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Jan 10, 2021

Chosen...& Choosing

Passage: Romans 9:6-13

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Romans

Keywords: election, salvation, predestination, foreknowledge, elect, chosen people


This message begins to deal with Paul's teaching on God's role in carrying out what he chooses to do with chosen people, i.e. Israel and the church. It begins to deal with the differing interpretations of election espoused by Calvinism and Arminianism.


Chosen…& Choosing

Romans 9:6-13

January 10, 2021


INTRO:  I’m glad you’re here today!  Not just in this place or this church.  I’m glad you have chosen to gather together with some of your brothers and sisters in Christ, to worship, to pray, to seek God’s face and to minister the gifts of the Spirit to one another. THIS…what we experience being the people and temple of the living God when we come together…is going to be more and more important the more we “see the Day [of the Lord] approaching” (Heb. 10:25).  This is why the writer of Hebrews exhorts us not to “give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” 

            As we’ve sadly seen this week, things are coming apart at the seams in our nation.  Regardless of your political point of view, I think we can all agree that the people of God who are called to be peacemakers in this world…called to pray for and love our enemies…called to suffer for doing good rather than evil…WE are going to be needed more than ever in the days ahead.  If we don’t stay connected…vitally connected and interconnected…we will veer off the straight and narrow path of Christ and end up becoming like the people we despise, whoever they be.  But if we keep pointing each other to Jesus, the beginning, end and middle of our faith, we will be the most potent and important force for good our nation so desperately needs today.


  • Choices—we all have already made dozens if not hundreds of them already today.
  • Choices are the thing that makes life so difficult at times and yet so meaningful as well.
  • People’s choices are what made this week and weeks leading up to this week so sad in our nation. All kinds of people made all kinds of choices that had sad and sometimes severe consequences.
  • Choices are what cause our lives to impact the lives of people around us and even the unfolding of human history.
  • Choices are what shape the kind of people we become and the kind of life we lead, to large measure.
  • Many of us are here today, not just because we made a choice to be here, but because we want to learn how to make good, even better choices with the freedoms we have this week to live out.

We live in a world of choices.  And my choices may, at time, collide with some of your choices.  That happens every day, billions of times a day, all over this world. 

So it is not surprising that when we come to this issue of salvation, of the Gospel, that we have to talk about choices…about choosing. 

Q:  How many of you would say that you “chose” to enter into relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ?

Q:  How many of you would say that God “chose” to enter into relationship with you through Jesus Christ our Lord? 

Most of us in this room would say that we BOTH…God and us… had and have some “choosing” to do when it comes to our relationship with each other.  That is the nature of relationships:  they involve choices of whether or not two parties are going to relate or not.  If one person says, “Yes, I want a relationship with you,” but the other person says, “No, I’m not interested in a relationship with you,” we call that a divorce…or a non-starter for a friendship…or, if the ‘relationship’ is somehow forced on us, an “abusive relationship.”    

            We intuitively understand that human-to-human, don’t we?  Good and healthy human relationships require that both parties respect the limits of each other’s choices.  We may not like the choices someone makes.  Their choices may, in fact, break our hearts and leave us wounded and grieving.  Just ask the nearest jilted lover. 

But conversely, when two healthy people make healthy choices, the results are often beautiful. 

The problem is, which one of us is completely “healthy”?  None!  So we sometimes make healthy choices and sometimes unhealthy ones…and we live with the consequences. 

But we not only live with the consequences of our own choices.  We live with the consequences of other’s choices too, for good and for ill. 

In today’s Scripture passage, Paul is going to help us wrestle with this whole theme of CHOICES. 

As we saw last week, he himself was wrestling with the choices his fellow Jews were making when it came to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  They, the ‘Chosen People of God,’ were choosing to reject God in human flesh, namely Jesus.  Their choices of rejection were crashing headlong into God’s choices to make them His ‘Chosen Nation.’  The result, as we will see, is nothing short of one of the greatest human conundrums or apparent human contradictions that we must come to grips with in our understanding of and experience with God. 

So, let’s read the passage:  Romans 9:6-13. 

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Let’s take this apart piece-by-piece and then see if we can’t come to an accurate understanding of what God is telling us about salvation—God’s role and our role. 

But it is not as though the word of God has failed.  Paul is referring back to what we looked at last week with the Jews being the chosen covenant people of God.  We ended last week with the logical question, “If the Jews are God’s Chosen People yet they are rejecting God’s chosen Messiah, Jesus Christ, how can we be confident that what God promises to us will actually happen if it appears that what He promised to them isn’t happening, i.e. the saving of His Chosen people?”  The basic theological issue at stake here is the integrity of God’s promises.  Paul is, in vs. 6, asserting that God’s word had not failed despite the failure of God’s people, the Jews, to embrace the Messiah Jesus.  Having made that claim, he now needs to back it up with proofs.  So here comes his first ‘proof.’

