Paul has expounded in his letter that both Jews and Greeks are under sin, and that the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law (Rom 3:9, 21). We are justified by faith in the Lord Jesus, through whom alone we can receive redemption. Both Jews and Greeks now can receive the free gift of eternal life in Christ. But the grace of God taught in the gospel seems to have completely rejected the fervor of the Israelites for God and to call into question God’s justice. In this and the following chapters, Paul turns his attention to the important topic of God’s unique relationship with Israel. In discussing God’s promises to Israel and the future salvation of the Israelites, Paul vigorously defends God’s faithfulness and sovereign purpose.
Did You Know...?
- Romans 9:5 is perhaps the most explicit statement in the Bible that Christ is God.
- Paul’s Sorrow and Anguish for His Kinsmen (9:1-5)
- God’s Promise (9:6-9)
- God's Election (9:10-13)
- God’s Justice and Sovereignty (9:14-29)
Observe the numerous citations of Old Testament scriptures in this chapter. What is the significance of this in light of the topic at hand?Hide Answer
Paul’s purpose in citing one passage after another from the Old Testament Scriptures is to demonstrate that the gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ not only does not contradict God’s words but is in fact firmly rooted in them. While the stumbling of the Israelites may seem to suggest that God’s word has failed, re-examining the Scriptures in the Old Testament confirms that the God’s purpose has not changed but is accomplished in the salvation of Christ.
Note the three different ways Paul states that his words are true. Why do you think he does so?Hide Answer
Paul says in three different ways that his words are true:
1. “I am speaking the truth in Christ”
2. “I am not lying”
3. “My conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit”
We may infer that Paul wishes his readers to know how much his kinsmen mean to him. Paul, as an apostle to the Gentiles (Rom 11:13; Gal 2:8), focused on his calling to preach to the Gentiles. His insistence that salvation is by grace through faith rather than works had brought much antagonism from his fellow Jews, who accused him of overthrowing the law and desecrating the temple (Acts 21:27–28). In view of the widespread misconception that Paul was anti-Jew, it is understandable that Paul states so emphatically how much he truly cares about his own people.
What can we learn about and from Paul here?Hide Answer
We can get a glimpse of Paul’s heart here. He is not merely being a prophet of doom proclaiming condemnation, but he is personally and deeply concerned about the souls of people, particularly his kinsmen. He loves them to the extent of wishing to be accursed and cut off from Christ for their sake. Do the souls of the people of this world, especially those of our loved ones, weigh on our hearts daily?
What is it about the Jews that Paul is being filled with such sorrow and anguish?Hide Answer
Paul is filled with sorrow and anguish for the unbelieving Jews because they have rejected the righteousness of God despite their zeal (Rom 9:31–32; 10:2–3). He earnestly prays for their salvation (Rom 10:1).
Explain the following terms with respect to what had been given to the Israelites: a. The adoption (cf. Ex 4:22; Deut 14:1; Hos 11:1); b. The glory (cf. Ex 40:34–35; Lev 9:23; Deut 5:24; 1 Kgs 8:11); c. The worship (cf. Heb 9:1):Hide Answer
a. The adoption (cf. Ex 4:22; Deut 14:1; Hos 11:1):
God called the Israelites His firstborn son (Ex 4:22; Deut 14:1; Hos 11:1). God had chosen them for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples on the earth (Ex 19:5–6; Deut 7:6). Israel did not earn this special status by being morally superior or being the most numerous. It was conferred by God upon them according to His sovereign choice and His promise to their forefathers (Deut 7:7–8).
b. The glory (cf. Ex 40:34–35; Lev 9:23; Deut 5:24; 1 Kgs 8:11):
Under the old covenant, God’s presence among the Israelites was by means of the tabernacle (Ex 25:8) as well as the temple. As a visible sign of His presence, God’s glory filled the tabernacle and the temple (Ex 40:34–35; Lev 9:23; 1 Kgs 8:11). God had also shown His glory to the whole assembly of Israel (Deut 5:24).
If we were to interpret “glory” to mean honor bestowed upon Israel, the fact that they were able to call upon God as His people and been given God’s righteous law would be in itself a glorious gift of grace (cf. Deut 4:7–8; Ps 147:19–20).
c. The worship (cf. Heb 9:1):
Besides commanding the Israelites to build the tabernacle, which was later superseded by the temple, God also established ordinances regarding worship (cf. Heb 9:1). These include the offerings, burning of incense, priesthood, and special days and feasts. They distinguished the Israelites from other nations as a people who belonged to God.
What prompts Paul to say “it is not as though the word of God has failed”?Hide Answer
The implication of the first segment (9:1–5) is that Paul’s kinsmen, the Jews, are presently outside of God’s salvation. This naturally raises questions about the trustworthiness of God’s promises to the Israelites that He would be their God. Paul aims to address this concern in the current segment.
