ABRAHAM’S CHILDREN – WHO THEY ARE!
There is a charge by haters of Sovereign Grace which goes like this: “Do not rely on ‘election’ for your assurance of salvation because Israel was ‘elect’ and yet not all the people of Israel were saved!”
This seems like a valid objection to the truth of Sovereign Election. But it was one which the apostle Paul already dealt with almost 2000 years ago. Let us briefly consider this here.
We should always bear in mind that there is a ‘National Election’ of Israel as a nation and a ‘Spiritual Election’ of a ‘Remnant’ within that nation. John the Baptist chided the Jews of his day with the rebuke – “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, WE HAVE ABRAHAM TO OUR FATHER: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” [Luke 3:8]
It is as though he said, “Glory not in the fact that you are Abraham’s descendants. Because your pedigree has no bearing on your salvation whatsoever!” Election does not run in the family in that sense! The new birth is “not of blood,” (John 1:13) that is to say, it is not a matter of heredity, for regeneration does not run in the veins!” One might be a thoroughbred ‘Jew’ outwardly and yet not a Jew inwardly! Hear what the Apostle says – “For he is not a Jew, which is one OUTWARDLY; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one INWARDLY; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” [Rom 2:28,29]
When the Jews in our Lord’s day were glorying in the fact that they were ‘Abraham’s children’, our Lord made it plain as to WHO the true children of Abraham were – “IF YE WERE ABRAHAM’S CHILDREN, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill Me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.” Which is to say, that the very fact that you hate the truth and are out to kill the One who is the Truth BETRAYS YOUR IDENTITY that you are not the true children of Abraham!
Yes beloved, there is a ‘National Election’ and a ‘Spiritual one’! There is a national Jew and a spiritual Jew! A circumcision which is ‘of the flesh’ and a circumcision which is ‘of the heart’! Not all who comprise the ‘National Election’ necessarily partake of this ‘Spiritual Election’ which is unto salvation! In other words as A.W. Pink said long ago – “There is and always has been a ‘Remnant’ within Israel to whom belong the promises of God! i.e. even in favored Israel God made a DISTINCTION: there was an election within an election; or, in other words, God had a special people of His own from among the nation itself.
“For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed by called” (Rom. 9:6-8). “God hath not cast away his people which He foreknew. . . . I have reserved to myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal: even so that at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. . . . Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it” (Rom. 11:2-7). Thus we see that even in visible Israel, the nation chosen to outward privileges, God had an election—a spiritual Israel, the objects of His love.”
Paul is affirming that there has always been a TRUE Israel within the nation of Israel as a whole. As the theologian Mills says, “There always has been a faithful remnant in Israel. To paraphrase verse 6 of Romans 9 it would read thus, ‘For not all who are of Israel are Israel; there is a true Israel within the nation Israel, namely, the REMNANT.” This distinction is extremely important in light of the apparent ‘failure’ of the Word of God (that some would falsely conclude) which Paul addressed regarding the nation of Israel.
The doctrine of the ‘Remnant’ is clearly a key component of Paul’s argument in this section (chapter 9) of the book of Romans, so it is important to clearly define and understand this doctrine. Another theologian Fruchtenbaum defines the doctrine of the remnant in the following words: “The doctrine of the remnant means that, within the Jewish nation as a whole, there are always some who believe and all those who believe among Israel comprise the Remnant of Israel. The remnant at any point of history may be large or small but there is never a time when it is non-existent. Only BELIEVERS comprise the remnant, but not all believers are part of the remnant for the remnant is a Jewish remnant and is, therefore, comprised of Jewish believers. Furthermore, the remnant is always part of the nation as a whole and not detached from the nation as a separate entity. The remnant is distinct, but distinct within the nation.” Regarding the introduction of the concept of the remnant in Romans 9:6, professor Barrett comments:
“Paul’s blunt negative answer to this question, which is so evident to him that he does not stop to state it, is supported by an analysis of the meaning of ISRAEL. If the word Israel is understood in a mechanical sense it cannot be disputed that the majority of Israel have, to all appearance, set aside God’s word, which has accordingly (at least for the present) failed. But Israel is not a term like Ammon, Moab, Greece, or Rome. ‘Israel’ cannot be defined in terms of physical descent, or understood simply on the human side (v. 5); it is created not by blood and soil, but by the promise of God, and therefore exists within the limits of God’s freedom. If He were bound by physical descent, He would be unfree, and no longer God. But He is not so bound, as Scripture itself proves.”
Theologian Godet further states that, “THEY WHO ARE OF ISRAEL denote all the members of the nation at a given moment, as descendants of the preceding generation. By the first words: ARE NOT ISRAEL, Paul signalizes among the nation taken EN MASSE, a TRUE Israel, that elect people, that HOLY REMNANT, which is constantly spoken of in the OT, and TO WHICH ALONE THE DECREE OF ELECTION REFERS, so that rejection may apply to the mass of THOSE WHO ARE OF ISRAEL, without compromising the election of the true ISRAEL.” This is a key point because the doctrine of the remnant guarantees that God’s promises to ISRAEL will NEVER fail, since they are intended for the elect remnant within the nation as a whole.
Morris explains this idea:
‘Not all those who are of Israel, these are Israel.’ Paul’s compatriots were in error in holding that the promise of God applied to the whole of physical Israel. Paul is denying that it was ever intended to apply in this fashion. If descent from Abraham was what mattered, then the Ishmaelites and Edom were in the same position as Israel. But ISRAEL was not ethnic Israel. Whatever might happen to ethnic Israel, the promise to the SPIRITUAL ISRAEL stood; the falling away of some, who were not true Israelites, had no bearing on the issue.…This was clear in Old Testament days, with the emergence of the concept of the REMNANT; it had long been obvious that the nation as a whole was not responding to God’s leading.
It was a smaller group within the nation that was really God’s people. It was stupid to think that, since the whole nation had not entered the blessing, the promise of God had failed. The promise had not been made to the whole nation and had never been intended to apply to the whole nation.”
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” [Gal 6:15,16]
But now bringing it home to OUR day, there are many who have intellectually understood the doctrine of ‘Election’ and claim to be the ‘Elect’ of God! Are all such the ‘true elect’ of God who know the Lord? God forbid! Yes history does repeat itself! Just the fact that one is born to ‘Reformed’ Christian parents or has understood the doctrines of Sovereign Grace in his head does not mean that he is the ‘Elect of God’! For as the Apostle said, that there are many who claim to know God but in works deny Him, (see Titus 1:16) these truly cannot be God’s elect!
And therefore all through the epistles we have the admonition to ‘examine ourselves’ give diligence to make our calling and election sure, etc! [2Pet 1:10] And the apostle goes on to say – “for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!” [2Pet 1:10,11]
May the Lord give both writer and reader the grace and humility to examine ourselves and to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure!” [Phil 2:12,13] Thank you Lord Jesus!