Romans 9:1-12 - It's About God's Promise, Not Individual Salvation
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Romans 9 is one of the most fiercely debated passages of scripture. Before we begin let me say that sometimes when iron sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17) there are sparks, and that's ok. One thing I want us to have in mind is if there is a disagreement among Christians over Romans 9 then it's a family quarrel. It's ok to object to one another's view points but it's not ok to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We ARE permitted to judge the path (1 Thess. 5:21, Matt. 7:5, 1 John 4:1, 2 Cor. 10:5)  but we are NOT permitted to judge the person (Matt 7:1, Rom. 14:4).


Unless you're a Jew investigating the claims of Christ or a Christian investigating the claims of Calvinism, Romans 9 - 11 doesn't often garnish much attention. By those not in either of these groups Romans 9 - 11 is often seen as a parenthetical section of scripture plopped down in the middle of Paul's letter, almost as if out of place. I would argue it's not and it's relevant to the rest of his letter and would challenge us gentiles to re-read the letter of Romans as if you were a Jew and consider how as a Jew you might interpret Paul's writings. From such a perspective I believe Romans 9 - 11 fit right in to the rest of Romans.


Some have a difficult time understanding this section of Romans and that's ok. Peter even said some content in Paul's letters is hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16). Unfortunately though many come into these verses with presuppositions reading into scripture what isn't there or twisting what is there. Many will take these verses out of context missing the reality that the original letter of Romans was written by Paul and sent in it's entirety, without chapter or verse breaks, to an audience consisting of both Jews and Gentiles whom, unlike us, didn't have the New Testament but were well acquainted with the Old Testament. Even the gentiles of that time who were mixing with the Jewish people likely had some understanding as we see with the woman at the well (John 4:9) and other scriptures.


The "Romans Road" through Gentile eyes is often seen for the good news it is, but the foundation of this road is what we would now call the Old Testament. Romans is NOT preaching a new religion but rather he is walking us through verse after verse from the old testament and enlightening all (it's obvious in his letter that he has both Jews and Gentiles in mind as recipients) on how the good news of Jesus Christ is a fulfillment of those Old Testament prophecies and has always been God's plan. In fact, if you read the Old Testament pretending you don't know Jesus is the Messiah, much of the Old Testament simply doesn't make sense. It's important to Paul and the Holy Spirit that these New Testament teachings are Old Testament truths. Paul and his fellow Jews were very well acquainted with the Old Testament writings and the fact he's been bringing these up throughout Romans testifies that He had his fellow kinsmen in mind among the recipients. Many Christians today simply are not familiar with the Old Testament prophecies, at least not to start. As gentiles we often start out in the New Testament and try and see how the Old Testament fits in. The Jews were grounded in the Old Testament and had been for sometime and now Paul is showing them how the New Testament fits in and that it's not a new idea but an old idea that's been part of the plan all along.


On that note, imagine Paul who was a devout Jew, being so familiar with the old testament and now, having his eyes opened to what scripture was saying all this time and seeing with his own eyes how Christ has fulfilled them. Imagine then how compelled he must have been for his fellow kinsmen that they may see what he sees, after all, who doesn't want to share good news?


Paul, in Romans, often quotes the Old Testament without referencing it. It's like if we were wanting to encourage another believer and said to them something like "all fall short of the glory of God" and you both start nodding in agreement. You're not necessarily teaching them a new thing but having made the assumption they know it already you seek to remind them of it's current life application. Paul is doing the same thing for his anticipated recipients of his letter. When Paul speaks of the potter and the clay his verbiage matches that of Jeremiah 18 and Isaiah 29:16 though he makes no reference to either as many of those teachings would have been common knowledge to the Jews.


Paul, with wisdom from God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, has an understanding to many questions that have been raised and you see him walk through what we now call the book of Romans addressing many anticipated (and current) objections he perceives the recipient may have, especially in light of what has already been written and declared by God in the Old Testament. Therefore Romans is heavy laden throughout with Old Testament references. Often Paul will state a paradox between the understanding of those in his day and the gospel, then proposes a question, then answer his own question to show it is indeed NOT a paradox pulling from scripture Old Testament truths that have been saying this the whole time. So many times you see Paul anticipate objections from his recipients (often ones he intentionally provokes them too) given that he was aware of their current errant understanding of the Holy Scriptures and therefore he preemptively addresses them while simultaneously sharing the gospel. Paul, in sharing the good news that is applicable to both Jew and Gentile is also walking his kinsmen through the Old Testament so they may reconcile the gospel with the scriptures they were already familiar with.


