IS PREDESTINATION MORALLY RIGHT?
THE JUSTICE OF ELECTION
The difficulty that most people have with the doctrines of election and predestination is not the lack of Biblical passages dealing with the subject. The Old and New Testaments are replete with statements that God had chosen and elected and predestined.
The problem that most have with this doctrine is how we deal with all of the implications which this doctrine raises. Chief among these difficulties is the question of the justice of divine election. How is God to be considered as just and righteous if He arbitrarily sends some people to hell and allows others into heaven.
The theological term for this question is THEODICY. It comes from a joining of two Greek words.
THE QUESTION PRESENTED
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! (Romans 9:14).
Notice the question. Is there any injustice with God? It is the justice and the righteousness of God which is being questioned here. This question arises from the previous verses. Is God just in choosing Isaac and not Ishmael? Is God just in choosing to love Jacob and hate Esau? Is God just in choosing Israel to be His chosen people and in not choosing another of the nations of the world? Is God just in choosing some to be saved and not choosing others?
A similar question will be raised in verse 19 when Paul asks the question, "If God has determined our actions, then how can He find fault in us and judge us?"
Before we look at the answer to these questions, I want you to notice something. These two objections which Paul brings up would never have arisen if we were not meant to understand that the choice of election rests with God. If Paul had been teaching that God merely looks down the corridors of time to see what men will choose and then elects them on the basis of their own decision, then there would be no basis for the question of whether God is just in choosing certain men.
The very fact that Godís justice in election is questioned in this passage points to the fact that election originates and is based only in God. Paulís doctrine of election raises this objection. I would suggest that any view concerning election which does not give rise to this question is an improper view of election. If we come to a proper view of election, then this objection concerning Godís justice will always arise.
How do we answer the question? Is God unjust? Paul retorts, "May it never be! Absolutely not!" But if God is absolutely just and righteous, then why is He able to choose some and not choose others? Why isnít this unrighteous? The answer is found in the following verses.
THE SOVEREIGN MERCY OF GOD
For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." (Romans 9:15).
The answer is seen in the sovereign mercy of God. It is because God is God. He is absolutely free to act according to the attributes of His own character. Paul illustrates this principle with a quote from the Old Testament.
He takes us back to the Sinai Desert. Moses has been on Mount Sinai for forty days. While he is on the mountain, the people of Israel turn away from God to worship a golden calf. As a result, God judges the Israelites and decrees that they shall not be permitted to enter into the Promised Land. It is in this context that God proclaims the principle of His sovereign mercy.
And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." (Exodus 33:19).
Moses has been pleading for the forgiveness of the people. God responds by declaring that He is free to decide toward whom He shall be merciful.
There is a principle here. It is that the doctrine of election is based upon the mercy of God. For God to choose some to salvation is for Him to show mercy toward those individuals.
God showed that kind of mercy toward Israel. Israel was not given mercy because of her faith. She was not given mercy because she was more righteous than the surrounding nations. Israelís mercy did not come from any quality that Israel possessed. It was the mercy of God.
God is not under any obligation to show mercy to anyone. Prayer does not even obligate God to show mercy. Nothing can dictate to God toward whom He must show mercy. There is no injustice in this. Neither is there any injustice in Godís withholding mercy from those whom He has not chosen.
If ten people owed me money and I chose to forgive the debt of three of them, bust still required the other seven to pay their debt, I would not be unjust. In the same way, there is no injustice in God being merciful to some and not being merciful to others.
You might protest that this is unfair. To do so, you would be implying that God is under some obligation to treat all men equally. This is not true. God is not obligated to treat all men equally and He does not treat all men equally.
Some men have IQís of 130 while others are lower in intelligence. Some are born into wealthy homes while some are poor by birth. Some have very long life spans while some die very young in life. Some have great athletic ability while some are 97 pound weaklings. It has been said that if all men are created equal, then some are more equal than others. We are not treated equally by God. God is not obligated to treat anyone equally and there is no injustice in this.
THE BASIS OF ELECTION
In verse 16, Paul draws a conclusion from the fact that God is sovereign in the bestowal of His mercy. The conclusion is introduced by the words "so then." The conclusion concerns the basis of Godís election.
So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Romans 9:16).
