The Election of Grace
I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, “Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men that have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace.
Father, we thank You for Your word; Your word is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, and Lord You use it skillfully to reveal the thoughts and the intents of our hearts. And so we pray that You would continue to transform our hearts, our minds by Your word and by the work of Your Spirit here today. Lord, that we would be a better representation of You in the world in which we live. God, that people, when they see us, would see You and Your work in us, that they would see the Gospel, the good news about who You are and what You have done, that it is powerful, not only for salvation, but it is powerful to change us, to transform us. So Lord, wash us by the washing of the water of Your word, we ask. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, and all God’s people agreed saying, “Amen.”
You can be seated.
I wonder if the thought has ever crossed your mind, as it certainly has mine, as you look at your life, as you consider things that maybe you have done or are in the midst of doing, you have that thought glance through your mind: “Man, if I don’t get my act together, God is not going to put up with me much longer.” I don’t know about you, but at some time in my life, sometimes there have been those thoughts that have gone through my mind because if God were anything like me, I might give up on myself. Very clearly, we fall short of the glory of God, and we wonder how it is that God puts up with so much from us. In our last several studies in the book of Romans, we have been considering God’s dealings with the children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – a people whom God had chosen to work through; a people whom God had chosen to give great blessing, and that through that very same people He would bring great blessing. But as time went on through their history, and you can read about the history of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, the Old Testament is largely made up of the history of the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As time went on through their history, there came a time where God, through the prophet Isaiah, would say, “All day long I’ve stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” Sometimes we find ourselves in that very same place, being disobedient and contrary. For hundreds of years that was the testimony of the descendants of Abraham. Although chosen by God, both to be blessed and to be a blessing, they were a disobedient, stubborn, rebellious, and contrary people. In so many ways we see that illustrated in their lives. And that being the case, one might begin to think that God would give up on them, God would cast off, God would reject them. At the time that Paul wrote this letter to the church at Rome, Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they had rejected Jesus, the Messiah; they had rejected the Son of God when He came, when He was sent. There on the day when He stood trial before Pontius Pilate; Pilate had had Jesus beaten, and now brings Him before a gathered multitude of Jewish people there in Jerusalem. And he said, “Behold your King!”
And they said, “We will not have this man to rule over us.”
And so they had rejected Jesus from being their King, from being their Messiah. And yet when Paul is writing this letter to a gathering of Gentiles mostly, non-Jewish people who were followers of Jesus in Rome; as the nation of Israel, the majority of them had rejected Jesus from being their King, their Lord, it was Gentiles who were largely being recipients of His grace. And so there’s such a huge contrast. The people whom God had chosen to bless, and through whom to bring a blessing, to bring the Messiah, they had rejected the One who is the very incarnation of blessing. And now people who were not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were openly receiving Him.
And with all this in mind, Paul anticipates, as he’s been writing these things, speaking about these things; in fact he quotes Isaiah in the very last verse of Romans chapter 10, he quotes that passage: “All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” And Paul anticipates what the inevitable question of his readers is going to be as we come into Romans chapter 11, verse 1. Most of the book of Romans, if you’ve been studying along through it with us, you know that much of it is written as anticipated responses to the objections of Paul’s readers; and so now he anticipates the next objection: “I say then, has God cast away His people?” Now of course the “His people” in this section of Scripture, because in Romans chapter 9 through 11 is speaking about the nation of Israel, His people are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And so he asks the logical question – If they’re a disobedient and contrary people, has God cast them away? And that word “cast away,” it literally means has He rejected them, has He rejected them?
And Paul immediately follows up with a response; it’s the very same response that we’ve seen a number of times already in the book of Romans – “Certainly not!” God forbid! May it never be that God would reject His people! Now it’s important to recognize that this whole section of Romans – Romans chapters 9 through 11 – is really written into this letter, into this book, because Paul had made the claim, he had said there at the end of Romans chapter 8 that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. There’s nothing that can separate us from His love. And yet the people of God, the children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the people to whom God had said through the prophet Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” the majority of them were not abiding under the grace of God. They’d not received the blessing of the Messiah. And so it’s a logical thing to say, to question and say, “Has God rejected His people, has He cast them off?” Because on the outward observation of their character, of their life, where they are at that moment 2,000 years ago, and at this moment now in the 21st Century, you might say, “It seems like, if they were once God’s people, they don’t seem to be God’s people any longer.”
