Romans 11:1-6 - Grace and Works Are Like Oil and Water, They Don't Mix
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I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. - Romans 11:1


Paul here is anticipating an objecting that may be raised in lieu of what he said in the last chapter, specifically toward the end when he spoke of Israel not heeding the good news and God saying of Israel that "all the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people." Interestingly Paul hints at the answer by putting the phrase "His people" within the question in reference to Israel. This very question would properly seem ridiculous as if God would go back on His promises towards Israel, such notion Paul responds with a "May it never be!" (Or in some translations "Certainly not!"). Paul points to himself as an example that God has not rejected Israel, not only is he a Jew but he's one of direct descension, not just a convert. If Paul argued that God has totally rejected Israel then Paul would have been included in that rejection and it would have been equally ridiculous for Paul to be preaching such a notion.


There are some who are very anti-Semitic in the church today who believe the Jews had their chance and blew it and now the prophecies apply to the present day church and no longer apply to Israel as somehow God's promises have changed. These believe God has rejected Israel and therefore they reject them too. Martin Luther, one of the leaders of the reformed theology (also known also as Calvinism), was quite anti-Semitic, especially in his later years, setting fire to their synagogues and schools, advising people to destroy their houses, forbidding them to teach and seeking to remove their writings from places of education, and more. In one of Martin Luther's writings "On the Jews and Their Lies" he deplores Christendom's failure to expel the Jews. Moreover he proposed "What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews". Paul, a Christian who's also a Jew, may have an objection, and if nothing else his objection could be himself. It's interesting because modern day anti-Semitics will hate Jews but love Paul whereas Paul could say, but I'm a Jew.. Along these lines we should not let it escape us that Jesus Himself was a Jew. The early church was largely comprised of Jews as well which is seen heavily throughout the book of Acts. One of the first conversions recorded in Acts 2:41 included 3000 souls who were likely Jewish. With that we can conclude that God has not rejected Israel.


Furthermore most of the new testament authors were Jews as well. The bible is Jews writing to other Jews about the fulfillment of their own scriptures. As gentiles we are grafted in, plugged into this vine but Israel is the natural branches as Paul will get into later in this chapter.


God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. - Romans 11:2a


 It's important that you read this plainly. Some will read this verse with presuppositions adding meaning to it that simply isn't there. What this is saying is God has not rejected His people whom He knew beforehand. Pre-knowing does not equate to pre-determining. To know of something beforehand doesn't mean to make it happen beforehand but rather be aware of something from times past. The greek word for foreknew here is proginóskó which simply means "to know beforehand". So in short, God has not rejected His people whom He already knew.


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.” - Romans 11:2b - 3


This is quoted from 1 Kings 19 and notice what Paul highlights here, that Elijah pleads "against Israel" not for Israel, but against Israel. Why? Because Israel had rejected God and had rejected him and now were seeking to kill him.


Just before this was the Mount Carmel incident. Elijah gathered the people of Israel together and asked them "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." (1 Kin. 18:21). The people didn't respond and Elijah said to the people I'm only one prophet of the Lord and Baal has 450 prophets, let's each make an alter with a sacrifice on it and put wood under it, but do not light it on fire, then you all call on the name of your god, and I'll call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, He is God. All the people agreed this was a good idea so they did. The 450 prophets of Baal went first, praying and leaping around the alter, crying out, and cutting themselves, and did this all day long. Elijah even mocked them during this saying "Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened." (1 Kings 18:27).


Then Elijah went but first he had the people near him poor 12 pitchers of water on the alter and the wood so that water was flowing from it even filling the trench around the alter. Then Elijah prayed (1 King 18:36-37) and the alter was consumed by the fire of the Lord, even consuming the water that had filled the trench. This didn't make Baal look bad, Baal doesn't exist. This was God showing the reality of His presence and making Himself known to the people of Israel and exposing the foolishness of the false prophets who were leading them astray.


Now Elijah may have been encouraged, thinking now Israel will follow the true God having seen what happened but immediately after we see in 1 Kings 19 that king Ahab told his wife Jezebel (who led Israel astray in the first place) what happened and she, the queen of Israel, sent a messenger to Elijah saying the fate that befell the 450 prophets would fall on him by this time tomorrow. Then Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. Talk about going from a high to a low. Ultimate Elijah settled under a juniper tree and prayed that he might die saying "It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life...", massive discouragement. Feeling like he is the only one left who loves God (1 Kin. 19:14), that everyone else has backslid, he pleads with God against Israel. God then commands him to anoint his replacement Elisha (1 Kin. 19:16), tells Elijah how He plans to let Israel implode on itself (1 Kin. 19:17) but then offers this encouragement.