Godís election is not based upon the will of man. God did not look down the corridors of time to see what man will choose and then grant mercy on the basis of what manís decision would be. Election is not based upon what man wills.
Election does NOT depend upon...
The Man who Wills
The Man who Runs
Emphasis upon the decision of man
Emphasis upon the actions of man
Neither is election based upon what man does. It is not based upon any of his good works, his morality, his ethics, or anything else that he does. It is not even based upon manís faith. God is completely free to show mercy on whomever He chooses to show mercy.
Paul now goes on to illustrate this point in the story of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt who was judged by God at the exodus.
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." (Romans 9:17).
You remember the story. Pharaoh was the king of Egypt. He was the sovereign of the mightiest kingdom on the face of the earth. His armies had marched all the way to the Euphrates River. But the Lord says that HE is the one who raised up Pharaoh. HE is the one who placed Pharaoh on the throne of Egypt.
This is astounding when we realize that Pharaohís program was the subjugation of the people of God. He resorted to infanticide to bring this about. He had Hebrew male children put to death (mandatory post-birth abortions). He was directly opposed to God. And yet, it was God who had chosen Pharaoh and who had placed him on the throne of Egypt. God chose to raise up Pharaoh, to harden his heart, and then to bring him to ruin so that God might be glorified.
Here is Paulís point. It is not Pharaoh who wills or Pharaoh who runs, but God! This brings us to a new conclusion. It is presented in verse 18. So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. (Romans 9:18).
Paulís new conclusion is again introduced by the phrase "so then." It is a conclusion based upon the two previous illustrations of Israel and of Pharaoh.
1. God has mercy on whom He desires.
We have already seen this principle in the case of Israel. Paul quoted Exodus 33:19 to show that God is not obligated to show mercy to anyone. He is free to bestow His mercy on whom He desires.
2. God hardens whom He desires.
This conclusion is based upon the case of Pharaoh to which Paul has just referred. It is often argued that Pharaoh hardened his own heart and that God was not the initiator of this hardening process.
"Pharaoh was responsible for the hardening of his heart even though that hardening process was foreknown and foretold by God." (William Evens, Great Doctrines of the Bible, Moody).
We can turn to passages in Exodus which say both that God hardened Pharaohís heart and also that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. It is frequently maintained that God did not harden Pharaohís heart until he had first hardened his own heart. Thus the hardening of Pharaohís heart is not seen to be Godís initial doing, but Pharaohís.
This passage teaches just the opposite. Paul makes it very clear that Pharaohís decision to harden his own heart ultimately came from God.
The whole point that Paul is making is that God works and chooses and hardens and has mercy according to His own will. He is the instigator of His plan. This is confirmed in the Old Testament account when the Lord revealed His plan to Moses.
And the Lord said to Moses, "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).
God told Moses that He would harden Pharaohís heart. For us to maintain that God was only a secondary source of this hardening process would be to attribute the actions of God to Pharaoh.
The fact that it was God who was the initiator of this hardening process is evidenced by the objection that Paul raises concerning Godís righteous judgment of Pharaoh.
THE QUESTION OF GODíS RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT
You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" (Romans 9:19).
There is a difference between the question which is asked in verse 14 and the question which is asked here.
"What shall we say, then?"
"You will say to me then..."
First Person ("we"): This is a question raised by Christians
Second Person ("you"): This is a question of unbelief
There is no injustice with God, is there?
Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?
This question is answered from the Old Testament.
The questioner is rebuked from the Old Testament.
Here is the question which Paul raises. How can God hold men responsible for their disobedience when it is God who hardens their hearts? How can God judge Pharaoh for sinning when Pharaoh is acting according to Godís divine plan? If God is responsible for hardening Pharaohís heart, and if it is impossible for Pharaoh to resist the will of God, then how can God judge him for what he has done? Why does God still find fault with Pharaoh?
This is a very relevant question. We could ask, "If it is God who has chosen certain men to believe and to be saved, and if he has hardened other men against the gospel, then how can He direct his wrath and anger and condemnation against those who are hardened?"
The usual response of a Christian when he is presented with this objection is to back off and explain that God has merely chosen men on the basis of what He knew they would believe. By doing so, the well_meaning Christian is seeking to "take God off the hook" so that He will not be seen to be responsible for sin. However, to do so is to take God down off His throne and to treat Him as a creature instead of recognizing Him as the sovereign Creator.
