Grace is Always Amazing

Romans 11:1-10

October 26, 2008 | Brian Bill

Do you ever feel like your failures have somehow disqualified you?  Do you wonder if God has rejected you?  The apostle Paul asked this question when he contemplated Israel’s spiritual ineptitude in Romans 11:1: “I ask then: Did God reject His people?”  The word “reject” means to forcibly push someone aside.  Have you ever been pushed aside?  Is that what God is doing with the nation of Israel?   I love how clearly Paul answers his own question: “By no means!”  Other translations include “Of course not!” or “Certainly not!”  The King James Version uses “God forbid,” which isn’t literal but catches the force of the phrase.  Has God given up on His people Israel?  No way.  Their failures are not final because God is faithful.  

Before we go much further, here’s a brief summary of Romans 9-11.

  • Romans 9 – Israel’s past.  This chapter traces Jewish unbelief to God’s electing purposes.  Not everyone in Israel was chosen by God for salvation. 
  • Romans 10 – Israel’s present.  The Jews are truly guilty before God because even though they have a zeal for God, it is not according to knowledge.  Though the gospel was preached to them, they turned away from it.  This is put in capsule form in the very last verse of the chapter: “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
  • Romans 11 – Israel’s future.  God is not finished with Israel because there are more promises to be fulfilled.

If you feel like you’ve failed and you secretly wonder if God is really faithful, then this passage is for you.  We could summarize the sermon this way: “God has always had a believing minority and a blinded majority.”

A Believing Minority

1. We don’t see all that God is doing (1-5). 

The first thing to hold on to is to remember that God is weaving His ways and His will even when we can’t see it.  We see three examples in this section.

  • The example of Paul.  The first is from Paul’s own life in verse 1: “I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.”  God is not finished with Israel because he is an Israelite.  An Israelite is a descendant of Jacob, who was also named Israel.  Paul can trace his lineage to Abraham who was given the covenant promises.  In addition, he was from the tribe of Benjamin.  Let me make an obvious point here.  Paul doesn’t say that he used to be an Israelite; he says “I am an Israelite.”  He didn’t stop being Jewish when he put his faith in Jesus.  The fact that Paul is a born again believer shows that God keeps His promises.  

We see this in the first part of verse 2: “God did not reject His people whom He foreknew.” This reminds me of what is said in 1 Samuel 12:22 when the people are worried about their future: “For the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name.”  If you’re worried about your future today as it relates to the prison, hold on to the fact that God will not abandon you.

Three different times in the Book of Acts, Paul’s conversion is recounted.  Why is that?  Because if God can save someone like him, then God can save anyone.  And his conversion is an illustration of the future conversion of the nation of Israel.  It’s as if Paul is saying, “I am an Israelite and my salvation is proof that God is not through with Israel yet.”

  • The example of Elijah.  The second example is drawn from one of Elijah’s experiences: “Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah — how he appealed to God against Israel: ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me’?”  This story is from 1 Kings 19 and describes the depth of Elijah’s exhaustion and his bout with depression.  He experienced a great victory over the prophets of Baal but then was afraid of a wicked woman named Jezebel so he runs hundreds of miles and ends up hiding in a cave.  When he finally has a conversation with God, he complains about how evil Israel is and how outnumbered he is – it’s everyone against him.  He stood up for God but he felt like he was the only one in the whole country doing so.

Do you ever feel that way?  Ever suffer from the Elijah complex?

  • I’m the only real believer in my school.
  • I’m surrounded by pagans at work.
  • I’m the only one really walking with God in my family.
  • There’s not a true Christian in my entire neighborhood.
  • I’m the only one concerned for truth.
  • I’m the only one who really knows what worship is in this church.
  • I’m serious about missions but no one else really is.
  • I attend men’s events and others don’t so I must be better than others.

While we might think we’re the only ones on the side of God, God always has more than we think.  I love how God answers Elijah as quoted in Romans 11:4: “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  God has reserved a remnant, literally “left remaining” a group of 7,000 believers.  God has his people in the most unlikely of places – notice that the little phrase “for myself” is added to show the electing prerogative and power of God.  This remnant was His personal possession.  Elijah couldn’t see it because he was focused on himself but God had a remnant of true believers that he couldn’t see. 

  • The example of believers now.  Look at verse 5: “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”  God has a remnant of true believers in Jesus among the Jewish people.  They are Jewish by heritage and background and they are also Jews for Jesus.  Did you know that there are an increasing number of Jewish people who are coming to faith in Jesus as their Messiah?  The ministries that work in this area tell us that there are more Jewish believers than ever before and I believe that there will be even more as we get closer to the return of Christ.

Let’s focus on three words in this verse: remnant, chosen and grace.  


God has always had a believing minority and a blinded majority

There has never been a time when the whole nation of Israel followed God wholeheartedly but there was always a smaller group that did.  Likewise, Christians will always be in the minority.  If you know Jesus you are part of the remnant of the redeemed.  You will never be forsaken because He counts your faith as righteousness and you are reserved for Him.  “God has always had a believing minority and a blinded majority.”


This is the same word used in the Gospels when Jesus chose the twelve.  It means to select or pick out some from a larger number.  It’s where we get the word election, which is what I hope you’ll participate in on November 4th.  It’s important to remember that we didn’t choose God, He chose us.


It’s not about keeping Old Testament rules and laws.  It’s not about do’s and don’ts or even about religion.  God has given us His unmerited favor irregardless of what we’ve done or whether we think we deserve it.  

We don’t see all that God is doing but we know that He is at work.

