Metaphors of salvation

Paul used a very rich variety of metaphors and symbols, including many metaphors of salvation. We must be very careful not to literalize his metaphors.

How a person is saved, is explained differently by different people:

In Christian circles we often hear that a price had to be legally paid, and Christ paid that price by His blood.  But words such as “redemption” and “justifications” are only metaphors.  We should not literalize them.  Paul uses many other metaphors for how God saves sinners.  For instance, in the letter to the Colossians, he also says that the believers have been:

  • Qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints (1:12)
  • Rescued from the domain of darkness (1:13)
  • Transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13)
  • Redeemed (1:14 – paid the required price. )
  • Reconciled – as to an old friend (1:22)
  • Received Christ Jesus the Lord (2:6);
  • Made complete (2:10)
  • Circumcised with a circumcision made without hands (2:11)
  • Buried with Him in baptism … raised up with Him (2:12)
  • Made alive together with Him (were dead in your transgressions 2:13)
  • Raised up with Christ (3:1 – died with Christ 2:20; 3:3) -)
  • Canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us (2:14)
  • Chosen of God (3:12)
  • Forgiven (their sins – 1:14; 2:13)

Some of these expressions are very symbolic.  Others, like the forgiveness of sins, are more literal.  Paul used a very rich variety of metaphors and symbols.  He sometimes even changes his metaphors in mid-sentence (e.g. 2:7).

Another famous metaphor of Paul is Justification.  Reformed theology, clinging to the word Justification, hold to the Forensic View of Atonement.  The Justification metaphor appears often in Romans and Galatians, but is not used even once in Colossians, probably because the Colossians Christians were Gentiles, and Justification was the way in which the Jews thought of how people are saved.  They recognized their sins and saw God as their judge, before which they stand guilty.  But they also thought that they were justified (put in a right legal standing with God) by the works of the Law (by the rituals, sacrifices and ceremonies prescribed by the law).  This included circumcision and ceremonial washings.  They thought that these things will compensate for their sins and legally justify them before God.  Therefore Paul used forensic metaphors when speaking to Jews, arguing that one is not justified by the works of the Law, but simply by grace through faith.

But the Forensic View of Atonement under-emphasizes God’s love and mercy for mankind.  It is often explained from pulpits that Christ stands between God and man, continually pleading His blood for the sins of His people.  This is a horrible distortion of the good news.  To mention a few:

It is the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light, rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:12-13).

God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16).

Christ is the Lamb of God (John 1:29).

Jesus said, “I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you” (John 16:26-27)

Therefore, by over-emphasizing and literalizing one metaphor of salvation, the Forensic View of Atonement paints a very unbiblical view of God.

Reconciliation is another one of Paul’s powerful metaphors (Col. 1:20-21, Eph. 2:16; Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18, 20).  He presents God as our friend from whom we have been alienated (Col. 1:21), and to Whom we must be reconciled.  This God has done through the cross.  The difference between a believer and a non-believer isn’t merely forgiveness; it is reconciliation.

The point is that we must be very careful not to literalize Paul’s metaphors.  These are all descriptions in human language of what happens when we put our faith (trust) in God.  We learn something of reality from each of these metaphors, but we should not promote one at the expense of the others, or interpret any of them unduly literal.  As discussed in the article titled “Disarmed the rulers and authorities”, the problem that was solved by the Cross is much more complex.  See also the discussion of the word “Atonement”, where it is explained that the Greek word translated Atonement in the KJV of the New Testament is simply reconciliations.

TO: General Table of Contents

Atonement

Atonement has come to mean paying a penalty to meet legal demands. When the Bible was first translated to English Atonement referred to the state of being in unity – being AT-ONE.

Making amendsCommonly, in the last century or two or three, atonement has come to mean making amends or paying a penalty to meet legal demands, to propitiate wrath or to adjust one’s to legal standing.  To some atonement is the thing Christ did to reconcile the Father unto us and assuage His offended wrath.