I remember a number of years ago, it was just a couple of weeks after September 11, 2001, Pastor Eric and myself and Rick Kierstead and one of our elders, Mark Cato, we were in New York City, and we were there with the Red Cross, seeking to serve in any way that we could. And at one point we were working with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association just handing out flyers that said, “If you need prayer, you can call this prayer hotline.” And I remember, there was this one lady that a paper had been given to, and she came back to speak, I believe it was with Rick, she came back with tears in her eyes, and she said to us there, as we were standing there, that “God doesn’t love us.” And it turns out that she is a Jewish individual, and considering what has happened, what she saw with her own eyes there in New York City, but not just that, considering the history of her people, the nation of Israel, she would look at that and she’d say, “It seems to me that God has cast us off. If He at one time loved us, He certainly does not now.” Looking back at the history of the nation of Israel, considering all that has come upon them, one might wonder. Because on the outward observation of just the evidence, it would seem that God has cast away, He’s rejected His people, those whom He called through Abraham.
And so Paul asks the question that was on his readers’ minds, “Has God cast away His people? Certainly not!”
Well Paul, how do you know, how do you know for certain that God has not cast away this people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
Two reasons, if you’re taking notes, you may want to write these down. Two reasons – number one: We know that God has not rejected His people because of the promise of Scripture, the promise of Scripture. God had said, in 1 Samuel chapter 12, verse 22: “The Lord will not forsake His people.” Psalm 94, verse 14, there again we read: “For the Lord will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance.” So there He says, just a couple of spots, there’s many in the Old Testament where we find the declaration that God will not reject His people. However, if you know anything about Jewish history, and if you follow through the Old Testament, you know that there were times where His people, the nation of Israel were cast out of His blessing. It was in the 8th Century B.C. that the northern ten tribes of Israel – the nation had been divided into two different kingdoms, the northern kingdom called Ephraim, and the southern kingdom called Judah – and it was in the 8th Century B.C. that the northern kingdom was cast out of the Promised Land, cast out of the land of blessing because of their sin. The Assyrian army had come in and taken them away captive. And it was just about 100 years later when the southern kingdom of Judah was also removed from the land of blessing, removed from there to be captives in Babylon for 70 years because of their sin. So no, God will not reject His people, but there have been times in their history where they have been removed from His blessing because of their sin. God will not bless sin!! We need to make that very, very clear. And not just the sin of the children of Israel, but our own sin. God cannot bless us if we are walking in sin. Now that’s not to say that if you’re not experiencing temporal, experiential blessing here on earth, that that’s an immediate cause for concern, that you’re in sin. But it should be a question; it should be something that comes to our mind. If we find ourselves in a place where we’re going through extreme difficulty or we’re not experiencing blessing from God, we should at least ask God, “Is there anything in my life that is bringing this about?” So it’s not just going through suffering, that doesn’t just equal that we’re not, you know, walking with the Lord, but it should be a question. And so there were times where the Lord removed His people, 2 Kings chapter 23, verse 27 says, “The Lord said, ‘I will remove Judah from My sight, and remove Israel, and cast them off from the city of Jerusalem.’” Why? Because of their sin.
But He had not rejected them. And the idea is that God has not rejected them as it relates to access to His grace. Though you may not, because of your sin, be receiving the blessing of God, you always have access to His grace and forgiveness. As long as you’re alive in this life, you have access to His grace for forgiveness, and salvation. And so has God rejected His people? No. We know that because of the promise of Scripture.
Secondly, we know that because the proof of salvation. The proof of salvation to, well, the apostle Paul. Notice what he says here in Romans chapter 11, verse 1: “I say, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” We know that God has not cast away His people because of the promise of Scripture, but also because of the proof of salvation unto Jewish people. Even in our own church here there are people who, they can look back in their heritage and find that they are Jewish, that they descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul the apostle, Peter, Thomas, Bartholomew, all the early followers of Jesus were Jewish. Most of the church was Jewish in the early days of Christianity. It wasn’t until Acts chapter 10 that we see the Gospel begin to spread to non-Jewish people, to Gentiles. So, we know from the proof of salvation of people who are Jewish, that God has not cast off, He has not rejected His people.
