Continue in the Kindness of God

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

The last two messages on Romans 11 have dealt with Paul's reasons why we should reject the rising of pride and anti-Semitism in our hearts. Paul is writing to a church in Rome made up mainly of people who are not Jews. We call them Gentiles. He has taught them that by believing in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was crucified and rose from the dead, they become part of God's people. They are part of the true Israel.

He pictures this with an olive tree in Romans 11:17-22. There is a rich, all-supplying root, and that represents the covenant that God made with Abraham. There are branches, some natural—these represent ethnic Jewish people—and some unnatural or wild which are grafted in—these represent Gentiles who believe in Jesus. You see this in verse 17: “You, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree.”

So far so good. But the startling thing is that Paul also teaches that Jewish branches were broken off so that Gentile branches might be grafted in. I tried to explain last time why that happened. But that it did is plain from verse 19: “Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' That is true.” This is the truth that causes Paul to focus now on the problem of Gentile pride and anti-Semitism.

So in verse 18 he says, “Do not be arrogant toward the branches.” And in verse 20b he says, “So do not become proud, but stand in awe.” The very truth that should make Gentiles humble and thankful is about to make them proud. So Paul lingers here—and we are lingering here—to give reasons why pride and anti-Semitism is ruled out among those who truly believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord and Treasure.

He gives at least three reasons why pride and anti-Semitism are ruled out for believers (there are more than three that I won't dwell on: such as his calling the Gentiles “ wild olive branches,” v. 17; and his saying they “ were grafted in” and did not graft themselves in, v. 17). The first reason we looked at was in verse 18, “Remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” The second was in verse 21: “If God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.” So don't be proud.

Your Only Connection to the Tree of Salvation Is Faith, Which Cannot Boast

And now the third reason why pride and anti-Semitism are ruled out we will deal with today, namely, the argument that faith is the only thing that connects you to the tree of salvation; and faith, because of its nature and origin, cannot boast.

You see this argument in verse 20. But let's start reading in verse 19: “Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' 20 That is true. [Now here comes Paul's response:] They were broken off because of their unbelief , but you stand fast through faith . So do not become proud, but stand in awe.” Your only connection to this tree is faith. You got in by faith. You stay in by faith. So don't become proud but fear! In Paul's mind, saving faith rules out pride.

This is not the first time we have seen this. Listen to Romans 3:27-28. After saying that God justifies those who have faith in Jesus, Paul says, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith . 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” So it is clear that in Paul's mind there is something about faith that makes a life of boasting or pride that is puffed up over other people impossible. Where pride and boasting and anti-Semitism or racism or ethnocentrism are rising, faith is declining or gone.

So I want to ask three questions to unfold why this is. 1) Where does saving faith come from—the kind of faith that connects us to the tree of promise and salvation? 2) What is it? 3) And how do we maintain it? I will only have time to deal with the first two, and I want to spend most of our time on the second. So I will pass over the first one quickly, even though it is controversial, and I hope I will come back next time to the third.

1. Where Does Faith Come From?

Faith is an act or experience of your soul, and so it doesn't exist until it exists in your soul. And so it is right to say it comes from your soul. Faith is your act. No one can do it for you. But when I ask, Where does it come from? I want to press the matter back further and ask, why is it that one spiritually blind and spiritually dead soul sees Christ as true and compellingly attractive, and comes to him in faith, while another spiritually blind and spiritually dead soul hears the same message, reads the same Bible, and does not see or come?

The ultimate biblical answer to that is: God owes us sinners nothing, but mercifully and freely and omnipotently takes away the rebellious blindness from some, and they see the glory of Christ and choose freely to come and believe. So the Bible speaks of faith as a gift of God. For example, in Ephesians 2:8, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

This is one of the reasons that faith prevents boasting. You can't boast in a gift. You can't say: I earned this gift, because then it's not a gift, but a wage (see Romans 6:23). You can't say, “I produced this faith all on my own.” You can't say, “I was the decisive cause of this faith.” If you say you were, you are boasting in a way that is not biblical. Here's the principle from 1 Corinthians 4:7, “ What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Our hands should be on our mouths whenever we are tempted to boast that we were the ultimate or decisive cause of our own faith. It was a gift and it rules out boasting over the broken off branches.

2. What Is Saving Faith?

What is the faith that connects us to the tree of God's promises and keeps us there? We have seen how the origin of faith rules out pride. Now how does the nature of faith rule out pride?

2.1. First I want to stress that saving faith has objective content.

It is not faith in general—like the power of positive thinking—that saves us. Faith must know some facts. For example, consider Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe [there's faith] in your heart that God raised him from the dead , you will be saved.” There is a fact. God raised Jesus from the dead. Faith believes that this is true. If we don't believe that is true, we are not saved.