Paul takes a very different approach to this question. We can describe his approach both in the negative as well as in the positive.
1. Paul does not back off of what he has taught.
He does not try to soften his teaching nor does he feel the need to clarify or defend what he has previously taught with regard to election.
Donít miss this! The question is only valid if the premise is valid. The premise of the question is that God is sovereign, and that He does choose to save some but not others. If the premise was wrong, then Paul would have corrected it here and now. But he does not correct the premise. This further confirms that Paul is teaching the doctrine of individual election.
2. Paul indicts the questioner for talking back to God.
The question and the questioner are out of order. It is a question which man has no right to ask.
3. Paul answers the charge of injustice with an Old Testament illustration.
THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE POTTER AND THE CLAY
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?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? (Romans 9:20-21).
The charge was that God could not find fault with sinners if it is He who has mercy and if it He who hardens. Paul does not argue the charge. He does not try to defend God. God needs no defense. God is not on trial. It is man who is on trial. And it is the height of human arrogance for a man to try to pass judgment upon the righteousness of God.
Paul does not answer the charge. Instead he repels the charge. He proclaims that the objection is out of order. He states that it is not a valid objection. He proclaims that man has no right to make a charge against God. For a man to try to judge God is for him to claim that his standard of justice is higher than Godís standard.
Paul illustrates this by using a familiar Old Testament example. It is the example of a potter and his clay. The same illustration is used several times.
You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, that what is made should say to its maker, "He did not make me"; or what is formed say to him who formed it, "He had no understanding"? (Isaiah 29:16).
Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker - an earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, "What are you doing?" Or the thing you are making say, "He has no hands"?
But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father, we are the clay, and Thou our potter; and all of us are the work of Thy hand. (Isaiah 64:8).
Then I went down to the potterís house, and there he was, making something on the wheel.4 But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 6 "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" declares the Lord. "Behold, like the clay in the potterís hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel." (Jeremiah 18:3-6).
The illustration is of a potter sitting at his wheel. He takes a portion of clay from his pile and he fashions a beautiful vase to be sold at the market for a vast sum. Then from that same lump of clay, he might take another portion of clay and mold a basin to be used by a farmer for feeding his pigs.
No one would ever think of charging the potter with injustice because he had not given equal treatment to both lumps of clay. No one can question the potterís right to do with the lump of clay as he will.
The principle is the same here. As the sovereign Creator, God can do anything with His creation that He desires. He is free to act as He chooses.
Now we admit that man is not the same as clay. Man has emotions and feelings and he is an intelligent creature. But he is still a creature. He was created.
Thus God is free to make from that lump a Moses who will lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God is also free to make from that same lump a Pharaoh who will be used in spite of himself to glorify his Creator.
VESSELS OF MERCY AND VESSELS OF WRATH
Paul has just given us the illustration of the potter. In that illustration, he suggested that there are two kinds of pots -- one for honorable use and one for dishonorable use. Now he takes that illustration one step further.
1. Vessels of Wrath.
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? (Romans 9:22).
This verse opens with a conditional clause. It is a first class condition. It assumes the truth of the statement which it proceeds. We could translate it "since." This is not merely a possible hypothesis, but an established fact.
From the lump of humanity there are some who have been designed as "vessels of wrath." These vessels of wrath have been prepared for the purpose of destruction. We call this the doctrine of reprobation. Their destiny is destruction.
At the same time, Paul does not specifically say that God created them to BE vessels of wrath, but only that he endured those vessels. The point is that, although Godís plan has included the sinful acts of men, we should not take this to mean that God has actively CAUSED men to sin. To take such a position would be to make God the author of sin, a position against which the Bible is clearly opposed.
2. Vessels of Mercy.
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?
Why would God allow vessels of wrath? Verse 23 tells us the reason. This verse tells us why the sinner continually goes through this life without divine judgment being poured out on him. It tells us why God allows sin to continue in the world. It is so that God might make known the riches of His glory upon the vessels of mercy which He also created.
It is for our benefit. It is so that He might save us from the ver worst and then freely give to us the very best so that, in the end, He might be glorified. Peter says it this way:
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9).
