Israel's Current Spiritual Condition - Part 3

Romans 11:1-10

Tom Pennington  •  May 19, 2019
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After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson outlined the proposed peace settlement between the Allies and Germany. That plan, that peace plan, was called "The Fourteen Points." Georges Clemenceau was French Prime Minister, at the time, and he was not fond of Wilson or of his proposals. When he heard of Wilson's "Fourteen Points" for peace, he is said to have sarcastically responded, "The good Lord only had ten." He was referring of course, to the Ten Commandments, a misunderstanding of the gospel as if our keeping God's Law would somehow bring us peace with God. That is a gross misunderstanding of the gospel.

James Boice points out that God's peace plan has only one point, and it's that you give up trying to impress Him with your sullied works and, instead, embrace Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. That's really the truth behind the passage that we come to in Romans this morning. Paul is in the process of explaining why so few Jewish people have come to believe in their Messiah, but he wants us to know that's not going to last forever. Chapter 11 reminds us of the faithfulness of God, that their story is not over, and so in chapter 11:1-32, Paul develops this idea of "God's Faithfulness" in two major sections.

We're studying the first of those sections; it's "Israel's Current Spiritual Condition" in verses 1 through 10, her current spiritual condition. And he begins by pointing out that there is a remnant of Jewish people who is being saved by God's grace. That's the message of the first six verses.

He begins with a rhetorical question in verse 1, "Has God permanently rejected His people?" His answer comes in the end of verse 1, "May it never be!" And in verse 2, "God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew." In spite of her rejection of the Messiah and His gospel, Israel is still the people of God.

And then Paul sets out to provide the proof of that, beginning in the end of verse 1 and running down through verse 4. Four pieces of evidence that prove God has not rejected His people. We have looked at all four of those; and last week, we considered the fourth and final piece of evidence; it is the biblical evidence from the message that God gave to Elijah in verses 2 through 4.

You remember Elijah, in his time, he had an accurate assessment when he said, "Lord, they have killed Your prophets; they have torn down Your altars, and they are seeking my life." All of those things were accurate and true, but he came from that to a mistaken conclusion when he said, "I alone am left," - verse 3. And so we ended last time by looking at "God's Surprising Correction" to that in verse 4. But what is the divine response to Elijah? "I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL."

The point of this illustration from the life of Elijah was that God had preserved for Himself, even in those dark times, a believing remnant. The fact that there was a believing remnant then showed that God had not rejected, He had not abandoned His people. And so out of that illustration, we come to verses 5 and 6, where Paul draws out the implications of that illustration and really applies it, and there are such rich truths here that we need to see together.

Let's look then at the "Implications" of all of this in verses 5 and 6. Notice, he makes it clear that's what he's doing at the beginning of verse 5, "In the same way then," What follows are four implications of what happened in Elijah's time, four implications. The first implication is this; there still exists a believing remnant. Verse 5 says, "In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant." In Elijah's time, the vast majority of the Israelites were not genuine believers in the true God; instead, they worshipped Baal. But God had kept for Himself 7,000 who were His true people. Paul says, "Listen, in the first century, as I write this letter to you in the Roman churches, Israel's spiritual condition is exactly the same." Paul says there has come to be at the present time a remnant.

Now notice that expression, "Come to be." It's an interesting use of the Greek word; it emphasizes that this remnant has come into existence, perhaps even surprisingly so. Just like in Elijah's time, in the first century, there was this small group from the whole nation that had come into existence and truly believed in their Messiah. You see this in the book of Acts; go back to Acts, chapter 2. You remember on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:41, after Peter finished preaching, "So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls." Forty days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 3,000 thousand Jewish people, most of these were Jewish people, maybe a few Jewish proselytes, came to genuine faith in their Messiah.

