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Before we start I want to make the point that every time I study election I start all over again at square one resistant to believe it to be true and questioning the very nature of it. And I find myself having to decide what I believe about it all over again! So if this is something that you struggle with or find difficult to understand, know that most people do and that it’s ok to continue to struggle with it. And know that we don’t need to know where we stand on this issue in order to be saved.
I also wanted to make the point that while I’m going to talk a little about Israel tonight, I am not going to be able to deal fully with what Paul is saying about Israel overall in chapters 9, 10, and 11. But what we are going to focus on tonight is what Paul says about election and the sovereignty of God.
So over the last few chapters Paul has laid out how God has redeemed His people through Christ. And now, he takes a break to explain that this is all connected to the faith and beliefs of the Israelites/Jews, and that it does not replace what they had previously believed, but instead explains it further and fulfills what had been prophesied to them. So what we are about to read in chapter 9 is going to explain how the Jews and Gentiles both fit into God’s plan of redemption, which originally was thought to just be for the Jews. So although at first this chapter seems to be written about Israel, it is actually just a further explanation of God and His plan of redemption.
Read Romans 9:1-5
Paul begins by telling them of the anguish and sorrow he feels over his own kinsmen, Israel. He even exaggerates his emotions in verse 3 saying he would do anything to help them, he would symbolically give his life, his status before God. But he doesn’t yet say why they need help. So then in the next verses he lists all of the blessings that God has poured over Israel as His chosen people, he says 8 things
1. They were adopted by God as His children
2. God gave them His presence, He dwelt among them, called here “the divine glory”
3. God made a covenant with them, they had the promises of God first
4. They were the ones who received God’s law, which Paul has already said was good and perfect, not bad.
5. They were also given the laws to practice temple worship, and way to commune with and glorify God and atone for their sins
6. They were given the promises of God which was to be their source of comfort and hope
7. They had the patriarchs which were their leaders given to them by God to help them live within the covenant
8. And lastly, from them came the savior, Christ! Think of how proud we are when there is a great athlete from Texas or an American Idol, now imagine the pride you would feel if Jesus had been a Texan!
What Paul is saying here is that of all people the Israelites were the most privileged, they had been given more from God to spur them on in their faith than any other people group that would ever live. Yet Paul was full of sorrow and anguish over them, Why? Why would he feel that way? Because they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and were even persecuting those who did! Everything God had done for them up to that point was leading them to Christ, and they missed it!! So Paul says his sorrow is so deep that he would consider giving up his status before God if he could in order to save Israel – this is a similar sentiment that we read Moses had for Israel, and of course, this is what Jesus did for mankind.
Read Romans 9:6-13
Now Paul brings up a question that was most likely being asked by many: Did God’s plan fail? If God planned to save all Jews but now there were Jews who refused to believe Jesus was the messiah that they had been waiting for, then did God’s plan fail? Another way to put this question is, how do we make sense of not all Israel believing in Christ if they were God’s chosen people? Did God’s plan fail?
Paul’s answer is NO, it was not God’s promise that failed, it was Israel…and here’s his logic that he lays out in verses 6-7:
● v.6 Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel
● v.7 Not all of Abraham’s descendants are his children
● v.7 “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned”
Now, this last reference is from Gen 21:12 –when God told Abraham and Sarah that the nation of Israel would not come from Abraham’s first child, Ishmael, who he had with his maid, but instead through Sarah and their son Isaac. Notice that this is reverse reasoning….look at it starting in the last part. God made a promise through Abraham, then through his son Isaac, then through Isaac’s son Jacob, who God later named Israel. And then that leads us back to verse 6 where he says, not all who are descended from Israel are Israel, not all are God’s children. He further explains…
In verse 8 Paul says, (from the NASB) “That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.” So here is what Paul is reminding them of, there have always been two distinctions when it came to Israel,
1. those who physically descended from Israel, children of the flesh
2. those who spiritually descended from Israel, children of the promise
When it comes to who God’s people are, it is spiritual, not physical. Then in verses 9-13 he offers some “proof texts.”
1. Promise through Isaac – Here Paul quotes Genesis 18:10 & 14 when God told Abraham and Sarah that He would make his covenant with Abraham’s descendents and he makes it clear that that covenant is being made not with all of Abraham’s physical children, but only through Isaac. Those are the children of the promise.
