The Sovereignty of God in the Salvation of Men

The following article is an excerpt from "A Book of Bible Study"

by Joseph F. Harwood.


To download the book in PDF format, visit our home page at


The Scriptures provide abundant evidence of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men, teaching us that God Himself determines who will come to faith in His Son Jesus Christ. In other words, God chooses those who will receive His mercy and be saved, and God also decides who will not receive His mercy, and who will therefore be lost. Romans 9:6-24 is one passage that teaches clearly on this subject. In particular, Paul spoke of God’s sovereign choice concerning the salvation of men beginning in verse 16: 


 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Romans 9:16-21, emphasis added) 


Paul taught in this passage that salvation through faith in Jesus Christ does not depend upon man’s own will or decision to come to Christ while he is still dead in his sins, or upon any effort of his own, but solely upon God’s sovereign decision as to whether He will show mercy to him. And as we have also seen previously, all who do come to faith in Christ are called by God, and at the point of this effectual calling an individual is regenerated; his conversion has occurred. As a result of his calling and conversion, he believes in Christ and has a desire to follow Him. And from that time on, there will be no turning back; God Himself will see to it. 


Just as God controls the thoughts and intents of even the rulers of the earth, so also in the lives His elect, those to whom He has chosen to show mercy by calling them to faith in His Son Jesus Christ, we see God prevailing against their own wills to bring them to faith in Christ, making them willing to do His will. The Apostle Paul, who was known as Saul of Tarsus before his conversion, was given an understanding of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men through the working of God in his own life. Saul’s conversion on the Damascus road stands as an example of God prevailing against man’s will, according to His own sovereign will and decision. 


The account of Saul’s conversion is recorded in Acts 9, Acts 22, and again in Acts 26. By studying these three passages we can see that Saul was clearly unregenerate and hostile toward the Gospel message. He was actively threatening the Lord’s disciples and endeavoring to imprison them for their faith, right up until the moment in time when a light from Heaven flashed around him, and he was confronted by Jesus Himself, as we read in Acts 9: “and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:4-5) 


In verse 5, Saul replied acknowledging that whoever had just intervened in his life was indeed Lord. At this point, Saul’s conversion had occurred, and his conversion had occurred contrary to his own will up to that point. He was prevailed upon by God, and his own will to continue to breathe out “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) was abruptly interrupted and forever turned in exactly the opposite direction. Saul had received mercy from God. His own will had been forcefully overcome, and the destructive path that he had chosen for himself was forever changed, according to the will, plan and purpose of our sovereign God. 


God had made a decision before the world was created to bring Saul to faith, and in His time, He accomplished what He had decided to do in his life. And so it is with all of us who come to faith in Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5). 


Again in the Book of Acts we read of God’s sovereign choice in the salvation of man. Beginning in Acts 13:44, we read that Paul and Barnabas addressed a crowd in Antioch that included both Jews and Gentiles. When the Jews saw the large crowds that had gathered to hear what they had to say, they became jealous and spoke against the Gospel message.


In response, Paul and Barnabas answered their Jewish opponents saying that it was their responsibility to bring the Gospel to them first. But since they had rejected the message, they would now bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. Then they quoted from Isaiah 49:6 in the presence of everyone, saying that God had commanded them to be a light to the Gentiles, and to proclaim His salvation to the ends of the earth. 


After this proclamation we read: “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48). Who were those who believed the Gospel message? It was those who were appointed by our sovereign God to eternal life who believed the Gospel message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. 


Paul taught in Romans 9:6-24 about God’s sovereign choice of those individuals who will receive His mercy, in that He has decided to call them to faith in His Son. And in contrast to those who receive God’s mercy, Paul taught that God chose to harden all the rest (Romans 9:18). The Apostle Peter also taught about God’s sovereign choice in the eternal destinies of men when he wrote: 


“…they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:8-9, emphasis added). 


Peter taught that those who stumble do so because they disobey the word of God, and then he revealed that they had been appointed to this doom. In contrast to those who have been appointed to doom, Peter described those whom God has chosen and called out of darkness, as “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”


Peter taught in this passage that some were chosen by God, and appointed to come to faith in Christ (consider also Acts 13:48), but all the rest were appointed for disobedience and doom. The choice for both groups has been made by our sovereign God. 


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