Children Of The Promise
God’s Children 

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 43c of 83

“…. 6  Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: 7  Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8  That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. 9  For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. 10  And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; 11  (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) 12  It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13  As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated ” (Romans 9:1-13)

[Romans 9 is known to be one of the most controversial passages in the book. It is here that Paul deals with the subject of predestination and reprobation. But Paul did come to the subject as a dispassionate theologian. Instead he comes to it as one who is deeply grieved by the fact that his own people, the Jews appears to be sidelined in God’s plan of salvation. Thus in the first 5 verses of this passage, which we have considered, he speaks about his yearning for the salvation of his people and of the special divine privileges they enjoy. But now with that as a background, he proceeds to explain how the state that Israel is in is consistent with what God has indicated in His dealing with them in biblical history. -JJL ]



Paul is very clear in his in mind what is going on. In answer to the anticipated question as to why God’s promises about Israel have come to naught, He says:

6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

They are not all Israel, which are of Israel”? What does that mean? It means simply that God’s promise is to Israel, indeed, but not every Israelite is of Israel in God’s mind.

In other words, not everyone is a true Israelite. Paul had already hinted on this doctrine much earlier when he says:

“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh” (Rom 2:28).

Not everyone in Israel is a true Jew, so not everyone was of Israel. God’s promises were for the Israel of God, not for everyone who is born in Israel or who claims to be an Israelite.

To make it very clear this is a divine truth, and not his own invention, Paul shows it from the Scriptures with 2 illustrations:

In the first place, when God promised Abraham He would have a seed, He was not speaking about just any children descending from him. Says Paul:

7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. 9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son.

God had promised Abraham in his old age that he would have descendents. He said to Abraham:

“Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be” (Gen 15:5).

Many years after that promise was made, Abraham and his wife Sarah became impatient. Sarah decided to give Abraham her slave girl Hagar to be his concubine. Abraham then had a child. But that child, Ishmael, was not owned by God as being part of His promise.

The promise was that Abraham would have a child with Sarah, and that from their son, Isaac there would be a multitude of descendants (the chief of whom would be the Messiah). This is what God said to Abraham:

“But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year” (Gen 17:21)

So when Sarah had given birth to Isaac when she was a hundred years old, God agreed with Sarah that Hagar and Ishmael should be sent away. He told Abraham:

“Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Gen 21:12).

It is clear is it not, that when God told Abraham that he would have a a seed or he would have descendants, He had in mind specifically from whom the children come.

8 They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

We’ll probably take a look at this verse again a little later, but for now notice what the Lord is saying. He is saying that not every child of Abraham was a child of God. Only the children who were born according to God’s promise were the children of God.

Secondly, the principle behind the statement “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” is also shown in God’s choice of Jacob rather than Esau to inherit His covenant promises.

Jacob and Esau were the twins of Isaac and Rebecca. Isaac, was the child of promise of Abraham, and so we might expect that both of his children would be children of the promise. But this was not so, only Jacob was the child of the promise, whereas Esau was not. And this was determined by God even before they were born.

This is how Paul puts it:

 10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; 11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) 12  It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.   13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

Jacob was God’s elect. He was loved. Esau was not. He was hated—even though they were twins, from the same father.

What is the apostle saying? He is saying that it does not mean that just because Israel was the chosen nation, that all Israelites are therefore beloved and elected.

This is proven by the fact that though Ishmael was a child of Abraham, he was not a child of the promise; and the fact that though Esau was the child of Isaac, he was not a child of the promise.

What decides who is a child of the promise? It is: “The purpose of God according to election” (v. 11).

Why is it that God’s promises to Israel as a nation did not come to pass? Because God’s promise is only for the elect, or the children of the promise!

Who are the children of the promise? We saw earlier that in reference to Isaac and Ishmael, Isaac was a child of the promise because God had promised that Sarah would have a child. But we must realise that that promise that Sarah would have a child is not the whole promise. If you think of God’s promise as a huge ice-berg, that promise is just the tip of the ice-berg. The promise as a whole has to do not with having children, but having salvation in Christ, the seed of Abraham.

Thus Paul says in Galatians 3:16—

“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Gal 3:16).

Likewise, he says in verse 8 of our text:

“They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Rom 9:8).

Clearly he is not just speaking about the promise of having children by Sarah. He is speaking about the promise of salvation in Christ.

The children of the promise are counted for the seed. The seed of Abraham is Christ: therefore only those who are elect in Christ are counted for the seed. These are the children of the promise. Paul makes this very clear in Galatians 3:29—

And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

See how this relates to the situation of Israel. The promise was given to the whole nation. But the promise was not for the whole nation. It was given to the whole nation only because God’s elect was found in her. Israel was God’s covenant people, because the children of the promise were found in her.

It is like: A wheat field contains wheat and tare, but it is still a wheat field. Even if it is overrun with tare, it is still a wheat field. Your enemy may sneak into your field in the middle of the night and scatter some tare seed, and so the field begins to over grow with tare; but it is still a wheat field to you.

So you continue to fertilise it. Why do you fertilise it? You fertilise it for the sake of the wheat, not the tare. It would only cease to be a wheat field when you have removed all the stalks of wheat and you condemn the field.

