is absolutely no basis for the boasting of man, ever. It is by His doing that we are in Christ Jesus and therefore no flesh will glory in His presence. (1 Cor. 1: 30,31)

    Though I wrestled for a long time with the issue of Divine election, in the end, I realized that all my efforts to get round Paul's clear words in Romans 9 were futile. Though I have read many commentaries on this chapter, I have yet to hear a consistent argument or exegesis from the "free will" side that does not in some way twist Paul's words here.

    So to sum all of this up, Paul has answered the question as to why many of his fellow Jews did not embrace the Messiah when He came. Not all of ethnic Israel is the true Israel. Not every physical descendant was chosen by God to receive this mercy. Paul argues this, contrasting the Old Testament figures of Jacob and Esau. Both had the same mother, the same father, and were even in the same womb, when, before either one had done anything good or bad, God chose Jacob and not Esau.

    Why? " that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls."

    This then is the answer to the question as to why only some in Israel have come to faith in their own Messiah. The word of God has not failed in any way whatsoever. All to whom the promises were made, the true Israel, will enjoy those promises. That's also why you and I, are children of God, by God's Sovereign electing grace alone. As Paul makes clear elsewhere, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph. 2:8, 9)

    If we are true believers, and therefore, true children of God, we can always count on the promises of God. God has chosen to save His people in such a way that makes His promises incapable of failure. God's electing purposes will stand because they don't depend on us and our efforts but on the One who calls. As Jonah 2:9 declares, "salvation is of the Lord." God is the one who foreknows, who predestines, who calls, who justifies and who glorifies. "It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." Romans 9:16

    We are saved by God's grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone... and all the glory for it, goes to God alone.

    If you are a true child of God, and know that you are born again, stop for a moment and thank God for the mercy He has shown to you. I would also encourage you to think back to when God began to draw you to Himself (whether it was recently or long ago). What or whom did He use to bring you? As you think of that time, thank God for His plan and the people He used to produce your conversion. If it is possible, tell these people what they have meant in your life.

    Posted by John Samson on March 30, 2006 07:51 PM


    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Romans 8:28 - 9:24 (Overview) by Pastor John Samson:

    » The Best Argument for Calvinism: Rom. 8:28 - 9:24 from Fundamentally Reformed
    I had always heard people say that Calvinism is based on logical implications not required by Scripture. Basically, it was argued, Calvinists have gone beyond what Scripture clearly teaches to come up with their positions. Anyone who agrees with this a... [Read More]


    "The parts of application [of redemption] are two, union with Christ and partaking of the benefits that flow from this union. Phil 3.9. This union is the spiritual relation of men to Christ by which they obtain the right to all the blessings provided to him 1 John 5:12. This union is accomplished by calling. Calling is the gathering of men together in Christ so they may be united with Him. 1 Pet 2:4,5" - William Ames (The Marrow of Theology)

    The call of the Holy Spirit in invincible...He will infallibly accomplish what He is set out to do and will not be frustrated in His work of changing the sinner's heart. He gets the job done. The preacher casts forth seed (or the outward call of the gospel) which is always resisted by those who are, by nature, hostile to God unless the Spirit opens our heart to it, inwardly calling us through the Word of the preacher, uniting us to Christ.

    I think this is a good article, thank you for this exposition.
    But I asked to my self, while reading about 'God hating Esau', what about a connection with imputed guilt and original sin. That is, God hated Esau before he made any bad works, or that wickedness was found in him.
    I think that Esau, like every human being, was condemned as considered fallen in Adam, then legally guilty and punishible in the mind of God even before being born and committing any wickedness because of his inherited adamitic sinful nature.
    That's why, in my opinion, God says that He hated him before being born and having done something bad or good whatsoever.

