Romans 9:11–13 speaks of the election of Jacob in personal terms. “(For the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ ” Notice that it is the two unborn children who are in view. God chose and set His love upon one of the unborn children, and determined to pass by the other with the gift of electing love, before they were born or had done either good or bad. It was an act of sovereign election of one individual and of sovereign reprobation of the other individual.
Thus, an interpretation that regards the election in view as only the collective, theocratic election of Israel cannot stand in this context. The phrase “that the purpose of God according to election might stand” must thus be the electing purpose of God that is unto salvation.
This doctrine continues to be developed in other passages, such as Ephesians 1:4–5: “Just as He chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” Here the subject is the blessings that all Christians have in Christ. Again in Romans 8, the apostle clearly refers to the election of individuals to salvation.
The phrase, “ ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,’ ” must mean more than that God merely loved Esau less. The Biblical idea of God’s hatred is one of positive disfavor—we have no reason other than our own squeamishness to say otherwise. It should be observed that the love and hatred of this passage are specifically based upon the sovereign will of God, and not dependent upon the character differences or the deeds of the two boys. What the apostle has in view are the ultimate destinies of the two men, that the purpose of election might be made manifest.
The apostle is arguing that the covenant promise has not failed, even though much of Israel rejects the Gospel of Christ. It is the remnant of Israel who are the elect of God unto salvation. To suggest that the reference to election in verse 11 is something less than full soteric election would fail to demonstrate that the covenant promises have not failed.
The individual character of election and reprobation is also seen in the subsequent discourse in Romans 9 regarding God’s differentiation between Moses and Pharaoh. In particular, there is reference to the hardening of Pharaoh by God. It is, of course, a judicial hardening. That is, God did not make Pharaoh a sinner. He was a sinner, and the hardening of his heart by God was like the giving over to a reprobate mind mentioned in Romans 1. It was itself a punishment for previous sin on the part of Pharaoh. Thus, it was the sovereign act of God to harden him.
One may have the impression that Paul’s representation of God as hating sinners is not in accord with the modern understanding of the nature of God. This is true. The modern man does not want to hear about a God of justice and wrath. The Bible teaches both that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). To ignore or deny the justice and wrath of God is to fail to reflect the balanced teaching of the Bible regarding God.
The fact is that not one of us is righteous and thus deserving of any good favor from God. The amazing thing is not that God hates sin and the rebellious sinner, but that He has been pleased to show mercy upon any sinners. This is the comfort, not the calamity, of the Biblical doctrine of election. By His sovereign grace, before the foundation of the world, God chose some unto everlasting life in Christ; provided in Christ the redemption necessary to cleanse them from their sins; then sent the Spirit to give them new hearts, thus enabling them to come to Christ by saving faith.
So how can I know whether I am elect or not? First, do I trust in Jesus as my Savior? One can come to saving faith only by the help of God. “For by grace have you been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). My responsibility is to hear and accept the Gospel, to repent and believe in Jesus. If I have done this, it is evidence of the electing and regenerating grace of God in my life. Do I truly love Jesus? Am I seeking to please Him by living for Him and obeying His commandments? (John 14:15). The free invitation of the Gospel is that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).