This study of Romans chapter 9, resulted from my desire to present a deeper, more thoughtful answer to a reformed brother's questioning of my blog intitled, GOD'S JUSTICE AND MERCY DISPLAYED IN ROMANS CHAPTER 9. So, fair warning, some material is a repeat.
Were you saved before you believed in faith? Many theologians think so. They base their belief on a handful of verses scattered throughout scripture. Some of these verses are found in Romans Chapter 9. This chapter in Romans is misinterpreted by those who hold to Calvinistic doctrines. Calvinists have a deterministic view of God’s provision of salvation. So this is what they see, when Paul uses examples of God’s sovereign choices in Israel’s history, to make an entirely different point.
Before getting to far along, here is a quick review of Calvinist doctrine.
An honest Calvinist must tell you that you have no real responsibility with regard to your eternal state. They are forced to say this because they believe humanity cannot respond to God in faith. This is due to a spiritual inability caused by Total Depravity, or so they say. A Calvinist, by necessity, must believe that it is God who chooses who will, and who will not, be saved. They say God did His choosing, or election, before He created the World. In their systematic, God selected His elect based solely on a secret decree within Himself, one which our human minds cannot understand. This is what they call Unconditional Election. If you are lucky enough to have been chosen, God, at some point in your life, makes you alive to spiritual things and gives you the gift of faith. Again by necessity, they believe that God sent Jesus Christ into the world to die, not for all people, but just for His Elect. This is called Limited Atonement. After being made alive spiritually, God’s Irresistible Grace compels the elect to believe in Jesus Christ, the cross, and the resurrection. Then, as a new creature in Christ, the believer’s walk of faith is guaranteed to be kept by the power of God. With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the believer will continue doing good works, believing in God until the end of their life, and so, will be eternally saved. This is called Preservation of the Saints. These doctrines are known by the acronym TULIP. They are also referred to as Doctrines of Grace.
If you have never been exposed to the doctrines of Calvinism, you are probably thinking something sounds off in some way? This is because Calvinism runs counter to what God reveals in scripture. Calvinists must engage and present scripture, using twisted phrase turning, appeals to mystery, and logic gymnastics. This is done to make their doctrines appear to be biblical.
You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, But a just weight is His delight
Going back to Unconditional Election, and how Romans Chapter 9 is mis-read by Calvinists. The Biblical order of eternal salvation is exactly opposite of what a Calvinist would tell us it is. Scripture clearly and repeatedly affirms that the order of salvation is “believe and receive”. We believe, in order to receive new life. We do not receive new life from God, so we can then believe in Christ. There are many verses like Col 2:12 below which uphold the correct order of salvation. Overwhelmingly, scripture places the responsibility to believe squarely on each individual, not on God.
buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
Calvinists get Romans 9 wrong because they pass over the context in which Paul writes his letter. They attempt to separate Chapter 9 from the rest of the Romans, as if Chapter 9 stands alone. By doing this, they miss Pauls point entirely. The truth is, a Calvinist cannot help but read individual election to salvation into the text. This is because, when it comes to proof for this doctrine, Calvinists need all the verses they can find. Unfortunately however, a plain statement in support of this doctrine, is not found in scripture.
Was Paul, in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit making a case for Unconditional Election here in Romans 9? My answer is an easy no. Unconditional Election to salvation by God in eternity past, is not found in Romans Chapter 9, nor anywhere else in Romans.
However, we do find God’s election, and choices mentioned in scripture. Election is mentioned here in Chapter 9. And so the Calvinist will say something like, “Here is an example of God’s Unconditional Election and means of salvation, just plainly read what these verses say. What, you don’t agree?…”oh Man, who are you to reply against God?”” When a Calvinist brings up the “Oh Man” verse, it is because they have no foundation on which they can build their doctrinal argument. We should fear God, but also, we should be trusting that God rewards those who diligently seek to know Him. Especially in searching out the deep things of God like these truths Paul is writing about in Romans.
In this blog, we will walk though what Chapter 9 of Romans says in it’s context, highlighting what it does not say. If you have been, or are troubled by the Calvinistic interpretations of Romans 9, I pray that you will find this study helpful.
the LETTER, What is Paul getting at?
