Romans 11:16-24 (The Severity of God)

Romans 11:16–24 (NKJV)

16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree,

18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.

19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.”

20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.

21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.

22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

Whenever I tell people about God’s goodness and love, there is almost always someone calling for balance and saying I should also preach on His severity. Then they quote Verse 22 from Romans 11: “You see, God is kind, good, but He’s also severe, so watch yourself! He has given you a chance to repent, but now you must prove you were worth it by getting your life in order, otherwise it’s the end for you!” And we wonder why unbelievers don’t get excited about this so-called Gospel! This passage, especially Verse 22, raises these questions: Who is the apostle Paul addressing? What does it mean to be “cut off”? What is the significance of the condition “if you continue in His goodness”? Many believers contend Paul is talking here to individual Christians who can be cut off from their salvation if they do not continue to live faithfully. However, let’s see together why this is not true!

First, if we look at the context, the passage itself may, at first glance, appear to be contradictory. For how could the apostle Paul write of branches being cut off in Verse 22 and then, in the same breath, turn around and say that the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable in Verse 29? Which of the statements is real? Is Paul telling us a Christian can lose his salvation, or is he talking about something else? Second, who are the “they” that were broken off, and who are the “you” that were grafted in? Paul is not speaking about individuals, and he is not speaking about the church as a whole either. He is talking about two groups of people—Jews and Gentiles:

Romans 11:13 (NKJV)

13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry.

The nation of Israel, as a community, was ”cut off,” and the Gentiles, as a group, were grafted in. The Jews had been shown favor from the Lord, but they did not accept it (although certain individual Jews had, such as Paul himself and the apostles of Jesus). God reached out to the Jews in love, but they gave Him the cold shoulder, and now His favor is extended to the Gentiles. God desires to bless everyone, but not everyone receives His blessing. The reason for “being cut off” or for “the severity of God” being manifested toward them, was not their low level of holiness and good deeds but their unbelief in Jesus. The Jews tried to earn His favor as a group and were cut off. That sounds like divine judgment, as though God were rejecting them. But look at what Paul says:

Romans 11:1, 2, 11, 20 (NKJV)

1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not!

2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew…

11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! …

20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith.

The condemnation of unbelief is self-inflicted, refusing His blessings you will not be blessed, but cursed. This is why Paul warns the Gentiles to “continue in God’s kindness.” Moreover, it’s worth mentioning that the people of Israel were “cut off” as a nation BEFORE they ever believed in Christ, not after they believed in Christ. As a nation, and not as individuals, they rejected grace by faith without works because the people of Israel were very focused on the Law and righteousness by works. Here is the wrong way to interpret the severity passage: “I need to work hard for God and keep 100% of His commands to avoid getting cut off.” That’s what the Jews thought, and it led to their downfall. By betting on their performance, they rejected God’s grace.

Third, the “cutting off” of the people of Israel is temporary, not eternal. It refers to temporary blindness toward the Gospel as a nation. What does that mean more specifically? It means God intentionally reduced His activity of revealing the Gospel to a nation “en masse” because of their unbelief. In other words, He did not do something purposeful against them to punish them, but temporarily withdrew His enlightenment toward the Gospel because most Jews rejected God’s offer of grace through faith. That does not mean individual Jews cannot be saved. Similarly, the fact that the Gentiles have favor does not mean all Gentile individuals receive Christ. Sometimes, God reduces His enlightenment activity in nations where most individuals reject Him, and redirects His efforts to more cooperating nations. This is why Paul commends the Gentiles and exhorts them to continue in God’s goodness. Romans 11 is a warning for those who, like the Jews, stubbornly refuse the grace and goodness of God. They disconnect themselves from the source of blessing and salvation.

 

1 Corinthians 15:1–2 (Holding Fast)

1 Corinthians 15:1–2 (LEB)

1 Now I make known to you, brothers, the gospel which I proclaimed to you, which you have also received, in which you also stand,

2 by which you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the message I proclaimed to you, unless you believed to no purpose.

To many people, this passage seems to show God gives salvation, so that He can take it away afterwards. A simple reading implies the fact that the Gospel saved us but does not continue to save us unless we hold fast to it. Some use this passage to say believers can lose their salvation. Others say that it shows that those who are considered believers prove to be false because they did not stick with the Gospel. Neither of these views satisfies the details of the text in its context. Though some in the Corinthian church were beginning to deny the resurrection of Christ, it is very clear from the passage that the apostle Paul is sure about their position: they had “received” and “believed” the Gospel he had preached to them (the past tenses denote a completed action) and they now “stand” in that Gospel (the present perfect tense indicates a past action with continuing results in the present). There is no question that Paul’s letter addresses the Corinthians as genuine believers. However, the statement “you are being saved” in the present tense clearly depends on the condition “if you hold fast that Word,” referring to the Gospel. Does this mean the readers can lose their salvation or prove they were never genuinely saved if they do not “hold fast”?

