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
Yes, God did choose Abraham and through him created the nation of Israel. They were God’s chosen people. And as Paul has said, “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Romans 9:4 ESV). God even ordained that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would be born an Israelite. And yet, earlier in his letter, Paul wrote, “For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people” (Romans 2:28-29 NLT). So what is Paul saying? Better yet, what is God doing? Have His promises to Israel failed? Was all that He promised to Abraham a lie?
The point Paul seems to be making has to do with the sovereign grace of God. For the Jews, they believed they had a right relationship with God simply because they were descendants of Abraham. Their faith was in their heritage and their unique place as God’s chosen people. But Paul makes it clear that simply claiming Abraham as your father is not enough. To prove his point, Paul reminds his Jewish audience that Abraham had a number of sons, and yet only one of them, Isaac, was chosen as the line through which the promise of God would flow. Also, Isaac had two sons, but only Jacob was chosen as the conduit for God’s promise. And Paul points out that this sovereign decision by God had nothing to do with the behavior or merits of the two sons –“though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad.” So what does all this mean? Paul tells us when he writes, “This means that Abraham’s physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. Only the children of the promise are considered to be Abraham’s children” (Romans 9:8 NLT).
Many of the Jews living in Rome, who had not yet placed their faith in Christ, were under the delusion that their Hebrew heritage was their guarantee of a right relationship with God. But Paul wants them to understand that having the blood of Abraham coursing through your veins was no replacement for the blood of Christ covering your sins. Faith in Christ trumped anything and everything, including a pure bloodline. God’s promise was based on faith. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted” (Hebrews 11:17-18 NLT). It was his faith in the promise of God that set Abraham apart. And it was that faith that was counted to him as righteousness. And it is our faith in the promise of salvation through His Son that makes us right with God.
Ultimately, salvation is based on faith, not works. It is based on trust in God, not a false hope in heritage or religious upbringing. Being born into the right family or worshiping in a particular faith system has no bearing and carries no weight with God. Paul has already made his main point regarding the gospel – the good news regarding Jesus Christ. “It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (Romans 1:16-17 NLT). God chose Abraham. He chose Isaac. He chose Jacob. He made a conscious and sovereign decision to bring about salvation through the nation of Israel, but our hope is in the promised One. No one deserves salvation based on their background or their behavior. It is faith alone in Christ alone that brings about salvation and restores man’s relationship with God.