But that is not the original meaning of the term, and it is definitely not the meaning of the word in the Bible.  The only place you’ll find the word, in the King James Version, is in Romans 5:10. But the word in the Greek is the very common word ‘katallasso’.  There’s no hint of making amends in this word.  It means ‘reconciliation’. Holman’s Bible dictionary defines this word as follows:

Reconciliation … specifically the reconciliation between God and humanity effected by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  … The New Testament rarely uses a word for atonement. The basic Greek word is usually translated “to reconcile”.  The basic meaning is to establish friendship.

Therefore Romans 5:10, in the NASB, reads:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10).

The dictionaries agree that this word ‘atonement’ is a made-up word, namely ‘at-one‐ment’. That’s the way the word started.  It was based on a verb, ‘to one’. Two people are fighting, and you are sent out to ‘one’ them. Not ‘win’ them; to ‘one’ them.  And then when you have succeeded in ‘one-ing’ people, then, hopefully, they would remain in a state of oneness.  It is the state of being ‘at one’ that is atonement, not the process ‘one-ing’ people. Atonement therefore means to be in harmony or unity.  That is what “atonement” meant when the Bible was first translated into English.  In the Bible it is God, because He loves us, that sent His Son (“the Lamb of God”-John 1:29) to bring His people back to Him (John 3:16).

There’s only one dictionary that really give the history of the word, and that’s a multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary. It shows how, for a long time, it was used in its original sense of being at one, reconciling people to harmony; friendship is often mentioned, unity, and so on. Now, later on somehow, it was changed to mean ‘making amends, paying penalty’, and that’s the way it’s commonly used now.

So how did the meaning of the word atonement change so much?  It was the forensic doctrine of salvation that changed the meaning of “atonement” over the centuries.  The forensic doctrine of salvation teaches that somebody must pay for sins committed.  TIt presents God as angry and the death of Christ as a sacrifice to pacify God.  It was because the reformers had this understanding of the purpose of Christ’s death that the meaning of “atonement” has slowly changed over the centuries to “reparation for an offence or injury” (Merriam-Webster).

But that is not how we should understand the purpose of Christ’s death.  It is not God that must change.  The blood of the Cross did not change how the Father feels about sinners.  The opposite is rather true, namely that the blood of Christ was the means by which the Father changed the hearts and minds of His creatures; to be reconciled to Himself (Colossians 1:20).  It is us that must change.  It is not God that is angry; it is His creatures that are “hostile in mind” (Colossians 1:21).  In the Bible God is never reconciled to us.  Colossians 1:20-22 indicates that God, through Christ, reconciled all things “to Himself” (1:20).

Please also see the article Christ’s death reconciled us to God for further information.

TO: General Table of Contents

Reconciled to God

God is not our Enemy; we were His enemies. God was not angry; He initiated salvation through Christ. Christ’s death did not reconcile God to us, but we were reconciled to God; the Source of all Life. The death of His Son did not change God; it changed the on-looking universe.

SUMMARY

What it means, that God reconciled us to Himself, is discussed below.  In summary:

Before one comes to believe in God, he is God’s enemy, committing evil deeds as acts of aggression against God.   But God reconciled believers to Himself through Christ’s death (Col. 1:22).  How Christ’s death reconciled people to God is explained differently by different people:

Some say that Christ, by His death, paid the required price, but to whom was the price paid?  It was not payable to God, because we were held prisoner by Satan.  Neither was it payable to Satan, for what does God owe to Satan?

Others say that God was angry and that Christ died to pacify God, but it is people who are hostile to God; God is not hostile to man.  And it was God that took the initiative to reconcile man to Him (Col. 1:22); man did not reconcile himself to God.

God is not angryIt is often said that God was reconciled to His creatures, as if God was changed by Christ’s death on the cross, but the word translated reconcile is used a number of times in Paul’s writings, and always it says that people are reconciled to God.  In other words, man changed; not God.

In is also said that God’s righteousness demands that someone had to suffer, and that Jesus suffered what we deserve, but this seems inconsistent with God’s wise and loving character.