But Paul, in giving this answer here, this brief answer, he wants to elaborate, expand upon it, so we read in verse 2, Romans chapter 11, verse 2: “God has not cast away,” He has not rejected “His people whom He foreknew.” Would you underline that in your neighbor’s Bible? Just reach over, nobody’s doing it. My goodness, come on, you can do that. Or underline it in your Bible. “God has not” rejected or “cast away His people whom He foreknew.” And so Paul, in verse 1, proclaims, “Certainly not!” to the question: “Has God cast away His people?” Here in verse 2 he expands upon it, explaining it a little bit more. He says “God has not cast away those whom He foreknew.” That word – foreknew – it’s used only one other time in the book of Romans, back in Romans chapter 8, just a few chapters before. Turn back there, Romans chapter 8, look at verse 29, Romans 8:29: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” The implication of these words that we see in Romans chapter 11, verse 2 – “God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew” – the implication of this addition here – “whom He foreknew” – is that those whom God has not rejected, it does not include all the people of Israel. There are people who are descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who are not saved, who will not receive the grace of Christ, but there are people among the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, there is a remnant, if you will, that receive His grace.
The question is: Who is this group of people whom God foreknew? Who are those descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that are the foreknown ones that God will not reject, that God will not cast away? Well Paul answers with an illustration from the Scriptures. And if you’ve been studying with us through Romans chapters 9, 10, and 11, you know that Paul is constantly going back to the Old Testament, he’s constantly going back to what is called the Hebrew Scriptures, because he’s writing to a Jewish audience at this point in this letter, and they knew the Hebrew Scriptures. And so Paul has quoted Isaiah, he has quoted Nahum, he has quoted Joel, he has quoted Moses, he has quoted King David, and now he goes back once again to the history of the nation of Israel, back to what we call the book of 1 Kings to illustrate his point. God has not chosen His people whom He foreknew. “Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah?” Now when we read there: “Or do you not know…” we need to recognize that Paul is saying, “You should know this.” If you’re of Jewish heritage, which that is who he’s largely writing to in these chapters of Romans, if you are from a Jewish line, you should know what the Scriptures say, you should know about the history of what happened with Elijah. “Or do you not know what the Scriptures say of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, ‘Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life’?”
Paul’s referring to a story that took place in 1 Kings chapter 19. Turn in your Bibles back to 1 Kings. And as you’re turning there, let me give you a little bit of history about what is happening, the context of what is going on during the time when this took place. The prophet Elijah lived in the 9th Century B.C., just about a thousand years before Christ came. During that time the nation of Israel was two kingdoms – the northern kingdom called Ephraim, and the southern kingdom called Judah. And Elijah was a prophet to the northern kingdom. And at the time that Elijah lived, the king of the northern kingdom was a guy by the name of Ahab, and his wife was the most wicked queen that they had ever had, her name was Jezebel. And under King Ahab and Jezebel, the northern ten tribes, the people who lived in the northern part of the nation of Israel, they had completely rejected God. And now they were worshipping and bowing down to false gods, most specifically two deities – one called Baal, and the other called Asherah. And there were many prophets of these false gods, nearly a thousand prophets for the god Baal and the goddess Asherah. And Jezebel had these individuals all around her, these prophets of Baal and Asherah; she was one of the ones leading the people in this. And Ahab just went along with his wife in all of this. And so God sent a prophet, as God often did during those days to call the people back to repentance. But not only did the prophet Elijah come proclaiming repentance to the people, but he came proclaiming judgment. And the judgment that came from God through the prophet Elijah was a drought upon the land, for more than three and half years there was no rain that came upon the land because of the work of Elijah. Now you can imagine a land such as that, that their entire livelihood surrounded the fact that they were shepherds and farmers, and now no water upon the land for three and half years. So now a famine is beginning to come. And all the people of the land, of the northern tribes, they’re calling out to their king, Ahab, “You need to do something about this! The economy’s failing. Come one, you’re the king, get it goin’! We need some economic stimulus package! We need some rain!”
