Not Total but Partial Part 1 – Romans 11:1-6
Pastor Mark Hardy July 21, 2013
An elderly Christian man was in much distress as he lay dying in the hospital. “Oh Pastor,” he said, “for years I have relied upon the promises of God, but now in the hour of death I can’t remember a single one to comfort me.” Knowing that Satan was disturbing him, the pastor said, “My brother, do you think that GOD will forget any of His promises?” A smile came over the man’s face as he exclaimed joyfully, “No, no! He won’t! Praise the Lord, now I can fall asleep in Jesus and trust Him to remember them all and bring me safely to heaven.” Peace flooded his soul, and a short time later he passed away and was ushered immediately into the presence of the Lord.
Whatever your need may be today, God remembers the promises in His Word and is always faithful to keep them—whether it is the promise of His presence, His protection, His provision, His power, or something else. In the case of Israel, as we will see this morning, His promise was to never abandon or forsake His people. This is what we will be looking at today.
In our study of Romans 9-11, thus far we have seen in chapter 9 that Paul’s primary focus was on the sovereignty of God in salvation and in chapter 10 his primary focus was on the responsibility of man. Although both are true, it is impossible to perfectly reconcile them rationally. Now as we come to chapter 11 these two biblical truths are interrelated, especially toward the end of the chapter.
The overall theme of this chapter is Israel’s future restoration. And this chapter can be divided into three major sections: First, Israel’s rejection of Christ is not total but partial in vv. 1-10; Second, Israel’s rejection of Christ is not final but temporary in vv. 11-32. Both of these sections are introduced with the phrase “I say then.” And third, Paul’s concluding doxology to God’s glory and praise in vv. 33-36. This morning we will begin looking at the first section. Turn in your Bible to Romans 11.
In Romans 11:1-6 we see three parts of Paul’s argument to show that Israel’s rejection of Christ is not total but partial.
The first part is this:
I. The obvious Question about God’s Response to Israel
A. Look at v. 1: I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? (Stop there)
1. When Paul says, “I say then” or therefore (oun) he is reaching back and giving a summarizing conclusion to all he has said in 9:30-10:21. In those verses we saw that Israel pursued righteousness by works of the Law instead of by faith, sought to establish their own righteousness, and as disobedient and obstinate people rejected Jesus as the Christ and refused to believe the gospel message that was proclaimed, even though God with outstretched hands has continually invited them to believe and be saved.
2. Now as we come to chapter 11, Paul anticipates the obvious question that one might ask, “Since Israel has rejected God, has God rejected them?” Look again at Paul’s question, “God has not rejected His people, has He?”
3. This rhetorical question is constructed in such a way as to demand a negative answer “No.” And Paul will show that God has not rejected His people throughout the entire chapter.
4. Now by “His people” (laon autou) Paul is referring to the corporate nation of Israel as a whole. Here he is saying that God has not rejected them.
5. The word “rejected” (aposato) is a very strong word and means to “cast away completely, cut off permanently, spurn, repel, and repudiate.”
6. In essence Paul is asking, “Is God through with the Jews? This brings us to the second part of Paul’s argument, which is this:
II. The emphatic Answer concerning God’s Rejection of Israel
A. Paul declares succinctly and emphatically in v. 1: May it never be!
1. As we have seen earlier in this letter, this phrase (me genoito) is the strongest negative expression in the Greek language and is used ten times in Romans (3:4, 6, 31; 6:2, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:14; 11:1, 11). This expression indicates utter shock, disgust, and a recoiling abhorrence.
2. It has been variously translated in many different ways: “Never!” “No way!” “Not at all!” “Certainly not!” “By no means!” “God forbid!” “Perish the thought!” “Not on your life!” and “Not in a thousand years.”
3. What Paul is saying is that it is absolutely absurd and inconceivable to think that God has completely and permanently rejected His own people Israel. Despite their stubborn disobedience to God and deserved condemnation, God remembers and is faithful to His unconditional covenant promises to Israel.
4. Listen to such promises that God would never reject His people:
• Samuel said in 1 Samuel 12:22: For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself.
• Even though God’s people was continually disobedient and rebelled against Him, Nehemiah 9:31 says, “Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, for You are a gracious and compassionate God.”
• Speaking for God about rebellious Israel, the psalmist declared in Psalm 89:30-37, “If his sons forsake My law and do not walk in My judgments, if they violate My statutes and do not keep My commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes. But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness. My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful.”
• Another psalmist proclaimed in Psalm 94:14: For the LORD will not abandon His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance.”
• God through Jeremiah said to His disobedient people in Jeremiah 46:28, “O Jacob My servant, do not fear,” declares the LORD, “for I am with you. For I will make a full end of all the nations where I have driven you, yet I will not make a full end of you; but I will correct you properly and by no means leave you unpunished.”
