5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 11:5–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
5 As in the days of Elijah, so now in Paul’s own time the vast majority of Israel had resisted God. This majority had resisted the gospel, and, in spite of their claim of loyalty to God and the law, they rejected the climactic revelation in his Son. Those who had turned to Christ were only “a remnant.” But the matter of numbers is not crucial. What is of the greatest importance is the very existence of the remnant itself. The faithfulness of God rests squarely on this remnant of Jews who have believed the gospel, this remnant, as Paul puts it, “chosen by grace.” The remnant is of such great importance because it is, as Stuhlmacher, 163, points out, “a sign of hope which God has established for all Israel.”
11:5–6 / Verse 5 contemporizes the Elijah story and shifts the focus to the present. This is less apparent, however, in the niv than in the Greek. As God had preserved a faithful minority in Elijah’s day, so he had preserved a minority of Jews who believed in Jesus Christ as a remnant chosen by grace (v. 5). This is the only place in the nt where the word remnant (Gk. leimma) occurs, although it is quite close in meaning to the word “chosen” (Gk. eklogē, vv. 5, 7). The idea of the remnant was first presented in 9:27, though in different terminology. The word for remnant (leimma, v. 5) may have been suggested in Paul’s mind by the word for “reserved” (Gk. kataleipō) in verse 4 above, of which it is a cognate. It is not a remnant of virtue or good works or merit, but a remnant chosen by grace. Israel and the church rightly understand their election only when they understand it as an action of God’s free grace, not as an achievement of their works. Had the Jewish Christians become a remnant because of their works, they would have had no significance for greater Israel, for Israel itself “pursued a law of righteousness” (9:31). But since the remnant had been preserved by grace, it became a pledge of God’s continuing favor towards Israel as a whole. The remnant of grace, in other words, affirms that Israel was called into existence by grace (9:8–11) and awaits a future consummation of grace (11:28–32).
11:5–6. Just as God preserved a remnant of faithful believers in Israel during Elijah’s day (as he had done throughout the nation’s history; the example with Elijah is cited by Paul as a clear example), so God is preserving a remnant in the nation of Israel even as Paul writes. He had already explained earlier in Romans that election in Israel was based neither on heritage (both Ishmael and Isaac were descendants of Abraham, but only Isaac received the promise; Rom. 9:6–9) nor on merit (while Jacob and Esau were in the womb, before either had done anything good or bad, Jacob was chosen over Esau; Rom. 9:10–13).
Heritage and merit (works) were the two most lofty ideals among religious Jews—the fact that they were descendants of Abraham and zealously kept God’s law. As we have seen already, even Paul the Pharisee had placed great confidence in his heritage and merit before God (Phil. 3:4–6). But as God chose in Israel in the Old Testament, so he chooses today—by his “mercy” (Rom. 9:14–16) and grace. In other words, it is God’s plan that is being worked out in the nation of Israel. He is the one who is ordaining, working out, and ensuring the completion of his plan (see his sovereignty at work in Rom. 8:28–30 on an individual basis).
While there was an election of the nation of Israel as a whole (Amos 3:2), there has constantly been at work a separation, another election, within the nation, by which believers were being separated from unbelievers. In the Old Testament, it did not “depend on man’s desire or effort [whether good or bad], but on God’s mercy” (Rom. 9:16). In the New Testament, God is continuing his acts of separation/preservation by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works.
Paul never lets up on his preaching of the grace of God. Of the 119 mentions of grace in Acts to Revelation, 86 of them occur in Paul’s epistles, with 21 of them in Romans. Perhaps nothing arrested Paul as much as the idea that his salvation was by grace (Eph. 2:8)—totally a gift from God. This was so contrary to everything he had learned and practiced up to that point in his life, and yet he found that it was consistent with how God had always acted, even in the “age of law,” the Old Testament. To trace Paul’s mention of grace in salvation in Romans is to easily understand his mention of it in Romans 11:5–6:
- Romans 1:5: Paul, a Jew, has received grace from God personally.
- Romans 4:16: The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring (Jew and Gentile alike).
- Romans 5:2: Those who have received salvation stand in grace.
- Romans 5:15, 17: It was God’s grace that overcame the sin of Adam and provided redemption for the human race through Christ.
- Romans 5:20: No human sin is so grievous that it has not been overcome by God’s grace.
- Romans 5:21: God’s grace is the controlling element in salvation history. Grace, not sin, is reigning and will ultimately reign.