The view that Paul is telling the readers that they can lose or disprove their salvation comes from rigidly defining the expression “you are being saved” as an escape from hell. As we have seen before, the basic definition of “saved” is delivered or preserved and is used in the Bible for deliverance from several things like: negative emotions, sinful thoughts, depression, anxiety, sickness, poverty, death, enemies, danger, sin. This requires us to ask ourselves, “Delivered from what?” As the letter to the Corinthians shows, these believers had many sin issues from which they needed to be free. Which parts of ourselves are in the process of being saved? The human spirit is saved instantly and for eternity at the time of the new birth, while the soul and body are being saved here on earth by the continuous renewal of the mind with the Word of God. The sequence of thought is essential: Paul preached the Gospel, the Corinthians received it and now stand in it. What’s left for them is to experience that salvation in an ongoing sense, thus Paul uses the present tense “you are [being] saved.” If Paul had been speaking of hell, he would have perhaps expressed himself in a much more natural and normal way about their final salvation, using the future tense: “you will be saved.”

Ongoing deliverance from sin and its effects on the believer’s life has a condition: one must “hold fast” to the Gospel repeatedly and consistently. This is not an assumed accomplishment or a hypothetical condition but a real one. Paul says the Corinthians must continue to follow the truth they learned from the Gospel to experience its saving effects in all the areas of their lives. This is not a condition of eternal salvation from hell but a real condition of deliverance from sinful habits, sickness, and poverty here on earth. It is, therefore, possible for believers not to hold fast to the Word of God in certain areas or periods of time. The New Testament shows how believers not always persevere or hold fast to the truth (1 Timothy 5:14–15; 6:20–21; 2 Timothy 1:5; 2:17–18, 24–26; 4:9–10, 14–16). Take for example the subject of healing from diseases. From the moment we hear the Gospel on healing, namely that Jesus has already paid in full for the healing of every disease, we must keep the conviction of this truth, always strong in our heart, by constant meditation on it, that we may be cured of any disease that attacks us and in the shortest possible time.

The word “saved,” then, is being used to describe the experience of living out the truths of the Gospel, which flow from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are not only the basis of one’s salvation from hell, but it is also the basis of one’s identity and living as a Christian. In Romans 6:2–5, Paul teaches that believers’ union with Christ is the basis for a life of victory over sin. As He died and rose, so also those who are in Him have died to sin and have been raised with Christ to walk in a new life.

 

Colossians 1:21–23 (Continuing in Faith)

Colossians 1:21–23 (NKJV)

21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled

22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—

23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

When the apostle Paul says in this passage that Jesus Christ will present believers as holy and blameless and above reproach in His sight only if they continue in the faith and are not moved away from the hope of the Gospel, many believers interpret it and understand it in this way: “You will make it to heaven only if you continue in the faith.” However, the salvation depicted in this text should be understood as the salvation of the soul and body here on earth from sin and its effects, as seen in the explanation of 1 Corinthians 15:1–2, the same thing applying in this text as well. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says:

1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NKJV)

23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Many passages in the New Testament show us the human spirit is wholly recreated, already holy and blameless (1 Corinthians 5:17, 5:21; Ephesians 2:10, 4:24). The parts that are being made holy, blameless, and above reproach, by Jesus, are the soul (our thinking and emotions) and the body (sanctification, health, and prosperity). However, the condition to achieve that state is to continue in the faith, well-grounded and steadfast.

Paul says in Colossians 1:21 that they were once alienated from the life of God and were His enemies, but now they have been reconciled in the body of Jesus’s flesh. They have been saved from hell; it’s done! But with what purpose? To live as saints from glory to glory. And that will happen as they continue in the simple faith they once received. Back when I was in school, I had two types of classmates: some who just wanted to always have the minimum passing grades and others who were upset even when they got a B+ or A-. What I mean by this is that while many believers just want to make it to heaven, God’s desire and purpose through reconciliation is for us to make it there not in just any state, but in an excellent and holy one, beyond reproach. Some believers do not continue in that faith and frustrate the grace of God here on earth. That does not mean they will go to hell after death, they will still make it to heaven as through fire, but they will not have any reward or commendation from God. Since I mentioned this expression “saved through fire” here, I would like to take some time to explain what it means.

