A long-time friend and I were discussing God’s sovereignty and how it is manifested in the salvation of men’s souls. He is an ardent Calvinist and I, of course, am repeatedly on record as being an anti-Calvinist. (Note! This does mean I am an Arminian or a Pelagian, but enough of that for now.)
As he pressed his argument for hard determinism (God predestined everything that happens and man has no libertarian free will), he said, “I can’t believe you won’t accept what Paul said in Romans 9!” To which I replied, “I can’t believe you won’t accept Paul’s own explanation of what he said in Romans 9.”
Seven times in his epistle to Rome, Paul utilized the phrase, “what shall we say then?” This is a phrase used by Paul whereby he would expound or explain something he had just written.
While Calvinists and reformed theologians believe Romans 8-9 are their proof for hard determinism and no free will, they reject Paul’s own explanation of what the text intends to teach.
Rather than teaching that, before the world was created, God predestined every individual to heaven or hell without respect to anything they might or might not do, Paul tells us exactly what he is discussing, namely, the inclusion of the Gentiles in the overall scheme of redemption in Christ through the gospel.
Hear what he said, “What shall we say then? That Gentile, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek by faith, but by the works of the law” (Romans 9:30-32).
Note how the Gentiles are spoken of as attaining unto righteousness. This is something they did, not something that was done indiscriminately to them apart from their own will.
Romans 9, particularly as it pertains to God saving some men while not saving others, pertains to God’s will and purpose as given in the gospel, not because He has indiscriminately chosen some men to be saved and others to be lost. In this text, Paul is speaking of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the gospel covenant.