Paul has been writing this letter to the Christians in Rome in order to provide a better comprehension of their salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. First, Paul described that all people are under God’s condemnation
for their unrighteousness and they are deserving of eternal death and separation from God in the lake of fire (1:18-3:20). Secondly, Paul taught about the hope every man has in being justified
(declared righteous) before God, apart from human effort, through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ (3:21-5:21). Jesus Christ provided the righteousness needed by man in order to receive forgiveness from God and all those who will accept Jesus’ payment for sin will be saved from condemnation. Lastly, Paul taught the Roman Christians about the process of sanctification
which followed being justified (6:1-8:39). Being sanctified is the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer to guide him in following the ways of God. Romans 8 details many of the works of the Spirit in the life of a believer such as freeing the sinner from sin and death (8:1-3), empowering him to obey God’s moral law (8:4), helping him live according to God’s ways (8:5-13) and adopting him as a child of God (8:14-17).
After writing about condemnation, justification, and sanctification Paul will now illustrate the sovereignty of God in salvation. Throughout the next several chapters, Paul will point to the work of the gospel in the nation of Israel, who were God’s chosen people. Paul begins by expressing to his readers that he is sorrowful in his heart because although the Jewish people had received God’s promises and blessings (9:1-5), they had rejected Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah who brought salvation to the world. Instead of viewing Jesus as their Savior from sin, they put Him to death on a cross. Many in Israel thought that their nationality automatically gained them favor with God, but Paul reminded them that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (9:6). He meant that all descendants of Abraham (physically) were not necessarily also the children of God spiritually (see also Romans 2:28-29). The nation of Israel should have seen themselves under condemnation for sin and this realization should have caused them to seek justification through Jesus Christ so that they could be sanctified. Again, Paul had already emphasized that forgiveness of sin and righteousness could only come through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, not by obedience to the law of Moses as many Jews believed. Some of Paul’s readers may have been concerned about his teaching, but he was getting ready to emphasize to them that Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ was not outside of God’s sovereignty; in fact, Israel’s rejection of Jesus was a part of God’s purpose (9:6a).
Paul carefully illustrated God’s sovereignty by reminding his Roman readers of three instances in the Old Testament: Isaac and Ishmael (9:7b-9), Jacob and Esau (9:10-13), and the nation of Israel and Pharaoh (9:14-18). In the case of Isaac and Ishmael, Paul was evidencing that God had made a willing choice between these two physical sons of Abraham when He established the spiritual line of promise (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:8). Although Ishmael was a son of Abraham, God chose Isaac’s descendants to be the ones who would inherit the promises of God (Genesis 17:19-21).
The second illustration of God’s sovereignty used by Paul was the story of Jacob and Esau who were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca (9:10). Referring to this situation, Paul writes, “for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated’” (9:11-13; see also Malachi 1:2-3). The promise made to Abraham and carried to Issac was then passed to Jacob even before he was born. God’s sovereignty in this situation was based on His own will and purpose, not on any merit of Jacob or Esau (9:11). Some people are confused by this teaching wondering how God could choose one over the other without any consideration of their works; however, I believe we must remember that God’s purposes are not always understood. We must not be so consumed with wondering why would God and instead realize that He sees everything from a divine perspective. God did not intend for all of His ways to be comprehended by man. Again, Paul anticipates that some of his readers still may not fully grasp God’s sovereignty in salvation, so he writes, “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (9:14-16).
The final illustration Paul uses in order to demonstrate God’s sovereignty in all things is the contrast between the nation of Israel and Pharaoh. Israel was shown God’s mercy, while Pharaoh was punished for holding Israel captive. Quoting from Exodus 9:16, Paul refers to God’s purpose behind showing mercy to Israel and judging Pharaoh: ” For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth. Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens” (9:17-18).
Although it is a complicated concept to decipher, God is truly sovereign in the work of salvation. All believers wrestle with the fact that there are some people who are made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, while others will never receive His mercy. I do not think Paul was trying to give all the answers in his writing, but he was careful to make his readers aware that God’s purposes will always be accomplished. Do not be frustrated by those things which God did not intend for us to understand, but instead trust that He knows best.
Dear God, help me to trust that You know best, even when I do not understand.