Romans 9–10: God & His Mercy

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 5: Sunday

What shall we say then? Is there any unrighteousness with God? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” So then it does not depend on the one who wills or the one who runs, but on God who has mercy.
Romans 9:14–16 LSB

Today’s Bible reading is Romans 9–10. In these two chapters and in Romans 11, Paul turns to answer his critics about God’s promises and Israel. As F. F. Bruce frames it:

“At the outset of the letter Paul had said that God’s way of righteousness on the ground of faith was presented in the gospel “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). But it was a matter of common knowledge that Jews for the most part had not accepted the gospel, whereas Gentiles had embraced it in large numbers…

“If the order of proclamation was “to the Jew first and also to the Greek”, the order of acceptance was “by the Gentile first and (then) also by the Jew”.1

Davidson and Martin organize Paul’s answer into three parts:

“The first deals with the absolute sovereignty of God (9:1–29), the second with Jewish responsibility in the historical situation (9:30–10:21), and the third with the merciful purpose of God (11:1–36).”2

The absolute sovereignty of God: Paul is now going to discuss God’s absolute sovereignty in Romans 9. In The Gospel of God: Romans, R. C. Sproul titles his chapter on Romans 9:1–33, “God’s Sovereign Choice in Salvation.”3 People balk at this idea and raise the objections Paul anticipates in Romans 9 because we forget who God is, and we forget who we are.4 So let’s remember:

Who is God?

Now to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time⁠—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal might! Amen.
1 Timothy 1:17, 6:13-16 LSB

God is the King of the ages, the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Who were we before we believed in Jesus?

For we ourselves also once were foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.
Titus 3:3 LSB
And you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all also formerly conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
Ephesians 2:1-3 LSB

We were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

With these truths firmly in mind, let’s go back to Romans. Look at how God has dealt with us.

Paul has been writing about God’s grace, χάρις (cháris). In chapters 9–11, he writes about God’s mercy, ἔλεος (éleos). Grace is mentioned by Paul far more often than any other writer in the New Testament, and his letter to the Romans contains the most references. Mercy is mentioned by Paul more often than any other writer. Only Luke in his Gospel mentions mercy more often than Paul does in Romans.

Let’s look at these two words. God’s grace:

“God’s grace describes God as perfectly bestowing favor on those who cannot merit it because they have forsaken it and are under the sentence of divine condemnation.”5

In Romans 1–8 Paul clearly establishes:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
Romans 3:23-24 LSB

We cannot merit God’s grace. We cannot demand it of Him because we are under His just condemnation.

Now look at God’s mercy:

“God’s mercy describes him as perfectly having deep compassion for creatures (people) such that he demonstrates benevolent goodness to those in a pitiable or miserable condition, even though they do not deserve it.”6

We conflate mercy with justice. R. C. Sproul writes,

“God does not always act with justice. Sometimes he acts with mercy. Mercy is not justice, but it also is not injustice. Injustice violates righteousness. Mercy manifests kindness and grace and does no violence to righteousness. We may see nonjustice in God, which is mercy, but we never see injustice in God.”7

Do we merit God’s mercy? To think that means we have forgotten who God is and who we are. We conflate mercy with justice, essentially saying God is unjust, and, by implication, unrighteous. Paul anticipates this objection in Romans 9:14.8

What shall we say then? Is there any unrighteousness with God? May it never be!
Romans 9:14 LSB

What a thing for those who were (or those who are) by nature children of wrath to say! Paul has already established all are under God’s just condemnation. He answers the objection in Romans 9:14 by saying:

For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” So then it does not depend on the one who wills or the one who runs, but on God who has mercy.
Romans 9:15–16 LSB

Paul drives the point home. God is Sovereign.

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, IN ORDER TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND IN ORDER THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
Romans 9:17–18 LSB

And anticipates another objection:

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”
Romans 9:19 LSB

To which he answers again, God is Sovereign:

On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? WILL THE THING MOLDED SAY TO THE MOLDER, “WHY DID YOU MAKE ME LIKE THIS”? Or does not the potter have authority over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
Romans 9:20–21 LSB

And He acts according to His purposes:

And what if God, wanting to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath having been prepared for destruction, and in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory⁠—even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles?
Romans 9:22–24 LSB

Look at the very next verses in Titus and Ephesians.

But when the kindness and affection of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not by works which we did in righteousness, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we would become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:4-7 LSB
But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ⁠—by grace you have been saved⁠—and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:4-9 LSB

Now go back to Romans 9–10, and read as a sinner saved by the mercy and grace of God.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him
be the glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:33–36 LSB

The Bible speaks of God’s sovereignty from Genesis to Revelation. Paul’s response was, “To him be glory forever. Amen.” May that be your response as well.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Sky 49: Nancy Anburaj. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Making pottery: Randy Oostdyk. GFDL-1.2-or-later. (CC BY-SA 3.0).
1F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1977) 333.
2F. Davidson, Ralph P. Martin, “Romans,”  The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 1033–1034.
3,8R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: Romans (Christian Focus Publications, Ltd; Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland, United Kingdom: 2011) 201, 206: regarding Romans 9:13, Just as it is written, “JACOB LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED,” Sproul writes, “When the Scripture speaks of God hating, it means that he did not bestow favor upon Esau. God did not give him grace and the benefits of salvific love. It doesn’t mean that God hates in the sense that human beings hate.”
4I think R. C. Sproul said words to this effect, but I cannot find the quote.
5,6John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, gen. eds., “God the Father,” Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Biblical Truth (Crossway, Wheaton IL: 2017) 182, 182-183.
7R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, 2nd ed. (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton IL: 1985, 1998) 111.

Further reading at Ligonier: “Why We Can’t Choose God,” “Justice and Mercy: Romans 9:14–18,” and “Our Faith Is God’s Mercy.”

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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