    Regarding the part about the 'hardening', I agree that it is not God who puts evil in both of them, that is, in their natures, since they are what they are by a process of natural inheritance from Adam; but this doesn't mean, in my opinion, that God is not involved in bringing to life an evil creature, in creating it; that is, He has sovereignly created evil creatures not choosing to intervene to put away evil from their natures.
    He has assisted their process of being conceived and born with an evil nature, and had not been for His active will and power, those evil creatures wouldn't ever be born with that inherited evil nature, would they?

    Moreover, I would like to understand better the process of 'hardening' as pictured and explained throughout the pages of Scripture.



    you said >>>>>He has sovereignly created evil creatures not choosing to intervene to put away evil from their natures. He has assisted their process of being conceived and born with an evil nature, and had not been for His active will and power, those evil creatures wouldn't ever be born with that inherited evil nature, would they?

    That is what we call "mercy", for He could have justly chosen to wipe out all creatures, but with great patience and mercy He determined to set a people apart for Himself and to redeem them (prophesied in Gen 15) in spite of their evil.

    Pastor John,

    Great article. Thanks for posting it. I have publicized it on my blog and another forum, because I think it is so helpful to one who might be prejudiced against Calvinism.

    I used to think (before I embraced Calvinism) that Calvinism was based on logical implications from texts of Scripture. I thought it went beyond what Scripture taught to theorize logically and come up with its system. But in my honest and open-minded evaluation of Calvinism, I came to realize that the opposite is actually the case. Calvinism has scores of texts (chief among them this passage and John 6:44) which clearly teach many of its points. It is the non-Calvinist who eisegetically reads in his logical conclusions to avoid the clear meaning of so many texts. The texts Calvinist's are criticized for twisting, use general words ("all", "world", "whoever", etc.) which must be interpreted contextually. Yet often simple definitions are ignored by non-Calvinists in their treatment of those very texts (for instance the definition of "save", "atone", and "propitiate"). While I have seen some non-Calvinists try to argue their way out of this passage (Rom. 8-9), to any unbiased observer it is clear that they are the ones doing hermeneutical backflips to avoid the painfully clear teaching of the text.

    Thanks for helping us walk thru this Scriptural passage and see just how Calvinistic Paul really was!

    "38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
    39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

    Notice he doesn't include "SIN" in that list.


    From this and other comments you have made on this blog it appears that you think sin can "un-adopt" us as God's children ... in other words, your theology would have us believe that the work of Christ is itself insufficient to save us completely. That, in fact, we must maintain our own justification before God. This is the very definition of legalism and is could not be more contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Either what Christ does for us is finished and sufficient for us OR we must pay the price of our own redemption. If it depended on our godliness, then no one would stand ...all would be condemend. That is exactly why we need Christ dear Gaz.

    Do you love Christ with all your heart mind soul and strength right now? yesterday? If not then you have fallen short of God's standard for you. Based on your theology, you would be condemend.

    As Luther once said: "What is it about your own miserable works and doings that you think you could please God more than the sacrifice of His own Son?"

    "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" - Gal 3:3

    It is noteworthy that you did not comment on the main point Pastor John made so I will ask it in a simple question... how many of those who were called were justified, according to Rom 8:30???? and how many of those were glorified?

    Hebrews 7:24-26 (King James Version)

    24 But this man [Jesus Christ], because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. 26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;

    How does assurance of salvation play into this? It's passages like ROM 9 that freak my friend out to the point where he's convinced he's probably cursed. I try to restate again and again God's objective promises of salvation to those who believe, but he constantly worries that he's part of the MATT 7:22-23 crowd.

    My friend seems to be a convinced Calvinist who believes he's damned. Is that really possible? Can someone know that he is damned? Hmmm... maybe Judas did.

    As someone who is nudging toward Calvinism one petal at a time, I'm not sure what to tell him.


    In a spirit of love and gentleness ask your friend what sin it is that he is unwillingly to repent of and believe the Gospel. He is hiding behind that excuse he gives you.

    "19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed." John 3:19-20

    Your friend is using this excuse because he loves his sin and wants to do it. Just keep witnessing to him and praying that God will open his eyes. And remember the Gospel has two parts: Repent and Believe the Gospel.

