Are You Satisfied with Sovereign Mercy?

Seeing and Savoring God’s Sovereignty in the Extraordinary and Mundane


Recently, I wrote an article in which I argued that Paul’s use of Exodus 33:19 in Romans 9:15 is a ground which supports his claim, in 9:14, that God is not unrighteous to unconditionally elect some and reprobate others. Further, I argued that Paul does not merely appeal to the historical act of God’s free election (i.e., when the Israelites needed mercy for their stubborn hearts in Exodus 33:1–23, and although they did not deserve it, God freely granted mercy) but he goes further—i.e., he appeals to the very name of Yahweh. That is, based on the connections between the words “gracious” and “compassion” in Exodus 33:19 and Exodus 34:6, the phrase “I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy and I will have compassion on whomever I have compassion” is Yahweh’s very name that passed by Moses in Exodus 34:6.

Also, what I attempted to show was that the name of Yahweh in Exodus 33:19 and 34:5–7 is deeply connected with the nature of Yahweh. That is, “to have mercy on whomever he has mercy and to have compassion on whomever he has compassion” is partially what it means to be God in relation to his redemptive purposes for humans, and that this is Paul’s ground for God’s righteousness being upheld with reference to his “purpose of election” (Rom 9:11). In other words, God’s righteousness is upheld because God’s unconditional election is righteous. And it his unconditional election is righteous because it is in accord with his nature.[1]

As a result, three massive implications come to the surface (this article will primarily deal with the first):

(1) God is sovereign. That is to say, God is completely and absolutely ruling over all things at every moment and in every place of creation. Whatever happens in creation, we can be sure that it is always due to God’s ruling causation. “For from him, and through him, and to him are all things” (Rom 11:36; cf. 1 Cor 8:7; Col 1:16).

(2) The righteousness of God, for which Paul is making his defense case in Romans 9–11, is only righteous because the righteousness of which he speaks is defined solely by the nature—or name—of God. In short, God defines what righteousness is and it is bound up in his unconditional electing nature. Therefore, God is righteous to elect whomever he elects.

(3) If it is true that God has mercy on whomever he has mercy and has compassion on whomever he has compassion, and that he likewise hardens whomever he wills (Rom 9:18), then we also are utterly (in the most literal sense of the word) dependent upon God for our justification,[2] salvation,[3] and sanctification.[4]

The Main Point: A Life Upheld by Sovereign Mercy

My aim is to demonstrate how the first implication—i.e., that God is sovereign over all things—magnifies God for who he is and how that should work in us an unshakable hope and confidence in God’s decisive will through every aspect of our Christian lives.

God Is Sovereign; For from Him, through Him, and to Him Are All Things

Theology is not man’s intellectual tinker toy. Theology is not a game with which to be played. Nor is theology mere knowledge in itself.

Theology is the mediator between infinite realities and our finite minds. Theology helps us understand and make sense of infinite truths with our finite cognition. John Frame makes a valid point when he defines theology as “the application of scripture, by persons, to every area of life.”[5] Overall, his point is that theology should always terminate on application in “every area of life”; otherwise we have missed the point of theology and are likely misusing God’s word. Therefore, a theology of God’s sovereignty must penetrate our lives—even down to the most mundane.

When I say, “even down to the most mundane,” I am thinking of day-to-day ordinary, and perhaps seemingly unexciting things like putting away dishes or brushing your teeth. If we really believe the truth of Romans 11:36, that “from him and through him and to him are all things,” then all things must include not only God’s rule over the high-handed sins of the Islamic State, the counsel of whole nations, and the consummation of his redemptive purposes, but also the manner in which we tuck our kids in at night, cook breakfast, pay our electricity bills, etc.

