17 If some of the branches were broken off, and you (Gentiles), being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; for if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 See then the kindness and severity of God: to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; for otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not want you, brothers and sisters, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written: “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “This is My covenant with them when I take away their sins.” 28 In relation to the gospel they are enemies on your account, but in relation to God’s choice they are beloved on account of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of the Jews’ disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience, so that He may show mercy to all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counsellor? 35 Or who has first given to Him, that it would be paid back to him? 36 For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Rom11:17-36)
The three main points to be taken from this passage are:
- Paul’s continuing assertion that Gentiles were only given access to spiritual life in Christ in the current age because of Jewish unbelief
- Paul renders as meaningless the doctrine of “guaranteed perseverance of the saints”
- God’s inclination and intention to be merciful to all
The previous post demonstrated that Paul was entirely serious in his assertion that full and freely offered salvation resulting in spiritual life in the present and a corporate partnership with Christ through eternity was only made available to the Gentile nations in the current age as a result of Jewish disobedience (vv11,12,15). Now, likening this process to branches of a wild olive tree being grafted into the true shrub that was the physical seed of Isaac, the apostle affirms that existing branches needed to be removed for this to happen (vv19,20). For God’s elect are a finite number. Whilst He desires all men to be spiritually healed and come to a knowledge of the truth (1Tim2:4), like any earthly father, He does not intend the whole world to marry His Son (Rev19:7). Such need to be specially prepared for that inestimable honour – the process known as sanctification which only those participating in the life of Christ are able to attain (Rom5:10). As considered in earlier posts, in view of what Paul describes as “the body of this death” man by nature is inclined to disobedience to God’s will for human living as expressed in His laws and the workings of conscience (Rom7:22-25). Here, Paul again explicitly states that God’s mercy was to be shown to Gentiles in this regard because of the disobedience and unfaithfulness of His chosen people, the Jews (v30).
But Paul issues a warning to his Gentile readers: “Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. See then the kindness and severity of God: to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; for otherwise you too will be cut off “(vv20-22). In order to demonstrate God’s intelligible goodness and broader benign providence, all (bar one – see NOTE) of the Protestant Reformed tenets expressed in the TULIP acronym need to be disproven from Scripture. That is a regrettable but unavoidable negative dimension to doing what I believe I have been called to undertake. (Like Paul I hate causing hurt and annoyance to those of my former ilk, having for a quarter of a century been a staunch Calvinist). “Perseverance of the saints” is perhaps one of the easiest petals to pluck – there is so much of the New Testament to choose from, including Paul’s letters, which in this passage speaks for itself. “Attaining to God” (as the earliest Christian writers referred to Christian salvation) is a race set before us – not all shall gain the prize (1Cor9:24). As Paul also stated: “I do not regard myself as having achieved it as yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil3:13-14). Whilst presenting a challenge, this should alarm no good-hearted person, still less any sincere follower of Christ – at least once it is understood what election and salvation pertain to and what they do not (Rev19:7 cf. Mt25:37-40).
And that is especially in view of my final point or rather Paul’s: God’s inclination and avowed intention to show mercy, albeit as we saw in Romans 9 and in the case of Cain, that shall not be so for those who effectively stick their fist in God’s face or wilfully cause hurt to those He loves. But for most: “God has shut up all in disobedience in order that He may show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (v33). God’s ways are indeed unfathomable, but not so His nature, as disciple Philip needed to be instructed (Jn14:9) – mercy and compassion mean the same to God as they do to man, except in His case their extent and magnanimity know no bounds.
 TULIP= Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints
These are the five points of Calvinism. Operating as they do within a traditional binary soteriological framework, they infer that it is Father, Son and Spirit’s wish and intention that that the bulk of humanity suffer eternal misery in Hell. For as the Reformers’ spiritual mentor Augustine expressed it: “Many more are to be left under punishment than are delivered from it, in order that it may thus be shown what was due to all” (De Civitates Dei XXI chap. 12). This is surely the very antithesis of the Christmas angel’s message of “Good News of great joy that shall be to all people”. Whilst the watered-down version of this message in the form of Arminianism that is prevalent in so many circles today may be more palatable, the cosmic outcomes are equally dire in the light of historical cultural and religious realities. It also rejects the one biblically irrefutable tenet of Calvinism being UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION. This is central to Paul’s message as I hope has been demonstrated as we have progressed through Romans. And once salvation and predestination are understood in the three-tier context I have been setting out it ceases to be at odds with God’s biblically defined nature and intentions towards the inhabitants of planet earth, created through Christ and for Christ.