God’s Irrevocable Gifts and Calling
“As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”- Romans 11:28-29
You may recall that in our study of Romans 9, we saw that the opposition Paul anticipates to the doctrine of election makes sense only if the Apostle is affirming the choice of particular individuals for salvation. Many people want Romans 9 to be about corporate election—the Lord chooses a particular group for salvation without choosing the group’s individual members. However, who would charge such election with being “unfair” or “unjust,” especially if the individual himself is the one who determines membership? Paul teaches individual election in Romans 9, and he knows sinners will think it unfair and unjust.
That does not mean that the Apostle has no place for corporate election in his thinking. In Romans 11:1-6, Paul says that God has not rejected His people Israel, though he doesn’t believe that every ethnic Israelite will be saved. He preached the gospel to the Jews first in each city, because without belief in the gospel, no one can be saved (Acts 13:1-5). In Romans 11:1-6, Paul means that the Lord has not rejected ethnic Israel as a corporate body even though He has rejected every Jew—and Gentile, for that matter—who never trusts in Jesus.
Paul uses the category of corporate election in today’s passage when he says that in regard to the gospel, Israel is the enemy of the church (v. 28). This cannot mean that all ethnic Israelites are opposed to the gospel, for Paul himself is an ethnic Israelite. What he means is that as a corporate body, ethnic Israel is presently opposed to the Lord.
On the other hand, the same corporate Israel is on account of election “beloved for the sake of their forefathers” (v. 28). God continues to love the collective whole of ethnic Israel because of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Our Creator will never “abhor [the Jews] so as to destroy them utterly and break [His] covenant” that He made with them (Lev. 26:44). This is not a promise to save each and every person of Jewish descent, for “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Rom. 9:6). It is a pledge that God will never cast off the Jews as a whole. He will save them so that we can speak of the salvation of Israel even if not every single Jew who has ever lived will be saved. John Calvin comments that Paul “speaks not now of the election of individuals, but of the common adoption= of the whole nation, which might seem for a time, according to the outward appearance, to have failed, but had not been cut up by the roots.” God has a calling for ethnic Israel as a whole, and He will not go back on His word (v. 29).
God does choose to bless corporate entities, but not everyone who professes membership in a blessed group will fully enjoy the blessing. At present, there is a distinction between the invisible church and the visible church, and only at Jesus’ return will that distinction be done away with. When God says salvation is for Israel or for the church, he does not mean every individual member of that group but ultimately only those who possess the faith they profess.
Passages for Further Study