In almost all of his letters, including this one to the Christians in Rome, Paul begins with teaching and then turns to practical application. This morning we will conclude the theological content of this book and next week we'll begin learning the practical implications of salvation as it applies to our daily lives.
Beginning in Genesis chapter 12 and continuing through the entire Old Testament we read the history Israel. While other nations and peoples are mentioned in relation to them, the major focus is always upon the children of Jacob. As His specially chosen nation, the story of God during these centuries is told through the Jews. However, as we will discover in our message today, there came a point in time when this arrangement was altered by God and temporarily changed.
We call this belief system dispensational theology. It refers to God's practice of revealing Himself to or through certain people, groups, or nations for distinctly unique periods of time (or dispensations). Prior to the Fall of man, God dwelt in the immediate presence of Adam and Eve and revealed Himself directly to them. After they sinned and were cast out of the garden, God made himself known to humanity through individual consciousness. Years later He established the nation of Israel, made a covenant with them, and selected them to be the primary channel of His communication with the world. In the New Testament age (which we are in now) God's primary messenger is the Christian church. Following His second coming and during the Millennium His attention will return to Israel. Though the precise manner of God's revelation changes over time, the fact that He continually makes Himself known remains constant.
For the past few chapters Paul has been emphasizing that God's promises to Israel have not failed, and that despite their widespread rejection of the Messiah He would preserve and protect and believing remnant of faithful Jews. But what about the Gentiles? What was God's intentions toward them as it related to salvation? How did the actions of the Jews impact His revelation to the Gentiles? These are some of the questions that Paul deals with it the later half of Romans chapter 11.
I. BRANCHES ARE GRAFTED IN (Romans 11:17-24)
Olives were a vital crop during the days of the New Testament. As such, olive trees were planted and cultivated by farmers on a large scale. While olive trees also grew naturally in the wild, those which were tended to domestically produced a greater and more dependable yield. Using this as an analogy, Paul describes the difference between Jews and Gentiles by comparing them to branches of the olive tree.
He calls the Gentile believers "wild olive branches" and states that they have been grafted into the tree and thereby have become partakers of the rich root. The root referred to here was characterized back in verse 16 as being holy. Thus, the Gentiles who have been grafted into the tree have attained the holiness that comes forth from the root. Paul sternly warns these wild Gentile branches not to be arrogant toward the natural Jewish branches who were broken off the holy tree in order that they might be grafted in. He cautions them to fear God, and reminds them that if the LORD was unwilling to spare the Jewish branches because of their unbelief, He could also chose not to spare the Gentile branches for their conceited attitudes.
In this passage Paul presents his readers with the kindness and severity of God. To those branches who fell or were broken off, God displays severity. But to those who are grafted in, God displays His kindness. Seeing that God is able to graft a wild olive branch (Gentile) into a cultivated olive tree, He can certainly take natural branches (Jews) and graft them into the tree again. Thus, even though the Jews as a whole were cut off there is still hope for individual Jewish believers to be reconnected to the holy tree of God through faith in Christ.
II. A PARTIAL HARDENING (Romans 11:25-27)
As a result of their continued disbelief in God and willful disobedience to His commands, God caused a partial hardening to occur upon Israel. The hardening was partial in that it did not preclude all Jews from realizing salvation through faith in Christ. Though the vast majority would reject Him, a remnant of Jewish believers would accept Jesus as the Messiah and would be genuinely saved (this was our topic last Sunday). The hardening was also partial in that it will not persist permanently. Rather, at some future point in time a “softening” will occur and a repentant Israel will again turn to God, be forgiven of their sins, and be saved. God's covenant with Jacob has not ceased - it has simply been put on hold for a while.
The partial hardening of Israel will continue until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. We refer to this time period as "The Age of the Gentiles" or "The Church Age". From the time of Abraham until the Day of Pentecost - around 2,000 years - the Jews served as the primary representatives of God. Some might argue that their allotted time temporarily ceased with the fall of Israel to Babylon. Either way, after they rejected their promised Messiah, God established a new representative to herald His message - the church of Jesus Christ. Today we as Christian members of the body of Christ, some Jewish but mostly Gentile, are the primary carriers of God's banner. This will continue until the second coming of Christ, after which Israel will be restored to its original status among the nations.
