The work of the remnant of grace
Feb 13, 2012
Paul's discussion of the chosen remnant in Romans 11:1-7 is a very important key to understanding the entire idea of being chosen. In essence, he tells us that while the whole nation of Israel was called in a general sense, only a remnant of them actually attained the promises. That remnant was also sovereignly chosen by God, Paul says in verse 5.
In other words, King Ahab was not part of that remnant, and so he was not one of the "chosen elect." He was a vessel of dishonor (Rom. 9:22), chosen to persecute the remnant of grace. By this we see that anyone can claim, with some element of truth, to be "chosen," but some Israelites are chosen as vessels of dishonor, while others are chosen as vessels of honor. The latter are the chosen "remnant of grace."
Paul's main point in these verses was to establish chosenness to the sovereignty of God. This is his reason for linking it to "grace," because if it were by works, then it would no longer be by grace (Rom. 11:6). In other words, these were chosen prior to their birth, even as God called Jacob and rejected Esau before they were born (Rom. 9:11).
Not only does the sovereignty of God take precedence over men's genealogy, but so the law itself is in agreement. We are shown many times that if Israelites violate certain laws, they risk being "cut off from among their people." Being an Israelite was a matter of citizenship, not of race or genealogy. The law always retained authority over a man's genealogy. The law had the right to expel a member of the tribe, even if his genealogy were proven to be impeccable. The law only cared about his works.
The prophets too make this clear. In Jeremiah 24 we read of the two baskets of figs, each representing a different set of Judahites. The evil figs refused to submit to the divine judgment, which Jeremiah had spoken earlier in Jer. 7:1-15. God's sentence was to put Judah into captivity by selling them into the hands of the king of Babylon. The evil figs refused to submit to this judgment, and so they found themselves in contempt of court. Deut. 17:12 tells us,
(12) And the man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest [judge] who stands there to serve the Lord your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.
Contempt of court carries the death penalty. For this reason, the evil figs were sentenced to death in Jer. 24:10,
(10) And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence upon them until they are destroyed from the land which I gave to them and their forefathers.
The evil figs were presumptuous. They thought that their genealogy would save them. They thought God would never allow His temple to be destroyed. They thought they could get away with sin indefinitely. They presumed upon their chosen status. But they discovered that their genealogy could not save them, even as it did not save their brethren of the house of Israel (i.e., Ephraim), for we read in Jer. 7:15,
(17) And I will cast you [Judah] out of My sight, even as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim.
Both Israel and Judah violated the Old Covenant that God had made under Moses. That covenant was conditional. It was a marriage covenant, but it also made them citizens of the Kingdom that God was establishing at that time. Hence, their citizenship was conditional upon their obedience, and this is why they could be "cut off" from their people.
But, some say, what about the unconditional covenant with Abraham? Did this prior covenant overrule Moses? Yes and no. The Abrahamic covenant did indeed establish that his seed would be chosen to bless all families of the earth. However, Paul tells us that only the remnant of grace actually attained to that promise, while the rest were blinded.
Keep in mind that the chosen seed are the ones called to dispense the blessings of God to all others--including the vessels of dishonor, whether Israelites or foreigners. The "chosen" seed of Abraham, then, are the true "children of Abraham," not on account of their genealogy, but on account of their faith in Christ. Paul makes this case in Galatians 3:9,
(9) So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
It is only as men come to the place of having faith in Jesus Christ that they can join the seed of Abraham. Anything less than this places them in the category of "vessels of dishonor." To be of the seed of Abraham first requires faith, but that faith is proven to all by a demonstration of one's works. That is what the book of James tells us, and Paul agrees with this in Romans 6-8, where he expounds upon the outworking of our faith.
Each individual's outworking of faith differs, but they all have one thing in common--they do the works of their father, Abraham. What work is that? It is summarized in the original call of Abraham found in Gen. 12:3, "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
In other words, the demonstration of our faith in Christ, the proof that we are the seed of Abraham (whether natural born or foreign), is that this remnant of grace seeks to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. That is the work of Abraham and his children. Any deviation from this only proves that men are not really of Abraham.
Jesus had this discussion with the Pharisees themselves, who prided themselves on their genealogy and on their ability to keep the law. Jesus was not impressed with their genealogy, nor did they show that they had any faith that Jesus was the Messiah, the One called of God as King of the Kingdom. John 8:39-59 tells us,
(39) They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham." (40) But as it is, you are seeking to kill me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. (41) You are doing the deeds of your father.... (44) You are of your father the devil; and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him....
It appears that Jesus failed to read the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Jesus did not deny that the Pharisees were genealogical descendants of Abraham. He told them in verse 56, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day." Not just them, but Ishmael and Esau too could call Abraham "father." Genealogy was not the point. Their true lineage to Abraham (in the eyes of God) was based upon the imitation of Abraham's faith and doing his works.
For this reason, Paul makes it clear in Galatians 4 that those who remained in Judaism were not of Sarah but of Hagar. Hence, they were Ishmaelites, and NOT inheritors of the promises through Isaac. Paul understood this by revelation and by personal experience, for in his early life he had persecuted the Church, even as Ishmael had persecuted Isaac (Gal. 1:13 and 4:29).
As long as a man remains an Ishmaelite in the sight of God, he is not an inheritor of the promises of God.
On the other hand, Paul provides us with the perfect example of a man who was able to make the change from Ishmael to Isaac. He was able to change mothers from Hagar to Sarah, because it was not based upon genealogy, but upon spiritual laws. Further, any man may do the same, if God heals his blindness and opens his eyes to the truth of who Jesus Christ is.
It is the job (work) of the remnant to bless all families of the earth with the truth of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Stephen Jones