God’s sovereign grace

Romans 9:1-29


Romans 8 is considered by many to be the most inspiring chapter in the Bible and one that everyone loves and memorizes. But Romans 9 is a chapter that many people skip because its content is so difficult to digest that many Bible scholars choose not to discuss it. But this is a very important chapter because it is the most extensive discussion in the Bible about the tension between God’s sovereignty and human free will. Perhaps we often hear terms like Calvinism and Predestination and Reformed theology. This chapter discusses many of those doctrines. The main question is: “How much control does God actually have over the details of human history? Does He choose to save people, or do they choose them themselves?”

Whenever this topic comes up people always want to know which side we are on. To answer this of course we must submit to what the Bible says. We believe that the Bible does not contradict and maintain a tension between the two. So, when we discuss and explain biblical texts that emphasize God’s sovereignty then we can sound like a Calvinist or Reformed. But when we discuss the passages that emphasize our responsibility, that is how we need wisdom in this life to make the right choices, why we pray and preach Christ, how we make a difference and impact in the eternal history of others, then maybe we can sound like a non-Calvinist or non-Reformed.

But this is what we all need to understand. If Romans 9 is in the Bible then it was written for a reason. It is no coincidence that Paul included this discussion of God’s sovereignty immediately after his declaration of victory in chapter 8 about God’s unwavering commitment to fulfilling His purpose in our lives. How can we be sure that what God has started in us He will finish? How can we be so sure that no one will thwart it, what if someone challenges God to thwart it or maybe we ourselves with the stupidity of our choices thwart God’s plan? 

So that’s the question he begins to answer in chapter 9: Why did the Jews reject Jesus? And, if God seems to have failed with them, how do we know God won’t fail with us either?


Romans 9:4-5

4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

In verses 4–5, Paul confirms and laments the fact that Israel, called God’s Chosen People, should have believed. Paul mentions some spiritual privileges that Israel had that other nations did not have. God chose Israel since Israel did not exist through Abraham and is faithful to his promise to free Israel from Egyptian slavery in the book of Exodus. Paul said that God brought them out of slavery by the power of God’s mighty and powerful hand. God did it for the Israelites, but God didn’t do it for other nations. Israel experienced countless miracles, manifestations of God’s mighty power, and they are all the shadow of the gospel that other nations did not have and saw. Through Moses, Israel was entrusted with God’s law, which revealed his character and was a reflection of who God is. They have the Tabernacle Tent, where the Lord Himself dwells and it has all the symbolic images in it of how God’s salvation and redemption will be in the future

So what happened? And, the question is: Did God’s Plan for Israel fail? And if his plans for Israel fail, how can we be sure that God’s plans will not fail either?



Paul breaks it down into 4 questions. We’ll go over these questions, and then we’ll give some conclusions about their implications and applications:




Romans 9:6-7

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

In verse 6, Paul explains that not every Jew who is born into an Israeli race or ethnicity is a member of the true Israel.

Romans 9:8-9

8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Paul uses the example in Verse 9 where Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac represented the child of promise; while the other child according to the flesh. And all of Abraham’s descendants fall into those two categories: those who accept the promises and those who reject God’s promises.  


Romans 9:10-13

10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

It is even clearer (v. 13), Isaac himself had two sons: one was Jacob who, despite his past, was known to be cunning, cunning and deceitful but accepted God’s promises. The other was Esau, who out of lust exchanged his eldest son’s blessing for a bowl of red bean soup. In the New Testament, Esau represents the Jews who rejected God’s promise of redemption and chose to live in the lusts of their flesh. Both types of people have always existed in Israel. In His sovereignty God never had a relationship with Ishmael and Esau.

So, says Paul, we cannot conclude that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus is proof that God can lose His chosen people. On the contrary, from the Old Testament, Paul proves from the beginning that God never did not know them. So this shows that God never fails in His choices.




Romans 9:14-15

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 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.”

The question here is whether God did something wrong by simply showing mercy to Jacob. God knew (foreknew and predestined) Jacob and did not do that to Esau. Let’s review the definition of mercy. Paul explains that his name is mercy and there is no obligation. Even ontology, the definition of mercy is to give something that is not appropriate to be given to the recipient of mercy, which means to receive something that we do not deserve. And if we deserve it then it is not “mercy”, but it is justice. If we talk about justice then we should be sinners who receive the punishment of God’s wrath, but we don’t accept that and we receive God’s mercy. So, if God owes no mercy to anyone, we cannot say that it is unfair for him not to give it to anyone.     

Paul’s reasoning goes like this: Does God owe anyone salvation? Of course not! And if He owes no salvation to anyone, then He is free to give it to all, some, or not to give salvation at all. But the fact is, “God will not do injustice by leaving us all to perish.”  

What is fair is that we are all left in our condemnation of our own choice (Romans 1-3). If we are able to know Jesus and have a relationship with God, it is only by grace. So, Paul wants to straighten out our view of God’s mercy and justice.

John Stott said: “Pau’s way of defending God’s justice is to proclaim His mercy. That may seem backward to us, but it is not. Paul is indicating that the question itself is misconceived, because the basis on which God deals savingly with sinners is not justice but mercy.” 



