But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 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 depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. – Romans 9:6–18
R.C. Sproul writes:
Notice Paul’s use of the words “purpose” and “calls” – “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not to him who works but of Him who calls.” In both instances he is referring to the One who elects. The decree came before the boys were born, before they had done any good or evil, to make certain that the purpose of God according to election might stand. Their election was based not on what the boys would do but on what God does. The decree was issued according to the purpose of God so that His purpose would be exalted and established. His purpose is the ground of election.
Our election is never found in us. “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (v. 16). The prescient advocates [those who say that God’s election is based on His seeing what we are going to do] say that in the final analysis our election is rooted in some work we do, but election would be conditional if we had to meet a condition in order for God to elect us. A conditional election flies in the face of the very point the apostle is laboring to make.
Inevitably discussions of predestination come down to the free will of the creature, but bringing the notion of free will to this text is humanistic. The idea of a human will not enslaved by sin is an unbiblical understanding. At the heart of this text is indeed a profound affirmation of free will. It teachers that our salvation rests ultimately and eternally on free will, but it is not our free will; it is God’s. It is the free will of the Creator, the Redeemer, who, in His sovereign grace, pours His mercy out upon those He chooses. In this case, God distinguishes between Jacob and Esau, the younger and the elder.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 21
Q. 21. Who is the redeemer of God’s elect?
A. The only redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.