Romans Chapters 9 to 11, Part 2
by Karl Kemp
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We will continue with this verse-by-verse study of Romans chapters 9-11 here in Part 2, starting with Rom. 9:6.
(6) But it is not as though the word of God has failed. [[This is a key point with the apostle Paul in Romans chapters 9-11. God's word doesn't fail; it can't fail; He keeps His promises (cf., e.g., Num. 23:19). It's true, however, that sometimes people (even true believers) don't adequately understand His word/promises. Sometimes they miss the balanced truth of what He said; at other times they don't understand the conditional nature of some of His promises; etc. As the apostle continues, we can see that the primary issue being considered here was whether God's promises to Israel had failed.
Paul could not, and he did not, accept the charge that God's word to Israel had failed. "What then? If some [Jews] did not believe [in Christ], their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar..." (Rom. 3:3, 4a). For one thing, as Paul goes on to show in Rom. 9:7-13, it takes more than being a physical descendant of Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or one of his twelve sons to be a member of God's true Israel. (To be part of true Israel one must be a believer, which includes being faithful to the covenant(s) with God.) Paul also informs us in Rom. 11:26 that the time will come when "all Israel [the end-time remnant of Israel] will be saved."
With Paul's viewpoint in Rom. 9:6-29 (with all the emphasis being on the sovereignty of God), he wants to strongly make the point that God is in control; He wasn't at all surprised by the fact that the majority of the Israelites didn't submit to the Lord Jesus Christ; that was part of His overall plan (knowing/foreknowing, for one thing, the hearts of all people). The sovereign God had rejected many of the Israelites (He had even hardened them); that was the primary issue, not that they had rejected Him (though the latter point is also true and quite important).]] For they are not all [part of God's true] Israel who are descended from Israel ["For they are not all [part of God's true] Israel who are of Israel" (NKJV). Romans 2:28, 29 are important verses to show who the real Jews are in the days after the new covenant has been inaugurated.]; (7) nor are they all children ["children of God" (cf. Rom. 9:8)] because they are Abraham's descendants [cf., e.g., John 8:33, 39-47], but: 'THROUGH ISAAC [not Ishmael] YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED' [Gen. 21:12; cf. Heb. 11:18; Gen. 25:1-11]. (8) That is, it is not the children of the flesh [[The word "flesh" is used here, as it often is in the Bible, to speak of fallen man, man in spiritual death, man without the Spirit of God. If it were not for the saving intervention of God in His mercy and grace, all the descendants of Adam would remain children of the flesh - no one would be saved. Many of the Jews of Paul's day were not part of God's true Israel; many "Christians" of our day are not part of God's true Israel.]] who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. [Words like "flesh" and "promise," as they are used here (and as they are often used in the New Testament), are loaded with meaning. (See the Chart on pages 86-88 of my "A Paper on Faith" on my website; Google to Karl Kemp Teaching.) The word "promise" points to God's initiative, His plan, His grace, and His work.] (9) For this is the word of promise: 'AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON' [Gen. 18:10]. [[It isn't enough to be a physical descendant of Abraham (or even a physical descendant of Isaac, or of Jacob/Israel, or of one of his twelve sons). All the children of God, like Isaac, are children of promise. God gave Abraham a word of promise regarding the conception and birth of Isaac (and there were other words of promise to Abraham that dealt with the birth of Isaac beyond the words quoted by Paul here in verse 9); what God promised to do, He did, as He always does - Isaac was born. The birth of Isaac would not have taken place apart from God's saving intervention - it was the work of God. The same thing is true regarding the salvation of every believer - it is the work of God, and He must receive all the glory.
Although it isn't nearly as important as the grace of God and God's saving work, it is also true (and quite important for us to understand) that the faith of Abraham played a role in the birth of Isaac (see, for example, Rom. 4:1-5, 9-22; Gal. 3:6-18). Abraham submitted to God in faith; he trusted Him to do what He said (promised) He would do. He believed that God truly was God, that He was able to do what He said He would do (for one thing, no other god would be able to stop Him). Of course, Abraham couldn't have submitted to God in faith if God hadn't revealed Himself to Abraham, and he couldn't have believed the promise(s) if they hadn't been given to him. Again, God must receive all the glory, but Abraham (like all believers) had to do his part, the part assigned and required by the sovereign God - faith.