When Paul starts in Romans 1:16 he states the gospel is the power of God for EVERYONE who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek and repeats that phrase again twice in Romans 2:8-11. As Gentiles we read "to the Jew first and also to the Greek" and we pass right over it maybe not understanding the full implications of it. When Paul says "to the Jew first and also of the Greek" instead of saying a blanket catch-all term such as "everyone" or "us all" or "the world" he is doing so because he wants to deliberately and specifically point out the inclusion of not only the Jews but the Gentiles (Greeks) too. A phrase that would have given a Jew a cause for pause and to seek clarification.


If that weren't enough Paul continues in Romans 2:28-29 saying a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly by way of circumcision (representing the law) but a true Jew is one who is so inwardly by the work of the Spirit. In Chapter 3 Paul shows us in the Old Testament how the law doesn't vindicate us but shows us our need for Christ. In Romans 4 Paul testifies that salvation by faith is an old testament reality, how Abraham and David were both saved by faith again quoting old testament passages to support these claims. In Chapter 5 Paul is connecting Christ to Adam, something obvious to us in hindsight but would be a new revelation of old testament truths for his fellow kinsmen. As gentiles sharing Jesus to other gentiles we likely wouldn't be sharing this connection with old testament truths but this was paramount to the Jew. In chapters 6 - 8 Paul shows us the law, grace, the Spirit and how all that intersects to each other and how that's always been God's intention. Now Romans 9 through 11 Paul is dealing with any remaining unresolved issues and questions that may still exist in the minds of those rooted in the Old Testament. Questions like, "If Jesus is the Messiah, why hasn't all of Israel accepted Him?", "What is God's ultimate plan through this?" and the like.


One mistake made by many of the Jews in Jesus's time was they made what Jesus was doing all about their earthly kingdom. After Jesus fed the 5000 they said "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world" and they tried to take Him by force and make Him king (John 6:14-15). After the crucifixion before Jesus ascended they asked Him if it was at that time Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Now Jesus will do this and will fulfill those prophecies, but the mistake they made is making it all about that thus missing out what Jesus was doing here; that Jesus was giving them forgiveness, that Jesus was giving them salvation.


One mistake we can make today is making Romans 9 all about salvation and not realizing much of it has to do with God's promises to Israel. There is a ton in the Old Testament that God has told Israel. If Paul is going to say that Jesus is the fulfillment of these things then he's challenged with the task of showing how they connect. Paul is so diligent and thorough with these passages because he is so passionate for his kinsmen (v1-3, Rom. 10:1, Acts 28:23), all through the leading of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21). We see this same passion in Acts 28 when Paul arrives at Rome (Acts 28:14) which in the letter to the Romans he made mention of his longing to come see them (Rom. 15:23), and once there he summons his kinsmen and hears from them that this new "sect" (i.e. Christianity) is being spoken of in their circles negatively (Acts 28:22). However they opt to not listen to those who are speaking ill of it and decide to hear from Paul direct. So a large number of them meet Paul at his lodging and Paul walks them through scripture after scripture from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from early until late in the evening trying to persuade them (Acts 28:22-23). Take a look:


20 For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.” 21 They said to him, “We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.”

23 When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. 24 Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe. 25 And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, 26 saying,

Go to this people and say,
You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
27 For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’

28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.” 29 [When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.] - Acts 22:20-28


Notice Paul was "testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus" citing largely the Law of Moses and out of the Prophets (Acts 28:23). Therefore we need to be careful to not read Romans 9 assuming every verse is about individual salvation as some error in doing but realize much of it is about the kingdom of God, the coming of the Messiah, the inclusion of the Gentiles, the partial hardening of Israel, and their resistance to believe (the very same things Paul dealt with above). And as you see in verse 25 and 29 above, this content is difficult for the Israelite and it's acceptance for them isn't easy, so Paul strikes hard through Romans 9 (much like he did in Romans 1-3) using their own scriptures heavily to affirm the validity of what he's saying, not with the intent to offend them but with the intent to persuade them.


