God's Word Has Not Fallen

Session 4

The Cove | Asheville, North Carolina

Now to get our bearings, let’s go back to Romans 9:1–5. This is really crucial that we understand where Paul is in the flow of the argument.

Overview of Romans 9–10

Many Jewish people, many Israelites, are accursed and cut off from Christ. Paul says it in a way that is indirect by saying, “I could wish that I myself were in their place, accursed and cut off from Christ.” In spite of all their benefits and advantages and privileges listed here in Romans 9:4–5, they’re lost, they’re perishing. He has great sorrow about that. He has it all the time in spite of how joyful he is. And Jesus Christ is God overall. That’s what we saw, and that is a posing of the problem to be solved.

And the problem to be solved is: Has the word of God fallen? So he says in the next verse, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed” (Romans 9:6). And the reason it seems to have failed is that the Israelites are God’s covenant people. God’s covenant people don’t go to hell. What’s the point of being a covenant people of God if you perish and get cut off from Messiah and are lost? And so it looks as though the covenant is meaningless. It looks as though the promises aren’t coming true, and the word of God has fallen. And so he asserts that’s not the case. It is not as though the word of God has failed.

And then his first answer (and he’s only given one so far and there are two more coming in chapter 11) is that not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, not all are children of Abraham — covenant people, children of promise — just because they’re his physical offspring. That’s his first answer: when many Jews perish, they’re simply not part of the covenant people to whom the promises apply.

That raises the question of: Well what kind of distinctions are being made here among Israelites like when some are Israelites and some are not Israelites, some are children of Abraham and some are not children of Abraham? What’s going on? And he opens up the doctrine of election, and he develops it in these Romans 9:6–13 that God chooses Jacob not Esau, Isaac not Ishmael as an illustration of what happens throughout history. And of course, that introduces for him the whole question: Is God unjust in selecting one unconditionally and not the other? And so he develops an argument in defense of the justice of God from verses 14–23.

And then in verses 24–29, he not only reaffirms that some from Israel, not all, but some from Israel, are vessels of mercy — covenant children through Israel, children of Abraham — but also from Gentiles there are some included in this saved, redeemed covenant people.

And that of course, raises the question: How can Gentiles be included in the covenant people? And so from Romans 9:30 to the end of Romans 10, he explains two things. The first is justification by faith, built on a doctrine of unconditional election. The way of salvation is now not works, not law-keeping, but attachment to the Messiah. And then he unfolds, in Romans 10:14–21, missions — missions to Gentiles, missions to Israelites because they’re lost without the Messiah. And that’s where we are now. He has only given one argument in defense of the statement that the word of God has not fallen. And the argument has been that not all Israel is Israel and some Gentiles are.

God Is Always at Work

Now here we are at chapter 11, and you’ll recognize his return to the argument: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” (Romans 11:1). So you see where he is: He’s back at Romans 9:6. He’s never lost sight of his argument. He knows what he’s been doing and where he’s going. And of course, you know the reason this is so urgent is because the first eight chapters of the book of Romans are as glorious as it gets for us Gentiles believers. And if God isn’t faithful to his promises, they’re worthless. And therefore, he must show that God has not rejected his people.

So he answers: “By no means!” (Romans 11:1). God hasn’t rejected his people. Now he’s already given one answer to why he hasn’t rejected his people, or how he hasn’t rejected his people. And the answer is that not all Israel is Israel, and God has been faithful to the remnant, the elect remnant.

That’s not the answer he gives now. Keep in mind that whenever you have a sentence that starts with for, you’re getting support. Here’s the new answer: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:1–2).

What’s his answer? His answer is: “I’m Jewish and I’m a Christian. So God hasn’t rejected Jewishness. I’m part of the remnant.” The way I would paraphrase this argument is that there will always be a remnant of ethnic Israel in every generation. There will always be somebody around who’s attached to Jesus by faith in him whose Jewish. Which is why I support with all my might Jews for Jesus. As radical and controversial as that crazy group is, I love the evangelism of Jews for Jesus. They’re just so in your face and happy in doing it. No group in America gets persecuted more than Jews for Jesus.

