Pastor David B. Curtis


Is Sovereign Election Fair?

Romans 9:14-18

Delivered 09/28/1997

"Who is regulating the affairs on this earth today-- God, or the Devil? That God reigns supreme in Heaven, is generally conceded; that He does so over this world, is almost universally denied-- if not directly, then indirectly. Throughout Christendom, with an almost negligible exception, the theory is held that man is a 'free agent', and therefore, lord of his fortunes and the determiner of his destiny." A.W. Pink

Remember when we started Romans 9 I told you that this would be a difficult passage for some to handle. Many people struggle with the truth that God is absolutely sovereign. I struggled with this at one time. I believed that God was sovereign but I limited His control over man and I didn't see the contradiction. I knew God controlled the king's heart:

Proverbs 21:1 (NKJV) The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.

But I didn't consider that He controlled the hearts of all men.

The Scriptures teach that God is free to do what he wants. God is free to determine all things according to his own pleasure, and to try to rationalize that away is sin. God is God and God does exactly what He wants to do. He is sovereign and the ultimate authority.

We come this morning to verse 14 which poses a question, "is God just and righteous (doing what is right) in the election of some to salvation?" We saw in verses 6-13 that God acts sovereignly in electing some, but not all, to salvation.

Acts 13:48 (NKJV) Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Something inside you resists this doesn't it? It is your fallen humanness. We would like to think that it depends upon us, that is our pride.

Paul implied election in Romans 9:6 and then he illustrated it in verses 7-13. Paul's argument in these verses is that God's faithfulness to his promises is not to be judged by the extent to which those physically descended from Abraham are partakers. God's faithfulness is vindicated by the fact that the promises are to those who had been sovereignly chosen by God to salvation and not to the whole nation of Israel.

Isaac and Jacob are pictures, types of believers. God has chosen some based upon his will and love. God chooses Isaac over Ishmael and God chooses Jacob over Esau to be recipients of His love. The difficulty with election is not whether the Bible teaches it, the difficulty is how to explain the problems that it raises in our minds.

Why should we even teach this? If it's so hard for people to handle and if it raises so many questions, why teach it?

We teach it because it is the truth of Scripture. John Calvin said, "But for those who are so cautious or fearful that they desire to bury predestination in order not to disrupt weak souls -- with what color will they cloak their arrogance when they accuse God indirectly of stupid thoughtlessness, as if he had not foreseen the peril that they feel they have wisely met. Whosoever than heaps odium on the doctrine of predestination openly reproaches God, as if he had unadvisedly let slip something hurtful to the church."

John 8:32 (NKJV) "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Truth does not hurt, it sets free.

An objector to election would say it seems to be contrary to some of the texts in our Bible.

John 12:32 (NKJV) "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."

Are we to take this to mean that God is drawing everyone to Himself? Now I'm sure that you would agree with me that all men have not been drawn to him. Most men do not believe in Him. We need to look at the context of this verse.

John 12:20-22 (NKJV) Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. 21 Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.

Here we have Greeks who want to see Jesus. What do Gentiles have to do with Christ? He is the Jewish Messiah! "All peoples," here is used of "people of all races." God is going to draw Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, bond and free. This passage doesn't contradict election at all.

Let me share with you a Scripture that greatly hindered me form accepting the doctrines of Grace.

Matthew 23:37 (NKJV) "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

I took this verse as proof of God wanting to save all men but men being able to refuse His call. I saw here Jesus wanting to gather them but they wouldn't come. Do you see my point? Who is Jesus speaking to? Look at the context of chapter 23, by Jerusalem he meant the Scribes and Pharisees (v2) the rulers and governors of Jerusalem. The leaders killed the prophets. Who was it Jesus wanted to gather? "Your children" -- the Jewish people. "And you"-- Jewish leaders, were not willing for me to gather your children. Does that make more sense now?

1 Timothy 2:4 (NKJV) who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Doesn't this teach that God wants all men to be saved? No! Again, we must look at the context.

1 Timothy 2:1-3 (NKJV) Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

Paul is exhorting them to pray for all men, for kings and for all those in authority. Christianity, in its beginning stages, was made up primarily of slaves and common men. Paul says, "pray for all men, even kings and rulers because God will save some of them also." "All men" means men of every station in life and racial origin. It is a removal of racial and social distinctions.