Roma 9:16

16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

When God chooses someone, it is not because that person deserves it, or because that person has a sincere heart, there is a lot of potential or that person is not chosen because of bad luck. Truly none of us deserve it more than anyone. The choice to give it is a gift that we do not deserve from the creator to the creation So the conclusion is that believers cannot feel superior to those who do not believe because all of it is because of His grace.     

However, this does not mean that God’s choices are arbitrary or that He chooses people at random. Paul never said that God had no reason in His choice, only that the reason for choosing was a mystery and certainly not according to the standard of goodness in us.

In verse 17, Paul gives us a clue about God’s reasoning although this is not a complete answer but just a hint.


Romans 9:17-18

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

In verse 17, Paul gives us a clue about God’s reasons (this is not a complete answer, just a hint). Paul said that God did not choose Pharaoh to fight God then God oppressed Pharaoh by showing His power and strength and glory. In other words, Pharaoh’s rejection of God and Pharaoh’s hardness of heart from the beginning had happened and it was used by God to show His power over evil and give God the opportunity to show His love to save the Israelites. And this leads us to the third question which is:




Romans 9:19

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”

The objection many people have when hearing about Pharaoh is if Pharaoh only played the role he was supposed to play, how can he be held accountable for it? For many of us our question is: “If God was sovereign over who would believe and be saved, how can then God punish those who only play the role God has assigned them to play?” Like Pharaoh, Judas and Herod? But Paul, 2000 years ago already predicted this kind of apologetic questions.

Paul wants to show us that God’s rejection of Pharaoh was consistent with Pharaoh’s own choice. Pharaoh from the beginning was arrogant, idolatrous, evil, cruel and inhuman from generation to generation. And the key question: Who rejected who first? Did Pharaoh first reject God or did God reject Pharaoh? Of course Pharaoh rejected God. The Bible does say “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (Exodus 9:12 ) But that statement came only after the sixth plague. If we notice that after the first 5 plagues, it is said that when Egypt was hit by the fifth plague, namely frogs…. “Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15). So God hardened Pharaoh’s heart after Pharaoh had hardened his own heart 5 times! And the point is that God is not to blame for Pharaoh’s hardness of heart. It was Pharaoh’s own guilt and rejection and stubbornness and it is consistent with the way the Bible describes the rejection of a nation or a person against God. When Jesus lamented the rejection of the Jews against him as the Messiah and Savior who had been prophesied by the prophets then He said in Matthew 23:37


Matthew 23:37

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

CS Lewis said “The door to Hell is locked from the inside”. This means that people who go to hell are there because they reject God and prefer to go to hell. So in conclusion, it is true that if anyone is saved, it is only by the grace of God, but if anyone perishes then the fault is in their own choice. For example, we have 5 friends who are planning to rob a bank. They are our good friends and we know of their robbery plan and we beg them to stop and cancel the robbery plan. We plead, argue and present the consequences of the robbery they will commit. But still at the end they reject our pleas, persuasion, and arguments and push us out of the room. Finally, on the D day, we kidnapped one of the five people. He struggles and even fights us but we hold him. The others continued to do what they had planned to rob a bank, and they in the process of the robbery killed a guard and 2 civilians. They were caught, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. But the one person we kidnapped was not involved in the robbery and he remains free and never committed the crime. Now we ask: Whose fault was it that our four friends who robbed the bank were arrested and punished? Can they blame us? And our friend who we kidnapped and saved from a robbery where he should have gone to jail too but since we kidnapped him, now he’s not in jail and is free — Can he say, ‘I’m not going to jail because I’m a good person and of my free will I refuse that temptation to commit robbery is why I’m not in prison now? That’s a nonsensical claim because the only reason he wasn’t in jail was because we prevented and saved him from his own act of robbing the bank with his friends earlier.    

D James Kennedy says: So those who go to hell have no one to blame but themselves. Those who go to heaven have no one to praise but Jesus Christ. Thus, we see that salvation is all of grace from its beginning to its end.




Romans 9:20-21

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

The question in this verse is a struggle for many people and what is amazing is that the Apostle Paul could guess and even hear the objections of many people in his mind when he wrote this letter. Because many people think that the “good God” will definitely save everyone. Why does God allow a person to perish? In other words, if God uses the free will of man himself, who from the beginning rejected God and rebelled against God and used it to show his glory, can any of us accuse God of being unjust? And, if we say, “A good God shouldn’t be like that and God shouldn’t be like that with His creations.” Paul said, “Really? You think you are just as wise and as smart or wiser and smarter than God?” Because if we protest like that, we are saying as if we were God, then we would be a better God than the real God.


Rom 9:22-23

22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—




In his commentary on Romans – Timothy Keller says of Romans 9

“If God were merciful to all who were condemened, we would not see His glory. Here Paul gives us very clear instructions for the biggest question: If God can save everyone, why doesn’t He save everyone? And here Paul is saying that God’s chosen course (to save some and leave others) will in the end be more fit to show God’s glory than any other scheme we can imagine.”     