And so they knew that Elijah, the prophet, was the guy who was the cause for this, so Ahab sends out some generals to find Elijah, “We want to deal with this.” And they weren’t just going to go ask him, “Hey, can you maybe bring some rain?” They want to kill the guy!
And so Elijah’s in hiding for a period of time, but ultimately the Lord tells him, “All right, now it’s time for you to go and address the people.”
And so he calls the people together; he tells King Ahab, through a messenger, “Listen, now’s the time we’re gonna wrap this whole thing up. Gather the people together on a mountaintop there in northern Israel, the mountain called Mount Carmel. Not Mount Carmël, Mount Carmel. And so they gather together there with all the people that would come and the prophets of Baal and Asherah. And he calls out to the prophets of Baal, and he says, “Listen, we’re going to have a test between the One True God and your god. How long will you falter between two opinions? If God is God, serve Him; if Baal is god, then serve him. So we need to test – who is the real God?”
So Elijah proposed a test. He said, “Listen, this is what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna build two altars; you build an altar to Baal and put a sacrifice upon it, and I’ll build an altar to God and put a sacrifice upon it. You call out to your god and I’ll call out to the One True God, and whichever God shows up by fire is the true God.”
And so the people said, “That sounds like a good test.”
So they started early in the morning, and the prophets of Baal, they got to go first. Elijah says, “You guys go ahead, take your time.”
All…day…long they’re crying out to their god Baal, they’re saying, “Show up with fire!!” As the day goes on, their cries get louder and louder, and they start to cut themselves, they start to pierce themselves, they’re bleeding all over the place, and they’re crying out to god, the first emo kids in the Bible. And so there they are, and Baal doesn’t show up.
And you know I love Elijah because all through this whole thing, as you read through 1 Kings chapter 18, he’s mocking them, he’s mocking them. He goes, “Maybe he can’t hear you!! You need to cry out a little bit louder.” And then he says, “Maybe your god’s on vacation!!”
So all day long, their god doesn’t show up.
At the end of the day Elijah says, “Okay, we’ve had enough time for this.” He restores the altar of God there, and he says to the people, “Listen, this is what we’re gonna do, I want you to go down to the brook down below and gather some water, come and pour it out over the altar.” So they go, and they pour water all over the altar after they’d dug a trench around it. He says, “Do it another time.” They pour more water out over the altar. The thing is drenched, sopping with water, water all the way around this altar, just so everybody knows that he’s not doing this on his own; he’s not manufacturing anything.
Then Elijah stands up, calls out to God and says, “God, so that the people may know that You are God in heaven, reveal Yourself!!”
Fire comes down from heaven, eats up the offering, burns everything around it. And everybody is shown right there that God is God!!
So what did they do? They grabbed the prophets of Baal, they took them down the mountain, they killed ‘em. Capital Punishment – p-p-h-h-t-t!! Good-bye!!
The next chapter – that’s 1 Kings chapter 18 – 1 Kings chapter 19, look at what we read, verse 1: “And Ahab,” the king, “told Jezebel,” his wife, “all that Elijah had done, and also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. And then Jezebel sent messengers to Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them tomorrow about this time.’” What does she say? “You killed my prophets!! You’re DEAD!!” She failed to recognize that God showed up by fire. And their prophets couldn’t do anything. She said, “You killed my prophets, so let it happen to me if you’re not dead by this time tomorrow.”
Now, if you’re Elijah, and you’ve just stood before a gathered multitude of the people, and you’ve seen God cast down fire from heaven, and show them that You’re God. And now this earthly queen says, “You’re a dead man.”
I would think, I would hope you might think, “Hey, you know God’s in this, we’re okay.” Not Elijah. Sometimes after great highs come extremely great lows. Elijah catches word what Jezebel wants to do to him, and what does he do? He runs for his life. He flees from that area in the northern part of the nation of Israel, and he goes down to the south. He falls into a deep depression. And in 1 Kings chapter 19 we find him, as the chapter goes on, in a cave hiding from Queen Jezebel.
