Romans 9 is the "bread and butter" text of Calvinism. When all else fails, they are sure to default to this passage.
While this chapter does present some controversial language, there are at least two very important facts that must be kept in mind before turning these words into a blanket validation of Calvin's doctrine.
1. Romans 9 is only one very small part of a much greater context. Until it is discovered how this chapter harmonizes with the rest of Romans and all other scriptural authority, a proper conclusion cannot be drawn.
2. In order to draw that proper conclusion, Romans 9 must be interpreted through its specific context.
The specific theme of chapter 9 is best seen in verse 6, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel." (NIV) In other words, God's will is not thwarted just because some of the elect have rejected their election.
Paul uses three examples to illustrate this election. First there is Jacob and Esau, the privileged grandsons of Abraham. Second, there is Pharaoh, a man who was so advantaged that he was able to rule the world. Lastly, there is the potter who awards and withholds favor according to his will.
Q: Does election infer salvation or does election simply infer selection for privilege, favor, advantage?
A: All of Israel was elected (favored) by God, yet not all of Israel was saved. Notice the biblical record:
Isaiah 45:3-4 (NKJV)
"That you may know that I, the Lord, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel. For Jacob My servant's sake, And Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name."
(See also 1 Chronicles 16:13; Psalms 135:4; Isaiah 41:8)
Romans 11:7 (NIV)
"What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened…."
Summary: Some of the elect were hardened because they chose to seek the blessing through merit. As a result, God rejected part of the elect (lost their salvation) and selected the remaining faithful to become His elect (favored).
Conclusion: Election and salvation are complements but not necessarily synonyms. Election (favor) is given to help prompt response to the offer of salvation. Salvation is offered as a freewill choice, not a pre-assigned condition.
Romans 8:29 (NIV)
"For those God foreknew he also predestined…"
Just a few verses prior to the three illustrations given in Romans 9, this very important definition of predestination is provided.
In other words, the all powerful Creator, the One called "I Am" because He is always in the present tense, predestines according to what He foreknows. Time has no power over Him. He operates outside the bubble of time in which He has placed humanity. As the all-seeing God Who knows all the choices we will ever make before we ever make them, He is able to predestine without violating our freewill. His determinations are made because of what He knows we will do, not because He has pre-scripted our choices.
Consider the following inspired description of the Divine process of predestination. Notice the difference between God's favor (election) and God's deliverance (salvation).
Acts 17:26-27 (NIV)
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
In verse 26, God shows His favor (election) to "all nations" by marking out "appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands."
In verse 27, God shows the potential of His deliverance (salvation) that can result from favor (election) if we choose to "reach out for him and find him….”
Election and salvation are complements, but not necessarily synonyms. Election (favor) is given to help prompt response to the offer of salvation. Salvation is offered as a freewill choice, not a pre-assigned condition.
Interested in other lessons on the study of predestination? Go to:
Difficult Doctrines: "Predestination, Romans 8 & Ephesians 1"
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