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  • Chad Werkhoven

Romans 9:16-24 - Who Do You Think You Are?

If you believe God softened your heart, why is it so hard to accept He hardened others?


Romans 9:10-24 (NIV)

CONTEXT: We began this passage yesterday. We'll pick up in the same place we left off.

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.



Hard work; dedication; blood, sweat and tears. These attributes define the ethos of so much of our success in life. We enjoy the fruits of our labors and savor the pride that our accomplishments brings. Since we've so clearly seen how God has blessed our efforts in so many different arenas and ways, it's so easy to transfer these attitudes to our salvation and conclude that God gives us His grace because the strong faith we've built up deserves it. After all, we mistakenly conclude, we had that instinct and insight to respond to God's gracious call, whereas so many others either ignored or outright rejected it.

But those are exactly the attitudes the Bible seeks to dispel here when it comes to your salvation. In the most clear and unequivocal terms it says that it - that is, God's saving compassion - does not depend upon your desire or efforts, but rather, upon God's mercy. There's literally nothing you can look at in regards to your salvation and claim that you made it happen. Certainly there are actions you took - you confessed your belief, for example - but the point here is that the only reason you could do that is because God in His mercy enabled you to do so.

Paul elaborates by using Pharaoh as an example. God raised Pharaoh up, meaning that God engineered every aspect of Pharaoh's life to put him in a position of power over God's people. Not only that, but scripture reports over and over that God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Those are tough words to digest, but should they be? After all, you're likely quick to admit that God softened your heart so that you would accept and believe the gospel, so why should it be so difficult to swallow that God could, would and has done the opposite?

Ultimately, the reason you are a Christian and others are not comes down to God's sovereign decision. "God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden."

Dig Deeper

Next Paul does what he's so good at doing: he anticipates his reader's objections, and right now, if you get the implications from the preceding paragraphs, you're likely objecting. If God softens the heart of this guy, but hardens another, why should the first guy get rewarded and the second guy face eternal punishment. Aren't they just doing exactly what God programmed them to do? It's not fair. "Why does God still blame us," Paul hypothetically asks.

Although this objection seems reasonable, Paul immediately squashes it. Who do you think you are "to talk back to God," he asks. In other words, how could we, as mere creatures - and fallen ones at that - make accusations against the One who not only created all things but who also defines the very concept of goodness and fairness itself?

This concept of God's sovereign predestination in which he determined before creation who He would show grace to and who He would leave in their sin is amongst the most difficult doctrines in the Bible. It's meant to humble us and leave us to wrestle with unanswered questions and objections. Good theology is meant to be wrestled with (hence the name of God's covenant people: yiś·rā·ʾēl - the ones who wrestle with God).

So let predestination humble, and even at times frustrate you. But also realize the unsurpassed comfort this doctrine provides: That although you'll never fully understand why, God chose you to be His own and since He never changes, He'll never let you go.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden;

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that you will be both humbled and comforted by God's saving grace in your life;



Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Romans 4


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