This was the case with Israel. Israel was God’s covenant people. In her, God nurtured his elect. So He adopted Israel as a nation, He manifested His glory in her, He made covenants with her, He gave her the Laws, He taught her how to worship Him and He gave her the promises. All these were for the elect sake!

God continued to deal with Israel as His covenant people—until the people rejected the Messiah and called a curse upon themselves and their children. For they said to Pilate: “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Mt 27:25).

When that happened, the stage was set for God to cut off the nation as His covenant people. In the analogy that Paul would use later, God’s covenant people may be represented by an Olive Tree. What God did was to cut off all the natural branches, and grafted in the wild olive branches.

That is God reconstituted his covenant people by removing the unbelieving or reprobate Jews and grafting in the believing or elect Gentiles.

The olive tree, the covenant people of God, had changed its demographics,—but it continues to grow. It would continue to grow through additional grafting in of new converts, as well as through covenant children born within her.

Today the olive tree is growing. All of us who are members of the church are part of the olive tree. But remember that it does not mean that just because we are part of the olive tree, we are all children of the promise.

The children of the promise are the elect of Christ.  This is why we must “give diligence to make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Pet 1:10).

Yet, we must not forget the fact that God is a God of the generation. That has not changed. God declared to Abraham:

“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen 17:7).

He declares the same to us who are the seed of Abraham! “The promise is unto you and to your children” says the apostle Peter. Christ the seed of Abraham had already come when Peter said that. So the promise of Abraham has not been disannulled.

What He promised to Abraham, he promises also to us. He will be a God unto us and to our children.

So unless God closes the womb, we must have as many children as possible. We cannot bring forth children of the promise, but we can bring forth children, and amongst these God will raise up children of His promise.

Conclusion

What shall we do with this doctrine?

In the Old Covenant, the Israelites by flesh received all the blessings of the covenant. They were given privileges that pertained to church membership. Today it is the same with us. All who are baptised, whether young or old are to be accounted members of the church, and brought up as members of the covenant. But that does not mean that all are elect.

Each must come unto a personal union with the Lord Jesus Christ by faith and repentance.

So if you are a covenant child, dear reader, you have the tremendous privilege of being a member of God’s covenant people. You have even been marked out with the sign and seal of God’s covenant of grace. But do not mistake that as election.

You can only be assured that you are one of God’s elect if you fear the Lord and walk lovingly in His ways.

Are you a parent, you can have great confidence that amongst your children will be the children of the promise, for the apostle Peter says: “The promise is unto you and to your children” (Acts 2:39).

And I believe that you can have greater hope that all our children are children of the promise than parents in Old Testament days. After all, the Holy Spirit has been poured out in much greater measure today, than during Old Testament days.

But still we must not become complacent. We cannot change God’s election, but we have a responsibility to bring up our children in the fear and nurture of the Lord. And in a mysterious way, those who are brought up with prayer and diligence usually turn out to be God’s elect.

It is a fact, is it not, that God’s elect are general amongst those who are striving to enter into the kingdom of God? The Lord Jesus says:

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Lk 13:24).

It must be then, that God’s elect will be found striving to enter in at the strait gate.

Think of our Lord’s Parable of the Net and Fishes:

“The kingdom of is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:  Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away” (Mt 13:47-48)

The Lord is referring to a drag net, the kind that you will use near the shore. What you do is you stretch the net, make it encircle a certain area and then pull it to shore.

If you use such a net, you will catch many kinds of fishes; and you will not want to keep all the fishes, so you have to sort them out. You will keep the good ones, and then cast the bad ones away.

Now, you will realise, don’t you that the fishes that get sorted out are those that are swimming near to the shore and are enclosed by the net. The rest of the fishes in the lake are not even considered at all.

So it is with election and responsibility. The elect will be found in the net. They will be found striving to enter the kingdom of God. Parent if you do not train your children to swim near the shore striving to enter into the kingdom of God, you would be ensuring their death.

But if you train them up closely so that they grow up found in the net of the church, you have great hope that they are God’s elect.

The experiences of many a Reformed families which have gone ahead of us have confirm this fact.

Only do not treat your children as unconverted. That will only drive them away. Treat them as God’s covenant children. Bring them up as Christians, calling unto them to repent of their sins and to believe in the Lord for their salvation; and telling them of their need to be born again.

Pray for your children. Do not pray as if God has promised to save every of your children. He did not. But plead His covenant mercies in general. Pray for your children in particular that they will come to see the truth in His Word and forsake sin and follow after Christ!

But covenant child, take care. Remember that you are not truly a child of God unless you are born again and love the Lord. Our Lord teaches us that we must be born of the Spirit. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jn 3:6).

Now, what this should mean for you is that you must be born again. If you would be a child of God you must be born again. You do not become truly a Christian simply because you are born in a Christian family.

You become a true Christian when you are born again by the Spirit. You may not know when you are born again, but if you are born again, you will love the Lord and you want to keep His commandments.

Do you love the Lord, dear child? If you do not, then woe are you, for you are of all men most miserable. You are in danger of being cut off like the Israelites of old and cast into the fire. Repent, my child, repent and cry out unto the Lord. Ask Him to change your heart, and strive to enter into the His kingdom by keeping His commandments. Daily pray; daily read God’s word; daily think about Christ. Love Him and walk with Him. If you will make your calling and election sure, you will never fail. Amen.

—JJ Lim