And finally God speaks to him. God says, “Elijah, I want you to come outside of this cave.” And God reveals Himself to Elijah, but He does so in a still small voice. And God, in a still small voice says to Elijah, at the end of verse 13, look at the last words of verse 13, 1 Kings chapter 19: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” “What are you doing here? You’re afraid of Jezebel? You saw what I’ve done. What are you doing here?”
Elijah’s response is priceless – verse 14: “And he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, and torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek my life.’” Elijah had grown myopic; he’s focused on himself; he’s short-sighted. He says, “God, I’m the only one who follows you. All the people of Israel, they’ve torn down Your altars, they’ve rejected Your name, I alone serve You. They’ve killed all the righteous prophets; I’m the only prophet left, and now they’re seeking for my life.” You know, you almost want to read this in an Eeyore voice – “O-o-h-h, p-o-o-r m-e, I’m the only one left. I’m the only one, God, there’s no one else who seeks You; they’ve all departed.”
Well God’s response comes in verse 15; I love this response from God – “Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king of Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as the prophet in your place. And it shall be that whosoever escapes the sword Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill.’” Notice this, verse 18 – “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’”
What’s being said here? God says to Elijah as he’s says, “God, I’m the only one left. No one is following You.”
God says, “That’s not the case, Elijah. I have a remnant in Israel. You’re not the only one; I have a remnant in Israel.”
Who is it that is the foreknown group, the foreknown remnant? There in 1 Kings chapter 19 it was the faithful. There was a faithful remnant among sinful Israel. The majority of the people had departed from God, they had rejected Him; they were rebellious, disobedient, and contrary. And yet there was a faithful remnant; although it was small, there was a faithful remnant among the children of Israel. And God says, “I know who they are! They’re the ones that have not bowed the knee to Baal. They are the faithful remnant.”
So Paul continues, back to Romans chapter 11, look at verse 5. Romans 11, verse 5, Paul makes application from the story of Elijah to his day and ours: “Even so, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” “Even so, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” Just as there was a remnant among unbelieving and sinful Israel during the days of Elijah, so also there is a faithful, believing remnant among unbelieving, sinful Israel today.
Well how is this remnant saved? How is it that they are the foreknown remnant? Notice Paul says there, “they are the remnant according to the election of” what? They are not a remnant according to their descent from Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. They are not a remnant according to their faithful adherence to the law of Moses. They are a remnant according to the election of grace. It’s God’s grace that they are a people. It’s God’s grace that they are foreknown by Him.
Look at what Paul continues to say in verse 6: “And if by grace…” If they are elected and saved by grace, “then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace.” You see if there is anything that can bring about our righteousness outside of God’s grace; if you can be made righteous – that is, justified – if you can be made righteous because of your lineage, or if you can be made righteous because of your good works or your keeping of the law, then grace is nullified, then the work that Jesus did on the cross is of no affect. It’s not necessary for Christ to die if there’s any other way for me or you to make ourselves righteous. Jesus, on the night that He was betrayed, as He was there in the Garden of Gethsemane, three times He prayed to God, three times He said, “Father, if there is any other way, let this cup pass from Me.” And the heavens were silent. The heavens were silent. Why? Because there was no other way. There is only one way to be made righteous. Your lineage from some person back in the past who was faithful or your keeping of the law now will not make you righteous.
You know the New Testament, it emphasizes that salvation is by grace obtained through faith. Throughout the entire New Testament we see this truth emphasized. Places like Ephesians chapter 2, verse 8: “For by grace were you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Places like Romans chapter 3, verse 24: “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” Romans 3:24. In Titus chapter 3, verse 7, there the apostle Paul says, “that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” So the New Testament throughout emphasizes that salvation is by grace, not by anything that we can do, not by anything that we have done.
Not only that, the New Testament also emphasizes that there is no work that you and I can do to make ourselves righteous. It’s purely by God’s grace, and there’s no work that we can do. Romans chapter 3, verse 20: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Then in Romans chapter 3, verse 28: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” In Galatians chapter 3, verse 11: “But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident.” Why? “…for ‘the just shall live by faith.’” I already read Ephesians chapter 2, but you already know that Ephesians chapter 2, verse 9 is important just like verse 8: “…not by the works, lest anyone should boast.” Then Titus chapter 3, Titus chapter 3, verse 5: “,,,not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
So, salvation is by grace through faith not by anything we can do. The New Testament is very clear about this. But you know it’s not just a New Testament story, not just a New Testament teaching. It’s not unique to the New Covenant, the Old Testament too – Genesis chapter 15, verse 6 says that Abraham believed God and it was accounted unto him as righteousness. He was justified by grace through faith. The prophet Habakkuk tells us in Habakkuk chapter 2, verse 4 “the just shall live by” what? “…by faith.” The prophet Ezekiel, let me read this to you, Ezekiel chapter 36, beginning at verse 25, notice this is God speaking through the prophet Ezekiel. Notice how many times God says, “I will.” Ezekiel 36:25: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” God says, “I will do this; I will do this; I will do this!!” God’s grace. He is the One who saves us.
And so Paul continues, Romans chapter 11, verse 7: “What then?” What’s our response to this? “Israel has not obtained what it seeks.” The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have not obtained what it is that they’re looking for. It reminds me of an old U2 song. They have not found what they’re looking for. Well it begs the question: What is it that they’re looking for? The answer to the question is given to us back in Romans chapter 9, Romans chapter 9, verse 30. Look at verse 30 of Romans 9, Paul says there, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained,” or obtained, “righteousness, even the righteousness of” what? “…faith; but Israel,” verse 31, “pursuing the law of righteousness, has not” obtained, or “attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law.” What is it that Israel is seeking for? They are seeking to be made righteous by their own good works. They are seeking to be made righteous by their keeping of the law or by the fact that they are descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So that’s what they’re seeking for. So Paul’s conclusion here in Romans chapter 11, verse 7: Israel has not obtained what it sought for. It hasn’t found what it sought for. Why? Because there is no righteousness in the keeping of the law or who your daddy is.
“But the elect, the elect have obtained it.” Who are the elect? Well, what did we see just a couple of verses before? The remnant according to the election of what? Say it one more time. …grace. How are the remnant elect, they are elect by grace. So, by grace the elect have obtained what? They’ve obtained righteousness. The Jewish people, they have sought for righteousness in their keeping of the law or in the fact that Abraham was their father. And Paul says here: they have not received, they have not obtained what they sought for. But those that are of the election of grace, they have received righteousness, because it comes to them by grace through faith, and not by anything that they could do. And the rest, Paul says, the end of verse 7: “the rest were blinded.” The rest were blinded. Now a better translation for the word blinded there is the word hardened, and many English translations actually use the word hardened. So we read there in verse 7: Israel has not obtained what it has sought for, that is righteousness by the works of the law, but the elect, according to grace, have obtained righteousness because it’s been given to them, not by anything that they’ve done, but by grace through faith. And the rest, those who are not of the election of grace, they have been hardened. The word that is translated blinded or hardened there, it means to cover over with a thick covering, like a callus, like a callus. Any guitar players in here? (Good, we’d love to have you come out and help with the worship.) Anyway. I have a guitar in my office, and people come in my office they go, “Oh, you play the guitar.”
And I go, “Well, not really.”
“Why do you have a guitar?”
“Well, I’ve tried to play guitar for a really long time, and I always get to that point where my fingers hurt really bad.” The guitar players in here know what I’m talking about, or the people who tried to play guitar but didn’t raise their hands because you can’t play guitar either. And you get to that point where you haven’t built up calluses yet, and your fingers, they just burn, they hurt, and you go, “I can’t do this anymore.”
And everybody always tells me, “You know, you just have to push a little bit farther.”
And I go, “Yea, whatever!” Ain’t nobody got time for that. So, after you’ve been playing for a while, a long time, you build up calluses, it hardens over the ends of your fingers, then it’s easier to play now because you’ve deadened that area because of use.
Well, here we read that the rest of the people of Israel who’ve not received grace through faith, they have become calloused, hard-hearted, blinded. And Paul gives some more Old Testament support for this teaching, quoting the prophets Isaiah and King David. In verse 8 he quotes Isaiah: “Just as it is written: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, to this very day,’” Isaiah 29, verse 10. Then, as “David,” the king, “says: ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, and bow down their back always.’”
