Have you ever felt that God has abandoned you? Have you ever wondered if God has abandoned humanity? If so, you’re not alone. Throughout history there have been times when the people of God wondered if God had abandoned them. Paul answers this question in Romans 11:1-2,29-32.
In Romans 11, Paul presents a panoramic view of God’s plan for Israel, past, present and future. God has reserved a remnant of His people, and His election is by grace, not works. The grace of God and works for salvation are mutually exclusive.
The concept of a remnant has always been a part of God’s redemptive plan, so it’s no surprise to see it is in effect today. Paul uses his own experience to illustrate this concept. Paul’s experience was that of a man running away from God’s plan for his life. Christ redeemed him on the road to Damascus. Paul returned to his people and proclaimed the good news. He was one man among a remnant. He proved that God is faithful to preserve those that He foreknew.
Paul was part of God’s plan to bring another remnant-the Gentiles-into the fold. God knows the number and the identities of the Gentiles, and in due time they were brought into the Christian family. Before that could happen, the Jews were hardened in terms of their strict interpretation of God’s Law and their belief that they were God’s chosen people. The Gentiles were hardened because they didn’t know God’s righteousness. Neither group had the right to think that they were better than anyone else. Despite their attitudes, God honoured them and loved them.
At the end of Romans 10, it almost seems that Israel has hopelessly and eternally rejected Christ, effectively ending God’s plan and purpose for Israel. But Paul himself is proof that God is not through with Israel. He was from the tribe of Benjamin and a Jew who believed in the Messiah. Paul discussed how some of the branches of the tree (unfaithful Jews) were broken off so that the Gentiles could be grafted into the tree of faith. Just as God reserved a remnant of His people in Elijah’s day, even when Elijah thought he was the only faithful person left, so in Paul’s day and beyond, God has preserved a remnant according to the election of grace.
Despite every advantage in the moral law of the covenant with Abraham, the Jews had failed in their moral obligations. They, like everyone else, were dependent on God’s grace for their salvation. The result is a wonderful vision: God wants to have compassion for all people, and he will have compassion for all people. God will be faithful to us despite our sinful ways. God won’t give up on us. His promise of life is centered in Christ’s death and resurrection. He delivers both Jews and Gentiles from sin, death and the power of the devil.
God worked to show the Jews and Gentiles that both groups were under the dominion of sin. God did not give up on the world, but provided a system of salvation. He did not want to condemn the world, but He needed to do it so that everyone might see his sin, and then God could show His mercy upon all.
God has not rejected Israel, even though Israel rejected God. Similarly, God doesn’t reject us even when we turn away from Him. He was always there for Israel, and he is always there for us. For example, at a time when Israel turned away from God, the prophet Elijah became discouraged and engaged in a pity party. He thought he was the only believer left, and having seen what happened to the other prophets, he didn’t hold out much hope for his own survival. As the only one left, he had a feeling of high visibility and peculiar vulnerability! God pointed out to Elijah that he was not alone; in fact, there were seven hundred thousand others who had not betrayed the Lord. God claimed to have reserved these people for Himself. They were part of the unfailing remnant which runs like a thread through the tapestry of Israel’s history. At times, they were highly visible as the children of faith, and at other times they were hidden from sight by the sins of Israel. They survived because God is committed to the covenant He made with Abraham. God is committed to seeing that His people are saved.
God’s choice of Israel and individual believers is unconditional and unchangeable. It’s rooted in His unchanging nature and the covenant He made with Abraham. He extends his grace to everyone, because His grace flows from His mercy. God has allowed His people to sin so that He could receive glory by demonstrating His grace and mercy to disobedient sinners.
Israel was eager to lay claim to its special status as a nation with God, but was reluctant to accept the responsibility of faithful obedience to Him. As Christians, sometimes we feel superior to other groups. We sometimes feel that we have done something great to earn our acceptance before God. Instead, God’s gift of salvation should make us humble and grateful. God has given an unconditional promise to His people, and He is not going to renege on His promise.
Israel’s condition was partial because there are genuine believers. It was temporary in that there was a restoration of the fortunes of the Israelites. God chose to use the rejection of Christ by His people as a means of reaching the Gentiles so that through His demonstration of grace to them the Israelites might realize the grace of God in Christ. Israel’s unbelief was used by God to evangelize the Gentiles, and in turn that led to the restoration of Israel. Gentiles should not criticize God because of His plan to bless Israel in the future. God chose Israel so Gentiles could receive and enjoy salvation.
God has a plan for our lives. That plan may have some detours, shortcuts and bypasses in store for us. He has laid out the entire route for our lives. He knows that we will take our own detours, bypasses and shortcuts. He has arranged a comeback for every setback. He doesn’t change His mind or His plan. He will work with us to fulfill His plans for our lives.
Once we have placed our faith in God, He will never cast us away. He will never abandon us, reject us or turn us away. He will discipline us, but He will never cast us away. God’s mercy is a gift, no matter what. Mercy is kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly. We know that we could be treated harshly, and our sin would indicate that we should be treated harshly. But by God’s grace, we are loved anyway. We are forgiven anyway.
Those who have been called and responded to the gospel in faith have become not only the remnant of Israel who were God’s elect in ancient times, but the new Israel God has now created in Christ. There’s a “wideness in God’s mercy” that will never abandon the original covenant people. By grace it’s a mercy that is extended to us, too!
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1559, 1561)
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- Bobby Schuller, “Leading the Way…” Retrieved from www.hourofpower.org
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- Paul D. Opsahl, “God Pause for Wednesday, 08/16/2017.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org