Posted in John, Romans

The Condition of Mercy

“I will have mercy on those I have mercy…” Romans 9:15

There is a tradition of theology that believes there is no condition human beings can meet to receive God’s mercy.  They believe that before time, God sovereignly chose those who He would have mercy on.  These are the elect and believe in Jesus only because God chose them to believe in Jesus.  Paul’s argument in Romans 9 is key to this theology: “It does not depend on man who runs or wills, but on God who has mercy.” (Romans 9:16)

Although I have many friends in this tradition, I disagree with their interpretation of the argument Paul is making in Romans 9.  I believe Paul is using dynamite to blow up the present Jewish thinking before laying down God’s provision for mercy.

The Jews are certain that God has to give mercy to those who are seeking to follow the law.  Paul makes it clear that God doesn’t have to give mercy to anyone.  He is the Potter and we are the clay, and the clay doesn’t have the right to question the Potter about what he’s making.  Even if God arbitrarily chooses to make some of us objects of His mercy, and others objects of His wrath, we would have no “right” to question Him.  God decides who He has mercy on, not us.

So who does He choose?  Paul comes to his point: “So the Gentiles who weren’t seeking to be right with God, found Him.  Why?  Because of faith.  While the Jews who were seeking to be right with God, didn’t find Him.  Why?  Because they sought Him by works instead of by faith.  They stumbled over the great rock in their path.  God warned them of this in the Scriptures when He said,  ‘Behold, I place a stone in Zion that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall.  But anyone who believes in Him will never be disgraced.’” (Romans 9:30-33)

God is not arbitrary!  He sent Jesus to die for the world, and anyone who believes in Him will receive the mercy of God and eternal life. (John 3:16)  Those who reject Him will stumble over the One who was sent for them.  The whole argument Paul makes doesn’t conclude until the end of chapter 11 where He gives God’s heart one more time: “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so He could have mercy on everyone.” (Romans 11:32)

Jesus didn’t just die for the elect; He died for everyone!  If we meet His condition for mercy we can be assured that we are one of those He chooses.


Pastor at City Church in Madison, Wisconsin