In his letter to the Roman believers, Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes down many spiritual truths he wants them to understand. These are, in fact, truths that God wants all believers to know. Some of the main ones are;
- God saves through faith, not works, or the law. (3:21-22) (10:9)
- Faith is the opposite of works. (3:27)
- God sent Christ to die for the whole World. All people are called to turn to God. (1:16) (6:20-23)
- God righteously judges sin, and justly so. (2:1-8)
- All people are guilty, works cannot save, or make us righteous in God’s eyes. (6:15-22)
- Believers find new life in Christ. Through the Holy Spirit we can walk in holiness. (8:1-11) (Chapter 12) (13:11-14)
Romans Chapters 9, 10, and 11 focus primarily on Paul’s kinsmen, their past, present, and future, respectively. Yet Paul weaves throughout these three chapters a golden truth, imperative for all believers to understand. Paul declares that God is righteous and just in all His choices, even in His choice to bring salvation to everyone, both Jew and Gentile. Consider, Romans Chapter 1: 16-17. This is the central verse of Paul’s letter to the Roman believers.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
God looks for faith and obedience, in the heart of people. He asks us to believe in what He says. In the verses above, Paul states that God’s righteousness has been revealed in the gospel of Christ, from “faith, to faith.” vs. 17. This means that from the faith of Abraham, to the faith of these believers in Rome, and even to our faith today, faith is the pathway to justification and righteousness. This could not be achieved in the law, so it is by faith that God now declares men righteousness. In Chapter 9, Paul expounds on this by turning to, and confronting the Jewish objector, who may have be tempted to think that God was not being fair in providing salvation by faith to the Gentiles, apart from any other requirement. Paul uses their own history, to help them understand clearly that God is always just, and that His plans are His alone.
In summary, this letter is about having a correct understanding of all that it means to be a believer. Paul encourages believers toward a proper view of faith, as well as a sincere walk of obedience with the Holy Spirit’s help. Paul lays out, in a wonderfully bold way, God’s amazing grace, which stands above legalism and works, and provides freedom for all people from the slavery of sin.
Rightly dividing romans Chapter 9
ROMANS 9: 1-5
I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.
PAUL’S HEART OF MERCY (vs 1-5)
Chapter 9 begins with Paul proclaiming his desire for his fellow countrymen to come to Christ.
In Romans 9: 1-5, Paul displays a Godly heart of mercy through the Holy Spirit, when he expresses his desire for the salvation of his Jewish brethren. Notice Paul first says “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.” The Greek word for “bearing me witness“, indicates a bearing of joint witness, carrying the idea of corroboration with evidence. Paul has sorrow just like the Holy Spirit does for the lost. We look directly into Paul’s heart of love, when we read his statement in verse three. “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites“. Speaking under the inspiration of God, Paul says he would lay aside his own adoption in Christ to see his kinsmen saved!
Paul’s amazing statement of sacrificial love comes right after he expounded on God’s everlasting love at the end of Chapter 8. He says in verse 35, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ The answer is no one, not any created thing can separate us from the love of God. (Rom. 8:39) Paul’s statement is a reflection of God’s own sacrificial love, demonstrated by Christ..
Paul goes from that thought right into sharing his burden, sorrow, and continual grief, for his fellow Jews, to whom were given God’s special choosing, the revelation of His glory, the covenants, the law, service of God and the promises. In spite of all that God has done for them, and through them, the Jews overwhelmingly rejected their messiah.
As God’s chosen nation, Israel received God’s Law, covenants, and promises. God chose them to service, as a testimony to the whole world of the one true God. For these reasons, it was nearly impossible for them to accept that Gentiles could be considered righteous by God, outside of the law. Paul knew that many of the Jewish believers in the church at Rome were struggling with this. They had an issue of pride in light of their special status and history with God that needed to be addressed. Paul is making the case to them that overcoming this issue is actually very simple. Paul masterfully breaks it down for them, and us in Chapters 9,10, and 11.