Do you remember what the primary rule of hermeneutics is? It is the "analogy of faith" -- the rule that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. This means that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. Now, let me ask you, "Do the Scriptures teach that God is omnipotent? Yes, they do!

Revelation 19:6 (NKJV) And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, "Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!

Omnipotence is the state of being all-powerful, which theology ascribes to God. Scripture often affirms that all power belongs to God (Ps. 147:5), that all things are possible for God (Luke 1:37; 19:26), and that God's power exceeds what humans can ask or think (Eph. 3:20).

Psalms 115:3 (KJV) But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.

Now, if God desired all men to be saved and we know that all men are not being saved, then it implies that man's will is supreme and omnipotent, and God's will is impotent. This contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture. What God wills occurs. He is omnipotent and if He wanted to save all men, he could and would. So this verse doesn't contradict the doctrine of election either. What about:

2 Peter 3:9 (KJV) The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Is it God's will that no one perish? Does God want to save all men? I hope that you can already answer this question based upon what we just saw of His omnipotence. Again, we must look at the context of this verse.

2 Peter 3:3-4 (KJV) Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.

The Second Coming of Christ is in view here, and scoffers are saying, "where is He? I thought he promised to come soon." The non-Christian Jews, Judaizers and other critics of Christianity were heckling the saints with the delay in fulfillment of Christ's predictions to destroy the old and bring in the new heaven and earth. Verse 8 and 9 answer the question that these scoffers ask.

2 Peter 3:8-9 (KJV) But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Who are the "beloved" of verse 8? They are Christian Jews. God has not forgotten his promise; speaking of his promise to return in judgement, destroying the old heaven and earth and establishing the new heaven and earth. Notice who Peter is saying would see the "promise" fulfilled? Some generation way off in the future? No, look at the context (vss. 11, 12, 13,14, 16). Peter is telling his contemporaries, "We are looking for these things" (vs. 13). "He is longsuffering to us-ward" -- is referring to the elect Jews as a whole, waiting for the deliverer to come from ZION. "Not willing that any should perish" -- God was holding back judgement until the last elect Jew of National Israel repented. I believe that this is inseparable from Romans 11, where God speaks of the fact that all elect national Israel would repent before Christ returned. God was not willing for ANY of that group to be lost.

Romans 11:26 (NKJV) And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;

Clearly, Peter is not saying that God wants to save everybody.

Jay Green's Interlinear Bible, puts it this way, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to US-ward, not willing that ANY OF US should perish, but that ALL OF US should come to repentance." The "us" referring to the elect of National Israel.

1 John 2:2 (NKJV) And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

This is not teaching that Jesus propitiates for everyone's sins but that He is the ONLY propitiation that there is. It is not speaking of universal propitiation, but of exclusiveness. In other words, there is no other propitiation other than Jesus Christ. If they don't look to Christ, there is no one else to propitiate for their sins. Jesus is the only propitiation for all the world. Peter tells us this in:

Acts 4:10-12 (NKJV) "let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 "This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' 12 "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

If 1 John 2:2 meant that Jesus propitiated for the sins of the whole world, then nobody would go to hell. If God's justice was satisfied for them in the death of Jesus Christ, why would he punish them in hell? Jesus' death was not just for the Nation Israel but for the world, Jews and Gentiles.

John 11:51-52 (NKJV) Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.

So, 1 John 2:2 doesn't contradict election either.

What about the universal invitations; the "whosoever wills?"

Whosoever will may come, but the only ones who will are those who God the Father makes willing. The non-elect have no desire for God, they love darkness and will not come to the light.

Someone might say, "I believe the gospel, but what if I'm not one of the elect? If you believe the gospel, you are elect because only the elect can believe.

John 10:25-28 (NKJV) Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me. 26 "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.

It is only Jesus' sheep that hear His voice and respond.

Now, if no one in and of himself will ever be saved or desire to be saved apart form God's calling, isn't God being unfair? Isn't it unjust that God only calls certain people to salvation and not others? Isn't it unfair for God not to love everybody? That brings us to Romans 9:14, which is the objectors' response to Paul's teaching of election in verses 6-13.

Romans 9:14 (NKJV) What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!

God's righteousness is being questioned in this verse by an imaginary objector. Isn't it unrighteous for God to choose one person over another? This question would never arise if Paul didn't intend to be understood as saying that the doctrine of election teaches that the choice rests with God alone. If Paul was saying that God looks ahead and sees if men will believe in him, and on the basis of man's choice, God chooses, this question would never come up. If Paul intends to say that, there would be no place for questions of God's justice. This question indicates that the doctrine of election places the choice with God and God alone.

