God and Unbelief

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16).  

- Romans 9:9–18

The main reason we began discussing election right after we studied the initial stories about Jacob and Esau is because later passages of Scripture use these brothers to explain God’s grace. Today, Paul’s use of Isaac’s sons in Romans 9 will help us evaluate what is known as the prescient view of divine election and reprobation.

Today, most evangelicals lean toward Arminianism, which teaches that the Lord’s election is based on His foreknowledge of whether people will choose to believe. Looking “down the corridors of time,” God elects those whom He foresees will put their faith in Him when they hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This prescient view of predestination, however, is unable to overcome several difficulties, the chief one being that Scripture never describes election in this way.

Augustinianism finds a strong foundation in Romans 9. By implication, the Arminian system makes salvation based finally on works, because in rejecting the doctrine of sovereign, irresistible grace, our faith is ultimately a work we generate and not a gift of the Spirit. But Paul tells us Jacob was chosen long before he did any good work (vv. 9–13). Moreover, Jacob was chosen to make the Father’s electing purpose stand, not because He knew Jacob would obey Him (v. 11). 

Those who question the Lord’s fairness here are really questioning His justice. Paul anticipates this in verse 14, reminding us that God is never unjust. Whether or not a person is chosen for salvation, no human has ever received injustice from God’s hand. In Adam we all willingly sinned (5:12) and are wholly undeserving of grace. Some people receive mercy and eternal life. God passes over others without intervening to take away their love of sin. Yet the Lord does not deal with the reprobate (the non-elect) unjustly. He leaves them be, letting them run themselves into hell, which they have earned (9:19–24).

God elects some to salvation only because mankind has willingly and freely run from Him to follow after its own lusts. It is our fault that we need salvation, and we cannot think the Lord is obligated to save anybody. We should instead, like Paul, praise Him that He has decided to save anybody at all (11:32–36).

Coram Deo

When God chooses someone for salvation, He does so in love, working directly in us, making Him the cause of our redemption (1 Peter 1:1–3). But in passing over the non-elect (reprobation), the Lord’s work is passive. He does not need to predestine men to hell actively, for apart from the Spirit we press willingly toward divine wrath. In passing men over, God’s justice can be manifested to His glory, and His glory is the highest goal of creation (Isa. 43:1–7).

Passages for Further Study

Isa. 46:3–4
Ezek. 33:11
John 5:40
James 1:16–18
Jude 4

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