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A Remnant Chosen By Grace (11:1-10)

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We humans have the tendency to let the principle of “collective guilt” influence our actions. For example, if a foreign government does something we don’t like, we will insult or harass a person from that country even though he had nothing whatever to do with the incident, has no influence over the policy of his government and disagrees with what it did. In the same way, it is not uncommon for people to vent their displeasure on a whole community for the actions of one of its members. What is even worse is when a whole community is punished, not on the basis of actual guilt, but because of a rumor that someone might have done something.

We can be thankful that God does not act this way. He is just. He judges people based on the facts, instead of unfounded assumptions. Further, He does not hold anyone responsible for the actions of another. Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel He said, “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” (Ezekiel 18:20 NIV)

There is a good illustration of God’s justice in the Apostle Paul’s inspired letter to the church at Rome. In the letter Paul reminds us that the Israelites are God’s chosen people. He entrusted His word to them. It is they who received God’s promises of a Savior. It is through them that Christ came. In spite of the promises, the Israelites rejected Christ when He came. What was God’s response to this?

In chapter 11, verses 1 through 10 Paul writes, “II ask then, did God reject his people? May it never be! For I also am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God didn’t reject his people, which he foreknew. Or don’t you know what the Scripture says about Elijah? How he pleads with God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have broken down your altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.” But how does God answer him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. What then? That which Israel seeks for, that he didn’t obtain, but the chosen ones obtained it, and the rest were hardened. According as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, to this very day.” David says, “Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, a stumbling block, and a retribution to them. Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see. Bow down their back always.””

In this passage Paul emphasizes that God did not reject all of His people, the Israelites. If He had, then God would have rejected Paul as well, because Paul was an Israelite. In the previous chapter Paul wrote that not all the Israelites accepted the good news about Christ. They chose to disobey the message they heard. Fortunately, God does not condemn an individual because of what his relatives do. God still accepts those who accept Him, in spite of the disobedience of others. To say it another way, God only rejects those who choose to reject Him.

It is not always easy to discern the difference between those whom God choses and those He rejects. For example, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven...” (Matthew 7:21 NIV) In contrast, Paul writes about himself, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy... (1 Timothy 1:12-13 NIV)

How can God accept a violent, blaspheming persecutor while rejecting those who call Jesus, Lord? Didn’t Paul already say in chapter 10, verse 9, “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”? (NIV) Jesus gives the answer to this question when He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21 NIV) It is not enough to say that Jesus is Lord, we must actually allow Him to be our Lord. God knows ahead of time who will do His will and who will merely pay Him lip-service. It is on the basis of this foreknowledge that God chooses. He knew that Paul would accept the message about Christ while others of his fellow Israelites would not. Scripture records that God spoke to Paul through another follower of Christ, “...The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.” (Acts 22:14-15 NIV) Paul spent the rest of his life obeying God’s call.

Choosing to accept Jesus as our Lord is not always easy. It is especially hard when it seems that all those around us have chosen to reject Him. We can become very lonely and discouraged. Paul gives the illustration of the prophet Elijah. As far as Elijah knew, he was the only person left who had remained faithful to God. Not only that, he remained faithful at the risk of his life. However, when Elijah complained to God, God revealed to him that there was a remnant of 7,000 others who still remained faithful.

It was the same way with the Israelites of Paul’s day. Though the majority chose to reject Christ, a remnant accepted Him. This remnant were the ones God chose. They were chosen not because of their own works of merit but by God’s grace – by what God did for them in Jesus Christ.

The more we reject something the more insensitive to it we become. The Israelites rejected God’s work through Christ, because they tried to obtain righteousness through their own efforts. As a result, they were hardened. Paul quotes Isaiah and David to make the point that having chosen not to see Christ they became blind to Him. Having chosen not to hear, they became deaf to the message. They were trapped by their own unbelief. Having rejected faith in Christ they were condemned to remain burdened by their sins. What about us? Are we still trying to earn salvation? Are we blind and deaf to the message of Christ?