A popular pastime today is doing genealogical research. In this day when so many people feel disconnected, it is nice to learn about your ancestors. Some people discover they are related to royalty or historically famous people while others find they are related to more infamous people. I suppose if you do enough research you can find some relatives on each side of that continuum.
In Romans 11 Paul is teaching us about our spiritual roots. He wants us to understand that the nation of Israel is our spiritual ancestor. Our forerunners in the faith were Jews. The disciples were Jews. Jesus was a Jew. We have a connection to the nation of Israel that has an impact on world policy today.
In the early verses of Romans 11 Paul showed us that God has not given up on Israel. God continues to draw some Jewish people to faith by His grace, just as he is doing with non-Jews. There aren’t a lot of Jewish Christians but throughout the history of Israel God has cast off the unfaithful and preserved what was known as a “remnant”. God used this remnant like seed that would yield a harvest of faith in the future. Paul contends that this is God’s plan. God has preserved a remnant of believing Jews who will one day bring a revival in Israel.
A Great Day Coming
In verse 11 Paul begins by telling us his understanding of the reasons God allowed the majority of Jews to become hardened.
11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! 13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
God has a purpose in allowing this rebellion. In fact, Paul lists three purposes,
First, the transgression of Israel (rejecting Christ) has caused the gospel to be preached to the non-Jews. If you look at the history of the church, this is exactly what happened. When Paul and the other apostles were rejected in the Jewish synagogues, they took the message of salvation to the Gentiles where it was received enthusiastically.
Second, Paul said salvation coming to the Gentiles he hoped would make the Jews envious. When the Gentiles experience God’s grace, joy, power, blessing and transformation in their lives, it will provoke Israel to look again at the gospel.
There is an account of a soldier wounded in battle. All the troops retreated but the chaplain crawled out to the wounded man. In the heat of the day he gave him drinks of his water while he continued to be parched himself. When the chill of the evening came he covered the man with his coat. Since the soldier was still cold he wrapped him in more of his own clothes in spite of his own discomfort. The wounded soldier looked at the chaplain and said, “Are you a Christian?” “Yes” said the chaplain. “Then, if Christianity makes a man do for someone what you have done for me, I want it.”
This is what Paul thinks is going to happen with the Jews; they will see the blessing of God and want that same blessing for themselves.
Third, Paul says the hardening of the Jews, leading to the salvation of the Gentiles, which will eventually lead to making the Jews envious, will result in “much greater riches” (v. 12) and “life from the dead” (v. 15).
Paul is hopeful of a future revival of faith in Israel. He believes there is a day coming when the Jews will flock to Christ as their Messiah and Savior. Paul says, “When this revival comes; when the world sees the Jews turning to Jesus, consider what a great impact this will have on the whole world.” Not only will the Jewish revival have an impact on the Israel, it will also have an impact on the world.
The Lump of Dough and the Olive Root
Paul gives two illustration.
16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root.
This illustration is drawn from the Old Testament. God told the Israelites to offer the first part of their meal and crops to the Lord. When you offered the first part of that harvest to the Lord and He accepted it, it meant the whole meal and crop were sanctified by the Lord.
The second illustration involves an olive tree. Here Paul makes the same point. If the root is holy, so are the branches. It would be like saying, if the well is good, the water that comes out of the various faucets drawn from the well, will be good as also. Israel occupies a special place in God’s plan.
When you apply this to the nation of Israel, Paul is saying, that since the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) were accepted and honored by the Lord, it means the whole nation is honored as belonging to the Lord. It doesn’t mean that every person is holy or is going to Heaven, but they are in a special relationship to God.
Paul changes the image a little bit when he talks about branches being broken off. The original branches are Jews. They are broken off because they do not believe. The grafted branches are Gentiles (like us) who have trusted Christ and have the same faith as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
I suppose it is similar to adoption. A child is adopted into an existing family. In a sense you are a wild shoot that is grafted in and you become a part of the tree. You now draw your life from the adoptive parents. You are now part of that family. Paul’s point: we are part of the Jewish heritage. Every believer is part of the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We have been adopted as part of the chosen ones.
Seven Lessons We Should Learn
As we mentioned last week, it is easy to read these verses with a measure of detachment. It’s easy to think this is a valuable history lesson that bears little value for our daily living. That however, is not the case. Paul says,
do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! (Romans 11:18-24)
I see seven practical lessons.
First, there is only one people of God. There are not Jewish believers and Gentile believers, there are just believers. When we come to Christ our nationalities are no longer significant. The only thing that matters is that we belong to Jesus.
This is an important reminder on a number of levels. As believers we seem to want to endlessly divide over all kinds of things. There are those who sing choruses or hymns, those who like the King James Bible and those who believe the New American Standard Version is the only one to use; there are those who baptize with lots of water, those who baptize with little water; those who are Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Assembly of God, Independent, and dozens of variations of each. There seem to be as many ways of dividing the body as there are people. Paul reminds us that though there may be many different branches, there is only one root!
