Election: Romans 9, Part 5 (“a righteousness that is by faith”)

(Rom 9:30)  What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith;

And so Paul sets up the contrast. The Gentiles are among the elect because they have faith in God’s Messiah.

(Rom 9:31-32)  but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.”

Notice the arrow of causation. Paul plainly declares that election comes from having faith and not the other way around. He does not say: because you are not elect, you don’t have faith. Rather, the Jews are lost because of how “they pursued” God’s righteousness.

Paul’s distinction is that those who have faith in Jesus are elect and those who do not are not. And he is speaking of the Gentiles and the Jews as nations, not as individuals. After all, if he were speaking at the individual level, he could hardly say that “Israel … has not attained it [righteousness]” as Paul and many other individual Jews had indeed attained righteousness through faith. Plainly, the context is at a national level, just as are the prophesies Paul refers to.

(Rom 9:33)  As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Paul quotes Isa 28:16, which is speaking of the Messiah. God prophesied that some would stumble and fall over Jesus, and others would trust him and be saved.

As we conclude chapter 9, we see that Paul is dealing with a particular question: how can it be that that Jewish nation has, on the whole, rejected Jesus and yet the Gentiles have accepted him? How can “the nations” be saved and Israel be rejected?

The answer is, first, that God can do as he pleases. But God pleases to show mercy to those who love him and not to those who reject him. And God pleases to reward faith and reject unbelief (because faith leads to love, as Paul explained back in chapters 5 and 8).

Moreover, God declared, through the prophets, that it would happen just like this.

Finally, sometimes God hardens people’s heart to allow him to make a point, but he doesn’t take those who would otherwise be saved and damn them. Rather, he causes those who are in unbelief to be plainly not God’s people. He might even allow Israel to become so hardened that they rebel against Rome in a deluded effort to do God’s work for him — and suffer the horrific consequences of trying to do it on your own.

This theme is traced through Rom 1, where God “gives over” unbelievers to detestable sins to be shown as sinners and to demonstrate the necessity for God’s wrath and the need for repentance.

We’ll see the fullness of God’s hardening shortly after the writing of Romans when Jerusalem falls, re-enacting the destruction at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. God will once again declare his rejection of Israel — other than for a remnant — because of their unbelief.

But God did not cause the Jews to rebel. In fact, he came in the flesh to warn them against exactly this and wept over them, foreseeing that their unbelief would result in their destruction.

Now, I don’t deny the logical problems caused by a God who can see the future. Different theologians have their own solutions. I have mine — and I hope to be getting to it. But this is not the problem Paul deals with in Romans 9. And therefore Romans 9 does not give the solution — at least, not directly. You can’t just pull a few harsh-sounding verses out of context and declare that God predestines some to be firewood. That is not the question Paul is answering.

But then, neither is what Paul is saying irrelevant for today. He is showing how God’s hand directs the flow of history. God had a plan to redeem the world, revealed it through his prophets, and then made it happen in Jesus.

The struggle Paul has is why God moved history in such a way that Israel (as a community) rejected Jesus. How could that have happened?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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8 Responses to Election: Romans 9, Part 5 (“a righteousness that is by faith”)

  1. Jerry Starling says:

    Jay,
    You wrote, ""(The NIV, annoyingly, omits “of the law” in several places, pushing the Judaism out of the translation, as though the Torah was not in mind.)"

    My Nestle's Greek Text (23rd edition) only includes "of law" in 9:33 after "by works" in the apparatus. This reading is in the Textus Receptus (basis of the KJV), but is not in the older MSS. I also noted that even the TR text does not have the article, which I understand to mean that law in general is indicated, not the specific law of Moses.

    Over all, though, a very good post. This is a very minor point that does not take away from your argument at all.

  2. Guy says:

    Even if "of the law" isn't in the text, what warrant is there for understanding that Paul means some general idea of law? Where did that idea come from? What general notion of law would have been conceptually, readily accessible to his readers?

    Maybe i'm totally wrong and Paul meant to reference a very abstract notion of law. However, the only major impetus for understanding him this way that i can see is that we have traditional doctrines that depend on it.

    –Guy

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Thanks for the correction. You're quite right. QuickVerse has "of the law" in the Greek for some reason — which is very worrisome. (I've corrected the post.)

  4. Jerry Starling says:

    Guy,
    Galatians 3:21 seems to make a distinction between law in general and The Torah as The Law. Paul's point is that if any law could have brought live, then certainly the Torah would have been that law.

  5. Guy says:

    Jerry,

    i'll chew on that one for a bit. i see how this presents prima facie a conceptual distinction, but it's not clear to me that it's the same kind of distinction that we try to make (and need to make) in Paul elsewhere to tow our traditional Protestant line. Nevertheless, you've brought one up that is helpful for me.

    –Guy

  6. Zach Price says:

    if God sees the future then why did he elect Israel in the first place if He knew that they in the end would reject Him?

  7. Guy says:

    Possibly, because His aim was not or not merely to elect only those who would accept Him, but had other or additional aims in election.

  8. Joe Hegyi III says:

    Israel was never elected for salvation, rather they were elected to bring the Messiah.

    Logically you would think that if they brought Messiah that they would then be believers by default. However, it's clear that God knew what he was talking about way back in Exodus when he called Israel a "stiff necked" people.

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