Defending God’s Reputation
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Paul was willing to give up his own salvation if it would lead to the conversion of his kin (9:3). Nevertheless, the majority of the Jews were rejecting the Gospel of Jesus. It was a tragic fact that had to be accepted.
Most Israelites sensed no need to seek salvation in Jesus. The Jews erroneously felt God’s dealings with them in the past assured salvation to each and every one of them. Paul was telling them; apart from Jesus they could not experience salvation. The Jews would see this as a contradiction of God’s promises to them. Hence, Paul now tries to refute such thinking.
Romans 9:6a But it is not as though the word of God has failed.
Paul rushed to defend the reputation of God. The Word of God had not failed. Instead, the Jews were completely misinterpreting its meaning. They needed to rethink the true intention of God’s promises to them.
God had never promised a wholesale, blanket salvation for each Jew. Israel was operating from a wrong premise. Their basic suppositions were wrong: thus their conclusions regarding salvation were wrong.
It can be very helpful to rethink our presuppositions. King Charles II once asked his advisors, “What is the reason why, if you had a pail of water, and weighed it, and then put a fish into it, that the weight would be the same?” The philosophers waxed eloquent and gave many possible reasons why it was so. At last one said, “Is it the fact?” They decided to test the case, and learned the pail of water weighed more with a fish in it than without a fish. Immediately, all their learned arguments were shattered. Their conclusions were wrong because their original premise was wrong.
The same fault could be found in Jewish thinking about salvation. They assumed they were secure, but by rejecting Jesus they were renouncing the salvation they thought was automatically theirs by birth. They were wrong, dead wrong, and the mistake was their fault, not Scripture’s.
Romans 9:6b For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
They are not all true Israelites just because they are descendants of the man Israel. A physical Israelite is not necessarily a spiritual Israelite.
Maybe we could say this sentiment is similar to saying “Not all who are church members are Christians.” A church-roll is not equivalent to the Lamb’s Book of Life. Not all church members are saved.
Granted, all Jews inherited certain national blessings and privileges, but this did not mean they were each automatically given salvation. This can be partially illustrated by looking at our USA situation. Our forefathers established a Bible-based order for our society. Because of this, generations of Americans have enjoyed national blessings. We know God has blessed America; does this mean every individual in America is saved? No.
Even so, there were many who carried the name “Israel” and enjoyed the nation’s benefits, but who did not have the inner life that conferred to the designation its deepest significance. The true Israelites are only those in whom the power and life of God are manifest. Paul had already pointed out that the true Jew is one whose inward life is right with God (Rom. 2:28-29).
Romans 9:7-8a Neither are they all children because they are
Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, in Isaac your seed will
be called. That is, it is not the children by physical descent who
are God’s children,…
Being a descendant of Abraham did not automatically make anyone a child of God. There have always been those among Abraham’s descendants who were not a part of God’s spiritual blessings.
Abraham had eight sons: Ishmael by Hagar (Gen. 16:15), Isaac by Sarah (Gen. 21:2-3), six sons by Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2). They were all begotten of Abraham’s seed, but only one became the “child of promise.” The others were as much physical sons of Abraham as Isaac was, but they were not covered by the spiritual covenant made with Abraham.
Blood descent was not the determining factor in the special choice of Isaac. Salvation has never been a matter of human genealogy, but rather one of grace through faith. There is a world of difference between physical and spiritual birth. “Grace does not run in the blood” (Henry).
As Denny says, “It is not what we get from our fathers and mothers that ensures our place in the family of God.” Remember Jesus’ words, “Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). My mom and dad, through their genes, gave me my physical traits, but these physical things cannot be translated into spiritual benefits.
I followed five generations of preachers, but this was not enough to assure me of being saved. Salvation is not something we inherit.
Romans 9:8b . . .but the children of the promise are considered seed.
The true children of God, the ones considered “seed”, are those who are “children of the promise”. This means those who are children in virtue of a promise. Salvation has always been rooted in the promises of God.
Salvation has never been predicated on genealogy, nationality, or religious affiliation. It is always based on the promises of God. By grace through faith a person must stand solely on the promises of God. This spiritual truth was pictured in events surrounding the physical birth of Isaac.
Romans 9:9 For this is the statement of the promise: At this time I will
come, and Sarah will have a son.
This refers to the promise God made to Abraham regarding the birth of Isaac (Gen. 18:10). Isaac’s birth was not ordinary. Rather, it was based on a promise of God appropriated by faith (Heb. 11:11), albeit a weak faith.
Isaac’s birth required a miracle because Sarah was barren. When God’s promise was received by a man’s faith, the result was a supernatural birth. Isaac’s birth was due solely to the special intervention of omnipotent God. Had God not personally intervened, Isaac could have never been born.
Isaac’s physical birth is a beautiful picture of how people can become spiritual children of God. There must be a supernatural birth caused by God’s promises being appropriated by faith. God chose, from among Abraham’s eight sons, the one with a miracle-birth to be the one of promise, to serve as a picture of how we enter the world of spiritual blessings.
To receive salvation, we must experience a supernatural birth. We must be born again. Children of God are those “who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). God must come and plant this new life within us.
Have you responded to the promise of God? Have you been born again? Have you appropriated the new life available to you in Jesus? If not, now is the time to do so.