The Sovereignty of God in Salvation – (Romans 9:1-24)

Well written article, take the time to read it. Filled with good thoughts, much scripture, and well-worded quotes…all in all it will help the reader understand that the Sovereignty of God and salvation are inseparable.

Written by Robert L. (Bob)Deffinbaugh, via

As much as we like to believe we are fully submissive to the sovereignty of God, virtually all of us have areas we have consciously or unconsciously fenced off, as though God could be “sovereign” in some areas of our life but not in others. Most Christians profess to believe in the sovereignty of God but refuse to grant it to operate in certain areas. Death is usually assigned to the category of God’s sovereignty because we have no control over it anyway. Disasters are considered matters of divine sovereignty with even unbelievers referring to certain disasters as “acts of God.”

Much of evangelicalism refuses to grant God sovereignty when it comes to the salvation of sinners, as though this refusal actually could change the fact of His sovereignty. They are willing to grant God much of the credit for the work of Christ on the cross and the Holy Spirit’s work in drawing men to faith. But they are not willing to admit God is in complete control (for this is precisely what sovereignty is—complete control) of the salvation of lost sinners. Granted men have a role to play in this process, but clearly God is in control, complete control, of the process.

This debate over the relationship between God’s role in salvation and man’s may seem to be reserved only for academicians. But this is not true, for the sovereignty of God in salvation is a most crucial doctrine, as Martin Luther claimed:

“Therefore, it is not irreverent, inquisitive, or trivial, but helpful and necessary for a Christian, to find out whether the will does anything or nothing in matters pertaining to eternal salvation.… If we do not know these things, we shall know nothing at all of things Christian and shall be worse than any heathen.… Therefore, let anyone who does not feel this confess that he is no Christian. For if I am ignorant of what, how far, and how much I can and may do in relation to God, it will be equally uncertain and unknown to me what, how far, and how much God can and may do in me.… But when the works and power of God are unknown in this way, I cannot worship, praise, thank, and serve God, since I do not know how much I ought to attribute to myself and how much to God. It therefore behooves us to be very certain about the distinction between God’s power and our own, God’s work and our own, if we want to live a godly life.”58

What does it mean when we say that God is sovereign in salvation? Charles H. Spurgeon has said it about as well as can be said by men:

“First, then, DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY AS EXEMPLIFIED IN SALVATION. If any man be saved, he is saved by divine grace and by divine grace alone; the reason of his salvation is not to be found in him, but in God. We are not saved as the result of anything that we do or that we will, but we will and do as the result of God’s good pleasure and the work of His grace in our hearts. No sinner can prevent God; that is, he cannot go before Him, cannot anticipate Him. God is always first in the matter of salvation. He is before our convictions, before our desires, before our fears, and before our hopes. All that is good or ever will be good in us is preceded by the grace of God and is the effect of a divine cause within.”59

“Again, the grace of God is sovereign. By that we mean that God has an absolute right to give that grace where He chooses and to withhold it when He pleases. He is not bound to give it to any man, much less to all men; if He chooses to give it to one man and not to another, His answer is, ‘Is thine eye evil because mine eye is good? Can I not do as I will with mine own? I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.’”60

Scripture says the same thing, just as clearly and emphatically:

44 “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44).

65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65).

48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

14 And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14).

34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:34-36).

30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).

2 Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

Those who are saved are saved because God has chosen them for salvation. The Holy Spirit has given life to a dead spirit and understanding to a mind blinded by sin and by Satan. Those who are saved may be said to choose God, but only after God has first chosen them for salvation:

16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you” (John 15:16).

The other side of the equation is also true. Those who are eternally lost are lost because God has not chosen them for salvation:

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ 10 Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, and their eyes dim, Lest they see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed” (Isaiah 6:8-10).

3 And I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4 and they worshiped the dragon, because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” 5 And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies; and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. 6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. 8 And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Revelation 13:3-8).

8 “The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and to go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come” (Revelation 17:8).

Do not misunderstand what is being said here. In order to be saved, men must trust in Jesus Christ as God’s provision to save lost sinners. And when they do so, it is because God has given them the heart to do so. Men exercise faith out of the heart God has given them to believe:

6 “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33).