For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.

            Paul’s first argument is this:  not every person descended from Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) “belongs to Israel”, i.e. the nation of Israel, the Jews. 

This isn’t a terribly hard concept to grasp even on the physical level.  Today of the some 14.5 million Jews all over the world, only about 6.7 million of them live in the nation-state of Israel.  And 80% of the nearly 8 million Jews living outside of Israel “do not feel connected to their Jewish identity.”  In other words, they don’t live as or even see themselves as “Israelites” in any real sense of the word.  Clearly, “not all who are descended from Jacob/Israel belong to Israel.” 

            But now Paul takes it a little further.  He not only backs it up two generations to Abraham; he says, “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.”  Woooow, wait a minute!  Is Paul denying that an ethnic Jew, someone who may have some significant percentage of their DNA from the Jewish race, isn’t a Jew?  Well, yes and no. 

            Paul isn’t talking about race features here.  His whole discussion and concern has to do with spiritual issues.  Who is in Abraham’s line of faith?  Who is a child of Abraham in the spiritual and relational sense with God?  So he is denying that just because someone is born into a Jewish family or genetically a Jew doesn’t mean they are “children of Abraham” in the sense of the promise of God and relationship with God. 

            To prove that, he doesn’t do what I just did which was point to how many Jews weren’t living in Israel…or how many Jews weren’t going to synagogue at the time.  Instead he points to something GOD did

 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 

This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 

            What’s the difference between someone who is a “child of the flesh” verses “children of the promise”?

Remember that we’re talking about God’s ability and faithfulness in carrying out what He promises.  So Paul is pointing us to a little history of the Jews.  In fact, he’s pointing us to the early and ‘first’ history of the Jewish nation, namely Abraham and his sons. 

            Abraham and his wife Sarah were childless for most of their life, weren’t they?  When God had called Abram to leave the rest of his family and the city he was familiar with (Ur of the Chaldeans), go to the Promised Land and become a great nation that would bless the world, Abraham had no children.  But he left his friends, family and homeland, traveled nearly 800 miles, and waited for God’s promise. 

            God reaffirmed that promise to him several times, even changing his name from Abram to Abraham (“exalted father” to “father of many”).  But Abraham got a little impatient, as did his wife, Sarah.  So, his first-born child came, not through the promise made to him and Sarah, but through their decision to have a “surrogate” child through Sarah’s maid, Hagar.  That child’s name was Ishmael.  Then a little later came Isaac, the miraculously-conceived child in their old age.

            Paul is pointing to Ishmael and saying, “He’s the ‘child of the flesh’ but God declared Isaac to be the ‘child of the promise.’  That exactly what he goes on and writes in vss. 8-9:   

This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 

            Every Jew knew that it wasn’t Ismael and his offspring who made up Israel.  Jews descended through Isaac.  But both Isaac and Ismael descended from Abraham.  In fact, Ismael was technically Abraham’s ‘first-born’ which should have given him prominence and made him the one through whom God gave and fulfilled His promises to Abraham.  But he wasn’t.  God had promised to fulfill his covenant through the “child of promise”, Isaac, not the child accomplished by human effort, namely Ishmael.  (See Gen. 18.)

            Let’s keep going:  vs. 10ff--10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

            Now Paul takes his argument about true “sons of Abraham” a step further.  Someone could have argued, “Yes, Paul, but the reason Isaac got the promise was that his mother was Sarah, not some other race of woman.”  Paul heads that argument off at the pass by dropping down one generation to Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. 

Q:  Who was the first-born of the twins?  (Esau.)

Q:  Who should have been the one through whom the nation of Israel descended?  (Esau.)

Q:  Who was it in actuality?  (Jacob)

You can read that story on your own time in Genesis 25.  Again it was through a barren wife, Rebekah, that God supplied the needed child.  But it wasn’t the child that would have been expected to be the one.  It was the one who would be second-born, Jacob, whom God chose.  And God did that “choosing” before they were born or “had done [any]thing either good or bad.” 

            What’s Paul’s point here?  God didn’t “choose” Jacob because he knew he would be the ‘better brother’.  He didn’t make that choice based on anything either one of the brothers had done or that God knew they would do, good or bad. 