We're about to go on that same journey. As we do this, I would encourage you to consider these things from the point of a Jew. In so doing you may see the frustrations that Paul knew he'd be dealing with before he even entered Rome. In fact, it's estimated that Paul's letter to the Romans was written 3 years before he actually arrived there. What's wonderful is because we have Paul's letter we're about to go through in Romans 9 through 11 what I suspect is largely what Paul did in person for his kinsmen as recorded in Acts 28 above. I once heard a pastor say he'd give up his entire seminary training to be in the room with Paul that day (Acts 28:23). Well good news! I believe we, at least in part, are about to!


1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, - Romans 9:1


Paul starts out Romans 9 almost defensively as he reaffirms that he is not lying, that he is telling the truth in the Messiah, that both his conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm the validity of what he is saying. As a Gentile we may be puzzled that Paul starts out this chapter defensively but understanding the objections being raised in the mind of the Jews and the dispute Paul is likely anticipating from his kinsmen, much like he experienced first hand when arriving at Rome (Acts 28:25,29), it's to be expected. Paul's preaching the gospel is upsetting what they've always (incorrectly) known to be true and this new "sect" preaching the Gospel is largely being rejected in Jewish circles (Acts 28:22). Some may be wondering if Paul has left Judaism altogether, abandoning it for this "new religion" which claims not only inclusion of the Gentiles by faith, but exclusion of the Israelites for lack thereof. If that wasn't bad enough, Paul is claiming this has been God's plan, God's purpose, and God's promise all along thus upsetting their misplaced beliefs which Paul is about to dissect. So Paul, while shaking the foundation of their beliefs, affirms to them that his love for his fellow Jew has in no way diminished, but rather it is out of love that Paul is compelled.


that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, - Romans 9:2-3


Question to ponder: What is Paul's heart toward his fellow kinsmen who are not saved and does it reflect your heart toward those in your life who are not saved?


Follow up question: Does Paul's heart here reflect the heart of God?


Answer: If your answer is no, may I challenge you with a follow up question; Does Paul care more about the lost than God? When Paul writes about having "great sorrow and unceasing grief" over them is Paul in error or does he hurt more than God over the lost? Does God not care about them as much as Paul? Absurd! I would argue the answer to the latter question is a resounding yes! (Isa. 53:10, Matt. 26:39, 42, 44, 1 Cor. 11:1, John 3:16-17, Rom. 5:5-8, 1 John 4:8, 16, 19). I ask this because many enter this chapter having made the error that Romans 9 is all about salvation and in so doing they conclude that God doesn't want all men saved. This is an absurd notion and largely in conflict with what the bible says about God and God's desire for all to be saved (Eze. 18:23, 32, Isa. 53:6, 2 Pet. 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:3-6, 4:10, Titus 2:11, Luke 15:7, John 1:7, 9, 3:16, 12:2, Heb. 2:9, Luke 2:10, Acts 3:26, 10:34-35, 17:30, 1 John 2:2, 4:10).


who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. - Romans 9:4-5


Paul, in reflecting what he said earlier in Romans 3:1-2, acknowledges God's word to the Israelites and affirms it's validity and does so in detail naming seven things which belonged to them through that high position (again without quoting each old testament verse assuming if his reader has an objection then that same reader would have common knowledge of these Old Testament scriptures). Paul who has been contending for the gospel is equally contending that the Old Testament attested to it as being the plan all along. Therefore Paul doesn't dodge God's word but rather fully acknowledges it and enters into it which again is why Romans is so heavily laden with Old Testament passages.


"To whom belongs the adoption as sons" God adopted the nation of Israel. In Exodus 4:22 the Lord said to Pharoah 'Thus says the Lord, "Israel is My son, My firstborn." Israel had a national relationship with God. "The glory" Israel was the nation where God placed His glory in their temple and likewise in the temple of Jerusalem after it was built. God also led the Israelites by His glory in the pillar and by the glory in the cloud which covered the tabernacle. "The covenants" God made the covenant with Abraham which circumcision was meant to be a sign of, that Abraham and his descendants would be blessed and that the world would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:3, 22:18), ultimately referring to Christ (Gal. 3:16). There was the Mosaic covenant which was the giving of the Law. There is also the New Covenant God recorded in Jer. 31 which Jesus fulfilled (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25) which Paul is arguing is for them, remember "to the Jew first and then also the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). The Gentiles are brought in through extension but this covenant was made to Israel. "The giving of the law" the Law was intended for good and was meant to result in life (Rom. 7:10, 12), and therefore it was a blessing to Israel. No other nation was given the law so as to protect them. "The temple service" this term "service" also means worship. Israelites were blessed by being permitted to worship before God and serve Him in a way that would be pleasing to Him. "Promises" this is a blanket term covering the many things God promised to Israel. Interestingly these covenants and promises were given to the Israelites but not for those blessings to remain only with the Israelites, that is, those who are Israelites according to the flesh.