God foreknew Abraham (which included foreknowing him with favor [I had a footnote: On God's foreknowledge of the elect, see under Rom. 8:29 in my paper on Rom. 8:16-39.]); He chose Abraham knowing/foreknowing His heart. God called Abraham; Abraham responded with faith. It isn't that Abraham could say that he deserved to be chosen, as if God owed him something. He was saved (and he received from God) one hundred percent by the mercy/grace of God in Christ, not because of merit, just like every other believer is saved and receives from God. But it is also true that people are different. Abel was different than Cain; Abraham was different than (at least most of) his contemporaries; and Jacob was different than Esau - they were people of faith.
I had a footnote: Abel, Abraham, and Jacob are all listed as men of faith in Hebrews chapter 11. Jacob didn't earn God's favor by his righteousness (he was a sinner too), but Jacob was different than Esau. For one thing, Jacob was concerned with the important things; Esau, on the other hand, was willing to sell his birthright privileges (being the firstborn son) to Jacob for a meal (Gen. 25:27-34). Hebrews chapter 11 confirms that faith was something that the Old Testament believers did (not something that God just gave them). Hebrews 11:2 (cf. 11:39), for example, even says that the Old Testament believers "were commended for" (NIV) their faith, but this doesn't mean that they merited salvation. We must always be looking for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.
I don't believe we have enough information to fully understand why people are different, but they are. God doesn't just give people saving faith (see my "A Paper on Faith"), and He isn't the author of the pride, unbelief, and rebellion of men (or of angels). Men are free moral agents created in the image of God. Genesis 9:6, which speaks of man after the fall, says, "Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man." Although the will of man was seriously affected by the fall (there is substantial bondage of the will), man still has some freedom of the will. (See the excerpts from Norman Geisler's "Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election" in my paper on Rom. 8:16-39, for example.)
God takes the unbelief and sinful acts of people seriously, which He wouldn't do if we didn't have any freedom. (He will judge us according to what we have believed and what we have done, according to our works; what we do flows from what is in our hearts.) Unbelievers can do some righteous acts, but being fallen people, they can't be righteous in any adequate sense. For one thing, God sees our attitudes, motives, and priorities. The Bible makes it quite clear that all people are sinners. We are all totally dependent on God's saving grace. He doesn't owe us anything!
We must submit to God and His promises in faith. With us Christians, as with Abraham, who is the father of all believers (in Rom. 4:9-17; Gal. 3:7, 29 the apostle shows that all Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles, are the spiritual offspring of Abraham), faith is something that we do in response to God's initiative (it isn't something that God just gives us or does for us). ((I had a footnote: God kept the devil from destroying us; He gave His Son to die for us; one way or another, He sent the word of the gospel of salvation to us as individuals; and He draws, convicts, teaches, etc., but the New Testament is full of verses which show that faith is something we do in response to God's initiative. This is very important, and it seems to me the Bible is quite clear on this point. See my "A Paper on Faith."))
The fact that we receive from God through faith, based on what He has offered in His promises, doesn't mean that we are earning, or partially earning, our salvation. Faith cannot receive more than what God makes available by His grace. "For this reason [since no one could be saved by the Law] IT IS BY FAITH THAT IT MAY BE IN ACCORDANCE WITH GRACE, so that THE PROMISE [the salvation promised] will be guaranteed to all the descendants [of Abraham], not only to those who are of the Law [Jewish Christians], but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham [Gentile Christians, in that Abraham was an uncircumcised Gentile when he submitted to God in faith], who is the father of us all [all believers]" (Rom. 4:16).
The only way to become a child of God and to live as a child of God in truth, righteousness, and holiness is by faith. Faith (faith that submits to God and His word/promise(s) and to the Holy Spirit) enables us to rise above the realm of the flesh, through the grace of God in Christ (see Rom. 4:13-16; Gal. 3:14 [with 3:15-29]). The Old Testament believers (I'm including those like Abraham who lived in the days before the old covenant was established on the Mosaic Law) didn't have the new birth available to them when they lived on the earth (because Christ had not yet dethroned sin, Satan, and spiritual death through His atoning death and resurrection). But they did have the promise(s) of full salvation to come, they were set apart for God as His people, and they experienced some grace in Old Testament days.
