“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”— Romans 9:16
“Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” — Revelation 22:17
God’s sovereign choices are seen throughout the Bible: He chose Abraham to be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:4-5); He chose Israel to be His special people (Genesis 17:7); He chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:35-37); He chose the twelve apostles to live with the Lord Jesus for three years and learn from Him (Mark 3:13-19); and He chose Paul to bring the gospel to many people, both personally and through his writings (Acts 9:1-19). In the same way, He has chosen people “out of every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) to come to faith in Christ. Those whom He chooses will come to Him, and He will never cast them out.
The Gifts from him that Willeth
The spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament, primarily in Romans 12 and in 1 Corinthians 12, fall into three categories: sign, speaking, and serving
…it seems evident, therefore, that Paul did not mention the sign gifts in Romans because their place in the church was already coming to an end. They belonged to a unique era in the church’s life and would have no permanent place in its ongoing ministry. It is significant, therefore, that the seven gifts mentioned in Romans 12:6–8 are all within the categories of speaking and serving.
It is also important to note that in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the term pneumatikos (v. 1, lit., “spirituals”) to describe the specific divinely bestowed gifts mentioned in verses 8–10. He explains that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (v. 4), and that “the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (v. 11).
Hardening ones heart
The most well known example is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. In Exodus 8:1 the Lord says to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”‘” In other words God’s command, that is, his will, is that Pharaoh let the Israelites go. Nevertheless from the start he also willed that Pharaoh not let the Israelites go.
In Exodus 4:21 God says to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in your hand; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” At one point Pharaoh himself acknowledges that his unwillingness to let the people go is sin: “Now therefore forgive, I pray, my sin” (Exodus 10:17). Thus what we see is that God commands that Pharaoh do a thing which God himself wills not to allow. The good thing that God commands he prevents. And the thing he brings about involves sin.
Will of command and will of decree
This illustrates why theologians talk about the “will of command” (“Let my people go!”) and the “will of decree” (“God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”).
10 times hardened
Exodus 4:21 I will harden his heart. The Lord’s personal and direct involvement in the affairs of men so that His purposes might be done is revealed as God informed Moses what would take place.
Pharaoh was also warned that his own refusal would bring judgment on him (v. 23). Previously Moses had been told that God was certain of Pharaoh’s refusal (3:19). This interplay between God’s hardening and Pharaoh’s hardening his heart must be kept in balance.
Ten times (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17) the historical record notes specifically that God hardened the king’s heart, and ten times (7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35; 13:15) the record indicates the king hardened his own heart.
The apostle Paul used this hardening as an example of God’s inscrutable will and absolute power to intervene as He chooses, yet obviously never without loss of personal responsibility for actions taken.
The theological conundrum posed by such interplay of God’s acting and Pharaoh’s acting can only be resolved by accepting the record as it stands and by taking refuge in the omniscience and omnipotence of the God who planned and brought about His deliverance of Israel from Egypt and, in so doing, also judged Pharaoh’s sinfulness.