Read Romans 9.
For a letter written to the church at Rome, the book of Romans has a lot of Jewish themes in it. The chapters we’ve already read talked about Jews and Gentiles explicitly, as well as discussing the Law of Moses repeatedly.
Scholars have wondered why there is so much about Judaism and the Jewish people in this letter. Some have speculated that the church at Rome was actually a divided church–a Jewish congregation and a Gentile congregation. Perhaps moving the church toward unity was one of Paul’s goals in writing this letter. Maybe he was laying a foundation for attempting unification when he came to Rome in person.
That’s all speculation. What is clear is that chapters 9 through 11 of Romans will address the unbelief of the nation of Israel as a whole. Today’s reading, obviously, began that discussion; however, Paul came to the discussion about Israel indirectly here in chapter 9. His true intent was to talk about election. Israel, in this chapter at least, was brought up here as an object lesson in election.
In verses 1-5 Paul discussed the many spiritual privileges that Israel as a nation had. Despite those privileges, they did not receive their Christ when he came, which gave Paul great sorrow and anguish (vv. 1-2). The problem of Israel’s unbelief, however, was not a failure of God’s word (v. 6). Rather, their unbelief was the result of God’s direct, merciful choice in election (vv. 15-18). In verses 7-13, Paul demonstrated that Israel’s own history showed that God worked through election. Only Isaac was chosen between Abraham’s two sons (vv. 7-9), then only Jacob and not Esau was chosen (vv. 10-13).
From a human perspective, divine election feels unjust. Paul anticipated the objection of injustice in v. 14 and he answered it by telling us that we’re looking at it the wrong way. It is just for God to punish us all; if he chooses to have mercy on some, that is his right as the creator (vv. 15-18). If the President pardons a convicted murderer, he has not been unjust to every other murderer. He’s been merciful to one; the constitution gives him that right and he may exercise it as often or as rarely as he wants by whatever criteria he chooses.
In a much greater way God, the one who created us all and the one against whom all of our sins were committed, has the absolute right to save everybody or nobody or some number of people in between all or none.
The reason we have a problem with election is not because it is unjust. Rather, we have an authority problem (vv. 20-23). The doctrine of election strains our human limits and tempts us think that we know better than God does. But his ways are wiser than ours and his will is beyond our comprehension. Like everything else in the Christian life, we have to humble ourselves and trust God.
One thing that is often overlooked when discussing election is this: without election, nobody would be saved. We think the opposite; we think that, if salvation were available to anyone and everyone, then most people would get saved. But we forget that salvation requires a miraculous spiritual act–the act of opening blind eyes, turning hard hearts, humbling our pride and causing us to come to God in repentance. These are unnatural–impossible, actually–for sinners.
Election exists, in part, so that Christ’s death and resurrection were not in vain. Before Christ came and died, God determined that his death would matter by choosing people and predetermining that Christ’s death would be applied to them. Election shows us that God is more gracious than we realize, making certain to save some according to his mercy.
I hope this causes your heart feel gratitude for his grace in your life and humbled that he chose you, not because of anything you’ve done but just because he chose to love you.