NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson V)
Verses 5-6: It is the same now. God has maintained a chosen few by virtue of grace and election. And if He chose them by grace, then it is not what they have done that made them His people. If they could be made His people by what they did, His gift of grace could no longer be called grace.
This world has only the children of God to thank for their continued longevity. Had it not been for Noah, the entire human race would have been exterminated and the planet returned to a lifeless sphere in the sky. Sodom and Gomorrah could have been saved if only ten righteous were found. Over and over again it boiled down to a small minority who refused to bow their knee to the prince of this world, otherwise, catastrophes would have long ago overtaken the earth. Woe to those who are left after Jesus raptures the church! Even Sodom and Gomorrah will open their eyes in wonder at what will come upon the wicked and ungodly. God doesn’t need the majority to be moved and show mercy and compassion; so even though you may feel you are in the minority, you are on the winning side.
This concept of “the chosen” or “the elect” has been a source of great debate among Bible scholars for centuries. Paul explained it to the Ephesians this way: “Even before the world was made, God chose us for Himself because of His love. He planned that we should be holy and without blame as He sees us. God already planned to have us as His own children. This was done by Jesus Christ. In His plan God wanted this done. We thank God for His loving-favor to us. He gave this loving-favor to us through His much-loved Son.”1
The reason this causes some confusion is that when compared with John 3:16, Matthew 28:19, and Romans 10:13 it seems like a waste of time if God has already chosen who He wants. But when you look closer you will see that in John 3:16 it says: “that whosoever believes,” and in Matthew 28:19, it refers to those who are baptized, and in Romans 10:13, “whosoever calls on the name.” In other words, we are not to go out in search of the chosen or elect, but to share the good news with everyone God leads us to and let Him and His Holy Spirit do the choosing and electing.
Paul did not want the Roman believers to misunderstand that salvation would be their choice, but God’s choice. If it were their choice, then it would lose its character, its very sanctified nature, and become an award for doing what they thought was right. It could be that Paul was also echoing what Moses told the surviving children of Israel would happen when they finally entered the Promised Land. He told them that they would encounter strong resistance from known warriors, but not to forget that the LORD their God was crossing the Jordan River with them.
Not only that, but should they become afraid, it would be the LORD Himself who would drive out those who had settled without permission on the land God promised to Abraham. Then Moses cautioned them: “After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say in your heart, ‘The Lord has brought me in to take this land because I am right and good.’ It is because of the sin of these nations that the Lord is driving them out in front of you. It is not because of your being right with God that you are going to take their land. But it is because of the sin of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out in front of you.”2
So we can see the possibility that in Paul’s mind, those Jews who accepted Jesus as the Christ should not think they got rid of their sin – represented by the heathens who occupied Abraham’s promised land, by their own efforts. It was God who through His love, grace, and mercy drove out the sin that occupied their souls. And Paul also may have wanted them to know that it wasn’t by anything he was doing that brought about the choosing or electing of those who would become children of God. As he told the Corinthians about their coming to believe on the Lord Jesus: “I worked harder than all the other missionaries. But it was not I who worked. It was God’s loving-favor working through me.”3 Paul also reminded the Galatians: “I say that we are not to put aside the loving-favor of God. If we could be made right with God by keeping the Law, then Christ died for nothing.”4
And for his two protégés Timothy and Titus he had a similar message. He told Timothy: “He is the One Who saved us from the punishment of sin. He is the One Who chose us to do His work. It is not because of anything we have done. But it was His plan from the beginning that He would give us His loving-favor through Christ Jesus.”5 And Paul wrote to Titus: “It was not because we worked to be right with God. It was because of His loving-kindness that He washed our sins away. At the same time, He gave us new life when the Holy Spirit came into our lives.”6 So in Paul’s mind, it was clear that no one showed up among those declared saved by chance, accident, happenstance, coincidence, good luck, being in the right place at the right time, through bargaining, good works, or even flattery. It is God’s decision and God’s choice. And when God makes a choice, He does not make mistakes. Not even choosing the children of Israel to be His own.