Or consider 2 Thessalonians 1:10. Paul says that Christ is coming back “to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed ” (see Acts 22:15 ). Faith hears a testimony about Christ from the apostles and believes the facts of the testimony.

I recommend the book by J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith? He says, “The Bible certainly tells us that faith involves a person as its object . . . God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. . . . But . . . it is impossible to have faith in a person without having knowledge of the person” (1925; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), p. 46.

But that is not enough to say about faith to see what saving faith is, because the devil himself believes the historical facts about Christ—and more. James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” And the devil certainly believes that Jesus was raised from the dead. So the facts are necessary, but they are not enough. You must believe true facts about Jesus to be saved, but believing true facts about Jesus does not save you. And it doesn't destroy pride. It is possible to boast in knowing facts. So the factual side of faith does not rule out pride and boasting.

2.2. So the second thing to say about saving faith is that it doesn't just know facts about but it trusts in Jesus.

But what does that mean? When you say you trust someone, it's not clear what you are saying until you explain what you trust the person to do for you or to be for you.

For example, if you ask me, “Do you trust your wife?” I would say yes. But it would be more accurate to say, “Do I trust her to do what? Jump over a building? Sing bass? Not poison me? Be faithful and sleep with no other man?” Answer: “No, no, yes, yes.” So what am I saying? I'm saying that when you claim to trust someone, you need to have in your mind what you trust them to do or to be. You don't trust a preacher to prescribe antibiotics. You trust him to teach the Word of God faithfully.

This is really important because it shows that what we trust a person for determines what the experience of faith is like. The experience of trusting a person to love you as your spouse, will be very different from the experience of trusting the mailman to bring your mail, or your child to come home on time, or your friend to give you good counsel. All these acts of trust involve different emotional experiences.

So the crucial question for defining the essence of faith in Jesus Christ is: What are you trusting him for? What you are trusting him for will determine what your experience of faith is. I'll mention five things that we must trust Jesus for if we would be saved. This is not an exhaustive list.

2.2.1. We must trust him for justification.

We must trust him that what he is and did is the only basis for our acceptance with God. You don't even have to know the word “justification.” And you don't have to be able to articulate its precise biblical meaning. But you do need to know that you are a sinner and that God is a just judge and that you can only be accepted by him because of who Christ was and what he did. We trust him to be the basis of our acceptance with God; we don't trust our own works. Galatians 2:16, “ So we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law.” We trust him for justification.

2.2.2. We trust him for eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:16, “Jesus Christ [displayed] his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life .” This has a huge impact on what the experience of faith is like as we take risks for love and face our own death.

2.2.3. We trust him for everlasting kindness.

This simply makes clear that eternal life is really good, and not eternal boredom or misery. The key word “kindness” is here in our text. Verse 22: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.” What does it mean to “continue in God's kindness”? It means: trust him for kindness every day forever. You stay in God's kindness by believing that it surrounds you and upholds you all the time—in pain and pleasure. The basis for this trust is in the next point.

2.2.4 We trust that in Jesus God will give us only what is good for us.

And this confidence is based squarely on the cross and not on our merit. Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” The argument is plain: the cross of Christ guarantees that God will give us all things that are good for us. He will work all our circumstances—painful and pleasant—together for our good. Saving faith trusts God for that.

Do you recall what we ask baptismal candidates in the water? We ask, “Are you now trusting in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of yours sins and for the fulfillment of all his promises to you in Christ Jesus, even eternal life?” Saving faith trusts Jesus for all that God promises to be for us in him.

2.2.5 Which brings us to the last and most essential, and so often neglected, reality that we trust Jesus for.

What is the kindness of God? What is the essence of eternal life? What does justification bring us to? What is the sum and goal of all the promises of God? The answer is God himself, giving himself to us for our everlasting enjoyment.

The ultimate kindness of God, the ultimate meaning of eternal life, the ultimate goal of justification, the cream of every promise is the knowing and enjoying the fellowship of God himself in Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:18, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Romans 5:10-11, “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The end of all salvation is joy in God.

This is the final and ultimate promise of God in Christ. Therefore, saving faith believes in Christ for this, and means, at its heart, embracing God as our ultimate happiness through Jesus Christ. Faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.

Therefore, when this faith is in high exercise, pride and boasting and anti-Semitism and racism and ethnocentrism are impossible. Why? Because desperate people do not and cannot boast in what gives them life-saving joy. When have you ever seen a man dying of thirst and being offered a canteen of cool, clean water, say, “Am I not somebody for enjoying this water?”