We share a common heritage with every person who puts his or her trust in Jesus Christ. These people are our brothers and sisters whether they are Gentile or Jew, Catholic or Protestant, Black or white, American or Russian, Chinese, Indian, or anything else. We have a common heritage that runs through Christ and goes all the way back to Abraham. This is why the church should be the least prejudiced place on the earth (though sadly that is often not the case).
Second, the people of God are expected to produce fruit. A second thing we learn from this text is that those who are genuine believers will produce fruit. There will be a change in the way they live. The Bible says, the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) These are character issues. The true believer begins to think differently, they desire different things, they relate to people in a different way, and they begin to do what God has called them to do. Those who profess faith but bear no fruit are actually dead branches and they will be pruned from the tree.
Jesus said, I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:5,6)
True and Biblical Christianity is not a card you sign or a service you perform. True Christianity is a relationship with God that has come through Christ. Anyone who has a true relationship with God is going to be changed by His Spirit who lives within those who believe. If there is no change, there is no relationship. It sounds like merely semantics but it is important to get this right: We do not change in order to become a believer; but a true believer will begin to change. There is nothing we can do or have to do before we can trust Christ. We can come to Him just as we are. However, once we trust Christ He will begin to work in us and we will begin to change. If your life is not giving any evidence of the work of God’s Spirit in you, it is possible that your belief is superficial. If that continues, you will be cut from the vine.
Third, Gentiles and Jews contribute nothing to the salvation process. God has planted the tree and has grafted in the branches. God is the one responsible for our salvation and God alone. Any gospel that says, “Do these things and you will be saved” is a false gospel. We are not saved because,
We were baptized
We had a certain experience
We joined a particular church
We gave a certain amount
We abandoned certain vices
We are made right with God when we trust Christ. These others things may come subsequent to our salvation as an expression of a changed heart, but they contribute nothing to our salvation.
Fourth, we must not write Israel off. It is wrong to think that God is done with Israel. It is a mistake to believe they are “too far gone”. The remnant is eventually going to yield a new, fresh and great harvest. We’ll see more on this next week.
Fifth, There is no place for Arrogance in the Christian community. We do not deserve any of the blessings we have received. Everything we have comes from the Lord. When we look at another believer with arrogance, when we look down our noses at someone who has wandered from the truth, we imply that we deserved the blessings that have been given to us by grace.
If a stranger saves your life do you become arrogant? No. You would be grateful and humbled that someone would risk his or her life for you. In much the same way the grace of God should not make us arrogant or proud. Of all people in the world we should be humble, soft, and willing to extend grace to another.
Sixth, There is a Warning: We must never take God for granted. Paul tells us we should “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God.” We must always remember that the God who pruned the Jewish branches can also prune the Gentile branches. I don’t think Paul is talking about individuals losing their salvation in these words.
The branches of Israel that God cut off were not believers; they were those who were part of Israel but refused to believe (v. 20). This is a valuable and important warning. Paul is warning that as a nation becomes “christianized” (like Americans and what happened in Europe earlier) there are many people who grow up in the environment of the Christian faith. These people consider themselves Christians because they have grown up in a Christianized nation. One generation lives merely a superficial faith and the next generation drifts further away. Soon you have a situation like that taking place in Europe: you have the majority of the people who care little for the things of God.
This is what may be happening in America and this is the same thing that happened in Israel. Paul is warning that those who play at faith but don’t really believe will face the same fate as the Jews who claimed to be religious but did not trust Christ. God can cut out Gentile nations just as he did the Jews who did not believe.
We must maintain a healthy respect (or fear) of God. He is the Savior but He is also the Judge. The same Lord who welcomes anyone who comes to Him, will also administer eternal condemnation to those who refuse to believe. We must never mistake the Lord’s mercy for weakness. Those who have come to trust the Lord Jesus must still recognize His right to rule as the Creator of the Universe.
Finally, we see the necessity of personal faith. We live in a nation with Christian roots. Many of us have grown up going to church. Some have Christian parents. All these things are rich blessings we should thank God for, but they are not the main issue. The issue is not whether or not you have a Christian family . . . the issue is whether you yourself believe. No one is saved by virtue of being either Jewish or non-Jewish. We are saved when we personally put our confidence for eternity in the hands of Jesus. We are saved when we allow Christ to be our Savior and our Master.
Do you remember the illustration about the good well and the good water that comes from the faucets? The fact that the water is all around you won’t get you what you need. In order to get that water you have to turn on the faucet. In a similar way, in order to benefit from the Christian heritage that surrounds you, you must make it personal. You must receive Jesus as the one who died for YOUR sin. You must trust him as YOUR master and Lord.
Are you are a fruit-bearing part of the body? Do you see the Holy Spirit beginning to make a change in your life? Are your appetites, values, and choices changing? I’m not asking if you are living a perfect life. I know you aren’t, and neither am I. I’m not even asking if you are doing a good job of living the Christian life. Most of us see lots of room for improvement. What I’m asking is this: do you see the life of Christ beginning to flow through you? Do you see change starting to take place? Do you hunger more for Him? If so, there is no reason to be cocky. There is, however, every reason to be grateful that God has made you a part of the family of faith.
If you do not see this life in you then you need to take a lesson from your ancestors, the Jews, and receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and your Lord before you find yourself cut off and cast away.