PAUL’S MOTIVATION (vs 6-8)
Did God fail to accomplish His plans because of the disobedience of such a stiff necked people? Verse 6 says no. Even though most Jews did not believe in Jesus, God’s plans, revealed in His Word, are fulfilled and will always come to pass. Paul is saying God’s plans were being fulfilled, just not in the way the Jews expected.
ROMANS 9: 6-8
But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
Paul is clear throughout Romans, God’s promises are always kept. God did not fail because of Israel’s falling away from Him, it is not as that the word of God has taken no effect. God accomplished his plan. This plan was about Jesus all along. Therefore, trusting in Christ and the work of the cross is what determines who will stand righteous before God. It is a matter of the heart, and faith.
However, many Israelites were not spiritual children of God even though they were descended from Abraham. They bore little resemblance to their Patriarch. Abraham was a man of faith, but they were not all of Israel who are of Israel. Most Jews pursued righteousness through the law, which leads to condemnation under sin. They should have been pursuing faith in God, an obedience of the heart, which leads to true righteousness. Paul’s motivation is clear, he wants his kinsmen to see this truth. God always looks on the inside, for a heart of faith.
Paul contrasts children of the flesh, and children of the promise, making it clear that the later are true children of God. Paul is making a distinction that most Jews were missing. One must trust God in faith. If they continued to trust the works of the law, in the flesh, they would remain children of the flesh. Paul is saying, simply being born into Israel does not make one a child of God. Instead, being a person of faith, or put another way, being a spiritual descendant of Abraham, makes one a true child of the promise. A spiritual child of the promise, would walk in faith and would have accepted Jesus Christ in faith.
PAUL’S BRILLIANT EXAMPLES (vs 9-13)
ROMANS 9: 9-13
For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son. ”And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
Verses 9-13 are verses that Calvinists point to in their desire to prove that God uses Unconditional Election to save. Why does Paul bring these examples of God’s election, or choices up? First, God’s choices here are counter to human logic. God chose Israel as His own people even when they were not the biggest, or strongest nation on Earth. Likewise, God chose to bring Jesus, the Messiah, through the line of the younger, weaker twin, Jacob.
In using these examples, Paul highlights that God never needs the power, or the work of men, to accomplish His plans. God’s plans come to pass even even when He chooses weak vessels to bring them about. This method of God’s working is something Paul understood well. Paul himself, was chosen by God on the road to Damascus, the chief persecutor of Christians, and the last person anyone would have thought would become an Apostle.
What is the “purpose of God” where it says “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls”? I believe it is clear that the purpose of God according to these highlighted choices, was to bring Christ into the World exactly the way the prophets had foretold. God chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The promise (i.e. Christ, who would bless all the nations) is through Isaac and then Jacob. Abraham and Sarah in unbelief, tried to use their works to accomplish what God had promised. This was to their shame. God’s purpose and plan was realized in the giving of Isaac, the promised child. At this time…God’s promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah came at the exact time God intended.
In the example of Jacob and Esau, in spite of birthright, Rebecca was told that the younger twin, Jacob would be the child of promise. God’s choosing was not unto salvation, but unto the blessings of the promise. Why should we assume that this is an example of God choosing one brother, over the other, for salvation? Based on the plain reading of the text, and keeping in mind the context of Paul’s writing, an election to the promise fits Paul’s point, not election to salvation.
Jacob have I loved or more precise, did I love; having given preference over Esau who, did I hate. The following verses show that hated, and loved, are often used in ways that do not imply literal hatred, or exclusive love. At times, hated is contrasted to loved, in the sense the there was less love being shown. In Genesis we see this in verses that say at one point, Jacob “hated” Leah, and then in another verse, that he “loved Rachel more.” (Genesis 29:33; Genesis 29:30)
In the New Testament we can also find passages where hated is not used literally. (See Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26; John 12:25) Paul’s purpose in using the examples here, do not point to a literal hatred or damnation. This idea is completely out of context. Of course God does not literally hate Esau, in fact, God blessed Esau and his people, the Edomites, until they turned against Israel later. Paul is quoting Malachi 1:2-3. The prophet Malachi is appealing to the people of Israel to remember the unmerited choice of Jacob over Esau in the inheritance the land.
