Commentary on Romans 9:8

12 Apr

8 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.

Israel experienced two kinds of election. The nation of Israel was chosen as a whole to certain privileges and certain purposes and some from Israel (along with some from among the Gentiles) were elected to salvation. Anyone elected to salvation comes into that salvation through faith in Christ. Here the distinction is between children of the flesh and children of God. The words children of God show that Paul is thinking of salvation (see 8:16), and so he is not thinking simply of physical blessings given to Israel.

So Paul is not saying that salvation comes only to the descendants of Abraham by the flesh. Salvation is not about heredity but by faith in Christ. As God chose Isaac rather than Ishmael, so also does he now choose to bless those who by placing their faith in Christ become the true children of Abraham.

Just like in our day there may be many people who are members of a church but are not saved, so it was in Israel’s day. A person may attend church every week, may serve in church ministries and have their name on a membership role and still may not be saved. They have the outward appearance of being a child of God but they are not. So it was with Israel.

A passage with parallels to Romans 9:8 is found in Galatians chapter 4. This passage traces the distinction between Isaac and Ishmael even more clearly than what we see in Romans 9 . . .

Galatians 4:21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” 28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.

So what we see at this point in Romans is that God has been making distinctions between the children of the flesh and the children of promise from the very beginning.

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