The Remnant Of Israel
Israel’s Privilege

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 52b of 83

1  I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2  God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.…” (Romans 11:1-10).

[In our previous instalment of this study, we saw how Paul is not saying that God has not cast off Israel permanently, but that he has not cast off Israel totally. In this second instalment, we see the apostle arguing that being an Israelite does not guarantee salvation, nor makes a person more saveable than being a gentile. —JJL]

2.  Israel’s Privilege

Paul says:

5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.

What is Paul saying? Why does he suddenly switch subject to talk about grace and work?

To understand what Paul is doing, we must realise that he is still dealing with the question: “Has God cast away his people, [i.e., His people of the Old Covenant, namely Israel]?” His answer is that God has not cast away His people totally because He has His elect remnant in her still.

But what he is saying is easily misunderstood because man will always hear what he wants to hear. For example, without further clarification, it is likely for the Jews to misunderstand Paul as saying that God is no longer so gracious to Israel, but He is still, to some degree gracious, to her.

Let me put it this way: Paul is saying, “Israel as a nation is no longer God’s people; but God has not completely forsaken her since He has His elect remnant in her.”

But this can easily be understood to mean: God used to embrace Israel with both arms, but now He has partly forsaken her, so He is embracing her with only one arm.

Paul is suggesting that God is no longer dealing with the nation as a whole. He is dealing with His elect. He is neither embracing the nation as whole with one arm or with two arms. That is past. God has divorced Israel—as the prophet Hosea puts it.

But because the Jews think that the nation Israel is still, —in some sense God’s people, —they think that God surely must have at least one arm over her.

For this reason, they think—surely God will have regard for the Israelites who are zealous for His law. Surely, He will look upon these with mercy. 

What does Paul say? “No, salvation is entirely grace!”

6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace! But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.

Notice how emphatic the apostle is. He is, as it were, saying that oil and water cannot mix, so grace and works cannot mix. Salvation is either entirely by grace or it is entirely by works.

It is nonsense to say: “I am saved because of my good works which I am able to do by God’s grace.” So it is nonsense to say: “I am by God’s grace a zealous Israelite, and therefore I will be saved!”

There is no more any difference between the Jew and the Gentile (Rom 10:12). Whoever is saved, is saved by grace alone! Being a Jew and being zealous for the Law makes no difference to God. The keeping of the law does not contribute one stitch to our garment of salvation at all.

Now, it is true that under the old covenant, there a difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, for unto the Jews were committed the Law, and the way of righteousness by grace was wrapped up in the Law.

But today, with the coming of Christ, the wrapper of the law has fallen off and the ethnic and geographic boundary of the Church has been removed. God’s people whom He foreknow is no longer found only in the nation of Israel. In fact, most of them today are found outside the nation of Israel, from what we can tell.

So, although God has not totally cast away His people, that does not mean that the Jews who are zealous for the Law would be saved! Salvation is by grace, not by works.

Remember that the nation of Israel is no longer the people of God. God does not deal with Israel differently from the rest of the nations, for salvation is entirely by grace, not by works.

Now, there are many Christians today who believe that God has two people: First, the nation of Israel and second the Church. This is the error of modern Dispensationalism. And this is precisely the error that the apostle is seeking to correct.

God does not have two people. And there are no two ways of salvation. Paul refers to Israel as the people of God in verse 1 only because Israel was the people of God in the old dispensation. But this is not the case today.

Let none of us think that Israel is still being embraced by God with one arm… because they are zealous for His law.

But now let me issue a warning to ourselves as Gentile believers. As a Gentile believer, you are a member of the Church of Christ. Your membership in the church of Christ is reflected in your membership in the local church.

Like the Jews under the Old Covenant, you are of all men, most privileged. But I must warn you that you are saved by grace as everyone else.

The fact that God has chosen your local congregation to represent Him as His body, does not mean that you are therefore saved by being in the body and by keeping the Law or living a godly Christian life. Your salvation is entirely by grace through faith.

And if you know you saved through grace, you know you are nothing. You know you have to be of all men most humble and charitable. 

You will, for example never entertain the idea that you are better or more holy than other Christians. You will never have the attitude that you are more saved than other believers. You will never look down on other believers who are less privileged than you. Instead you will pray for them.

If any congregation or church of Christ, ever become proud, and think that salvation can be found nowhere else, then that congregation or church would have fallen into the error of thinking that salvation is not entirely by grace, but partly by grace, and partly by works, and partly by association.

But this is an error that Paul is seeking to correct. God has not cast away Israel totally, but His elect remnant in Israel together with all other elect people are saved by grace alone, not by works to any degree whatsoever.

Finally, Paul would have us consider how Israel is in the present state because they are under God’s.

—JJ Lim

…to be continued next issue