Can we really rely on God to keep his word? We are told that his promises are “yes and amen” but that is sometimes hard to trust when we are going through tough times. The question of God’s faithfulness is central to Paul’s argument in Romans, especially when we get to chapters 9-11.
The big question that Paul has been asking over the past few chapters is about whether God has failed in his promises. God had made a commitment to Abraham back in Genesis 17:7 that his covenant was eternal and permanent. The promise was that Abraham’s descendants would be the vehicle for God’s purposes to see his creation filled and subdued. Yet, at the very point that God had acted in the person of Jesus to usher in his kingdom reign, Abraham’s descendants appeared to be rejecting God’s blessing. Their hearts seemed to be hardened. And if God was sovereign that would imply that God himself was somehow involved in this.
So, Paul’s specific questions in his context are all about Israel but what has the past history of a little country far away from us got to do with us? I believe there are two ways in which it is relevant.
- By analogy –what Paul says about Israel applies to you and me. This tells us something about his character about how he deals with people –how he always has and always will. We’ve talked about God being sovereign and in control. If we also see him as mean spirited, vengeful, tight fisted then his sovereignty will be a horrible thing. This chapter opens out to show us a God who is big and generous in his love and grace. He is not interested in saving a few, but many. This is the same God who is calling you to know Him.
- Even more amazing. This is really coming up in the next section –but If what we have heard is true and God doesn’t have a plan b then he isn’t starting a new people –rather he is calling you to join the existing family. We become part of Israel. It’s a bit like someone arriving in the UK and becoming a citizen. They are expected to complete a test about the history and culture –because it’s becoming your history, your culture 1066, 1966 etc. All of these questions about Israel are important because if you become a Christian, then Israel’s history will become your history. All of those great events in the Bible where God rescued his people –that’s our family, our famous ancestors –we are part of it. Which on a side point is why the Gospel will not tolerate racism.
And so the big point here is this. Just as God has always been in the business of calling a people to be his people and know that he loves them…so he is calling you. Just as the big question was “How would they respond to Jesus?” so too for you.
Read Romans 11:1-10
1, This is the God who loves and saves –so respond to his call (v1-6)
Did the fact that the Jews had failed to respond to the arrival of their Messiah mean that God was rejecting his own people, the Israelites? Paul is adamant that this cannot be the case because he himself was a Jew, a direct descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who could trace his ancestry back through Benjamin, one of the founding tribal fathers (v1).
Having first answered by reference to his own example, he then offers a second example. He takes his readers back to the prophet Elijah who in a moment of despair complains to God that he is the last faithful man left standing. God’s response is to insist that this is not so. God had preserved and protected a remnant, quite a small in number at 7000, but a significant number all the same who had remained loyal to hm when everyone else was falling into the idolatry of Baal worship (v2-4).
Paul says that the present day situation was comparable. Although most of the Jews, the physical Israel of his time had rejected Christ, there were some (Paul and the apostles among them) who were faithful. However, this wasn’t anything to do with their own efforts or abilities. If they were faithful, it was because of God’s grace or kindness to them. God had chosen to draw them to himself and to keep them (v5). This is an important and crucial point because the fact that their faithfulness to the covenant is all down to grace reminds us again of the futility of depending on human works of self-righteousness. It has to be all about grace because if Paul or any of the others could depend on their works, then their salvation, their election, their hope would not be a free gift from God but reasonable payment (v6).
The point then is that God is sovereign and full of grace and compassion. Election demonstrates this, despite the hardest of hearts, He still acts to save some. The point is not that some were more open or deserving but that God in his grace has acted.
This should protect us from judgementalism, as Calvin comments:
“Since, therefore, the grace of God prevails so greatly even in the most deplorable of circumstances, do not let us lightly assign to the devil all those whose godliness we do not openly see.”
It also means that we should not be given to despair. Calvin goes on to say:
“We should at the same time have this truth stamped deeply within us, that however ungodliness may abound in every part of the world, and fearful confusion press us on all sides, yet the salvation of many remains secure under the seal of God.” 
The challenge of course then is to not be those who harden their hearts but to be the ones who respond to his call, moved by, excited by and delighting in his grace.
2. This is the God of truth and justice so heed the warning (v7-10)
What are the implications of this for our question about Israel and the descendants of Abraham? Well, it means that there were two categories of people within Israel. The majority of the people simply failed to obtain what they sought, the privilege of being included within God’s kingdom and being the vehicle for his blessing. Only a small remnant obtained this and Paul describes them as “The Elect”. These are the specific ones that God chose for the purpose. God chooses to soften the heart of some and harden the hearts of others (v7).
This is all fulfilling Scripture. Paul demonstrates this by reference to two Old Testament passages. First, there is a theme in Isaiah of God shutting the eyes and ears of the prophet’s audience so they are unable to respond to what he is saying (v8). Second, David, expresses a wish that those who oppose him will be caught in a trap, that the very things that should be good to them and a blessing will in fact be a curse and judgement upon them. He is asking for the tables to be turned on his foe! That Paul identifies the majority of Israel with the enemies of God’s chosen one is deeply shocking but that is the point. The problem with Israel and the Jewish people of Paul’s day was that they had rejected their Messiah (God’s chosen one) (v9-10).
This means that if there were always these two categories of people and if there were always those who were hardened, then it has always been about grace. This is important because some people think that people were saved by The Law in the Old Testament and by grace in the New. Paul would insist that it always needed grace.
If you want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can have a go at climbing up the stairs for the first level or you can take the lift. However, the choice is not between a hard way and an easy way to get to the top because the only way you can go all the way up is by the lift. If you try to climb your way up you’ll never make it. You need to be in the lift.
There aren’t two ways to get to God, a hard way by religious law keeping and an easy way by grace. It is only by grace that we are saved. Therefore, we need to heed God’s warning that attempting to do things by our own efforts will always fail
The implication for us today is that we can get caught up in church as social club, moral educator even a super emotional experience and not get that it really is all about Jesus. We treat church as though it is the means to help us walk up the steps, to live a little better, to make the route a bit easier, but ultimately the emphasis is still upon you and me trying to live our lives in a way that will reach God.
How does this work out. One way is that well meaning people in the church will find you jobs to do, get you singing in the worship group, encourage you to help with a club etc. And if that gives you a sense of what your local church is like and makes you feel welcome, that’s great. But if it’s reinforcing that idea that we are here for moralising, socialising and a music induced emotional high then they are doing something dangerous –because you will end up coming to communion and to use Paul’s words “eating and drinking damnation for your soul.” In other words you will have missed it, you will have not seen the lift, you will have climbed by yourself and it was the route. You will have been deaf and blind to Jesus.
Don’t be like those Israelites who didn’t get it. Be like those who put their faith in Jesus and found their hope in him alone. Then you will discover that God never breaks his promises, never fails.
There is a hope that burns within my heart
That gives me strength for every passing day
A glimpse of glory now revealed in meagre part
Yet drives all doubt away
I stand in Christ with sins forgiven
And Christ in me the hope of heaven
My highest calling and my deepest joy
To make His will my home.**
 Isaiah 29:10. See also Deuteronomy 29:4.
 Psalm 69:22-23.
**Stuart Townend, There is a hope
 Calvin, Romans, 241.
 Calvin, Romans, 241.