Romans 9-11 is primarily about the Jewish people but includes wisdom about salvation for all. When Paul wrote this letter, there would have been conflict between the young church of Christ-followers and the law-abiding Jewish people who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. I’m sure there were many Jewish people who were not all that interested in this new “Way,” and left the believers alone to worship God in their own way. But there were also scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and other orthodox Jews who continued to try to suppress and persecute the church. So, Paul takes time to explain God’s sovereign plan for His chosen people and to warn the believers not to boast in their salvation and despise the Jews. Wouldn’t it have been a different story if the so-called “Christians” in Hitler’s day had taken time to read and understand these chapters?
According to this teaching, the Jews are still God’s chosen people, but because of they were a “disobedient and obstinate people” and rejected God’s Son, He has hardened their hearts and put a veil over their eyes so that they cannot see the truth, for a time, and allowed the Gentiles (everyone who is not a Jew) to have access to the gospel. “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited; Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” (11:25) Their rejection was our salvation.
There is a theme running through these three chapters: God’s sovereignty. God is sovereign in salvation, and He chooses who He will use to accomplish His plans and how those plans will be carried out. “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (9:16) Because He is Creator, He has the right to have mercy on us, or harden our hearts in response to our disobedience.
Think about how a parent must respond to a willfully disobedient child. At some point, the child will be let go to suffer the painful consequences of their choices if they will not listen, submit, or repent. This is what our heavenly Father does; as we persist in rejecting Him, He lets our hearts grow harder, just as Israel’s did. Israel will not recognize the Messiah until He comes again in judgment. At that time, for the Jews, there will be one final opportunity to believe, but for the Gentiles facing Jesus in all His glorious wrath, there will not be a second chance.
What does all this mean for us today? Tucked in the middle of these three chapters are some of the most beautiful words in scripture. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ … Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (10:9-11,13)
Yes, God chooses His elect. No, we cannot come to Christ unless God draws us, convicts us, and grants us faith to repent. But all are welcome. If there is the slightest desire in your heart to know God, that is an indication that He is working in your heart. Do not harden your heart, my friend. The God who made you is speaking to you!
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)