Romans (Part 12) - Chapter 9: God's Sovereign Election
Election, the choosing by God of those to whom redemption will be applied, occurred before the world began. This election involves the “middle knowledge” of God (knowledge of potentiality, as opposed to necessary knowledge—truths not dependent on God’s will—and free knowledge—truths dependent on God’s will). God created for His glory based on establishing relationship with His creatures. He did not just create Adam and Eve for this relationship. He created all people—knowing all of us in this potential (middle knowledge) of perfect relationship (without the fall). Each person that ever would exist was known by God before creation in each person’s own multifaceted, distinct character, personality, intellect, etc. The fall affected all people in the same way in its total corruption of awareness of spiritual good, but it affected all people differently in its impact on our distinct character, personality, intellect, etc. God’s revelation, therefore, providing spiritual awareness of righteousness in Romans 1 and spiritual awareness beyond that in dealing with each human being, brings about different responses based on those distinctions of each individual. God’s election, then, is not based either on a haphazard random choosing (strict Calvinism) nor merely on God’s foreknowledge concerning whether a person, left to his/her own free will, will choose God (Arminianism), but rather on the combination of (1) the distinctions with which God created a person in that counterfactual world of potentiality, (2) the destructive influences of sin’s curse on those individual distinctions, and (3) the revelatory work of God in the individual. Therefore, God’s foreknowledge of the faith produced by God’s work of creation and God’s grace in revealing spiritual righteousness becomes the basis for His election. This, then, marries the principles of salvation being all of God, yet requiring the responsibility of mankind to have faith. This is faith electionism.
With this understanding of election, we approach Romans 9 to see whether the detailed discussion of this chapter concerning sovereignty and election argues against this understanding or supports it. Romans 9 begins with Paul’s deep concern for his fellow kinsmen—national Israel. He wishes that they could be saved. But he also says that to them belonged the adoption, glory, covenants, and promises (among other things). These statements at first glance seem somewhat contradictory. How can the nation hold the promises of the covenant and yet Paul be concerned that they not be accursed? Our understanding of the covenants and their application provides the answer. National Israel did fail in their covenant relationship (Jeremiah 31:32). But Paul quickly declares in Romans 9:6 that it was not the word of God that failed, that is, the covenant did not dissolve and God does not back out of the promises—even though national Israel did not, is not, and will not receive them. God’s covenant holds because God fulfilled the obligations through Christ and has ordained (according to His sovereign choice) that those of faith in Christ would be adopted as children, inheriting the covenant blessings given to Christ as covenant-fulfiller.
Romans 9, then, is this very discussion about God’s sovereign right to give the covenant blessings earned by Christ to whomever He will. Paul begins his defense of this concept by showing that even from the beginning—from Abraham—it has always been a determined choice by God, not of physical heritage or works, but by God’s own sovereign will that blessing was given. Isaac was chosen instead of Ishmael although both were Abraham’s physical seed. Jacob was chosen instead of Esau although, again, both were in the physical line. And why did God choose Jacob?—not for any meritorious work. He chose Jacob before Jacob was born—before the foundation of the world.
This fits with our doctrine of election. God’s choice was first of all not haphazardly random. God chose based on His oft-emphasized focus on faith. God, in His sovereign foreknowledge, knew that He had created Jacob in such a way (through his distinctions of character, personality, intellect, etc.) that although fallen, God, through His interaction of grace in revelation, could produce in Jacob necessary faith for relationship. So God elected Jacob; God loved Jacob, and God hated Esau, who because of the skewed distinctions in his corrupt state would rebel against God even in the face of God’s revelatory grace.
Notice that Paul’s quote from Malachi about God’s love of Jacob and hatred for Esau was originally given in regard to the nations that came from these two. That also fits with our understanding of election in that those distinctions that God created in Jacob are distinctions passed genetically to his heritage, allowing God’s revelatory grace to effect faith in many of Jacob’s offspring.
Paul’s argument continues as he insists that God is just in His choice by faith and not by works for the mere fact that God can choose to apply His love to whomever He wishes. The faithless, like Esau and Pharoah, may be hardened (i.e., God draws away just as in Romans 1 to “give them over” to depravity in their corrupted nature).
To the hypothesized question, “Why does he still find fault?” Paul answers astutely according to God’s ultimate prioritized will that was responsible for creation in the first place. The rejected one cannot turn to God and say “Why have you made me like this?” (9:20). God made each person with each person’s individual distinctions for a good, right, and beautiful relationship with Him. Sin corrupted that. And sin’s corruptions in these people, in altering from God’s good, right, and beautiful purpose, are what caused the insurmountable rebellion that will reject God’s grace at every advance. These, then, are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (9:22). Those of faith, God’s elect, are prepared for glory.
These elect, Paul goes on to say in verses 24 through 26, made of Jews and Gentiles, are the very ones who fulfill Hosea’s prophecy of those who would be called the children of God. God made clear through Hosea that He would have “No Mercy” on Israel. Of them God insisted “You are not My People.” God was not two-faced about Israel, at one time condemning and then accepting them. This passage Paul is using to show God’s sovereignty in applying the covenant fulfillment of Christ to whomever He sovereignly chooses. And He chose those of faith—as Paul says, “even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles.”