In Romans 9:1-5 the apostle Paul expressed his great sorrow over the lost condition of his fellow Israelites through their stubborn refusal to acknowledge and believe that salvation is by grace and not by physical descent or personal merit. The Jews wrongly relied upon their physical descent from Abraham (Romans 2:17) and their ability to personally merit God’s favor through the Law (Romans 2:17). This belief came from an improper interpretation of God’s Word which gave the Israelites a false assurance of salvation based on unreliable and unbiblical indicators.
If we will keep in mind that Paul’s letter to the Romans is the Holy Spirit inspired explanation of the Gospel of grace which was not only a defense that the Gospel is biblical but also a destruction of the speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, then we will better understand what is being revealed to us. Paul was accused of preaching against the Jews and against God’s Law (Acts 21:27-28) for preaching the truth of salvation by grace. This ran counter to everything the Jews had been taught by their apostate leaders and everything they believed God’s Word taught. If the Gospel of grace was true then the Jews reasoned that the Word of God had failed and that God’s promises were no good.
However, God’s Word had not failed and a proper interpretation of it showed God to be true and those who rejected the Gospel of grace as the ones that failed. Let me remind you that Paul had already proven that salvation was by grace through the life of Abraham in Romans 4:1-25. Paul proved that Abraham was justified by grace through faith and not by works in Romans 4:1-8. Paul proved that Abraham was justified by grace through faith and not circumcision in Romans 4:9-12. Paul proved that Abraham was justified by grace through faith and not the Law in Romans 4:13-17. And Paul proved that Abraham was justified by grace through faith in God’s ability in light of his own inability in Romans 4:17-25. So for the Jews to reject the God’s Gospel of grace they had to reject the means by which Abraham himself was justified.
The doctrine of unconditional election proves that salvation is by grace through faith and not of physical descent (Romans 9:6-9) or personal merit (Romans 9:10-13). Grace is not for the proud but for the humble for it is written, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). If you add any one of these false notions of physical descent or personal merit to the Gospel of grace then you have a false gospel. This was the overall failure of the Jews – they pursued salvation as though it were a privilege based on their physical descent and personal merit rather than by faith (Romans 9:30-32).
The Jews were wrongly relying upon false notions of salvation by physical descent and personal merit (conditional election) because of their improper interpretation of God’s Word. It was these false notions or ideas of salvation that the prophets, apostles, and the Lord Jesus had to do battle with in their day and which cost most of them their lives. Let’s establish this truth from Scripture.
Salvation is not by physical descent (Romans 9:6-9) – proven by John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ, and here in our text by the apostle Paul.
John the Baptist dealt with this erroneous belief in Matthew 3:7-10 and Luke 3:8 where he told the Sadducees and Pharisees that they were a brood of vipers and that they were not to rely upon their physical descent from Abraham – “And do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).
The Lord Jesus Christ dealt with the erroneous belief that election unto salvation is based on physical descent in Luke 16:19-31 when He told the story of the rich man and Lazarus. In the story the rich man was a Pharisee who died and went to hell. This was unthinkable to the Jews and especially to the Pharisees. In the story we see that this rich Pharisee spoke to father Abraham and yet was in hell. This truth forever destroys the false notion that election unto salvation is based on physical descent.
The Lord Jesus Christ also dealt with this erroneous belief in a more direct manner in John 8:33-56. In this account the Jews brought up their physical descent from Abraham to whom the Lord replied that He knew that they were physical descendants of Abraham but that they were not spiritual descendants of Abraham – they wanted to kill Jesus and Abraham never did that but instead rejoiced to see Jesus’ day.
Salvation is not by personal merit (Romans 9:10-13). In Matthew 15:1-14 the Pharisees and scribes chided the Lord and His disciples for breaking the tradition of the elders in regard to the washing of hands. They thought that they were keeping the commandments of God when in reality they were unable to ever accomplish such a feat – a truth that the Lord brought out in that text. The final analysis was that the Pharisees and scribes were blind guides of the blind and both they and their followers would fall into the pit of hell.
In Matthew 19:16-22 the Lord dealt with the rich young ruler who wrongly thought that salvation was based on personal merit. He actually thought that he was able to keep the commandments and that he should be able to earn God’s favor.
In Matthew 23 the Lord pronounced woes on the Pharisees and scribes for their erroneous belief that salvation was by personal merit.
In John 8:33-56 the Lord crushed the false notion of salvation being by personal merit by showing man’s enslavement to sin. All of this illustrates that unconditional election proves that salvation is by grace and grace alone.
Those that rely upon anything other than the unmerited mercy of God for salvation will not be saved (see Luke 18:9-14). God gives grace to the humble!