>by Ron Schwedland
In my last Graceworks article we examined some of the difficult multi-syllable words found in Romans. I’m not sure I really want to tackle explaining the other tough words in Romans, like remnant, election, predestination, called, etc. These are some of the most controversial words in the Bible. But, here goes!
Even though the original Christians were Jews, as they began to share the Good News, it came as a great disappointment to them to find that the Jews as a whole did not embrace Christ as the Messiah. As time went on the disciples found more and more believers in the Gentile camp. They began to ask about God’s faithfulness, since he had promised to Abraham that his people would be as numerous as the sand on the sea. However, in Romans 9:6, Paul says: It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.
This is a shocker! So, the promises of God had never been made to all the physical descendants of Abraham, only to the children of the promise, a remnant of the people of Israel. The word “remnant” refers to the biblical reality that not all people in Israel were among God’s covenant people. Actually “Israel” in context refers to the remnant of people who remained faithful in their covenant relationship with God throughout the history of the Old Testament. The remnant is a great theme throughout the Bible. Joseph mentioned in Genesis 45:7: But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. Isaiah declares in 2Kings 19:30-31: Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. In Micah 7:18: Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. Paul knew as well as anyone that the nation of Israel as a whole was apostate (apart from God) and only a few Jews gave any indication of living in a covenant relationship with God as His true people.
This leads directly into the subject of election. As used in the Bible, the term “election” refers to the sovereign outworking of God’s power, purpose, and plan according to His righteous and holy will. It is election to salvation, however, that has been most disputed among Christians through the ages. There is a mystery to our salvation. Paul clearly teaches that election is predestined, according to God’s sovereign purpose and divine foreknowledge. But in Romans 10:9, 13 he also teaches that: if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Do you see some tension developing? To remove any doubt about God’s foreknowledge; when Isaac’s wife Rebekah was pregnant with twins Jacob and Esau, (before they had done anything good or bad) in order that God’s purpose in election might stand- not by works but by him who calls – she was told, The older will serve the younger. Also in Malachi 1:2-3 God said: Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated. As descendants of Adam both boys were born in sin so were subject to God’s wrath. Left to themselves they would have had no interest in God or God’s blessings, but for reasons unknown to us God elected to change Jacob’s heart but left Esau to his natural bent. It also seems that when God elects he has a purpose in mind for the person to be His instrument in the world. This is true of Jacob as he went on to become named Israel, and through him all God’s Messianic promises were chronicled.
It seems that God’s primary purpose in election is not about us at all, His ultimate purpose is to make His glory known. To put it another way, salvation is not about us, it’s about God. In saving some, God makes known His mercy and compassion. In not saving all He makes known His sovereignty.
Remember back in Genesis when God elected Abraham, and called him out of the pagan nation of Ur? God said to Abraham in Genesis 12: I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. Well, those of us who took Doug’s Wednesday night class last spring learned that the word “nation” is better translated “peoples” or “people groups.” It’s from the Hebrew word “goyim” which carries the idea of “anyone except Israel.” In other words, even those who hated the Jews were part of God’s plan for salvation. Is it no wonder that God sent Paul into the world to share the Good News with Gentiles. God’s heart is that no one would miss out on His great plan of redemption for eternity. One could say that if you are even reading this article it is because God has stirred up an interest in your heart about eternal things, and He is gently calling on you to be among the redeemed. Furthermore, you also could say that God wants you to pray for all those who don’t know Him.
Is it fair that the Jews who pursued righteousness by the law should not attain it and the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness should obtain it? What about us today, if some respond in faith to God’s call on their lives, then are people who do not believe still responsible for their lives of sin? Should we excuse them for their sin of unbelief as not their fault? Paul is clear in Romans that God never condemns innocent people. No matter what we may or may not understand about the process of election, we can know that if people are judged by God, it must be for their own sin. God has given us a measure of free will, but to what extent is a mystery. We are not God’s hand puppets, neither are we left all alone to our own devices. This seems like an irreconcilable truth, for if God elects to salvation, then we cannot be responsible for rejecting the offer but if we are responsible, then salvation must be by works and not by God’s grace. Tension again! However, there are not irreconcilable. Predestination and personal responsibility are two mutually supportive truths that need always to be held together, as Paul clearly does in Romans 9 & 10. Actually, predestination should be seen as the solution to our responsibility. We are born in sin because of Adam, as we mature, we are given responsibility and usually reject God, then by the Grace of God are drawn to accept God’s gift of eternal life by yielding our will to His.
Luther rejoiced in the doctrine of predestination, which he believed is so cl
early taught by Paul and, in fact, in the whole of the Scriptures–but he quickly stopped short of trying to explain why God works this way. He simply said it is a mystery that God has not revealed. If people are troubled by the doctrine of predestination and worried about whether or not they are saved, they should look at the wounds of the crucified Christ. There they will see what they need to know, what God has revealed–that God loves sinners enough to die for them–and they will be comforted.
So we see that Israel’s unbelief and failure to see that God’s son, the long awaited Messiah, right in their midst, is not to be blamed on God. Even the teachers of the law who should have known, were blinded in their unrighteousness by their pride and arrogance. You will note that Jesus showed greater contempt for these Pharisees who should have received the long awaited Messiah with open arms, than he did for any other people he met.
In the book of Romans, righteousness is used interchangeably with salvation, or to be more precise justification, which is the Greek equivalent of righteousness. Why do the Gentiles who were not seeking righteousness, find it, and the Jews who were seeking righteousness not find it? It seems the Gentiles had always been running from God, looking for their higher power in all the wrong places; worshiping man-made concepts or idols. Those people found salvation because they believed in Jesus as their Savior. Is it fair? Only God knows, but we can know it is entirely due to the fact that God in His grace sought them.
Whenever we think of election, we tend to focus on the negative; that God does not elect all. The Bible, however, focuses on the positive, calling this the day of God’s grace. The demonstration of God’s justice in judging sinners is an important part of what God is doing in human history, but it is not the whole thing. God is also making known the riches of His glory in saving some. Why should you not be among them?
To show that God is just, think about it, if all God wanted to do was send people to hell, He would not have needed to tell us these things or anything else. There would have been no need for a Bible, no need for preachers to preach it or messengers to explain and teach it, no need for a Savior to be held forth as the heart of the Bible’s message. God would not have needed to do anything. In fact, we know men are quite capable of rushing off to hell all by ourselves. But God has not done that. He has provided a Savior. He has given us a Bible. He has sent messengers and their message, like that of all true prophets of God, is “Repent, turn from your wicked ways, and believe in Jesus Christ.” God is calling you to turn from your sin now and receive the grace that we don’t deserve, but is a free gift for those who will receive it.