But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” - Romans 11:2b-4


God informed Elijah that he is not alone, that there are yet 7000 whom God will spare from the impending implosion that have not bowed to Baal nor kissed him (since he was an idol). This likely would have encouraged Elijah knowing his ministry was indeed not in vain. That Elijah's call to the Israelites to forsake the idol of Baal had some fruition.


What did God foreknow? (meaning, what did God know beforehand?) That there were 7000 Israelites who didn't bow the knee to Baal. God foreknew this about them and therefore He kept them. That those 7000 would not fall to the same implosion about to come upon the rest of Israel, who even though they saw God bring lightning from above to light the alter, they no longer saw fit to acknowledge Him (cf Rom. 1:28) and turn away from their idol Baal. God chose to keep those whom He foreknew. Peter actually pairs this foreknowledge with God's choice the opening greeting of his first letter:


1Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. - 1 Peter 1:1-2 (emphasis mine)


Did these men who did not bow their knee to Baal earn God's keeping them? No. There is no obligation from God to have to keep these men. But God chose to keep them according to His gracious choice according to His foreknowledge.


In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. - Romans 11:5


"In the same way", in other words, faith works similarly. It says to Abraham that Abraham believed in God and it was credited (or "counted" per some translations) to Him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3). "Credited" meaning it was given as a gift, not earned, but rather given on the condition that Abraham had faith. Did Abraham's faith earn Him righteousness? No. Faith earns you nothing (see our study Faith is Not a Work). But God credits (not pays) righteousness on the condition of faith. Grace does 100% of the saving, and that grace is credited to those that believe.


But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. - Romans 11:6


This verse destroys the notion of grace and works somehow working together and points out how that is impossible, that they are a dichotomy. Please who view salvation as grace + works are really saying grace is a coupon for salvation and not the free gift that it is. They view grace that helps get the price of salvation down to where they can afford it with their works but grace doesn't work like that. It's either free or it's not grace. Jehovah Witnesses, Catholics, Mormons, and anyone else who thinks we add anything to our salvation, who thinks we contribute to it, who thinks we have a part to play toward earning it, needs to heed what is written here. Grace and works are oil and water, they don't mix. It is either one way or the other but impossible to be both which is the very thing these false gospels try and do.


If faith earned grace it would no longer be grace because grace is defined as undeserved favor. If faith earned grace then it would be deserved favor which isn't grace at all but rather a wage, a payment, a recompense for the faith which earned it. But if it's by grace then the very fact it's by grace, defined as undeserved favor, testifies that it's not according to what's earned because the recipient did not earn it. If the recipient earned it than grace is no longer grace.


Calvinists might come up to you and ask why are you saved and your neighbor is not, whereas you might reply that your neighbor doesn't have Jesus, and that is indeed the difference (John 14:6). They usually will then ask follow up questions like why do you have Jesus and they do not? Whereas you might say you responded in faith, and again you'd be correct. They would then ask you where that faith comes from, whereas you could say God, where the Calvinist says "ah ha!" so then God gave you faith which he didn't give your neighbor and therefore you are chosen and your neighbor is not and they would give a huzzah for Calvinism. Or you could say faith is something you did whereas the Calvinist would call you out for helping save yourself, like God did 99% of the saving but you did the 1% which is faith and therefore you would have reason to boast.


The problem is, in both of these scenarios they've made faith out to be a work. Faith is merely trusting in Christ who does 100% of the saving. It's like if it costs one zillion dollars to get into heaven and Jesus gave you a check to pay it all but you needed to sign the back before the bank of heaven would accept it. Did you make the check worth more by signing it? No. Does anyone boast about signing the back of the check? No. There's nothing to brag about there. Jesus paid it all for you to get into heaven, faith is simply signing the check. Faith doesn't contribute to the dollar amount, nor is faith seen by the bank of heaven as paying toward the amount needed. When the bank of heaven collects payment for that check they are gonna see the account number belongs to Jesus Christ and they are going to extract the one zillion dollars from it meaning Jesus paid it all and therefore it is solely by His gracious choice that you get into heaven. Jesus does 100% of the saving and when you trust in that you endorse the very fact that Jesus does 100% of the saving. Having faith actually nullifies boasting (Rom. 3:27) because having faith means you acknowledge you did nothing to contribute toward your salvation. Endorsing the check that Jesus gives you means you acknowledge you need it. True faith doesn't breed boasting, it breeds humility.


Paul is showing how just as your salvation is secured by grace so Israel's future is also secured by grace. Because it's according to grace, they can't screw it up, nor can they boast. As it is with us and our salvation. The promise to Abraham was without condition, in other words, God said He was simply going to do it (period). Paul has been walking us through just how God is bringing about that promise and reaffirming throughout Romans that this is according to His grace alone.


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