The Biblical doctrine of election raises this question -- "Isn't that unfair?" I have heard this question from many Christians and from many preachers. When I get this response, I know I've presented the biblical doctrine of election. If you're not being asked that question you are not presenting the biblical doctrine of election.

What is Paul's answer to the question, is God unrighteous? "God forbid", or may it never be -- whenever that phrase is used in Romans, it always means that is a false conclusion based upon a correct premise. The premise is, God has chosen some for salvation and that choice rests solely upon his will and purpose. The conclusion is, that's not fair, that is not just. Paul says, "God forbid." That is a false conclusion, though the premise is correct. God is just! The Scripture clearly tells us that God is just.

Genesis 18:25 (NKJV) "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
Psalms 119:137 (NKJV) Righteous are You, O LORD, And upright are Your judgments.
Psalms 119:142 (NKJV) Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law is truth.
Malachi 3:6 (NKJV) "For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.

Whatever God does is absolutely just and righteous, for this very reason, because he does it.

Why is it that God's choosing certain men to salvation is not unjust? Paul gives a principle in a quotation from the Old Testament. Paul doesn't launch out into a great legal debate here, he simply quotes the Old Testament. The Jews would have trouble arguing with his own Scripture. Here is the principle:

Romans 9:15 (NKJV) 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."

This is a quotation from Exodus 33:19. Moses is up on the mountain getting the 10 commandments from God. The children of Israel have just built a golden calf. Because of their idolatry, they all deserved to be destroyed. What happened? God destroyed 3,000 of them and left the rest alive, when they all deserved to be destroyed.

God says, "the principle upon which I work is this, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." That is a formal declaration of divine prerogative. Election is based upon the mercy of God. For God to choose some for salvation is for God to show mercy to those individuals. God is free to show mercy to whom he will. God showed that mercy to Israel, that's why they weren't destroyed as a nation.

God is sovereign in the exercise of his mercy. Mercy is not a right to which man is entitled. Mercy is that attribute of God by which He pities and relieves the wretched. The objects of mercy then, are those who are miserable and all misery is the result of sin, hence the miserable are deserving of punishment, not mercy. To speak of deserving mercy is a contradiction of terms. God gives mercy to whom he pleases and withholds mercy as it seems good to himself.

John 5:1-9 (NKJV) After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. 5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" 7 The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me." 8 Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk." 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.

There was a great multitude of sick people and Jesus healed a certain man, one man. This is a case of the sovereign exercise of divine mercy. It would have been just as easy for Christ to have healed the great multitude as it was for him to heal the one man, but he didn't. Why? He chose not to.

Since all of us are sinners, and we all deserve hell, none of us can claim the right to mercy. Therefore, none of us is wronged if mercy is withheld, right? So it is not unrighteous for God to choose to be merciful to some. On the basis of that, there comes an inference:

Romans 9:16 (NKJV) So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

"So then" -- election does not depend on the will of man! The majority of evangelicals today believe that it is of him that wills. Who shall we believe, God or the majority of evangelicals? Paul didn't believe in the free will of man as regarding election, and neither did John.

John 1:13 (NKJV) who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

We are not born again because of a decision of our will. Jesus makes this clear, God must draw us.

John 6:44 (NKJV) "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.

This one verse in Romans 9:16 is absolutely fatal to Arminianism. Election is not based upon what man does. "Runs," is referring to human effort. God's mercy is based upon God's will, it rests in God's choice. God has chosen to show mercy to some and give justice to others. This is based on his sovereign choice alone.

Paul supports that inference with the illustration of Pharaoh.

Romans 9:17 (NKJV) For the Scripture says to 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."

"The Scripture says to Pharaoh," The Scripture is represented as speaking, a vivid reminder that the Scripture is God's Word. Paul is quoting here from Exodus 9:16. "I raised you up," -- is the Greek word exegeiro, it means to cause to stand up, to cause to be prominent. The idea here is to bring someone forward on the stage of history. The Pharaoh was probably Omen Hotet the Second. God determined him to be the Pharaoh so he could use him to display his power. That Pharaoh that God put into power, was the man, more than any other man, to be used of God to display his redeeming power in the Old Testament.

