The controversial topic of predestination is now addressed more fully, starting with Israel as an example, but applying it comprehensively to Jew and Gentile alike. Many Christians find this doctrine unacceptable because they think it reflects badly upon God – rather than because the opposite view is supported by scripture – which it is not. Having wrestled with the issues involved for many years, this is my advice: start with scripture, rather than with your preconceptions about God’s motives. What does the scripture say? What is the balance of its teaching on predestination? We must remember that God has already said: “My ways are not your ways…my thoughts are not your thoughts… my thoughts are so much higher than your thoughts…” (Isaiah 55:8-9); therefore, let us not impose the limitations of our understanding upon the King of Kings. Once we do understand what the Bible is saying, what does it mean for my prayer life and my missional activities?
Paul has begun the chapter by sharing his sorrow that his own people, the Jews, have denied their own Messiah – so long awaited. They have had every advantage going for them, including the entire Old Testament, with its prophecies and promises. At the end of the chapter, Paul sums up with the irony that Israel, the nation, actively pursued righteousness by the wrong method – ‘works’ – and so received nothing, whilst the Gentiles didn’t even bother to seek righteousness at all, and yet received it by grace and faith. Paul was a man of passion and emotion as well as huge intellect, and he admits that he would be on the brink of giving up his own salvation if it could mean bringing Israel back to God – a theoretical wish, but still full of unselfish love and compassion.
The core of the chapter is about God’s sovereign choice, his ‘election’ of those who will be saved. Paul begins in the Old Testament with a quick sketch of Israel’s history, showing that God chose the righteous family line in each generation. For example, Isaac was chosen by God, rather than Ishmael, and Jacob, rather than Esau; these choices were made before the twin babies had even been born. He then broadens the application of this concept to include each one of us Christians alive today. Some interpreters then suppose that these ‘choices’ were made because God saw in advance how the ‘chosen ones’ would turn out. But look at verses 14-24: Paul anticipates the objection that some of his readers might have with predestination and yet his only answer is that ‘God is God and has the right to do as he sees fit’. If there had been more ‘palatable’ answers, don’t you think that Paul would have used them right here?
In fact, 9:16 makes the doctrine plain: “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy”. This world was created for His glory and pleasure, and He will order events in such a way that the glory goes to him; He is God. Pharaoh was hardened – by God – in his heart and his will, to provoke him into making decisions that led to a spiritual ‘showdown’ with God – and resulting in God receiving all the glory. Our lives and our expectations are so man-centric that we find this kind of talk very hard to digest, but “His ways are not our ways”. The other important truth to grasp – one that really puts us in our place – is that if God did not choose some, then no-one would get saved. Look back at Romans 3:10-18, which includes the phrase “…no-one seeks God”; it is only as the Lord makes the first move in a person’s life that anything relating to salvation can occur.
Our response – if we are born again – should be one of great gratitude towards him. After all, “What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:23-24). No one ‘deserves’ to receive salvation and therefore, no one can demand it. Paradoxically, no-one who wants it will be denied it either – see John 6:37… “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away”.