This is the great question, from Romans 9:14, that has caused much debate over the centuries as it pertains to election, going back to Pelagius and Augustine, and even as Paul shows, during his own day. If God chooses to have mercy on one and not another, is He at fault, is it unjust? Paul’s answer? By no means! But why? He gives two pieces of evidence from the old testament to back up his claim that God is indeed not unjust in His sovereign election:

  1. “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.'” (Rom. 9:15)Paul’s conclusion from this? “So then it [understood to be the granting of mercy] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Rom. 9:16) God has mercy even before our running to Him. As John Piper has explained, He mercies (used as a verb) sinners, undeserving of His grace.
  2. “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'” (Rom. 9:17)Paul’s conclusion from this? “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” (Rom. 9:18)

And how can we explain this “hardening”? Going back to Romans 1, in three different spots, gives us an idea:

  1. God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…” (Rom. 1:24)
  2. “God gave them up to dishonorable passions.” (Rom. 1:26)
  3. God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom. 1:28)

In other words, God gives them over to their own sinful desires. He lets them have what they want. In those He mercies, He intervenes with grace and turns their wills, heals their desires to now desire Him. In the other case, He lets them have the fruits of their own debased passions, passions all of us (believers) would have naturally pursued had it not been for His mercy.

So is their injustice on God’s part if He mercies some and not others? By no means. This is the ultimate doctrine of underlining in scripture that God is God and we’re not. This puts meat on the bones of our sentimental statements such as, “God is in control.” This would point out that yes, and you have no idea the lengths to which He is in control. Humbling.