2. Grace is a Gift Not a Reward (6). 

Human effort and God’s grace are mutually exclusive ways to salvation

We have seen this many times before in our study in Romans.  It’s a paradox.  If you work at trying to please God it won’t work.  The only way to have a relationship with Him is by not working but accepting the gift called grace.  Check it out in verse 6: “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”  Works don’t work and if you try to mix grace and works, they cancel each other out.  Human effort and God’s grace are mutually exclusive ways to salvation.  

I like how the Amplified Bible translates Galatians 2:21: “Therefore, I do not treat God’s gracious gift as something of minor importance and defeat its very purpose]; I do not set aside and invalidate and frustrate and nullify the grace (unmerited favor) of God. For if justification (righteousness, acquittal from guilt) comes through [observing the ritual of] the Law, then Christ (the Messiah) died groundlessly and to no purpose and in vain. [His death was then wholly superfluous.]”

Even our growth as believers is by grace.  I got a chuckle when reading a sermon this week in which the pastor said, “How many of you have seen the bumper sticker that says, ‘Be patient with me. God isn’t finished with me yet?’  I’ve decided to create a new bumper sticker that responds to that one: ‘I’m trying to be patient with you, but God is taking an awfully long time with you.’”  Isn’t it hard to be patient with people who never seem to change?  Isn’t it frustrating to deal with our own slow spiritual growth?  Have you settled into a comfortable, casual Christianity or are you trying so hard that you’re just tired?   I like what Larry Crabb says: “Try hard and you’ll get tired or proud.  Get real and you’ll trust Christ as never before.”

I read an article this week in Discipleship Journal called, “I Was a Legalist and Didn’t Know It” by Thomas Gilson.  He argues that most of us are trying harder to measure up when what we really need is a greater understanding of what it means to live by grace.  While we may know that we’re saved by grace, we forget that we’re also to live the Christian life by grace.  We do this not by following rules and regulations but by staying close to Christ.  Colossians 2:6 says, “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him.”  We’re to live out our faith in Christ the same way we received Him – by grace.  

He then gives some warning signs to help us see when we’re beginning to rely on rules, without even realizing it.

  • Will-power approach.  Responding to temptation by telling myself, “I shouldn’t do that!” and hoping such self-talk will enable me to resist sinful desires.  
  • Duty-based approach.  Trying to motivate myself to do something “because I should.”  
  • Performance-based approach.  Evaluating my standing before God based on how well I’ve been following the shoulds and shouldn’ts – If I’ve kept all the rules on a given day, then I’m OK before God; if I haven’t then I’m not worth much before God that day.  
  • Anger-based approach.  Beating myself up over my sins because I think my anger will help me do better in the future: “I’m such a jerk.  Maybe my feelings now will be a lesson for me next time!”  

All of these responses are rule-oriented and assume that we’ll stay on the right track if we keep all the shoulds and the shouldn’ts in our minds strongly enough.  Unfortunately when we approach our Christian lives in this way, we’re not relying on our relationship with Christ.  The key is to connect with Christ by maintaining closeness with Him through prayer, time in His word, in corporate worship, and in community with other believers.

It’s ultimately not a matter of trying harder; it’s a matter of trusting more.  We can’t make ourselves holy but we can make ourselves humble.  James 4:6: “But he gives us more grace.    That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

3. There are consequences to rejecting Christ (7-10). 

In verse 7 we read that those who reject the gospel can be hardened: “What then?  What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did.  The others were hardened.”  The word “hardened” means to be made unresponsive or hard like a stone, callous or insensitive to touch.  I have a section of skin on my chin that is totally unresponsive and insensitive to touch as a result of a car accident I had when I was 17 years old.  You can touch it but I can’t feel it.  Beth and the girls are kind to me when I’m eating and have a piece of food hanging there – they know I can’t feel it so they make a motion to let me know to wipe it off.  In the same way, Israel has become insensitive to the Holy Spirit. 

Then Paul quotes from Isaiah in verse 8: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.”  They were not only hardened because they rejected instead of receiving Christ, they were also put into a state of spiritual slumber.  They could no longer see the truth and on top of that, they didn’t want to hear it either.  Listen to the words of Isaiah 29:10: “The Lord has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers).”  God silenced the seers because Israel refused to listen to them.

We all know people like that, don’t we?  They just seem spiritually sleepy, uninterested and unable to hear the message.  Why is that?  It’s because to reject Christ repeatedly leads to a hardened heart.  

On top of that, 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that Satan himself “has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…” 

In Romans 11:9 Paul quotes more of the Old Testament: “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them” (v. 9). The table represents God’s protection and provision, as in Psalm 23:5 where David says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  A table was a place of safety and feasting but instead it became a place of fear and punishment.  Their blessings were turned into burdens.

God always protects and provides for his people.  But if those blessings are not received by faith, then they become a stumbling block. God’s blessings always demand a response one way or the other.  Either you accept them with gratitude or you reject what God has done in your life.  You receive the truth of God or you resist it.  Because Israel resisted God and took his blessings for granted, God said, “Since you don’t appreciate what I have done for you, I am going to harden your heart.”  This “judicial hardening” always comes as a result of people responding wrongly to God’s blessings.  

2 Corinthians 3:15-16 describes how many Israelites have a veil covering their hearts: “Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.”  The good news is that when an individual reaches out and receives Jesus, this veil is lifted: “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” 

In summary, first remember we don’t see all that God is doing.  Second, grace is a gift not a reward and finally, there are consequences to rejecting Christ.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?