    Preach the law and the condemnation that comes because of our sin in the fullest measure. Don't sugar coat it. God hates sin and will excute His just wrath on all those who don't repent. And then preach the Gospel in the fullest measure. Jesus paid it all and the free gift of eternal life is for all who will trust in His sacrifice for the forgiveness of all their sins.


    "19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." Galatians 2:19-20

    ""24 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. " John 5:24

    True believers already have eternal life and He(Jesus) has saved us to the uttermost. He will have mercy on us and save us to the very end. God keeps us in the palm of His hand and no one can snatch us out.



    Actually, assurance of salvation is one of the main points of the text. If ALL who are called are justified and ALL who are justified are glorified, then we can know for certain, based on God's promise in Christ, not on our ability to perform perfectly, that we will be granted the resurrection of the righteous. If we are clothed in Christ's righteousness, not our own, only then can we have assurance.

    Damnation is only for unbelievers. If he believes the gospel, that means God has already done a work of grace in him where the Spirit cries "Abba" within him. The only way he cannot have assurance is if he does not believe. If he is unbelieving then certainly he does not know Christ.

    Remember affection for, and faith in Christ is impossible for an unregenerate person (1 Cor 2:14) so he either believes in Christ or He does not. Anyone who thinks he is reprobate and still claims to believe in Christ is really still trusting in his own righteousness.

    A love for Christ and a desire to obey Christ is not the product of an unregenerate mind and heart. Not fideism because it is not intellectual assent, but rather, a love for Christ which can only be produced by a heart which the Holy Spirit has changed. So when we approach the Lord's Table God's sign and seal to us is that He will not treat us as our sins deserve as we are united to Christ.

    Hi Eric,

    I appreciate your question, for many people struggle with the question of whether or not they are one of the elect.

    Here's the sort of questions I'd begin to ask your friend: "Biblically, can a person know they are eternally secure?"

    I would answer, "most definitely, yes." That's because all those given by the Father will come to the Son, and will be kept by Him and raised up to eternal life. Not one of the elect... absolutely no one, falls through the cracks. (see John 6:37-39).

    As I wrote in the article, all the justified are glorified (Romans 8:30). We are justified by faith... (Romans 5:1) but the question we wrestle with is whether or not we have true genuine faith, rather than a dead kind of faith (James 2) which never could save anyone.

    So the next question is "how do we know if we are numbered among the elect by possessing true genuine saving faith?"

    Well, that's actually a fairly easy question to answer, believe it or not.

    The Reformers of the 16th Century described true saving faith as having three parts to it, using three Latin words: notitia, assensus and fiducia.

    1. CONTENT OR INFORMATION (notitia). Like our modern day word "notice", notitia concerns information or knowledge of the truth of the gospel. We need to understand the facts of the Gospel.

    2. BELIEF (assensus). It is entirely possible to understand something (the notitia) and yet not believe it personally (assensus). We need to be able to say "I both understand and believe the content of the gospel."

    3. COMMITMENT (fiducia). The last part of faith is commitment to the One who loved us and died for us. It is of critical importance simply because it is possible to understand these truths, believe they are true, and yet pull back from the necessary commitment that will actually enlist us as one of Christ's followers. There is such a thing as false faith and actually it is GOOD that we spend some time examining ourselves to see if we be in the faith, as the scripture says (2 Cor. 13:5). I think we'd all agree that it is far better to struggle through the issues for a short season and arrive at a point of assurance than to never examine ourselves, and be found to have a false kind of faith. However, God does want to give us assurance of our salvation (1 John 5:13) and certainly, it is the enemy of our souls who would want to rob us of true assurance (if we have the genuine article).

    So, back to the three ingredients that the Reformers described as true saving faith. To possess only the first two parts (notitia and assensus), without the third part (fiducia), merely qualifies us to be demons! James 2:19 declares, "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder." Even demons understand and believe, but that does not mean that they have a share in redemption. This commitment spoken of here will always produce the fruit of good works.

