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.

 

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

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