It is necessary for those who wish to find a way out of the “strong doctrine” of Romans 9 to establish some kind of “new idea” as to what Paul is really up to in this passage that distances the text from personal salvation. Make it about nations. Make it about the Old Testament only. Say it has to do with anything but the salvation of God’s people and the freedom God has always expressed in bringing that about. But given the flow of the text, its internal consistency, and the boldness of the language, it is a hard thing for those seeking to find a way around the text’s conclusions. Just as in the Golden Chain of Redemption (Romans 8:28-30) or in Jesus’ Capernaum discourse (John 6), the strength of Reformed exegesis is seen in its ability to consistently read through an entire passage and follow the thought without appeal to all sorts of odd concepts that result in an utter disruption of the text. This has been my advantage, repeatedly, in discussion with those who oppose the utter freedom of God and the perfection of Christ as Savior: if we actually can get someone to allow a conversation to take place that seriously engages the text in a meaningful fashion, the Reformed position is clearly substantiated and supported.
When we look at Romans 9, we find the text is just as consistent as the rest of Paul’s argument in Romans. He is explaining how it is that not all who are from Israel are Israel. God has been free to apply His promises throughout the history of Israel, seen in His choice of Jacob over Esau. This freedom results in numerous objections on the part of Paul’s imagined objector (objections that Calvinists hear constantly), all of which militate against the various non-Reformed attempts to remove Romans 9 from the realm of personal salvation. The Reformed reading can consistently read from 9:6 through 9:24 without changing contexts, topics, or anything else. I honestly submit that no one else can.
After introducing the freedom of God to act outside of man’s merits or deserts in regard to Jacob and Esau (9:10-13), Paul allows the “imaginary objector,” who sounds oh so much like your average “free will is the answer to all things” evangelical, to speak: “What then shall we say? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” Whenever God’s freedom is asserted men cry out “Unjust! Unfair!” Paul’s response must be understood within the context of the passage itself. 9:15 is explaining why there is no unrighteousness in God when He exercises the kind of sovereign freedom He did in the case of Jacob and Esau. He draws from Exodus 33:19 as a second example of His freedom drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures. It should be remembered that 9:16 provides us with the apostolic interpretation of 9:15; interpretations ignoring this will, by so doing, convict themselves of their eisegetical nature. [continued]