Romans 9:16


Thursday, 22 August 2013

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

“So then” is given as a result of what Paul has been saying about election. He cited the case of Abraham’s promise leading to Isaac, which means Ishmael wasn’t selected. Not only that, but it was announced to him that his long barren wife Sarah would have a child and that it would be a son. He then cited the account of Jacob who was selected as the son of choice over Esau prior to the birth of the twins; Esau being rejected. This occurred before they had done any good or evil.

Following this, he cited the account of Moses and quoted Exodus 33:19 to show that God’s sovereign decisions are in no way unrighteous. With these points settled, Paul now says, “So then…” Understanding these things we now know that “it is not of him who wills.” From the context we can discern that this statement is not speaking about free will. In other words, this is not a text to say that we do not choose Christ. It is a text that says that God’s election is based on His foreknowledge and His direction. That in no way negates our choice.

God chose Isaac and rejected Ishmael as the son of promise. God also chose Jacob and likewise rejected Esau. Is there anything in Scripture to indicate that either Ishmael or Esau wasn’t saved? Esau is called “a fornicator and a profane person” in Hebrews, but it is speaking of what he did at a particular time, not every choice he made. Paul speaks about himself in a similar manner in 1 Timothy 1:13 – “…although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man…”

“He who wills” is speaking of our state before God. We do not “will” where we will be born, when we will be born, or to what family we will be born. We also don’t decide what our genetic makeup will be, or how high will be our level of intelligence. These are sovereign choices of God, but they in no way indicate that we are not granted free will. These things, all of them decided by God, are a part of who we are and all bear on the free-will choices we make, but the choice is ours none-the-less. Did Esau not choose to sell his birthright? Did God not know that he would do so in advance? Does God’s advanced knowledge somehow change that fact that Esau made the choice?

This being stated by Paul, and now understood by us, we can proceed to the next point which is that it is also not “of him who runs.” The term he uses here is trechontos. This is a word used to describe an athlete in competitive games. When they are so engaged, they run with all of their effort and with intent of purpose. This isn’t saying that we as individuals don’t earnestly strive to be saved. People all over the world are doing so. Some strive by blowing themselves up for their salvation. Some strive by going to church and praying to Mary and saying the rosary. Some strive by joining a monastery. And so on…

Despite such effort of the will, there is no merit in it for salvation. The person who rightly pursues God and the person who wrongly pursues Him are both dependent on His mercy. However, only those who rightly pursue Him will receive it. We can “run the race” all we want, rightly or wrongly, and in the end it doesn’t change our need for what God grants. We know this is so because Paul uses the same word for “runs” twice in 1 Corinthians 9:24 –

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”

How could he say this at all if it weren’t so?

Life application – In the end, salvation is of the Lord. The plan of salvation is His and it is up to us to accept that plan. There is nothing we can “will” to change it and there is no amount of effort we can exert that will negate our need for it. We must come to Christ in order to receive God’s mercy.

Lord, You alone decide how we can be reconciled to You. There is no intensity of our spirit which can change what You decide, and there is no amount of effort that we can put forth which can change our need for it. We can build a tower to heaven, but only You can open its door when we get there. I accept the open Door which You have offered. I accept Jesus. Amen.

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