2. Promise through Jacob – Then he turns to the story of Jacob and Esau from Genesis 25. And Paul makes the point that there was no reason for God to choose one over the other: they both came from Rebekah, they both came from Isaac, they were twins, and they hadn’t even been born yet so neither had become better than the other. He even emphasizes in verse 12 that it had nothing to do with any works that either one would do. Yet Paul says God chose Jacob over Esau. In verse 13 Paul quotes Malachi 1:2, 3 when God says “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.” Now what gets lost in translation here is that the word “hate” there is not the same emotion of hate that you and I would think of, but more one of a lack of preference, God chose Jacob and did not choose Esau.
Naturally, it is human nature to now ask, If neither were better than the other and there was no distinction, then for what reason did God chose Jacob over Esau? So Paul tells us in verses 11-12 that God did it, “In order that God’s purpose in election might stand” and “Because of Him who calls.” So at this point what Paul is saying is that God intended to redeem the children of the promise in Israel, but not all of Israel. That there was always the element of election to be considered. God chose some, but He did not choose all. Which leads us to the next question we need to face…
Read Romans 9:14-21
What Paul has just laid out is that not all of Israel are considered to be children of God, not because of anything they have done, but simply because God chose some and not others. So now he deals with the two main objections he knows they will have to this.
Objection #1: God is unjust to choose some and not all –
To answer this, in verse 15, Paul reminds them that God is not unjust in doing this. Now before we look at what Paul says, there is something we need to understand about justice. Paul has just gone over in detail that all of mankind is guilty of not choosing to follow God, so what is actually fair and just would be for all of mankind to pay the penalty for that, God would have been just had He not chosen to save anyone! 2 Peter 2:4 tells us that when angels sinned against God they were not spared or forgiven at all, but instead they paid the penalty for what they did and were immediately cast into hell and judged. This is justice in the kingdom of God and what would have been just if fully executed against all of mankind. So conversely, what is unfair, is those who are guilty being forgive for what they have done rather than having to pay the penalty and face hell and judgment. It is unfair for God to show mercy at all because in a perfect and fair judicial system those who are guilty must pay the penalty.
So in answer to this question in verse 15 Paul refers to what God said to Moses in Exodus 33. Moses was praying to God regarding Israel and their entrance into the promised land, and Moses was being very demanding towards God as we often are in prayer, and finally Moses asks God to show him His glory. And God answers, yes I will, but know that “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” This is very reminiscent of God’s response to Moses at the burning bush after God has told Moses what to do and Moses asks God, who shall I say sent me? In other words, what authority or power shall I say you have? And remember God’s answer to him? “I am who I am.” God owed no one an explanation of who He was – because He is God. And in the same way, He owes no explanation for why he shows mercy to some but not to all, He is God and that is His choice.
So in verse 16, Paul says being chosen by God has nothing to do with whether you want to be chosen or you try to be good so He’ll choose you, it only has to do with His mercy and whether He has chosen to extend it to you or not. Because the truth of sin that we read in Romans 3 is that none chose God, none can be holy and righteous. In the same way, Paul says in verse 17, those who God does not choose to be saved, He hardens. Which means that just as God chooses to show mercy to some resulting in eternal life, He chooses not to show mercy to others resulting in their eternal damnation. But remember God did not choose eternal damnation for them, they did, God only chose to show mercy to some and not others. Here Paul uses the example of Pharaoh in Exodus 9 and God’s explanation that He had a purpose in hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Here Paul explains that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to display God’s power and so that God’s name would be proclaimed in all the earth. So, the purpose both in choosing some to be saved and not others is the same, to glorify God, that His power and His name would be known throughout the earth.
So Paul concludes his answer about whether God is just to save some and not others, in verse 18, by simply summarizing, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” It is not about justice, it is about mercy and that God can choose on whom he will have mercy and on whom he will not.
Objection #2: If it is about God’s will in choosing some and not others, then how can those God has not chosen be blamed and judged if there was nothing they could do about it anyway? – Another question we might ask that is similar to this is, If God knew who would be saved and who would not, then why did He even give life to those who would not be saved? And at this point Paul’s answer is basically “God is sovereign so He can do whatever pleases Him!” We do not have the authority to question Him or His choices. Since God is God, He has the right to do what He will in accordance to His justice and mercy.
