The road to heaven has always been narrow. The history of the entire Old Testament shows that even among the visible people of God, it was always only some of them who knew and followed the Lord. Consider the original families of faith in Genesis. Abel’s worship pleased God but Cain’s did not. Abraham’s son Isaac was saved but not Ishmael. Isaac’s son Jacob inherited the blessings of the covenant with God but his brother Esau was a man of the flesh and the world. Of Jacob’s 12 sons, Joseph was noble but nine of his brothers conspired to hurt him and sell him into slavery. Reuben tried to protect Joseph and Benjamin was too little to intervene, but the rest of the brothers followed Judah’s wicked plan. Fast forward to the nation’s history from Exodus onward. Think of how often the people saved from Egypt later grumbled, complained, and rebelled against God and his appointed leader Moses. Look at how the nation of Israel continually fell into idol worship and sins against each other in the time of the judges and the kings. Remember how they rejected the many prophets God sent to plead with them to turn from their wicked ways and live. See how often their hearts remained hardened and evil in spite of God’s many loving calls and reluctant acts of discipline.
All of this history of God’s original chosen people is what Paul considers as he wrestles with why his nation has not welcomed Jesus as its Messiah. Despite all of the apostles’ passionate, biblically sound preaching and teaching of the gospel, so many Israelites had remained spiritually blind and deaf (Romans 11:7-10). They simply would not come to Jesus and live. One might wonder if God’s covenant promises to Abraham’s family had failed (Romans 11:1). No, Paul says. God has not rejected His chosen people (Romans 11:2). Paul himself is proof – he is a Jew who has accepted Jesus (Romans 11:1). And he is not alone. All the rest of the first disciples were Jews, too. Like Elijah from the wicked days of Ahab and Jezebel, Paul had felt at times like all Israel had rejected their Lord (Romans 11:3). But God preserved a remnant then, a faithful few who had not served false gods like Baal (Romans 11:4). So, too, now, God has elected and chosen to save some Israelites by showing them their sin and need for His forgiveness and grace through Jesus, their appointed Savior and Lord (Romans 11:5-6). And He has done the same from among the Gentiles.
Two years ago, I (Mr. Reel) believed we could see Jesus capture the hearts and minds of the great majority of our students. If we labored hard in preaching and teaching the Bible with power every day at school, if our teachers went to war on our knees each night for our students, then we could see an amazing revival with lasting change in our student body. How incredible would it be to see our school producing strong, mature disciples of Jesus as graduates? To see us send out young men and women with vision, spiritual discipline, and dedication to serving Jesus and His kingdom as their number one goal for the rest of their lives on earth? Ah, what a dream! What a mission in which to invest your life and career!
Two years later, I have finally accepted the remnant mentality instead. I radically underestimated the power of the many worldly influences constantly acting upon our students through their devices and nonChristian peers. I failed to understand that students could make public professions of faith in Christ without really wanting to follow through by then allowing Jesus to start changing their desires, decisions, and habits. I could not grasp how a person could say that Jesus had saved them and yet have no interest in spending time with Him by praying and reading His Word. I could not figure out how someone could claim to be part of Christ’s church but not want to go to that church in their free time. Now I have become much more cautious in celebrating claims of salvation experiences and more realistic in my expectations of true spiritual change in my students. I still believe that I have a chance to influence and disciple students to follow Christ, but I now expect that impact to be smaller and more limited. I take hope because God’s Word promises me that He will always preserve a remnant among His people. There will always be some in every place who faithfully love and follow Him. For our teachers, I encourage you to keep presenting Christ and defending His Word before all your students. And then look for chances to disciple those students who want it. And for the students who are serious about following Jesus, look for friends among the remnant and stick close to Jesus and each other. God will never leave you nor forsake you.
The Text (Romans 11:1-10)
11 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3 “Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? 4 But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. 8 Just as it is written: “God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.”
9 And David says: “Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. 10 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always.”
Questions to Think About
- What evidences of the shrinking of Christian influence in our American culture have you noticed? For example, think about how the world today is different than it was when your parents and grandparents were teenagers.
- Do you find it difficult to follow Christ faithfully in our school right now? Why or why not?
- Would you describe your closest friends as being serious about their walks with Christ? Explain.