by Phil Enlow

We continue with an examination of the teachings of Paul on the subject of God’s Chosen People as particularly set forth in the first eleven chapters of Romans. In the course of giving us an orderly presentation of the truth about salvation he addressed many questions regarding Jews and Gentiles in God’s plan.

These questions included: What about the Jews? Where do they fit into God’s plan? What about Gentiles? What part does the law of Moses play? What about God’s promises to Abraham? How were they fulfilled? Were Jews “special” or “separate” in God’s economy? What about Israel’s unbelief and their rejection of Christ? How do you account for that and what does it mean?

Among many other things we learn in chapters one through eight that both Jews and Gentiles stand upon the exact same ground with regard to salvation. They have the same need. Their path to acceptance with God is precisely the same: faith. Jews have no special claim upon God simply because they are born into a nation that He has dealt with in history in a special way.

It is in chapters nine through eleven that Paul gets to the heart of the questions mentioned above. These questions were not a mere academic matter for Paul. He himself was a Jew. These were his people in a natural sense. As he thought about their unbelief he wrote, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” Romans 9:2. His feelings ran so deep that he felt as though he could go to hell in their place if it would change the situation.

He describes their heritage in verses 4-5: “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.”

Has God’s Word Failed?
In view of the fact that Paul is speaking about people who were, in fact, descended from those who had received such great promises the natural question arises: has God’s word failed? Did God just fail to keep His word? Is that why Israel rejected Christ? Did God change His mind?

Of course Paul’s answer is a decided, No! Verse 6 begins, “It is not as though God’s word had failed.” That is certainly not the problem! What then? Verse 6 continues, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” Read Paul’s words carefully. Even though one is genuinely descended from Israel, that does not necessarily make that one an “Israelite.” Verse 7 begins, “Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.”

Paul goes on to refer back to the fact that both Abraham and Isaac had children that were not part of God’s covenant people. In particular both Ishmael and Esau were specifically rejected. What is Paul’s point? We know about Ishmael and Esau. Surely no one was claiming that they were God’s people.

Not the Natural Children
Paul’s point is to draw a lesson from God’s choice of some descendants and not others and apply that lesson to the current question about unbelieving Israelites. In verse 8 he says, “In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” Simply put, God reckons children differently than men do.

Paul is clearly telling us that unbelieving Israelites of his day were no more God’s covenant people than were Ishmael or Esau. Think about that! They may have been descended from Abraham — and very religious — but that did not make them God’s people. God’s word didn’t fail in the least. It was just that most of those men considered Israelites were not really Israelites — not in God’s eyes.

This fact is the real key to the questions raised. Paul goes on in this passage to discuss many aspects of truth relating to them but the real issue is “Who is a Jew?” Does God have an unconditional covenant with people of mere natural descent? Of course Paul’s answer is, No. Who, then, is a Jew or an Israelite in God’s eyes?

Children of the Promise
Note again Paul’s words in the last part of verse 8: “...it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” “Children of the promise.” This phrase introduces the truth that those regarded as Abraham’s offspring are not natural children but supernatural. That is, they are the result of God’s particular supernatural intervention.

This is illustrated in Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was the natural product of a physical union. Isaac was a miracle child, the result of God’s specific promise. As verse 9 says, “For this was how the promise was stated: ‘At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.’” God said, “I will return.” That is divine action, divine initiative. The result of God’s action was simple: “Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was too old to have children naturally but God intervened and His promise resulted in Isaac.

Then the time came for Isaac, this son of promise, to himself produce children. Paul continues in verses 10-13, “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.’” Esau may have been the son of the son of promise yet he was hated of God. God has no grandsons of promise.

Paul applies this principle to ALL of Abraham’s natural offspring. God only recognized some as His own. Many children were produced in the normal course of things but only some were actually part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him. Genesis 12:3, Galatians 3:8.

In Paul’s words noted above we get to a key thought. He uses the word “purpose,” and not just any purpose but “God’s purpose.” He is the Creator. He is in charge. The events unfolding in the history of this planet are part of the outworking of His purpose — not ours. The end result will be the complete fulfillment of that purpose, to have a people with whom He can live eternally in a relationship based on perfect love.

But note how that purpose is to be carried out: it is carried out in election. Election means choice. And God is the “Chooser.” It should be obvious but God’s chosen people are His people because they are chosen!

In the minds of natural men this raises a question about God’s justice. And so Paul continues, “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 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.”

Theologians have long debated questions about God’s sovereignty and man’s will and responsibility and I do not propose to attempt to solve those questions here. We are not told why God chooses some and not others, only that He does. We are plainly told, however, that His choice does not depend upon any desire or effort originating in man but upon mercy. Mercy, by definition, is favor given to those who do not deserve it.

In verse 17 Paul uses the example of Pharaoh whom God raised up in order to display His power so that everyone on earth would hear about Him. Paul draws this conclusion in verse 18: “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”

Once again Paul addresses those who would question God’s justice. He does not attempt to explain why God chooses as He does but rather directs his answer to the issue of man’s right to question God. He says in verses 20 and 21, “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?”

Man in his sin-blinded pride wants to be in control of his destiny. He wants to believe that he can somehow qualify himself to be accepted by God. The Jews in particular thought like this. As we have pointed out, God had given them a law which He intended to drive them to Christ. They, however, took that law as a pathway to righteousness believing that by keeping it they could obligate God to accept them. They deeply resented the idea that their “righteousness” was unacceptable and that they were dependent on God showing them mercy.