The apostle Paul didn't use the word "faith" in Rom. 9:6-29, or any other word(s) that would show that man has a necessary role to fulfill in God's salvation plans; he put all the emphasis on God's role in our salvation in this passage. ((I had a footnote: The apostle Paul also put the emphasis on God's role in our salvation in Rom. 8:28-30 and Eph. 1:3-14 (also see Rom. 11:5-10). But Eph. 1:13 does mention that Paul's Christian readers, having heard the message of truth (the gospel), believed (they submitted to the gospel in faith). Romans 8:28-30 and Eph. 1:3-14 are discussed in some detail in my papers on this Christian article site dealing with Rom. 8:16-39 and with Ephesians chapter 1.)) Paul wanted to demonstrate in Rom. 9:6-29, for one thing, that God had the right to choose or to reject individual Israelites as He saw fit. (He is God, and He knows what He is doing.) He wasn't obligated to choose any of them for salvation in Christ Jesus, but they thought that He was.
The apostle Paul did, however, teach about the need for man to submit in faith to God and the gospel of salvation throughout the epistle to the Romans. I'll list the verses from the first eleven chapters of Romans where he specifically mentioned faith, believing, or the equivalent: Rom. 1:5, 8, 12, 16, 17; 2:7, 8 ((I had a lengthy footnote here that goes on for the equivalent of two paragraphs: It's important to see that Paul was speaking of Christians in Rom. 2:7; they are the ones who (by God's grace through faith) "by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, [to whom God will render] eternal life" when [in the day of judgment] He "will render to each person according to his deeds [works]" (Rom. 2:6). In Rom. 2:8 Paul was speaking of people who were not submitting to the gospel in faith (in context these words were aimed to some significant extent, if not entirely, at some of the Jews), "to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, [God will render] wrath and indignation." By saying that they did "not obey the truth," Paul meant that they did not submit to, and obey, the truth of the gospel in faith. By saying that they did not obey the truth of the gospel, Paul probably made the point even stronger that they were responsible to submit to God and the gospel of salvation than if he had said that they did not have faith in God and the gospel. I'll list some other verses that speak of obeying or not obeying the gospel: Rom. 1:5; 6:17; 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8 (cf. 2 Thess. 2:10-12); and 1 Pet. 4:17. Rom. 2:1-16 are discussed in my paper, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism.")); Rom. 3:3, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31; 4:3, 5, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24; 5:1, 2; 6:17; 9:30, 32, 33; 10:3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17; 11:20, 22, and 23. Many other verses from Romans chapters 1-11, including Rom. 6:1-23; 8:1-17 (these are two of the most important passages in the Bible), which I didn't list here, except for Rom. 6:17, are permeated with the concept that salvation comes through our submitting in faith to God the Father, the Lord Jesus, and the gospel of new-covenant salvation.
Even though Paul didn't mention faith or anything else that people have to do to obtain salvation in Rom. 9:6-29, because of his emphasis on the sovereignty of God in these verses, we are not permitted to forget what he has already said in Romans chapters 1-8 or what he will say in Rom. 9:30-11:36 (or what he says in his other writings, or what other New Testament writers say about the need for people to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel in faith). Paul meant what he said in those verses too.
We must always be seeking for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches, including what is said in each of its books. (I'm sorry to say that I don't find too many Christians doing this to an adequate extent, not even the leaders. It's much easier to just stick with what we have been taught, with what our denomination/group believes. And most (wrongly) assume that they already hold the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.) Some of the things that Paul says in Rom. 9:6-29 are far from the balanced truth. (I didn't say that they aren't true; they represent a very important strand of God's revealed truth.) The apostle didn't intend for Rom. 9:6-29 to be read as if these verses represented the balanced truth or taught all that we need to know to understand God's plan of salvation. (Romans chapters 1-8 contain more important teaching regarding God's plan of salvation than Rom. 9:6-29, which deal mostly with the people of Israel.) Paul knew, for one thing, that what he had said already in Romans and what he would go on to say as he continued with chapter 9 and chapters 10, 11 would substantially qualify some of the things he said in 9:6-29.