Go over to chapter 4, verse 4, "But many of those who had heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand." So now, you see that remnant growing. In chapter 6, verse 1, "Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number," so you see it continuing to grow. So it's already eclipsed the time of Elijah; there still existed a believing remnant in the first century, and Paul says, "This is exactly like it's always been; it's exactly like it was in Elijah's time, it's still the same." But here's the encouraging part, although there was a small remnant, it was larger than it appeared.

Go over to Acts, chapter 21. James makes this clear to us in Acts 21:20, as Paul met with James and all the elders there in Jerusalem, verse 20 says, "When they heard it they began glorifying God, and they said to him. 'You see, brother, how many thousands there are from among the Jews of those who have believed,'" - how many thousands there are. The Greek word that he uses here is the word that is sometimes translated 'myriads.' It's the highest word for a number in the ancient language of Greek. It means 10,000 literally. So what he really says here is, "You see how many tens of thousands have believed."

So you see Paul's point is absolutely right. Just as was true in Elijah's time and then in Paul's time obviously in the first century, it's still true today. God still has a believing remnant among the Jewish people. Right here in our church family, there are people of Jewish descent who have come to embrace Jesus as their Messiah and His gospel. Just like it was in Elijah's time, just like it was in the time of Christ our Lord, just as it was during the ministry of the Apostle Paul. And there are many others scattered across this planet.

You know, when you think about this truth, it is equally true that when you consider the world population as a whole, there is a small believing remnant of both Jews and Gentiles whom God has chosen out of the world at large as His people and in His church. I mean, think about the numbers. You understand that today there are 7.3 billion people on this planet; 2.1 billion profess Christianity, but only about 800 million of those are even Protestant, and about 600 million claim to be evangelical Christians and believe anything like the biblical gospel of faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. What that means, practically, is likely fewer than 500 million people on this planet or fewer - you ready for this - than 7% of the world's population are true believers. God still has His remnant; He still has His remnant and if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then by His grace, you are part of that remnant.

There's a second implication of what happened in Elijah's time back in Romans, chapter 11, and it's this, that remnant exists solely because of God's choice. Why was there a remnant of true believers in Israel during that dark time when Ahab and Jezebel promoted the worship of Baal and tried to do everything they could to obliterate the worship of Yahweh? Why was there a remnant? There's only one explanation, verse 4, "What is the divine response to Him?" Notice this. "I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL."

God wasn't merely making the point that 7,000 survived; no, God told Elijah the reason 7,000 men still believe in Me is that I have kept them for Myself. The reason 7,000 were true believers was not because of them; that's the point God is making. They were not believers because of their own initiative; the reason they existed as part of that small believing remnant was because of God's gracious choice, not by their efforts, not because of their faithfulness, not because of their merits. That's what God clearly implies in His statement in verse 4.

But if God implies it in His statement to Elijah in verse 4, Paul explicitly states it in verse 5. Notice what he says, "In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice."

Literally, the Greek text reads, "According to the choice of grace," - according to the choice of grace. "According to" has the idea of the real cause. This remnant of true believers has surprisingly come into existence because of this, specifically the cause, notice verse 5, is God's choice or God's election because that's this word. We've met this word before; go back to Romans 9:11; as Paul teaches the doctrine of election, he says in verse 11, "for though the twins were not yet born" - Jacob and Esau - "and had not done anything good or bad," - so this choice wasn't based on anything in them - "so that God's purpose according to His" - here's His word - "choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls." God made a choice of one of these boys, Jacob rather than Esau, because of nothing in them because they had done nothing good or bad, but because of His own purpose, so that His purpose according to election might stand.

So then back in Romans 11, Paul is once again making the same point he made in chapter 9. This believing remnant of God's true people, in the middle of a sea of unbelief, has only come into being because of God's choice.

There's a third implication of this remnant in Elijah's time; it's God's choice of the remnant is by grace alone. God's choice of the remnant is by grace alone; notice verse 5, "In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time, a remnant" - not only according to God's choice but - "according to God's gracious choice."

