For several years I’ve struggled with the implications of Reformed Theology. In the past 2 years, it’s progressed from arguing against Reformed Theology, to having conversations with people about why I can no longer agree that humans are the final arbiters of their election.
The passage that’s been the hammer that broke the rock in pieces, so to speak, was Romans 9. I talked with someone who said Romans 9 is about God’s sovereign choice over people groups, but had nothing to do with an individual’s salvation. That sounded fishy to me, so I began at Romans 8 and read through Romans 11 several times. The clear implication was that it was talking about an individual’s salvation.
See, here’s the context: if God gives huge covenant promises in Romans 8, how are we supposed to believe them if God’s Word has failed with respect to His covenant promises to Israel? Israel’s rejecting the Messiah and going to hell. How does that uphold God’s word to His chosen people? How can we Gentiles take God at His word if He can’t keep His word to the Jews?
Given that context, Paul argues that God’s word has not failed, and here’s why: not all Israel is Israel. In other words, there’s an ethnic Israel and a spiritual Israel. How can that be? Well, both Ishmael and Isaac were sons of Abraham (Jews, right?), but God chose to bless Isaac and reject Ishmael. But lest you think that was because of Hagar’s status as a slave, Rebekah’s twins, before they’d been born or done any good or evil, were likewise split. God chose Jacob and rejected Esau. Every time there have been children of Abraham (or his descendants), there has been a distinction between those who are mere biological children, and those who are children of the promise—real children of the covenant. In other words, it has always been the case that mere lineage was not a determining factor in salvation. God is able to make Jews from stones if He wants to (Matthew 3:8-9). Don’t presume that lineage guarantees salvation. Repent, or you will likewise perish.
I ask: has Paul just begun to randomly talk about the destiny of nations? Or is Paul supporting his assertion that within ethnic Israel is spiritual Israel? If he’s supporting his point that there are two Israels and ethnic Israel doesn’t guarantee placement within spiritual Israel, what context does that put the conversation in? The destiny of nations? Or salvation?
I say all this because it’s a critical context for understanding the rest of the chapter. I used to skip the beginning of the chapter because I didn’t understand why Paul was bringing Israel into the picture. But once you understand why he’s arguing on the track that he is, the entire chapter opens up. I would most of all encourage you to read Romans 8-11 and see the thought flow of Paul in those chapters. But I would also encourage you to download a sermon I listened to this week by John Piper called “What is Romans 9 About?”. It’s a very humble unfolding of the thought flow of Romans 9 and I would highly recommend it to everyone.
If you want a more complete exposition of Romans 9-11, listen to this series: