Keys to Understanding Romans 9 : 6-9 – Who Are The “Children of Promise”?

In this series, we are not going through Romans chapter 9 in depth. My goal is merely to give us some key cross-reference passages to help us come to a clear understanding of what Paul is communicating in Romans 9. Most of these passages come from Paul in the book of Romans, Galatians, or Ephesians. But we will also look at some of the Old Testament passages he cites, as well as other related passages. 

6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” 8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.” 

Rom 9:6-9 NKJV

In the last post, we looked at Romans 9:1-6 and noted what issue Paul intends to discuss in the chapter. He is asking and answering two primary questions. He is pointing out to the reader that Israel was promised the New Covenant, and yet they have for the most part rejected it. Firstly, he wants to answer why it is that Israel has rejected Christ and the New Covenant in Him. And secondly, he wants to let us know with confidence that this has not hindered God’s promise and plan. In 9:6 he told us that the unbelief of Israel did not thwart God’s promise to Israel because Israel is not reckoned according to natural descent. In 9:7-9 he is going to expand on this idea and present evidence for his assertion. 

In 9:6 he states that not everyone descended from Israel (i.e. Jacob) is part of Israel (i.e. God’s chosen people). Then in 9:7-9 he reiterates this concept, and supports his statement, by saying that not all of Abraham’s children received the promise given to him by God. He notes that the “children of the flesh” are not heirs, but the “children of the promise” are counted as Abraham’s heirs. Just as Isaac, the second-born son, received the promise, and the firstborn son, Ishmael, did not receive it, so it is now in the New Covenant. 

Let’s ask two questions:

  1. Who are the children of flesh and the children of promise?
  2. How does one become a child of promise?

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar– 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children– 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27 For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.” 28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. 30 Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free. 

Gal 4:21-31 NKJV

Galatians 4:21-31 answers our first question. In the letter to the Galatians Paul was dealing with many of the same issues he was dealing with in Romans. And in chapter 4 we see Paul use the same illustration he does in Romans 9:6-9. But in this passage, he spells out for us exactly what he is talking about. 

In Galatians 4:23-25 he tells us that Sarah and Hagar, and their children, represent two different covenants. Hagar and Ishmael represent the Old Covenant, which he says was still in bondage. Those in Israel who were obeying the Law of Moses, but had rejected Christ were like Ishmael. They were “children born according to the flesh” (Gal 4:29). These people would not partake in the blessing of the New Covenant. The Christians, whom Paul calls his brethren in verse 28, are the children of promise. They are members of the New Covenant and have received the blessings of God in Christ.

13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 

Rom 4:13-16 NKJV

Our second question is answered in Romans 4:13-16. How do we become children of promise? How do we become the children of Abraham and inherit the blessing he was promised? It is through faith in Jesus Christ. 

As Paul said in Romans 9:6, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” And in 9:7, “nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham.” We see that it is not because someone is from the natural lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they are reckoned as members of God’s chosen people but through faith in Messiah. 

National Israel had for the most part rejected Christ when he came. But this did not hinder God’s promise to Abraham, because God always intended to give the promise based on faith, not on natural lineage. So, though many people who were born Jews, did not receive Christ, God’s word is still fulfilled in those who trust in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile. This has been Paul’s message since chapter 1: 

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” 

Rom 1:16-17 NKJV

Galatians 4:21-31 and Romans 4:13-16 are keys that help us understand Romans 9:6-9.

For those interested in reading a book I have written on Romans 9, you can support our ministry in Indonesia by buying it through our Amazon affiliate link here, or you can read the free version in the “GCI Books” section of our blog.



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