Billy Graham doesn’t get persecuted like Jews for Jesus does, because it is so controversial to put a big T-shirt on that says “Jews for Jesus,” and walk out in New York City with a big smile on your face, and hand out tracts to people that look Jewish, and ask them what they think of Jesus. I mean, that will get you spit on. They have big billboard signs about Jesus being the Messiah. They’ve got this great “Behold Your God” campaign, and they came to Minneapolis. We housed them. Man, did we get in trouble. We got so much flak from “the clergy” in downtown Minneapolis. Almost all the clergy and the big churches in downtown Minneapolis think Jews are saved without believing in Jesus, and they think it is arrogant to tell a Jew to believe in Jesus. It’s tragic how many shepherds in Minneapolis reject the necessity of believing in Jesus Christ.

All that to say: There will always be a remnant of Jewish people who believe in Jesus Christ. Paul is one of them. Now to stress this remnant idea, he goes back to Elijah:

Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (Romans 11:2–4)

Even when times look very bleak, God is doing things you don’t know. He’s doing things you do not know. I was talking to one of you about our dreams for the Islamic world. You ought to dream some crazy dreams for the breakthroughs of God in Islam and Hinduism and the big blocks of the 10-40 window that looked impermeable because of political religious fanaticism. Take yourself back to the mid-eighties.

I can picture myself in the pulpit in the mid-eighties at Bethlehem when I read some statistic about how by the end of the twentieth century, X number of countries will be closed. And I just shouted: “How do they know they will be closed? What kind of predictions are these, as though there were no Holy Spirit, as though there were no sovereign God?” And then I referred to Albania. We had somebody going to visit Albania, the most closed country in the world. The most unchurched, pagan, atheistic, irreligious country in the world is coming down. In four years it happened. There are thousands of Christians in Albania today, hundreds of churches.

The fall of the Berlin wall at the end of the eighties was unthinkable ten years earlier. And today what’s unthinkable are a thousand churches in Saudi Arabia. That’s what’s unthinkable. So pray it. I have no idea how it could happen. I have no idea. That’s why God causes virgin births (or one, at least) and causes Sarah to have a baby. That’s the whole point of these chapters: “Isaac will be my seed, not Ishmael. Yeah, you can get together and make a baby with Hagar. But I make babies out of barren women who are ninety years old and men who are a hundred. I put churches in Saudi Arabia.”

‘Kept for Myself’

And so what he’s saying here is that there’s always a remnant, and there’s always going to be one. And here’s the key way to look at it: “I have kept for myself.” There’s the key: “I do this. You don’t do it Elijah. They don’t make it happen. I do this. I always make sure that there is a remnant that doesn’t bow the knee to Baal.” And so he draws the conclusion: “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:5–6).

So let me draw out a few things there about this remnant.

Remnant of Election

First, the second answer to the questions at stake (Has God rejected his people and has the word of God fallen? Is he faithful to Israel?) is: there’s always a remnant saved by grace and elect by grace. So observation number one here: he returns to election, just like he did in chapter 9:6–13. The phrase in 11:5 rendered chosen by grace is literally “according to the election of grace.” It’s the same word as in 9:11 for election.

And in fact, it shows up again in the next paragraph: “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it” (Romans 11:7). There’s where the remnant comes from. It’s interesting that when Paul comes back to the issue of how there is always a remnant, he doesn’t just come to by grace through faith, based on Christ — the gospel dimension. He goes under it again to the reality that before the foundation of the world, we were chosen in Christ Jesus, and he puts his finger on election. “The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (Romans 11:7). So that’s the first thing to observe.

Ground for Election

The second thing to observe: This election is called “by grace.” This is an election by grace, which is his way of saying that it’s unconditional — “not because of works but because of him who calls” (Romans 9:11). This is grace versus works, not just faith versus works, but here it’s grace versus works. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:7).

If election were because of God’s foreseeing anything we do — which is what a lot of people think about election: God foresees what we do, and on the basis of what we do, he now chooses us. That’s just playing games. That is absolutely contrary to what Paul is teaching here. It is not on the basis of what we do. “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls — she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger’” (Romans 9:11–12). Now Paul’s coming back to call that “an election according to grace” (Romans 11:5).

