In our studies of Romans 9:6-13 we have not been in a hurry and are endeavoring to come away with both a proper interpretation and proper application of the text. Since there is much disagreement and much confusion over this text, it is our responsibility before God and to men to know what it is talking about and give its proper interpretation. While this is true of the whole Bible it is especially true in those difficult places that cause men to stumble. The gospel of salvation by grace alone is a stumbling stone to many and Paul ended Romans 9 saying exactly that – “Just as it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed’” (Romans 9:33).
At the heart of the controversy over the interpretation of Romans 9 is whether or not election is conditional or unconditional and whether or not it is national or individual. Election or “elect” is a word that means to choose or select. So when we speak of the elect of God we are speaking of the chosen of God or those whom He has selected. Since it is true that God chooses and selects, a truth forever established by His choosing of Jacob over Esau in order to bring the Christ into the world and fulfill His covenant with Abraham, then the question becomes on what basis did God make His decision? The answer to this question will determine whether or not election is conditional or unconditional and whether or not election is national or individual.
We have already established that God is sovereign in election. This truth is wonderfully illustrated in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ where He said, “No one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65). So no man in and of himself has the heart to desire or the will to decide to come to Jesus apart from God’s sovereign election and supernatural education. This means that salvation is completely by grace based on the sovereign choice of God to have mercy on whom He will have mercy (Romans 9:15-16).
Remember that the Jews made the error of believing that election was conditional and that God based His choice of them on their physical ancestry from Abraham and their personal ability to obey the Law. If this were true then it would mean that all Jews and only Jews could and would be saved. Do you remember that the Jews had a problem with the truth that God would save men who were Gentiles? They also had a problem with the truth that God would condemn Jews who met the “conditions” of physical descent from Abraham and personal merit through the Law. This is why they thought God’s Word had failed (Romans 9:6).
The apostle Paul used the Old Testament Scriptures to prove that election is unconditional and that salvation is therefore by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. He showed how God chose Isaac over Ishmael unconditionally and how He chose Jacob over Esau unconditionally (Romans 9:7-13). This was to show that physical descent from Abraham didn’t guarantee or merit salvation and that physical descent from Isaac didn’t guarantee or merit salvation so that the proper and biblical conclusion would be that physical descent from Jacob (Israel) didn’t guarantee or merit salvation. Election unto salvation is unconditional – it cannot be earned or merited.
There are many who stumble over the doctrine of unconditional election which proves that salvation is by grace. So instead of honestly dealing with the text they teach that this passage isn’t dealing with individual election unto salvation but national election unto service. The problem with this interpretation is that it doesn’t deal with the truth that Isaac was saved and Ishmael wasn’t and that Jacob was saved and Esau wasn’t. It also doesn’t deal with the truth that Paul is explicitly speaking of election unto salvation even from among Gentiles (Romans 9:24). Paul wasn’t proving unconditional election unto service but unconditional election unto salvation which is precisely why the Jews thought that Paul was preaching against the people and against the Law for preaching the gospel of salvation by grace (Romans 2:17; Acts 21:27-28).
That this passage is speaking of individual election and not national election is made abundantly clear from Romans 9:6 – “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” So the next time you run into someone who believes that election is national and not individual ask him why all Jews aren’t saved. If he says that election is unto service and not salvation ask him why Paul was willing to be separated from Christ and why Paul spoke of those who were the children of God and those who weren’t - from among the nation (Romans 9:3, 7-8).
Make no mistake about it, if Romans 9 is teaching national election whether it be unto salvation or unto service then it would mean that all Israel would either be saved or all Israel would serve and that anyone outside of the nation Israel couldn’t be saved or couldn’t serve. But Romans 9 is clearly teaching individual election unto salvation and that not on the basis of physical descent or personal merit. Election unto salvation is unconditional (not based on anything deserving in the man) and individual based on God’s sovereign and gracious choice. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Do you have a problem with God granting you salvation apart from any cause within you that would cause Him to grant it to you or do you rejoice that God is willing to save undeserving sinners based solely on His grace and sovereign choice? If you have a problem with God saving undeserving sinners according to His gracious choice then you have a problem with salvation being by grace and not by merit.