In this and the previous verses of Romans 9 we see Paul discussing God’s process and purpose of election. He shows us that God selects and chooses people to do certain things and he explains that God raises some people up for both good and evil.
Here we see Paul speak of how God raised up Pharaoh in order to show the power of God. Pharaoh was a powerful man who had enslaved the Israelites and it required the power of God with many signs and wonders before he would let them leave Egypt. And even then Pharaoh chased after them to bring them back, and the Egyptians were lost in the Red Sea when God allowed the Israelites to pass through but closed the waters over the Egyptian pursuers so that they were drowned.
We know also that Jesus selected Judas Iscariot as one of the twelve for the very purpose of being the betrayer. He knew from the start that Judas would betray him and although Judas put on a good front to fool the other disciples, he did not fool Jesus for one moment.
What we learn then in this section of Romans 9 is that it is not up to us as to how a person will turn out but it is up to the will of God.
We are all servants of God. He is the Creator and He determines all things in His Creation, including whom He may use for either good or evil purposes.
As in the cases of Pharaoh and Judas we see that God raised these specific people up to do evil to serve His purposes. Pharaoh opposed Moses and God’s will and so God intervened to show His power to save the nation of Israel from oppression. So too, He has the power to save us as individuals from all things for in the Israelites plight we have a lesson.
Likewise, Judas was raised up to betray Jesus and it was necessary for this to occur firstly to fulfill prophecy and secondly, to provide us the means to freedom and release from sin which comes through the death of Jesus Christ. Judas was the servant and tool of God to effect these things and so give us hope in Jesus Christ.
God also raised people up for good things too. He raised David and Solomon as kings. He raised up Moses and the prophets to judge the nation and teach them. He selected and hand picked the rest of the twelve apostles to do the work of spreading the gospel and building the church. And he raised up Paul as the one who would write most of the doctrine of the new covenant so that we could learn.
God chooses people to serve Him in the way He wants when there is a work to be done, either for good or evil, as the bible tells us in John 12:26,
If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
God places His servants where He wants them to do His work or to exercise His will, and when He has a work to do He chooses the right servant to do that work.
It’s Not Our Work
Here in Romans 9:16 we also see the scripture telling us that we have no power in these matters. The verse says,
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Whatever happens depends not on our will or any amount of effort and exertion we may put into a thing, but it depends upon the will of God. It’s up to God and God alone as to what the outcome of anything we do might be. He chooses His servants according to His will to,carry out His plans.
So does this mean all things are predestined? Does it mean we have no choice in anything we do, including our decision to follow Christ Jesus and be saved or not?
No it does not.
God did not create us to be robots with no ability to make decisions of our own. He is seeking a people to follow Him and to do what is good and right and true, not because they were made that way, but because they choose to do it that way.
He determines the course and the events of the world to fulfill the prophecies of the bible and I believe He chooses the appropriate servants, good or bad, to do His will according to the leanings, thoughts and decisions of that person.
But we have the right and the ability to make choices and to decide what we want to do. If we choose to follow God and to have faith in Jesus Christ, then He helps us and gives us the tools, knowledge and strength to bring us to salvation.
But if a person rejects God and chooses to follow the ways of this world, and if God has a purpose that He needs served then He may use them too.
Take Judas for example. It was prophesied that there would be a betrayer and that he would betray Jesus, take thirty pieces of silver and eventually commit suicide amongst other things. Jesus selected Judas for this role because his heart was foul from the beginning and God led his thinking to follow the plan of God and so fulfill prophecy.
As for the rest of man, God has consigned all of mankind to sin in order that He can have mercy upon those who choose to come to Him. He allowed for man to sin and so created a level playing field at the lowest common denominator so that we could choose to find a better life. Because we all start with sin as the basis, the only way and the only better way is to seek salvation, righteousness, holiness and truth. And all of these come when we seek God for He is the founder and author of all that is good.
I see this question of predestination as something like the way a tree might grow. If you look at the trees of a pine forest, they are all the same and you know they are pine trees. It is hard coded into their DNA (if they have DNA that is), that they will be a pine tree. To that extent they are “predestined” to be a pine tree. But then at the individual level every pine tree is different. They have different bunch configurations, numbers of needles, numbers of pine cones and so on so that all are subtly different. A pine tree in a strong wind area will lean to one side. So at the individual level differences occur and they are molded by their environment also.
So too people are all different and react to external conditions differently. God defines the big picture and how we react or respond to it determines where we stand. We have the choice.
It is our choice to follow Christ or not. That is the choice we have been given and are allowed to make for ourselves. When we do make that choice God provides all we need to be returned to a state of perfection in His sight.
Furthermore we know that it is not the will of God that anyone be lost. Rather it is God’s hope that all might come to a knowledge of the truth in Jesus Christ and so be saved, as we are told in 1 Timothy 2:4.
But again, as this scripture in Romans 9 reminds us, it is not our will or exertion, work or effort that will bring us to perfection in Jesus Christ. It is God’s work and He gives us the Holy Spirit to do the work of transformation in us.
Our only job in all of this is to make the decision and choose Christ and then to believe in Him and follow His teachings as we are led.
And so Paul also makes the point asking is there injustice on God’s part because no man can stand against His will? And again the answer is no.
If nothing else God is a just God. His justice is balanced and perfect. He judges according to the truth and He weighs things up rightly…always.
I do not believe He forces anyone to take the evil path, even Pharaoh and Judas Iscariot. Instead He identifies those who choose to do wrong or who choose the path of deceit and so uses them to exercise His will in ways that meet His plan, as he did with those two men.
Besides, even if He does create certain people to be evil for the purpose of His will, who are we to argue? God is the Creator and He truly can do whatever He wants with and in His creation. But I choose to think that He allows ALL mankind, no matter how evil they may appear, to be availed of the opportunity for salvation. Even the Pharaohs and Judases of this world. They all have the same choice, but if they choose evil then they will be used for evil.