Romans 9:16

Don’t Jump Without A Parachute

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Romans 9:16a (Holman) So then it does not depend on human will…

“It” refers to salvation. This verse clearly states what is the foundation and beginning of a person’s conversion. Salvation is not started by human will or design. We by nature want deliverance from punishment, but no one by nature wants to follow God’s prescribed course for avoiding damnation.

No sinners, of their own choosing, want to surrender to Jesus for salvation. They want to escape Hell, but do not want to seek a holy God. They do not want to submit to Him, and live according to His dictates.

People want to use their own will to self-determine their own method of salvation. They want to think they have complete control over their own everlasting destiny. We want to be gods unto ourselves. This cocky pride in us, if unchecked, causes us to reject God’s ordained plan of salvation.

Being saved requires more than merely wishing to escape punishment. Cain complained, “My punishment is too great to bear!” (Genesis 4:13), but this did not make him start trying to be made right with God.

When Paul spoke of judgment to come, Felix the Governor trembled (Acts 24:25). Sadly, no evidence indicates the Ruler ever was saved.

When God wrote on the wall, King Belshazzar panicked. “His face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that his hip joints shook and his knees knocked together” (Daniel 5:6). But he did not turn from his sins.

Yearning for safety is never enough. Wishing for Heaven won’t bring us there. Sinners must confront their own sins, blame themselves, turn from their sins, and flee to Jesus. None will to do this of their own volition. This natural resistance to God is what we mean by the total depravity of man.

When left on their own, people universally castoff Jesus. When the soldiers and religious leaders rejected Jesus in the flesh, they pictured what people left to themselves do to Christ in spirit all the time.

The miraculous inward work God has to do in us for us to be saved was pictured in the outward events surrounding the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Since we do not by nature seek God, the Holy Spirit has to come grab our attention forcefully. Only then can we be saved.

We wrongly will to accomplish salvation on our terms. It does not result from a planned process we invent. At this point, someone may be tempted to say, “Okay, we can invent no plan, but what about good works?”

Romans 9:16b …or effort…

The word refers to vigorous human activity. However hard we try, works cannot save us. To many, this is bad news because they want to earn their salvation. The vast majority of us want to exert effort to merit Heaven. We hate the thought of having to humble ourselves as sinners before a holy God. We do not want to confess weakness and lostness, or be in God’s debt.

Sometimes people admit they commit sins, but opt to do penance or good deeds to make up for them. They are quick to say they are sorry for their wrongdoing, but let feelings of remorse soothe their soul.

Regret for sin, in and of itself, has never achieved salvation. Pharaoh twice confessed he had sinned (Exodus 9:27; 10:16). He gave evidence of deep remorse over what he had done, but be assured Pharaoh suffers in Hell.

Judas Iscariot showed sorrow for betraying Jesus (Matt. 27:4). His grief was so strong he went out and hanged himself, but he was not saved.

Remorse, regret, and penance—none of these is sufficient to bring us salvation. A person must repent, turn from sin, and seek Jesus’ saving grace. Human goodness and works can never compel God to bring us salvation.

Salvation is something we neither invent a process for (v. 16a) nor earn or merit. Thus the question; then what does make salvation possible?

Romans 9:16c …but on God who shows mercy.Salvation is conceived in God’s mind, and birthed in His heart. He lovingly decided, solely due to grace, to bring it to us.

We were utterly incapable of taking a first step toward Jesus. He had to move in our direction. Jesus died for us while we were helpless, ungodly sinners (Romans 5:6,8). Then He sent the Holy Spirit to chase us down and convict us. When we repented, Jesus applied His purchased salvation to us by giving us life when we were spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). He reconciled us to God when we were enemies (Romans 5:10). Our salvation is all of God.

He gave us a new nature, and a different set of desires for how we want to act. The fact we believers desire Bible-holiness is good news. Only God can give this longing. Believers should find a source of assurance here.

Do we love Jesus and yearn for a closer bond with Him? Do we treasure the Bible and long to hear it preached? Do we enjoy attending church, and love God’s people? Do we hate our sins? If we can answer these with a genuine “yes”, we have life in Jesus. All these traits are “unnatural”. They come about only as a result of a supernatural birth from God. The lost do not have these feelings. These urges come only as a part of the new birth.

God made salvation possible for all people, but it has to be received on His terms and by His grace. Don’t try to conceive our own methods, or try to earn it. To receive it, we must follow God’s divinely prescribed way.

Being restricted to following God’s predetermined method should not surprise us. In the physical realm, we do this all the time. Living in God’s creation often requires, on our part, adjustments to divinely ordered plans.

Our local farmers know if they want to harvest corn in the Fall, they must plant it in the Spring. They can plant it in the dead of Winter if they want to, but there won’t be much of a harvest. The farmer, realizing this, wisely adjusts his plans to coincide with this unalterable fact of nature.

Skydivers know to don their parachute before they jump from a plane. They can wait till later to do so if they want to, but the result will be messy. Skydivers adjust their life to coincide with the unalterable fact of gravity.

As farmers and skydivers have to adjust to outside forces beyond their control, even so a sinner must be saved according to God’s unalterable plan. God’s gift of mercy has to be received through repenting of our sin, and putting faith in Christ. Sinner, come God’s way. Don’t complicate the issue.

Our desperate need to adjust our ways to bring them into line with God’s ways is well illustrated by the lives of Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob, of whom Paul wrote in the previous verses.

Before the birth of the twins, God let it be known He had ordained the family’s spiritual blessing would be Jacob’s (GN 25:23). Nevertheless, years later Isaac “willed” to grant it to Esau, and Esau “willed” to gain it from his father. Rebekah exerted “effort” to steal the blessing for Jacob, and Jacob exerted “effort” to deceive his father.

Isaac and Esau tried to overrule God’s plan with their own plan. Rebekah and Jacob tried to achieve God’s plan as if He needed human aid.

All four were wrong. None showed faith. The result of was a tragic disaster. An old man learned that his wife and son had lied to him. Twins became enemies; the elder threatened to murder the younger. The mother was forced to send her beloved son to safety and never saw him again. The younger son spent twenty years in exile, serving a harsh taskmaster.

A tragedy of tragedies: all because four people refused to do things God’s way. Unbelievers, I beseech you, do not repeat their error. Come to Jesus the only way you can while you can. If you come to Jesus now, all will be well. Christ will forgive and receive you. However, if you leave this world without Jesus, you will spend eternity separated from Him.