WHY did God do it that way?  He tells us in vs. 11.  God did it “in order that God’s purpose of election/[choosing] might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 

Paul underlines to us that it was NOT “because of works” that either of these brothers did or eventually would do.  Rather it was “because of him who calls.”  That “him” is GOD! Election/ choosing has to do with “God’s purposes”.  It is all about the God who calls

Here is where these truths begin to rub against our high view of ourselves, right?  We would like to think that God looked down the corridors of time and saw that we would do something… even just one thing…right: we would say ‘yes’ to Him and His gracious offer to believe in Jesus and be saved for all eternity.  But this text tells us that it was nothing in the future lives of these two brothers that would determine which of them would be “elect” or “chosen” to be heir of the promise.  That was God’s determination, not theirs.

Next week we’re going to address the logical question that arises in our minds (and Paul’s teaching) about God:  How can God be ‘just’ when he doesn’t ‘elect/choose/call’ everyone in the same way.  Those who think God’s “foreknowledge” is about God simply seeing what we’re going to do in advance don’t have to wrestle with this question of God’s “fairness” or “justness”.  In fact, that is one of the arguments in favor of God’s “foreknowledge” not just being ‘looking into the future and seeing what we will do.’  If that is what foreknowledge is, we would never find ourselves feeling like God is in any way being ‘unfair’. 

ILL:  Taking a journey…the longest, biggest, most transformative, costly and formational of your entire life. 

Let’s assume God issues a general ‘boarding call’ (by some perfect means that reaches every resident of Spokane) to every Spokanite to take a trip to, let’s say, Hawaii (heaven?).  Parts of the trip will be like a vacation and parts will be really taxing. It will require a challenging journey, a realigning of your life plans, a following of God’s leadership, etc. It’s a call to ALL Spokanites. 

The other option is that God lets everyone know about the possibility of taking the ‘Hawaii journey’ but that He specifically knocks on specific people’s doors—your apartment/house/ bedroom door and says, “Come with me.” Not every Spokanite gets that knock on the door.   But everyone receiving that “call” mysteriously responds, “YES!  You bet.  I’ll be right there!” 

            We all, I think, naturally like the idea that God calls everyone to the journey. That seems to make God appear more “fair” or “just,” right? And if that is what Paul were saying here, there would be no reason for the question Paul raises in vs. 19 that we’ll look at next week.  But because he does raise that question, I believe that this “call”, whatever it is, however it happens, is precisely the ‘knock on some people’s door’ that leads some to salvation. 

APP:   Felling a little tension about this passage yet?  GOOD!  That is as it should be.  What shouldn’t be is that this tension leads you to doubt God, accuse Him of evil, of being less than perfect in His justice, of being less than perfectly loving, merciful, gracious or any other things the Bible tells us clearly He is.  When it comes to things we have difficulty understanding about God, we must never sacrifice the things we clearly understand about God.  In other words, when it comes to the difficulty of understanding how the sovereignty of God or the election of God or the call of God actually works out in relationship to our human free will, hold tightly to the things you know clearly from God’s word about God (such as his righteousness, justice, love, grace, mercy, etc.) and more loosely to your less-perfect/more-incomplete understanding of election, sovereignty, human free will and HOW all those things interact. 

REVIEW:  What are the main truths Paul is presenting here in today’s paragraph?

  • God’s word/covenant/promise never fails…even though our response to Him may. APP:  We can and must sink our teeth, roots, anchor, souls, etc. into the person and promises of God no matter what is going on in life, no matter how off-track things appear, no matter how out of control it looks.  Because God is always true to His truth.  Neither He nor it can fail!  So learn to hang on to the right thing in life—God himself!
  • Being part of the people of God is not a matter of ethnicity, history or of birth; it is a matter of God’s purposes, election, call and promises and your response to that.

APPDon’t think you are ‘in’/’saved’ because of some false sense of ‘being a Christian’ that you may have gotten from growing up in a Chr. home or being around Christ-followers by going to church or praying some ‘magic sinner’s prayer’ at some point in your life.  None of that external stuff makes you a true child of God.  Rather it is your response to God’s purposes, His calling you, Him choosing you then, right now and every moment you draw breath until your last…and all eternity.  It’s a matter of grace, not race!

APPDon’t think you are ‘out’/ unsaved because you stumble in the journey or mess up along the way or grow cold and dull spiritually. God’s calling, his foreknowledge, his election, his predestining of you is far more powerful and important than what you are or aren’t doing. 