    Though our works play no part at all in justifying us before God (Rom 3:28; 4:4, 5) they justify or vindicate our claim to faith before a watching world. Our lives should demonstrate that the faith professed was, and is, also possessed.

    With this in mind, lets remember once again Jesus' words when He said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me." (John 6:37)

    Here's the question I would ask your friend: "have you come to Christ?" I mean, have you genuinely come to the biblical Christ, (not just like a Judas who "came" to Him as a revolutionary figure to rid the Jews of Roman rule, but I am speaking of coming to the biblical Christ, who is fully God, fully man, the Perfect Savior and only mediator between God and men)? Have you come then to the biblical Christ, repenting of your sin and putting your faith in Him alone to save you?

    And how about your affection for Christ? Do you have a genuine love for the Lord Jesus Christ?"

    If your friend can in all honesty say "yes" to these questions, and has indeed come to Christ, then scripture is clear that such a person could not have come unless they were first amongst those given by the Father to the Son (John 6:37).

    If you have come with genuine saving faith, knowing the content of the Gospel, believing it, and then commiting your life to Christ, trusting in Christ alone to save you, then without doubt you are numbered among the elect. That's because only the elect genuinely come. Only the elect genuinely love Christ. You would have no measure of affection for the biblical Christ unless God had first done something in your heart. By nature, we do not seek God or want Him. But the fact that you love Him, albeit imperfectly, indicates that you are one of Christ's sheep.

    Thanks Alan, John H, and John S!

    With my Lutheran background, I've been approaching this much as John H suggests. If you believe the gospel, you're saved. If you don't believe the gospel, you're damned. It's all about Christ's objective work for you, not about your own works and subjective feelings.

    My friend accuses me of fideism. To which I reply, that I do adhere to faith alone as an interpretive grid for the world I see. Then I accuse him of legalism. It's a sad sad circle that gets us nowhere.

    His agony comes mostly from the Fiducia component of true saving faith. When he looks at the fruit of his life, he's torn. Has he fully come to the biblical Christ? Does he have absolute affection for Christ? From my view, he's always studying the Word and serving others -- more than most Christians I know. But these things kill him because he knows his love for God and man is not perfect. And if it's not perfect, then how off from the mark can it be before he's considered to be outside the kingdom.

    To me he's looking inward too much, when he should be looking at Christ instead. The law is slaying him, as it should, and yet he won't hear the gospel and be saved.

    Thanks again for your input. I'll dwell on what you've written and try to reframe my approach with my friend in future discussions.

    I don't understand how "fiducia" (the committment part of faith) is different from works. committment surely seems like work. I really do not understand.


    None of the aspects of faith described would be different from works if faith did not spring from our new nature, which God granted by sheer grace.

    Consider, even the first type of faith ... is that what makes us differ from other men, or is it the grace of God? We do not generate faith as a product of our fallen human nature. You would be correct that it is a work IF it is something we came up with on our own. But what we could not do for ourselves, Christ has done for us.

    See my essay: Is Faith a Work?

    That's exactly what Roman Catholics say when we object to their works-salvation system. They say our good works are not really ours, since we could never perform them without the grace of God. That is true, but they are still teaching salvation by works, if you know what I mean. This fiducia/committment part of faith seems very similar to their theology.

    Dear Cornfused

    When Jesus raised Lazarus to life, could Lazarus boast that He gave himself life because he was now breathing and seeing and walking around? No of course not. He did not have a choice in the matter, nor was he consulted. Jesus just gave the command and He was raised. Likewise, our spiritual new birth is what gives rise to our belief. The belief and the new affections are simply the response to the new life already in us, not the cause of life. We did not cooperate with God to be born again. We did not believe to be born again but were born again that we might believe (John 1:13, 1 John 5:1; Rom 9:16).

