Few chapters in the Bible elicit as much controversy as Romans 9. The subject matter of God choosing to redeem one person over another—based solely on His sovereign choice—is an absolute affront to most modern sensibilities of fairness and justice. But the apostle Paul wasn’t bothered by those objections. In fact, he used the truth of God’s sovereignty to repudiate them and reaffirm God’s unimpeachable justice and righteousness.
Paul had a passion for the salvation of sinners, and it was particularly strong for the Jews—after all, they were his people. So in Romans 9 he starts by saying, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” (Romans 9:1–2). What troubled Paul? He explains, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3).
Paul’s heart breaks for lost Jews such that he would wish himself out of fellowship with Christ for the sake of winning their salvation. That’s an evangelistic zeal most of us know nothing about. He expresses the same impassioned longing a chapter later: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1). Everything in Romans 9 is sandwiched between those earnest expressions of a deep desire for the salvation of his fellow Israelites.