The Divine Potter
Paul uses the example of a potter who has the right to decide what he will make with his clay. He can take part of it and make something beautiful and noble, but he can also take some of it to make pottery for common uses around a household. Why does Paul use this example? How does it fit in with the subject he is discussing?

He tells us in verses 22-24: “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? 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?”

This passage explains a lot! It describes two very different kinds of people, “objects of his wrath” and “objects of his mercy.” These peoples have two different destinies: “destruction” and “glory.” Each kind was “prepared” for these respective destinies. God Himself did the “choosing.” The “clay” thus represents all of Abraham’s descendants shaped by the “Potter” for these destinies.

Paul had been given a glimpse of God’s purpose in the nation of Israel. Though all were physically descended from Abraham they were, in fact, two very different kinds. The promises given to Abraham were being fulfilled for and through those described as “objects of his mercy.”

In the process of working out this purpose we see God bearing “with great patience the objects of his wrath.” Often we see in Israel’s history God showing His wrath in judgment because of their wicked unbelief, yet we also see that He remained faithful to His promises to the relatively small number among them who were the “objects of his mercy.”

The prophets of Israel often prophesied terrible judgments upon the people for their wickedness yet we also see many wonderful prophecies of hope. Isaiah 40 begins, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” The rest of Isaiah is filled with words that pointed to the coming of Christ and of the glory to follow. When God said, “my people,” do you really think He was referring to the nation as a whole? I don’t — and neither did Paul.

The vast majority of Israel, though they were Abraham’s physical children, were never his spiritual children. Abraham was a man who believed God. Most Israelites were wicked unbelievers. God did not see unbelievers as true descendants of a believer.

Note also in verses 22-24 that Paul identifies the objects of mercy as “even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.” First we see that the objects of mercy are called. This demonstrates again that God is in charge. He chooses. He calls. We do not call ourselves.

We also see the amazing fact that the objects of mercy are not confined to Jews but also include Gentiles! Unbelieving Jews could not conceive of such a thing. Not only were most Jews rejected — just like Ishmael and Esau — and destined for destruction, but Gentiles were to be reckoned among God’s people. Unthinkable!

Yet isn’t this exactly what Jesus had said in Luke 13:27-29? Jesus looked ahead to the judgment where many Israelites who had heard him teach and seen him heal would be rejected. They will hear, “‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Perfect harmony with the words of Paul.

Concerning the Gentiles Paul quotes from 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.”‘“

In these and many other scriptures it is plain that God’s chosen people are not limited to Jews — and further — not all Jews are God’s chosen people.

The Remnant
To confirm this Paul continues in verses 27 and 28 by quoting from Isaiah 10:22-23: “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.’” Here we see a reference to God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be like the sand by the seashore in number yet we also see that with respect to salvation only the remnant would be saved. A “remnant” is a small part of a whole.

Paul continues this confirmation by quoting from Isaiah 1:9: “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.’” What a picture these words give us of the true situation in Israel. Most were so corrupt that God would have destroyed them as He did Sodom and Gomorrah. Does God have an unconditional covenant with people described with terms like “Sodom” and “Gomorrah”?

Yet we see in this scripture a clear reference to God enduring the nation as a whole for the sake of what the King James Version translates as a “very small remnant.” And the only reason this remnant existed at all was because of the hand of God Almighty at work fulfilling His purpose. God was fulfilling His purpose in spite of Israel.

What is Paul’s conclusion at this point? Verses 30 and 31 say, “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 did Israel fail to attain righteousness? Verse 32 goes on to tell us that it was “Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.” Paul quotes from Isaiah again (8:14 and 28:16) in describing Christ as, “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.” Christ didn’t fulfill their religious expectations and so they rejected him.

Paul’s Desire
In Romans 10:1 Paul again expresses his desire towards Israelites: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” In verse 2 he testifies “that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.”

Verse 3 tells us what this ignorance caused them to do: “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” Their spiritual condition was such that even when the bright light of Christ shone upon them they clung to the idea that God would accept them as righteous through the keeping of law. God, in His great love, had sent His Son to provide true righteousness but they refused His gift of love.

They did not understand the change Christ had come to bring about. In verse 4 Paul says, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” The law was a temporary institution as we have said. It provided a conditional basis for God’s relationship with an earthly nation. But God’s plan involved the whole world, not just Jews. And righteousness in His sight always has been, and always will be, by faith.

In verses 5-11 Paul once again describes the two paths to righteousness. The one path is through keeping commandments (something no one can do) and the other is through believing. The believing Paul is talking about is from the heart and is expressed through confession with the mouth. The focus of that faith and confession is not a religion but a person, Jesus Christ, and all He represents. It is submission to His Lordship and trust in God’s provision of salvation and righteousness through Him.

No Difference
Verse 11 concludes by quoting from Isaiah 28:16, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” But who is “anyone”? This is clearly answered in verses 12 and 13: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

It should be obvious that when Paul uses words like “all” and “everyone” he means both Jews and Gentiles. I am amazed that in light of what Paul says here that so many continue to make a difference between Jews and Gentiles! Paul says there is no difference. Why do people insist that there is one?

Paul’s argument continues as he describes how faith comes about. God sends preachers to proclaim the good news and as people hear the message and receive it for what it is they believe and are saved.

Again Paul turns to unbelieving Israel and assures us that while they did hear they refused to believe. People from other nations heard and did believe. God made Himself known to them even though they had not sought Him.

Paul concludes chapter 10 by quoting from Isaiah 65:2, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” This describes the reaction of those earlier described as “objects of his wrath” and confirms their spiritual condition and destiny.

To Be Continued

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