When a Jew celebrated God's redemptive power, what did he celebrate? Passover, deliverance from Egypt. That is the Old Testament standard of power. God raised up Pharaoh to display his power and name.

Because of Pharaoh, we have the ten plagues, the exodus, and the Red sea parting.

Exodus 15:1-6 (NKJV) Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and spoke, saying: "I will sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! 2 The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father's God, and I will exalt Him. 3 The LORD is a man of war; The LORD is His name. 4 Pharaoh's chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea. 5 The depths have covered them; They sank to the bottom like a stone. 6 "Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O LORD, has dashed the enemy in pieces.

This is a song of redemption. God was put on display through Pharaoh's hardened heart. God was glorified through Pharaoh's sin.

Romans 9:17 (NKJV) For the Scripture says to 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."

Pharaoh existed for this purpose -- to display God's name throughout all the earth. This clearly happened.

Exodus 15:14-16 (NKJV) "The people will hear and be afraid; Sorrow will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia. 15 Then the chiefs of Edom will be dismayed; The mighty men of Moab, Trembling will take hold of them; All the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away. 16 Fear and dread will fall on them; By the greatness of Your arm They will be as still as a stone, Till Your people pass over, O LORD, Till the people pass over Whom You have purchased.
Joshua 2:9-11 (NKJV) and said to the men: "I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. 10 "For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 "And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
1 Samuel 4:7-8 (NKJV) So the Philistines were afraid, for they said, "God has come into the camp!" And they said, "Woe to us! For such a thing has never happened before. 8 "Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.

So Pharaoh was used by God to display his power and his name. Verse 18 is a conclusion.

Romans 9:18 (NKJV) Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

God has mercy on whom he wills -- election. God hardens whom he wills -- reprobation.

The case of Pharaoh was introduced to prove the doctrine of reprobation as the counter part of the doctrine of election.

Reprobation -- is God's eternal purpose to pass by certain specific individuals in the bestowment of special grace, ordaining them to everlasting punishment for their sins. God's providence is simply the manifestation of His decrees: what God does in time (sending men to hell) is only what He purposed (reprobation) in eternity.

God gives mercy to the elect by working faith in their hearts. He gives justice to the reprobate by hardening them in their own sins. One group receives mercy, the other receives justice. No one is a victim of injustice.

"And whom He wills He hardens" -- hardens is from the Greek word skleruno, it means to make hard, to harden . God is a God who makes choices. He is sovereign and he has every right to make choices.

Romans 9:18 (NKJV) Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

Pharaoh is not an isolated case of God's hardening, look at:

Joshua 11:18-20 (NKJV) Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. All the others they took in battle. 20 For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

God hardened the hearts of the Hivites for the purpose of destroying them. They were reprobate.

Why didn't all the Jews believe the gospel?

John 12:37-40 (NKJV) But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them."
Romans 11:7 (NKJV) What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.

They didn't believe because God hardened them in their unbelief. God has appointed some people to wrath, but not His elect.

1 Thessalonians 5:9 (NKJV) For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 Peter 2:12 (NKJV) But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption,

The Greek word for "made" is gennao, it means, to procreate fig. to regenerate:--bear, beget, be born, bring forth, conceive. They were conceived and born to be destroyed. That is strong language but that is what the Bible teaches.

Proverbs 16:4 (NKJV) The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.

Remember, everyone deserves wrath . Why would it be unjust if God chooses to give mercy to some. If you want justice, get ready for hell!

Now, another question that might be asked is, "since God hardened Pharaoh's heart and Pharaoh accomplished God's will, how can Pharaoh be held responsible? How can Pharaoh be blamed for what God did by hardening his heart?"

Romans 9:19 (NKJV) You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"

That question clearly indicates that God is the one who did the hardening in Pharaoh's heart. We'll look at this in more detail next week.

Why doesn't God save everybody? Isn't it right for Him to show himself a fair judge in punishing? The Lord can give mercy to whom he will because He is merciful, and not give it to all because he is a just judge. For by giving to some what they do not deserve, he can show his mercy. And by not giving mercy to all he can show us what all deserve.

The doctrine of sovereign election teaches us two things.

1. God is in charge, he calls the shots, he is sovereign.

2. God is merciful to those of us who could never have earned it or deserved it. Therefore, we ought to spend our lives praising and thanking Him.

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