All of Grace

And I just want to put one other text here for you to look at about grace in this regard. This is a familiar text, but notice something that you may not have noticed before in.

You were dead in the trespasses and sins. . . . But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1, 4–6)

Now, my question is: Why did Paul break his grammar and sentence to insert “by grace you have been saved” right there? Why did he put it there? He had a nice sentence going here. “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, he made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us with him.” It’s just flowing so nicely. And he wrecks the sentence with glorious truth. Why here? The reason I think is that election is by grace, not by works. And the way to show that here is to, just at the point where you have said that great love has made you alive, (call that grace if you want) insert: “by grace you have been saved.” Grace comes before faith and makes you alive, so that you can believe. A dead person can’t believe, a dead person can’t repent, a dead person is in rebellion and ignorance and hardness and resistance. And we pray down this love, we pray down this grace, and it makes us alive so that we’re not dead to Christ anymore. And suddenly, like it says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, the “word of the cross . . . to us who are being saved . . . is the power of God.”

So Billy Graham preaches the gospel. That’s the general call of God. It goes out over a thousand people. You and I can issue a general call that doesn’t save anybody by itself. God has to issue an effectual call like he did for Lazarus: Lazarus is dead. Jesus stands at the tomb and says, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). And that call creates life. The call does the saving. So that call goes in and through Billy Graham’s powerless call and makes it life-giving by the Holy Spirit moving into a heart and doing this. And if he does that before a person believes, so that they can see Christ as beautiful, be drawn to him, walk to the front, get right with God, live a life that’s totally new, then Paul knows election is by grace, because God did this while they were dead. They didn’t meet any conditions in order to be in this position of grace.

And so back here in Romans 11:5, how did the remnant come to be? God chose them by grace, he made them alive by grace — not by works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. Sometimes the things that I’m teaching here are called Calvinism and sometimes they are called Reformed theology. But a good name to put on them is the doctrines of grace. Historically, that’s what the Puritans loved to call the gospel: the doctrines of grace. And when they use the word grace, it was a much weightier thing than it is today. And I hope you will put a lot of weight on it as well. That’s the second thing I wanted to observe in that unit: that grace is the ground of election.

I’ve already pointed out that God takes the initiative to make sure there’s a remnant: I have kept for myself seven thousand men” (Romans 11:4). But notice this word kept that not only implies what’s here — namely, it came into being by grace and election — but it’s being kept. The doctrine of perseverance follows from the doctrine of election and the doctrine of irresistible grace, by which God awakens people and brings them to himself. So I want to show you a text that confirms: “I keep for myself.”

If you don’t believe in the sovereignty of God, in the preservation of his saints, I don’t know how you go to bed at night with any confidence that you will wake up a believer in the morning. I mean, why do you think you’re going to wake up believing in Jesus tomorrow morning? Why should you? Do you think that’s because your will is so stable — that you’re such a steady, consistent, persevering person, and that your will is rock solid, and what you desire today you will most definitely desire in the morning? We are as fickle. Our emotions are high, low, up, down. I desire one thing today, a different thing tomorrow. I like my wife today, I don’t like my wife tomorrow. I am just all over the place. I am like water dribbling out on the sand — apart from the Holy Spirit keeping me, drawing me, granting me. That’s what he’s saying here.

Never Turn Away

This is one of my favorites. There are a lot of these in the Bible. This is a new-covenant promise: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). That’s Ephesians 2:5: God makes us alive that we may not turn him. The elect will be kept. Read the book of Jude. It begins with keeping and it ends with keeping: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” This is the great truth of the keeping power of God.

If you believe in all ultimate, self-determining free will you have no security. If you believe that the bottom line in my salvation is me, my fickle will, I don’t know how you survive the pressures and struggles and battles of faith and doubt and attacks on you. How in the world do you survive when you believe that? I think you know you don’t believe that in your heart of hearts, even if you’ve been taught to believe it in your head, because you pray differently than that. I know you do. You pray when you go to bed, “God keep me and wake me up.”

Often while I’m trying to sleep — way more than you think a normal person would do — I take my pulse. And do you know why I do that? I do it because it reminds me of how unbelievably fragile I am. Boom, boom, boom — and I’m in heaven or hell at 3:00 in the morning, and never got a chance to do anything about it; it’s just over. R.C. Sproul tells the story of the birth of his first grandson. And his mother said, “This is the happiest day of my life,” and went to bed and never woke up. I hope it happens like that. And I hope I’ve taken my pulse the night before, because when I do that, I say, “Lord, is there anything between us?” If I woke up at 3:00 in the morning, and I had to pinch myself because the Lord was standing in front of me, he would say, “This is not a dream. You are at my hands. Touch me.”

I don’t want there to be any problem. I want there to be rest, peace, joy. My will doesn’t get me to that point every day and doesn’t keep me at that point; God does. “I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). So I love the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and the keeping power of God. So that’s there in the words kept for myself.

Painful Hardening

One last thing before we move on to a new paragraph. In verses 8–10, you’ve got this painful doctrine of hardening again. We saw it with Pharaoh in Romans 9:18: “He has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” He comes back to it again. And you want to say, “Paul, we saw that; we handled that.” And here he is again: Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. Explanation: “The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (Romans 11:7). Then he quotes Isaiah: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see, and ears that would not hear, down to this very day” (Romans 11:8).

And then he quotes Psalm 69: “And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever” (Romans 11:9–10). We’re not going to linger on this anymore, but I just point this out because sometimes we stumble over the imprecatory Psalms. Now that’s a word to describe the Psalms of cursing. You read the Psalms and say, “David, are you really supposed to talk like that? You should love your enemies, shouldn’t you? And here you’re calling down curses on your enemies.” This is David saying, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see” (Romans 11:9–10). When you read that in the Psalms, you sometimes say, “Am I supposed to talk like that? Am I supposed to pray like that?” And the interesting thing is here: Paul, doesn’t shrink away from these imprecatory Psalms as though they shouldn’t be in the Bible. I had a professor one time when I was in Germany who called these “Pharisee Psalms,” and said, “We don’t believe those.” That’s liberalism: just pick and choose in the Bible what you like. Paul doesn’t reject the imprecatory Psalms; he quotes one here. But what he shows us is that the imprecatory Psalm is the judgment of God — not just David’s animosity against an enemy. David, as a prophet and a Holy-Spirit-filled person is speaking God’s judgment on Israel. So be careful. They are not necessarily what they seem, and you need to be delicate about what you find fault with in the Bible. Don’t do it.

Saved Through Jealousy

Now we are at the next paragraph. Paul has just said the remnant exists because of election and the others have been hardened. In fact, we’re going to see in Romans 11:25 that a hardening has come upon Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. If you wonder why Jewish evangelism is hard today, one of the reason is a hardening is on Israel until the full number of the Gentiles comes in. But here he asks, What’s the reason? “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means!” (Romans 11:11). The goal of God here is not the destruction of Israel. “Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11). So God has made the hardness and the rejection of the Messiah by Israel a means of saving the nations.

You can go back and read some of the parables of Jesus. Do you remember the banquet in Luke 14:15–24? “Go out and invite them. Come to the feast, Jewish people. The Messiah is here.” “I just bought some oxen; I have to go see them.” “I just married a wife; I have to go talk to her.” I just bought a field; I have to go get it. I’m not coming.” And the host, it says, “became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house will be filled” (Luke 14:23). Have you ever thought that the Gentile mission was born out of anger at the Jewish people? “If my people reject me, stiff-arm me, I’ll get my house full. I’ll raise up from stones children of Abraham. I’ll go to America. I’ll go to pagans in Sweden. I’ll go to man-eating Vikings and do it. I will get them from China. I’ll get them from Africa. I will have a house full.” And the Gentile mission is born out of this hardness.

Jewish Promises

It’s not in order that they might fall. God’s got a plan. and this is what I hope we can get at in the time we have left. “Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous” (Romans 11:11). So it’s going to work backward. First, you get the Jews disobedient, and now you get salvation to the Gentiles and the nations, in order that the Jews will now see Gentiles — these uncircumcised, catfish-eating, unclean nations — enjoying the promises made to the Jews, and they say, “No way! We’re going to have those promises back.”

