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  • Chad Werkhoven

Romans 9:6-16 - Humbled Confidence

This chapter is more than just fodder for late night conversations - it's the basis for your peace.


Romans 9:6-16 (NIV)

CONTEXT: Romans nine is one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible, dealing with why it is that God has chosen some to salvation, but left others in their sin.

6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,

and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 

16 It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, o man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ”  21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?


Listen to passage & devotional:


Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 16: The Doctrine of Election

We believe that—

all Adam’s descendants having thus fallen

into perdition and ruin

by the sin of the first man—

God showed himself to be as he is:

merciful and just.

He is merciful

in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he,

in his eternal and unchangeable counsel,

has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord

by his pure goodness,

without any consideration of their works.

He is just

in leaving the others in their ruin and fall

into which they plunged themselves.



For all of history there have always been two types of people: those who are in, and those who are out - the ones who have faith in God for their salvation, and the rest who stubbornly rebel against God for eternity. And for centuries, that boundary marker was delineated by (mostly) one thing: nationality. You were either a child of Abraham and thus one of God's people, or you weren't.

But Paul points out some flaws in this 'saved by DNA' theory. "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel (v6)," he writes. Ishmael, Abraham's oldest son, was out, but his half brother Isaac was in. That sort of makes sense, given that God made His promise to Isaac's mother Sarah and not her servant Hagar.

What doesn't seem to make sense - from our perspective - is the difference between the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. If you know anything about their story, you know that often Esau was the honorable brother, while Jacob was a cheating scoundrel. If salvation was decided by popular vote, Esau would win. But there was only one vote in this election, and God cast it.

Paul, writing words breathed into Him by God, writes that God's election occurred "before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad." In other words, God doesn't choose based on pedigree or potential. Salvation has nothing to do with our works, but is wholly dependent upon Him who calls.

Dig Deeper

We haven't even gotten to the toughest verse in this passage yet. How could the very God who defines love say that He loved Jacob but he hated Esau? Why would the scoundrel be included in God's ḥěʹ·sěḏ (never ending covenant love) while not only Esau, but also his descendents after him, would be set apart from it (Malachi 1:2-3, the passage Paul quotes in v13)?

The Bible doesn't answer that question outright. God isn't obligated to explain Himself to us. Paul anticipates our frustration here and cuts it off, reminding us that God is sovereign - He will have mercy on only those whom He designates - but also that He is just. Paul doesn't elaborate on this, but he does make it crystal clear. God's sovereignty not seem fair to you, but ultimately remember: God is not unjust (v14).

Passages like Romans 9 are not put in the Bible just to give you a headache or to provide fodder for late night discussions about how God's sovereignty relates to man's responsibility (we'll unpack this tomorrow). Romans 9, like every other chapter in the Bible, is there to build up your comfort and confidence in Christ.

You can experience this peace by memorizing v16 in a very personal way:

My salvation does not depend upon my desire or effort. It completely depends upon God's mercy.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, whose purposes will always stand (v11);

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God for His sovereign mercy in your life, and pray that these difficult truths will make you humbly confident;



Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Romans 3


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