Romans 9:1-5: God’s Sovereignty and Paul’s Anguish
Before we begin our trek through this great chapter let’s review what this chapter is all about. The point at issue in Romans 9-11 is the salvation of Israel. Given the realities Paul has just outlined in Romans 8:31-39, he now bemoans in chapter 9 the reality that the Gentiles are receiving these promises of salvation while Israel is not. For Paul this thrusts God’s word, his promises, his covenant into question – Does God’s word not stand? Is God not faithful to his word? Can God be trusted regarding the promise of salvation? Romans 9:1-5 shows us Paul’s conundrum in very real and personal terms. For Paul this issue is as intensely personal as it is deeply theological.
These verses are a personal prologue to the problem as we outlined it above. It shows us Paul’s heart and it reveals to us the deep personal anguish Paul has for his own people and the plight they find themselves in. He may be a calculated and logical theologian, but he is also filled with deep emotion and feeling.
vv. 1-2 – The great sorrow of Paul
These verses are a pretty simple and straightforward confession of the truthfulness of Paul’s desires for Israel’s salvation. Paul is not a weak man – he has gone through beatings, shipwreck, hunger, mockery and slander (2 Corinthians 6:4-10) – yet his anguish is real and it is astonishing (Keller). It is also deeply spiritual in nature – he is speaking the truth in Christ; he is not lying; his conscience is confirmed by the Holy Spirit. This tri-fold affirmation is intended to demonstrate that what he is about to speak is not of his own making, but arises from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This teaching is not a personal parenthesis in Romans, but a key piece of theological teaching inspired by the Holy Spirit and given for our benefit.
Often Reformed theology is falsely stereotyped in the following way – “If people are elect or predestined then what is the point of evangelism? What is the point of sharing the gospel if people are already chosen by God? He’s just gonna save them anyway!” This passage and MANY others show how foolish and misguided this statement is. There are two ways we see this here. First, Paul reveals his heart for the lost very openly and honestly. He is truly anguished by the lostness of his people. God’s is sovereign in salvation, but Paul is still burdened for the lost. Second, Paul, as we will see, is a firm believer in monergistic salvation and the doctrine of election, because it’s true, yet he is absolutely committed to evangelism as the means to that salvation. In fact, God’s sovereignty in salvation is the exact reality that gives Paul confidence that Israel will be saved.
v. 3 – Paul’s desire for the salvation of Israel
The connecting word “for” at the start of v. 3 indicates this sentence will in some sense be an explanation of, or give the reason for, his anguish expressed in the previous verses. It is clear from this verse that Israel is “truly accursed and cut off from Christ” and it is this reality which has bred Paul’s personal and passionate words in vv. 1-2. Paul knows Christ and he understands all of the benefits of this salvation; he also knows the consequences of rejecting God’s offer of salvation. (Keller) Given these realities, his confessed desire for his people is truly astonishing.
What incredible love that drives Paul! Do we have the same heart for the lost? Do we have that same passionate desire for the lost? Do we agonize over the lost the way Paul does? Would we be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the lost? If not, why not?
vv. 4-5 – The privilege of being God’s people
But the situation that Paul just described should not be. Israel is no ordinary people. They are God’s special people, privileged in amazing ways. To them “belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises.” As well as the “patriarchs” and ultimately, Jesus Christ.
The confession of the sovereignty of God and the statement of worship at the end of v. 5 demonstrates that though Paul is anguished over Israel’s current state, he remains confident in the sovereignty of God. So rather than being something that causes Paul angst, the sovereignty of God brings Paul hope and encouragement.
The list of Israel’s privileges is long and they are real and yet Israel is not saved, they are “accursed and cut of from Christ”. The same may be true for us. We may be faithful attenders of a gospel-preaching church, do all of the things that are ‘expected’ of a member but if we (or our children) have not embraced Jesus Christ by faith, then we have not received salvation. All of the privileges associated with being a part of the community of faith can never be presumed upon for real saving faith in Christ. We should never presume that just because we have the privilege of being a part of a congregation that does church ‘right’ that we are thereby guaranteed salvation. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, and is not given to us on account of our heritage, family name, or participation in a group, no matter how privileged these things may seem to us to be.
The question, as we ready ourselves for vv. 6-13, is simple – how can one reconcile Israel’s privileges with her hardening (11:25)? (Stott) It is to this topic that Paul turns in the rest of the chapter.
Soli Deo Gloria