Author: Ron Graham


God’s Choices
—A study in Romans

In Romans 8:35, Paul asks, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" In the following verses, he answers that rhetorical question: nothing is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ. Why is that? The answer is simple: "The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29). God's will is sovereign. When God decides something, when God makes a choice, his will stands immutable.

In this lesson we are going to notice three examples of God making choices according to his will. These examples come from Paul’s letter to the Romans. First we look at the choice God made between Esau and Jacob. Next we look at Paul’s analogy of the Potter and the clay. Finally we look at God's rejection of many Israelites and choosing of many Gentiles, illustrated with the analogy of a husbandman cutting branches out of an olive tree and grafting others in.

1 Esau and Jacob

Romans 9:11-13,16

Before the twins Esau and Jacob were born and did anything right or wrong. God made a decision about them: "The older shall serve the younger... Jacob I have loved, but Esau I hated" (Romans 9:11-13,16). That choice was according to God's purpose. It was his will and law. And it stood sovereign and irrevocable. God's choice in this matter was not dependent upon man's work, or man's will. Rather, man's will and man's work were subject to God's.

I should explain that the above passage is not talking about Esau or Jacob's personal destiny or eternal salvation, but about their place in the ancestry line to the seed (Christ), and about the fortunes of the two nations (Edom and Israel) which they respectively fathered (Malachi 1, Genesis 25:23). The twins were not yet even born, so when God made his choice it was not them personally he was loving and hating, choosing and rejecting, showing mercy and hardening, but the future nations in their loins.

The point is that man is subject to God's will; God is not subject to man's will. God's purpose unfolded even in the midst of rebellion against his law. Everything that God decreed in this matter came to pass.

2 Potter and Clay

Romans 9:19-21

Paul uses the analogy in Isaiah of the potter and the clay (Isaiah 29:16, Romans 9:20-21). God the potter is greater than man the clay. The potter can do what he wishes with the clay, and the clay must yield to the will of the potter. Imagine a pot saying to the potter who made it, “You did not make me!” or even, “Why did you make me like this?” The wisdom of God compared to the wisdom of man is like the wisdom of a potter compared to the wisdom of a lump of clay.

It is God who has determined who shall be saved and who shall not. He did not do this in consultation with man, and he has given man no opportunity to debate or negotiate. God has determined that man shall be saved by faith in his Son. The mind of man has but one part to play, and that is to hear, believe, repent, and obey in response to the revealed will of God.

God’s will is the same for the rich man and the poor, the strong man and the weak, the president and the postman, the Jew and the Gentile, the freeman and the slave. All men must yield to God’s covenant and will. The king and queen must yield as must the manservant and maid. The wise man and scholar must yield as must the ignorant and unlearned. God will show mercy on those who yield, and harden those who follow their own wisdom. In the next chapter, Paul issues this warning... "Not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3).

The analogy of the potter and the clay is not meant to portray man as mindless. We can say to God, “Mould me and make me after Thy will,” or we can refuse to subject ourselves to the righteousness of God. The analogy is meant to show how foolish it is for man not to yield to God. Man needs to see what God has decreed and chosen, and to submit his will to God's.

3 Gentiles and Israel

Romans 11:7,17-26

In Romans 11, Paul discusses election and rejection. God does not choose people according to their heredity (whether they are Israelites or Gentiles) but according to their faith. The true Israel is an olive tree, so to speak, in which God has cut out some original branches, and grafted in some wild olive branches. God is ever willing to graft back into his olive tree, a branch that was cut out, or to cut out a branch that was grafted in. It all depends on one's faith or lack of it, whether one is allowed to belong to Israel or not. God makes the choice based on his word, and we also make the choice on the same basis. If God finds an unbelieving and disobedient branch in the olive tree, he cuts it out. If God finds a believing and obedient branch not in the olive tree, he grafts it in. That is God's choice. Our choice is which kind of branch we shall be.


In Romans 11 Paul speaks of a “hardening” by God of those he rejects. If God causes some people's hearts to be hardened and rejects them because of it, doesn't that make God unjust? No, because God reveals his will to people so as to give them a choice too. If people choose to be compliant with God's will and they yield to it, then God's word softens their hearts more and more —it makes them ever more faithful and obedient. God is therefore pleased to select them as fit branches for his olive tree. On the other hand, if people choose to be disobedient to God's will and they rebel against it, then God's word hardens their hearts more and more —it makes them ever more disbelieving and disobedient.

An Illustration

A sales person makes every effort to present the product in a way that will attract a warm response from the prospect. If a prospect rejects a sales presentation, the sales person knows that future attempts to sell are likely to be met with ever more emphatic rejection. In each subsequent attempt, the sales person is more and more likely to increase the hardening of the prospect against the sale. Eventually the prospect will tell the salesperson, “Go away, and don't come back,” A good sales person does everything possible to avoid this —with one exception. The salesperson does not, voluntarily, stop making approaches and attempts to sell.

When God seeks to penetrate hard hearts with his loving appeal (Romans 10:14-21) he is successful with some, but other hearts keep resisting. They shut up their ears and eyes all the harder. Sooner or later, they tell God to go away and stay away. God therefore rejects them as fit branches for the olive tree. Is God unjust to keep appealing to those who become hardened all the more by his appeals? When God appeals to hard hearts, he risks making some hearts harder still. However, if he were to cease his appeals, no hard hearts would be softened. To keep appealing and preaching to hard hearts is the just and merciful thing for God to do, and this he has always done.