5. Paul has emphatically declared that it is impossible for the faithful God to reject His people, to whom He has given His unconditional covenant promises. He is not an Indian-giver—giving something when things are good and then taking it back when things are bad.
6. But having declared his answer, Paul then starts right into the third part of his argument, which is this:
III. The convincing Proofs that God Never rejected Israel
A. Paul gives a series of four proofs. The first proof that God never rejected Israel is: Paul Himself as a Believing Jew. Look at the end of v. 1 where Paul says: For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
1. Now by saying “Israelite,” “descendant of Abraham,” and “tribe of Benjamin” Paul is merely emphasizing that he is truly an ethnic Jew. As we probably all know, before Paul was dramatically saved on the road to Damascus, he was Saul of Tarsus—the most fanatical Christ-rejecting and Christian-hating Jew in Israel.
2. Saul was a leader who vehemently persecuted the church. Speaking about the stoning of Stephen, Acts 7:58 says, “When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
3. In Acts 8:3 we read, “But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” And 9:1-2 states, “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
4. There was no more antagonistic person to Jesus Christ and His church than Saul of Tarsus. That is why three days after the risen and glorified Christ struck him down blind on the road to Damascus and saved him, when God told Ananias to go to him in Acts 9-14, scared to death he answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
5. But the Lord Jesus said in vv. 15-16, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
6. Therefore, the first convincing proof that God has not rejected His people is himself as a Jew. And not just any Jew, the most Christ-hating Jew there was.
7. He is Exhibit A. But isn’t it amazing that the testimony of Paul shows that no matter how spiritually blind, hardened, and rebellious a person may be, with Jesus Christ there is hope for anyone!
8. Absolutely no one is beyond the mercy and grace of God. As we saw back in 5:20, “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” What an encouragement!
B. The second proof that God never rejected Israel is: God’s Faithfulness to His Chosen people. Look at the first part of v. 2: God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. (Stop there)
1. As we already saw in 8:29, the word “foreknew” (proegno) does not mean merely knowing information about someone beforehand, but predetermining an intimate, love relationship with them. Notice that it is “His people whom He foreknew” not certain facts about them.
2. This is a term of divine choice or election whereby before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), God knew intimately in that He chose, appointed, determined, or ordained to set His covenant love and affection on the people themselves.
3. Now the phrase “His people whom He foreknew” applies to God’s general election of Israel as a nation—the corporate body of God’s chosen people, as we saw in v. 1. The majority of which as a “disobedient and obstinate people” (10:21) had rejected Christ and His gospel.
4. Paul is not referring here to God’s specific election to salvation of individual Israelites. As we saw in 9:6b, God’s general election of Israel as a nation does not guarantee the salvation of every individual Jew within the nation.
5. Therefore, Israel is the only nation God has ever “foreknown” or chosen from eternity past to be “His people” and to enter into an intimate love relationship with Him that will never be destroyed. We see this in numerous places in Scripture.
6. For example, speaking about Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, God said in Genesis 18:19, “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”
7. To the corporate nation Moses declared in Deuteronomy 7:6-8: For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
8. And then through His prophet Amos, the LORD proclaimed to Israel in Amos 3:2, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth…”
9. Here we see that it is God’s faithfulness to what He has “foreknown” concerning His chosen people that guarantees God will never reject all Israel.
10. John MacArthur said it well, “Because God foreknew and predetermined before the foundation of the earth to set His special love upon Israel forever, He can never totally reject them. To do so would invalidate His divine promises, nullify His divine faithfulness, discredit His divine integrity, and compromise His divine love.” (pg. 100)
C. The third proof that God never rejected Israel is: The believing Remnant of the Past. Look at vv. 2b-3: Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.”
1. Here Paul quotes compressed excerpts from 1 Kings 19:10 and 14. When he says, “do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah” he is actually rebuking those who have come to the conclusion that God has rejected Israel because they should have known better.
2. Now to understand the context of this passage, the Northern Kingdom of Israel in Elijah’s day was a time of flagrant apostasy and gross idolatry. This was during the reign of wicked King Ahab and his wicked queen Jezebel, who saw to it that the prophets of the LORD were slain, His altars demolished, and the worship of Baal was carried out throughout the land.
3. Paul is highlighting one event in Elijah’s life right after he had killed the prophets of Baal at the showdown on Mount Carmel and ran from the furious queen Jezebel. At that time he fled to Beersheba, then into the desert, and finally to Mount Horeb (Sinai).
4. It was there that Elijah “…pleads with God against Israel.” Normally the prophet Elijah was fearless, but when not controlled by the Spirit of God he became fearful and despondent, and in self-pity he laments at the end of v. 3, “…I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.”
5. Paul goes on to say in v. 4, “But what is the divine response to him?” And then he quotes 1 Kings 19:18: “I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.”
6. The one Greek word translated “divine response” (chrematismos) here carries the idea of a divine oracle or revelation. Here we see that through His direct Word, God does not deny Elijah’s charge that Israel had broken their covenant relationship with God, nor that they had killed His prophets and torn down His altars.
