When looking at certain passages of scripture concerning the sovereignty of God in salvation (I’m currently thinking about Romans 9), many who are uncomfortable with the idea of a truly sovereign God in salvation will suggest that predestination is only unto salvation, and not condemnation. That God has no active part in the condemnation of sinners, and that statements concerning the hardening of men’s hearts by God are intended to be understood as a passive activity in which God merely allows man to pursue his own wickedness. This is not what scripture teaches on this subject.
Romans 9:18- “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.”
This text has an active verb-“hardens.” The text explicitly says-God hardens whomever he wills. This presents a huge problem for Arminian/conditionalist thinking, because it explicitly denies the claim that God desires all men to come to repentance, which is a misreading of the text they use to support that claim, 2 Peter 3:9. “Misreading” may be a bit of a concession. Butchering of the text may be a more appropriate term.
Because the Arminian cannot comprehend that God would only desire to save certain sinners (namely, His elect chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world), when confronted with the Romans 9 text, they will respond by saying that the hardening of men’s hearts is not something that God does, in spite of the text. Or they will respond by saying that one is misinterpreting Romans 9. Both of those statements are misinformed and incorrect.
Concerning the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, which Paul addresses in the Romans text, God determined t0 harden Pharaoh’s heart so that God’s power would be demonstrated in him –
“For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:15-16 ESV
God’s purpose in hardening Pharaoh’s heart was to display His power in him. He did not intend to save Pharaoh, nor did He hope that Pharaoh would repent. Pharaoh was made by God to glorify God. He was created specially for the role he played in the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt. That man, that particular human being, was hardened by God for His glory. The God of the Bible does things that the natural man thinks are unfair or unjust, but ultimately God is free to do with His creation as He sees fit.
Trying to soften the implications of election leads into absurdity and heresy. If Pharaoh had free will to not harden his heart, was he really just that foolish? Was he someone to mock because he was so foolish? Or rather do we take God’s word as it plainly states that God hardened his heart so that He could display His power in Pharaoh.
The hardening of the heart of the non-elect is not merely a passive thing, but an active thing that God does, for the purpose of His own glory. God is not hoping that the non-elect will repent. The reason for this is because the sins of the non-elect were not imputed to Christ at the cross. Therefore, the non-elect still bear the guilt of their sins and must be punished. God is just, and He is not seeking an opportunity to let condemned sinners off of the hook. He very much intends to have His justice executed against the non-elect, and He does not do this reluctantly.
Is this harsh? Only by human standards, which are corrupt and unable to naturally judge rightly because of the Fall. For God, the punishment of the non-elect is a matter of justice and righteousness which cannot be denied, it is not sadism.
God condemns the non-elect for His own glory and purposes. The Bible teaches that it is God who sends “a strong delusion” to the non-elect (those who have not believed the truth) IN ORDER that they may believe what is false.
“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 ESV
Suggesting that the hardening of men’s hearts is a passive activity of God’s is to attempt to rob God of his glory in the condemnation of the non-elect. This the reciprocal attack on the gospel-on the front end, they want to say that man has a role in salvation; then when they hear about predestination, the former Arminian/tolerant Calvinist will say that man has a role in his condemnation. This is spiritual blindness; they simply do not understand who God is, which is why they want to partner along side of Him. Predestination is both unto salvation and unto condemnation. God is equally worthy of praise in both instances. Further, to say that predestination is only unto salvation and not condemnation is to bring confusion to something that is otherwise clear.
The confusion introduced is particularly dangerous because it leads one down the road of conditions-if the non-elect are not predestined to condemnation and merely choose it, could they choose to repent? Could they choose to not be non-elect? After all, if hell is a choice, then why can’t people stop making the wrong choice? Isn’t there something they can do to not choose hell? Maybe there is a purgatory for non-elect people who don’t choose hell but can’t choose heaven because hell is a choice and heaven isn’t.
The gospel that we preach is both very good news for the elect of God and very bad news for the non-elect. Men have done their worst to attempt to compromise that message, and yet God has preserved the glory of the truth revealed in the true gospel, which is the only gospel that can save.
God imputed the sins of the elect to Christ at the cross, and because Christ fully satisfied the wrath of God for those sins as a substitute for His people through His death, God can justly forgive elect sinners and declare them righteous. That death is the sole ground of their justification before God. God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the believer. Christ’s righteousness is the only righteousness God will accept.