(Rom 11:1-2a) I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.
Paul now explicitly refers back to Rom 8:
(Rom 8:29-31) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Notice that Israel, as a nation, is lost for their lack of faith. But Paul says it’s certainly not because God rejected them. It is, of course, the natural question to ask: If God is in charge, and if Israel is, as a nation, lost, is that because God chose for them to be lost? Did God withdraw their election?
Paul says, all that being said, the fact remains that God foreknew Israel. How could he reject them?
(Rom 11:2b-4) Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah–how he appealed to God against Israel: 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? 4 And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
Paul refers to the account of Elijah. Immediately after defeating the prophets of Baal, he found himself in despair. God comforted him by assuring him that a faithful remnant remained. Paul explains that while nearly of all of Israel has rejected God, God has not rejected Israel. Rather, there is a faithful remnant who have faith in Jesus.
Hence, “election” doesn’t mean that all people elected are saved in the end. Rather, “election” means that the elect nation will be rewarded with glory, just as Paul said in chapter 8, but it may be only remnant of individuals who are glorified. Election of a nation does not guarantee glorification of the entire nation.
Of course, we’d already seen exactly this message in the Law and Prophets to which Paul alluded in chapter 10.
(Rom 11:5-6) So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
Just as prophesied, God has preserved a remnant: a few Jews who accepted Jesus. But they are part of the remnant because of their faith, not because of their obedience to the Law of Moses. (“Grace” refers to salvation by faith, as Paul explained in detail in chapters 1 – 8. He does not have to say it again for it to be true.)
Remember, Paul has repeatedly made the point in chapters 9 – 10, and earlier in Romans, that Jews and Gentiles must be saved on the identical terms.
(Rom 3:29-30) Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
(Rom 10:12) For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,
And so, again, if we read with Reformation eyes, we focus on the fact the remnant is chosen by grace — which is true. But the point is that the remnant is chosen on the same terms as the Gentiles.
What’s the answer to the question? God foreknew Israel. How could they not be justified? They are justified, but only a remnant — which has become a part of the true Israel.
Thus we see that Rom 8:29-31 is about national foreknowledge, justification, and glorification. It’s not necessarily true at the individual level.