The Children of Promise
Paul now begins to explain why it is that the Jews had not received Christ as Lord and Savior, as their very own Messiah. And his answer throughout these three chapters will focus on God’s election of certain individuals who thereby receive the promises; in other words, salvation was never by physical descent as the Jews of Paul’s day assumed. When they claimed to be children of Abraham, John the Baptist himself said some twenty or so years earlier: “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). Paul is going to argue that God’s plan has not been thwarted because salvation was never according to the flesh but always according to the promise.
So he begins by saying, “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” And we know that to be true: Did Eli’s sons behave as children of the promise? Absalom? Manasseh? There were plenty of the wicked among the children of Abraham. Paul proves his argument by showing how God, Himself, chose certain people even before they were born. He chose Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau, the point being that salvation has nothing to do with the flesh but with God’s promise and the one to whom the promise comes. Thus, we might paraphrase Paul as saying that not all who are descended from “physical” Israel belong to “spiritual” Israel. Some might counter, “But they were God’s covenant people.” Yes, and Paul said as much in 9:1-5. But the covenant extended to them as a group or family upon the earth, not as saved individuals going to heaven.
Which is exactly the way it is now. We have the physical Church of God which we all can see, and the spiritual or invisible Church of God made up of those who have received Christ by saving faith. We would like to think that every member of the universal Church is a born again believer, and it certainly should be that way, but we know that’s not true. So you see, it’s not those of any physical descent or of belonging to some group that determines who is saved, but those who are children of the promise.
And who are the children of promise? Only those chosen of God, just as He chose Isaac, just as He chose Jacob, and that before they were born and had committed neither good nor evil. Thus, the promise depends solely on God, not man. Paul will eventually say that a partial hardening has come over Israel, but for the purpose of their salvation after the gentiles come in. Salvation is not according to the flesh, but the Spirit; and that’s a good thing.