So the ultimate goal of God’s plan in all things, including our salvation is His glory. For example, if we say that God is on our side, it is not only for us but for His glory. God loves us not only for us but for His glory. God becomes a good shepherd who guides his sheep not only for his sheep but for the glory of His name and this is consistent with the Bible.  

Honestly, this is hard for us to digest, why? Because we are used to thinking of ourselves and our interests as the most important and central element of the universe. We are used to thinking that our life is the center of it, which is why we keep on sinning and that is why God needs to save us because the center of all life and the universe is the glory of God. Let us take a hint from the structure of the universe itself that humanity is just a fragile organism in a tiny speck of dust in a remote corner of a remote medium-sized galaxy which is just one of billions of such galaxies. And God is at the center of it all.

When we look at all of creation it is as if they were designed to shout at us, “You are not the most important!” The glory of God is the greatest good in the universe. And that may be hard for us to accept and digest because we grew up in a very egocentric culture that we were the center of the entire universe and thought that we were very special and unique. So we think the world revolves around us. That’s why we need to repent. That’s why the Word of God says deny yourself. If the world says love yourself then God’s Word says deny yourself and believe in Jesus. In fact, when God makes His glory his primary goal is actually the most loving thing He can do for us.    

To illustrate: Astronomers say it is a good thing for us that the sun, not the earth, is at the center of the orbit of the solar system. If the earth was at the center it would never have the gravitational ability to hold all the planets in the orbit of the solar system then we would all die and there would be no life on earth. Because the sun is 30,000x larger than the earth, and because it is an independent source of heat and light, it can sustain the orderly solar system that allows us to have life. So if we imagine that the sun is God, then the best thing the sun can do is to place itself at the center of everything. So it is with us and God. If God is the pinnacle of happiness, then making Him the center, saves us to be able to live for His glory as the axis / center of our lives. It is the greatest and most loving thing God can do for us.    


Romans 9:24-26

24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” 26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

In verse 25, Paul goes further and shows us that God actually had a far better and merciful purpose in allowing Israel to reject him. Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, explains Paul, allows us Gentiles to receive salvation. He quoted the prophet Hosea’s prophecy in verse 25 about how God opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles through the Jews’ rejection of Christ! Because Israel rejected Jesus, many Gentiles could be saved. That means that even Israel’s rejection of Jesus ultimately has a bigger and better goal which is the Salvation of the Nations! Likewise in our lives then one day we will see that all God’s actions upon us will have a good ending.  


So the question of why did Israel reject Jesus and was it a failure on God’s part? The answer is NO. God is not wrong to allow that to happen or even to hold those who reject it accountable. So why then did Israel reject it? Let’s look at Paul’s answer in verse 31.


Romans 9:31-32

31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,

They rejected Christ not because God ordained it but because they did not want to humble themselves and did not accept the gospel from the start. It is precisely from their refusal that the gospel can be spread throughout the world. They refuse to accept that salvation can only happen by grace through faith and not because of their goodness or efforts. That is the biggest point.

The gospel does not change people from bad to good but the dead to live. That’s why Jesus even pointed out that the Pharisees with their pride in the law were hypocrite before God and they were rebuked and told to repent. And they don’t want to humble themselves to admit, “that they need God’s mercy to be saved.” So the Jews rejected the Bible because of their pride. And actually we would all reject the gospel and if we could believe it today, it is because God who opened our eyes and enabled us to believe. 




This truth makes us humble because we realize that we are saved not because God sees goodness in us that deserves to be saved but because of God’s grace. Jonathan Edward said “We contribute nothing to the work of Salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”


This truth also makes us live out God’s grace (Worship).

Colossians 3:12-13

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Everything we have in this life is a gift from God. And the opportunity given by God is an opportunity for us to glorify God through all aspects of our lives.


This truth also makes us to have hope in the gospel. If we can give the greatest gift to our loved ones then pray for them that they might receive salvation.


Acts 16:14

14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.

If today we have the opportunity to preach the gospel, then preach it. Whether that person will respond or not, let God Himself open the person’s heart. Let Romans 9 be a strength for us that God’s plan never fails. He who saves, He will also sustain, accompany and ensure that God’s plan in our lives will never fail. If someone is currently experiencing suffering, then God is revealing His great plan, which is to make them to become like Christ.


Discussion questions:


  1. Explain problems some people (including you) might have with the doctrine election? (God chose to save some people). Share it with others.
  2. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What does it mean and what are some implications of this truth?
  3. God is the author of our salvation and we are the author of our own damnation. What does it say about God’s mercy?
  4. “If God were merciful to all who were condemened, we would not see His glory. Here Paul gives us very clear instructions for the biggest question: If God can save everyone, why doesn’t He save everyone? And here Paul is saying that God’s chosen course (to save some and leave others) will in the end be more fit to show God’s glory than any other scheme we can imagine.” – Timothy Keller. Why is it hard for people to embrace this truth?
  5. Look at the three implications of this truth: Humility; Worship; Hope in the gospel. Which one stands out the most for you and why?
  6. As a group, try to summarize the tension between God’s sovereignty and human’s free will in this sermon.
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