    The difference is also that commitment in not what saves us, Christ saves us. Faith and works have no saving power whatsoever in themselves. We are declared righteouss as we are united to Christ by the Spirit. But a true saving faith worked in us by the Spirit will reveal itself through a lively affection for Christ or a committment to Him (we believe and work because we have life, not that we might have it) .... otherwse a spurious faith is not a spiritually generated faith, but one generated by natural man. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated huiman nature.

    Romans Catholic faith and works are actually part of what merits their salvation. They believe in Purgatory, which reveals that they believe what Christ did was not sufficient itself to save. Something we did had to be added. Their salvation therefore is synergistic. They cooperate or do not cooperate.

    But we believe the work of the Spirit is invincible (John 6:65, 37). No one believes the gospel unless God grants it AND ALL TO WHOM GOD GRANTS IT WILL BELIEVE. What Christ did was all sufficient. God actually saves us and accomplishes what He sets out to do. There is no cooperation in our regeneration. It is a work of God alone.

    Catholics as well as Arminians and the "free grace' people believe that we, in our unregenerate state are morally able to cooperate/or not with God's grace. But unspiritual men ddo not think spiritual thoughts. We affirm with the Scripture that, not our faith, not our works but Christ saves us. Our faith is simply the Holy Spirit dwelling in us crying 'ABBA' giving witness to the fact that the Spirit has quickened us. It gives all glory to God and none to man.

    Again we must ask ourselves this question: What makes us to differ from other men, The grace of God in Christ, or the will of man?

    in the RC, Arminian and all synergisitc traditions, they are unable to answer the following question: why does one believe the gospel and not the other? Was one more sensitive to spiritual things, more wise, morally superior to their neighbor? They are stuck with having to reply with some virtue in natural man. Or else they have to say, "because one believed." But I did not ask what they did, but why they did it?

    Jesus says some do not believe Because they are not His sheep. The Scripture in other words makes clear that it is the grace of God which makes us to differ. 1 Cor. 15:10 which leaves no room for boasting. We deserve God's wrath but he poured it on HIs Son instead.

    For related essay see my entry on Pietistic Vs Biblical Sanctification

    May the Lord richly bless you brother.

    His agony comes mostly from the Fiducia component of true saving faith. When he looks at the fruit of his life, he's torn. Has he fully come to the biblical Christ? Does he have absolute affection for Christ? From my view, he's always studying the Word and serving others -- more than most Christians I know. But these things kill him because he knows his love for God and man is not perfect. And if it's not perfect, then how off from the mark can it be before he's considered to be outside the kingdom.
    To me he's looking inward too much, when he should be looking at Christ instead. The law is slaying him, as it should, and yet he won't hear the gospel and be saved.
    Thanks again for your input. I'll dwell on what you've written and try to reframe my approach with my friend in future discussions.
    Posted by: Eric | April 1, 2006 12:59 PM

    Key question: "And if it's not perfect, then how off from the mark can it be before he's considered to be outside the kingdom?"

    I say if it's not there, one is outside the kingdom; for it is present yet imperfect in all of the regenerate this side of glorification. That he is unsatisfied with that imperfection is an indication that the progressive work of sanctification being wrought in him by the Holy Spirit continues. Dullness, dimness, sloth, and lethargy would be the greater cause for concern and self examination if present.


    I have a question about intellectual assent to the faith.

    Does it take divine grace for a person to gain intellectual assent to Christianity? Or is it something the natural, unregenerate man can come to by himself?


    You have hit on the crux of the matter. We believe the Scripture teaches that faith is not produced by our unregenrated human nature. The Scriptures through and through describe the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit illumining our mind, circumcizing our heart, upplugging our deaf ears and removing our natural blindness to the gospel. If the Spirit did not act to change our heart then we would still love darkness and not come into the light (John 3:19). Likewise, in the context of Jesus saying, "the Spirit gives life and the flesh counts for nothing" he says, this is why he says that no one is able to believe the gospel unless God grants it (John 6:63, 65). And since ALL that the Father gives the son will believe (John 6:37)and be rasied up on the last day (John 6:44) then we can only conclude that the Spirit's work is not only necessary but invincible in accomplishing that which God intended to do through Christ.