I preached on this a few months ago, and a Christian Jewish man came up to me with a big smile on his face and said, “I’ve hardly heard anybody preach on that. Let me tell you, that’s exactly how I got saved.” And he told me the story of how he was invited to a Jewish Christian gathering. And he watched all these Jewish Christians talking about Abraham and his promises in the Messiah, which they were enjoying. And then there were Gentiles in the group, and he looked around at this people (and the Holy Spirit obviously opened his heart), and he said, “Those are my promises. When these Gentiles enjoy forgiveness of sin through Jesus the Messiah, those are mine.” That’s exactly what he means here by jealous. And I’ll just go ahead a little bit down the chapter and say that God’s going to do that for millions of Jews, I believe, but I’m giving my secret away.

“Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous” (Romans 11:12–13). So that’s one of his strategies. He goes into a town and he preaches first at the synagogue — though God has called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles, because the gospel is “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). So they run him out of the synagogue. They always did because a hardening has come upon Israel.

And then he turns to the Gentiles, in order to make that synagogue jealous. “Everything I just offered you in Jesus by way of acceptance with God through faith in his redeeming work, you reject. I’m going to offer it to the nations, and they’re going to have the Holy Spirit fall upon them, rejoice, experience wonderful gifts, and go to heaven. And you watch. And some of you, God will, I pray, cause to be jealous and be saved for their rejection. “If their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15).

Redeemd Together

Now let me see if I can draw this out here for you because we went over it so fast you need to see it. Romans 11:11: Jewish trespass leads to Gentile salvation, which leads to Jewish jealousy, which leads to riches for the Gentiles in verse 12. And that leads to fullness, the full inclusion, the fullness of the Jews. So now the third argument has just appeared in support of God’s not rejecting his people. The first time we’ve seen this is Romans 11:12: the full inclusion of the Jews is coming. What will their full inclusion mean?

Now verse 15 tells us “how much more” from verse 12: Jewish rejection leads to reconciliation for the world, or for Gentiles, which leads to Jewish acceptance. God’s going to accept them someday, which leads to what Paul calls “life from the dead” (verse 15). I think that’s the resurrection. Now that’s an amazing plan. We’re going to see it summed up several times in the coming verses, but I want you to see it here. Here is Jewish hardening and rejection and failure and unbelief. It’s what gives Paul grief, constant grief and pain — even though he knows where it’s leading, which is why there can be joy. There’s joy and pain in our lives and in the big historical picture.

Where it leads is first Gentile salvation, riches for the Gentiles, riches for the world, reconciliation for the world, which leads to jealousy for the Jewish jealousy. And then in verses 12 and 15, this reconciliation for Gentiles, Gentile salvation, your salvation, is leading to the salvation of Israel. The full number of the Jews comes in there is Jewish acceptance, which leads, then, to something more. What more will it mean? Answer: we will be raised from the dead — all of us together, all the redeemed, Jew and Gentile.

So I wanted you to see that. It’s going to be summed up more clearly when we get further on down in the argument. I skipped verse 16. I think I’ll just leave it, because I think verse 16 simply says that all Israel is going to be saved in another way. If the original root of the Abrahamic covenant was holy, set apart for God, so will the branches be ultimately. But let’s go ahead where it’s clearer.

Covenantal Root

I think the root is the Abrahamic covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. If they were set apart as Holy to the Lord, so are the branches, even though we know many branches have been broken off. So I think that’s a promise that someday branches, all of them, are going to be grafted in. But what if some of the branches were broken off? And that’s what’s causing the problem with this whole unit. Many Jews are broken off from the covenant, the rich root of the tree with all of its saving grace; they’re broken off, they’re not included. And what if you, a wild olive shoot, you Johnny-come-lately Gentile who never had any natural claim on being a part of this tree of salvation and covenant, what if you were grafted in among the others? — which you were, and now you share in the nourishing root of the olive tree.

You are a child of Abraham. All the covenant promises made to Israel are yours. I read the Old Testament as my book. Every promise of grace in the Old Testament I take to be mine in Jesus Christ. I’m united to the tree of covenant and promise and salvation, grafted in, owing to no merit of my wild “oliveness” at all.

