The Refusal of Grace
In chapters 7-8 Paul answers questions on how God provides for saved people, even though they are sinners. In chapters 9-11 he responds to yet another question, but this time one dealing less with the gospel itself and more with the Jewish nation. Two key doctrines among Evangelicals come from this passage and so we will discuss it in light of these at the proper time.
The question that Paul answers in this section of his epistle is, "Why were the Jews not saved?" This question would be coming from the Gentiles rather than the Jews themselves.
1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "through Isaac your descendants will be named." 8That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
Paul frames the question in the following way, "If the Jews had all the advantages, why did they fail to obtain salvation? Did the Law fail them?" The Apostle then answers these questions by arguing that the Law (Word) did not fail. It brought salvation to whom salvation had been promised. The promise, however, was not based on culture and heredity but on God's Word. (Verses 6-8 establishes the basic premise for the entire argument.)
Paul gives several examples where he shows that God's Word is the basis for determining what happens, not man's will, his works nor his culture.
9For this is the word of promise: "At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son." 10And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12it was said to her, "The older will serve the younger." 13Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
Example #1 - Rebekah
She was told by God's Word that her older son would serve her younger son, and despite every human effort to change this, Esau, the older son, ended up serving Jacob, her younger son.
14What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
16So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth."
Example #2 - Moses
God clarified to the great Jewish leader, by His Word, why this Egyptian king had ascended to such power. So that by his defeat the greatness of God could be revealed to all the world throughout history.
19You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" 20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? 21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25As He says also in Hosea,"I will call those who were not My people, 'My people,' And her who was not beloved, 'beloved.'"
26"And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, 'you are not My people,' There they shall be called sons of the living God."
27Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, "Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly." 29And just as Isaiah foretold," Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah."
Example #3 - The Jewish people
By the Word of God, through the prophets, they were told that they would be called to receive God's promise. This example of how God's Word is sure and never fails its intended purpose acts as a bridge towards the final verses in which Paul makes a point about the Jews and why they failed to receive the promise.
God's Word, the Law, did not fail the Jews concerning salvation (he has just shown that the Word never failed anyone concerning anything). It was the Jews who failed the Word and by doing so missed the promise. "Why did this happen?" he then asks.
30What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33just as it is written, "Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed."
- The Jews tried to obtain righteousness through adherence to rule of law rather than by what the Word of God said which was righteousness through faith. God's Word never fails, if it says by faith, then it is going to be by faith.
- They rejected Jesus, the Savior, and in so doing lost the promise that He brought (forgiveness and eternal life).
The Word was able to deliver on its promises, but on its conditions, not man's conditions. The Jews failed because they did not accept the Lord in the way that the Word of God required them to do so.
In this next section Paul argues that God has always based the reception of His promises on faith. Some maintain that in the Old Testament God offered His blessings and promises to man based on a system of Law, and in the New Testament He does so based on a system of faith and grace. This is incorrect.
In this section, Paul responds to this issue by quoting Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets who taught that God's blessings and salvation have always been obtained based by faith and never by adherence to a system of law.
8But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart"—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed."
Many (Evangelicals) see these verses as the expression of faith one must make in order to be saved (to say, "I believe"). In other words, they go to these verses in order to find the answer to the question, "How shall I respond to the gospel?" And the answer they find here is to say, "I believe and accept Jesus as my Savior." However, the correct expression of our faith in response to the gospel is described in Romans 6:2-9 (buried with Him in baptism, etc.) where Paul is specifically talking about the gospel and how one expresses their faith in response to it, not Romans 10 where the Apostle is describing how God used the system of Law and the system of faith.
In Romans 10, Paul is quoting Old Testament prophets in order to demonstrate that salvation by a system of faith was always what the Word taught. This was not a new teaching that he was introducing. In the Old Testament, that faith was first expressed by circumcision. If you were not circumcised you were not part of the people of God (i.e. even Moses was threatened with death for not circumcising his son, Exodus 5:24-26). In the New Testament we are also saved by faith, but we express that faith through repentance and baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), and not by repeating an oral religious formula.
The point of this passage is that, as it has always been, the Word guarantees that all who call upon God in faith will be saved, and in Romans chapter 6 Paul explains that the proper expression of faith in response to the gospel is repentance and baptism.
16However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our report?" 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
18But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have;
"Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
And their words to the ends of the world."
19But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says,
"I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation,
By a nation without understanding will I anger you."