How Christ’s death reconciled people to God is explained here as follows:

  1. For creatures to live eternally, they must live in His presence.  If we become separated from God, who is the Source of Life, we will become corrupted and eventually die.
  2. Worship is the blood vessel that conveys life from the Source of life to His creatures, but worship must be an act of free will.  Forced worship is no worship at all.  Love cannot be forced; it always must be voluntary.
  3. A large number of the intelligent beings in the heavens (many of the angels), under the leadership of Satan, in free will rebelled against God and withdrew their worship from Him.
  4. When Satan deceived our first parents, this rebellion was expanded to earth. Since that event we lived outside God’s presence.  This caused sin, degeneration and death.
  5. God did not reject mankind.  God continually sent prophets to earth to turn people to Him.
  6. While God accepted repentant people back in His kingdom, He rejected Satan. Satan’s character was permanently changed and he cannot return to God.
  7. Satan responded by accusing God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of God’s people.
  8. Satan is extremely talented, and the angels could not understand who is telling the truth; God or Satan. A lingering doubt remained even in the hearts of God’s loyal angels.
  9. God would not force the sinless beings of the universe to accept His judgment, but Christ’s sacrifice convinced God’s loyal heavenly beings of the rightness of God’s judgment when He accepts people into His kingdom simply on the basis of their faith, while Satan was rejected.
  10. Even heavenly beings were reconciled to God “through the blood of His cross”. By providing proof of His justness—through the Cross—also when He rejects the most loved angel of all time, namely Satan, allowed the heavenly beings to fully return to a trust (faith) relationship with God.

In the end God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but to subject His enemies to His will, when the loyal beings are unsure of the rightness of His judgment, will eventually erupt in another rebellion.  God is resolving the conflict in such a way that rebellion will never again arise.  God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but only when all the issues in the universe-wide conflict have been made clear, and He is able to subject His enemies to His will with the full support of all of His loyal subjects.

For an explanation of how the Cross provided this proof, please see the related article titled God Disarmed the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Col. 2:15).

For more information on the “War in Heaven”, please see that separate page.

To understand why are we still at war if the cross made peace, please refer to the discussion of the discussion of the Seven Seals, where John saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth until the bond-servants of our God have been sealed on their foreheads (Rev. 7:1-3).

MORE DETAILED DISCUSSION

Colossians 1:22 reads;

yet He (God the Father) has now reconciled you in His (Christ’s) fleshly body through death”.

Before one comes to believe in God, he is God’s enemy: “you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (Col. 1:21).  We previously “were enemies” (Romans 5:10).  “Evil deeds” are acts of aggression against God.  It is not God that was hostile to man; God’s intelligent creatures were hostile towards God.  Belonging to the race of Adam, we are born alienated from God.

But God made “peace” (Col. 1:20) and reconciled believers to Himself through Christ’s death (Col. 1:22).

HOW CHRIST’S DEATH RECONCILED PEOPLE TO GOD IS EXPLAINED DIFFERENTLY BY DIFFERENT PEOPLE:

Some say that Christ, by His death, paid the required price, but to whom was the price paid?  It was not payable to God, because we were held prisoner by Satan.  Neither was it payable to Satan, for what does God owe to Satan?

Others say that God was angry and that Christ died to pacify God, but it is people who are hostile to God (Col. 1:21-22); God is not hostile to man.  The Father is not angry with His enemies; His enemies are angry with Him.  They try to exclude Him from their lives in all possible ways.  A common method is to insult God by using His name in vain, and even to use His name as a swearword.

Furthermore, it was God that took the initiative to reconcile man to Him (Col. 1:22); man did not reconcile himself to God.  His enemies are angry, and God seeks reconciliation.  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).  Colossians 1:20-22 uses the word “through” four times, focusing on what God did through Christ.  Christ was the Means of reconciliation, but it was the Father that made reconciliation.  It is the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints (Col. 1:12) and that delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son (Col. 1:13).

One often hear people say that God was reconciled to His creatures, as if God was changed by Christ’s death on the cross, but the word translated reconcile is used a number of times in Paul’s writings, and always it says that people are reconciled to God; never the other way round.

To reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20)

Reconcile them both (Gentiles and Israel) in one body to God through the cross” (Eph. 2:16)

While we were enemies we were reconciled to God” (Rom. 5:10)

God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18)

We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20)

In other words; God was not changed by the cross; it is man that was changed.  Christ’s death did not change the Father’s attitude towards people,

In reformed circles it is usually said that God’s righteousness demanded that someone had to suffer, and that Jesus suffered what we deserve, therefore we receive what He deserves.  But the Bible reveals God as supremely wise and loving.  The concepts in the Bible are infinitely high above the thoughts of unregenerate man, and continually elevates the mind of man.  To say that the wrath of God would be satisfied by the suffering of an innocent person seems inconsistent with His character.

HOW CHRIST’S DEATH RECONCILED PEOPLE TO GOD IS EXPLAINED HERE AS FOLLOWS:

First, some general principles:

  1. For creatures to live eternally, they must remain sinless, because sin, by definition, is something that destroys.  To remain sinless, intelligent creatures must live in His presence, and the natural response to being in the presence of the infinite One is to love and worship Him.  Worship is the blood vessel that conveys life from the Source of life to His creatures.  If we break that link, we will become corrupted and will eventually die.
  2. Worship and love, to be worship and love, must be an act of free will. God forces no one to worship Him.  Forced worship is no worship.  Love cannot be forced; it always must be voluntary.

Next, how the crisis in the universe developed:

  1. A large number of the intelligent beings in the heavens (many of the angels), under the leadership of Satan, rebelled against God and withdrew from His presence.  Why this happened cannot be explained.  To find a reason for it, is to excuse it.  There was no fault in God’s governance that could justify it.  God created mankind and angels free to make their own decisions, and in their freedom these angels withdrew from God.  Isaiah 14 describes fall of the king of Babylon (v3), but seems to use words from the fall of Satan:

12 “How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn! …

13 “… you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’

15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.

  1. This rebellion was expanded to earth when Satan deceived our first parents. Since then we lived outside God’s presence, which caused sin, degeneration and death.
  2. God did not reject mankind.  God did not leave mankind to suffer the natural consequences, but continually sent prophets to turn them to Him: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
  3. While God remained willing to accept man back in His kingdom, God rejected Satan. Satan has gone too far to return to God.  Satan’s character was permanently changed and he cannot return.  Therefore God rejected him.  We must remember that Satan was not just any angel; he was the one that stood in God’s immediate presence.  He was Lucifer, which means Morningstar (Is. 14:12); the one who taught the other angels about God.  The only way that God can draw sinful creatures to Himself, is to reveal more of Himself, but already Satan knew everything about God that an angel can know.  He rebelled with full knowledge of God.  Therefore it is impossible for his to return.  Therefore God rejected him: “And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire”. (Ezekiel 28:16)

Ezekiel 28 describe the king of Tyre (v12), but seems to go beyond this king to a description Satan:

12 “… You had the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering: …
And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets,
Was in you. …
14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers, …
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 “You were blameless in your ways
From the day you were created
Until unrighteousness was found in you.
16 … You were internally filled with violence,
And you sinned;
Therefore I have cast you as profane
From the mountain of God.
And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the stones of fire.
17 “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;

This seems to be more than a description of an earthly king; it describes, a “covering cherub” that was “blameless” and had “the seal of perfection”; “perfect in beauty”.