Paul’s examples should remain within the context of the reason he gave them. The Jewish people have a long history with God, when He makes executive decisions that they had to accept. God sovereignly knows all things, and does what is best. He works out His plans in His way, not man’s. Paul, in using examples of God’s sovereign choices in history, is telling these Jews “Hey, you’ve seen God make choices that in man’s wisdom seemed wrong. You accepted those, now accept that God is grafting Gentiles into His blessings, through the provision of Jesus Christ”.
Paul then asks v14. “is there unrighteousness with God?.
CERTAINLY NOT! (vs. 14-21)
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
Paul quotes what God said to Moses in Exodus 33:19. Jews would understand it to mean God shows mercy and compassion to whom He finds grace in His sight. Whom God knows by name. This mercy is not dependent on man’s will or works, and not unto salvation, but unto Gods purpose for choosing Israel as His people. God promised to go before them because of His unconditional promise in the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore in bringing about His plans and purposes, God is both bringing close (showing mercy) and pushing away (hardening) those who He needs to.
Likewise, Pharaoh’s rise to power was orchestrated by God to show that even the greatest power of that day would not stand against His plans and purposes.(v.17) Pharaoh’s heart was hardened first by himself. God simply gave him over to his already hard heart.
This section has been so badly misinterpreted by some theologians, they effectively have God, who knows no evil, creating evil in men to serve His glory. What Got tells us about Himself in scripture, shows this idea to be completely false!
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
1 John 1:5
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
Only God knows the heart of men! Therefore He is just in the times He uses hardening. It is clear that God never makes man sin, but rather allows them to follow their own sinful heart. Where needed he will harden men’s hearts to accomplish His plans. The hardening is not always final, as we will see with the Jews who shouted “crucify him!” in front of Pilot. Paul is going to explain how even those who crucified Jesus can still be grafted back into the vine in Romans Chapter 11.
Therefore God can justly manipulate the clay to do His will, in bringing about good things (honorable purposes) or for a dishonorable purpose, as in the case of Pharaoh.
What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea:“I will call them My people, who were not My people,And her beloved, who was not beloved.”“And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them,‘You are not My people,’There they shall be called sons of the living God.”Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel:“Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea,The remnant will be saved.For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth.”And as Isaiah said before:“Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, We would have become like Sodom,And we would have been made like Gomorrah.”
“What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power know, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,…” This verse says those destined for destruction may be given longsuffering to show Gods power. Some may see it as unfair that God would endure and show mercy (for a time) to those who turn away and utterly reject Him. But Paul is saying God is God and we have no grounds to question His will in this.
These verses do not prove, as many Calvinists claim, that God ordained or created the evil that made these vessels, vessels of wrath. To understand what Paul is saying, it is imperative to stay consistent with the context. Paul is making it plain that there is no injustice in God’s decisions or how he manipulates evil men in order to accomplish is plans.
The idea that God chooses some individuals for salvation as the elect vessels of mercy, and passes over all others, having made them vessels of wrath, runs contrary to the very nature of God’s mercy, justice and LOVE. It is also contrary to the heart of the gospel which Paul, through the Holy Spirit, so clearly lays out out in Romans. Further, it is not what Paul wants to impart to the church. Such a doctrine would be clearly declared, but just is not. Nowhere in scripture is this doctrine declared.
Paul starts wrapping up all these thoughts by quoting Hosea and Isaiah. Reminding them, there will be a remnant out of Israel that will return in faith to God.
So why did Israel not embrace Jesus as their messiah and attain righteousness? This is Paul question.
Doesn’t the unbelief and outright rejection of Christ by the Jews mean that God’s plans failed? How could his own people not recognize Him? Such questions must be answered before they lead people to accept false teachings or reject the truth. Paul lays out his answer in the last part of Chapter 9.
PAUL’S ANSWER (vs. 30-33)
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written:“Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense,And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
Israel sought righteousness through the law. They thought their works in keeping the law made them right with God. They had so much pride in their own righteousness that they did not have ears to hear when Christ told them that God wanted simple, childlike faith. Paul contrasts this truth, with the fact that the Gentiles were finding true righteousness, not by the law, but by faith in Christ.
