There are two more questions I want to ask about Romans 9-11. They are questions that come from reading the text in context and following Paul’s argument. The alternative answers are almost always pre-answers, as in, deciding beforehand what these chapters can’t mean, typically based on a theological bias.
Why does the “remnant” matter if there is only one identification of the people of God?
Answer: A remnant matters because the nation of Israel still matters.
Paul was the first example of how God has not rejected His people, that is the Jews, entirely. “I myself am an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1). He was an Israel-Israelite. A Gentile-Israelite is not a thing.
Then Paul shows the principle at work during Elijah’s days. Elijah thought that he was alone, but the Lord said that He had kept 7,000 for himself (11:2-5). “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace” (11:6). This is, again, a remnant of believing Jews. Gentiles believe, but they are not in the “remnant.” In other words, this remnant is in the church, but the church is not equal to the remnant.
There is even today an elect remnant, identifiable by their faith in Jesus among the physical offspring of Israel.
What is the point of “the fulness of the Gentiles” coming in?
Answer: This phrase in Romans 11:25 only makes sense if there is a distinction between Gentiles and Jews.
Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)
The distinction is not worship of a different God, a different definition of righteousness, or a different means of receiving it. Salvation is by faith for all. Chapter 11 describes how Gentiles are grafted into God’s people (11:17-24), in one way. But Gentile ingrafting does not eliminate God’s purpose for Israel, a purpose that still remains, a promise that hasn’t been fulfilled yet. We Gentiles are grafted in and still called “wild” (11:24). There is a remnant now, most are rejecting. We know that the fulness of the Gentiles has not come in because all Israel has not been saved yet.
God is faithful to His promises and will include Israel again, and it will be a “full inclusion” (11:12). Israel will accept Christ (11:15). “Natural branches”—Israelites, not wild branch Gentiles—will be “grafted back into their own olive tree” (11:24).
This is the “covenant,” to banish ungodliness from Jacob (a.k.a., Israel), to take away their sins (Romans 11:26-27, quoting Isaiah 59:20-21; 27:9). The New Covenant to the household of Israel, to ethnic Israel, to the nation of Israel, will be completely fulfilled in the future.
For now, God planned for Israel to reject Jesus, but the “gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29). God planned for Israel to “stumble” (11:11), to “trespass” (11:11), and He planned that “for a time,” a time we are in, to extend salvation and riches of the world (11:12). But that is not the end! God planned their disobedience to show us mercy and He planned to show us mercy to keep expanding until “all Israel will be saved” before the new heavens and the new earth. That is, a generation of Israelites will see what we have and God will use that to grant them repentance and faith as a nation.
And this is what makes a Dispensationalist.