III. MERCY SHOWN TO ALL (Romans 11:28-32)
Generally speaking, the Jews sought to prevent the spreading of the gospel among the Gentiles. They harshly persecuted many Gentile believers. Not surprisingly, the Gentiles widely regarded the Jews as enemies. But upon the realization that Christianity had been birthed out of Judaism, and that Israel was still God's chosen nation despite its partial hardening, Paul challenged the Gentiles to love the Jews from the standpoint of God's choice.
For the centuries preceding the life of Paul God's mercy had been bestowed especially upon the Jews, while the Gentiles remained largely ignorant of His laws and therefore acted disobediently. However, when the Jews rejected Christ the LORD transferred His mercy to the faithful Gentiles leaving Israel to walk in disobedience. Having always enjoyed the mercy of God, perhaps the Jews would realize their error by observing God's gracious treatment of the Gentiles. If they did and chose to repent, the Jews would again regain the mercy of God they'd lost and be joined with the Gentiles, so that all disobedience would be shut up and mercy would be shown to all.
IV. GLORY TO GOD FOREVER (Romans 11:33-36)
These verses serve as the conclusion of the doctrinal portion of Paul's letter. He has been teaching about the characteristics of and phases in the plan of salvation. He has spoken about election, predestination, God's calling, justification, regeneration, sanctification, and glorification among other things. In light of these amazing truths, Paul praises the LORD for His incredible wisdom and knowledge. God's ways defy human understanding. He is able to accomplish His will apart from any human assistance. To Him belongs all glory forevermore!
In chapters 9 through 11 of Romans we have taken an in-depth look at the audience of salvation. The doctrine of election teaches that before the He created the world God chose to offer salvation to humanity solely on the basis of His sovereign good pleasure. In other words, people were designated by God beforehand to be the audience of the gospel. He determined in the very beginning to send His son Jesus Christ in order to make this redemption possible. The LORD predestined all people who choose salvation through faith in Christ to be conformed into His image, to be made into the sons of God, and to be eternally saved. Furthermore, He predestined all those who reject salvation through faith in Christ to be condemned, to be cast into hell-fire, and to be eternally separated from God.
Intellectually speaking, God knows all things. He is fully omniscient. He knows every fact and every detail about all of His creation. But relationally speaking, God only knows those individuals who are members of His family. He does not know, in a personal saving way, any of those who are unsaved. We should understand God’s foreknowledge in this manner - it is not about knowing information mentally, but rather about knowing people relationally. God foreknew those of us who would be redeemed, and implemented His divine plan accordingly to ensure these relationships would endure.
All people have a God-given free will and must personally accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior in order to be saved. Genuine salvation experiences are only made possible through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit as He draws individuals to Jesus. Thus, God alone is wholly responsible for making salvation possible and making it available to individual persons. The sinner’s only role is to either accept or reject God’s offer of forgiveness. This is solely an expression of faith, and should in no way be considered a work of man. Those who accept the gift of salvation are known in the Bible as the "elect".
We have referred to the elect by several different names in our sermon titles over the past few weeks. These have included "Children of the Promise", "Vessels of Mercy", "Those Who Call Upon the Name of the Lord", "Those Who Have Believed His Report", "A Remnant of Believing Jews", and "The Gentile Branches". Each of these names uniquely describes some aspect or category of God’s elect. The elect are those who have been both chosen by God and have chosen to place their faith in Him.
In closing, God the Father formulated the plan of salvation in the beginning well before anyone was actually saved. Jesus executed the plan through His death and resurrection thereby making salvation available to all sinners. The Holy Spirit effects the plan by applying salvation to individual believers who receive Christ through faith. In this way, God accomplishes the salvation of all who come to Him in repentance.