7. What God focuses on to correct is Elijah’s misunderstanding that he was the only believer in the one true God left in Israel. But God assures him that there are “…SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.”
8. Notice again how did this had come about? God says, ““I HAVE KEPT for Myself…” The word “kept” (katelipon) means to reserve or preserve.
9. This emphasizes divine action. Here we see that it was God Himself and no one else who saw to it that a believing remnant of 7,000 men was preserved for Himself. And this took place in Elijah’s day when the majority of Israel was apostate, which is similar to Paul’s situation.
10. Paul is driving home the point that this believing remnant of the past was not preserved because they did not bow the knee to Baal, they did not bow the knee to Baal because they were preserved by God.
11. One of the greatest proofs that God has not totally rejected Israel is that throughout Old Testament history, He has always preserved a believing remnant for His own purposes (Gen. 45:7-8a; Num. 14:26-30; 26:65; 2 Chron. 11:14-17; 15:8-9; 34:9, 21; 2 Kgs. 19:4; 25:12; Ezra 9:8, 15; Hag. 1:12-14; Neh. 1:2; Isa. 1:9; 6:9-13; 37:31-32; 46:3-4; Jer. 40:11-12, 15; 42:2; Amos 5:3, 15; Ezek. 11:13-21).
D. The fourth proof that God never rejected Israel is: The believing Remnant in the Present. Paul says in v. 5: In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.
1. Just as God preserved for Himself a believing remnant of Jews in Elijah’s day of spiritual apostasy, He has done the same thing in Paul’s day of spiritual apostasy. As we already saw in 9:27, the word “remnant” (leimma) here means a small amount or minority, and it refers to what is left over, a small portion of the whole.
2. Although “at the present time” Paul is writing this letter, the majority of Israel had rejected Jesus Christ. However, Paul makes it clear that God had preserved for Himself a remnant of Jewish Christians throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.
3. And the very same thing is true today and will always be true until Christ returns in glory and judgment! God will always have a remnant of Jewish Christians, also called Messianic Jews, and this remnant will explode in number at the end time, as we will see later in this chapter.
4. Now how God has preserved for Himself a remnant is “…according to God’s gracious choice.” The word “choice” (eklogen) here refers to God sovereign election, picking out, and selection of individuals to salvation.
5. Notice that Paul says God’s choice of the remnant of Israel is totally the result of His “gracious choice.” God’s choosing a remnant from Israel in Paul’s day had absolutely nothing to do with their ethnic descent, their good works, or anything else.
6. God’s choice has always been and will ever be by His grace alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
7. In 2 Timothy 1:9 we read, “Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”
8. Therefore, God never rejected Israel because He has also preserved the believing remnant in the present. Everett F. Harrison is correct when he says, “The sparing of the remnant is inseparably related to the choice of the remnant. The very fact of God’s choice excludes the possibility of His desertion of His own.” (Expositors pg. 117)
E. Now having just mentioned grace at the end of v. 5, Paul cannot pass up the opportunity to draw a stark contrast between grace and works. Look at v. 6: But if (or better “since”) it (e.g. God’s choice or election) is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
1. William Newell rightly states, “Here is perhaps the most direct and absolute contrast in Scripture of two principles: for grace is God acting sovereignly according to Himself; works is man seeking to present to God a human ground for blessing. The two principles are utterly opposed.” (pg. 412)
2. Since God’s choice or election is based on grace, it cannot at the same time include any human works whatsoever, for grace and works are mutually exclusive and diametrically opposed.
3. Therefore, for Paul to say “it is no longer on the basis of works” does not mean that God’s choice was once by works but now it has ceased to be. What this means is that once we have come to see that God’s salvation is by grace there is no longer any place for works.
4. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. If human works of any kind are added to grace then Paul says by definition “grace is no longer grace.”
5. Just as one drop of arsenic to a glass of water makes it not pure water but fatal, any kind of works makes grace no longer grace and spiritually fatal.
6. The one completely cancels out the other. Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace and no payment at all can be made or it ceases to be free.
7. Douglas Moo accurately said, “For grace demands that God be perfectly free to bestow his favor on whomever he chooses. But if God’s election were based on what human beings do, his freedom would be violated and he would no longer be acting in grace.” (pg. 678)
In closing, Paul has convincingly proven that God has never rejected Israel because of himself as a believing Jew; God’s faithfulness to His chosen people; the believing remnant of the past; and the believing remnant of the present. Therefore, Israel’s rejection is not total but partial. God is not through with Israel! What He has promised her, He is faithful to bring about by His grace in His time and in His way.
And the Lord will do the same for us as well. We are not to claim promises that God hasn’t made or doesn’t apply to us. But our God is always faithful and we can trust Him fully to not only remember the promises He has given us in His Word, but also to keep them. Do you trust Him this morning?