Essay on Calvinism and the Glory of God in Romans 9

The Biblical Evidence in Romans Chapter 9

The Bible’s emphasis on these matters is of utmost importance. The locations where the Bible speaks directly to man’s freedom in conjunction with God’s Sovereignty is where God’s Sovereignty and Human Freedom are brought into their respective position. The emphasis that the Bible places on such issues should establish one’s beliefs. When the Bible speaks of man’s freedom to choose, in conjunction with God’s sovereignty, the emphasis does not consistently fall on God’s commitment to ensure that every person has the ability to choose, such that no influence would decisively incline the will in one direction instead of another. When reading the Bible, it is clear that God does allow people’s wills to be influenced in such a way that the influence decisively moves people’s decisions one way instead of another (Gen. 20:6; Ex. 12:36; Judges 9:23; Acts 4:28; Prov. 21:1). When people’s wills are similarly inclined in the Scriptures, such an influence does not abrogate a person’s responsibility (Acts 4:28). Now, a brief analysis of Romans chapter 9 will be given to determine what God’s “superior purpose” is in relation to universal salvation, and this will help to biblically establish the grounds of defining human freedom.
In Romans chapter 9, Paul presents a problem. The problem is that the majority of God’s chosen people, Israel, have rejected Christ. Paul addresses the problem of Israel’s rejection in Romans 9:6 by saying “it is not as though the word of God has failed.” Paul then sets out to demonstrate that God has never included all of Abraham’s offspring. God rejected Ishmael, and accepted Isaac. Many of Paul’s critics would have pointed out that Ishmael was a son of the slave Hagar, and that this was the basis of God’s rejection. Therefore Paul moves to another example to delineate the true grounds for the distinction between those who are included into God’s covenant and those who are excluded.
The next example that Paul gives is Jacob and Esau. These two boys were twins and they were both born as sons to Isaac and Rebecca. Romans 9:11 says that God chose to include Jacob and to reject Esau before either of them were born and before either of them had done any good or evil. The next objection is “then why did he choose one over the other?” Paul answers “in order that the purpose of God’s election would stand, not of works but of him who calls.” John Piper writes,

“First, with the use of the preposition ἐξ Paul makes explicit that God’s decision to treat Esau and Jacob differently is not merely prior to their good or evil deeds but is also completely independent of them. God’s electing purpose (Rom 9:11c) and his concrete prediction (9:12c) are in no way based on the distinctives Esau and Jacob have by birth or by action. This rules out the notion of the early Greek and Latin commentators that election is based on God’s foreknowledge of men’s good works.”

God chooses Jacob over Esau with no respect to the distinctives of either party. Paul even builds on this when he writes, “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 depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16). John Piper writes,

“Paul never grounds the “electing purpose of God” in man’s faith. The counterpart to works in conjunction with election (as opposed to justification) is always God’s own call (Rom 9:12b) or his own grace (Rom 11:6). The predestination and call of God precede justification (Rom 8:29f) and have no ground in any human act, not even faith. This is why Paul explicitly says in Rom 9:16 that God’s bestowal of mercy on whomever he wills is based neither on human willing (which would include faith) nor on human running (which would include all activity).”

Many people raise the same objection that Paul anticipates when they ask “Is there injustice on God’s part” (Rom. 9:14)? Paul, in answering this question harkens back to the episode with God and Moses where God reveals his plans for Israel, Egypt, and Pharaoh.
In Exodus 33:18 Moses pleads with God saying “Please show me your glory.” To which God responds “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex. 33:19). When Moses asks to see God’s glory, God’s says that He will pass all of his goodness before Moses and that He would proclaim his name ‘The Lord.’ Immediately after this God says “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” In other words, God is saying that the essence of His glory carries with it the freedom to extend grace and mercy to whomever He wills. God is saying to Moses, “in order for you to rightly see my glory, you must know that I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious; because, all of my gracious activity is motivated by nothing outside of me; I am free!” God is under no obligation to extend mercy to anyone, and it is part and parcel of the glory of God to delegate His grace freely and sovereignly; hence God’s statement subsequent to Moses’s request. Piper writes,
This suggests strongly, then, that in Rom 9:15-18 Paul is defending the righteousness of God in predestination by referring to two Old Testament texts which reveal that God proclaims his name (i.e. his character) and demonstrates his glorious power in the world by exercising his sovereign freedom to show mercy and to harden. The unstated premise of this argument is that when God acts righteously he must use his freedom in this way; or, to put it another way, God’s righteousness consists in his unswerving commitment always to act for the glory of his name—a name which according to Ex 33:19 implies a propensity to show mercy and a freedom apart from all human distinctives in determining its distribution.

Paul answers the next objection that the critics raise. They ask “does God’s choice of Jacob over Esau, the choice that was independent of anything in them or done by them, mean that God is therefore unjust?” Paul refers to two Old Testament texts (Ex. 9; Ex. 33) which reveal that God demonstrates His glorious power in this world by exercising His sovereign freedom to show mercy and to harden. This conclusion is strengthened by asking “why did Paul chose these two texts” among the many that he could have chosen concerning the same topic. If Paul was merely demonstrating that God had the right to harden Pharaoh’s heart, then, why didn’t he simply cite from the passages where it explicitly states that God hardens pharaoh’s heart? Piper asks “Why choose a text in which the very word “hardening” is missing?” Piper answers,
It is no accident that the key word ôνoµα appears also in verse 17. It is no accident because in both Ex 33:19 and Ex 9:16 Paul has found Old Testament texts in which the exercise of God’s sovereign freedom, in mercy and in hardening, is the means by which he preserves and displays the glory of his name.

Romans 9:22-23 says, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.” God desired the full panorama of His glory to be manifested in its fullness. This was why He created the world. Unconditional election displays the glory of God’s free grace. God, when He extends grace, does not extend grace because of anything in the object of His grace. It is solely on the basis of who God is. Unconditional election displays this reality by making it clear that no one has any claim to grace by virtue of anything that they have done. This is why God doesn’t save all. He seeks to manifest the fullness of his glory, which fullness consists in the display of His free grace that is extended to those whom He wills apart from, and independent of, any distinctives that they possess.


God’s Glory is the emphasis of Romans 9 and it is consistent with God’s chief end in creation; namely, the display of the fullness of His glory in all of its manifold perfections. The fullness of God’s glory, including the glory of God’s justice for the vessels of wrath, exists for the vessels of mercy, and is meant to intensify both their delight in God, and their worship of God. For this reason, God determined not to save all, or to extend to all the unmerited favor that He extended to his vessels of mercy. Consequently, the vessels of wrath were able to follow their own passions and desires freely. They were free from any constraint to act contrary to their wishes, and in as much as they voluntarily did what they wanted to do; they were responsible for their decisions.

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