The Twenty-Fifth in a Series of Sermons on Paul's Epistle to the Romans
Romans 9:6-29 includes one of the most controversial topics in all of Christian theology, the question of God’s sovereignty in relation to the election of certain individuals unto salvation and of others unto damnation. Paul does not raise the subject of election to give people something interesting to speculate about, but to answer the difficult questions raised earlier in this chapter. If the gospel goes first to the Jew and only then to the Gentile, why is it that Israel presently stands under God’s curse? Does God keep his promises? Did God reject his people? Or is Israel’s present state of unbelief a part of God’s larger redemptive-historical purposes in bringing salvation to the Gentiles? Thus Paul introduces the subject of God’s sovereign purpose in election as the means of answering these difficult questions.
In Romans 8:28-30, Paul made the point that human salvation begins and ends with God. He must now explain why Israel’s role in redemptive history has taken such a surprising turn, especially in light of the nation’s predicament, having fallen under the covenant curse. How is it that Israel was heir to the blessings listed in Romans 9:1-5, but has not yet received them when ungodly Gentiles have? As we saw last time, Paul’s answer to these questions hinges upon an important distinction he makes between two groups within Israel (“true Israel” and “national Israel”). In Romans 9:6, Paul writes, “It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” The fact that Israel is presently under God’s curse is not due to the failure of God’s word, which cannot fail. According to Paul, there is a narrow group in view (“not all Israel”) and a broader group (“all Israel”). “All Israel” refers to national Israel when emphasizing the national promises, or ethnic Israel when speaking of the people (the Jews). The promises described in Romans 9:1-5 have been made to the broader group, those Jews who have mistakenly sought to attain the promises through good works and/or ethnic descent, bringing them under God’s curse. The narrower group, “not all Israel,” (true Israel or spiritual Israel) is composed of those presently in possession of the blessings promised to God’s people under the Abrahamic covenant. These are the true descendants of Abraham from among the broader group. God’s word has not failed even though the broader group (national Israel) is under God’s curse. The narrow group (true Israel) have received the promise exactly as God had promised.
In Romans 9:7-13, Paul seeks to answer the question regarding national Israel’s rejection of the promise by introducing into his discussion the mystery of election and God’s sovereign purposes.
To read the rest of this sermon, click here