14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
Having dealt with a theodicy in the scheme whereby God saves by accepting Isaac and Jacob and rejecting Ishmael and Esau, Paul now turned to another issue in His justice—was God fair in His dealings with Israel and Pharaoh (9:14-18)? The theodicy of chapters 9 to 11 continues.
God can be faithful to His promises because their fulfillment does not depend on the believer but on Himself. However, the way God does this raises questions about His evenhandedness in doing so. How can God be righteous if He predetermined His blueprint of salvation in eternity past (vv. 14-23)?
Paul argued in these verses that:
Justice is not negated by mercy (vv. 14-15)
Mercy is not negated by choice (vv. 16-18)
14 What shall we say then?
We have this same phrase previously (4:1; 6:1; 8:31). This question introduces another stage in defending God’s integrity. Why is there a need for two sides of God’s mercy? Was it right for God to make a decision on which one person would be blessed and the other not?
Is there unrighteousness [injustice] with God?
Was God unjust in choosing Isaac and Jacob over Ishmael and Esau? Paul asked this question from the viewpoint of Roman Christians, not non-Christians. His answer, therefore, is from the Christian viewpoint. The issue then is this: Is God just in making decisions in eternity past before man has had any option to choose? How does election and rejection fit into God’s economy?
It is important to note that the word “unrighteousness” or injustice is one of the key words of Romans. The argument of Romans is the righteousness of God. God must be right with Himself. That is why He has to justify (vindicate) believers rather than accepting their morality. The argument of the entire book is the vindication of who and what God is.
Ro 3:5, But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.)
In the above verse God’s righteousness relates to both His faithfulness and truth.
An all-powerful God who is not just does not align with His attributes.
Ge 18:25, Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
God is perfect fairness, perfectly just. He made every provision for the nation Israel and for individuals that is necessary for them to have eternal life. He was just in doing this because the Messiah took our judgment on the cross. With that said, personal salvation is not the issue in this section; the issue is God’s fairness in dealing with Israel and Egypt as nations. The issue is the system of salvation rather than how individuals are to be saved.
Certainly not! [Greek answers “no”]
The Greek answers emphatically, “Not at all.” There is no injustice in God whatsoever. He is consistent with His character for choosing one and not another (v. 15). His plan is always consistent with His character.
Paul argued from the Jews’ Scripture by quotations that God cannot act unjustly. The Jews have no claim on God. God’s system of salvation, then, is an act of mercy. It is impossible for God to play favorites. The cross is an expression of His justice.
There is no injustice in God’s scheme of saving sinners.
The natural man does not like the way God judges and he does not appreciate the scheme whereby He saves sinners. Man rejects God’s ways. Since none seek God and have fallen short of the glory of God (3:10-18), this puts everyone at God’s mercy.
God did not negate His mercy by justice, but served His justice by sending Jesus to suffer in the place of our sins. Jesus fully took the condemnation of our—imputed and experienced. God’s justice was fully served in Christ. It is God’s system of salvation that is just toward Himself and others.
God never conforms to a norm outside Himself. He is the transcendent norm; all other norms conform to Him. God’s own actions always conform to Himself. That is why He Himself must establish the norm for the scheme of salvation and everything else. He must be faithful to Himself and to His Word. He must be faithful to His offer of salvation.
The reason God is not unjust is because there are two Israels, one Israel that accepted by faith God’s offer of a particular system of salvation and the other that did not. God always acts consistently with who He is.