I find the first words of Romans 9 humorous in a sense, as if Paul knew way back then that two thousand years later we would have the same struggle to fully understand what it means ourselves. Paul writes, “I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying.” That statement does not seem to serve a purpose in the Bible since we know that it is truth in its entirety. But when I look at what Paul writes there, a feeling of security washes over me that says, “Yes, this is true.” There is a reason those words are there.
In my third year high school Bible class, students begin to learn Calvinism’s TULIP acronym. This is theology that some of the students may not have heard of before. God’s sovereign choice and the reprobate are not things that you learn in Sunday school or as an elementary school attendee. But once students get old enough to understand it, why is it so hard to grasp?
This teaching usually begins with denial, but it does not take long for the strong Calvinist to accept what the Bible clearly states. Once you acknowledge the truth that you are saved by God’s choice so that no man can boast, it becomes something in which you find a lot of comfort.
If we believe everything the Bible says and one hundred percent of what Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome, then there is simply no denying that we do not have a choice in the matter. Romans 9 is very clear when it speaks in verses 10-13 about Jacob and Esau, and how God predestined the older to serve the younger.
God specifically speaks out against Esau: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” How could God possibly love someone He hates? God has complete control over the world. He raises up empires just as much as He tears down empires. I love the heading that the NIV version puts on this chapter: “God’s Sovereign Choice.” He is in control, and He alone.
The other real-life example that Romans 9 brings up is God’s power over Pharaoh. He clearly raised Pharaoh up for one purpose and one purpose alone: that His power and wrath might be shown to the Israelites, the objects of God’s mercy. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. How could Pharaoh have had a “choice” of whom to serve?
If God chooses His loved ones, does that mean He chooses the reprobate by default? Why are we called to love the people whom God does not love? The older I get, the more I realize that I will not know everything until I get to heaven and the more at peace I become about not knowing. If God wants to use me to get the word out, then so be it. It does not mean that I have any power in the matter. All it means is that I am doing His will for my life and for other people’s lives. Who am I to talk back to God? I am only the clay and He is the potter, and I have no right to question His will.
This whole issue, free will and predestination, begs the questions that philosophers, both religious and not, have been debating for thousands of years. Do we really have a free will to choose what we want, or is that all just an illusion?
When we get out of bed in the morning, are we choosing to get out of bed, or are we being forced out of bed by how we were raised and by being hungry? Do we really choose anything or is any choice simply a product of past events? When we roll a pair of dice, sometimes we think that the number will come up by pure “chance.” The real reason that the number comes up is how the roller holds the dice, where the dice hit the table, the velocity of the dice, and many, many other factors that are simply too hard for the human mind to understand. So we call that “random,” or “chance.” As many philosophers believe, nothing happens by accident. Every action today is simply a reaction of what happened yesterday and how our minds responded to them.
God knows everything before it happens. He predetermines who will enter heaven and who will not. It only makes sense that He predestines those He loves to go to heaven. Not only the Bible, preaching of an omnipotent God, but also logic, guarantees to the Calvinist the assurance of eternal salvation.
However, we always have a choice: the choice to do right or wrong. We are called to do right and to shun evil. God gave us His Holy Spirit in order that we would be able to discern which choices in our lives we should make for His glory. In heaven, there will be no excuse for the sins we committed. Only the blood of Jesus can cleanse us from our inexcusable sins.
Sin is another aspect of predestination. According to John Calvin, people are so totally depraved from the things of God that it is impossible for us, except with God’s supernatural guidance, to come to Christ. Everyone who enters the church and confesses Jesus as their Savior will understand that they need God and they must be forgiven of all of their sins.
This is just one more reason why being able to choose our salvation does not make sense to Calvinists. We were born in sin. There is nothing we can do about changing our situation. If we were truly able to choose our salvation, then why would we need Jesus? If we have the ability, without God’s supernatural guidance, to just choose salvation and, in a sense, cleanse ourselves of our sin, then the entire story of God’s plan to save humanity falls apart.
The question that remains is how should it affect my life. God is the Prince of peace, and it definitely gives people peace of mind to know that nothing happens except by God’s sovereignty. Although it is our calling to witness, and to do our best to call others into the kingdom of God, everything will always be in God’s hands.
Another thing it keeps in perspective: We are small. Who are we, simple men, to talk back to God? We are the clay to be molded and not to question. If God wants to mold me into a pot when I wanted to be molded into a sculpture, who am I to question?
Finally, we should get hope from Calvin’s interpretation of the Bible. Every day when we wake up, we need to say to ourselves, “I am chosen. I am loved. I have a purpose.” God watches out for those that He loves, and they will always be in His care. As God said in Hosea, and Paul repeated in Romans, “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God’.”
God wants us to have a mind of hope. Hope is the hidden message of Romans 9. Hope of a better future not only for this life, but also for the life to come. In the meantime, we must look toward the great commission, be obedient, spread the gospel, and rejoice in the eternal assurance of salvation which is in Christ Jesus, looking forward to meeting up with Him in heaven. We do not understand everything, but we understand that we serve a perfect God, a God of knowledge, who will some day explain everything in full. And when He does, we will finally be able to understand, and have the answers to all of these hard questions.
Mr. John Withee lives in Kalamazoo Michigan. He is a student at Kalamazoo Christian High School.