Likewise, when men are eternally lost, it is because they have chosen to reject God’s revelation (Romans 1:18ff.) and His provision for salvation in Jesus Christ. Why do lost sinners go to hell? They perish because they have not chosen God. They also perish because God has not chosen to rescue them from their sin and rebellion. In the simplest terms, men go to hell not only because God decreed it, but because they deserve it (see Revelation 16:4-7).61

Many texts like those cited above clearly reflect that salvation is not our work but God’s, and that we contribute nothing to it which He has not already given to us by His grace. We will turn in this lesson to a text which establishes even more forcefully than the previous texts the sovereignty of God in salvation. The sovereignty of God in salvation can be inferred from a number of biblical texts, and it is claimed or clearly stated by other texts. But the ninth chapter of Romans is devoted to establishing the sovereignty of God in salvation. It is the issue in view and the conclusion of the entire chapter. It is not merely implied, or even stated; it is declared, proven, and even defended against some of the popular objections to this truth. For this reason, we shall trace Paul’s inspired logic through the first 24 verses of Romans 9.

Israel’s Pitiable Plight
(Romans 9:1-5)

1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

In the first eight chapters of the Book of Romans, Paul sets down the most detailed and reasoned explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1:18–3:20, Paul establishes the doctrine of man’s depravity—that sinful, fallen condition of every human being, without exception—which places sinners under the sentence of divine condemnation with no human hope of salvation apart from divine intervention. In 3:21-5:21, Paul explains the divine provision whereby sinners may be justified by faith in Christ. In chapters 6-8, Paul speaks of the present and future implications of this justification by faith.

Up until now, Paul has spoken of both Jews and Gentiles as the recipients of justification by faith. In chapters 9-11, he sets out to show that the unbelief of the Jews and the salvation of the Gentiles are not evidences of a failure on the part of God’s Word, but rather a very unexpected but precise fulfillment of His Word. In chapter 9, Paul shows that the doctrine of election is a manifestation of God’s sovereignty in salvation, and that it explains the unbelief of many Jews, as well as the conversion of many Gentiles. Simply put, those many Jews (and Gentiles) who have rejected the work of Jesus Christ and who are therefore eternally lost, are illustrative of the sovereignty of God in salvation. And those Gentiles (and Jews) who have come to faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah are saved as the outworking of the sovereignty of God in salvation.

Two Crucial Observations

Before considering the details of this passage, two important observations must be noted concerning the text as a whole. These observations are necessary because of those who do not want to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in salvation (including especially the doctrine of election). They seek to avoid the subject by insisting Paul is speaking here of corporate election, not individual election, and that this election is not to salvation or eternal torment, but rather for certain blessings. The text compels us to strongly differ with this view and to oppose it.

First, we should observe that verses 1-5, reinforced by verses 22-23, insist that salvation is in view and nothing less. In simple terms, Paul is talking about heaven and hell, who goes there, and why. Paul is greatly distressed because his fellow-Israelites are lost and under divine condemnation. Why else would he say he is willing to be accursed, separated from Christ, for the sake of his brethren (Romans 9:3)? The cure should be no more severe than the malady, and thus we see that the malady is that of eternal doom.

Second, we observe that the text is not about corporate election but individual election. To say that election is corporate fails to understand that this is precisely what the passage is written to refute. The Jews loved the doctrine of election, because they wrongly applied election corporately to the offspring of Abraham.62 They thought of themselves as the elect of God and all others as the non-elect. They thought all Jews were going to heaven and all Gentiles to hell. A few token memberships to heaven might be granted to a few Gentiles, but these would have to become Jewish proselytes. Election, viewed in this way, was a delight to the Jews. But this is not the election which the Word of God teaches.

This is exactly the kind of “election” Paul opposes. In Romans 9, Paul proves that God’s election is not corporate, and that not all the physical descendants of Abraham or Jacob (also named Israel) were recipients of God’s promised blessings. The failure of the nation Israel with regard to Messiah was not a failure of God’s Word, but the failure of those who presumed the promised blessings of God were corporate—intended to include all of the Jews and to exclude the Gentiles. Therefore, in Romans 9:6-18, Paul cites three illustrations of God’s individual election: Isaac, not Ishmael (9:6-9); Jacob, not Esau (9:10-13); and Moses, not Pharaoh (9:14-18).

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