It is Paul’s emphasis on grace that reminds us that salvation is of God. Human beings, being dead in sin, can do nothing to initiate and produce their own salvation. If a remnant is going to be preserved in Israel, it is going to be by God’s grace—because he has a divine and appointed purpose for Israel to play in the salvation history of the whole world. It is this realization that Paul wants his readers to understand. Neither in Abraham’s day, nor Isaac’s, nor Jacob’s, nor Elijah’s, nor Paul’s, nor in ours, was there any reason for God to choose to continue saving some in Israel—except for his grace.
Remember from whence we have come since Genesis 12:1–3 when God’s promises first were given to Abraham. Following the Flood, and the Tower of Babel, seventy “nations” (people groups) had populated the earth. God, because of mercy and grace, wants to take salvation to them all. He chose one man, Abram, and began building a “seventy-first” nation, one that would serve as the light of salvation to the rest who were in darkness (the Gentiles). Though the new nation (Israel) had failed by Paul’s time to fulfill God’s missionary mandate for them, God’s promises to them stood and stand today. In calling out a new people, a spiritual people (the church), made up of both Jews and Gentiles, God continues in the modern day his missionary task of reaching the world with the salvation message.
But, by his grace, his promises to Israel stand, and because of his love for the nation and its fathers (see below in Romans 11:28), he preserves a remnant of believers by which the nation is kept “alive” until the day when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). This, in a nutshell, is the story Paul is telling to the church in Rome (and to us). Understanding this, it is almost superfluous to say that if by grace, then it is no longer by works. Salvation is God’s idea and he is working it out according to his plan, which is always by grace.
5. So, too, at the present time a remnant has come into being, chosen by grace.
As it was then, says Paul, so it is now. God did not then, does not now, and will completely reject Israel. He is not “through with the Jews.” Was it not he himself who had caused them to be an ore-bearing vein? Was it not he too, who, by means of his sovereign grace, had seen to it that also at the present time a remnant of Israel had come into being, a remnant’s “chosen by grace”? Cf. 9:11; 11:28.
The doctrine of the salvation of the remnant is taught throughout Scripture:
At the time of Noah the many perished, the few were saved (Gen. 6:1–8; Luke 17:26, 27; 1 Peter 3:20).
The same thing happened in the days of Lot (Gen. 19:29; Luke 17:28, 29).
Elijah too, as we have just now been told, was acquainted with the idea of the saved remnant, though he did not realize that it amounted to no less than seven thousand.
Previously (Rom. 9:27; cf. Isa. 10:22 f.) the apostle has reminded us of the remnant in the days of Isaiah.
It does not surprise us therefore that also “at the present time,” that is, in the apostle’s own day, there was a saved remnant, and that Paul belonged to it. In Romans the remnant doctrine is either taught or implied also in the following passages: 9:6 f.; 9:18a; 10:4, 11, 16; 11:14, 24, 25.
Further substantiation of the doctrine that salvation is for the elect remnant can be found in such Old Testament passages as Isa. 1:9 (=Rom. 9:29); 11:11, 16; 46:3; 53:1; Jer. 23:3; 31:7; Joel 2:32; Amos 5:15; Mic. 2:12; 4:5–7; 7:18; Zeph. 3:13, to mention but a few. Was not a son of Isaiah named Shear Jashub, meaning A remnant shall return?
As to the New Testament, it may or may not be significant that in the parable of The Sower (or The Four Kinds of Soil)—see Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23; Mark 4:1–9, 13–20; Luke 8:4–15—it is only the final kind of soil that yields a good crop. But even if no conclusion can be drawn from this parable as to the proportion of saved to unsaved among those who hear the gospel, we have the Master’s clear statement,
“For many are called, but few chosen” (Matt. 22:14). Cf. Luke 12:32.
The view of some—and among them those whose writings we regard highly—that a day is coming when this rule will no longer apply, in fact that the very principle of the remnant implies that one day the nation of Israel as a whole will be saved, seems rather strange. Are those who favor this opinion guilty of reading the words of Rom. 11:26 (“And so all Israel shall be saved”), as they interpret it, into 11:5?
11:5 a remnant. Although the nation had rejected Jesus, thousands of individual Jews had come to faith in Him (cf. Ac 2:41; 4:4; 6:1). God’s gracious choice. God did not choose this remnant because of its foreseen faith, good works, spiritual worthiness, or racial descent, but solely because of His grace (cf. Dt 7:7, 8; Eph 2:8, 9; 2Ti 1:9).
11:6 by grace … no longer … of works. Human effort and God’s grace are mutually exclusive ways to salvation (cf. 3:21–31; 4:1–11; 9:11; Gal 2:16, 21; 3:11, 12, 18; Tit 3:5).
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 168). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ro 11:5–6). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.