So the chapter begins with the clear message that Israel is lost. At least most of Israel is lost. Despite having the way to righteousness handed to it on a silver platter, Israel is lost and it’s giving Paul a lot of sorrow and grief. Paul wishes they were saved but, alas, there’s nothing he can do about it.
Now how does that fit into the Calvinist approach to Romans 9? Well a Calvinist says that God picked the christians and the rest are lost. So if a Calvinist believes his doctrine, doesn’t that mean God didn’t elect to save Israel? Paul says that not everyone from Israel is the true Israel. Verse 6 says, “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” Since the word of God didn’t fail, all that Paul has been saying from the first chapter of Romans is established according to God so that no one can claim God’s word failed. So why is Israel lost?
The Calvinist view has to follow the thread through chapter 9 of Romans and conclude that most of Israel is part of the Ishmael, fleshly and faithless branch that comes off of Abraham. The Calvinist has to see that lost Israel is the Esau branch and nation that went off from Isaac. As God hated Esau, God hates Israel. Right? Why? Because Paul is clearly saying they are not the true Israel, cf. Romans 2:28-29. They are the uncircumcised, though outwardly circumcised. So why do Calvinists not see that according to their doctrine that Israel is not elected for salvation and that they are doomed in their depravity?
The Calvinist thinks he understands that God hardens men, like Pharaoh, just to make an example and to exalt His name. The Calvinist thinks that God damned Esau for no good reason but that He does what He wishes and you are talking back if you question the rightness of this. After all, He’s the Potter and you are the clay. The Calvinist must follow the line of thought and conclude that Israel is lost because God fashioned Israel for destruction and to be a vessel for dishonor: like a chamber pot, as one Calvinist put it.
When you follow the Calvinist line of thought, you do see no hope for Israel. God makes one vessel for honor and another vessel for dishonor. Israel, being lost, is the vessel of dishonor, according to the flow of chapter 9 of Romans. But is this hopeless condition for Israel what Paul is saying?
Paul sees a way for the lost state, pictured in Ishmael, Esau, hardened Pharaoh, and the clay fitted for dishonor, to be saved. Romans 11 shows that the natural branch of the olive tree is only cut off because of unbelief. But as the Gentiles were grafted into the olive tree, so Israel can be saved if they believe, Rom. 11:24. Israel is lost, for sure, but Israel can be saved if it comes to knowledge and faith in Jesus Christ. “Faith comes from hearing, hearing by the word of Christ”, Rom. 10:17. This is what Romans 9 is teaching. The last four verses of Romans 9 shows that the switch from unrighteous to righteous is a possibility. Just believe in Christ and the hardened clay becomes soft. The vessel fitted for dishonor becomes a vessel for honor.
This truth upsets the Calvinist cart which says the lost and saved are all fixed by God’s decree made before the world was founded. Contradicting this view, Paul makes it clear that the Gentiles attained God’s righteousness because they sought it by faith. And therein is the decree and choice of God. The Jews who have been pursuing righteousness by works, didn’t attain it. Not because God decreed who would be lost and who would be saved. The point is Israel needs to believe in Jesus. Israel in the unbelieving and faithless condition is a vessel fitted for dishonor. But Israel can change and become a vessel for honor, 2 Tim 2:20-21. Israel in the lost condition is Abraham and Sarah circumventing God’s promise to produce a child of the flesh. But Israel that turns to Christ, confessing and believing it, will be saved and will become the true, spiritual Israel. Abraham and Sarah had a faithless moment to produce the child of the flesh, but later they had the faith in God and the child of promise was born. Paul’s countrymen according to the flesh can likewise make that change. Lost Israel is a nation still clinging to Esau the firstborn. Yes, the allegory of Galatians 4 fits here which says present day Israel is the child of the bondwoman, Hagar. But the Christian community is the child of the free woman. How can Israel go from lost to saved? Believe.
Belief is possible for all. Preach to the Jews and if they believe, they will be saved. Preach the Gospel to the lost neighbors and family members and friends. If they believe, they can be saved. God hasn’t fixed any soul to be damned. God has only determined that if they don’t believe, they will be lost. And God has only established that everyone that believes will be saved. No, Romans 9 is far from Calvinist teaching. Paul wasn’t the first Calvinist. Paul didn’t teach Calvinism. The Calvinist doctrine is the evil antithesis of the Gospel.