It's very significant that there are places in Romans chapters 1-11 where the apostle Paul makes it quite clear that the Jews who didn't submit to the gospel were responsible for their unbelief; in other words, it wasn't just that they couldn't believe because they hadn't been called by God (and had been hardened by Him instead), as you might have thought based on what Paul says in Rom. 9:6-29. (See Rom. 2:8; 3:3; 9:32, 33; 10:2-4, 9-18, 21; 11:13, 14, and 20-23.) I am not suggesting that these verses just cited contradict what Paul says about God's hardening many of the Jews in Rom. 9:6-29, but I am saying that verses like these alert us to the need to seek for the balanced truth.
It's very important for us to know that it was common for some ancient Jewish writers, and, significantly, this includes the apostle Paul, to make statements about the sovereignty of God that seemed to rule out the free will of man (Rom. 9:6-29 is the most significant such passage in the New Testament), but as you keep on reading, you learn that these writers did believe that man has an important and necessary role to fulfill as free moral agents. (I had a footnote: This important fact is discussed in some detail under Rom. 8:30 in my paper on Romans 8:16-39. Also, see the quotations in this paper after we discuss Rom. 9:29 in this present paper, especially those from E. P. Sanders.) In our day, we don't expect such incomplete, one-sided (out-of-balance) statements (like those found in Rom. 9:6-29) without some sort of warning or qualification. Those ancient writers didn't attempt to satisfy our modern standards.
This one problem (the ancient Jewish practice of sometimes making out-of-balance statements regarding the sovereignty of God without immediately balancing them out or qualifying them) is probably sufficient to explain where much of the confusion has come from in the Christian church regarding God's sovereignty and man's free will. This is a major problem in the body of Christ in our day, as it has been throughout much of the history of the church. Directly related to this problem is the controversy regarding faith, whether faith is something that man does in response to God's initiative and His grace (which is one very common view and, I believe, the correct view), or the view that faith is something that God must give to His chosen ones (since fallen man is not able to respond to God with faith).
Some Christians, starting (at least for the most part) with the latter view of Augustine (AD 354-430), say that man is so fallen that he has no ability to have faith or to cooperate with God's grace and that, furthermore, God could not choose between people based on foreknowledge of differences between them because they are all total zeros when it comes to the things of God, so He must give faith to the ones that He elects (chooses) in an unconditional manner (the "U" of the Calvinistic TULIP stands for unconditional election); in other words, His election couldn't have anything to do with differences between them. He couldn't, they say, foreknow that some would be receptive to God's saving grace (through faith) because, after the fall, no one has the ability to have faith or to cooperate with God's saving grace. Is it reasonable to assume that essentially everyone had it wrong until Augustine finally got it right in his latter viewpoint?
Where did Augustine get this viewpoint, which, it seems clear to me, is rather far from the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches? I'm not an expert on Augustine, but I know that Rom. 9:6-29 substantially influenced his later viewpoint. (I had a footnote: In his earlier viewpoint Augustine held that man is able to believe in response to God's call to salvation. See the Introduction of my "A Paper on Faith.")
You often hear Calvinists mention the importance of Romans chapter 9. The very day I am writing this, I heard R. C. Sproul on the radio tell how this chapter greatly influenced him toward the Calvinistic viewpoint; it was the only passage he mentioned. I can see how sincere Christians, who love and respect the Bible, could study Rom. 9:6-29 (along with several other passages that put all the emphasis on God's role in our salvation) and think they have found THE TRUTH (the really important foundational truth that explains everything else) and then close their minds (but not intentionally) to what so many other verses so clearly say.
It's amazing how much capacity we have to make other verses fit once we are convinced that we already know the truth. (This is true for most Christians, not just for Calvinists.) Romans 9:6-29 are true all right, but these verses don't present the balanced truth. Even though this passage deals with a lofty topic (the sovereignty of God and His right to save the Israelites He chooses and to reject the rest of them), it isn't the one really important passage that we must lock on to and then make every other passage fit (one way or another). Quite the contrary; Rom. 9:6-29 deal, for the most part, with the rather specialized topic of God's dealings with Israel in the days of the new covenant.
