Line By Line Through Romans 9 | Part One

May 13, 2015

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas Baptist University

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website and is used by permission.
Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Dallas Baptist University, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
Follow @soteriology101 on Twitter HERE.
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The Apostle’s focus shifts to begin the 9th Chapter.

  • In the previous eight chapters, Paul made man’s need and God’s gracious provision through Christ abundantly clear.
  • Paul ends chapter 8 on such a high note in reflection of the endless, inseparable love God has for those who are in an abiding, loving relationship with Him (8:9,28). Why does the tone shift so dramatically to the topic of Paul’s great sorrow and continual grief in chapter 9?

Paul’s Christ-like, self-sacrificial plea for hardened Israel.

  • I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit:” This is not merely an emotional appeal from the heart of a Jew who desires to see more of his own kind saved. Instead, it is a witness of the Spirit Himself inspiring the apostle’s deep conviction and desire for all lost souls.
  • “that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart:”

Paul shifts from celebrating the relationship of the believer, those grafted in by faith, to reflecting on the overwhelming number of those cut off for their unbelief from his own country of Israel, a topic that continues into the following chapters (11:20). Here, the apostle deals with his feelings about the current condition of Israel, who has rejected their own Messiah. How does that reflect on God’s promise made to Israel (Gen. 12:3)? Has God failed to keep that promise? If God will not keep His promise to Israel, then how can we know He will keep His promise to us?

  • “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,”

This is a self-sacrificial, Christ-like love for those who have become his enemies. Paul again expresses this desire for unbelieving Israel in 10:1, which is repeated with a quote from God’s own lips in 10:21. This likewise reflects the same heart of Moses referenced by the apostle in 9:15: “Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin; but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written” (Exodus 32:31-32). Most importantly, Paul reflects the very desire of Jesus, who was willing to be accursed for his enemies that they might be saved (Gal. 3:13).


  • Given that any nationality may be saved through faith and many from Israel do not believe, then what benefit is there in being a Jew? “…who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”

As first mentioned in 3:1-2, the apostle here reminds the reader the benefit or blessing of being a natural descendent of Israel. The very Word of God was entrusted to Israel (Rom. 3:2), which included the MESSIAH and His redemptive MESSAGE.

  • The special revelation of God, which all served to testify and prepare the way for the Messiah and His gospel, came by way of this elect nation.
  • Israel’s unfaithfulness and their being cut off for unbelief does not negate this blessing, or the promise that first brought that blessing to this elect nation of God (Gen. 12:3; Rom. 3:3-4).


  • Since the very people entrusted to bring the Word are standing in opposition to it, then has His Word failed? “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect.”

The ones entrusted with the Word are opposing the Word, so then, has the Word failed? God’s word has not failed despite how things may appear from our human perspective. The fulfillment of God’s Word, as promised to Abraham, is not dependent upon the faithfulness of Israelites (Rom. 3:3-4).

  •  “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel

Not every descendant of Israel is chosen to carry out the purpose for which God elected Israel. Not every descendant of Israel is blessed to be in the lineage of the Messiah or to be an inspired messenger of God’s word. Not every descendant of Israel is guaranteed salvation on the basis of being of Israel (vs. 7). So, the many descendants of Israel you are seeing stand in opposition to the Word, were not chosen by God to carry the Word, thus it cannot be concluded that God’s Word has failed.

“nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.”

Abraham’s two sons, by two different mothers, is used allegorically by Paul to represent the two covenants of Law and Faith, as Paul’s own self-commentary explains in Gal. 4:21-25: “Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” (Gal. 4:21-25, NASB, emphasis added).

This is the apostle’s way of using a history lesson to remind his audience that being a seed of Abraham does not mean one is guaranteed the blessings listed in verses 4 and 5, which were specific to the seed of Isaac. Nor does it guarantee the eternal blessing of being a child of God, which comes by faith in God’s promise (symbolized by Isaac, whose birth came by grace) to whosoever believes, not by works of the law (symbolized by Ishmael, whose birth came by works).


  • “For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.’”

This is the way in which the word of promise given to Abraham (Gen. 12:3) is to be fulfilled. Isaac will be the lineage through whom the Word would come: The Messiah and His message come through Isaac’s seed, not Ishmael’s. Sarah is a free woman and represents the covenant of faith, as opposed to the covenant of law represented by the slave woman (Gal. 4:21-25).

  • “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”

The apostle is taking this one step further by not only seeking to prove his claims about the descendants of Abraham are true, but to even more specifically show that all the descents of Isaac are not:

  1.      Guaranteed salvation on the basis they are a descendant.
  2.      Chosen for the noble purpose of bringing the Word to the rest of the world.

