Rightly Dividing: Romans 9

First, review the preceding chapters:

Rom 1: Degrading effects of sin on all mankind

Rom 2: hypocrisy and sin amongst the Jews

Rom 3: The deadening effect of sin on all mankind; the gospel of God’s righteousness

Rom 4: Justification by faith proven in example of Abraham

Rom 5: Consequences of justification by faith; Adam

Rom 6: Two ways: deliverance from sin

Rom 7: deliverance from the law (better: from law-keeping in the flesh)

Romans 8: The triumphant Christian life

Romans 9: Election

Now, view this chapter in light of the “gospel-unfolding” of the entire book of Romans:

1-3: Universal gospel

4-8: Spiritual effects of the gospel (personal)

9-11: The objects of the gospel

            Concluding doxology: 11:33-36

12-16: the practical effects of the gospel (communal)

As we dive into Romans 9-11, note that the trigger for 9-11 was Rom 8:29-30: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. / Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Chapter 9 deals heavily with the reality of “election.” This discussion flows from Paul’s introduction of words like “foreknew, predestined, called” in Romans 8:29-20.

Here is a basic outline of Romans 9:

1) 9:1-5 Paul prays for national Israel

2) 9:6-12 Who is Israel, actually?

3) 9:14-18 Question: Does election mean God is unrighteous?

4) 9:19-29 Question: If God is so sovereignly in control, are His creatures still guilty?

5) 9:30-33 Question: Why? Answer: Stumbling Stone

1) 9:1-5 Paul prays for national Israel

Paul models pastoral love here. The theology of Romans 1-8 gives rise to pastoral concern for Israel. In 2 Tim 3:3, Paul describes the lost as “without natural affection,” astorgoi – without deep, genuine, concerned love. Here he expresses that love for his “countrymen according to the flesh” in full.

9:3 is maybe the strongest intercessory prayer in the Bible. Compare Moses in Exodus 32:32: “Yet now, if you will forgive their sin – but if not, I pray, blot me out of your book which you have written.”

Some other deep things to note in this section:

9:4-5 The advantages of the Jew are discussed. Compare Romans 3:1-2.

9:5 is poignant: “and from whom Christ came.” Heading into this section on election and the difficulties that surround it, Christ, who is “over all,” is given as an example of the beauty of election, and of the fact that Israel has not in any way been entirely rejected.                 

9:6-12 Who is Israel, actually?

The thought is: Israel is God’s chosen people, right? So why is Israel being passed over now? What is their status, in light of Rom 1-8, the influx of the Gentiles, and all?

Compare 2:28-29, where Paul already dealt with this inwardly, in terms of the heart condition of the true Israel.

Now he deals with the status in God’s eyes of the true Israel. Who is true Israel in God’s eyes? Paul gives two answers:

1) 9:7-9 The “children of promise,” through Isaac, not just Abraham’s children in the flesh.

Note: not even a question of literal descent from Isaac, but rather of inheriting the promises of God. This is proven in what follows:

2) 9:10-13 “the purpose of God according to election.”

Study what verse 11 teaches about election. Best to read this section very literally, and for the full weight of its implications, because two questions will follow that depend on this being literally true.

9:14-18 Question: Does election mean God is unrighteous?

 Answer: God is free to do as He pleases. God is the one with free will! This is a precise definition of God’s sovereignty. For more on this attribute of God, see here: https://ourgodwillcome.org/2020/02/03/what-does-it-mean-when-we-say-that-god-is-sovereign/

To be even more specific, look at what Paul says in verse 9:18. God is free both to “have mercy” and to “harden.”

9:19-29 Question: If God is so sovereignly in control, are His creatures still guilty?

If God is so freely, sovereignly in control, why does He still call us guilty? Is that really fair?

In 9:20 Paul amps up the argument – some of the strongest words in all Scripture: “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?”

Compare Romans 2:1 and the tone there, as Paul lashed against human hypocrisy.

Here Paul presents two reasons why we should shut up, stand back, and see the salvation of the Lord:

1) 9:20-21 We are merely created beings; He is the Creator.

Paul is quoting from Job 33:13, Isa. 29:16, 45:9

2) 9:22-24 What if this is how God wants to display His glory?

As a final cap on this section, the sovereignty of God in election is reinforced by three Old Testament quotations, in verses 25-29. Here please note the unswerving, unhindered action of God in all three passages. If you haven’t God the message, God is God. God is sovereign.

Are you still kicking against this?

9:30–33 Question: Why? Answer: Stumbling Stone

All this sovereign electing action – for the Jews and for the Gentiles – hinges around one thing: the Stumbling Stone. This Stumbling Stone is: Jesus Christ, and the righteousness that comes through faith in His name. This was established in chapters 1-3.

Now the “stumbling stone” who is Christ Jesus is presented again, as He Himself is the linchpin of election and reprobation.

Though God is sovereignly in control of all electing and damning action, all of that action happens in the courtroom of heaven, and it is healthy for us to remember that the secret things that happen in God’s courtroom are not for us to know. On the human side, all responsibility lies in the simple question of how you react to Jesus Christ.

And this discussion of “stumbling at the stumbling stone” gives rise to Paul’s new consideration of the stakes and power of FAITH in Romans 10.

Election without faith produces hyper-Calvinism. Election without human responsibility produces imbalance. Be sure to read on into Romans 10!

Some concluding notes about Election

The word election comes from Greek that simply means: “choosing.” The Greek ekloge calling out; eklektos, called out, chosen, picked out.

Gather the vocabulary for election that we have encountered thus far:

8:28 “called according to His purpose

8:29 “those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son”

8:30 “whom He predestined, these He also called

9:11 (READ WHOLE VERSE) “the purpose of God according to election

9:21 “from the same lump to make…”

9:22 “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”

9:23 “vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand

Also compare: 1 Pet 1:2 “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”

Predestination or Double-predestination?

We must discuss this because it is brought to the fore in 9:18 and 9:22-23.

The hard truth that God both saves and damns, elects and reprobates.

9:18 “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.”

In this verse, what Paul has laid down about election gets much more serious

Compare Rom 9:22-23 with the following verses:

Prov 16:4 “The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.”

Job 21:30 “For the wicked are reserved for the day of doom; They shall be brought out on the day of wrath.”

1 Pet 2:8 “…They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.”

Best way to think about this:

God has one eternal decree of predestination, and that forks off into two directions:

Predestined unto election, or unto reprobation (unto salvation or damnation).

Best way of articulating it: single predestination in the mind of God, which includes His plans for election and reprobation.

One thought on “Rightly Dividing: Romans 9

  1. “God has free will.” Yes, of course, but does this suggest that we do not? I’ve always understood that we do have free will, but that this does not negate the fact that God predestines the saved and the damned. This is because he knows our heart and ultimately knows which path we will choose. Predestination is a hard concept and one with which I still struggle.


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