This verse says that God wishes for all to come to repentance. Notice to whom the "all" refers. It is to the same group toward whom God is patient. It refers to "YOU."
Peter is speaking to believers. He is speaking to those who are among the elect. He is speaking to those who have been chosen by God. This election has been manifested by the fact that these have come to faith in Jesus Christ. In effect, Peter is saying that God is being patient toward those whom He has chosen because He is not willing that any of them should perish.
Peter concludes that he wants believers to regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation (2 Peter 3:15). When we look at the patience of the Lord and realize that He is withholding His judgment of sin, we are not to think that God does not care about sin. Rather, the continuance of sin and suffering in the world is for our benefit and our salvation. If God had stopped all sin and all suffering 100 years ago, we would not have been saved. The fact that He has not done so is a sign of our salvation.
Paul says the same thing here in Romans. He says that God is enduring "with much PATIENCE vessels of wrath." (9:22). This is why Christ has not yet returned. He is withholding His judgment until all whom He has chosen are saved so that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
There will be no objects of mercy who will be lost. God knows those who are His even before they know Him. And He has promised not to lose any.
THE TESTIMONY OF THE PROPHETS
If it is true that there are none of Godís chosen people who will be lost, then how do we explain the case of Israel? After all, Israel is Godís chosen people. Yet there are many of the Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
Paul has already given a partial answer in verse 6 when he said that "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." Now he goes on to show that this was in accordance with the promises of the Old Testament.
1. The Promise of the Salvation of the Gentiles.
As He says also in Hosea, "I will call those who were not My people, ĎMy people,í and her who was not beloved, ĎBeloved.í"
Paul quotes from two separate passages in the book of Hosea (Hosea 2:23 and 1:10). His purpose is to show that God promised in the Old Testament to make those who were "not Godís people" to become "Godís people."
Those who were not My people
Her who was not beloved
You are not my people
Sons of the Living God
Hosea wrote in a day of apostasy. The 10 tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel had rebelled against God. Because of their rebellion, the Lord said that He would reject them. Those who had been considered to be His people would no longer be His people. But with this message of judgment also came a message of grace. There was hope for the future. Although Israel would be taken away into captivity and scattered among the Gentile nations, God would gather from among those same Gentile nations a people for Himself. Those who were "not Godís people" would become "His people." Though they had sinned and had become "non-Israelites," they could repent and return and become the people of God.
2. The Promise of the Preservation of the Jews.
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, "Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly."
And just as Isaiah foretold, "Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah." (Romans 9:27-29).
Paul now turns to Isaiah. This passage promises that there shall always be a remnant. This is a promise of hope. It is a promise that, even though not all Israel is Israel and even though those who are not Godís people are going to become Godís people, there shall continue to be a remnant of Israel who shall be Israel. Apart from the grace of God, Israel would have degenerated to the moral depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Do you see the principle? Man without God always degenerates. It is only by Godís gracious election that some men are saved.
3. The Promise of Israelís Failure leading to Gentile Victory.
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.
Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, "Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed." (Roman 9:30-33).
Paul now presents a general contrast between Jews and Gentiles as they relate to the righteousness of God.
Did not pursue righteousness
Pursued a law of righteousness
Attained the righteousness which is by faith
Did not arrive at that law because they did not pursue it by faith
The righteousness which the Gentiles attained is the one which Paul set forth in Romans 3 -- the righteousness which is imputed through faith in Christ.
The irony is that the Gentiles were not all that concerned with righteousness in the first place. It was the Jews whose very culture consisted of a search for righteousness. The problem is that they could never manage to attain that for which they sought.
It seems a bit unfair. The Gentiles stumble onto righteousness with no effort at all. Where did the Jews go wrong? The answer is seen in verse 32. They stumbled. The cause of their stumbling was a stone.
Paul combines Isaiah 8:14 with Isaiah 28:16, both of which speak of a "stone of stumbling." For those who trust in Jesus as the Messiah, they find Him to be their rock of salvation. But to those who reject Him, He is a stone of stumbling.
What kind of a "stone" is Jesus to you? Is He the rock of your salvation, or is He a stone of offense? Is Jesus the basis of your stumbling or the source of your salvation?