The word 'gracious' tells us that His choice of all of those in the believing remnant in Elijah's time, in Paul's time and in ours, is based on grace alone. It was a gracious choice. Now, don't misunderstand that word. That doesn't mean gracious in the sense of kind; it means God chose them, based solely on His grace. What is God's grace? Well, if you've been at our church anytime at all, you've heard me define it this way, "God's grace is that quality within God, that attribute of God that permeates His being that causes Him to delight in doing good to those who deserve exactly the opposite." Think about that. There is, in God, an attribute that permeates who He is that finds joy and delight in giving people who deserve exactly the opposite, what they don't deserve. Those God chose deserved to be passed over in judgment like Romans 9 describes, but God didn't do that. So God didn't choose them because of their personal merit or works. I mean, think of Paul himself. Paul was saved, not because of him, but in spite of him. In spite of his violent opposition to Christ and His gospel. Same is true today; it's true not only of the remnant of the Jewish people who believe today. The reason, if you're here and you're Jewish, the reason you've come to believe is not because you're smarter than your Jewish brothers and sisters; it's because of God's gracious choice. But the same thing is true for all of us who are in Christ. God's choice of us was not based on anything good in us, no personal merit, no individual achievement. It was grace from beginning to end; it was all grace and grace alone! But Paul wasn't content to leave it there; he wants to drive this point home.

And so he adds a fourth implication in verse 6, and the implication is this, God's grace toward the remnant is completely apart from works. Now you say, "Wait a minute, he just said that. That's what he said; it's by grace alone; it's by God's gracious choice." But he just doesn't want us to miss it, so in verse 6 he says, "But if it is by grace," - as he's just said it is - "it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." This verse is a passing comment really on the last phrase in verse 5, "according to God's gracious choice."

But why does Paul include it here? He's already made the point, he made the point at length in chapter 9 and throughout his letter, and so it's really not a necessary part of his argument here. It just feels sort of inserted in the middle of his argument. Why did he add it? I've wrestled with this as have other students of the Scripture, even commentators I've read, and I really believe that Paul inserts it here for two reasons.

First of all, because he loved this doctrine and he was completely, personally overwhelmed with God's grace. And you see it; I wish I could take you through how often Paul mentions 'grace.' I think it's some 81 times in his letters. He comes back to this theme of grace; he loved it; he loved it, personally.

But I think he did it for another reason as well. I think he comes back to this theme because he knew how difficult it is for us merit-based people to really accept grace without adding works into it. He expected, and you know what, it makes sense. I think he expected that some would read about the 7,000 who remained faithful to God in Elijah's time and be tempted to what? Give them some of the credit. "Oh wow! Look at those faithful people. Boy, I want to be like that!" And to give themselves some credit for their own salvation perhaps as well.

Spurgeon said, "The human heart is so naturally opposed to grace that even when we know that we can't earn our way to heaven, we still would love to have just a small part in the last mile." So Paul interrupts the logical flow of his argument here in Romans 11 to, once again, drive home that God's choice of us and our salvation are by grace alone.

His major point in verse 6 is that grace and works are two different means of seeking to be right with God, and they are mutually exclusive; they are completely antithetical. Notice how he says it, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works." Now, first of all, don't misunderstand those words 'no longer.' They don't imply that God's choice used to be on the basis of works; instead 'no longer' here is used logically. He's saying this, "Listen, once you come to understand that salvation is by grace, you can no longer logically maintain that it's on the basis of works."

If God chose specific individuals to be a part of the believing remnant by grace, then logically, because of the very definition of the words 'grace' and 'works,' He could not have chosen them on the basis of their works, that's what he's saying. Now the word 'works,' here includes, I think obviously since he's talking about Jewish people, the keeping of the Mosaic Law because that's how they believed they could be made right with God. But the wording makes it broader than that. Notice how he expresses it; he is including here, by works, anything that human beings do.

God's choice, and therefore salvation itself, exclude anything that humans do; that's what he's saying. God's choice of us, to save us and, therefore, our salvation itself excludes everything that human beings do; no human works of any kind are the basis of God's gracious choice, nor are they the cause of anyone's, including your salvation.

