Let’s dig deeper into the details of “election” as it is found in Romans 9-11.
What we (Calvinists and me) agree about:
- The elect are elected to be a separate and holy people for service to God.
- God is Sovereign – He can do anything in His pleasure – He elects AND He hardens.
But we apparently disagree about the ultimate purpose of God’s special election of the remnant within Israel: God elects the Israelite remnant as a part of His plan to save those who are NOT the elect/remnant.
This entire portion of Romans (9-11) is centrally (if not solely) concerned with Paul’s answering the questions –
“What about unbelieving Israel?”
Has God’s Word failed (regarding them)?
Have they fallen beyond recovery?
Though they are hardened (and NOT elect – NOT part of the remnant) – are they beyond hope?
I believe that the only answer that is faithful to the fullness and context of Romans 9-11 is a resounding (and surprising!) , “NO! God’s word has NOT failed – hardened Israel has NOT fallen beyond recovery – they are NOT beyond hope!”
In some way everything Paul says from 9:1 to 11:25 is to build up to the unveiling of a deep, wonderful mystery!:
“I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and so all Israel will be saved. As it is written:
‘The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.’”
(Note: In context when he says, “all Israel will be saved” He speaks of the elect and non-elect of Israel combined together – further proven by the fact that in verse 26 he says, “he will turn godlessness away from Jacob” – i.e. ethnic, national Israel. – and that “they are enemies for your sake” in 11:28. Some see here that “all Israel will be saved” is the same as “the Israel of God” from Galatians 5. I do not think that is correct because it is not how Paul is specifically using the term “Israel” here in Romans 9-11. But even if that were granted for the sake of argument, it does not change the fact that the astonishing mystery Paul is revealing here is that the “hardening in part” will come to an end and the “hardened” (non-elect) from ethnic/national Israel will be saved!)
Don’t miss the hiddenness (the “mystery”) of what Paul is saying – Who could have anticipated this?! This portion is meant to make us say, “Whoa!“ – To move us to praise:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways!”
To stop at “the elect are chosen to be a separate and holy people – the rest are hardened to show God’s wrath for eternity” is to stop short of what was hidden – You could get that (a hardening for all eternity) from the Old Testament alone – there’s nothing “new” about it. But Paul is opening our eyes to see something new and amazing that was previously hidden! Something that is only truly visible in the New Covenant!
Romans 9- 11 is all about the people of Israel. I just discovered with some amazement that the only place in Romans that Paul ever mentions “Israel” is in Romans 9-11 – And He does it 16 times! (see screenshot at bottom)
As a young Calvinist all I was taught to focus on was (especially) 9:11-24. And the way this was explained to me was this is really all about how God hates some individuals and loves others – how God in His Sovereignty hardens some and has mercy on others (His elect) – how He fits some for destruction to show His power and wrath – and others to show His glorious mercy.
But – in context – we must see that this passage, 9:11-24 is also centrally about Israel! That’s why he eventually comes back to Israel in verses 27-33 (Which therefore is not to deny there is some application to individual salvation – but it’s not the main point! What Paul says here is in service to his overall “argument” – and therefore “application” to individual salvation must be done with care – and it must be done with this in mind: the same kind of “mystery” is at work with us individually as it was and is with Israel!
If I had to summarize what Paul is saying in Romans 9-11 it would be this:
Why has God hardened most of Israel (the non-elect, non-remnant)? To bring the Gospel to the Gentiles (initially) through the “elect” of Israel – and to make hardened Israel jealous – so that, in turn, ultimately, the hardened, non-elect will be saved!
What we are told from the outset and frames the context and theme of the entire passage of 9 through 11 is:
“For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel” – Romans 9:6
Again, taking what is said in these three chapters together – I would summarize by saying, There is an “Israel” (the elect, the remnant) within “Israel” (the national/ethnic race or people – Paul’s “brethren”).
So – within “Israel” there are the “elect” – the “remnant” – and the hardened, non-elect. And I am not wrong to differentiate these (latter) as “non-elect”– because Paul clearly differentiates the “elect” from the “hardened” :
“What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened,” – (11:7)
But here’s where we differ from the Reformed/Calvinist perspective: this “election” does not abrogate God’s Love for the entire nation and people of Israel! It means what Paul deeply longs for and prays for is not in vain!
PLEASE hear God’s heart in Paul’s heart!
This is SO critical!
This is how he introduces and frames chapters 9-11!
“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.”(9:1-4)
Is it not obvious that Paul is here talking about those of his own people who are hardened? Surely he is NOT talking about the “elect remnant” from among his people – of which he IS one! The elect among Israel do not bring him sorrow and great anguish – and he does not have to pray for their salvation….
What passion and love Paul has for the hardened non-elect of Israel! And is this not the Spirit of Christ at work within Paul – Christ, the one who became a curse – and was “cut off” for us and our salvation?
And again –
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (10:1-2)
Is it not obvious that Paul here is expressing the deep desire of his heart – and his earnest prayer to God for the salvation of the hardened (non-elect) among Israel? Here he is expressing the Life that is being lived IN him by the Holy Spirit – the Life of Christ who ever lives to intercede for us… So Paul in the spirit of prayer groans and intercedes for the “hardened” (non-elect) of his people, Israel.
But, is it not the case that from the Calvinist perspective those who are hardened within the people of Israel are beyond salvation? (Maybe even “reprobate” by God’s decree?). Why would Paul express such passion for them if they were beyond hope?
No – the Calvinist/Reformed (mis)-interpretation of Romans 9 fails to take the obvious context and intent of Paul here: he is NOT teaching us about how God saves each of us – dividing by eternal divine decree the elect from the reprobate. No! (Paul states very plainly in Romans 11:11, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!“) And that very “perspective” blinds us to the real, shocking Truth of Romans 9-11: God hardens many within Israel in order that through Israel’s elect remnant the Gospel will be provided to the Gentiles – who will in turn provoke hardened Israel to jealousy – and, eventually, to a full return to God: “so ALL Israel will be saved!”
(diagrams referred to above:)