Romans 9 begins a special three chapter section where Paul digs deep about Israel's relationship with God, their salvation, and their mission to Gentiles. It also includes a touchy subject on the issue of Election. Often times the issue is simplified down to: you are in if you are elected (pre-chosen by God at the foundation of the world to go to heaven), and you are out if you are not elected, thus you are created to be consigned to hell. This is a tough teaching. Martin Luther reserves conversation about this issue only with the very mature believers who can handle such doctrine.
Verse eleven-twelve has this to say about election: "Yet, before the twins (Esau and Jacob) were born or had done anything good or bad - in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls - she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.'
And verse sixteen: "It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy." (18) Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden."
Paul anticipates a logical response: v19 - "One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?"
There is not enough space in this blog entry to work through this concept adequately - many volumes have been written about it by men smarter and holier than me. My one word of caution: speak carefully about this issue. If it is a complicated doctrine and difficult to understand, don't be too dogmatic about it. Be open to dialogue about God's role in saving people. Paul is clear that God calls us prior to our salvation, we don't work to convince him of our worthiness. The way of righteousness begins with faith, it cannot be attained by works. Works do not give birth to a righteous standing before God. God works to make us righteous, and that right standing is what gives birth to our works.
Does God make the offer of salvation available to all people, or only a select few?
What we do know is this: if you find yourself trusting God with the way of your life, then you can consider yourself elected. Rather then judgmentally guess who is in or out, live in joyful gratitude as you go the way of righteousness in faith. God does the calling, and he uses our way of righteousness to bring salvation to others. So live out God's mercy unto others not yet going the way of righteousness.