No Boasting over the Branches

So, Piper, what should you do? Answer: “Do not be arrogant toward the branches” (Romans 11:18). There should be no boasting in yourself. And there should be no anti-Semitism. Do not be arrogant toward the branches. Who are the branches? That’s Temple Israel on Hennepin Avenue, with all the rabbis that I’ve gotten to know there over the years, who are so hostile to people like me, who believe they need to believe in Jesus to be true Jews.

Do you want to get in trouble at a lunch? Sit across from a rabbi with a PhD from the University of Chicago and tell him he needs to believe in Jesus or he’s perishing, and that he’s not a true child of Abraham unless he believes in the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. And I’ll tell you, we live in a weak and smarmy evangelical age where relationships are everything, and truth is way down on the agenda. And we’ll avoid criticism at all costs in America. Just don’t say anything that will ruffling any feathers. Don’t say anything that will divide anybody. Don’t say anything that will cause there to be ill will in the air. Well, that may look loving because it’s soft. It is cruel to the max because it sentences people to hell.

Tell a Jewish person that you know and love at work, that they need Jesus their Messiah, and take them to Isaiah 53, and with tears in your eyes say, “Why would you die? This is yours before it’s mine. Come on.” But not with arrogance, not with boasting over the branches and saying, “We Baptists across town over here at Bethlehem, we’ve got the covenant promises and you don’t.” Whatever form or tone it takes, Paul is saying that evidently that’s a danger. He dwells on this a long time. Let’s dwell with him for a few minutes. Let’s finish reading this and then come back and see how you can avoid that pride.

“If you are [going to boast over the broken-off branches, the unbelieving Jews], remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in’” (Romans 11:18–19). Now whether that’s a good sentence hangs on your tone of voice, because that’s a true statement, absolutely true. By their failure salvation has come to the Gentiles; by their being broken off we were grafted in. That’s a true statement.

Continue in Faith

That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:20–22)

There’s perseverance. You must continue. You can’t just say once saved, always saved. “I prayed a prayer, I walked the aisle, I signed a card. Now I can live like the devil.” That is not regenerate talk. You must continue in his kindness. I know that sounds like you lose your salvation. And my simple statement is that when you talk about this tree, and when you talk about belonging to the covenant, there are measures of adherence to the body of Christ, to the work of God, to the Bible, which can be pretty high-level, significant adherence, and not be born again, so that it is proper to talk about being cut off. If you become arrogant, apostatize, fall away, reject the church, reject the Messiah, it’s okay to describe that as being cut off.

You never were really drinking in a saving way from the rich root of the olive tree, but you plugged yourself in to a church, to a Bible study, to a diaconate, did lots of nice moral things to have a place in the community — and Jesus says to you at the last day, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you.” And they are stunned. So I don’t think that means you lose your salvation. I think it’s a warning that you can be fake. You can be a hypocrite. There is such a thing as hypocrisy in the church and in the ministry.

“Even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:23–24). I think that means there’s coming a generation, there’s coming a day when millions of broken-off branches are going to be moved upon by the power of the Holy Spirit, as the Redeemer out of Zion reveals himself, they will be draw, to Christ, they will confess him, and they will join the church.

This is what makes me not a dispensationalist, at least not a classic dispensationalist, which says there are two tracks, two redeeming plans, two ways toward God: one is Jewish, and one is the body of Christ, the mystery people of God. And God has a plan for Gentiles, and they get raptured out and have the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and have a special a plan. And Jewish people come another route. I don’t think that’s what this is teaching. I think this teaches that there’s coming a day when God will bring Israel into the people of God. In other words, there’s one tree. That’s the easiest way to say it. There’s one tree. There’s one covenant: Abraham to the children of Abraham. The one tree has some Jews broken off and some Jews still in. The one tree has Gentiles grafted in and later lots of Jews grafted back in. It’s one tree, one covenant, one promise, one way of salvation. There’s one people of God forever, not two plans. And I think that’s what most people understand and believe today, even in places where once dispensationalism was taught in a more rigid way. It’s not anymore taught that way.

Four Arguments Against Anti-Semitism

Now let me step back and ask a question about this pride and anti-Semitism. Did you see the four arguments against it? Let’s just review them.

