The Biblical concept of a remnant was born out of a time in Israel that was similar to our own.
Early in her history, the nation of Israel had been faithful to the God of her fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then she began to prostitute herself to the local pagan animistic deity – Baal. 1 Kings 18:21 describes the tension within Israel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” Dr. Galen Peterson, professor at Western Seminary, helps us understand this text with a word picture: “How long will you hop back and forth between branches like a bird.”
How did the people of Israel respond to Elijah’s challenge? “But the people said nothing.” Like the bird in the cage, they just kept hopping between branches.
To compel the peoples’ decision, Elijah arranges a test between the God of Abraham and Baal. God, founder of the nation of Israel, was vindicated. Would this demonstration of God’s power lead to a revival? Would they cease to worship Baal, a pagan animistic deity, and return to the worship of the living God?
Alas. Despite the evidence of God’s power and the insipid response of Baal, the people continued in their idolatry. After endless warnings of the prophets, judgment finally fell. God used the Assyrians to take Israel captive and the Babylonians to take Judah captive.
God had a remnant in Israel
But the story is not finished. 1 Kings 19:18 reveals, “Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” There is a remnant, people who have not prostituted themselves to the pagan deity but remained faithful to the God of their fathers. Thus the story of redemption will continue. (For more see Dr. Peterson’s paper.)
The Hebrew word for remnant is שְׁאֵרִית (sheerith) and is translated “rest, residue, remainder.” The root from which remnant is derived is שָׁאַר shaʾar meaning “to swell up” like yeast in dough. The Greek equilivant is λεῖμμα – leimma. The concept is that which is left of a community after some kind of crisis. The crisis usually marks a hinge or turning point in the history of the particular people.
Like the Israelites of Old Testament times, Christians in the modern world have “hopped back and forth,” vacillating between worship of the living creator God and that of pagan humanism. The consequences of this wavering are revealed in the unraveling of Western civilization. My conclusion is that the time of resistance has passed. The time to actively work to turn the culture back to our Judeo-Christian foundation, to the worship of the living God, has ended. This does not mean that Christians are to throw up their hands and disengage, but it does mean there needs to be a new proactive stance. Those who would be faithful to God must live as a remnant people.
Like the sifting that took place in Israel and Judea, our current crises will separate the wheat from the chaff (Matt. 3:12), false believers from true disciples (John 8:31-32) in Western Christianity.
One is not a Christian by being born into a Christian family. Or raising a hand at a crusade. Or checking a box on a religious survey.
A Christian is one who has consciously put his faith and trust in the finished work of Christ for salvation and who “continues” in his word (John 8:31-32). The 20th century martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The response of the disciple is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith.”
Author and pastor Ed Stetzer, writing for Christianity Today, said:
Around 75 percent of Americans call themselves Christians—they “self identify” as Christians, regardless of how others might define them. I find it helpful to separate those who profess Christianity into three categories: cultural, congregational and convictional.
The remnant will be the convictional, those who live the life of faith, not those who talk the language of Christendom.
- Darrow Miller