But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; - Romans 9:6


Question: Who would most likely be prone to thinking the word of God has failed here, a Jew or a Gentile and why?


Answer: A Jew, since the gentile would have no reason to feel the word of God has failed having not had that word previously. Paul is addressing Jewish readers.


Jews may be struggling at this point as to why not all of Israel has accepted Jesus if He is indeed the Messiah, in their minds if Jesus is the Messiah then the promises made to Israel who has largely rejected Jesus have fell flat. Paul is arguing that is NOT the case as if God has changed and that His promises are no good or have come to an end. Paul after affirming these promises then shifts the readers gaze not on the promises, but rather on who is the true benefactor of these promises and then proceeds to show them exactly who that is according to the Old Testament teachings by first ruling out who it is not.


nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” - Romans 9:7


"Through Isaac your descendants will be named". This rules out claiming Abraham as their father as a right of passage as many were doing in those days (John 8:39, Luke 3:8). Abraham had another son Ishmael and when Sarah died and Abraham remarried he had 6 other boys (Gen. 25:1-2). The Jews knew it was through Isaac that the descendants would be named so to credit Abraham's fleshly lineage would likewise credit Ishmael and Abraham's other sons to be included which they are not. To make the claim of Abraham is to say the promise through Isaac is made void. Paul in quoting God's promise to Abraham is showing that not everyone who is born in Abraham's lineage are descendants thus reaffirming his claim that not all are Israel who are descendants according to the flesh because God elected it by way of promise to be through Isaac.


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. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” - Romans 9:8-9


Paul is making it clear that it is not children who are children of Israel according to the flesh but they are children who are so according to the promise which was first made to Abraham. Israel was a nation; Paul is showing here that this promise wasn't applicable to the nation of Israel as a whole as many Jews then and even today believe. Rather Paul shows them this ancient truth can be verified from what is written in the OT when it writes "through Isaac your descendants shall be named" thus disqualifying the nation of Israel as a whole according to their genetics. Therefore a Jew, even according to their own teachings, cannot claim their lineage as a qualifier of salvation and that's Paul's point here, that it's not according to the flesh but it's according to the promise.


Question: A question that may creep up as you learn this is, could genetics play a part if the lineage was through Isaac? We're clear now that it's not about being linked to Abraham but could it be about genetics if you're linked to Isaac? What about those who are descended from that lineage? Paul continues...


10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” - Romans 9:10-12


"And not only this" in other words in the same way it wasn't according to genetics with Abraham, neither is it with Isaac and his wife Rebekah's kids Jacob & Esau. Rebekah was pregnant with twins who hadn't even been born yet, and God said the younger of the two, Jacob, was chosen (or elected) even before birth which tells you that the promise is not a birthright through Isaac's descendants either. If that were the case then the promise would have applied to both twins but as it were it was only established from Isaac to Jacob and therefore not by fleshly inheritance but by God's choice.


The word "choice" here in the NASB is seen in some translations such as the ESV as "election". This is not the same as the Calvinist doctrine of election but rather it means choice or as the original Greek word "eklogé" used here it means "a selection".


Paul often speaks in tough love and will hammer points home. First showing lineage to Abraham is debunked and now in like fashion showing lineage to Isaac is debunked. "not yet born and had not done anything good or bad". Paul is now driving home his points made back in Romans 2 - 4, which he revisits in the verses to come, namely that it's also not on the basis of works as the twins had not yet even been born therefore they could not have been qualified by doing something good nor disqualified by doing something bad as there hasn't yet been such opportunity for them. Paul continues holding to the Old Testament teaching that it is by God's choice, God's promise, and not by our lineage nor by our performance or lack thereof.


