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Anguish and Outstretched Arms: God's purpose of election (Romans 9-10)

Similar but more detailed reflections on this subject: PDF Download - How should I think and feel about friends and family who don't believe in Jesus?

One of the dilemmas of Christian faith is that it makes massive claims about eternity. Believe in Jesus and you have life with the good God forever. But, evidently not everyone believes. What do you do with that?

In Romans 9-10 Paul teaches about "God's purpose of election" (9v11). A deeply loaded term but let the context define it. It's a hard passage written as a Q&A with some surprising answers.

Paul wrestles with hard questions - could he give up Christ so his family could have Christ? No, but catch the depth of his heart. He writes with anguish and tears - he's cut deep by his questions.

The original manuscript of Romans 9, if we had it, would be tear-stained.

Election takes knowing God and says it's not about who you're related to, whether you have the advantages of a birthright, good deeds, or anything. The way to life is all gift. Along the way Paul makes many highly disturbing statements.

He says:
There are those of flesh. There are those of promise. (v8)
There are those of works. There are those of faith. (v11)
The initial observations from Abraham's family are ok - until Paul cites Malachi "Jacob I loved, Esau I hated."

But the question anticipates outrage: Isn't God unjust, unrighteous?

No says Paul. It's not unjust for God to love - that's what the cross is about. And it's not unjust to judge - human sin is that bad. He repeats his case - in a way that doesn't seem to advance it, though it draws in the story of the Exodus to amplify things - there are those who get mercy, like those who committed adultery with the Golden Calf, and there are those who are hardened who ignore God's salvation, and through their rebellion Rahab's come to faith.
There are those hardened. There are those who get mercy. (v18)
There are vessels of wrath. There are vessels of mercy. (v22)  
Hard edged categories. Offensive words. Ouch verses. Hard sovereignty? Yes - but here the intention as he quotes Hosea (9v25). A love story, of love that pursues the adulterous, that pursues the betrayer, that goes after those who are going after idols. A story in which:
Not my people are the kind of people who can become his people.
Not loved can become loved.
Which is to say:
The qualification for becoming one of God's people is that you're not.
The qualification for receiving mercy is that you're facing wrath.
Vessels of wrath endured with patience, are perfectly places to become verssels of mercy. On what basis?

The only real issue is the stone in the way - the stone of stumbling and of faith: Jesus. God's purpose of election is about Jesus and he's available as a gift to anyone who will have him. Nothing in a person, their story, their heritage can exclude them. Stumble over him or believe in him and that tells you what kind of vessel you now are.

Paul has four actions when it comes to election:
  • Anguish - Romans 9 is a tear stained page.
  • Prayer - For people.
  • Speech - God isn't reluctant to have people with him. He's not difficult to find. He's near in his gospel word. His arms are open wide all day long. (Chapter 10)
  • Receive - Jesus. To his amazement he has found the one he wasn't looking for (10v20).
Some questions will remain unanswered but there is no reluctance on the part of God. He seeks people. His word has gone out through all the world. He is there, he is not silent, he has never been silent. Christ is revealed - and repeatedly so has those who know him witness about him... and he keeps being found by people who aren't even looking for him.

He stands all day long with his arms outstretched (10v21).

Image: Nathan


  1. Great to see you interpret it in this way, Dave. Christians are not those who have been vessels of mercy since eternity past, but are those who switched from being vessels of wrath to vessels of mercy when they put their trust in Christ. Ephesians 2:3-5 and 2 Timothy 2:20-22 confirm this. God’s outstretched arms (Rom 10:21) and Paul’s desire for the non-Christian ethnic Israelites to be saved (Rom 9:3, 10:1) show that salvation is available for all (Rom 11:32) and that God wants all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).
    If I may make a shameless plug, I’m doing a blog series focussing on Romans 9-11 at the moment:

  2. Ephesians 2 would appear to say the same thing about our change of state... seems to me that this shifts the focus from wondering who might or might not be elect and pushed application to anguish, and to prayer, and to speaking of Christ - who is the real argue.... and all chosenness is 'in Christ'


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