When Paul speaks in the middle chapters of Romans, he does a couple of things. Firstly, in Romans 5-8, he explains how we are saved by faith, and what the nature of the saving faith looks like. It is all that is required to be saved, no works or efforts required from the human side.
In Romans 8 he further expands on God’s sovereignity when it comes to salvation:
Rom 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Rom 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Rom 8:30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
This is in direct contrast to what was being taught at that time among the Jews. In Romans 9, Paul starts to answer the objections that may be raised against salvation by faith alone, as predestined by God, and described above.
Although Romans 9 is mainly intended to answer the objections from the legalists, it also succeeds in establishing the relationship between the human will and God’s will.
Rom 9:15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
Rom 9:16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Rom 9:17 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.”
Rom 9:18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
Rom 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
Rom 9:20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”
Rom 9:21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?
Rom 9:22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
Rom 9:23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory–
It is not denied that the human has a will (v16). But in the context of purpose and salvation, God has sovereignity. God has predestined whom He will choose or not choose (v18). In some cases, for His purpose, He will purposely harden some, and man will be remain in his natural state of sin.
The human counterargument is shown in v19. If God has predestined some for destruction, then why does He condemn them and punish them? The answer follows in the next verses…that God uses everything He created as He wishes. By which power can man establish his own purpose and own destiny? That is up to God alone, and He decides how to show His power and wrath, and also His love and mercy.
As mentioned previously a few times on this blog, freedom of the human will has to be relational. Freedom is always quantified in terms of what one is free from. Freedom of speech, for example, means that one may pretty much say what one wishes, it is free from restrictions on public utterances. In matters of salvation and purpose, human freedom is relational to God’s ultimate purpose. We are free to act as we want within His tolerance and purpose (v22), whether it be for His glory or wrath.
Any perceived conflict is born out of human arrogance. God has made us in a specific way for a specific purpose. Man is free to question that, but he cannot change it. Man may even rebel against it, but that is like slapping your father in the face, while he is carrying you in his arms. Paul thereforepoints out the futility of questions of this kind (v20-23).
God is sovereign. All that He decrees and does comes from within Him, for His glory. It may not be palatable to some, but that is because they focus on His sovereign wrath, not His sovereign love. And that is a matter of choice.
For further reading see: God’s purpose according to election