Individual Salvation of God’s Elect: An Exegetical Overview of Romans 9
Arminians have historically alleged that the Calvinistic interpretation of Rom. 9 paints a sordid picture of God that is a monstrosity. This is not surprising since they affirm a false gospel, and not free grace. Since Arminians are contemnors of God’s free-grace, many will argue that Rom. 9 is not referring to individual salvation, and the OT texts that Paul cites is not evidence to corroborate the Calvinist notion that God delivers His elect and discards His enemies. This is not only begging the question, but it also proves that Arminians have not scrupulously examined the textual variations, verb forms, syntax, and historical settings that are clearly at variance with their imposition which denies God’s supremacy over all His creation to do as He pleases. Rom. 9 undoubtedly refers to the individual salvation of God’s elect, and the OT references that Paul used were meant to elevate God’s prerogative to either save for heaven or condemn to hell.
To interpret Rom. 9, it is imperative for students of the Bible to investigate Rom. 8:29-39 to understand the context of the subsequent passages. In vs. 29, Paul said: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Both “foreknow” and “predestined” are inextricably linked. God has not predestined anyone that He did not foreknow, and He did not foreknow anyone that He has not predestined. Carefully examine the use of verbs that Paul used in vs. 29-30: Those whom God did foreknow (“προεγνω”), He predestined (“προωρισεν”). And those whom God predestined, He called (“εκαλεσεν”), justified (“εδικαιωσεν”), and glorified (“εδοξασεν”). The Greek words are all in the active voice. This is a divine certification that God is the one performing the action, not man. The remaining verses (33-39) help to solidify the context of Rom. 9:
Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord [emphasis added].
Another example of election can be found in Eph. 1:4. Paul said that God “hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (“εξελεξατο ημας εν αυτω προ καταβολης κοσμου”). The word “εξελεξατο” is an aorist indicative that is in the middle voice. Paul is saying that God “has undeniably elected” His chosen instruments for “Himself.” Election is God’s salvific love that emanates to His particular people. Arminians have an arduous time reconciling this passage with their superstitious free-will notion, especially since the word “ημας” (“us”) is in the accusative. This does not mean that God is the object of man’s choosing; on the contrary, man is the direct object of God’s choosing. The Bible also says that “…as many as (“οσοι”) were ordained (“τεταγμενοι”) to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The word “τεταγμενοι” is significant because it is in the perfect tense. This describes an action that has been completed and never needs to be repeated again. It is also in the passive voice—which means that the subject is the recipient of the action—which is referring to the “as many as” (“οσοι”).
To begin with Rom. 9, Paul provided a solemn and doleful plea for his brethren to be saved. Notice how Paul used indicatives in vs. 1-3: “I say (“λεγω”) the truth in Christ”; “I lie not” (“ου ψευδομαι”); “I have (“εστιν”) great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart”; and “I could wish (“ηυχομην”) that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.” When Paul said “I wish,” the word “ηυχομην” is in the indicative mood, not in the optative. It is also in the imperfect tense—which is a continual or repeated action. To insist that these verses do not refer to individual salvation is to amiss or suppress the point of Paul’s perfervid petitions.
Clearly salvation is in view of Rom. 9 since the underlying thesis is ardently explained by Paul in vs. 6: that the word of God “hath taken none effect” (“εκπεπτωκεν”). God’s indissoluble plan is manifested in this passage—to accomplish His specific purpose—to display His power and fulfill His promise to deliver His chosen people. This is a perpetual reminder that God has not ceased from dispensing His love or overtures of grace upon His elect. To dispute this assertion is to blatantly ignore that Paul used a “perfect tense” when he said: the word of God “εκπεπτωκεν” (“hath taken none effect”). God accomplished everything that He set out to do, which is not determined by somebody’s actions, but is commensurate with His decretive will. This is important since Paul said that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called” (vs. 6b-7).
In vs. 8, Paul shows the disparity between the children of the flesh and the children of the promise: “…they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” If salvation was not in view, why did Paul underscore the distinctions between the two? Paul was stressing his point that God is faithful to fulfill His promises. Paul emphatically states that the the children of the flesh (“τεκνα της σαρκος”) are not the children of God. It is the children of the promise that are counted for the seed (“τεκνα της επαγγελιας λογιζεται εις σπερμα”). Arminians fail to see in Scripture, that the “children of the promise” is reserved only for the saved, and not for the children of the flesh. Paul said that the children of the flesh are not from God! This verse is referring to salvation which is undeviating from Paul’s thesis.