Question: Are Romans 9 verses 10 - 12 about salvation? Was "election" or "choice" here about salvation?


Answer: No. If they are about salvation then we'd have to conclude that God is choosing Jacob's descendants to be saved and Esau's descendants to be condemned, the very notion that Paul just spent the first 12 verses defusing. As gentiles we often make everything about salvation, here is not about salvation but about the carriers of the promise. In other words if God was speaking of electing individuals to heaven or hell then nobody in Esau's lineage made it and everyone in Jacob's lineage did. This is about God's election of Jacob to establish His new covenant which Jesus is the fulfillment of (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25). Jesus's mission was often about salvation and we as gentiles see that and wear those glasses as we read other verses and we come to Romans 9 with our presuppositions making it the same thing. It's not. Right now Paul is arguing that promise is according to God's choice and he's debunking those that may think it's by lineage or by works. So as we continue understand these verses are not about salvation but rather God's election in bringing about the Seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16).


"So that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls," God is seeing to it that His purpose would stand contingent on none other than His choice. Can you imagine if this wasn't the case? What if God's purpose was contingent on something outside Himself? Paul just debunked it being contingent on lineage or works, but imagine if it was? Scary thought isn't it. Fortunately God is in control.


Many mistakenly believe God's sovereignty means He controls everything, but this is in error. Yes God has full sovereignty and therefore He is fully in control, but this does not mean He fully controls everything. God does determine things, but does that mean God determines everything? He has the power to, He has the right to, He has the ability to, but I would argue it's not in His heart to. Excuse my crude analogy here but it's like me parking my truck in the middle of my yard in the presence of the many ants I see when I'm working out there. Now in terms of me among the ants, if I determine to park my truck somewhere like in the middle of my yard, can they do anything to stop me? No. They aren't smart enough nor are they strong enough. "But Ryan, (as I can hear the gears turning in your head) they could build an ant pile so large that you couldn't park your truck there?" Do I not have the power to overcome such an ant pile... have they met my flame thrower and bulldozer attributes :). Like God stopped the tower of babel and scattered and confused the people, I could do away with this ant pile and scatter the ants. What I am getting at here is, if I determine to park my truck in the middle of my yard, the ants cannot stop me. Does that mean the ants don't have freedom? Of course not. They can still crawl all around the yard, gather their food, build their tunnels, they can even crawl on the truck, but can they stop me from doing what I determine to do among them? No. So it is with us and God. The only thing that could stop God or sway God from carrying out His purpose is... God. But this particular promise to Abraham was of utmost importance to God, in fact, when God made it He swore by the highest power there could be, Himself (Hebrews 6:13-14). God determined to carry out this promise and swore by Himself to do it. Nothing was going to sway this.


Does that mean mankind doesn't have freedom? No. Since Adam and Eve man has had freedom but always with the reality that God is on the throne. Fortunately, God's purpose was too important to Him to allow it to be contingent on those freedoms so God elects here to exercise His "throne rights" to see to it this particular choice cannot be thwarted. In fact, God choosing to exercise His throne rights actually testifies to the freedom of man. If every work was meticulously controlled by God then He could have ensured His purpose would stand even if it were according to works since man would merely be puppets and their every move orchestrated by Him.


Paul argued a similar point earlier in Romans 4:16:


For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, - Romans 4:16


In otherwords, the reason we're saved by faith is specifically so the accomplishment of our salvation rests entirely in God's hands ("in accordance with grace"). Since this is the reality of it, the promise is a guarantee (there's the word "promise" again). Faith means God does 100% of the saving. Because of this, we can't screw it up.


Point to ponder: Next time someone asks you why are we saved by faith, your response should be something like "so it may be in accordance with grace". For more on this see our study here.


Establishing a way of salvation and carrying it out was to important to God to allow it to rest in the hands of men. Because it rests on God, and solely because God is ensuring His purpose stands, the promise can be a guarantee as Romans 4:16 states, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. I've often heard bosses say when something is extra important to them, "I will see to this personally". Because of God's purpose it was said "the older will serve the younger". God overruled the normal order of things specifically so ensure His purpose would stand as confirmed in the verse preceding. This boss is seeing to this personally.


Next we'll get into the things that are often the crux of the heated debates starting with verse 13.


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