Romans is a fantastic book. In the first eight chapters, Paul lays out God’s incredible work of salvation. He explains salvation in three facets. The first facet is salvation as justification when we are made right with God through accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation. This is a work done in a believer’s life once they receive Christ. The second facet is salvation as sanctification. Sanctification is the work done in cooperation with the Holy Spirit to make us more and more like Christ. This is the work that is being done in a believer’s life. The third facet of salvation is glorification. This is accomplished in a believer’s life when Christ returns, and the Spirit’s work is completed. Paul clarifies that everyone needs to be saved by Christ, and all are offered salvation through Him.
In the second half of the book, chapters 9-16, Paul writes how those who have been saved ought to live. Paul will explain that they ought to live a profound life that reflects that of Christ. This is possible due to the metamorphosis a believer experiences after coming to Christ. A person who becomes a believer certainly experiences a change in position and an inner change as they become more and more like Jesus (sanctification). This is why the New Testament uses the Greek term “metamorphoõ” (where we get our word metamorphosis) to describe a transformation from what a person was apart from Christ into what they are becoming in Christ. As believers investigate and internalize the teaching found in Romans 9-16, they experience this radical transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In chapter 9 of Romans, Paul addresses God’s sovereignty (His supreme power, without any external influences) as well as human free will. For instance, when a person comes to Christ, whose choice is it? Is it God’s or the persons? This is a great question. I have heard it said that God’s sovereignty and our free will are two sides of the same coin. They are an antinomy. We do not fully understand how these two truths are reconciled with one another, but we know they do.
God’s Word does not present enough to fully understand how God’s sovereignty and our free will work together. But, it does present us with enough to believe they do. Both God’s sovereignty and our free will give us an understanding that leads us to confidence in God’s promises. God blesses us to be a blessing. God chooses to bless whom He desires. God desires to bless those who are faithful to him.
We discover two explanations in Romans 9 that affirm God’s sovereignty and human free will. The first is found in verses 10-13, where we find that God chose Jacob over Esau. The account of their lives is located in the book of Genesis. Hindsight provides us with evidence of God’s right choice. Of course, a perfect God could do no less than perfection. What we discover is that through God’s sovereignty, we have the ability to choose. However, our choice will never thwart the salvific plan of God. What does all of this have to do with us? We can place our trust in God’s plans and promises. Knowing God is in control ought to bring us peace. Knowing that we are responsible for our own choices ought to lead us to obedience.
The second explanation is found in Romans 9:17-18. We discover that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh. Verse 18 reads: “God has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.” Let me first note that neither here nor anywhere else in Scripture is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself. The fact that Pharaoh arrogantly hardened his heart against God is made explicit in the biblical account. In a sense, then God hardening Pharaoh’s heart could be called a judicial act, abandoning him to his own stubbornness. Human stubbornness and divine judgment in the hardening of the heart is seen in God’s word to Isaiah (“Make the heart of this people calloused,” Isaiah 6:10). It is also applied by Jesus to His own teaching (Matt 13:13-14) as well as by Paul to his. Look at it this way. God raised up this particular Pharaoh to show His power. We repeatedly find in Exodus these words, “I have let you (Pharaoh) live for this reason—that you might see my power and that my fame might spread throughout the earth” (Ex 9:16).
Again, note that God did clearly harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 9:12, 35; 10:27; 11:10), but not until Pharaoh had hardened his own several times (Ex 7:22; 8:15, 32). In other words, God elevated a particular person to fight against Him. Still, that person also made his own choice, which God foreknew before God punished him with a continuous hardened heart. We discover that the Bible affirms God’s sovereignty as well as human free will and responsibility. I believe two things about this passage. First, God has the power and right to work out His divine plan as He sees fit. Second, God’s sovereignty does not violate His integrity. What does this mean for us? We ought to be confident that God is in control and mindful that He created us to have free will and, therefore, be responsible for our decisions.
Let’s go back to the original question. When a person comes to Christ, whose choice is it? Is it God’s or the persons? This is a great question. The answer is, YES! God has chosen you and provides a way for you to choose Him. I do not fully understand it, but I know enough to believe. How about you? Have you explored God’s Word, knowing enough information to believe? Can you place your trust in God’s plans and promises? I pray that not only can you, but you will. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!