1. The root supports you; you don’t support the root, you Gentile. Don’t you dare boast over the branches.

2. God will not spare you if you become arrogant and boastful and show that you’re not really of the Spirit of Christ, and so don’t boast.

3. You stand only by faith, not by your Gentile distinctives. And faith is a childlike, desperate despair of your own distinctives, and casting yourself on mercy, and that kind of person can’t boast.

4. The Jewish people will be grafted back, and your salvation is just a means to that end. So you better like them because they’re coming back.

And here’s the clearest statement of it, verses 25–27, and here, for the third time, he’s warning us Gentiles. There must be something about us that makes Paul concerned with pride. It’s the third time now. “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). If you exalt yourself in conceit over these broken-off branches, you totally misunderstand God’s design in your salvation. God’s design in your salvation is their salvation. And when the full number of your ilk comes in, I’m moving on Israel. “And in this way all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).

Who Is ‘All Israel’?

Now let me be real honest here and give you an amillennial, standard interpretation, and the one I think is right. And I have people in my church who don’t agree with me on this. I have staff members who don’t agree with me on this. So I’m not going to get mad at anybody here if you go the other way.

One way to understand this is that “all Israel” here is taken to mean the church including Gentiles. And now he’s saying not that there’ll be a great conversion of ethnic Israel at the end. That’s what I believe this means because I think that’s the way the flow of thought has been going through the whole chapter, especially back in verses 11–16, that if the root was holy, all the branches will be holy. And when the full number comes in, then there’ll be a resurrection. I think that kind of language talks about ethnic Israel. But a possible way to understand it is to say that this “all Israel” is really the church, including Jew and Gentile, who will be saved.

I’m suggesting that you consider very seriously that this “all Israel” means that there’s coming a day in which corporately and ethnically the Jews alive in a given generation are going to experience an amazing revival. I don’t think it means that every single individual, every one of them, has to be saved. But there’s going to be this mass return.

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:26–27). And I just admit there are some things there I don’t understand about how it relates in timing to the second coming. So I’ll leave it open. I don’t want to nail down the details, but somehow, near the end of the age, in close proximity with Christ’s return, I believe there’s going to be a tremendous return of Israel.

That No One May Boast

Now we need to hasten towards these glorious last two paragraphs. Here’s the summary, and it is astonishing (and I’ll say a word about the political nation of Israel here, which is what some of you were asking about). “As regards the gospel, they are enemies [that’s contemporary Israel] for your sake. But as regards election [and what God plans to do with this people] they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers” (Romans 11:28). Now that does not mean every Jew is saved who’s ever lived. The whole problem of these three chapters has been created by the fact some are accursed and cut off from Christ.

The question is: When God said to Abraham, “I’m going to save you and your posterity,” and when again and again and again and again, he made promises to the corporate people, is there no future for that? And Paul’s saying yes there is. And by election, there’s going to be an ingathering of the totality of those who are corporately at enmity with God. So he’s thinking corporately here. As a mass, Israel today is stiff-arming Jesus. They’re hardening, they’re rejected, they’re hell-bound. And Paul says it with tears and sorrow. But as a mass, as a corporate entity alive someday, there’s going to be an amazing awakening to the Messiah. They will look upon him whom they have pierced and weep as for an only son (Zechariah 12:10), and a nation will be created in a day. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).

Rejection and Salvation

Now here are amazing summary statements before we close with the doxology. These are amazing. If you want to help somebody understand the sovereign providence of God in human history over belief and unbelief take them to these verses.

Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:30–32)

God let the nations go their own way, and there was a great multi-thousand-year period where God worked with Israel, letting the nations go their own way in disobedience and idolatry — just let them go. He gave them witnesses with rain and seedtime and harvest, but basically worked with Israel. So that’s the Gentile disobedience era. When Christ came, Jews rejected him, by and large. And so Jewish disobedience came after that. That Jewish disobedience led to God opening gates of mercy for the nations, and salvation is coming to the Gentiles, the nations all over the world today. This is the great period of Gentile mission. If you wonder what the meaning of this period in history is, it is missions. The meaning of this era is temporary Jewish hardening, go get the nations, and then the full number of the Gentiles comes in, then mercy to the Jews, and then the resurrection and the coming of the Lord. But here is what you need to see.