Now in reading these references to the Old Testament, one may look at those and say, “Well it seems that God, in an act of His sovereignty, has determined that certain people would be blinded and hardened. And it seems that it has nothing to do with anything that they have done. It seems unfair that God would do that.” And some people read that text and they think this. But, you see, that’s taking Isaiah 29, verse 10 and Psalm 69, verses 22 and 23, which Paul quotes here, that’s taking those verses out of context, and failing to understand what surrounded what Isaiah said. When Isaiah, inspired of God, said those words in Isaiah chapter 29, it was after many hundreds of years of God, by the prophets, calling out to His people, repeatedly calling out to them to return to His grace for salvation. And they had hardened their hearts and stiffened their necks and become a disobedient and contrary people. And so, God allowed them to continue in that march towards blindness, towards calloused hard-heartedness. And so the reality is that the majority of those who call themselves Jews, who descend from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the majority of them today are blinded, and they don’t recognize that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and the only Savior of the world.
And the only thing that will open their eyes is the very thing that the prophet Zechariah told us, that we’ll be looking at in later verses of Romans chapter 11, it’s the very thing that happened to the apostle Paul. He, himself, a Jewish man, a Pharisee, a religious leader among the Jews, on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians, there he saw the risen Lord. And just a few days later something fell from his eyes, the Scripture says, like scales. The callousness fell away from him. Why? He, like Zechariah prophesied, he looked on Him whom he had pierced; he looked upon the pierced, risen Savior, Jesus Christ. And his eyes were opened, and the callus fell from his heart. His ears understood for the first time the words of eternal life – the gospel of grace. You see there are people who are descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that have been given such great blessings, Paul speaks about those blessings at the beginning of Romans chapter 9, that they were the children of Israel, that pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, the promises; of whom the fathers came, and according through who came Christ. They had all these great blessings afforded them, accounted to them, and yet the majority of them, to this day, are unbelieving and blinded, their hearts are hard towards the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the only way for salvation to come to them is for them to look on Him whom they have pierced. The One who, Romans chapter 9 tells us they stumbled at – Romans 9, verse 33, it says, “they stumbled at the stumbling stone. As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone, a rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him shall not be put to shame.’”
Well then the question comes, and we’ll close with this: How then do we share the Gospel with someone who has a calloused heart and hardened ears? How do we share the Gospel, specifically with this text, with people who are of a Jewish background, who have a blindness, a veil over their minds? Well, we’re going to see, as we continue in our study next time, verse 13, this is just a preview of coming attractions. Romans chapter 11, verse 13: “For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them.” “I speak to you Gentiles and I say: This is how you share the Gospel with someone who’s hardened towards the Gospel. They have to see the proof of the power of the Gospel in your life. It cannot just be words. I remember a lady in our fellowship once telling me about how she was sharing the Gospel with a Jewish friend of hers, and he became incredibly offended because she tried to school him on his understanding of the Old Testament. It’s not going to be words, in sharing the Gospel with someone who’s been hardened by the Gospel, they’re inoculated to the Gospel because they’ve heard it some much and they’ve hardened their heart to it. They have to see the power of the Gospel in you and in me. It has to be evident. Our lives must provoke people to jealousy, that they yearn for what we have. Well what do we have, well every spiritual blessing in heavenly places; the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, self-control, against such there is no law. They should see in us the power of the risen Lord. Would to God that that’s what people in our neighborhoods would see. Would to God that the church would be so incredibly different from what is seen in the world. Amen?
Would you stand with me as we close in prayer.
Father, we thank You for Your great grace. It’s clear, Lord, that it is because of Your grace that we are able to come before You, to stand before You. It’s because of Your great grace and Your mercy that we can be Your people. And Lord, it’s our desire that other people who don’t know You yet would become Your people because You would shine through our lives. Lord help us to reflect Your grace and Your glory to those who don’t know You. We pray for those who are Jewish, Lord, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; we pray that You would draw them to Yourself, that they would look on You, Jesus, whom they pierced, and come to faith, just as we have. Lord, we thank You that it’s not by anything that we have done that You’ve made us righteous, but by Your great grace. Use us to be ambassadors of that grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.