In the same way, then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. Romans 11:5-6
Are you part of the “remnant according to God’s gracious choice”? What does it mean to be God’s “choice” people? Does it mean special privileges or indulgences? Does it mean that we are those who receive gifts instead of discipline? What is Paul talking about in this part of His letter to the Church in Rome?
Throughout Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, Paul is trying to hold the Jewish Church and Gentile Church together as one. Hence Paul’s opening statement that He is “not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16 (Emphasis Added). By the time we get to Romans 11 (quoted above), Paul has already made the point that someone is not a Jew simply because they are a descendant of Abraham, nor simply because they observe the Torah. Someone is Jew because they share the faith of Abraham (Romans 2:28-29, Romans 9:6-8). But Paul is also insisting that, even though most of the Jews have rejected Jesus as the Messiah and have thus missed out on the promises made to Abraham, the Jews are not now “cast away” or a “rejected branch”. They are still beloved by God and capable of being saved and inheriting the promises. Many people, at this point, will assume that what is being said is that God will cause ALL Jews to become Christians at some point in history because they are the chosen people of God, i.e. chosen for salvation. That is not what is being said. Israel’s choosiness was never a matter of favoritism, as though God loved Israel more than the rest of the world. Apparently, there was a popular teaching in Paul’s day concerning Abraham which said that God chose Him because of his exceptional Holiness (N.T. Wright “Romans for Everyone” Pg 9). No. Paul insists that God’s choosing of Israel was an act of sheer mercy. Hence Paul’s meaning when he says that this “remnant” is a matter of grace (a gift) and not according to works (something that was owed to them). But this was not an act of mercy for the sake of Israel escaping proper judgment for sin, but for the sake of God having a vessel through which He would bless the world and keep His covenant with Abraham. Being “chosen” by God never at any point meant that you got special privileges and favors from God. It meant that you had they honor of being used by God for His purposes. Thankfully, those purposes are good and they are for the whole world and for ALL those who will have the faith of Abraham. The question that Paul is addressing in Romans 11 is “Are there any Israelites who share the faith of their father Abraham?” Paul’s answer is a resounding “Yes!!” Paul says that God has kept a remnant of the Jews who do believe in Jesus as their Messiah (Paul being a shining example of one such person) “in the same way” as He did in Elijah’s day. How did God “keep” a remnant in Elijah’s day? Elijah was a prophet of God who complained to God saying, “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” But God responds saying, “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (Romans 11:3-5, 1 Kings 19:14-18). For most people reading Romans, it will be assumed that what God means is that He “chose” seven thousand men to have faith, as though He might have made the whole nation of have faith but He only choose seven thousand. But this is not what is being said. What is being said is actually right before our eyes, “they have killed…and I alone am left”. Elijah is not complaining that there are no people of faith. Elijah is complaining that there are no people of faith left alive! This is even clearer when you read directly from the text in 1 Kings 19, from which Paul is quoting. It is actually because of the faith of these men that God preserves them. That is a point that most of us would assume to be off limits in a discussion about Paul and election! But that is the point that is right there in black and white.
In the same way, Paul is saying, even though Israel according to the flesh, appears to have totally rejected Jesus as the Messiah and have thus missed out on the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, there is still a preserved remnant who have come to faith in Jesus and Paul is the shining example. The ultimate point that Paul is making is that Gentile believers should not write off the Jews as being hopelessly condemned or a “rejected branch”. No, they are God’s chosen vessel and God longs to reconcile them to Himself, just as He longs to reconcile Gentiles to Himself. There are indeed Jews who also have the faith of Abraham and God has preserved them. The Gospel is “the power of God for salvation for ALL who believe.” (Romans 1:16 emphasis added).
Jews, to this day, must not see themselves as being automatically included in God’s promises simply because of their heritage. They must see themselves as being included by way of sharing the faith of their father Abraham and in that way they might become God’s remnant of Israel as a matter of Grace and not as a matter of privilege. Gentiles too must not see themselves as being better than Jews now that the promises of God have been extended to them and this has partially happened because the Jews largely rejected the Gospel. No. Gentiles must always show honor and gratitude to the Jews for having born “the heat and the burden of the day” for so long, for the sake of the world. We have been grafted into the vine of Abraham’s faith and we cannot cut ourselves off from the tree into which we were grafted without destroying ourselves. God has chosen us to serve and honor one another as family through our common faith and to seek and save the lost so that they too might be God’s chosen people. There never has been and never will be partiality with God. (Romans 2:11). Praise the Lord!