In fact, Paul says it's impossible. Notice how he goes on in verse 6, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." Notice that word 'otherwise.' He's saying, "If works were involved at all in God's choice of us or our salvation, the result would be - grace is no longer grace." Why? Because we would've completely redefined the nature of grace. If works are involved in any way in salvation, then you cannot call it salvation by grace; that's what he saying. If works are involved at all, in any way, then stop calling it salvation by grace, it's not. You have radically altered the very meaning of the term; because by definition, to be saved by grace means that you receive salvation as a gift that is totally, completely, entirely unearned and unmerited; that's what it means to be saved by grace.

By definition, on the other hand, to be saved in any way by works, in any way, in the very least, even the last mile, means that you have at least partially earned or merited salvation. So they're mutually exclusive. Grace and works are mutually exclusive. You can be saved by grace or you can be saved by works, but you can't be saved by both grace and works at the same time; because if that happens, Paul says, you have obliterated grace. Grace is no longer grace. Grace has ceased, by definition, to be grace as soon as you add any human effort to it at all.

Now obviously, Paul's argument here is focused on Israel, but the point is universally applicable. You are saved either by the grace of God or by your works but not both. If you affirm one, you logically deny the other; that's what he's saying.

Now, Paul's primary point, in verses 5 and 6, has to do with the Jewish believers of the first century and the Jewish believers today. God continues to preserve, by His gracious choice, a believing remnant. That means that to answer the big question he started the chapter with, God has not abandoned His people. If there is today a believing remnant of Jewish people who have come to believe in their Messiah, believe in His gospel, then it means that God has not abandoned His people. God has not forsaken them and he's going to go on to argue that He has a great future in store for them.

While the focus of this section is the Jewish people and the believing remnant among the Jewish people, the implication from these two brief verses for all believers, for all of us here who are true followers of Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentile, the implications of these two verses are huge. Let me draw them out for you and I hope that this will prepare your heart for the Lord's Table.

Number one, here's the first implication; every believer in Jesus Christ is part of the believing remnant of the world's population. Think about this. The remnant that God kept, that He preserved of true believers, could be much, much smaller than it is. In fact, when God, think about this, when God decided to destroy this entire planet with a flood, how many did He keep to Himself? Eight, only eight. That's a remnant. The truth is God would have been just, let this settle into your soul for a moment, God would have been just if He had decided not to preserve a remnant at all. But in His love and in His grace, He did, and you are part of that remnant.

Number two, the only reason you are part of that believing remnant is God's choice of you. Do you, do you really find yourself amazed by grace? I am asking you honestly, sincerely; I'm not asking you for the right answer. We can all give the right answer. I'm asking if you personally are amazed at the sheer magnitude of God's grace in saving you. Do you understand that you are one of less than 500 million people on this planet that God chose for Himself? You could very easily have been part of the other 6.8 billion people. God didn't have to set His grace on you; He didn't have to choose you. You could've been in that other number. You are part of fewer than 7% of the people on this planet on whom He has bestowed His saving grace. He could've just as easily left you in the other 93%. He could have left you in your sin and rebellion, but He didn't, but He didn't. He chose you for the remnant. And in His time and in His way, in all of our lives, in separate paths, He brought us to truly know Him and to love Him and to serve Him and to follow His Son. Be overcome by the magnitude of God's grace. He could have and would have been perfectly just to have passed you by like he has the majority of the people in human history, like the majority of the people on this planet today, but the only reason you sit here in Jesus Christ is because of God's amazing grace!

Number three, God's choice of you and, therefore, your salvation is not according to your works, but it is by grace alone. Because works and grace, as Paul just taught us, are mutually exclusive.

