Chapter 9 is easily one of the most controversial passages of scripture. Some believe that the lack of connecting words between chapters 8 and 9 indicate a pause in Paul's argument as he lapses into a lament over the rebellious state of Israel. I'm not so sure.
Remember that in Chapter 8 Paul has just finished a long discourse on the celebration of God's love including the assurance of salvation even in the midst of persecution. It is likely no accident, therefore, that Paul moves to discuss election. However, in line with the diatribe style, he must anticipate certain objections, the strongest of which is, "If we are to trust God's current promises, what are to make of His past promises?" The question begged invokes painful emotions within the great apostle to the Gentiles because he still so closely identifies with his fellow countrymen. Paul clearly believed that most of his fellow Jews stood condemned (Ch. 2 and 9-10:1).
While Paul re-affirms the great honor and privilege accorded to the nation of Israel culminating in the King of the universe himself claiming Jewish heritage according to his human nature he then goes on to demonstrate from the Bible that being a member of God's true chosen people has never rested on birth or works but purely on God's sovereign election or call--i.e., Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau and the remnant who had not followed the baals. In other words, there has always been an "Israel within Israel" who are privileged to be a part of God's plan and granted the free gift of salvation.
This assertion obviously raises certain objections, namely, if God grants saving faith then how can He condemn many for not having it what only He can give? Paul gives no real explanation to the paradox of how it is that we are responsible our actions yet only saved by election before we are even created. Paul simply asserts, using more Biblical illustrations, that this is the way it is and as creatures rather than creators we have no right to shake our fist at a Holy God and cry "unfair."
Paul's assertion still raises a number of objections and I will deal with those later. I will note, however, that as a Christian raised in an Arminian church, a minister educated at a Free Will seminary and a pastor licensed by the Methodist church, it pains me to say this--Paul was a Calvinist!!!