I was asked a couple years ago to step out of my generation and lead a bible study for twenty-somethings. There I witnessed the most instantaneous, phase-transition-like conversion to the predestination view of salvation. Typically those who convert from the Arminian to the Augustinian view do so gradually. A good deal of kicking and screaming is often involved. And finally, there is usually an extended period of cognitive dissonance—where those struggling exegetes will be heard to mutter: I agree that's what scripture teaches but I just can't believe it.
But on this occasion that is not what happened. We were reading Sproul's Chosen By God, and through the early chapters, where Sproul sets up the basis for predestination. Essentially Sproul paves the way by first discussing Original Sin—the idea that man, in his natural state, is morally incapable of choosing God. That is, rather than teaching predestination first and then, as an afterthought, adding and here's why we need predestination, Sproul first demonstrates why the bible had better teach predestination or, in fact, we all are lost.
When he does get to predestination he uses all the usual verses from the gospels, especially John's. Then he uses Roman's chapter nine and the coup de grâce of grace. There we have Paul repeating the startling claim that before they were born God loved Jacob and hated Esau. It of course matters little if the "hate" God has for Esau resembles anything like what we call hate—the bottom line is God's disposition toward Esau is presented in stark contrast with that He holds for Jacob—proving that, unless Esau is the universal exception, God does not love all people just the same. Of course Paul makes it crystal clear what is going on here, giving us the why in verse 11-12: in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—.
The real power of Romans 9, in regards to the predestination debate, is how Paul segues from this troubling revelation about Jacob and Esau. Here he tells us something that shakes the Arminian's foundation: there is no level playing field. Before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, God looked favorably upon Jacob (call it love) and withheld that favor from Esau (call it hate.)
Why did God do this?
Here the Arminian has hope. He rubs his hands in anticipation. Surely it will be because God looked forward in time and foresaw that Jacob would accept Him while Esau would reject Him. Paul, they hope, will make that clear and end the debate once for all.
But that is not the case. Paul's explanation is the most un-Arminian explanation possible. He tells us the, in possibly the most un-Arminian and most important lesson in scripture, that God will show mercy to whomever it pleases God to show mercy. He tells us that we have no right, as clay, to question what the potter makes or does with us. In fact, he tells us, in truly startling language:
Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? 22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—(Rom 9:22-23)
On that night when we reached this point in the study, a young man (let's call him Jason because that's his name) who takes a very studious and intellectual approach to bible study, but who had been politely antagonistic to the predestination view, suddenly announced something to the effect: Well that's it; game over man, the question is settled, why didn't we just start here…
It was really quite remarkable.