Paul provided OT examples of Abraham and his sons, Jacob and Isaac, and Pharaoh in vs. 7-18 to convey the message that God has full jurisdiction over the salvation and damnation of men and their descendants. Arminians will rely on their own explication of texts to argue that Paul is merely referring to OT illustrations, and is not trying to purport the Calvinist position of election. But they fail to comprehend the full context of Rom. 8 through Rom. 11 to see that God’s salvific plan to save the predestinate is conspicuous. Paul is citing OT examples to reflect on how the sovereignty of God was displayed in the past, and how it will be maintained in the future. Of course God made a covenantal promise to Abraham and his seed (Gen. 17:7). This did not mean that the descendants of Abraham were guaranteed salvation. “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” (Rom. 4:13; emphasis added). This is an example of God’s faithfulness to deliver His people which has nothing to do with a frail and depraved sinner who exercises his faith or contrivances to earn merit or favor with Him. It is all of election. To understand the concept of election, see how Paul used the example of Jacob and Esau in Rom. 9:11-13 to explain how God loved one and despised the other, and it had nothing to do with anything they did. It was so that the purpose of God according to election might stand:
For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
If Rom. 9 has nothing to do with election or God saving His “particular people,” why does Paul mention “εκλογην” (“election) and “εργων” (“works”)? Arminians are forced to appeal to ignorance or blatantly lie to contend with the passage that Paul is not referring to the individual salvation of God’s elect. The εργων Paul was referring to is plural, and is a perpetual theme that Paul warns against. See Rom. 9:31-32 [emphasis added]: “But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone.” Because God ordained the election of His saints and the reprobation of the wicked before they were born, does this mean that there is any unrighteousness with God? Paul says “God forbid” in vs. 14!
Paul continues his onslaught against the purveyors of false doctrine by citing Ex. 33:19: “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (vs. 15). Arminians find themselves in yet another dilemma. If Rom. 9 is not referring to the individual salvation of God’s elect, then why did Paul use so many singular words in Rom. 9 to purport his message that God saves whomever He desires and it had nothing to do with human volition? It is impossible to deny that Rom. 9 is not also referring to nations. But nations are comprised of individuals, and Paul was a remnant of a nation (cf. Rom. 11:1). The singular words in Rom. 9 teaches the salvation of individuals which will now be examined.
Notice the highlighted singular words in Rom. 9:15-20 [emphasis added]: “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom (“ον”) I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom (“ον”) I will have compassion” (vs. 15); “So then it is not of him that willeth (“Θελοντος”), nor of him that runneth (“τρεχοντος”), but of God that sheweth mercy” (vs. 16); “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up (“σε”), that I might shew my power in thee (“σοὶ”), and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth” (vs. 17); “Therefore hath he mercy on whom (“ον”) he will have mercy, and whom (“ον”) he will he hardeneth” (vs. 18); “Nay but, O man (“ανθρωπε”), who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing (“πλασμα”) formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus” (vs. 20)?
What comes next in vs. 20-23 is the most devastating axiom against Arminianism that Paul used to respond to men that defy the sovereignty of God, or question His divine motive of doing as He pleases:
Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.
Thus far, this chapter has shown that the context of Rom. 8-9 is about the individual salvation of God’s elect. Not only is Paul’s reference to the vessels of mercy and wrath about salvation, but chapter 10 has several examples as well. This is one of the reasons that many scholars have argued that Rom. 9-11 should be interpreted—not as separate chapters that are distinct from each other—but as a whole unit. In Rom. 10:14, 17, Paul discussed the instrument of faith: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher” (vs. 14)? “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (vs. 17). All of Rom. 11 concurs with chapters 8-9 that God has not abandoned His vessels of mercy and love. They will receive the eternal inheritance with Christ in glory. As far as the rest are concerned, God made their hearts obdurate, and with wrathful rebukes, He will unleash His unremitting rage on them in the flames of hell that can never be eradicated. God is perfectly just in doing so.