The doctrine of election isn’t easy to understand and is the source of much conflict among professing Christians. Just as the apostle Peter said about the writings of the apostle Paul, “Just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Notice that it wasn’t the intellectual ability of the apostle Paul that allowed him to plumb the depths of God's sovereignty in election but his ability to do that was because it was according to the wisdom given him. Paul was taught of God on this subject and so what we have before us is the wisdom and words of God which cannot be anything other than truth. It is the untaught and unstable which distort not only this section of Scripture but the rest also to their own destruction.
So it will not be by our intellectual ability to understand this subject but by the very truth that we have been born again and are able to receive the things of the Spirit of God so that we are not untaught but indeed taught of God. Just as it is written, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election brings about two reactions from those who don’t understand it: (1) it brings about the accusation of injustice in God (Romans 9:14) and (2) it brings about the accusation of men being robots (Romans 9:19). These two responses are the conclusions that would be drawn from those who don’t understand the Gospel of grace and are what Paul anticipated and dealt with from the Scriptures.
Let me give you a few examples of how the doctrine of election is sometimes attempted to be explained but are not what the Bible teaches:
First there is the belief that election means that God is voting for you; the devil is voting against you; and you cast the deciding vote. That all sounds nice and sounds like what might be happening in election but it isn’t. The Bible tells us that God’s election of those whom He would save took place in eternity past – before the foundations of the world. Also we know that the devil wasn’t and isn’t a registered voter – he had absolutely no say in who would and who wouldn’t be saved. We also know that we weren’t even born yet and so we weren’t old enough to vote. So that means that God is sovereign in election.
Second, there is the belief that election is only to service and not to salvation. Those who hold that Romans 9 is dealing with national election and not individual election would hold to this theory. However that would clearly violate a host of other Scriptures that indicate that election is unto salvation and it is individual – a truth Paul establishes in Romans 9. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians also establishes the clear truth of individual election unto salvation – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him…also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:3-4, 11-12). See also 1 Thessalonians 1:4 where the apostle Paul speaking to those believers about their faith in Christ said, “Knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.”
So election is not just unto service it is also unto salvation and more specifically it is unto salvation for the purpose of serving the true and living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9) and serving His purpose of magnifying His grace and glory through our salvation (Ephesians 1:1-14). Neither is election just a matter of national choice for if that were so then Paul was wrong, the Jews were right, and God’s Word has failed.
Election then is unto salvation to the praise of God’s glory and grace and it is for individuals - proving that God’s Word has not failed but that it has accomplished exactly what God sent it out to do. This is Paul’s argument in Romans 9. Here in Romans 9:6-13 the apostle Paul showed two main truth’s about God’s sovereignty in election: (1) It was not based on physical descent (Romans 9:6-9) and (2) it was not based on personal merit (Romans 9:10-13).
We will get deeper and into greater detail concerning these two main truths about God’s sovereignty in election but for now we will just summarize their implications.
First of all the truth that God’s sovereign election unto salvation isn’t based on physical descent (Romans 9:6-9) proves that this text isn’t speaking of national election but of individual. This is why the argument that God’s Word has failed won’t stand. As a whole the Jews believed that because they had Abraham as their father that they were guaranteed salvation because of God’s sovereign choice of Abraham and their physical descent from him. They repeatedly relied upon their relationship to Abraham but that was to no avail. Abraham had Ishmael first by the flesh and then Isaac second by faith. They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel and neither are they all of faith who are descended from Abraham.
Last of all the truth that God’s sovereign election unto salvation isn’t based on personal merit (Romans 9:10-13) proves that election is unconditional and not based on God’s foreseeing anything good in us at all. This means that the Word of God is absolutely true and that the flesh profits nothing or the flesh is of no use at all (John 6:63) and that our salvation is based solely on His good pleasure and His grace and not on anything that we have done or can do for God. This the Jews also misunderstood and instead of rejecting the flesh and its inability to obey the Law they rejected faith in Christ and His ability to obey the Law and relied upon their flesh and the Law (Romans 2:17). They thought they had free will and therefore they thought they had the ability to obey God when in reality they were in bondage and needed to be set free (John 8:31-36).