We looked at Romans 9:1-18 in the Bible study, a chapter that has helped shaped Calvinist doctrine over the years and which can, at first glance, appear to paint a picture of a very arbitrary God. God’s sovereignty is indeed stressed in this chapter, but whilst it is true that “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Rom 9:18), there is also plenty of evidence that Paul and others were labouring to reach both the Jews and the Gentiles with the gospel of Christ and that they were entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation, convinced that Christ died for all (2 Cor 5.)

It is always difficult for the finite human mind to begin to grasp something of the timeless, eternal God. Paul goes back to look at Israel’s history (the footnote references take us through Genesis, Exodus, Malachi, Hosea and Isaiah, and we also did a mini-Bible study on Esau and Edom which took in Ezekiel as well!) and we see ultimately how God has the foreknowledge that man lacks. Not all those born physically of Abraham’s descendants are spiritual believers; as in so many other places, Paul is at pains to show that faith is required, not mere circumcision. We need to understand that far more than proud heritage is required in order to enter God’s righteousness; instead, we need that submissive, obedient embrace of faith for which Abraham is commended.

Paul’s passion for the lost shines through in the opening verses of this chapter and challenge us, whatever our views on sovereignty, election and predestination. He has ‘great sorrow and unceasing anguish’ in his heart because Israel is not yet saved. “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel,” he declares (Rom 9:3-4). May we, too, burn with that same passion to reach out to those who do not yet know the Lord and may we never become complacent, arrogant or indifferent to the needs of those who have yet to hear and respond to God’s amazing call to repentance.