  1. Satan responded by accusing God of unfair judgment. God “passed over the sins previously committed” by His people on earth (Rom. 3:25).  Satan, pointing to the sins of God’s people, accused God of unfair judgment (Rev. 12:10).
  2. Satan is extremely talented and previously held a very high position. This made it impossible for the other angels to understand who is telling the truth; God or Satan.  And according to God’s principle of freedom, God allowed him full access to the heavenly beings to argue his point.  The angels were not able to conclude who is right; a lingering doubt remained even in the hearts of God’s loyal angels.  This mystery is symbolized by the sealed book of Revelation.  “No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it” (Rev. 5:3).
  3. But the Cross demonstrated the justness or fairness of God’s judgment (Rom. 3:25) “so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). God would not force the sinless beings of the universe to accept His judgment.  God reign over a universe where everybody is completely free to form their own opinions and do whatever they want.  Christ’s sacrifice convinced God’s loyal heavenly beings of the rightness of God’s judgment when He accepts people into His kingdom simply on the basis of their faith, while Satan was rejected.
  4. The Cross is therefore important for mankind, but even the heavenly beings also needed the Cross. Colossians 1:20 indicates that they also were reconciled to God “through the blood of His cross”.  By providing proof—through the Cross—of His justness, and that in everything He does He is motivated by love; also when He rejects the most loved angel of all time, namely Satan, God reconciled them to Himself.  The Cross has shown that God loves and protects His creatures.  We may not able to see this, but the heavenly beings are able to perceive this.  “Reconcile” in Col. 1:20 may therefore be understood as returning to a trust-relationship; to know for certain that God loves you and will protect you.

The influence of the Cross is felt throughout the entire universe.  The war that was started in heaven, is concluded on earth.  The spiritual war that we are involved in has cosmic consequences.

Some theologians (e.g. Bruce, Moo) argue that we must understand “reconcile” and making “peace” in Col. 1:20 as “pacify”; in other words, that God will eventually subject all hostile beings to His will.  But if it was God’s intention all along to “pacify” His enemies, why did He not do it right from the start?  The reason is that, to subject His enemies to His will, when the loyal beings are unsure of the rightness of His judgment, will eventually result in another rebellion.  God wishes to resolve the current conflict in such a way that rebellion will never again arise.  God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but only when all the issue in the universe-wide conflict has been made clear, and He is able to subject them to His will with the full support of all of His loyal subjects.

NEXT: Disarmed the rulers and authorities

TO: General Table of Contents

Election in Romans 9 – 11

Purpose

The purpose of the article on Romans 9 – 11 is to determine the meaning of the name “Israel” in the New Testament.  Both Romans 9 and 11 contain strong election statements.  Because it discusses the chapters verse by verse, the article on Romans 9 – 11 comments on these election statements in four different sections.  The purpose of this article is to bring these thoughts together into a single article.

It is advisable that the main article be read before this one.

Strong Election Statements

The article on Romans 9 – 11 argues that the question in these chapters is why Israel failed.  Both Romans 9 and 11 explain Israel’s failure as God’s decision, namely that God elected a remnant.  Romans 9:6 refers to the remnant as the (true) “Israel”.  The election of the true Israel is explained in Romans 9 using the example of Jacob, which is concluded as follows:

Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (9:13)

This sounds unfair, and Paul is quick to explain that election does not depend on what the individual wants or does (9:16), but only on God’s mercy (9:15):

He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. (9:18)

This verse is part of the discussion of the election of Jacob.  God had mercy on Jacob, but hardened Esau.  But since Romans 9 uses Jacob as example of the election of the true Israel (9:6), it means that God had mercy on the true Israel, and hardened the rest of Israel.

The election of the true Israel is also illustrated with the Potter’s vessels (9:19-21), where it is argued that the potter has the right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use (9:21).

Romans 11:1-10 describe the remnant in clear election language as “His people whom He foreknew” (v2), “a remnant according to God’s gracious choice” (v5) and as those who were “chosen” (v7).  In contrast the “rest” of Israel (v7), which is that part of Israel that has been rejected through the election of the remnant, is described as hardened (v7).

Most people seem to understand these verses to say that God decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.  But it is proposed here that there is no need to read election to salvation into these verses, as explained below:

Israel was elected corporately for the mission.

Romans 9 uses Jacob (later renamed Israel) as example of the election of the true Israel of 9:6, but the election of Jacob never meant that he and his descendants are saved, as Paul makes clear in 9:27. The election of Jacob was a corporate election to perform a specific mission for God on earth, namely to be the vehicle for the promised blessings to “all the families of the earth” (Gen 12:3). In particular, God elected Israel as the nation from which the world’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, will be born, which is the ultimate blessing promised via Abraham (see Rom 15:8; 2Co 1:20; Gal 3:16 and Gal 3:29).

