Last Sunday I preached a sermon on Romans 9:1-18, entitled "God's Sovereign Choice." I borrowed the sermon title from the heading in the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.
The text, while straightforward in its claims, has divided Christians over the doctrine of election. Some, after reading the text, reject it. Others take a moderate approach. Still others use it like a club in debating the first two groups. A more balanced approach is to take the passage at face value and study it with great humility. The Westminster Confession of Faith is very helpful at this point: "The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care" (WCF 3.8). Dr. Mike Horton jokingly says the people who are new to the reformed faith ought to be locked up for a couple of years so that they can study things in depth and emerge with a sense of reverence and gratitude.
If you want an excellent commentary on Romans designed for pastors and layman alike, then John Stott's book, Romans - God's Good News for the World, (InterVarsity) is for you. I found this quote (p. 269) from him that brings perspective to this doctrine:
“If God hardens some, he is not being unjust, for that is what their sin deserves. If, on the other hand, he has compassion on some, he is not being unjust, for he is dealing with them in mercy. The wonder is not that some are saved and others not, but that anybody is saved at all. For we deserve nothing at God’s hand but judgment. If we receive what we deserve (which is judgment), or if we receive what we do not deserve (which is mercy), in neither case is God unjust. If anyone is lost, the blame is theirs, but if anybody is saved, the credit is God’s.”