By the time that the Jewish members of the original audience for Paul’s letter of Romans got to chapter 11 (especially after some of the comments in chapter 10), they might have gotten a little irritated, especially if they had been raised to believe that they were due special treatment as the chosen people of God (i.e., being descendants of Abraham). Paul gives them some solidarity, by reminding them that he was “really Jewish” as well, and reassures them that God still cared for His people. (In fact, the next few verses explain at least one way that God did so.)
In Romans 11: 2-4, Paul reminds the readers that, in the time of Elijah, God preserved a remnant (just like the messages from Isaiah in Romans 9:27-29 indicated). God may have disciplined His people when they sinned, but He didn’t destroy them. In his patience, He maintained that nation (whether scattered or in their promised country), and He brought redemption for them through that remnant.
In the same way, Paul explained that a remnant had been preserved in his day, as well:
So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
Romans 11:5-6 NIV
Now, it’s not fun to think of ourselves as a remnant. When it comes to a bolt of fabric, remnants are leftovers – some might even call them scraps. (My mom sewed a lot, including a lot of clothes for my sisters and me when we were kids, so even as an adult, I know my way around a fabric store more than a lot of my peers.) If the remnant was still on the bolt, there might not be enough fabric to make what you had hoped to sew when you picked the pattern off of the shelf, and that could be disappointing. However, for those who are skilled with laying out a pattern, some great things can be made out of a remnant, whether it’s doll clothes that my mom could make for my sisters, or the quilt that she made for me out of scraps from her collection (including past clothes of mine).
It is good news that God can do even more amazing things with a remnant. After all, God brought salvation – for a world of sinful people – through the remnant of a specific imperfect people. He can do amazing things with whatever you have to offer Him, as well, even if you feel like they are only scraps.
And, why does God preserve a remnant (whether in Elijah’s day, or today)? Because of His grace. The very means of our salvation – through Jesus’ gift of righteousness – came because God showed kindness to a people group who didn’t deserve it. Today, that righteousness is still available to those who have faith, even though we don’t deserve it, either.
Perhaps if we better explained God’s grace (throughout history, and even today), others would better understand why righteousness through works is never going to hold up against righteousness by faith. Understanding God’s grace – and just how much that grace has been part of His plan throughout history – shows us how faith is a superior way back to Him.
When we are discouraged, and think that we’re the only ones left, maybe we feel like that remnant. If that happens, though, just remember two things: 1) why God keeps a remnant around, and 2) what God can do with a remnant!
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 23, 2022
- The Lookout, January 23, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 2, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1998.