Let’s go through the whole chapter.
1I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, 2That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. 3For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:4Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; 5Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
Paul apparently doesn’t believe that God has predestined some for heaven and some for hell, because he says he wish he were accursed for the sake of his kinsmen (the jews) even though not all of them have faith in Jesus as the Messiah. If God the Father didn’t intend for Jesus to die for ALL people but only SOME (the lucky elect) then why would Paul desire to die for people who are not christians? It wouldn’t make sense for Paul to be willing to die for people who Jesus would not be willing to die for. Paul also seems to be unaware of that (if he were a calvinist) that things turn out exactly as God has planned from before the creation of the world, so to have “heaviness” and “continual sorrow” would be puzzling emotions. Why feeling sorry for people who will end up (heaven or hell) exactly where God wants them to end up? Paul has no business feeling sorry for people who God doesn’t feel sorry for. Then again, limited atonement is not Biblical!
6Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: 7Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. 9For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.
Not all jews are the children of Abraham even though they are related to him through his blood. Only those who are of the “promise” are counted for the seed, and they are of FAITH. Abraham himself showed his faith through his deeds, and he was considered righteous for this reason. The promised Messiah came through his bloodline and through Sarah who was the free woman (and not through Hagar who was a servant and not free).
Gal. 3:7 Know ye therefore thatthey which are of FAITH, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.9 So then they which be of FAITH are blessed with faithful Abraham.
10And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; 11(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)
The fact that children who are still in the womb have not done any good or evil, implies that the sinful nature is not true since babies are viewed as neutral. We can read about “election” here, but note that it’s not about electing individuals TO BELIEVE. The children in question are Jacob and Esau and they are not only individuals but also NATIONS and PEOPLE. God chose the seed of Jacob to bring forth the Messiah. Esau rejected his birthright (which is usually given to the first born) but still expected to maintain it when it was time to get the blessing from his Father, whereas Jacob took actions to lay hold of the birthright. A parallel can be made with the jews who expected to inherit the Kingdom just because they were born as jews and “God’s chosen people“. Paul tells them that salvation doesn’t work that way, but that we are rather saved by FAITH (proven by deeds) and this promise is also for the gentiles.
12It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
Did the person Esau ever serve the younger person Jacob? No, not at any point in his life did he serve him. However, the PEOPLE who came forth from Esau did serve the people who came forth from Jacob. God had good reasons to hate Esau, both as an individual and as a people. Read more about Jacob and Esau here.
14What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
The point here is that it’s God’s prerogative to arrange his salvation plan in any way he wants, and he certainly doesn’t need to ask man for permission to do it. The jews might feel that they should have an advantage since they are the chosen ones who the Law was given to and since they are of the seed of Abraham and Jacob, but Paul explains that this is not so. The salvation offer is also given to the gentiles, and we are not saved by being born a jew or by obeying the jewish ceremonial Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ who died for the world. Notice also that it doesn’t say that God doesn’t want to show mercy on all. What it does say is that GOD decides on whom he will show mercy. Does God have the right to show mercy based on CONDITIONS? Yes absolutely, and the text doesn’t say that he provides mercy on individuals UNCONDITIONALLY. We know from elsewhere in Romans and in the rest of the Bible that we are saved upon conditions, and those conditions are faith and repentance. If God wants to show mercy and compassion on those who have repentant hearts – and not on those with unrepentant hearts – then he may do so, and he would not be unrighteous for doing so. We can read that God uttered those words (about mercy) to Moses, and we know that God had conditions on the Israelites and chose to not show mercy on those who rebelled against him.
17For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. 18Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
Pharao hardened his heart several times before God did. God has the right to harden hearts that are unwilling to conform to him (harden even more). See my blog post about Pharao here.
19Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 20Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
“Who are thou that repliest against God?” we are asked. This means we should NOT reply against God and argue with him, right? Has it ever happened in history that people still HAVE replied against him? YES! There are numerous examples of this in the Bible, and not only that – but there are angels and human beings who have even REBELLED against him! Does God want people to rebel against him? Of course not! Each time people reply against God and rebel against him it’s AGAINST his will. We are being disobedient to God by rebelling against him. So this text is not what people cannot do, but what they SHOULD NOT do. And let’s not forget that the context is still that GOD alone has the right to bring about his salvation plan in any way he wants. The text doesn’t say that God always directs our steps and forces us (predestines us) to walk his way.
Isa 45:9 Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?
Yes, woe unto him because he acts against the will of God by striving with his maker which he is not supposed to do.
21Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, 24Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
The context is still that the salvation offer is also given to the gentiles. We can read that God could have chosen to “endure with much longsuffering” the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. Why would we read terms such as “endure” and “longsuffering” as though the vessels had a will of their own and put up a resistance against God? If God predestines all things that come to pass, then surely he is able to bring them to pass without struggle, and with no need to “endure” with “much longsuffering”? We can also read below that we are expected to purge ourselves, and if we choose to do so then we will be a vessel unto HONOR! If we struggle against God and make it hard for him to conform us to what he wants, then we are fitted for destruction (we have fitted ourselves for destruction) and our right place is on the scrap heap, BUT for our sake he might choose to endure with much long-suffering. Which vessels are the ones made unto honor? Could it be those who have repentant hearts and who are willing to conform? Which vessels are the ones unto dishonor? Could it be those with rebellious hearts and who are unwilling to conform? The vessels who choose to conform are the same as the vessels of mercy, and they are the ones which are prepared beforehand to enter the Kingdom of God. Now, it’s up to us to purge ourselves so that we can become vessels of mercy, and the wonderful promises will then apply to us.
2 Tim 2:20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. 21 If a man therefore PURGES HIMSELF from these, he shall be a vessel unto HONOUR,sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work
Jer 18:3Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. 4And the vessel that he made of clay WAS MARRED in the hand of the potter: so he made it again ANOTHER VESSEL, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Read my blog post about the potter and the clay here.
25As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. 26And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. 27Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: 28For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. 29And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha. 30What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. 31But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. 32Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; 33As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Here we can see the crux of the problem spelled out. The stumblingstone which the jews stumbled upon and which can separate them from God is JESUS CHRIST. The jews were at risk to miss God’s salvation plan by continuing to reject the Messiah and that’s what Paul is so grieved about. The condition for salvation is faith in Jesus and that might very well, to the jews’ surprise, exclude the jews and include the gentiles. The Jews assumed they were God’s chosen people and that salvation was limited to them. Above we can see that faith must precede in salvation and it’s the condition for salvation. The Jews, who were God’s elect, sought to reach salvation through keeping the law rather than by faith. Nothing is said here about God’s choice in salvation but ONLY about “men” having faith – NOT God giving faith to individuals. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Jew or Gentile, because God has sovereignly chosen to save all those who trust in Jesus for salvation.
Romans 10:12-13 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Romans 11:32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.
Origen: “Therefore has He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens.” And certain of those who hold different opinions misuse these passages, themselves also almost destroying free-will by introducing ruined natures incapable of salvation, and others saved which it is impossible can be lost”