In our study of Romans chapter nine, we look at the term "election" and the fact that God makes choices. In chapter 8, we saw how God has brought salvation to the Gentiles and sealed it with the Holy Spirit. There are those that use that fact to say that "the church has replaced Israel as God's people" but we will see how that way of thinking is incorrect. As we shall see, that "replacement theology" is not of God.
"I speak the truth in Christ - I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit -" NIV translation
At this time, Paul was being accused of being a liar and an enemy of the Jews (his people). He begins this section with the fact that he has a clear conscience before God as witnessed by the Holy Spirit. We, too, may be falsely accused of all kinds of things because of our faith in Jesus Christ but, like Paul, we can have a clear conscience before God if we listen to the Holy Spirit.
"I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel." NIV translation
While many of the Jews considered Paul to be an enemy of both them and God, he still considered them to be his brothers. He goes on to explain that he wished that he could be wrong and that they could be saved but he knew that Jesus Christ was the only way. This brought extreme sorrow to his heart as he watched his fellow Jews reject Jesus Christ knowing what their fate was without Him. The same type of thing is happening today as it is popular to say that all those who believe in God are going to heaven but it is not true. Satan and his demons believe in God and they are not going to heaven (see Revelation 20).
"Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." NIV translation
Paul gives us a list of things that set the nation of Israel apart from all other nations. The first is their adoption as a nation of God. (Israel is the only nation that is referred to as a "son of God"). The second identifying mark is the fact that they had the glory (presence) of God with them (They are the only nation that has ever had the visual physical presence of God with them). The third characteristic is the fact that they had the covenants (promises of God) through Abraham. The fourth thing is that they were the people that God gave His law to in the form of the Ten Commandments. The fifth mark is the fact that they were a chosen people to serve God in the temple. The sixth is the fact of the many promises that God has made to them as a nation. The seventh is the fathers (lineage of the faith) from Abraham to Isaac, to Jacob. The final mark is that Jesus Christ was a Jew in the line of King David. As we can see by this list, it is not possible for the nation of Israel to be eliminated or replaced because of their unique relationship with God.
"It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel." NIV translation
Paul reminds us that there are two different groups of people that are referred to as "Israel". The first group are the physical children of Abraham through his grandson Jacob (God changed his name to Israel). The second refers to Abraham's spiritual children through his faith (children of God). He also reminds them (and us) that, just because you are in the first group, does not mean that you are a part of the second group. It reminds us that our faith, like Abraham's, is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
"Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: 'At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.'" NIV translation
Paul reminds them of the promise that was given to Abraham in Genesis. Although Abraham had other natural born children, Isaac was the child that was promised from God. Ishmael was one of Abraham's children but he was not the child promised by God. He was an attempt by man (Abraham and Sarah) to fulfill the promise through their own efforts. This is the same type of struggle that men deal with today as we see the struggle between grace and works for salvation. It is so hard for some to simply trust in God and His promises instead of trying to work for their salvation.
"Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad - in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls - she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' Just as it is written: 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'" NIV translation
This passage describes "election" which is the fact that God makes decisions based on the fact that He is sovereign (in control). Man rebels against God and His choices as we will often trust the judgment of mere men but not the judgment of God. This is the same type of thing that the apostle Paul was talking about with lawsuits among believers (see 1 Corinthians 6). We see this election in the fact that, before her twins were born, Rebekah was told that Esau would serve Jacob which was the opposite of their tradition. We also see that God was just and right in this election when, after many years, Esau was a godless and prideful man. It is at this point that God said "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (see Malachi 1).
"What then shall we say? Is God unjust? For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." NIV translation
Is God right in His decisions (election)? Although we may not see it at the time, we must know that God knows the hearts of all men and so His decisions are just.
"For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: 'I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.' Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden." NIV translation
All of the apostles understood the concept of election as they had been chosen for no obvious reason to be apostles. They knew the story of how God had hardened the heart of Pharaoh and how He had shown mercy to them. The same principle applies to each and every one of us in that we can see no reason why God would have sent His Son to die for us. That, my friends, is grace and we just have to accept the fact that God gives this gift to those He chooses.
"One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?' But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? 'Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?"' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" NIV translation
There are those that will question why they are made a certain way or why they have the gifts that they have instead of others. For us to complain about how God made us is just like the piece of pottery complaining to the potter. We forget that we would be nothing without the Creator.
"What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath - prepared for destruction?" NIV translation
This verse speaks about God's timing and the fact that He will decide when judgment begins. Why doesn't God deal with the sin and evil that surrounds us? The simple fact of the matter is that God is patient and only He knows when all of His children have been gathered.
"What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory - even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?" NIV translation
Why does God allow the evil of the world to continue? We see the answer here and it is to allow us to see and appreciate what we have in Him. In our culture, today, we are a people of instant gratification where, if we want something, we get it immediately. But, with instant gratification comes a diminished sense of worth. Many times, waiting on something makes us appreciate it more.
"As he says in Hosea: 'I will call them "my people" who are not my people; and I will call her "my loved one" who is not my loved one,' and, 'It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," they will be called "sons of the living God."'" NIV translation
Even the Old Testament prophets spoke of the fact that God's grace would be opened to Gentiles (those who were not God's people).
"Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: 'Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.'" NIV translation
Paul quotes from Isaiah 10 and reminds them as well as us today that your family line does not gain you a position in heaven. It is only through a personally restored relationship with God that we are saved.
"It is just as Isaiah said previously: 'Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.'" NIV translation
Paul quotes Isaiah again (Isaiah 1:9) as he prophesied about the coming judgment of Israel and the remnant that would survive. The descendants also refers to Jesus Christ who was a Jew and the apostles who followed Him.
"What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the 'stumbling stone.'" NIV translation
There is in the heart of man the desire to labor for their own salvation. The "stumbling stone" that is referred to is the grace of God as demonstrated by Jesus Christ. That grace is a gift and so works have no part in salvation. Those who simply and humbly accepted the gift (the Gentiles) were made right with God. Those that continue to try to earn righteousness stumble and fall as they can never achieve it.
As it is written: 'See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'" NIV translation
Paul quotes from the prophet Isaiah speaking of the rejection of Jesus by the Jews. It says "I lay in Zion" reminding us that it was an act of God sending His Son as an atoning sacrifice and a gift not any work on our part. We all have the choice of accepting that gift (grace) or facing the judgment that is to come.