The word for today is “faith.” Those who believe the Gospel would think that all who hear it would respond in faith to it. They would ask why many do not? In today’s reading of Romans 10:11-11:2, Paul continues to wrestle with that question. He writes, “But they have not all obeyed the Gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’” (OSB Romans 10:16). Today our study will not arrive at an explanation for the negative response to the offer of salvation. But our commentary will propose a fresh perspective to the question of why most Jews rejected the message of Christ.
A Change of Focus
Suppose we turn our focus from those who reject the Gospel to those who do? When we dwell on the refusal of many Jews to believe, we overlook those who did respond. St. Paul touches on a change of viewpoint when he says, “For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (OSB vs.11:1). The apostle reminds us that the first to respond to the message of salvation were Jews, among them Paul and the apostles. The Jews who first believed in Christ are the foundation for the church.
Yes, as a whole, the Jews were disobedient and unresponsive to God’s Word, and Paul grieves for them (Romans 9:2). However, Paul compares the circumstances of his day to the time of Elijah. When the prophet lamented that he alone in Israel did not worship idols, the Lord said there was a remnant of seven thousand who had bowed down to idols (Romans 11:2-5). Likewise, Paul says, “there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (OSB Romans 11:5). In other words, a portion of the Jews whom God chose did hear and believe the Gospel.
God Saves Us as Individual Persons
Paul’s analysis suggests that God saves individuals and not collections of people. The teachings of the Lord confirm this truth. The Lord said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (OSB John 10:27). On the other hand, he says to unbelievers, “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep…” (John 10:26). Again, Jesus said, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables. So that ‘seeing they may see and not perceive and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them’” (NKJV Mark 4:12).
Nothing in the above quotation is said about saving a social group. In fact, the Lord was addressing Jews in Israel at the time. Among the Chosen People, there were those who did listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and those who did not. And there were those who were given to understand the mystery of the kingdom and those who were not.
A Form of the Teaching of Salvation By Faith
But why is Paul so insistent that not all Jews rejected the Gospel but that the acceptance of Christ depended on the individual? The apostle’s focus on the believing Jews is part of his argument for his major thesis: salvation is by faith. The remnant that he refers to consists of those who responded to the Gospel in trust. Thus, the apostle says that they believed “according to the election of grace” (OSB romans 11:5). He states, Israel has not obtained what it seeks [salvation], but the elect has obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (OSB Romans 11:7). That is, the Jews who believed were chosen to receive the gift of faith. And therefore, salvation is “no longer of works,” (OSB Romans 11:6).
Works require the observance of particular sets of rules of behavior. Thus, these laws apply only to a specific group. For example, Paul’s opponents demand that the believing Gentiles keep the dietary laws of Moses to be part of the Chosen People. But these laws banned the staple foods of other cultures, such as pork. But if salvation is by faith, then all have access to it—but only as individuals.
Embedded in our fresh perspective is another question, the matter of God’s election. Salvation is by a faithful response to the hearing of the Gospel. But how do we attain faith? Certainly not by our ethnic heritage or social identity. Faith must be a gift of the Holy Spirit. If so, then our recourse is to pray that the Spirit would open our ears to hear the Gospel and open our hearts and minds to respond to it in joyful and thankful trust.