Throughout Romans, Paul laid out in the clearest terms, God’s will is found in the GOSPEL of Christ! This is the central axis of God’s plans throughout human history.
No, the Jews as a whole, did not accept who Jesus claimed to be, or why he said he had come into the World. They were looking for an earthly kingdom that would be ruled over by their Messiah. For this reason, and also due to a hardening by God, the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus. Paul has shown us that even this rejections of His own people, was part of God’s purpose and plan, but why? It is simple, if enough of the Jewish leadership and people had believed Christ, they would not have crucified him. This would have ended the redemptive plan of God. Paul, spoke of this in his letter to the Corinthians.
I Corinthians 2:7-8
..But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
However, we also know that some Jews did believe on Christ, and those in Rome had been making faith more complicated by adding to it the requirements of the law. Paul is clearing things up with those Jews who had crossed the stumbling stone and had trusted in Christ. He has made the point masterfully that God’s plan all along was going to be the provision of the gospel of Christ, offered to all people. It is this gospel that would save both Jew (them), and Gentile. Pauls kinsmen still have yet, the opportunity to believe and to not be put to shame. The story is not over for them! Chapters 10 and 11 of Romans will show this.
I challenge you to sit down and read through book of Romans straight, in one sitting. If you do, you will most certainly begin to understand why Paul wrote what he wrote in Chapter 9, and how that theme flows into Chapters 10 and 11.
“God’s justice and God’s mercy do not quarrel with each other.”–A.W. Tozer
GOD IS SOVEREIGN
No true believer would ever argue that God is not Sovereign over His creation. God can absolutely do whatever He wants at anytime. However God never fails to be perfect in His justice and His mercy. These attributes can not be at odds, otherwise God could not be the perfectly righteous judge He is.
GOD IS JUST
Although God desires that all men would be reconciled unto himself, (1 Timothy 2:3-4) His justice requires that sin must be paid for. He cannot simply “make it so”. To do that would deny his perfect righteousness and would be the opposite of justice. However in His sovereign will He decided that His justice would be led by His mercy. This is clearly seen throughout the Bible. God is motivated by His everlasting love for ALL people.
GOD IS MERCY
This is where God’s perfect mercy is manifest. Christ’s work on the cross created the door to which every single human being who will come in belief, can enter. Judgment is reserved for those who do not turn to Christ. God will righteously judge all who do not enter by the narrow gate. (Matt. 7:13) Because of their own unbelief they will be lost. God did not pass over them, but mercifully provided Christ, THE elect one (Isa. 42:1) for all people. No one will have an excuse. (Rom. 1:20)
GOD IS LOVE
God blessed Israel through His election, or choosing of them. Through this choice and many others, God’s plan brought about all that was necessary for the Messiah, our savior, to enter into the world. The path God chose, specifically that of using Israel, is how God showed his love to the whole world. Because of God’s grace in His provision of Christ, all people of the world are now able to have a relationship with Him. God determined to do this from before He created this World. This is because, God is LOVE, and it is not that He simply has love. He sent Jesus into the world to die for all people, not just the elect of Calvinism. This was so that Christ would be “The Way, The Truth, and The Life” (John 14:6), for all who believe. Every person who believes is called Elect in Christ. As I have stated before, this is Paul’s main theme in his writing of Romans, to show that The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.
WE MUST never be tempted to think that God’s Justice is cancelled out by His mercy.
WE MUST never think we have license to sin so God’s mercy will shine so much brighter. Paul said “God forbid!”
WE MUST remember, the weight and consequences of sin is immense in this world. We see it all around us, and in us, daily. God’s ultimate day of justice is coming. Therefore…
WE MUST reach out to the lost around us while God’s wonderful and perfect mercy is still available. Through Jesus, our All in All, the WHOLE world has been granted a way to be reconciled with their creator, to obey the Gospel.
In Christ, God’s Justice is satisfied, and God’s LOVE is realized! Amen.