Romans Chapter 11
KLMX December 2009
1st Baptist Church
Des Moines, NM
Iím working thru Paulís letter to the Romans, chapter 11 this week. Weíre moving right along and weíve covered a lot of things over the past several days. One dominant, recurring theme that comes up here and comes up in all of Paulís writings is the subject of grace. Itís no wonder that Paul focuses on grace so much since he was a man who was keenly aware of what it meant to be saved by grace. What is a wonder, though, is grace itself. Every time I start teaching on grace, Iím reminded of the stanza from the hymn "There is a Fountain". The whole hymn is a magnificent praise to grace, but one in particular stands out for me. It goes:
Ever since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
Redeeming love is the authorís theme and itís Paulís theme. Grace, grace, and more grace. Paul never gets tired of grace and neither should we.
Todayís passage is this one:
Romans 11:21-25 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? (25) For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
First, note how the last statement in this passage reflects what Paul said earlier about grace vs. works. Paul says here "Ölest you should be wise in your own opinionÖ" and that echoes the constant theme that salvation is not of works, not of anything that we can boast of- that would make us "wise in our opinion." Paul says "I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery". He wants us to know about the mystery of Godís grace. And while salvation does not occur from works, there is an encouragement here. Christians should know what they believe and why they believe it. After all, Jesus says the greatest commandment is:
Matthew 22:37 Jesus said to him, 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.'
Paul said earlier in Romans:
Romans 7:25 So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
And later in Colossians, among other places:
Colossians 3:2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
Your mind is important, thus Paul does not want us to be ignorant of the mysteries of God. He wants us to puzzle on them, consider them, and discuss them.
The bulk of this passage is Paulís illustration of wild olive branches being grafted into a cultivated olive tree. Itís evident that the cultivated plant represents the Israelites and the wild shoot is the Gentiles. Whatís particularly interesting, though, is that in real life- in nature, - the wild plant is a detriment to the cultivated one. A wild olive tree is about the most useless plant there is. It grows wild and tangled, and produces little fruit. This is certainly an apt metaphor for Gentiles! And yet, Paul seems to be describing the Gentiles being grafted in as a good thing, in that it provokes the Israelites, the cultivated plant, to jealousy. Some critics of the Bible point to this fact and say "See Paul didnít know what he was talking about!" But, actually, if you read this carefully, youíll see that Paul says this grafting in is "contrary to nature". In other words, it doesnít make sense from a gardenerís point of view, but it does magnify the fact that God does things however He wishes. In other words, the very definition of a "miracle" is something that cannot be explained by our normal rules of the world. And so, the act of bringing the Gentiles into the family of God and thereby strengthening that family is, essentially, a miracle.
Letís talk now about this section of the passage:
Romans 11:21-22 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.
Does this passage mean that salvation can be lost? After all, Paul says if you donít continue in Godís goodness, you will be cut off. We could certainly use this passage to push the point of lost salvation, but when we look at the whole weight of Scripture, we have to also consider Paulís other statement from earlier in Romans:
Romans 8:38-39 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, (39) nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
No created thing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus and those "created things" include ourselves. At the same time, we also have Jesusí teaching on the vine in:
John 15:5-6 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (6) If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
Here again, it says that if we do not bear fruit, then we will be cast into the fire. This would seem to push a works-based salvation, that is, itís up to US to produce fruit. But, I think the key is in this section of the passage: "If anyone does not abide in MeÖ" Jesus says "He who abides in MeÖbears much fruit, for without Me you can do nothing." The whole key is to abide in Christ, and Him in us. Actually, then, this disproves a works-based salvation. We are to be in Christ and rest in his works, not ours. If we try to do works apart from Christ, we can do nothing. At that point, we would be self-righteous, or as Paul said above, "wise in our own eyes." I think that two more passages will reinforce this:
Philippians 3:9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
Here, Paul desires to be found in Christ, having the righteousness which comes from faith, and does not want his own righteousness, which he counts as dung. In Romans 10, Paul was discussing the Israelites and said of them:
Romans 10:3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
The whole weight of Scripture, then, shows clearly that we must abide in Christ, and have His righteousness applied to us. Without Him, we can do and are nothing. Without Christ, then, we will indeed be pruned and cast aside. A person who is saved by grace and grace alone will have no problem with this. Theyíll say "His righteousness, not mine" and they will produce good works as a result of being part of the vine that is Christ. Letís look at just two more verses on this topic:
Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Philippians 2:13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
From these two verses, it certainly seems that Christians are created for good works, which God has prepared beforehand. It is God who works in us to do those works. The problems occur when we do not walk in the Spirit and do not seek to align our minds with that of Christ. Donít be like that. Through prayer, studying of the word, and good counsel, align yourself with Godís will and produce good fruit. Show evidence of your new man.
Todayís message will end with Paulís statement here, the same one with which we started:
Romans 11:25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
When Paul says "blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in", this hints at a future time when Israel will be restored. There will be a time when Israel, as a nation, recognizes and accepts Jesus as Messiah. Paul is confident of this and thatís where weíll pick up again tomorrow.
Romans 11, Part 3