So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Human will, though powerful, is not the final master of our destiny. Where we are, who we are, what we are and how we are... belong to God's grace and mercy. We cannot save ourselves. We are limited. God is not. And it is His mercies that give us the lives we have.
Paul is talking about the really big picture when he says this. Romans nine through eleven deal with God's overarching purposes for the nation of Israel. Paul chose to talk about this to Rome, the center of the Gentile world, because he wanted them to understand that God moved on cosmic and grand scales, not just on the personal level. And Rome represented the grandeur of imperial power. It was the center of the political and military world of its day. And God was bigger, as evidenced with what He was doing with His people Israel. The only reason anyone receives any chance at life that pleases God is because God is first merciful. That is the initial understanding of His sovereignty that all of us need to know.
Paul does not negate human will by this teaching. He just sets it in its place. The main problem with human beings is that we tend toward a pride that makes us think we are the penultimate deciders of our own fate. But being mortal, that cannot be. Being moral creatures, that cannot be. We must answer to our Creator.
I do not believe that God's mercy or His will prevent us from exercising and knowing true free will choices. But I also do not believe that any human choice or set of choices ever catches God by surprise or is beyond His power. He is merciful to us, allowing us much freedom in our lives, even to the point of having a will that can choose to disbelieve Him. But He is still sovereign over even human sin and disbelief... which is why Hell is a real place. Christ in His mercy died to take the keys of death and Hell in grasp for us. But our hope and faith and future depend on God's mercy ultimately, and not our own efforts to correct sin in us. And I am thankful for that, because I know my efforts in that regard are weakened by a sinful flesh to the extent that without God's mercies, I would never stand a chance of living the life I have in Christ. Thank God He is merciful. The gospel abounds with it!
- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13