In chapter 11 of Romans, Paul states categorically that God has not cast off his people Israel. There remains a faithful remnant, just as in Elijah's day. Paul himself is a Jew, appointed by God, and he is but one of a growing number of Jews who have come to believe in Jesus and thus are rightly "the elect" of God, "a remnant chosen by grace."
v1. In the previous passage Paul explained that the majority of his fellow Jews had clearly heard the gospel, but had chosen not to respond in faith, and are therefore without excuse. He now rejects the possible conclusion that God has completely cast off his people. "By no means" (God forbid!). Paul himself, the apostle to the Gentiles, is a Jew, one of many who have come to believe in Jesus.
v2-4. Paul now emphatically states that God "has not cast off his people". Abraham, and those of his descendents with a faith like his, are objects of God's special favour ("whom he foreknew"), and this situation has never changed. Alluding to 1Kings 19:10-18 Paul reminds his readers that at the height of Israel's apostasy during the reign of king Ahab when the prophet Elijah thought he was the last true Israelite, even then there was a faithful remnant, God's 7,000 (7 displaying completeness and therefore probably a symbolic number).
v5-6. As it was in Elijah's day, so it is in Paul's day. There exists a faithful remnant whose standing before God does not depend on their own meritorious works, but on the sovereign grace of God; it depends on God's mercy freely appropriated through faith. Grace and meritorious works are mutually exclusive. A person's right-standing before God depends on God's mercy, it depends on his promised forgiveness to those who ask, and certainly does not depend on a person's obedience to Biblical law.
v7. Israel waited eagerly for the coming of God's kingdom, but when it came in Christ, many did not gain it because they sought the prize in their own right (their linage in Abraham, obedience to the law....). Only some of Israel, a "remnant", remained as God's "elect" people, the true descendents of Abraham, the children of faith. The bulk of Israel heard, but did not believe and so did not call out to the Lord. As a consequence, they were "hardened", their minds was dulled to the message of salvation. When a person rejects a clear word from the Lord they are left with little more than riddles.
v8. Paul alludes to the divine hardening, Deut.29:4, Isa.6:9-10, 29:10. Spiritual insensibility is the inevitable consequence for those who resist God's kind mercy.
v9-10. Psalm 69:22-23 illustrates this divine hardening. The imagery was originally used to describe a curse upon the enemies of Israel. Now, sadly, Israel faces this very curse. Yet, the hardening is not "forever", rather it is continual, relentless, but always with the hope that the people will repent, cf. 11:11-12.
God never rejects us
A young person recently told me of an experience he had when he was in his teens. He attended a Friday night youth club at his local church. He didn't come from a church-going family, and he was quite open about the reasons for going to the youth club. His friends went there and it was a top spot to meet girls.
One evening the minister came to a club night. He lined everyone up and asked each person individually, "do you go to church?" When he had finished, he had two lines, one for attenders and one for the rest. Then came the crunch. The minister told everyone present that there were two groups present at the club that night. There are those going to heaven and those who aren't. Those not going to church were not going to heaven.
This incident left a mark on this young man and I must say, as he told the story, it left a mark on me. I found it difficult not to cry, but then real men don't cry! Anyway, after his youth-club outing he went home and told his parents what happened and from then on he wasn't allowed to go back to the youth club, not that he really wanted to. As he related the story to me you could feel the anger, the hurt, the offence..... He had carried the hurt with him all those years, the hurt of rejection, even the sense that he was rejected by God.
Our Lord will stand off from us in our rebellion, his words will dry up before us, but he doesn't reject us on mass. There will always be those who look past the riddles of life. Thankfully our God is gracious and kind; he hears the cry of the lost and joyfully carries them to eternity.
1. What evidence does Paul give to show that God has not rejected his people?
2. By what means does a person join the "remnant chosen (elected) by grace"?
3. What is God's "hardening", and what causes it?