  • God’s purposes in our lives stand forever and always! (Vs. 9:11).  That does not mean we live in an impersonally deterministic world where impersonal fate/chance/karma is in charge.  But it does mean we live in a world where everything that happens to God’s people/”those who love Him and are called according to His purposes” will be used and turned and shifted somehow by God for our ultimate and eternal ‘good.’  (Romans 8:28)  We know that because we know that our very salvation is primarily if not entirely a work of God for us rather than a work of ours for God. 
  • APP: No matter what happens to our country, the church right here or world-wide, God’s purposes for us cannot be frustrated or destroyed by evil, evil people or all the forces of hell.  Regardless of what has happened this past month and what may happen the next few years, we can rejoice in/be confident about/be assured of…will work out God’s good and great purposes. 
  • App: No matter what happens in your life personally—health crises, financial crises, job crises, relational crises, marriage crises, God has not lost His Lordship over life. 

Last statement of this paragraph:  Vs. 13--As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 

You mean God just capriciously chose to “love” Jacob and “hate” Esau?  I thought God loved everyone?  I thought God didn’t hate anyone?

            Paul quotes here a passage from Malachi 1:2-3.  In it, the prophet is referring respectively to the nations of Israel (Jacob) and Edom (Esau).  So there are two things at work here:

  • The language of love and hate here reflects the idea of election: God chose Jacob for special blessing, but he rejected Esau from having any part in that blessing (though he did receive a different blessing). 
  • Biblical language uses hyperboleoverstatement…to get a point across. ILL:  when Jesus said in Luke 14:26 to his disciples that, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple,” He was contrasting the intensity of devotion and love we must strive for towards God with that we have for our closest human relationships.  He certainly wasn’t calling for us to literally feel and practice hatred towards those closest to us. 

But even given that use of the language, God is saying that the kind of love and relationship He made with Jacob was different—deeper, better, more transforming, filled with additional blessings—than the relationship He chose with Esau. 

NOTEsome will say that Paul’s examples here are referring to the way God used these different individuals He chose in salvation history, not the way God chooses individuals for salvation at all.  I would humbly beg to differ. 

While these illustrations Paul chooses may not refer directly to their salvation, the way Paul applies them to the question of who belongs in the true/spiritual Israel does. While using them as an illustration of how God calls/chooses/elects people my not correspond at every point with the salvation teaching Paul is making, there is no escaping that every one of them deals with individuals, not nations

And Paul’s application to salvation today is clearly about individuals, not “nations” (be they Israel or other nations).  God is not in the business today of calling some nations to himself while leaving others aside.  His call in the N.T. is clearly and consistently to individuals rather than nations. (Jesus’ last call to a nation was to look over Jerusalem on Passion week and tell them how often He longed to gather them under His care like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but they would have none of it (Mt. 23:37). 

So let me end by introducing you to something that may help us “see” how different theological positions about God’s ELECTION of people for salvation understand a few of the terms we have worked with today. To do that, I want to quote from a footnote in a study Bible I have.  It’s the Thomas Nelson NKJV Study Bible that was edited by a couple of my former professors, Dr. Ron Allen and Dr. Earl Radmacher.  This is what they say.

            “The doctrine of election is one of the most hotly debated mysteries of the Christian life.  Theologians through the ages have pondered the meaning of [Romans] 8:29, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”  What did the apostle Paul mean when he wrote that God “foreknew” certain people?  How are we to understand the notion of God having “predestined” certain individuals to be saved and sanctified?

Here they go on to describe to general and differing ‘camps’ of theology on this important topic:

In attempting to resolve these profound questions, Bible students have typically aligned themselves in two camps.  Arminians, those who embrace the position of the seventeenth-century Dutch pastor Jacobus Arminius, understand foreknowledge to mean God’s knowledge in advance of those who would repent of their sin and believe the gospel.  In other words, in eternity past, God looked down the corridors of time to see all who would one day accept the offer of salvation through Christ.  In the Arminian view, those who accept salvation are elect.  The fact that they would eventually believe in Christ was the condition that prompted God to choose them “before the foundation of the world (see Eph. 1:3) or predestine them to eternal life.  To bolster their position, Arminians point to verses that clearly state God’s desire for all people to be saved (see 1 Tim. 2:3; 2 Peter 3:9).  Furthermore, they argue the universal call for sinners to repent and believe the gospel is meaningless if salvation is determined solely by God apart from the free will of a person. 

            Calvinism is the second dominant viewpoint.  Calvinists, named for the Reformer John Calvin, understand foreknowledge as a “relational” term.  In other words, foreknowledge refers to God’s intimate knowledge of and love for His elect before they came into existence.  From the Calvinistic perspective, it is God’s sovereign election as the unconditional choice of God that is the cause of our faith.  Arminians, on the other hand, would define it as the conditional choice of God that is the result of our faith.  Calvinists defend their position with passages like [Romans] 9:6-24 which describe why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  Moreover, they argue that depraved, spiritually dead people could not choose to believe and would not choose to believe [unless God were to do a special work in them or regeneration, etc.]. 

