Last time I mentioned how in Romans chapter 8 it seemed as if Paul had been leading us up a high mountain; and at the end of that marvellous chapter, it seemed we were at the mountain top, because it was so exhilarating and we wanted to throw up our hands and shout ‘Hallelujah! What a Saviour!’ And we wanted to shout that because Paul, who started chapter 8 with the promise that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ, ended the chapter with the promise that nothing will ever be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus. It’s marvellous. And we want to praise God.
But then we noticed that, though the end of chapter 8 is like being on the top of the highest peak, we seem to tumble down into the doldrums at the beginning of chapter 9. You see, as chapter 9 begins, it’s as if Paul is weeping. We’re cheering because of all he said in chapter 8. But Paul is weeping now. He’s heartbroken. Look back to verse 2:
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
And we asked ourselves:
Why Paul? We’re rejoicing in the good news that nothing will ever separate us from God’s love. We’re rejoicing, but you’re weeping. Why?
And we discovered that Paul had this great sorrow and unceasing anguish because of the unbelief of his fellow Israelites. Though they had enjoyed all kinds of benefits — and Paul lists them in verses 4 and 5 — nevertheless the fact is that many of them, most of them, have not believed in the Lord Jesus. And Paul is heartbroken about this, because they’ve cut themselves off from the Saviour.
But I also said last time that there was a theological problem for Paul to address. And he turns to address that problem in verse 6 where he seems to be answering a question. Now, the question he seems to be answering is unspoken. We don’t hear the question. But it’s quite clear from what Paul says what the question is. Someone is asking Paul and saying to him:
Paul, has God’s word failed? In the Old Testament, God said all these marvellous things to the Israelites; and he promised them all kinds of things. He promised to be their God for ever and to love them with an everlasting love. Well, has God’s word failed? Has he now rejected them?
And Paul gives his answer in verse 6. And then he explains his answer in verses 7 to 13.
So, what’s his answer. First of all, he says:
It is not as though God’s word has failed.
So, someone might say that God’s word has failed, because so few Israelites have believed and are being saved. But that’s not the case. Paul is adamant about that.
And then he goes on to explain. He says:
For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
What does he mean? Well, he’s drawing a distinction between those who belong to the nation of Israel and those who belong to the true Israel. There are those who belong to the nation of Israel and there are those who belong to the true people of God.
You see, on the one hand, there are all those who are able to trace their family tree back to Israel. That is, back to Jacob; Jacob was also known as Israel. And Jacob was the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. So, when Paul refers to those who are descended from Israel, he’s referring to all those who can trace their family tree back to Jacob. And therefore, back to Isaac, who was Jacob’s father. And back to Abraham, who was Isaac’s father. If someone can trace their family tree back to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, then they belong to the nation of Israel, because they’re biologically related.
However, within the nation of Israel is another, smaller group. They’re the true Israel. They’re the true people of God. They’re God’s chosen people, the people he chose to inherit his promise of everlasting life.
So, if we remember that distinction, then we’ll see that God’s word hasn’t failed. It hasn’t failed because God’s promise of salvation was made, not to the whole nation of Israel, but only to the true Israel who are God’s chosen people. He promised to give them, the true Israel, eternal life; and he will undoubtedly and certainly give them, the true Israel, eternal life through Jesus Christ his Son.
Verses 7 to 13
You can imagine someone saying:
Hang on, Paul. Where are you getting that idea from?
And so, in verses 7 to 13, Paul goes on to explain where he got this idea from. And I’ll give you a little hint, and it’s really only a hint, because we don’t have time today to go into this in any detail. But here’s the hint: He got it from the Bible. He got this idea from the Old Testament.
And let me just point you in the direction Paul is going. First of all, in verses 7 to 9 he refers to Abraham and his children. And then, in verses 10 to 13 he refers to Isaac and Rebekah and their children.
So, Abraham had two sons: Ishmael, whose mother was Hagar, Abraham’s servant; and Isaac, whose mother was Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Both sons were descended from Abraham, but look at verse 7 where Paul quotes from Genesis 21. God said:
It is through Isaac [and we could put in brackets: ‘and not through Ishamel’] that your offspring will be reckoned.
