Wednesday, June 22, 2011
In Search Of Truth, Romans 11:19-36
In previous verses, Paul outlined how the majority of Jews have rejected Christ, resulting in the offer of salvation being extended to Gentiles (non-Jews). Paul anticipates the arrogance this might bring about in Gentiles and warns against it.
The fact that God has allowed and used the unbelief of Jews to “graft in” Gentile believers to God’s family should not make Gentile believers feel more valuable or important than Jews. The Jews who have become broken off from God’s kingdom and family became that way because they refused to believe and trust in Christ. Gentile believers are only a part of God’s kingdom because they chose to believe and trust in him. The same standards apply to everyone, regardless of their ethnicity. (v.19-20)
Rather than arrogance, we should have a healthy fear of God’s authority and right to save or condemn us. If God did not automatically grant forgiveness to Jews when they rejected him, he won’t spare non-Jews who choose to reject Christ, either. (v.20-21)
There is both a kindness and severity to God that have to be equally acknowledged in order to have a right picture of him. Paul says that those who fell (which in this context in the Greek refers to sinful disconnection in relationship to God) experience God's severity. Paul's audience of primarily professing Gentile believers were assumed to be experiencing God's kindness. But Paul says that experiencing this kindness is not guaranteed to last forever, and those who don't "continue in his kindness" will be cut off.
As a side note, and not the focus of Paul's teaching here, this is not a proof text for the belief that a person can lose their justification (right standing with God and promise of eternal life) by choosing to reject Christ after genuinely believing in him. Paul doesn't have the mind of God and so doesn't know with certainty who has genuine faith in Christ. None of us can know anyone's spiritual condition with absolute certainty. But regardless of your position on the issue, Paul's point in verse 22 is that it's just as possible for Gentiles to make the same mistake as the Jews in Paul's day: To arrogantly believe and ungratefully take for granted that they are in good standing with God when they are actually not. Many who experience God's kindness on some level because they superficially live a "Christian" lifestyle and do so among other Christians, will actually be cut off from God in the end because they don't genuinely believe and trust in the work and identity of Christ.
On the other hand, there is still hope for Jews (and Gentiles) who change their minds and choose to believe in and trust Christ. God will readily graft them right back in to his kingdom and relationship with him, as was always intended. (v.23) In fact, a Jew who turns to faith in Christ is even more appropriately equipped to know and serve God than someone who turns to faith in Christ from a pagan religion or atheism. (v.24)
Paul further dispels potential arrogance by explaining that the current partial "hardening" in the hearts of Jews is part of God's ultimate plan, and will last until the complete number of Gentiles destined to have faith in Christ become believers. After this happens, then "all Israel will be saved", which likely refers to either all Jews in history who are destined to have faith in Christ, or the majority (or possibly all) of the Jews living when this comes about in the future, as prophesied by Isaiah, whom Paul quotes here. God is far from finished with the Jews, and the day will come when "the deliverer"(Christ) will "remove ungodliness from Jacob" (another name for Israel) and take all of their sins away from them. (v.25-27)
To Paul's original readers, the Jews were antagonists, even enemies of Christians. But from God's perspective they are treasured and loved and have a special plan set in place for them through the promises made to their ancestors. And God does not change his mind or take back gifts he has promised to give. (v.28-29)
God's plan is amazing, complex and beautiful in its workings. Gentiles have been given mercy from God because of the disobedience of the Jews in rejecting him. And the mercy given to Gentiles, who had rejected God before, will be seen by the Jews and result in God giving them mercy when they return to him. Even our free and willful disobedience has been part of God's plan to show us this beautiful attribute of God called "mercy", which we could never have known otherwise! (v.32)
In light of this Paul can't help but burst into an excited description of God and his actions on behalf of humanity. He marvels at the amazing wisdom and knowledge of God in how he operates. God's ability to evaluate the human heart and take the appropriate action is so far beyond what we can comprehend. (v.33) No one can know the mind of Yahweh and it would be ridiculous for any created being to offer him advice. (v.34) No one has any object or personal attribute that has any value to God when compared to his own attributes. (v.35)
We so often put God in a box, making him a smarter, older, more powerful, idealized version of ourselves. But getting a glimpse, through verses like these, of how God operates and what he is capable of, and stopping to consider the ramifications those things have regarding who God is, forces us to admit that he is so much more than we can possibly imagine.
In summary, everything comes from God. Everything continues to exist because of God. And everything is ultimately about God and for his purposes. He deserves to be the focus of creation's attention forever. (v.36)
Coffee House Question- What is an example you can think of, in either your life or in history, where God used something painful or evil to bring about something really good?
Next- Our Response To God's Gifts