Much of Romans 9 is about God’s election of people to salvation. This chapter, and this topic, is a challenge to many of us.
The apostle Paul addresses God’s sovereign choice in salvation here because many of his kinsmen, the Jews, did not come to Christ. God had made promises of salvation to his people and it seemed like they hadn’t been fulfilled.
So that’s the question Paul addresses: “Did God’s word fail?”
I’m speaking the truth in Christ—I’m not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God overall blessed forever. Amen.—Rom. 9:1–5
So God blessed Israel in all these magnificent ways and yet now Jesus, Israel’s king and Savior, has come, and many of God’s people haven’t believed in him. Paul talks about divine election in the context of answering this question. It seems like God’s word must have failed.
That’s the issue. Why aren’t these people believing? Paul says, “No, God’s word didn’t fail.” He writes, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac, shall your offspring be named’” (Rom. 9:6–7). In other words, only those Jews who were chosen will be saved.
At that point, Paul launches into a discussion about God’s sovereign choice that lasts the rest of the chapter. He knows that when he talks about God choosing people, our response will be, “How can God blame us, if he chooses who will be saved? Is God unjust?” Paul responds, “By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:14–15).
I’ve wrestled with this passage of Scripture for many years. My views changed on this issue as a result of my studying this text and other passages. And this isn’t one of those issues where we need to draw the line and say that if you don’t agree with us, then you’re not a Christian. Many believers have sincere disagreements about this text.
But we have to approach the word of God with humility and say, “Lord, speak to me by your Spirit.” And I believe that Paul highlights here the absolute sovereignty and mercy of God.
At the end of the day, who gets all the credit, all the praise, all the glory for our salvation? It’s Jesus Christ. Apart from his grace, mercy, and love, we would have been lost. Jesus drew us to himself by the power of the Holy Spirit. Acknowledging this sovereign grace of God should lead us to rejoice in the Lord and worship him.
This article is part of our Frequently Asked Questions series. Listen to Pastor Adriel answer this question on Core Radio here.
Dig deeper with these free resources from Core Christianity:
How Does Jesus Work Today?, Can I Lose My Salvation?, How Can God Be Loving and Wrathful?, How Can Christianity Be True if God Allows Evil and Suffering?
10 Ways God Reveals Himself as our Father, 9 Ways to Know You Are Really a Christian