Romans 9:14, Romans 3:21-28
Is God Unjust in Romans 9?

Calvinism 101: Session 7

God’s Righteousness in Romans 9


What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! – Rom 9:14

Recap of Romans 9 So Far


Argument #1 Is God’s Word reliable?

God’s Word has not failed because not all Israel are Israel (Rom 9:6)

As proof, look at the descendants of Abraham: Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau (9:7-13)

Therefore, God’s election of a remnant of Israel demonstrates that God’s promises are true, despite the majority of ethnic Israel remaining in unbelief.


Argument #2 On what basis does God choose this remnant?

It isn’t on the basis of works, but on God’s purpose of election (9:11)

As proof, see how—before they were born—God chooses Jacob, not Esau (9:11-12)

            Therefore, it is only based on God’s free decision, not on man’s choices or actions.


Argument #3 Is that just for God to do?

Yes, this is just because it is impossible for God to be unjust—By no means! (9:14)

As proof, God’s disclosure of His name to Moses in Exodus reveals that His freedom in showing grace corresponds with His very nature—for God to be God His showing grace and mercy cannot be constrained by anything outside of Himself—I am who I am. (9:15)

Therefore, Argument #2 is further strengthened—there is nothing in man, whether his will or his exertion, that qualifies as a condition for God’s election. The only decisive factor is God’s free choice. (9:16)


This necessarily requires us to think differently about justice/righteousness


What is Righteousness According to Paul?


What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! (Rom 9:14)

  • “injustice” is the same word as “unrighteousness” (adikia, ἀδικία)


21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:21-28; cf. Rom 3:1-8)


  • The righteousness of God is manifested/revealed through faith in Jesus Christ. How?
  • The problem: sin. Sin is “falling short of the glory of the God.” Sin is defined by its relationship to God’s glory. What is sin? It is a deprivation of the glory due to God’s name perpetrated by individuals who are made specifically for God’s glory (Isa 43:7).
    • So, sin is an affront on God’s glory. What is right/just for God to do in response to such sin? Consider Gen 2:17, ‘In death you shall surely die.”

    • Righteousness as punishment:For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. 23 For the Lord GOD of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in the midst of all the earth.” (Isa 10:22-23)

    • Righteousness as salvation: Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! 2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you,” (Ps 143:1-2)


  • If God’s righteousness can be revealed both in salvation and judgment, then what is it?
    • For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!” (Ps 143:11)
    • In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! 2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! 3 For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me,” (Ps 31:1-3)
    • All of Scripture attests to God being motivated supremely by a desire to honor His own name and glory (see Dan 9:7-19; Isa 43:6-7, 21, 25; 44:23; 46:13; 48:9-11; 49:3; Jer 13:11; 33:8-9; 14:7, 9, 20; Ps 79:9; Ezek 16:59-63; 36:20-32; 20:9, 14, 22, 44)

    • It is on the basis of these texts that I want to argue that…the most fundamental characteristic of God’s righteousness is his allegiance to his own name, that is, to his honor and glory,” (John Piper, The Justification of God, 112)


  • Righteousness as punishment and salvation merge together in Romans 3
    • Paul draws attention to the gift of God’s grace that results in justification (salvation) through the propitiatory death of Jesus Christ (punishment) (Rom 3:24-25a)
    • This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,” (Rom 3:25b-26)
    • So, if sin is a deprivation of glory—and God’s righteousness is his unswerving allegiance to always preserve His glory—you can see why His pardoning of sins may make Him appear to be unjust, unrighteous. But God can remain just and the justifier of sinners through faith because of the sin atoning work of Jesus Christ, the propitiation of our sins.


Return to Romans 9


And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” (Rom 9:10-14)


Does God’s choosing of Jacob over Esau, of electing individuals to salvation according to His own purposes and not according to the conditions or qualifications of the individuals, compromise God’s righteousness? Compromise God’s commitment to His own glory?


“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.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy,” (Rom 9:15-16)


Paul’s defense of God’s righteousness: it is inherent to the very nature of God—His very name—to be free to and not limited. Creatures are limited and constrained; but it is part of God’s own essence to be limited only by His own being. Therefore, His choice depends not on human will or effort, but simply on Himself. Therefore, God’s unconditional election does not compromise His righteousness, but it is the only thing that could uphold his commitment to His glory.


“Since God’s righteousness consists basically in his acting unswervingly for his own glory, and since his glory consists basically in his sovereign freedom in the bestowal and withholding of mercy, there is no unrighteousness with God (Rom 9:11f). On the contrary, he must pursue his “electing purposes” apart from man’s “willing and running,” for only in his sovereign, free bestowal of mercy on whomever he wills is God acting out of a full allegiance to his name and esteem for his glory.” (John Piper, The Justification of God, p. 122)


Why Do We Struggle with This?


  • We must remember the Creator/creature distinction. We have an asymmetrical relationship with God. We can be tempted to assume that what is true for justice on the horizontal plane (between human and human) is the same on the vertical plane (between God and human).
    • So, we tend to imagine us in God’s shoes and then struggle to picture how it would be just to elect some to salvation and others to destruction. How is that fair?
    • An analogy: think of the relationship between a parent and a child. A parent can discipline a child, but a child cannot discipline her siblings. If the child said: “If it is wrong to discipline my little sister, wouldn’t it be wrong for you to discipline me?” What’s wrong with that reasoning? It assumes that what is true on the sibling-to-sibling relationship must also be true in the parent-to-child relationship.
  • The greatest good in the universe, the reason for our existence is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is what guides us—and this is what guides God. We should be committed to God’s glory because God is committed to His glory.
  • Is God an ego-maniac?
    • No, because God cannot be an idolater—it is wrong for Him to prize anything more than Himself because He is the most praiseworthy being in the universe. Thus, for Him to act in accordance with what magnifies His glory most is—by definition—just.
    • For God, that means His free, unconditional election.
    • For us, it means treating all other human beings with equal justice and fairness—because we are not God.