“They too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy” (Romans 11:31). Whose purpose is that? It can’t be the Jews. They didn’t decide to be disobedient so that I’d get saved. This is God’s purpose. Disobedience was God’s idea. God’s got a plan here, and his plan was, after the fall of Adam when everybody’s a sinner in the universe except God and his holy angels, he’s letting the Gentiles go their own way, and he’s working with Israel. Then Israel rejects him, and he works to bring mercy to the Gentiles. And then by jealousy, he brings salvation to the Jews.

Every Mouth Stopped

Why did he do it this way? And the answer is: to shut the mouth of Jew and Gentile so that they would never boast again, because every time a Gentile starts to boast, God says, “I’m going to use Jewish people to save you. By the mercy shown to Jews, you’re going to get saved. By the disobedience of Jews and the salvation of Jews you got saved.” So Gentile mercy comes from Jewish disobedience. And this Jewish mercy here leads to salvation and resurrection from the dead for Gentiles. And if Jews starts to get uppity and proud and say, “We’re the elect people, we’re the chosen ones, we’re the children of Abraham, so you can’t judge us.” And then God says, “I’m going to make your disobedience the means of saving those people you’re boasting over.”

It’s a way of shutting the mouth of every proud boast of Gentile and Jew. And alternatively, it’s a way of exalting the mercy of God. And so you get verse 32: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” This massive group of Gentiles and this massive group of saved Israel are experiencing mercy. And that’s why they came out of disobedience the way they did. And if that blows your mind, it’s supposed to.

To Him Be Glory Forever

So here’s the end of the chapter and the end of the unit.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
     or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
     that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)

“From him and through him and to him are all things.” Stop right there and move backward. Because from him and through him and to him are all things, including disobedience, nobody has ever given anything to God that he should be repaid. Everything’s from him; you can’t give God anything that he should be indebted to you. And therefore, the last thing you could ever be expected to give him his advice: “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

Is it not strange and awful that the one thing Paul chooses to say we cannot give to the Lord is the one thing most unbelievers give him most often — namely, advice? Where were you? Where were you when that accident happened? Where were you when that cancer happened? Where were you when that marriage fell apart? Presuming to be wiser than God, as to what he should have done or where he should have been, that is so prevalent. And Paul says you can’t become God’s advisor. You can’t become God’s counselor. Who do you think you are?

Which leads to the conclusion: “How unsearchable are his judgments.” Oh, how bottomless are his riches and wisdom. “To him are all things.” That means everything exists for his glory: “To him be glory forever.” The word of God stands and his covenant is true because

  1. not all Israel is Israel, but God’s chosen people are Israel;
  2. there’s always a remnant to whom the promises have to apply;
  3. he’s going to save all Israel someday, so that every promise in the Old Testament that looked big and comprehensive about a whole people are true, and his word stands.

Israel today is a covenant-breaking people. They should be treated nationally with justice and mercy, the way we treat all nations. No carte blanche should be given to Israel today. They cannot be put in a category where they can do no wrong. They relate to God the way we relate to God, as a pagan nation called America. God governs all nations. When you’re establishing policies with a covenant-breaking people, you establish them the same way you do with Russia and Albania and Iraq: justice, mercy, no special privileges. God will see to it, in his time, that the special privileges are given when they cease to break covenant with their God, and ungodliness is banished from Israel, and they look upon their Messiah and say, “He is Lord.” Then Jesus will arrive and have the authority to give them a land. We don’t have that authority.

If God’s word stands, then he can be trusted. And he is glorious. We began by saying that Romans 1–8 is precious beyond words, isn’t it?

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37–39)

And none of that’s going to come true if God’s word doesn’t stand, if the promise we just celebrated falls. And I hope that you go home saying it will never fall. It is rooted down so deep in the grace and sovereignty of God, it can never fall.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2)

Be a merciful people. Don’t take the glorious doctrine of your unconditional, undeserved election and turn it into a charter of “us versus them.” Rather say, “He chose me, finding nothing worthy in me. I will now lay my life down for my worst enemy and show people what the love of God is really like.”