Have you ever felt somewhat alone as you lived out your faith? Does it ever feel like you're part of a small subset of people who actually trust in Jesus and seek to be obedient to His teaching? If you feel that way, you're not the first one to experience these emotions. This feeling is somewhat common, and many of us will experience seasons when this feels all too real.
But the truth of the matter is that God's plan is much bigger in scope than we often realize. We can see the small part of the parade that's directly in front of us, but from His perspective, He can see the beginning, middle, and end all at the same time. And while there are plenty of people who will never come to faith in Christ, there are some who will. In fact, there are more who will trust in Jesus than we may initially realize, and that's a subject Paul addresses in Romans 11:1-6.
I. Some receive salvation as an act of God's grace
Have you ever gone through a particularly challenging season of life that resulted in you feeling rather discouraged? In 1 Kings 19, we're given a picture of a challenging season in the life of the prophet Elijah that left him feeling exceedingly depressed and discouraged. He was running for his life after opposing King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, and the false prophets of Baal. In the midst of an idolatrous culture that was led by unbelieving leaders, Elijah was feeling quite alone, and he honestly wished he was dead. But God assured Elijah that he wasn't alone. Even though he felt like he was all by himself, God revealed to him that there were 7,000 others in that culture who trusted in Him.
Paul references those events in this portion of Romans 11 to demonstrate the fact that God has not rejected the people of Israel. Naturally speaking, particularly as we see many who persist in disbelief, it would seem justified for God to reject this group of people, but that isn't his intention. Paul was certainly grateful for that fact, particularly since he was a descendant of Israel, and he loved the people he was born into.
And just as the Lord has preserved a remnant of those who truly believed in Him during Elijah's time, so too during Paul's era and our era, there is a remnant of those who believe. Not everyone believes, but some do. And those who believe are granted salvation, not as a payment for their labors, but as a gift of grace. This is a theme that has been illustrated several times in this section of Paul's letter to the Romans.
It's clear when we look at the actions and attitudes of humanity that we deserve nothing but judgment from God. Israel turned their backs on Him. Paul at one time lived in rebellion and disbelief. We too were once foreigners to the goodness of God. But by grace, God intervened. He reaches right into the chest of people who have the hardest hearts, and He softens us. He reaches right into our heads and He opens our eyes. He shows us that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved than by the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and He makes it abundantly clear that salvation is a work He is doing in our lives, not a reward for the work we're doing.
Grace is the undeserved favor of God. Which would you rather receive; compensation for the imperfect work of your hands, or the gift of the unmerited and undeserved favor God?
II. Some have hardened hearts
The people of Israel that Paul is referencing in these verses were those who valued the Mosaic law, but misapplied it. They were convinced that they could obtain righteousness by keeping the law perfectly while also adding additional requirements of their own. But they failed to obtain the righteousness they sought because it cannot be obtained in such a fashion. True righteousness is granted to those who trust in the Lord, not to those who persist in the false belief that we can obtain perfection through self-righteousness.
When a person persists in false beliefs, trusts in their own righteousness, and rejects the opportunity to walk by faith in the Lord, their heart hardens. Scripture cautions us not to harden our hearts against the Lord, and this Scripture in particular indicates that the Lord Himself at times will harden the hearts of those who persist in their unbelief. Have you ever experienced the effects of a hard heart? How did it work out? Was it a pleasant or unpleasant experience for you?
Not long ago, I observed my heart beginning to harden in a particular area, and it troubled me. I realized that I had been hardening my heart toward someone who had deeply hurt me and several members of my family. But Christ's calling on the lives of those who trust in Him is to forgive as we have been forgiven. He hasn't told us to wait for those who have offended us to apologize, or get the details of their lives squared away first. He invites us to extend forgiveness toward those who don't deserve it because that's exactly what He has done toward us. And if we trust Him, we'll obey His instruction. When I took steps to extend forgiveness toward my offender, I could tell that the Lord was softening my heart, and my faith grew in the midst of that experience.
But there are plenty of people in this world who, unfortunately, will spend their entire lives nursing a hardened heart. They'll reject Christ's offer of salvation. They'll reject the opportunity to extend forgiveness, and they'll reject the extension of God's grace toward them because the god they really worship is the god of their own self-righteousness.
III. Some will see the truth before others do
Very recently, I almost hit a deer. I was driving home from my church office, and just before I got to the light down the road, a deer ran in front of my car. I held the wheel to prevent from swerving, and slammed on the brakes. I came so close to hitting that deer that I'm pretty sure it may have brushed up against the front of my car. I'm glad I saw it in time, and I'm guessing if I had a few passengers, one of them may have seen it before I did and could have warned me.
Salvation operates in a similar fashion. There are those who will see their need for it before others. Paul mentions here that the Gentile nations are presently seeing the truth of how salvation is obtained before the majority of the descendants of Israel are, even though salvation was offered to Israel first. But just as was stressed in Romans 10, Paul is making it clear that part of God's plan is to make Israel jealous by allowing them to observe the ways God is blessing those from the Gentile nations who presently trust in Christ.
Israel's rejection of Christ has resulted in blessings for the Gentiles who are being divinely enabled to see their need for Jesus first. And if the failure of the children of Israel to see this need results in blessing for others, how much more will the world experience blessing when they finally see their need too?
In fact, Scripture makes it clear that it has always been God's desire to unite believing Jews and believing Gentiles into one new body. And what's that body called? It's called the church, and it's comprised of everyone who trusts in Christ, regardless of background or heritage, and regardless of who accepted the invitation first.
IV. Some will come to faith at a later time
I look forward to the day when the prophetic words of this passage will be fulfilled. The day is coming when all those who are in Christ will be raised from death, blessed with new glorified bodies, and live in His presence for all eternity. The people the Lord first began working through will come to faith in Him and be made holy. The branches that have been grafted in will be made holy as well. In the meantime, the Lord has called us to represent Him as His ambassadors and spread the fragrance of Christ wherever He calls us.
Not everyone will come to faith in Christ according to our timetable, but don't lose hope. The Lord is orchestrating a great harvest of belief, and there are people that we're waiting to trust in Jesus who certainly will.
During my lifetime, there are multiple members of my family that have come to faith in Christ. There are multiple members of my wife's family who, one at a time, have come to faith in Christ. I have friends that I grew up with who rejected Jesus during our youth, but have now come to faith in Him as adults. I have seen it happen over and over, so while we may be impatient, we certainly should not be without hope. Keep praying.
Granted, not everyone on this earth will believe, but some will. Some will see the truth before others do, and some will come to faith at a later time. And Christ remains faithful. His sheep will hear His voice and will one day answer His call.
© John Stange, 2019