“No one who wishes to be thought religious dares simply deny predestination, by which God adopts some to hope of life, and sentences others to eternal death,” John Calvin wrote. While few believers deny that the Bible teaches a doctrine of divine election, Christians are divided about what this means.
The Bible refers to believers as “elect” or “chosen” of God (Col. 3:12; Titus 1:1). This has raised a number of challenging questions. Did God determine in advance who would go to hell as well as who would go to heaven? Did He make His choice based on His foreknowledge of their choices or actions? Part of the truth of this doctrine is that it’s not possible to have all our questions about this doctrine answered this side of heaven, but we can be certain of one thing. Divine election is grounded in mercy. Any view that makes salvation dependent on human effort or action robs the gospel of grace.
In today’s passage the apostle Paul speaks with equal force both of God’s sovereignty and of His mercy. Using the hardening of Pharaoh as an example, Paul seems to say that God’s sovereignty extends to the unbeliever as well as the believer. If this were not true, it is doubtful that Paul would have had the confidence to reassure us that God is able to cause all things to work together for good for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).
Divine sovereignty does not relieve men and women of the responsibility for their actions. We have a good example of this balance in the death of Christ. On the one hand, those who crucified our Lord acted willfully and sinfully. Yet those who crucified the Savior “with the help of wicked men” accomplished all that God’s “set purpose and foreknowledge” had determined would take place (Act 2:23).
The apostle Paul saw the biblical doctrine of election as a testimony to God’s grace and patience. God shows His mercy toward those who have trusted in Jesus Christ and demonstrates His patience toward those who have not.