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Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Remnant

I read this in Romans the other day.
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved. (Rom 9:27)
So, way back in Isaiah's day God was declaring that not all would be saved, but "only a remnant". Now, to be sure, Paul was talking in this particular passage about how "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel" (Rom 9:6) which means "that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring." (Rom 9:8) Thus all of God's offspring will be saved; it's just that not all of Israel is part of God's offspring and, to be sure, not all people are God's offspring.

This concept is a theme through Scripture -- the concept of the remnant, the concept of the few. At the Flood, only 8 out of the entire population of the Earth survived, saved by God (1 Peter 3:18-20). Of the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, only 4 escaped (Gen 19:15) and only 3 survived (Gen 19:26), saved by God. When Elijah complained to God that he was the last believer, God told him that He had retained 7,000 faithful followers (1 Kings 19:17-18; Rom 11:1-5). (Note Who kept them.) When God sent Assyria to wipe out Judah, He promised a "surviving remnant" (2 Kings 19:30). Jesus referred to the "many" who would take the gate that leads to destruction and the "few" who would find the narrow gate (Matt 7:13-14).

This concept of "the remnant" is both difficult and encouraging. It is difficult for obvious reasons. For those who think that God is trying to save every last person on the planet, it is a sign of failure. Instead of saving all, He saves "few", a remnant. But even for those who understand that He is not trying to save all, it means that there is a large contingent of human beings that God knows will come into this world, ultimately reject Him, and face judgment. Only a relative few will be saved. And, as it touches our humanity, that is heart-breaking. As someone once asked me, "How can I be happy in heaven knowing that my mother is in Hell?" So it has its difficult side.

On the other hand, there is that remnant. That remnant, the elect, is an amazing story. Jesus said of the great tribulation, "For the sake of the elect those days will be cut short." (Matt 24:22) This remnant is chosen by God (Rom 11:5), called out by God, saved by God, retained by God, and ultimately glorified by God (Rom 8:30). This remnant is "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son", making Christ "the firstborn among many brothers" (Rom 8:29). Saved by grace apart from works, this remnant has nothing of which to boast (Eph 2:8-9) and nothing to fear (Rom 8:31-39). This select "few" are adopted by God (John 1:12-13; Rom 8:16-17). In a time when the world appears chaotic, morality declines, and Christians appear fewer and fewer as they stand up against Christ in the name of Christ, it is of great comfort, as it was to Elijah, to know that there is a remnant, a "few", a group chosen by God out of all types of people to be kept by Him, to represent Him here and be with Him in the end. That can be nothing less than encouraging.

I've heard discouraged Christians speak fearfully about what's coming. It looks, to many, as if the Church with its true believers is vanishing. Rest assured that God has a remnant, a kept crowd, a "few". He cannot fail. And not one that He plans to save will be lost. This is a source of great confidence in a turbulent world.


Alec said...

Hi Stan,

This teaching of the elect remnant is a comfort and quite a mystery to me. The words of Scripture are clear. But the meaning as it plays out in the lives of real people, loved ones like the Mom in your post and others... God in his wisdom which is far above our own has decreed things to be this way. And it is good. And perplexing.

When Noah went through the many decades of building the ark, do you think there were "professing believers" around him, belittling him, laughing at him, trying to undermine his faith in what God had actually said? Even of those 8, how many had Noah's confidence? A thimbleful of people in an ocean of the damned.

I wonder these days about "the fear of the Lord" - as in, how can it be that I seem to have so little of it? As I go on, my belief (and hopefully humility) grows, and I realise how little proper reverence and fear I show to him.

What you say in your bio is one way of putting what I'm trying to say:

Above all else, I am a follower of Christ with the aim of carefully handling His Word and patterning my life by His instructions as an act of worship.

My prayer is that of one father who came to Jesus. "Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief".

It's a strange, neo-Noachic time. Help us Lord to stand.


Stan said...

It was no less than Jesus who said, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:18) That is, "Of course, He will, but it won't be a large number." I'm sure there were "believers" who mocked Noah (read "denied God") as there are today. And we live in a time when among Christians the "fear of the Lord" is considered a bad thing. "That just means reverence," they will tell you. Good thing we can trust in the Lord for that remnant.