The teaching that God chooses some people out of the mass of fallen humanity to be saved and not others raises the objection that God is not fair. Somehow it is widely assumed that God owes all people either the gift of salvation or at least a chance of salvation. Since they cannot be saved apart from His grace, He owes it to everyone to grant them that grace.
This kind of thinking results from a fundamental confusion between God’s justice and His mercy or grace. Grace, by definition, is something that God is not required to grant. He owes a fallen world no mercy. If we cried out for justice at His hands, we could all receive the just condemnation we deserve. Justice is what we deserve. Grace is always and ever undeserved. If we deserved it, it would not be grace.
The issue is complicated when we consider that God chooses to grant this saving grace to some but not to all. We recall that, in the first place, He owes it to no one. Once someone has sinned, God owes that person nothing. Indeed, even before sin, God owes the creature nothing. It is the creature who is indebted to God (for sustaining if not also saving grace), not God to the creature. But what is often assumed is that if God grants grace to some, then He must grant the same measure of grace to all if He is fair and just. Here we must stop for a moment and ask why this should be so. Why does the granting of grace to some require the granting of grace to all? Again we recall that in this process no one receives injustice at the hand of God. The elect get the grace they do not deserve, while the reprobate get the justice they do deserve. If God decides to pardon one guilty person, that does not mean that those He does not pardon somehow become any less guilty.
In answer to his own question, “Is there unrighteousness with God?” Paul emphatically declared, “Certainly not!” For the Apostle, it was unthinkable that there should be any unrighteousness with God. He reminded his readers of what God revealed in the Old Testament when He said to Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Ex. 33:19).
We see in this reminder the unmistakable concept of God’s sovereign grace. Paul made it unambiguously clear that God always reserves the right to exercise His mercy and grace according to His own good pleasure. This is the supreme right of executive clemency. It is this sovereign expression of love that redounds to the praise of His glory. It is this love that leaves us astonished and singing doxologies. It is this overwhelming love that provoked Paul to cry out:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?’ ‘Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?” (Rom. 11:33–35).
The conclusion Paul drew from this sovereign expression of grace and mercy is this: “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16).