Now, let me bring out a couple of sort of implications of this third implication. So, I'm sort of in my sub-list here. First of all, if any of your hope or confidence of being right with God or of getting into heaven is because of your own works; if any - underscore that word - if any of your hope or confidence of being right with God, of getting into heaven is because of your own works, you are not a Christian. How do I know that? Because you have added works to the true gospel; and in Galatians, Paul says that is "another gospel" - that's not a genuine, it's not a true gospel. If you have any hope of heaven, if you plan to stand before God and to say, "God, you should receive me because of this that I am or this that I did," then you're not a genuine Christian; you have not come to understand grace. Because you can contribute nothing to your acceptance before God. Your faith and confidence must solely be in the work of Jesus Christ.

In fact, look at Romans, chapter 3. Romans 3:24. He says verse 23, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," - and those who are justified, verse 24, are justified or - "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." And then in verse 25 he describes that redemption, how God publicly displayed Jesus Christ as the propitiation, the satisfaction of His own wrath against the sins of those who would believe in Him. That is the only way. If your confidence is anywhere other than Jesus Christ and His perfect life and His substitutionary death and His resurrection, then your confidence is misplaced. And I plead with you today to abandon your works and your merit completely and entirely, and put your confidence solely in Jesus Christ our Lord.

There's another implication of this idea that it's not by works. If you are a Christian, understand this; verse 6 refutes the idea that God chose you based on His foreknowledge of your faith. That's a popular idea in Christian circles; it's called 'Conditional Election.' It means that God's choice was conditioned on something in you, specifically your faith. But notice what verse 6 says. Paul says "God's choice is based entirely on God's own grace and on nothing in us." And if we contribute - this is the point of verse 6 - if we contribute to God's choice in any way, then in reality, it's no longer grace.

Another sort of sub-implication of this idea that it's not by works is, and I love this, this is a great comfort. Since God didn't choose you because of your works but because of His grace, it's His grace and not your efforts that guarantee your final salvation. You didn't get yourself saved and it's not your responsibility to keep yourself saved. You obey; you persevere; you follow the Lord; but in the end, He uses that Himself to keep you like He kept the 7,000 in Elijah's time.

It's God's grace to us in Christ, His gracious choice of us, His salvation by grace, and the great sacrifice of His Son that purchased the right for Him to show us that grace in Christ. That's what we celebrate in the Lord's Table. Take a moment and prepare your heart as the men come to serve us.

Our Father, we can only say, "Thank You!" for Your grace. Lord, it amazes us, it astounds us to think that You would have been just not to have saved a remnant at all; that every single one of us You would have passed by and left to our sins and our rebellion and the penalty that deserved. Lord, You would've been just to do that. But oh, God, we thank You that, in Your grace, You didn't do that. That You chose solely because of Your grace, a remnant whom You would keep for Yourself as Your special treasure. Lord, we didn't deserve that, we don't deserve that, we will never in 10,000 years deserve that; it is solely grace. God, we find joy in the knowledge that there is in You, this quality that You have described to us, this attribute that permeates Your entire being, that is who You are, that You are gracious, that You find joy and delight in treating us exactly the opposite of what we deserve.

Father, we're so grateful to know You and Your Son. And Lord, we come today to celebrate Your grace in the Lord's Table. Lord, help us, even as we take of these elements, to express our thanks; thank You that even Paul refers to this as the giving of thanks. We give You thanks, oh, God, for Your Son and for Your grace in and through Him.

And as we come to do so, we first come seeking Your forgiveness and cleansing. Lord, not before You as our judge in the courtroom of Your justice, we have been justified, declared just in Your presence through the righteousness of another, our Lord Jesus Christ, and that will never change. But Father, as we walk through this world as justified believers, we sin against You, our Father. We gather to use our Lord's image, the dust of the world on our feet, and we don't need another bath, but we need our feet washed. And so we come today, asking that You would forgive and cleanse us; that we may take of the Lord's Table in a way that honors Him. Lord, receive our worship now in this way that You have prescribed; receive our thanks for Your amazing grace. We pray in Jesus's name, Amen.