What does not depend on man’s willing or running? Well, exactly the thing Paul has been writing about all along in this book – namely, our salvation from sin; our right standing with God; our forgiveness; our hope of eternal life. None of that, ultimately, depends upon us! O yes, we must repent and believe. Make no mistake about that! But, Paul says here in Romans 9, our repentance and faith is not the crux of the issue. The crux of the issue; the very bottom line reason why we are saved; indeed, the very reason why we are able to repent and believe in the first place … does not depend upon us! Not on our running, or working, or striving to make ourselves right with God. And not even upon our wills! We repent and believe; we are saved from our sin, ultimately, because God wills it; because God reaches down, in His “mercy”, and opens our hearts to believe!
That is the bottom line! And I realize that it is sometimes a controversial bottom line. Our sinful human natures are not very comfortable with the fact that our destinies could be completely out of our hands. We are, by nature, all little Frank Sinatra’s running around (not in voice, of course, but in worldview). We want to be able to say, at the end of the day, that ‘I did it myyyyy way’! And so the idea that our eternal destiny might ultimately rest upon our own decision making capacity appeals to us. We would like Romans 9.16 to read: ‘So then, it depends upon the man who wills. God has done everything that He could do. And now it’s up to you and your decision.’ Indeed, that is how the gospel is often preached in our country. But it’s not exactly biblical is it?
No, the Bible says (in many more places than just Romans 9!) that our salvation does not, ultimately depend upon our wills! Yes, our wills come into play! We do (and we must) repent of our sins and believe! A decision is required! Don’t misunderstand that! But the reason any of our wills ever make the right decision is, ultimately, because God willed to have mercy on us. God willed to open our hearts to believe (see Acts 16.14). God appointed that we would believe and be saved (Acts 13.48).
And why should that idea really be controversial? For, when someone asks us: ‘Why are you so different? How did you change? How can you be so certain that you are going to heaven?’ … surely we don’t respond: ‘Well, you know, it really all boils down to my free will. I just made a really good choice. It was really all up to me.’ Of course that is not what the Christian says! When someone asks what happened to us to make us so different, and so assured of God’s love, our answer is: ‘O, what mercy God has shown me in Jesus! What a blessing that I once was lost, but now I am found. He found me! He saved me! That is why I am different today. It’s God, not me!’
It’s like we know, by a Holy-Spirit-given instinct, that “it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” So let’s not allow the old, sinful man to rob us of what the new, spiritual man knows to be true. If we are different, if we are forgiven, if we are bound for heaven … the reason is all of God and none of us!