Seeing and Savoring God’s Sovereign Mercy

If you are believing in Christ as your only hope for eternal salvation (Jn 3:16; 14:6; 2 Cor 4:2), then your eternal election is sealed (Eph 1:4–5). Nothing can snatch you out of God’s hand (Jn 10:28), and you can bank your life on the promises of eternal blessing in the life to come (Rom 8:31–37; Eph 1:13; 4:30).[6]

The Sovereign God seen in Romans 9–11 is meant to produce an unshakable hope that the glorious blessings of Romans 8 are secured “for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). And God’s complete sovereignty over salvation is the ground for Paul’s statement: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38–39).

That is, God’s sovereign mercy will carry you through this tumultuous life and impending death so that you make it into eternal life. “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8–9). If it was up to you, how could “salvation belong to the LORD” (Ps 3:8; cf. Ps 68:20; Jonah 2:9; Rev 7:10; 19:1)? If salvation belonged to you, then you’d make yourself God—and that is blasphemy. God alone saves so that he might receive all the glory. God alone saves so that you might be satisfied with his sovereign mercy.

And if God is sovereign, then we must marvel with Paul in Romans 11:33–36. We must be amazed that God would send Christ to save sinners—the very enemies who hate him (Rom 4:5; 5:6, 8, 10; Eph 2:1–10; 1 Tim 1:15). Think about this: God chose to send his Son to die on behalf of his enemies. God did this and that is worth a lifetime of marveling.

If God is sovereign, then we have no room for boasting, since all that we have we have received from his hand (1 Cor 4:7).

If he is sovereign, then the way we view trials is transformed (Rom 5:1–5; Jas 1:1–4)—we now see them as God’s means of our sanctification. When our friends unforgivingly betray us, we can hope in God as we seek to reconcile, because through it he is working for our sanctification (Rom 8:28–29).

If he is sovereign, then we do not despair at our “unsuccessful” attempts to evangelize, since God’s word will accomplish its purpose (Isa 55:11; 1 Cor 15:58). Salvation belongs to the Lord.

If God is sovereign, then our prayers are fueled by an unshakable hope that God is always good and will answer us according to his will (Matt 7:7–11).

If God is sovereign, then the only reason we love Christ, is because he loved us first (1 Jn 4:10, 19).

Look for the Fingerprints of Sovereign Mercy in Your Life

God’s sovereign hand is leaving fingerprints all over your life. He puts himself on display by causing you to trust Christ and walk in his commandments (Ezek 26:26; Jer 31:31–34; Eph 2:8–9), so that the unbelieving world might ponder such transformation and give glory to your father in heaven (Matt 5:16). Look also to your daily routine in life. When you brush your teeth, ask, “Where did I get this toothpaste from?” When you wash your dishes in the evening, ask, “Who fed me tonight?” When you hope in Christ through a trial, ask, “Who is causing such hope in me?” Look for the fingerprints of sovereign mercy and delight yourself in it. Sovereign mercy is everywhere. It’s the reason you “live and move and have your being” (Acts 17:28).

[1] John Piper defines God’s righteousness in Romans 9:14 as his “unswerving commitment always to bring his actions into accord with the reality of his infinitely worthy glory,” John Piper, The Justification of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993), 95.

[2] I.e., the decisive declaration that we are righteous in the sight of God through the substitutionary life, death, and resurrection of Christ (Rom 3:24, 26, 28; 4:5; 8:30, 8:33; 1 Cor 16:11; Gal 2:16; Titus 3:11).

[3] I.e., the decisive deliverance from the captivity of sin and the assured life in the eternal future inheritance of Christ (Rom 3:24; 8:23; 1 Cor 1:30; Eph 1:7; 4:20; Col 1:14; Heb 9:12).

[4] I.e., the progressive process of being created into the image of Christ (Rom 6:22; 8:28–29; 1 Cor 1:30; 1 Thess 4:3; Heb 10:14).

[5] John Frame, Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013), 8.

[6] Side note: You can visit to watch a ten-minute clip on how God’s sovereignty in Romans 9 affects John Piper’s life and ministry. As usual, he is contagiously passionate about this truth.