Why do some people get saved whenever others don’t? How is that one person can respond to the preaching of the gospel in chapel, church, or the classroom with heartfelt repentance and faith, while another can hear the same message and respond with no fear of God by laughing, growing angry, or even sleeping? Even more incredibly, how can two siblings raised in the same godly Christian home go completely opposite directions as young adults, with one choosing to embrace their parents’ faith and the other hardening their heart against it? No one should be so bold as to say that they completely understand the mysteries of salvation. Jesus Himself said that the working of Holy Spirit in giving spiritual life to dead souls is like the wind: We cannot see it; we can only see its effects (John 3:5-8). But in today’s passage in Romans 9, Paul begins to give us perhaps the clearest answer in all of Scripture for this very difficult question. In essence, Paul tells us that finding the answer begins by asking the right question. The real question we should ask is not, “Why doesn’t God save everyone?”, but instead, considering humanity’s incredible sinfulness and rebellion, “Why is God gracious enough to save anyone at all?”
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul is asking in Romans chapters 9-11 how it can be that a few of the Jews like himself have embraced Christ as Savior and Lord, while most have not. Aren’t the Israelites the people God’s chose to first receive His promised salvation? The answer? Yes and no. “They are not all Israel who are Israel,” Paul writes (Romans 9:6). God’s promise of salvation by faith in Christ has not failed because God did not promise to save the entire physical of nation of Israel. Instead, He has only promised to save a remnant from within the nation, only those who are the faith descendants of Abraham and Isaac, not everyone who is their physical “seed” by natural birth (Romans 9:8). This principal of some physical Israelites having faith while others do not goes all the way back to the nation’s original families described in the book of Genesis. Abraham’s son Isaac received the promise of earthly and eternal salvation and blessing, while his first son Ishmael did not (Romans 9:7, 9). Similarly, Isaac and Rebecca’s son Jacob received God’s promises of grace while his brother Esau did not (Romans 9:10, 12-13). Paul’s point here is simply that salvation was not guaranteed to anyone born into the physical nation of Israel, but only to those who received God’s grace by faith in Jesus Christ.
So how does this passage apply to us today? Does Romans 9 help us with our opening question about why some people raised in Christian communities do not choose to follow Christ? The answer, which begins to be seen in verses 12-13, is “Yes.” The next section, Romans 9:14-23, will dig much deeper into this topic. But for now, verse 13 tell us simply that God set His love and grace upon Jacob, but He did not so for Esau. “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,” God says through Paul. And God loved Jacob unto salvation because He wanted to, not because Jacob was a better man than Esau. In fact, Jacob was a liar, a deceiver, and a manipulator. He tricked his brother into selling away his birthright as the firstborn of the two twins, and then he tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing by dressing up as Esau. When Jacob later lived for years with his worldly uncle Laban, he continued his wheeling and dealing ways with his uncle’s flocks of animals, even after he had gotten a taste of his own medicine by being tricked into marrying Leah as well as his beloved Rachel. Even in his interactions with God Jacob tried to bargain. He told God after his vision of the ladder to heaven that he would follow God “if” God kept his promises. Finally, he wrestled or strived against God in all night battle before demanding that God bless him (Genesis 32). No, the truth is that God’s decision to love and save Jacob and not Esau was pure grace that Jacob did not deserve. In the same way, if you are a Christian, it is because God chose to soften your heart to repent of your sin and believe in Jesus. Not because you deserved it, but because He loves you. Think about it and more on that next time.
The Text (Romans 9:6-13)
6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” 8 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. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”
10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (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), 12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
Questions to Think About
- Do you have any friends and family that you are burdened to see God save? Do you pray for them? What exactly do you pray?
- When you think about your own salvation, did it ever feel like God was chasing you before you finally accepted Him? How did he work in the circumstances of your life to bring you to a saving faith in His Son?
- Do you have any objections to what Paul is saying in today’s passage? Does anything in these verses upset you? If so, please don’t give up and walk away from Romans or this blog! Hang in there and give God’s Word a chance to shape your thinking as we keep reading through Romans together. Wrestling with the deep truths of God will strengthen your faith in the end even when we do not fully understand everything as we would like.