20And Isaiah is very bold and says, "I was found by those who did not seek Me,
I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me."
21But as for Israel He says, "All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people."
Here, Paul makes the point that in the Old Testament the people heard the Word first through the prophets, then they heard it through Christ and His Apostles. This Word always promised salvation by faith, but the people did not respond to it. Even this rejection was known and recorded by God in His Word. Paul says that God's Word did not cause this rejection, but it did predict and record it. This prediction ironically demonstrates how God's Word never fails and serves as one more example of this principle: the Word never fails, even in predicting the infidelity and failure of the Jews themselves to whom God's Word was first revealed and entrusted.
Another question arises. A "but" question, "But the Word says that God will preserve and save His people, Israel. Has God failed in this? Has the Word been incorrect?" Paul answers this line of questioning in chapter 11. He says, "No! Even among the Jews there are some who have received the promise by faith." He is referring to people who would have been familiar to his readers:
- Peter and the 12.
- 500 disciples mentioned in I Corinthians.
- 3000 at Pentecost.
- Jews who believed with Paul's missionary work.
In Romans 1, Paul explained that those who reject God are permitted to disengage from Him.
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper
- Romans 1:28
In the same way the prophets spoke of those among the Jews who would be let go because God does not keep a person or people against their will.
7What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8just as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day."
9And David says, "Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.
10"Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever."
God has not failed, He has saved His people. Those who have come to him by faith in Christ, these are His people and they are saved. Those who have rejected Jesus will, as the Word promises, be rejected and lost forever.
The next question is, "Does this mean that there is no hope for the Jews?"
11I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.
Paul responds by saying that God uses their (the Jews who disbelieve) failure, not to annihilate them, but to bring others to salvation and to motivate them to belief. When the Jews themselves respond, it glorifies God because the promise then goes full circle (Jew to Gentile to Jew). Paul also uses this section to warn the Gentiles, who accepted the gospel, not to use this as a reason to boast or despise the Jews.
20Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.
Verses 25-32 reveal a prophecy. The Jews, as a nation, will not all be destroyed and disappear. They will continue until the end of time:
- "Fullness of Gentiles" refers to the end of time when the last person will be saved and Jesus returns.
- The Jews will continue until the end, unlike other nations who come and go with time (e.g. Babylonians, Zoroastrians, etc.)
Paul continues his discussion about the end result of the Jewish people by stating that a part of them will never believe. This partial hardening is of the nation, not the individual. This is the result of their own disbelief from generation to generation until this very day. But in every generation some of them will believe, thus fulfilling God's Word about them, that He would save them.
25For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob."
27"This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins."
The term "all Israel" is not a reference to the cultural state of Israel but the spiritual Israel which is made up of those Jews who receive Christ (Romans 9:8).
Many use this passage to maintain a doctrine that says that all Jews will be saved eventually (contained in pre-millennial theory), but this violates every other Scripture about salvation and how it is obtained.
Paul says, God's Word has not failed the Jews:
- They were chosen and believed, and consequently, blessed as promised.
- They were first to receive the promise: Jesus was a Jew.
- Those who received it by faith were saved.
He also warns the Gentiles to be careful about their attitude towards the Jews since:
- It was Gentile unbelief that caused God to create the Jewish race through Abraham.
- It was Jewish unbelief that helped spread the gospel to the Gentiles.
- It is through Gentile belief that the gospel is now being spread to the Jews. Christ's Word is being spread by Gentiles, not Jews.
In this way both Jew and Gentile see their need for each other, and God uses both to save the other.
33Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Paul finishes with a doxology (sudden outpouring) of praise for the way God has woven all of these things together to accomplish His purpose.
The question was, "Why did Jews fail to obtain salvation/grace? Did the Law (Word) fail them?"
- Paul demonstrates that God's Word has never failed and He gives examples of this.
- He explains that the Jews failed to receive the promise because they tried to obtain it by works and not by faith.
- He shows that God's Word has always taught that faith is the basis by which man receives God's promises, both in the Old Testament and New Testament.
- He also shows that the Jews never responded properly to the Word and this fact was predicted by the Word.
- He explains that even though the Jews, in general, failed to receive the promise, God's Word did not fail because it said that:
- The Jews would continue until the end of time, and they will (although mostly in disbelief).
- He will save a remnant. In every generation some Jews believe in Jesus and are saved thus fulfilling God's Word.
For the Jewish people, the refusal of God's grace led to destruction, but in every age those who accept His grace through faith in Christ will receive salvation.