Though believers are called the “elect” of God in the New Testament, the concept of election is larger than individual salvation. In Romans 9 through 11, Paul affirms that Israel remains elect—even though he is in anguish over Israel’s condition. Understanding what it means that Israel is, and remains, elect helps us understand Paul’s view of election.
Paul is describes a sequence of events in Romans 9 that involves God’s election, the response of people born into the covenant to election, and the tragedy that comes when God’s people are offended by the one He elects. Paul’s use of Israel’s history reveals how divisive election can be and how serious an issue it is that we understand election and respond to it biblically.
The stories of Esau, Jacob, Moses, and Pharaoh that Paul recounts in Romans 9 are used to build the point he began in the chapter with Isaac and Ishmael. Paul uses a key phrase “the purpose of election” this is critical to understanding his entire flow of thought in this passage. We have to understand that phrase.
In Romans 9, Paul begins explaining the purpose of election through the story of Isaac and Ishmael. It’s important to recognize that, for Paul, the response of the people to God’s election is as important as the fact of election. If we do not see that, we will miss Paul’s primary point in the rest of the passage.
In Romans 9, Paul focuses in on the subject of “election” as it relates to God’s choice of Israel. While this passage is frequently used as a description of how God saves individuals, in reality Paul is dealing with a much different question. Understanding how God uses the issue of election to advance His redemptive purpose is incredibly important to understanding the controversy related to how God advances His plan.
We have to remember that Paul preached from the Old Testament, and he used the story of Israel as his beginning point and then proclaimed that Israel’s long awaited Messiah had appeared as God in the flesh. Because of his teaching style, he wrote Romans 9 to answer one of the most difficult questions he faced from early gentile believers. Understanding the primary question Paul is addressing in Romans 9 is the key to understanding Romans 9-11 in it’s proper context.