So far, in his letter to the Romans, Paul has been making the case that the righteousness we need in order to be justified by God comes not through works but by faith. It comes through faith in the promise of Christ—the one who, through his perfect obedience to the law and through his death on the cross, became our substitute. The one who through his resurrection, showed that death had no claim on him. The one who, through baptism joins us to his death and resurrection and makes us righteous by drowning our old man and making us a new creation—declaring to us that we are no longer condemned and that nothing will ever separate us from his love.
So, naturally, that raises the question which Paul takes up in chapters 9 and 10. If Christ was truly the Messiah—the promised offspring of Abraham—then why was he rejected by his own people? Did the promise of God somehow fail? Is Paul’s preaching to the Gentiles “Plan B?”
And to those questions Paul’s reply is “not at all!” God’s promise has never failed! In fact, in chapter 11, Paul is going to proclaim that “all of Israel will be saved.” And chapter 9 lays the groundwork for that pronouncement. From this point, Paul begins to show us that the ethnic nation of Israel was simply a type—a shadow of the true Israel. That God’s chosen people have always been, and always will be, those who believe God’s promise.
We hear this argument begun in today’s text at a couple of key points:
In 9:6 Paul tells us that “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” In other words, Paul is saying that simply being related to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by blood isn’t enough in God’s eyes. It’s not meritorious. It contributes nothing to your righteous standing before God. You can almost hear, in Paul’s words, an echo of John the Baptist’s declaration that “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.”
Second, Paul retells the story of Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau not to establish a doctrine of double predestination (as the Calvinists claim), but to illustrate again that God’s blessing doesn’t come from anything we do or who we’re related to, but “because of his call.” And who does that call go out to? Well, he’s going to answer that in chapter 10, but since we don’t have weekend Matins, I’ll go ahead and tell you. The answer is everyone! God’s call to faith has gone out to all the world, Paul says. To all nations—both Jew and Gentile. God’s call goes out whenever and wherever the gospel is proclaimed. Through the ministry of the Church. Where the gospel is proclaimed in its purity and the sacraments are administered rightly.
So, has God’s promise to his chosen people failed? Not at all. Because God’s chosen people have always been and always will be those who rely upon God’s promises by faith.