From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

February 5 – Romans 9:6-13

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:6-13 (ESV)

First let’s get the context straight. Paul is dealing in Romans 9-11 with the problem of Israel’s rejection of the gospel. The problem is this: God has promised (guaranteed) various things to and about Israel – that Israel would be God’s chosen people, that Israel would be blessed in the coming Kingdom, that through Israel God would bless the world. But how can those promises (guarantees) be fulfilled if Israel has rejected the fulfillment of all those promises in their Messiah? Were those promises of God really more like wishes, or hopes? If they really are guarantees, how can they possibly be fulfilled if God’s instrument Israel rejects Jesus as their Messiah? That’s the issue Paul is addressing in these three chapters of Romans.

Paul’s answer is that there’s Israel, then there’s Israel – a physical Israel, and a spiritual Israel. His promises will be kept, they are guarantees, but not to ethnic, outward Israel. They will be kept to spiritual, inward Israel. So far, that’s pretty obvious rather than controversial. It’s like saying “there are those who seem like Christians, then there are real Christians.” But Paul is going to say more than that. He’s going to say that the real Israel, his real heirs, are who they are not because of their ethnicity, not because they’re worthy, not because they’re good or moral, but simply because God chose them.

Paul points to Abraham, who had two sons Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was the older brother, and by human “rights” was Abraham’s heir. But God chose Isaac instead. (“Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”). Paul then points to Isaac’s two sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was the elder, and again by human “rights” the heir. But God chose Jacob instead. Why? Not because Esau was unworthy – Jacob was at least as unworthy, a deceiver most of his life. Yet God chose him to be the heir – before Jacob and Esau were even born, before either had done anything good or bad. They are heirs simply and sheerly because of God’s choice.

It may seem nice enough until you think about it. It means your salvation does not depend on your goodness, It doesn’t depend on your morality. It doesn’t depend on your being nice. It depends solely and completely on God choosing you. Before you were born. Before you had even had the brain matter enough to think about good or bad.

It’s called the doctrine of Election – or in Reformed circles, Unconditional Election. It can sound hard and cold. But I see it as a different way of describing grace. Grace is sheer gift, sheer favor. You don’t deserve grace. You don’t merit it. You don’t get it because you’ve been nice or good or moral, or because of anything in you, for that matter. You get it because God is merciful. Period.

It will be interesting to see if the congregation is stirred by this – stirred happy or con-stir-nated.

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