God’s choice of Jacob, the lesser of the two brothers in age and physical prowess, was for the noble purpose of bringing the Word to the rest of the world. God’s choice to fulfill His promise is not based upon the impressiveness of the nation (Deut. 7:7) or the morality of its representative head (Gen. 25:23). The fulfillment of God’s Word has never relied upon the faithfulness or morality of the individuals chosen to carry it out (Rom. 3:3-4). Neither brother would be justified apart from grace through faith in God, even though they are direct descendants of both Abraham and Isaac. Salvation is by the covenant of grace through faith in the call of God, not the covenant of law through works.

The expressed hatred toward Esau’s household reflected in the quote from Malachi reveals:

  1. Even direct descendants of Isaac himself (Edom) are not chosen for the noble purposes that God elected Israel, thus one should not assume that the opposition of direct descendants to God’s Word is an indication of its failure.
  2. Even direct descendants of Isaac himself (Edom) are not guaranteed salvation, especially if they remain in opposition to those who are chosen to bring the Word of God. As conditioned upon the original promise… “I will curse those who curse you” (Gen. 12:3).

Many examples in scripture are given to show the concept of “hate” referring to simply rejecting (without disdain) one over another for a noble task (Genesis 29:31, 33; Deuteronomy 21:15; Matthew 6:24; Luke 14:26; John 12:25). Esau was also blessed and protected by God (Deut. 23:7, Gen. 33:8-16, Gen. 36), so the “hatred” was either (1) conditioned upon the Edomites attack upon Israel and/or (2) in reference to God’s selection of Jacob and his lineage for the noble purpose over Esau and his lineage.


  • Does God’s choosing to bless one descendant over another descendant make God unrighteous? What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!

The descendants of Abraham in Paul’s day had two false perceptions:

Every descendant deserves the benefit of bringing God’s Word. However, the truth is that God has only selected a remnant through whom to bring His Word. Every descendant deserves eternal life on the basis of their being of Israel. However, no one is saved based on nationality but only upon grace through faith. Those nations, and the individuals therein, who oppose God’s Word remain under the curse (hatred), as illustrated by Edom (direct descendants of Isaac himself). There is no unrighteousness with God for choosing some descendants for a noble cause and not others, nor is it unjust to condemn a descendant of Abraham who stands in opposition to the Word of God.

  • For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”

Paul’s reference to Moses’ encounter with God in Exodus 32-33 gives a perfect historical example of when God was merciful to Israel when they deserved to be destroyed for their unfaithfulness (worshipping a golden calf). This example also parallels Moses’ self-sacrificial Christ-like love for Israel as reflected by Paul in the opening verses of this chapter… “forgive their sin—and if not blot me out…” (Ex. 32:31-32). Certainly God may choose to save whosoever He is pleased to save (scripture teaches He chooses to save those who humble themselves and repent in faith – 1 Pt. 5:5-6), but this passage is in reference to God showing mercy to unfaithful Israel so as to fulfill His original promise through them even though they deserve condemnation.

  • So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

“It” refers to the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring His Word despite Israel’s unfaithfulness (Rom. 3:3-4). The promise depends on our merciful God, not on the faithfulness (“willing and running”) of Abraham or his descendants. Abraham “willed and ran” in the flesh to produce a son through Hagar (who Paul used symbolically to represent the covenant of law and works, Gal. 4:24). God, by his mercy, provided Isaac through the free woman, Sarah (who Paul used symbolically to represent the covenant of grace by faith in the call of God, Gal. 4:21-26).


Part Two Coming Soon!


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Rick Mang

“… (scripture teaches He chooses to save those who humble themselves and repent in faith – 1 Pt. 5:5-6), …”

Scripture also teaches that faith is a gift of God; For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, Philippians 1.29. I don’t see anything in 1 Pe. 5.5-6 about God’s choosing, saving, repentance or faith. I do see it exhorting to be in subjection to elders.


Andrew Barker

Rick Mang: I’ve seen this verse Phil 1:29 before, being used to support the idea that faith is a gift. This is nothing short of wringing a verse’s neck to get what you want out of it. Not all Christians experience the suffering which the Philipians were going through and Paul was encouraging them to see it as an honour just as he did.

    Rick Mang


    “This is nothing short of wringing a verse’s neck to get what you want out of it.”