The concept of being saved through fire appears in 1 Corinthians 3:15. Let’s read the whole text:

1 Corinthians 3:9-16 (NKJV)

9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.

10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.

11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,

13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.

14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.

15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

According to this passage, all born-again people are supposed to work and build something after they have been saved. Whether they are aware of it or not, all believers are working on a building, some more intentionally than others. What is this building all believers are involved in? Verse 9 says that we, the believers, are God’s field and building, and then Verse 16 clarifies that we are His temple, the spiritual house of God. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we can see God always being interested in a temple where His presence would dwell. At first, it was a Tabernacle in the wilderness, then a physical building during King Solomon’s time, and finally people who come into Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 calls us living stones being built up into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, while Colossians 2:7 affirms that we are being built into Him. Moreover, Ephesians 4:12-13 talks about the five-fold ministry given to the church for the building up of the body of Christ to the unity of faith and to the knowledge of the son of God, to a mature man, who is the fullness of Christ. Every believer builds himself up and other fellow believers into Christ, into the image of God. Romans 12:2 also describes this process as a transformation through the renewing of the mind.

In Verse 11, Paul declares that the foundation of this building of God, the beginning of it, is Christ and His sacrifice for sins, and nothing else. This foundation is firm, secure, and remains forever once it is received and accepted through faith by a person. Next, to better understand the meaning of the building materials from Verse 12, let’s discover first what is the Day, mentioned in Verse 13, when everyone’s work will become clear and what is the fire that will reveal it. Since Verse 14 indicates the award of rewards for the enduring works, the Day must refer to the Day of Judgment, when everyone will stand before God (Revelation 11:18; Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 John 4:17-21) and be judged according to truth. Romans 2:2 declares that the judgment of God is according to truth. This means the fire which will test each one’s work is the truth of God, revealed in His word, and the measure of it appropriated through faith by us, and worked out on a consistent basis, while on earth. Philippians 2:12 commends us to work out our salvation with reverence and Philemon 1:6 shows us that our faith becomes effective by the acknowledgement of every good thing which is in us in Christ Jesus, that is, the acknowledgement of the truth. It is important to clarify here that the truth of God doesn’t harm us, believers, but it burns all the ungodly things in our lives, done without faith.

Now, we are in a better position to understand the significance of gold, silver, precious stones, or wood, hay, and straw. Many believers think these materials refer to good or bad works done in the body, but this is partially true. They can be dead works (good or bad) or works done through faith in truth. The motivations behind the deeds and the means of doing them are vital. Then the materials also refer to how much of God’s excellencies we manifested here on earth, how much of the nature of God and of Christ’s identity, in all of its aspects, we have assimilated: walking in holiness, being led by the Spirit in the decisions of life, walking in wisdom, in love, kindness, patience, healing the sick, raising the dead, delivering people from demons, ministering and blessing others, witnessing the Gospel to others and bringing them into the Kingdom. 2 Peter 1:8-11 confirms that if these things are ours and are increasing, they will not make us useless or unproductive in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, they will never make us stumble, and in this way, an entrance will be richly and abundantly supplied to us into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So, the entrance can be a regular one, with not many honors and rewards, or an abundant one.

Now, there are people that have once put their faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins in a genuine way, meaning that they laid the foundation of Christ in their lives, but after that, they didn’t build themselves properly into Christ and lived mostly a fleshly life, like the unregenerated people. They always frustrated the grace of God in their lives, either from a lack of knowledge and understanding of the truth or out of ignorance, disobedience, and lack of discipline. Many of them even ended their lives in a very shameful manner. The question is, will these people still be saved and enter the Kingdom of God? The answer is affirmative, they will be saved, and this is what salvation through fire actually means. Their work and way of life after they received Christ will be burned by the fire of the truth. They will not hold any value before God and these people will not receive any reward. This is what suffering loss refers to in Verse 15. However, the foundation of Christ in their lives will not be burned. That will remain and cannot be burned. As a matter of fact, even when a physical house is caught on fire, the foundation of it does not burn, because it is made of concrete. Only the house on top burns, more or less, depending on the materials used to build it. Likewise, because of the foundation of Christ in their lives, they themselves will be saved, but without any rewards, as through fire.

 

Listen / Watch / Download

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Session 10 – Continuing in Faith (Saved for Eternity) – June 5th, 2024

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