In other words:
Even though you have two sons, Abraham, I’ve chosen Isaac, and not Ishmael.
Then Paul refers to Isaac and Rebekah and their children. Back in Genesis we read how Rebekah was expecting twins. But the twins seemed to be fighting each other in her womb. They were smashing against one another. So, Rebekah went and asked the Lord what was going on. And the Lord revealed to Rebekah that the older son — that is, the twin who would be born first — would serve the younger one. God was revealing to her that he had chosen the younger one, Isaac, and not his elder brother, Esau. In other words, he was saying to her:
Even though you have two sons, Rebekah, I’ve chosen Jacob, and not Esau.
So, Abraham had two sons, but God chose one, and not the other. Isaac and Rebekah had two sons, but God chose one, and not the other. So, not everyone who is biologically related to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob has been chosen by God to inherit his promise of eternal life. He didn’t choose all of them, but only some of them.
Now, why did God choose one and not the other? Why did God choose Jacob and not his brother, Esau? Was it because Jacob was better than his brother? Was it because Esau was worse that his brother? That’s the way we think. When we choose something, we choose the best. We choose the best apples on the shelf and we leave the bad ones behind. Is that how God chooses his people?
Well, look what Paul tells us in verse 11. He tells us that when God chose Jacob and not his brother Esau, he chose Jacob before they were born. In other words, he chose Jacob before he and his brother had done anything, whether good or bad. So, it wasn’t that Jacob was better than his brother. It wasn’t that Esau was worse than his brother. Before they were born, God chose one and not the other.
And Paul adds:
not by works….
He can’t have chosen one over the other because of their works or their deeds, because neither of them had done anything, because they hadn’t yet been born. And Paul goes on:
not by works, but by him who calls.
God called one, and not the other. He chose one, and not the other. And then Paul quotes from the prophet Malachi where God said:
Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.
Now, when it says ‘I hated’ we’re not to think that God was vindictive or malicious. When the Lord said ‘but Esau I hated’ he meant that he had chosen Jacob and he had rejected Esau.
But still we want to ask:
Why? Why did you choose one and not the other? What’s the answer?
Go back to verse 11 where Paul refers to God’s purpose of election. He says:
before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad — in order that God’s purpose might stand….
Do you see what he’s saying? He’s saying it was all part of God’s plan; and it’s a plan that depends on God and not on us. God had a plan to elect, or to choose, a people for himself who will live with him for ever and ever in glory. So, because that was his plan, he chose Abraham. And then he chose Isaac. And then he chose Jacob. And from Jacob he continued to build his church on the earth. And he’s still building it today; and through the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ the Saviour, God is still calling his people — those he chose before they were born, those he chose even before the world was made — he’s still calling his people and he’s enabling them to trust the Saviour of the world. And whenever they trust the Saviour, he pardons their sins, and he accepts them into his family, and he gives to them the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life in his presence. From all eternity it was God’s plan to choose a people for himself who would be with him for ever in glory. And in time, he called his people to himself and he enables them to believe.
And here’s the thing: Whenever his people — whom he chose in eternity and called in time — whenever his people enter the glory to come, and they ask themselves, ‘How did I get here?’ none of his people will be able to boast and say that I got here because I deserve to be here. Because of my good deeds. Or because of my family connections. Or because of what I’ve done. No, instead they will fall down on their faces and they’ll worship the Lord their God for his grace to them and for how, before the world was made, he set his love on them, and said: I want him, I want her, to be with me for ever.
And so, if you’re a believer today, it’s because God chose you in eternity, And so, his decision to chose you is not because of anything you did. He was not obliged to choose you. He was not compelled to choose you. You did not deserve to be chosen. He simply chose you. And because he chose you and said about you, ‘I want that person to be with me in glory’, then he called you; and he enabled you to respond to the call of the gospel and to believe in his Son through whom you received the forgiveness of your sins and the hope of everlasting life. And so, if you’re a believer today, you owe your salvation to God alone. And so, every day you should give thanks to him for his kindness to you, which you do not deserve.