We’ve already considered the core of this magisterial passage. But my proposed interpretation of chapters 9 – 11 so radically changes our understanding of 8:28 ff, it’s critical that we consider chapter 8 in light of chapters 9 – 11 to make sure it all fits.
(Rom 8:28) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Who are the “called”? Fortunately, Paul has explained this in earlier passages.
(Rom 1:5-7) Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Plainly, Gentiles preached to by Paul are “called.”
(Rom 9:23-24) What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory– 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
Here, Paul is referring to the saved — from among the Jews and the Gentiles. Both are called. However, he also says,
(Rom 11:28-29) As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
The Jew who rejected Jesus are also “called” — and this call remains in effect, as it’s irrevocable. Of course, if by “called” he means invited to join in the Kingdom by faith in God’s Messiah, this only make sense. If by “called” he means irresistibly elected, he makes no sense at all.
Consider also the passage where we learn that Abraham was “called” —
(Isa 51:1-6) “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; 2 look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many. 3 The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
4 “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. 5 My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm. 6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.”
Good stuff. God promises that his salvation will be extended to the nations and will last forever when the Jews return from exile. And the Jews should take comfort in God’s promises because God called Abraham and kept his promises to bless him.
Here we see what is likely one passage that assured Paul that God’s election is irrevocable. And it begins with Abraham’s call.
Let me try out a hypothesis and test it as we work through the verses: Paul’s point is that God called and elected Israel, they became faithless so that only a remnant were faithful and so will be saved. However, for the true Israel (anyone with faith in Jesus), the calling and election is different. God’s plan does not require a falling away and bringing in the Gentiles to make the Jews jealous.
Both the original call and election and the new call and election are irrevocable — God will honor his promises to those who are faithful. And he’ll move in history in such a way that at least a remnant of Jews will believe in Jesus. But the new call and election are not part of a plan that requires a massive falling away to be successful. And, therefore, Paul exults that the falling away and making jealous part of God’s plan is over.
If the answer isn’t something like this, then how can Paul refer to the Jews as “called” and “elect” and yet exult in the justification and glory of the called and elect?