Early church preacher Chrysostom begins with this question: “If we are all saved by grace, some might argue, why is everyone not saved?” Because they did not want to be, is the answer. For grace, even though it is grace, saves the willing, not those who refuse it and turn away from it7.8 Then early church scholar Augustine offers that grace is not given to us because we have done good deeds but in order that we may have the power to do them; not because we have done all that the Law said needed to be done, but in order that we may be able to fulfill it through Christ.9 However, early Greek church scholar Gennadius notes that the Apostle Paul expresses himself this way because he wants to show that the Law and Grace are completely incompatible when it comes to salvation. The two of them were never intended to work together. So, of necessity, one must replace the other out10.11
Martin Luther is quick to point out that all those in Paul’s day that were reserved as God’s own from Israel, and all those in Luther’s day that God had reserved for Himself were in both instances reserved by God’s grace. In Luther’s mind, the two share the same mutual favor of God. The Apostle explains the expression here in verse 4, “I have reserved for myself,” with the words “by virtue of grace and election,” here in verse 5. So we can see that the words, “I have reserved,” includes the idea of election, and explains and magnifies grace.12 In other words, all those whom God set aside for Himself were selected by the goodness of grace. Therefore, it is easy then to say that except for the grace of God we would all be hopelessly and eternally lost.
Reformer John Calvin was very focused on the fact that grace is a gift, not a reward. He explains that no credit for good works can be allowed to be mixed with the election process because it would obscure the gracious goodness of God. He designed it to be freely offered to us. So what solution can be given to Paul to answer his critics? What can he say to those egotistical individuals who credit the reason for their election to the worthiness they saw in themselves? For whether you introduce past or future works as evidence, this declaration of Paul shuts you down. For he says that grace leaves nothing left for good deeds to do.
Paul does not speak here concerning our reconciliation with God, nor of the means by which it is accomplished, nor of any immediate effect of our salvation; he ascends higher, even to this: Why did God, before the foundation of the world, chose only some as His own and passed by others? Paul also declares that God was motivated to make this difference by nothing else than His own good pleasure. And there was no place given for good works to count as having any merit. To have done so would have taken away the full measure of grace.13
Calvin goes on to say that since this selection by God was made before we were ever born, how then could good works be part of the formula that qualifies us to be elected? The same goes for those whom He did not select since He saw beforehand that they were not open to salvation. Calvin explains what he understands about the justification of Abraham. He tell us that if good works were involved, it would have required a debt to be paid. This means that grace was not freely bestowed. So now Paul draws his argument from the same fountain: that if good deeds are credited to a person’s account when God adopts an individual to be His child, then it becomes a matter of debt, not a free gift through grace.
Now, though the Apostle speaks here of election, and although it is a general reasoning which Paul adopts, it ought to be applied to the whole of our salvation. This will help us understand that whenever it is declared that there are no merits of works, our salvation is ascribed solely to the grace of God. This is said that we may believe that the righteousness by works is taken off the list whenever grace is mentioned.14 That raises the question: How many has God predetermined to be elected and how many are to be rejected? Only He knows.
John Locke, suggests that the term “works” may be part of the confusion here. What should be inferred is the idea of “merit.” It is reasonable to understand that good works would certainly be part of whether or not someone was considered worthy of being saved. But so would their character and behavior. But who could be given credit for good works when the Law required perfect obedience. If anyone was able to be in perfect obedience to the Law then they were given the reward. But those who failed were left out in the cold and, therefore, condemned to die. And since all are sinners, then there are none worthy of salvation. Thank God that if any are saved it is only by the grace and mercy of God. Locke goes on to illustrate the idea of being chosen by God by noting that if a jeweler is looking at a pile of stones to select for his use in making jewelry, he only picks out the best gems and leaves the rest. So as far as God is concerned, those He saves are gems meant to sparkle in His Kingdom.15
1 Ephesians 1:4-6
2 Deuteronomy 9:4-5a
3 1 Corinthians 15:10
4 Galatians 2:21; 5:4; See Ephesians 2:4-9
5 2 Timothy 1:9
6 Titus 3:5
7 See Matthew 22:3; Luke 13:34; Acts of the Apostles 7:51; Hebrews 3:8, 12
8 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 18
9 Augustine: The Spirit and the Letter 16.10
10 See Romans 6:14; Galatians 2:21; 5:4
11 Gennadius of Constantinople: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 157
13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Calvin: ibid.
15 John Locke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 352