    I assume by this clever turn of the phrase that you are implying I am engaging in eisegesis. But if you look at the context, notice that suffering is given to them as a gift from God, thus giving them assurance that they truly belong to God. And this is equated with something that they are already familiar with – the gift of faith that they have from God. In so doing, Paul assures them that their suffering is as surely from God as their faith is from Him. Where is the neck wringing in that? This dovetails perfectly with Heb. 12.2 that tells us that Jesus is the originator of our faith, and He is the one who will complete it when we are received by Him into glory. These are just two of a number of verses that tells us that we have God Himself to thank for our faith.


      Andrew Barker

      Rick Mang: Well I agree with regarding context in that Paul’s emphasis is on suffering for Christ’s sake, but it is not on the believing in him. If you read the verse and omit the phrase “not only believe in him but also” Paul’s meaning is still quite clear. So it would read: ‘For it has been granted to you to suffer for his sake’. A number of commentaries put this as the principle meaning. But if you omit the final part of the verse, then the whole thing falls apart: ‘For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should believe’ makes no sense. James also has a similar take on this when he tells his readers to “consider it all joy” when they encounter trials.

      Your assumption that the suffering comes from God is also unsubstantiated. At least there’s nothing in the passage which would indicate that Paul says this is the case. This is something which you are foisting onto the text. Your use of the word ‘author’ in Hebrews is also very questionable. It means founder or leader. It says nothing about God gifting the faith to us. As for “the one who will complete it”, the sense here is that Jesus is the highest example of faith and there’s no hint that ‘he’ is going to do it for us!

      I agree that the verse in 1 Peter doesn’t mention repentance and faith. It may be that Leighton had other passages in mind when he wrote this and hence included something which wasn’t actually there. But there’s no denying repentance and faith are part and parcel of being truly ‘humble’, so I wouldn’t make a big issue of it :)


        “Your assumption that the suffering comes from God is also unsubstantiated. At least there’s nothing in the passage which would indicate that Paul says this is the case.”

        You still haven’t explained how this can be given the language of the text:
        -What exactly is being granted, if not the opportunity to suffer for His sake?
        -Who is doing the granting, if not God?

          Andrew Barker

          Andy: I think most people would assume that making somebody suffer wasn’t quite the same as doing them a favour? Yet, the phrase it has been granted has the meaning of “to do something pleasant or agreeable (to one), to do a favor to, gratify”. So you either accept that the verse is speaking nonsense or, there is some deeper meaning involved.

          I would link this with the verse in James 1 which says “consider it all joy” in reference to experiencing various trials. Again, it’s not the trials which make the experience joyful, but the knowledge that it’s because of an association with Christ. If we suffer because we are Christians it’s because the world is reacting against God and we’re getting caught in the crossfire. It’s not because God has decided to place a few trials in our way to see how we’re doing. Unless of course you do believe that?!! Maybe you would like to reword the Lord’s prayer …. “and deliver us from evil, (temptation or the time of trial), which you Lord put in our way, even though you said expressly elsewhere that you weren’t going to do this” …?

          By the way, if you want to say that God does bring suffering etc. directly and intentionally into the life of the believer, just say so. I’ll respect your position even though I will disagree. I’m not going into protracted discussion on this either. I’m happy to see what other points of view there are and that’s fine by me.:)

            Scott Shaver

            I agree Andrew and tend not to see “father of lights” as author of evil while nothing escapes His attention.

            Am late to this discussion (probably should not enter since you’ve already declined protracted involvement :)….but what about the idea of God’s gift being the salvation procured at Calvary and the “exercise” of faith serving as operational mechanic in apprehension of the promise?

            Like you, not interested in prolonged proof-text for or against election/free will.

              Andrew Barker

              Scott: Yes, very much in agreement. The gift, according to Eph 2 is salvation through faith. That’s the perfect balance between God’s provision and man’s responsibility. There is provision for all and whoever responds find that God’s grace is sufficient. I need say no more!


          It is a graciously granted privilege that God allows a person to believe in Christ and to suffer for Him. See, for example, the free on-line commentary by Barnes for a more detailed explanation.

      Jim P

      I’d like to contribute here. First is faith a gift? I’m not sure ‘gift’ is the most appropriate word to use for the when faith takes place in a person’s life. I do believe that scripture supports that event which is called ‘born again’ as something God is involved in. Regardless, I do agree that Paul is communicating to the believe’s in Phillipi that there opportunity to suffer on behalf of Christ, is something God has ‘given’ them as an opportunity to accomplish on His behalf. This is how Paul felt about his suffering, how the disciples in Acts 5:41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name, and respectfully how our Lord saw it at His Crucifixion.

      Thank you

Rick Mang

Andrew Barker:

Thank you for your kind consideration of my comments, and for your input into this very important issue. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated. May God bless you and grace you in your walk of faith.

Thank you,

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