Do you remember that time Elijah was agonizing over this same Israel and cried out in prayer? God, they murdered your prophets, They trashed your altars; I’m the only one left and now they’re after me! And do you remember God’s answer? I still have seven thousand who haven’t quit, Seven thousand who are loyal to the finish (Romans 11:2-6)
I have always loved that episode in Elijah’s life. I know so many who I refer to as “Christian Lone Rangers.” You know who you are. You have no time, or at least, no inclination to surround yourself with other believers, and you sit in judgment of The Church. Or maybe you are someone who operates in some form of “Prophetic gift,” and feel like you are all alone in your pursuit of your Lord. Well, they Lord is telling you the same thing he told Elijah: There is a fiercely loyal minority out there—sure, there might not be many, but there are more than you think. They are holding on, not because of what they think they are going to get out of it, but because they are convinced of God’s grace and purpose in choosing them. If they were only thinking of their own immediate self-interest, they would have left long ago.
Yes, I realize that Paul is discussing the nation of Israel, but the correlation still applies to the Church.
Then what happened? Well, when Israel tried to be right with God on her own, pursuing her own self-interest, she didn’t succeed. The chosen ones of God were those who let God pursue his interest in them, and as a result received his stamp of legitimacy. The “self-interest Israel” became thick-skinned toward God. Moses and Isaiah both commented on this:
Fed up with their quarrelsome, self-centered ways,
God blurred their eyes and dulled their ears,
Shut them in on themselves in a hall of mirrors,
and they’re there to this day.
David was upset about the same thing:
I hope they get sick eating self-serving meals,
break a leg walking their self-serving ways.
I hope they go blind staring in their mirrors,
get ulcers from playing at god (Romans 11:7-10)
The teaching of the Bible concerning salvation is that salvation has always been by grace. This is evident throughout the Scriptures, even the Old Testament. God gave the Old Covenant knowing that he would give a new covenant. The old was given in order to prepare for the new. The old was not plan “A” and the new plan “B.” All of it is the same plan. God has always saved by grace through faith. When Abraham believed God, it was credited to him as righteousness. Even in Israel God always saves by grace.
Oh, I realize that you were taught that the biggest difference between the of God of the Old Testament, and the God of the New Testament, is that a man had to work to attain his righteousness in the Old Testament, and the man of the New Testament receives it as a gift. Well, we could spend page after page talking about this, but let me try to dispel that because it came from some really horrible scholarship—and some anti-Semitic theology. Nothing beat the Truth when it comes to our beliefs.
I realize that at a casual glance, you can see a great emphasis on doing God’s commands—what’s usually called works and legalism; however, the reason for the Hebrews’ obsession with doing—their motivation—has little (or nothing) with gaining something from it. It is all about obedience due to the overwhelming gratefulness of being one of YHWH’s chosen people. Do you hear the difference? When we first come to the Messiah, and when we study the great Christian scholars, it should become obvious to us that Grace is the key to our relationship with YHWH. However, we are also taught that Grace is a New Testament era dispensation that wasn’t available before the birth of Jesus, and, that the righteousness we receive, completely unmerited and unearned, is a New Testament concept.
Hence, as that teaching goes, we must choose either Law or Grace. It is one, or the other. You see, you are told that we could choose to attempt to follow the Law (the Old Testament, the way it says that the Hebrews did things) well enough to “earn” or “merit” our righteousness and therefore our place in Heaven (but, of course, we will ultimately fail). Or, we can choose to have faith in Christ, and by grace be 100% guaranteed our place in Heaven.
The problem with that teaching is that the Scriptures never, never, never say that God set that choice before us. It simply does not exist anywhere in the Scriptures. It is a manmade doctrine. Now, just so you do not get the wrong idea, of course the only way to a relationship with God is unmerited grace, a free gift of God, given by means of Jesus.
This is so important, I want to continue this thought in the next post.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome