Throughout the Old Testament, the nation of Israel continually struggles with their relationship with God. God remains faithful to His covenant with Abraham and offers incredible benefits to the descendants of Abraham if they would keep covenant/loyalty with God. However, the nation of Israel often falls away from God, breaking the covenant and losing the covenant blessing. This is the dominant theme throughout 1-2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. The kings and the kingdom forget about God and instead of serving him with passion they begin to serve him at best with their lips and rituals, and at worst they rebel and serve other gods entirely and commit wicked deeds. This forgetfulness and rebellion towards the one true God reaps political dysfunction, family dysfunction, disease, famine and national calamity, ultimately being taken away from their homeland into foreign captivity.
When the nation of Israel has forgotten God it’s because their personal faith and national religion have become a relic.
A relic is “an object, custom, or belief that has survived from an earlier time but is now outmoded” and merely sentimental. – New Oxford American Dictionary
For these people, God is – in a very literal sense – the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”; He is not their God. They carry the history and at times even the rituals of their forefathers’ religion, but their hearts and minds, their beliefs and actions, are far from God.
Isaiah 29:13 NLT
And so the Lord says,
“These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
They do not have faith; they have a relic of faith. Their forefathers had faith, but they have a relic. It’s like an insignificant family heirloom sitting in the attic or a storage unit collecting dust and taking up space.
In contrast, there are those who remain true to God, to the covenant, who live by faith. They commit themselves to the God of Israel and continually posture themselves as part of the covenant and coheirs of the covenant as true children of Abraham, as the true Israel of God. (See Romans 9 for a lesson on who remains heirs of the promise.)
This small minority group within Israel is called the Remnant.
A remnant is “a small remaining quantity of something; a surviving trace”. – New Oxford American Dictionary
In the scripture, those true followers of God who have not forgotten Him or His covenant, nor turned to other idols, religions, and lifestyles, are referred to as a remnant.
1 Kings 19:9–18 NLT
There he came to a cave, where he spent the night.
But the LORD said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied again, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
Then the LORD told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu grandson of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet. Anyone who escapes from Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and those who escape Jehu will be killed by Elisha! Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!”
In Romans 11 the apostle Paul references this story of Elijah and the 7,000 God preserves as remaining faithful, and Paul describes the group as a remnant.
Earlier in the New Testament, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples by prophesying that in the “last days” before He returns to judge the living and the dead, there will be a great falling away from the faith, sometimes referred to as the great apostasy, or Apostate Church.
Matthew 24:3–25 NLT
Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?”
Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.
“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.
“The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.
“Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.
Jesus paints a very grim picture here of much persecution of the Church such that perhaps even the elect might fall away. His understanding of the great apostasy may shed light on why in Luke 18:8 he asks a sobering (and otherwise perplexing) question to his disciples:
Luke 18:8 NLT
I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”
So what is faith anyway? How do you know if you have it or how much of it you have?
James 2:19 NLT
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.
Faith is more than believing in God, it’s believing God. Like a child who trusts what someone says and trusts that a person is good-willed toward him/her, faith is trusting that God is good and that He will do what he says. Do we believe/trust that God is good? Do we believe/trust that He is trustworthy?
Hebrews 11:1–6 NLT
Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.
By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.
It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.
It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.” For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
As for Christians, do we believe that Jesus was sent from God to save the world from condemnation (John 3:16-17), that he suffered in our place on the cross of crucifixion, and was raised to life on the third day for our justification, and that He is Lord?
Romans 10:9 NLT
If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
If we remain steadfast in this faith/trust/belief, if we do not waiver from the faith handed down to us once for all through the holy scriptures, then we can be confident that we are a part of the remnant that will be saved from God’s wrath.
James 1:27 NLT
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
So we’re left with the question. You, reader/listener, which category do you fall into at this point in your life? Are you part of the Remnant or are you simply a relic. Is the faith that was once for all handed down by the saints and prophets remaining in you as a true Remnant, or has faith become to you a relic – an outdated, outmoded, sentimental belief from your family or cultural history? Are you part of the true Israel of God? Do you live by faith rather than simply have a faith. Do you trust God and therefore live by every word he has spoken and continues to speak, or do you simply believe in God like the demons (who are no better off as they will not be saved)? Are you remaining steadfast in Christ, setting your mind on things above? The Remnant of true faith is on a pilgrimage through this life, keeping their eyes on God and eternity and trying to bring others with them. The relics of faith are predominantly influenced by and defined by the pervading worldly culture; relics rarely give thought to living with full trust in the scriptures, constant communion/prayer with the Lord, and abiding in healthy, committed relationships with fellow people of the Remnant.
Every engine of destruction that human wisdom, human science, human philosophy, human wit, human satire, human force, and human brutality could bring to bear against a book have been brought to bear against this Book, and the Bible still stands. At times, all the great of the earth have been against it and only an obscure remnant for it, but still, the Bible has more than held its own. – 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Modern Church The Strength of the Bible in the Face of Criticism
God has always done His greatest work through a remnant. – Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Where are you at this juncture in your life journey? Are you a Relic or a Remnant? You can join or rejoin the Remnant today and start living life with assurance, hope, peace, joy, and purpose.
Joshua 24:15 NLT
But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”