This is an especially difficult thing for us to except because we are a generation that doesn’t have great respect for authorities and we demand answers so that on our own we can decide what we think is true and isn’t. We don’t accept answer such as, “that is not your concern” or “because I said so.” But this is the Biblical response and so we must hear it and not reject it. I want to read what Wayne Grudem writes on this subject which I think is a great summary of what Paul is saying.
“Paul simply says that there is a point beyond which we cannot answer back to God or question his justice. He has done what he has done according to his sovereign will. He is the Creator; we are the creatures, and we ultimately have no basis from which to accuse him of unfairness or injustice. When we read these words of Paul we are confronted with a decision whether of not to accept what God says here, and what he does, simply because he is God and we are not. It is a question that reaches deep into our understanding of ourselves as creatures and of our relationship to God as our Creator.
This objection of unfairness takes a slightly different form when people say that it is unfair of God to save some people and not to save all. This objection is based on the idea of justice among human beings that we sense intuitively. We recognize in human affairs that it is right to treat equal people in an equal way. Therefore it seems intuitively appropriate to us to say that if God is going to save some sinners he ought to save all sinners. But in answer to this objection it must be said that we really have no right to impose on God our intuitive sense of what is appropriate among human beings. Whenever Scripture begins to treat this area it goes back to God’s sovereignty as Creator and says he has a right to do with his creation as he wills (see Rom. 9:19-20, quoted above). If God ultimately decided to create some creatures to be saved and others not to be saved, then that was his sovereign choice, and we have no moral or scriptural basis on which we can insist that it was not fair.”Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, p.683
How do we respond to this difficult truth?
Some of us find this very difficult to believe and respond to, while others of you have grown up in a tradition that taught this well, but regardless of where you are coming from there are a few things we need to keep in mind when it comes to how this affects us and how we should respond to it.
1. Rather than question our salvation asking “how do I know if I am chosen or not?”, we need to recognize that if we have faith then we are elect! – Our faith is proof of our election. We cannot believe in Him unless God has chosen us to believe and given us the ability to believe. Look at Romans 10:9-13,
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Here, after telling the Romans of God’s election, he then explains the simplicity of it: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” So rather than being discouraged by election, we should allow it to affirm in us our salvation and our status before God. Nothing can change the fact that He has chosen us….not our continual sin, or hardships, or people, or anything… We are secure in Him which frees us to wake up every day and live for Him. As Paul says elsewhere, to forget what is behind and strive for what is ahead for us in Christ. Paul concludes this chapter in Romans 9:33 saying that this truth can either be a stumbling block for you or it can lead you to trust in Him and never be put to shame. So choose that rather than let it be a stumbling block to you in your faith.
2. Rather than question God and reject His will, we should choose to humbly submit to Him as God – We must recognize that we are merely His creatures and He is our creator, we couldn’t even begin to fully understand His ways. Read in Romans 11:33-36 Paul’s response to this,
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
Paul understood God’s plan of redemption and the character of God more than anyone, yet he was humble enough to admit that he was a mere man and that there was no way he would ever fully understand the mysteries of God. And rather respond in rebellion and anger to God over this, he responded in humility and worship! And this should be our response as well. It should lead us to humility before God, worship of Him, and even humility before other men.
3. Recognize that election isn’t salvation, it is the first step. – Not only is someone chosen before time, but there will also be a time of hearing the gospel and choosing to believe, then there is also sanctification. Which means we should find joy in God including us in the salvation and sanctification of others. We evangelize knowing that there are elect people all around us who are waiting to hear the truth so that they can come to faith and be saved.
Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:10, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” Paul did what he did because he knew there were people out there that God had chosen for salvation who needed to hear the good news. He also continued teaching the truth to those who had already put their faith in Christ knowing that he could encourage them in their sanctification. So don’t let election keep you from sharing truth with others, but let it free you up to do that knowing that some will be saved!
Questions for Discussion & Application:
● How does election make you feel? Be honest and discuss together
● What are some negative responses you or others have had to election?
● How should election comfort and assure us?