Objections to the Sovereignty of God (Romans 9:14-33)

By Andrew E. Courtis

After making the point that God’s sovereign choice does not include all but some – God chose Isaac and not Ishmael (9:7-9) and He chose Jacob and not Esau (9:10-13) – and that this choice is not influence by people’s future choices, Paul now deals with some expected objections (9:14-24). This is a helpful passage because when one expounds the doctrine of sovereign election with clarity; there will always be objections essentially raising the issue of injustice and free will. They are answered in this passage. Also included is a discussion on how this relates to Gentiles and Israel (9:25-33).

 

1. TWO OBJECTIONS (9:14-23) 

The first objection raised to God’s choice to save some and not others comes in the form of the question, “is their injustice on God’s part?” To which Paul emphatically responds “By no means!” (9:14). A problem with this objection is that it assumes that choosing all is fair. Paul goes on to make a point illustrating with the examples of Moses and Pharaoh. He begins by stating that God is free to give mercy and compassion to whomever He chooses to give it (9:15). His point is that the granting of mercy has nothing to do with “human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy” (9:16).

In God’s sovereign will, He raised Pharaoh up with the purpose of showing His power in him, and so that his “name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (9:17). God then handed Pharaoh over to his own sinful desires (“hardened”). Hardening a sinner can also be understood as the act of God in leaving a sinner to his or her own sinful desires and devices. Paul’s response to this first objection is God “has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (9:18). In other words, God is free to act according to His own sovereign choices and this does not make Him unjust.

The second objection raised is “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will” (9:19). Paul responds strongly to such an objection by writing, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is moulded say to its moulder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (9:20). It is God’s right as the potter to do with the clay as He pleases (9:21). In His sovereign purpose, God prepares some for judgment so as to show His wrath and power (9:22), and He prepares others for salvation so as to show the riches of His glory (9:23). It is important to note that the word “prepare” in verse 22 is the in passive, whereas it is in the active in verse 23. The implication is that when it comes to God’s electing some to salvation this is something He actively does, whereas the act of not electing some occurs because He passes over them in His sovereignty leaving them in their sinful rebellion. In commenting on this passage, R. C. Sproul observes, “The elect get grace; the non-elect get justice. Nobody gets injustice”.

 

2. TWO GROUPS (9:24-33)

In God’s great grace and mercy, is sovereignly calling for Himself from both Jews and Gentiles a people (9:24). Though Israel is currently in a state of unbelief, this does not mean His promise according to election has failed. In these final verses Paul outlines how God passed over Israel called some Gentiles to be among Hs people (9:25-26). He also states that a remnant of Israel will be saved. All of this occurs because of His gracious sovereign choice to make us vessels of mercy.

Study Questions:

  1. Why are some things concerning God’s actions and ways difficult for us to understand? See Isaiah 55:8-9.
  2. Why is the question, “Is there injustice on God’s part?” raised in verse 14? See 9:6-13.
  3. According to verses 15-18, what is the reason of God granting mercy?
  4. How does the illustration of the potter and the clay help us understand the sovereign choice of God? See 9:20-23.
  5. What does 9:25-33 teach us concerning Gentiles and Jews in the plan of salvation?