Election – Yup, We’re Going to Talk About Election
1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—
2that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.
5To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,
7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
9For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”
10And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,
11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—
12she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”
13As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!
15For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
18So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”
21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—
24even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
25As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
27And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,
28for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”
29And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”
It’s time for a moment of honesty here. I have not been looking forward to writing this post. I knew the topic of election was on tap for today and I just don’t want to have to write about it. And herein lay the problem with a verse by verse study of any book of the Bible. You’re going to run into stuff you just don’t understand. If I were simply reading it for myself I could just move on, admitting I don’t have any great answers here. That’s really a cop out and a cheat. Maybe it’s time to think a bit more deeply about this topic rather than glossing over it.
Probably the best course of action is to take this bit by bit, rather slowly. I have pulled four passages out of the whole that hopefully make the concept of election clear. Let’s start with verse 8. “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”
Paul has made a case in the verses leading up to chapter 9 that just because you are born Jewish you are not automatically a member of His Kingdom (although there are those who would teach this idea – Romans clearly denies that theology.) Even those of us who are not ethnically Jewish can have a place in God’s Kingdom because it is gained by God’s will, through the work of Jesus Christ, not by our birth or effort. He then goes on to discuss the story of Jacob and Esau. These twins, born to Isaac and Rebekah, point out clearly that God chooses who He wants to choose. Where culturally Esau would have been the choice as the next leader of God’s people, he was not God’s choice. And thus Jacob (Israel) becomes the next in line as leader and progenitor of the Savior. (The book of Genesis and Hebrews both point out that in his heart, Esau hated his birthright and the Lord.) Romans 9:11 points out the difference between Jacob and Esau in God’s eyes; “…though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.” It is clear in this verse, once again, that this is all God’s doing – not ours.
Paul then takes up the story of Moses and Pharaoh when it came time for God’s people to escape slavery to the Egyptians. Paul declares the Pharaoh to be God’s tool in this whole grand scheme of freeing His people. If you go back to the book of Exodus and read the story you will find that in the first 4 plagues that God sends on Egypt, (which are used to get Pharaoh’s attention and draw him to the Lord) the Pharaoh is said to have “hardened his heart.” For the rest of the plagues, God helps Pharaoh with that heart hardening effort. He simply turns Pharaoh over to what he wanted. Once again we see God in control, exercising His mercy where it pleases Him. “For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”
Finally, Paul speaks rather harshly to anyone who says, “But God, that’s not fair.” (Insert whinny voice here.) You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will? But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” While Paul doesn’t bring it up, I cannot help but hear the words of God to Job when Job demands an answer regarding the reason for his suffering. After listening to Job complain and lament for 37 chapters, God spends 3 chapters asking Job where he might have been while God created the heavens and the earth. The ultimate answer is that God is God and Job is not.
And that is where the text leaves us here in Romans as well. God is God and we are not. God has mercy where He chooses to have mercy. He saves who He saves. To say anything more is to add to the text and that is never a good idea. As I read back over this I am aware of the fact that I have not provided anything substantive to the conversation. I will confess my lack of understanding here and continue to seek God’s face for clarification.