“I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” (Romans 11:1)
As we enter the final chapter in Romans focused on the nation of Israel and the Jewish people, we are brought to matters concerning Israel’s future. Chapter 9 explored Israel’s past, Chapter 10 explored its present (at the time of the writing), and now we see what lies ahead in God’s plan for the nation. Chapter 11 is really the pinnacle of the entire Bible concerning God’s dealings with Israel and the Jewish people because it addresses the status of both the nation of Israel as a whole as well as the individual Jew in light of the rejection of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, by the Hebrews. For not only did the Sanhedrin, acting on behalf of the Jewish people, reject the Lord Jesus by condemning Him to die (Matt. 26:66); not only did the High Priest, Caiaphas, act on behalf of his countrymen when he labeled the Lord a blasphemer and called for His sentencing (Matt. 26:65); but the people themselves present that day pleaded for Barabbas to be released in Christ’s stead, swearing to Pilate that His blood would be upon them and their children (Matt. 27:25).
All of these circumstances could make one wonder if any member of the nation of Israel had any hope of Redemption after such a complete and thorough denunciation of the promised Savior. Yet the Spirit of the Lord declares through the Apostle’s words that God has not cast “His people” away. Israel had rejected their Savior, but He had not rejected them. The Apostle Paul points out here in the very first verse of Romans 11 that he himself is a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin and God has received him. Part of the people whom God foreknew, the elect in Christ, are Jewish. Though the nation itself stood under judgment, any individual Israelite possessed the very same ability as the Gentiles to come to Jesus Christ in faith and be saved on that basis.
The Jewish Remnant
“God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” (Romans 11:2-5)
Throughout the history of the nation of Israel, there was always a remnant who remained loyal to God even during the darkest hours of rebellion. When the people rejected God throughout the Old Testament, there were always a few who remained faithful to the Lord. The example is given here of the 7,000 in Elijah’s time who had refrained from worshipping Baal (cf. 1 Kings 19:10-18). Such a remnant of Jewish believers would exist throughout the Church Age; Hebrew Christians who would accept Christ as Savior and would serve Him. These Israelite Christians would comprise the true, or spiritual Israelites whom Paul described back in Romans 9:6.
Two Interesting Verses
I have spent a great deal of time in the past weeks looking at Romans 9 and 10. In my opinion, the section of Romans concerning Israel is all too often either skipped entirely or skimmed over very quickly by many Bible commentators. It is undoubtedly a fascinating passage of the Bible which teaches us a great deal about the unchangeable God we serve Who fulfills all of His promises according to His own plans and purposes. Even so, as a gentleman pointed out to me in an e-mail a few weeks ago that I seemed to be “stuck in Romans 10″, I am eager to move on into the final division of Romans, starting with Chapter 12. In that section we will examine the more practical advice and directions given to the Christian, instructions which are directly applicable to our daily lives. Therefore, next time, Lord willing, we will conclude this chapter and section of Romans with a final look at God’s ongoing and future dealings with the nation of Israel. For now, I would like to conclude this post by looking at two doctrinal concepts relating directly to Salvation which are referenced within the chapter.
Grace Or Works
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6)
Perhaps no other single verse in the Bible shows the utter absurdity of mixing grace with works to obtain Salvation. Many people are ready to accept that God’s grace factors into Salvation, but they simply cannot fathom that it is entirely the grace of God which saves and the works of man play absolutely no part in it. They will not let go of the idea that God must require something from them, some deed or work of righteousness, in order to be accepted by Him. The Book of Mormon reflects this innate notion that we must offer up at least some works for Salvation (even though it is conceded that God’s grace is the primary factor):
“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, AFTER ALL WE CAN DO.” (2 Nephi 25:23, Book of Mormon, emphasis added)
The distinction might not seem like much, but that little phrase, “after all we can do” means that grace is no more grace. Romans 11:6 shows us emphatically that grace is grace and works are works and never the twain shall meet. Once you add even a little bit of righteous deeds into the picture then you have introduced works into the formula and it is no longer God’s grace which saves.
We Stand By Faith
“Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.” (Romans 11:20-21)
When it comes to the subject of the Eternal Security of the believer, I believe that the Bible far more readily supports the conclusions of Calvin than it does Arminius. Verses such as the one we just looked at, among countless others, make it abundantly clear that God’s grace saves sinners and God’s grace upholds saved sinners. It is not works which save us initially nor is it works which keep us saved. Nevertheless, concepts like “irresistible grace” do not seem to find much support in the Bible either. That anyone will be dragged, kicking and screaming, through the gates of Heaven is not a lesson taught by Scripture. We are given the ability to choose whether or not we will come to Christ, whether or not we will answer His call to Salvation. And we are also given the choice of whether or not we will continue in Him.
We do not need to maintain our Salvation by works, nor do we need to fear that we will inadvertently sin our way out of God’s hand. We are very secure in His grace. Yet we are told that it is by faith that we stand. We enter into relationship with Jesus Christ by trusting Him and we continue in that relationship, how? By continuing to trust in Him. This is not to say that we are immediately lost if we have questions or moments of doubt. But I think that this does imply that it is possible for a person to cast aside their faith and stop trusting in the Lord. Is this something that is likely to happen? No. Is this something that can accidentally happen? Certainly not. It is a decision, a choice which someone makes.
This verse in Romans 11 cautions against being “high-minded”, that is, arrogant and prideful — the very sins of Satan which separated him from God. We are admonished to fear, to put ourselves under subjection to the Lord. Satan did not turn from God because he simply found it too difficult to continue to trust Him; he actively rebelled against God and chose to turn away from Him.
That Paul is talking to genuine Christians in this passage is confirmed by his language. He refers to branches grafted into (v. 17, 19) the olive tree. These branches are upheld by the Root and are partakers of the “fatness”, or blessings, of the Root (v. 17). Yet the warning is that these “grafted in” branches might not be spared if they allow pride and arrogance to destroy their pure faith (v. 21).
It is with great caution that I speak at all about any genuine believer turning away from God and “forfeiting” their Salvation. The entire testimony of the Word of God verifies that, so long as a person wants to be saved and comes to Jesus, then God will save them. As the Lord Jesus said,
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37)
The Lord is not turning anyone away from Him. But neither is He forcing anyone to come to Him or to stay once they have. The choice remains ours as to whether or not we will abide in Him. We stand by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But surely we will fall if we cast that faith aside.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,