Neither does the election of the nation of Israel mean that all other people on earth are lost. Many examples can be listed from the Old Testament of non-Israelites that were saved. Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus were kings from foreign nations that probably were saved. The Gentiles that “do instinctively the things of the Law”, even though they do not have the law, are saved (Romans 2:14).

Conclusion:
The example of Jacob teaches that one must differentiate between the chosen and the saved. These groups overlap, but they are not the same. To be chosen for a mission does not guarantee salvation.

Hardened to save

Romans 9 uses Pharaoh as example of the hardened rest of Israel, but Romans 9 also indicates that God’s purpose in hardening Pharaoh was to save, not to send Pharaoh to hell.  He hardened Pharaoh by making him dull so that he would not understand the implications of the miracles he was experiencing.  But the important point is that He did this to show His power and to reveal Himself to Egypt and, by implication, to the entire needy world (cf. Rom. 9:17).

It is important to understand how hardening works.  God could have used a person, supported by miracles and wonders, similar to the way in which God used Moses, to cause Israel to accept Jesus, despite the fact that most of them are eternally lost.  But God hardened Israel by allowing non-believing leaders in the Jewish hierarchy to influence the nation’s decision against Jesus. Similar to the hardening of Pharaoh, the purpose of the hardening of Israel was not send people to hell, but to save. God purposefully hardened Israel (11:5) to make the gospel available to non-Jews (11:12, 15).

Conclusion:
Therefore, whether God elects or hardens, He does everything to save.  Election and hardening do consign people to hell or to heaven.

Hardened people may still be saved.

In response to the frightening description of the hardened Jews in verses 7 to 10, the final section of Romans 9-11 starts as follows:

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. (11:11)

Stumble” refers back to 9:31-33, where Jesus was described as a stumbling stone, over which Israel stumbled.

The meaning of “fall” must be determined by the context, and the verses that follow after verse 11 contain many indications that it is still possible for hardened Israelites to be saved:

1. Salvation has come to Gentiles to make Israel jealous (v11, 14) (so that they might desire that which God’s chosen has obtained – see verse 7).

2. They may still experience “fulfillment” and “acceptance” as opposed to their “transgression”, “failure” and “rejection” of the past (v12, 15).

3. Paul wish to “save some of them” (v14).

4. God is able to graft them in again (v23).

Fall” therefore means to permanently remain stumbled, without the hope of returning to God. The statement “they did not stumble so as to falltherefore means that, although they have been “hardened” (11:7), these Jews may still return to God.

Conclusion:
Hardening therefore does not consign people to hell.  Consequently election, the opposite of hardening (9:18), is not eternal salvation.

Intensity of the arguments

Someone argues that the very intensity of the arguments in these chapters must mean that they refer to salvation. Not so. Everywhere he went Paul first spoke to the Jews, and Israel’s election was very important to them. To teach the Jews that they are no longer the chosen nation was no small matter.

The Saved and the Chosen the same in Paul’s day (9:30-10:21)

Romans 9:30-10:21 explains salvation by faith (9:30) by contrasting it with the pursuit of righteousness through works (9:32).  In sharp contrast to the first part of Romans 9, this section does not use election language at all.

Since Romans 9:30-10:21 is an explanation of the vessels in the potter illustration, the mercy-vessels (us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles) also are the people in 9:30-10:21 that pursue righteousness by faith.  If the election in Romans 9 – 11 is election to a mission, and not to salvation, why are the elected (the mercy-vessels) the same as the saved?

This is explained here as follows: There always was a vast difference between the saved and the chosen nation in OT times (Israel). Few of the chosen nation were saved while many non-Jews were saved.

In Paul’s day the real believers became visible as the people that believe in Jesus as messiah, and God elected to use this remnant as His new chosen nation. At that point in history the chosen nation (chosen for a mission) and the saved were the same, to a great extent.  Given this historical context Paul could correctly imply that they are the same. As the new chosen nation (the remnant) developed into formal organizations and adopted heathen teachings and customs, it became socially acceptable, and unconverted people joined its ranks. The Christian movement became similar to Israel of the OT, with a vast difference between the saved and those that call themselves Christians. Few church members are saved while many non-church members are saved.

