Romans chapter 9 is a very challenging chapter of scripture. With a cursory reading and without deep examination this scripture will lead many to believe as John Calvin did as John Piper does that God created some people so that He could demonstrate destruction, His wrath upon them.
I am not a Calvinist though and I would find myself more in line with what John Wesley wrote about Romans chapter 9,
“Whatever that Scripture [Romans 9] proves, it can never prove this. Whatever its true meaning be, this cannot be its true meaning. … No Scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works. That is, whatever it prove beside, no Scripture can prove predestination.” (This from his sermon “On Free Grace.”)
So what then was Paul saying?
In order to understand that we have to understand first the great objection the Jews had at this point of history,
“that the rejection of the Jews and reception of the gentiles was contrary to the word of God.”
Paul here was not dealing with “personal election” or “predestination” rather he was dealing with how God could accept the Gentiles and reject part of the nation of Israel. This was a hard concept for God’s “Chosen People.” So Romans 9 is dealing primarily with the nation of Israel.
Some may say well it sounds like an individual thing when Paul writes, “Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (9:13) This is in fact one of the primary texts used by Calvinists to show that God has chosen some people to live in heaven and some people to stoke the fires of hell. But if we use sound exegesis to allow scripture to interpret scripture we would see that the passage here Paul is quoting, Malachi 1:2, 3 underlines the truth that Paul is looking at this from a national focus (i.e. his people Israel) and not at the individual level, because in Malachi 1:2, 3 Esau represented the country of Edom and Jacob represented Israel and so Paul is restating the meaning of Malachi’s phrase, “simply that God preferred Israel over Edom to be the people he wanted to work with to reach out to the world.” This also illustrates that what Paul was addressing was an issue of service not salvation. Salvation is about belief that is the theme of Romans 10, and even Romans 11 (which is not part of our reading today) helps us to understand this, “You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith.” (11:19, 20a)
God did not stop using Israel because He was predestining them to be lost, but because of their unbelief and Paul warns the Gentiles,
“for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.” (11:21) In-other-words “if you stop believing and being my witnesses in belief you will be cut off also.”
“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (10:12, 13)
The election as God’s people for service is not based on anything other than faith, not works, which then makes us all individually equal.
Can I tangent for a moment. Seventh-day Adventists, you are not remnant because of the right beliefs, you are remnant if you have faith and that faith drives you to be a witness in spreading God’s end-time truth. Israel was not willing to be used by God and they thought they could save themselves through their own good works so He chose to get His message out a different way.
Romans 9 is a tough passage but if we couple it with Romans 10 which is all about salvation coming through faith not God arbitrarily choosing.
And if we understand that Paul is speaking of the national focus of Israel, not the individual Jews being rejected, then we will see that this text does not teach predestination unto salvation.
For a great exposition of this I would encourage you to read this piece by Greg Boyd, he goes into much more thorough explanation than I have here. With other extensive points of explanation regarding Romans 9.
Did this blog help? Did Boyd’s blog help? Let me know.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Genesis 16-19