As I mentioned, two of my primary concerns as I write this section on Rom. 9:6-29 are with the idea that God gives faith to the elect and the idea once saved, necessarily always saved. It's important to see that, even though Paul put all the emphasis on God's sovereignty in these verses, he didn't suggest that faith is something God gives to His elect, and he didn't say once saved, always saved. He did mention (in Rom. 9:24; cf. 9:11) that God calls some (not all) to salvation (I had a footnote: See under Rom. 9:24 on God's special call for His elect, but I also demonstrate there that the New Testament also speaks of God's sending His Son to die for all people and that He calls for all to repent and submit to Christ and the gospel.), but that is very different than saying God gives faith to the elect. And, although some infer once saved, always saved based on Paul's emphasis here (which makes it sound like our salvation depends only on God and that man doesn't really have any input), he doesn't mention any such idea in these verses.
((I had a footnote: As I demonstrated in my paper "Once Saved, Always Saved?," the idea once saved, necessarily always saved originated, at least for the most part, with Augustine's latter viewpoint. If it were true that our salvation from its beginning to its end is totally dependent on God and that we don't have any input regarding our salvation, then once saved, always saved would be a logical deduction.)) If we just take seriously what Paul says in the last few verses of Romans chapter 9 and in chapters 10, 11, we will see that he didn't believe that God gives saving faith to the elect or that born-again Christians will necessarily continue in faith to the end.
I'll quote two sentences from the Introduction to D. A. Carson's book, "Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension" (Baker, 1994, page 3) and make a few comments to wind up this present discussion. "Some writers [including Augustine in his latter viewpoint and many Calvinists] draw every possible conclusion out of all passages which stress or presuppose God's unconditioned sovereignty, and then construct a system to filter out and explain any other evidence. Methodically speaking, such an approach is no different from that of writers [including many Arminians] who focus on man, his responsibilities and choices, and conclude on the basis of their system that God's sovereignty is necessarily limited, perhaps self-limited, in some way." My primary interest here is with the first sentence I quoted from Carson, but with respect to the second sentence, I don't have any problem saying that God can limit His sovereignty to leave room for the free will of man to any extent He chooses, if such a limitation of His sovereignty is required.
It seems to me that Calvinists (following the latter viewpoint of Augustine) extrapolate from the strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God in Rom. 9:6-29 (and of similar verses) and arrive at what might seem to be reasonable deductions that necessarily follow from the sovereignty of God. The problem, however, is that I don't believe the apostle Paul would agree with their deductions. I don't believe he would agree with what most Calvinists mean by TOTAL DEPRAVITY, that man is so fallen that he has no capacity to cooperate with God's grace and that God must therefore give faith to His elect. (He would agree, of course, that no one could be saved apart from God's intervention and that we are totally dependent on His grace.) I don't believe he would agree with the deduction that God's election is UNCONDITIONAL, that it has nothing to do with differences between people and what is in their hearts. (He would agree that no man deserves to be chosen and that salvation is one hundred percent by grace.) Furthermore, I don't believe Paul would agree with the deductions of LIMITED ATONEMENT, IRRESISTIBLE GRACE, or PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS (once saved, necessarily always saved). The TULIP represents the so-called five points of Calvinism. We can learn a lot from Calvinists (I have), and many Christians need to balance out what they believe by leaving more room for the valid points that Calvinists make, but the Calvinistic TULIP, it seems clear to me, doesn't represent the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.
Instead of extrapolating from what the Bible says about God's sovereignty to the deductions reached by Augustine and the Calvinists, we must, I believe, realize that the Bible teaches the free will of man as clearly as it teaches the sovereignty of God and seek for a more balanced viewpoint. (I agree though that the sovereignty of God is more important for us to emphasize that the free will of man, and I agree with the Calvinistic emphasis that we must give God all the glory.) I don't believe we have enough information or insight in our present state to say exactly where the balance is, but we should be able to back off from viewpoints that clearly miss the balanced truth. There's no excuse for maintaining doctrines that are wrong (no sincere Christian would intentionally do that), even if sincere Christians have held them for hundreds of years.]]
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Romans chapter 9 with verse 10 in Part 3 of this paper.
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