Conclusion:
Paul implies that the chosen and the saved were the same in his day, but that was due to his unique historical situation.

Damascus

Election in Romans 9 is national and corporate, and therefore not to salvation.  But the election in Romans 11:1-10 is the election of individuals; not of a nation.  God has kept for Himself (v4) a remnant (v5), which is just a group of individuals. Does this prove that this election is election to salvation?

No.  In Romans 11 Paul uses himself as an example of the election of the remnant.  People speak about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, but that was not his conversion.  It was his call to a mission:

the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Act 9:15-16)

For Paul Damascus was a change of facts, not a change of heart.  Conversion is not learning new facts. Satan never doubted God’s existence or goodness, but still he sinned. Having the right facts does not save you. Previously Paul was convinced that Jesus was a deceiver. That was what his teachers told him, and he believed them. His facts were wrong. When his facts were changed on the way to Damascus, it did not immediately change his heart. He was the same old fire-breathing Saul. The new facts found fertile soil in his heart, but he had a long way to go before he could stand before God on the basis of mercy only, not on works, as he was brought up to believe. Until he realised that he was the foremost of sinners (1Tim 1:15), he remained in danger of eternal loss. To be chosen as an individual, therefore, does not guarantee salvation.

Conclusion:
The remnant, of which Paul serves as example, has been called individually to the mission of taking the gospel of Jesus to the world, but even an individual call does not guarantee salvation.

The olive tree

The olive tree illustrates the election in Romans 9 and 11:1-10.  It symbolizes this election by God breaking off branches from the tree (11:17, 20-22) and grafting in other branches (11:23-24).  The broken off branches are the hardened “rest” of Israel. The remaining tree is the chosen remnant.  This confirms that these chapters do not deal with election to salvation, because, if it was true that God decides who should be saved, then He would not change His mind.  Rather, the olive tree is an illustration of the transition from Israel corporately as the chosen nation to the election of the remnant.

Beloved enemies

Consider the statement in 11:28:

they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers

They are simultaneously enemies and beloved. They are enemies because they are not saved (10:1), but they are beloved because of election (of the fathers – see main article). Here again the message is that salvation and election are two different things.

Romans 10

Some people emphasize the Bible verses that speak of God’s sovereignty and underemphasize those verses that speak about human freedom. But between Romans 9 and 11, with their heavy focus on God’s sovereignty and the fate of the chosen nation, we find Romans 10 (actually from 9:30 to the end of Romans 10), with its emphasis on righteousness (9:30; 10:3), salvation (10:1, 10, 13), faith (10:4, 6, 9) and human freedom (10:11, 13), with statements such as:

Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed (v11).

Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved (v13).

In contrast to this section, there is not a single word about salvation in the verses that discuss election (9:13-21). People read salvation into the election verses.

Conclusion:
God’s sovereignty and human freedom are both realities.  Human freedom is related to salvation, as indicated by the context in Romans 10, while God’s sovereign choice relates to who He uses in a special as vehicle of His grace, as is indicated by the context in Romans 9 and 11.

Conclusion

The lack of emphasis on election to a mission is a flaw in Dispensationalist thinking.  Because they frequently do not recognize the election in Romans 9 and 11 as election to a mission, Dispensationalists make Israel the end (purpose) of God’s election, instead of the means to an end.  In contrast this document proposes that the gifts and promises God gave to Israel were to make them a blessing to the nations of the world. Through them God sent the Messiah to the world. Through them God maintained His word on earth and wrote the Bible. Through them God sent the gospel into the world. Israel was elected to be a means—to be a tool in God’s plan of salvation—not an end in itself.

We should not be concerned about who will be saved and who will be lost. We must leave that to God. He alone can judge, and we must trust Him to do that perfectly. God continually works in the heart of every person on earth to lead them to accept His principles. Who will be saved and will be lost is a mystery beyond current human understanding. God will clear up the mess on earth and recreate a perfect world in which complete harmony and love will reign:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and … I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4)

TO: General Table of Contents