Chapter nine of Romans begins a difficult section to be sure, culminating with the continually confusing line “and so all Israel will be saved.” This one line has led commentators and other Bible students to the conclusion that all Jews are going to heaven; they being saved by their Jewish heritage and the rest of us being saved by faith and it all being possible through the sacrifice of Jesus.
The problem with this is that it overlooks the plain statements of chapter nine.
Paul begins that chapter with his continuing anguish over the general lostness of his ethnic group, the Jews. It seems to me to be a waste of good emotion for him to be so upset at their alienation from God if, in fact, he is going to affirm that they are not really alienated at all!
Chapter nine points to the “election” of God. Abraham’s descendants were God’s chosen people – but not all of them. Only Isaac’s descendants. But not all of Isaac’s descendants were the chosen, only Jacob’s. Is this unfair? “No,” Paul writes, because election is always by the sole choice of God.
God’s intent to make election broader, and narrower, than just “descendants of Isaac” is revealed by God’s statements in Hosea, Jeremiah, Joel, Amos, and Isaiah – which Paul cites in the chapter. Election is broader because it includes gentiles. Election is narrower because it doesn’t include those Jews who seek righteousness on the basis of their Jewishness rather than faith. Only the people of faith – Jews and gentiles – will be saved and Paul seals the matter and ends the chapter with a quote from Isaiah.
Why is this important to us?
Because Christians, like the Jews of the Roman church, often feel that our “Christianness” (if I can coin the word) will save them: church attendance, moral and ethical purity, Bible reading, prayer, the outward signs of our religion. Surely all these are important, but they must spring from a heart of faith, a heart that trusts God with neither doubt nor reserve and is seen in the confidence with which one lives his life, following the leading of God. It is possible to seem religious without trusting God, but it is not possible to do that and be saved.