What is Paul’s point in reminding the readers that only the children of the promise are counted as offspring?Hide Answer
By clarifying that only the children of promise are counted as offspring (v. 8), Paul is maintaining that God’s word did not fail. God’s election of Israel to be His treasured possession applies specifically to only the children of the promise, not everyone who is a Jew in the flesh.
Who are these children of the promise?Hide Answer
According to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, believers who have become sons of God through faith are the children of promise (3:23–29; 4:21–31). Abraham believed in God’s promise, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Hence, those who share the faith of Abraham and trust in God’s promise of salvation are the children of Abraham (Rom 4:11–14, 16). By the same token, a true Jew is not one outwardly but one who keeps the law of God from the heart and serves Him by the Spirit (Rom 2:26, 29).
“Not only so” in verse 10 suggests that Paul is making two key points in the previous and present segments. What are they?Hide Answer
Paul demonstrates in the previous segment (vv. 6–9) that only the children of the promise are counted as offspring. Then, in the current segment, he presents the truth that God’s election of Abraham’s offspring is not because of works but because of God’s sovereign choice.
Why is it difficult for human beings to accept the truth of God’s election?Hide Answer
Human beings like to feel that they deserve what they have and that they earned it. In a completely man-centered worldview, fairness is defined only by reward based on one’s hard work. To someone who is unwilling to accept God’s sovereignty, it is inconceivable that election is based solely on God’s grace rather than human effort.
How do the examples of God’s words to Moses and to Pharaoh answer the question “Is there injustice on God’s part?”?Hide Answer
An unjust or unrighteous judge is one who deems evil as good or good as evil (cf Isa 5:20). But God’s sovereign election is by no means a perversion of good and evil. As the sovereign Lord over all things and as the Creator of all things, God has complete prerogative to have mercy or compassion on whomever He chooses. He can likewise harden whomever He wills. His choice precedes all human decision or effort and does not need to depend on them at all. While God’s sovereignty may run contrary to man’s concept of fairness (i.e. God’s choice should depend on man’s behavior), it does not violate God’s righteous character.
Does God’s sovereignty free man of his responsibility?Hide Answer
As Paul’s rhetorical question in verse 19 anticipates, skeptics or unbelievers may challenge God’s justice for holding man accountable when He has already determined the outcome. The implication of such a challenge is that God should be responsible for man’s sin and wickedness. Paul has already refuted this allegation earlier in Romans (Rom 3:5–8). Man cannot blame God for his own wrongdoing. The Bible clearly makes man responsible for his sins (cf. Jas 1:13–14).
With this teaching in mind, we should not interpret the hardening in verse 18 as God predetermining man’s sin. In the case of Pharaoh in the Bible, God chose to harden Pharaoh’s heart as a retribution upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians for their oppression of His people as well as a demonstration of His might (cf. Ex 3:7–10; 4:21–23; 7:3–5). Similarly, the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” with whom God has endured with much patience (v. 22) should be understood as God’s sovereignty to bring destruction upon those who rebel against Him. There is no indication in these verses that God planted sin or evil in the hearts of men in the first place. Man must still be responsible for his choice to disobey God. For God to have mercy on sinners as He wishes and to bring wrath upon those who refuse to accept Him does not make Him guilty of sin. God’s sovereign choice is in terms of how He decides to treat sinners, whether to show mercy or to harden. He is not responsible for their sins. Man also has no right to question God’s decision to pardon or punish.
What does God intend to show in His sovereign election?Hide Answer
In enduring with much patience vessels of destruction, God desires to show His wrath and make known His power (v. 22). In so doing, He also makes known the riches of His glory for vessels of His mercy (v. 23). In other words, God’s patient endurance demonstrates both His mercy and His wrath and power. Those who repent and accept God’s grace will experience God’s mercy, whereas those who persist in their rebellion will face God’s wrath (cf. Rom 11:22; 2 Pet 3:9).
What is the teaching behind verses 24–26?Hide Answer
God’s sovereign grace of election is given not only to the Jews but has been extended also to the Gentiles. Although the Gentiles were outside of God’s covenant, through faith in Jesus Christ they may now also be called sons of God (cf. Gal 3:26–29; Eph 2:11–13).
How do the words of Isaiah in 27–29 relate to Paul’s point in this segment?Hide Answer
The message of this segment is the flip side of the previous segment. In the previous segment, Paul quoted the words of Hosea to show that God would choose those who were not His people and those who were not beloved to be His people and His beloved. This has been fulfilled in the salvation of the Gentiles. In the present segment, Paul refers to the words of Isaiah to attest to the fact that only the remnants of the Israelites would be saved. Both segments reinforce the overall point that God has complete sovereignty to have mercy on whom He has mercy and has compassion on whom He has compassion.