            Regardless of one’s stance on the matter of election, this much is clear:  God is infinitely wise, powerful, and good.  We cannot accuse Him of being unfair in His dealings with humans.  It was our own sinfulness that entrapped us and condemned us.  Yet Go, out of His infinite mercy, chooses to save.”  [p. 2298, Romans 9] 

Understand that there are as many different positions along this spectrum from hyper or extreme Calvinism (5-point Calvanits) to absolute or extreme Ariminianism. But what you adopt in one area (say meaning of ‘foreknowledge’ or ‘sovereignty’) will influence what you may have to deal with in other areas (like ‘grace’ or ‘eternal security’). 

[See slide on Definitional Differences.]


  • PREDESTINATION: The word “predestinate” simply means to plan or determine beforehand. All will agree upon this. Therefore, the issue is not the meaning of “predestination” but rather the object of predestination, i.e. whether a group (the church) or people in that group, (individual Christians).

Predestination maintains that God is the one who wills who will be saved (Rom. 9:16) and that it does not rest on the desire of a person (John 1:13). God is the one who ordains the Christian into forgiveness, as Aactrs 13:48 says, “…and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed”

Calvinists would generally say that predestination refers to God’s work towards sinners to destine the elect to salvation/sanctification/glory while (actively or as a consequence) consigning the non-elect to perdition/eternal judgment/damnation.  (Some apply predestination to both the elect and non-elect, i.e. “double predestination.”)

  • FOREKNOWLEDGE: believe the term refers to the relationship God chooses to enter into with certain people, before the beginning of time, that He knows will result in their salvation. It is limited to the elect and not about everyone. 
  • [Actually comes before the “foreknowledge”.]

BASIS OF GOD’S FOREKNOWLEDGE: God’s sovereign love, mercy and grace in choosing the elect.  In essence, God’s choices dominate/determine man’s choices.

Foreknowledge:  proginosko—used 5 x; to know beforehand—Ac. 26:5; 2 Pt. 3:17; relational knowledge = I Pt. (1:2), 20; Rm. 8:29; 11:2; Ac. 2:23


  • PREDESTINATION: refers to God’s work toward sinners to save those who, of their free will, choose Christ and salvation…or “corporate predestination” = God predestined that salvation would be granted to a group known as “the church”, not to individuals.
  • FOREKNOWLEDGE: God’s knowledge in eternity whether or not we will respond to His saving grace in time. 
  • BASIS OF GOD’S KNOWLEDGE: His omniscience of that aspect of the future.  In essence, our choice or rejection of God in time informs his foreknowledge of us in eternity.

Both positions try to deal with the tension between the sovereignty of God and the free will of man, positions abundantly presented in the Bible. 


[D. A. Carson provides a good introduction when he argues that the following two propositions are both taught and exemplified in the Bible:

  • God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in Scripture to reduce human responsibility.
  • Human beings are responsible creatures—that is, they choose, they believe, they disobey, they respond, and there is moral significance in their choices; but human responsibility never functions in Scripture to diminish God’s sovereignty or to make God absolutely contingent.

Carson rightly argues that “We tend to use one to diminish the other; we tend to emphasize one at the expense of the other. But responsible reading of the Scripture prohibits such reductionism.”

“Hundreds of passages,” he suggests, “could be explored to demonstrate that the Bible assumes both that God is sovereign and that people are responsible for their actions. As hard as it is for many people in the Western world to come to terms with both truths at the same time, it takes a great deal of interpretative ingenuity to argue that the Bible does not support them.”

Carson briefly works through a number of representative passages: Genesis 50:19-20Leviticus 20:7-8; 1 Kings 11:11-13, 29-39; 12:1-15 (cf. 2 Kings 10:15; 11:42 Samuel 24Isaiah 10:5-19John 6:37-40Philippians 2:12-13Acts 18:9-10; and Acts 4:23-30. I’d encourage readers to study each passage in context and see if they comport with Carson’s two statements above.

After looking at Acts 4:23-30, Carson makes this telling comment:

Christians who may deny compatibilism on front after front become compatibilists (knowing or otherwise) when they think about the cross. There is no alternative, except to deny the faith. And if we are prepared to be compatibilists when we think about the cross—that is, to accept both of the propositions I set out at the head of this chapter as true, as they are applied to the cross—it is only a very small step to understanding that compatibilism is taught or presupposed everywhere in the Bible.  Elsewhere he writes, “At Calvary, all Christians have to concede the truth of these two statements [above], or they give up their claim to be Christians.”]