    A great question to ask oneself is, can a person come to Christ entirely apart from any work of the Holy Spirit? The Scriptures plainly say no ... "no one says 'Jesus is Lord' apart from the Spirit.

    Hmmmm, what about this situation: A person acknowledges that Christianity is true, that Christ is the Son of God crucified to save sinners, etc. However, while knowing this to be true, he does not want to follow Christ totally. Did such a person recieve the gift of faith, or merely intellectual assent. Or is even bare intellectual assent a gift itself?


    All people, (regenerate and unregenerate) according to Romans 1, know God ... some as a friend and others as enemies who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. So bare intellectual assent itelf does not save and may or may not be a saving grace depending on whether it is accompanied by true affection for Christ.

    But if intellectual assent was not itself a gift then we could boast by praying something like the Pharisee:

    "Thank you Lord that I am not like other men who do not have faith. When you extended your grace to all men, many did not make use of it, BUT I DID."

    Such boasting, of course, would be unchristian, but it is subconsciouly the thought of those who would hold back from thanking God for their faith. Even though Paul many times thanks God for the faith of those he wrote letters to like the Thessalonians. The very humility to believe the gospel is a gift of grace which we need thank God for. "What do you have that you did not receive" ... "all good gifts are granted from above" Otherwise there are aspects of our life in Christ which we could say, "thank you Lord for all that you have done for me, but my faith, that was the one thing I contributed and so can thank myself for." Pretty ridiculous when we bring these thought to God in prayer. I reveals their flaw in the light of His countenance.

    If even intellectual faith were something we produced in our unregenerate nature, then it would mean our will, not God's grace is what ultimately saved us.

    For those who think that faith is not a gift (John 6:65) must answer the question, "why does one man believe the gospel and not another?"

    We affirm that faith is not merely acknowledgeing the truth of Christianity. James says the Demons also have that kind of faith. John 3:19, 20 says that those who do not come into the light is because they love darkness. So it it a matter of one's affection. Does one see the beauty and excellency of Jesus Christ in the truth? Again, Rom 1 says that unbelievers "KNOW God" but that knowledge is as an enemy not as a friend (who suppress that truth in unrighteousnes). All persons already believe in Christ and God, the Scriptures affirm, so intellectual assent is not it. It is a change of heart, a change of one's affections from one love to another. And this unregenerate people cannot do apart from grace.

    If one claims to believe and yet still hates Christ then the faith is spurious. This is because Christ has done a work of grace in true believers, circumcising his heart to WANT TO believe and obey the Lord.

    You described a person as intellectually believing but "not want[ing] to follow Christ totally.

    There is a difference between "wanting to follow Christ totally" and actually doing it. It is clear that no one at any moment actually loves Christ with all their heart mind soul and strength ... since Christ leaves us in a state of sin so that we may continully be driven back to Him and never trust oneself.

    As Pink said, "Just as the sinner's despair of any hope from himself is the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, so the loss of all confidence in himself is the first essential in the believer's growth in grace.

    It is a matter of Christ and what he has done for us. A true Christain will sin and yet will mourn over sin and flee to Christ because the Holy Spirit has changed his hostile disposition from darkness to an affection for Light. Philippians says that a true Christian "the true circumcision" are characterized by

    1) worshipping in the Spirit of God
    2) Glorying in Christ Jesus
    3) Have no confidence in the flesh.

    If persons refuse to do any of the above I would go against my conscience to give them any assurance of salvation.

    "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God." (1 Cor 2:12)

    The gospel can only be understood by the spiritual. Unspiritual men do not understand spiriutual truths by NATURE.

    Thanks for an excellent post. Praise the Lord for such clear statements of truth and great promises for all who believe.

    I've linked this post here.

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