Romans Chapter 9 can be a very confusing, perhaps paradoxical passage of scripture. Strong wording is used and you can feel the sense of Paul’s urgency for the reader to understand this concept. Why is there such an urgency? Because without understanding this scripture, you are certainly stuck in the belief that salvation is obtained through works. This is not the case and Paul is distressed to see that his fellow Jews do not understand this concept.
Now, before I go any further, I do not say that all who do not understand this passage are not saved. In fact, some who do understand this passage are not saved. But what I do say is that this passage will give clear indication as to whether or not you are truly saved or if those who say they are saved (70% of Americans!) are truly saved.
The thing that separates Christianity from every religion in the world, and is a testimony to its authenticity, is that no works are required for salvation. To believe so is the source of all self-righteousness that exists in the world. We say that one person is good and another person is bad based on their works. Yet there will be surprises someday when we are in Heaven. You will see men such as the thief on the cross who had no good works and died the worst kind of death be dressed in fine clothes. The ones who you may be surprised not to see are the ones who seem to be good but did not have a heart for God that is required for salvation. Christ said that many men would perform miracles in His name and they will be told that they were never known. How can this be? The answer lies clearly in Romans Chapter 9.
Think of the life you were born into. Who are your parents? Where were you born? Were you born relatively poor? Relatively rich? Were you surrounded by temptation growing up? Or were you like me where you grew up in a Christian household and weren’t exposed to as much temptation as most. Does the fact that I was born into this advantageous situation make me any better of a person than someone else? The world would say “Yes”. Christ says “No”. Unless you are born again, you will not enter the kingdom of God.
We have no choice in the environment we are placed into. We have no choice in the physical makeup of our body. Some of us may have more of a stronger sexual desire than another and is more capable of sinning. We are all born into unequal circumstances. So, when we say that we have a choice, what choice exists? I chose Christ because my parents brought me to church and the prayer for salvation was offered. The kid living next door did not have that opportunity. Our choices are controlled. God controls all circumstances. How do I know that I am saved? Because I desire holiness and I do not continue to willingly sin. How do I know that the kid next to me who prayed the prayer of salvation was not saved? “He doesn’t desire holiness. He acts according to his lack of faith. If I go on sinning I was never born again in the first place! I would then be a liar to say that I am saved. I would be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, perhaps without even knowing it.
In the case of Pharoah, his heart was hardened by God. God told Moses beforehand that he would harden Pharoah’s heart. Why would God do this? He raised Pharoah up for the very purpose of being a vessel of wrath in order to reveal God’s glory to the vessels of His mercy, some of the Hebrew slaves. How was Pharoah’s heart hardened? Did Pharoah choose to harden his own heart? In the aspect we are familiar with, you may say “yes”. Yet the truth is that God placed Pharoah into an environment that sought to bring glory to themselves by building pyramids, extravagant tombs and statues. Do you see the pride in all of that? Pride hardens the heart. Pharoah would not release the Hebrews from captivity because Pharoah knew that they were the instruments that would build up his “glorious” empire. This decision was controlled by God. God forced him to choose this way. Pharoah thought he was exercising his own free will but in truth, God orchestrated his life to the point of that decision. In the same way, he controls everything in this universe and places some of us into an environment to be hardened and some into an environment to be softened. Those whom he softens are the elect. Those whom he hardens are the reprobate.
Do we know who the elect or reprobate are? Not on this side of Heaven. That is why we must treat the good and the bad equally. But you will know in yourself whether or not you are saved by going through this test: Do you desire the truth of Christ over worldly desires? Be honest with yourself. Look at your lifestyle. Are you continuing to willingly sin? If you don’t have a ZEAL for God (Romans 10:2) then you are missing the boat. I hope it is evident by the length of this article that I have a genuine zeal for God. But as I said, there is no way for you to truly know in others.
If it is predetermined what we are going to choose, then why should I do anything for God? Because we are compelled to! I do all the good works I do, not because I am trying to maintain my status with God, but because I desire to know the truth and for others to do the same. It’s the core of all my desires to know the truth and to glorify God for everything He has blessed me with. Anything else would be a waste of my time.