Romans 11:1-36 is establishing the truth that God has not forever rejected Israel because of their rejection of Christ, but that God is a promise keeping, wise, and redeeming God who is worthy of worship and praise. We have already considered the truth that Israel’s rejection is only partial (Romans 11:1-10). We have began considering the truth that Israel’s rejection has its purposes (Romans 11:11-24). There are two main purposes that arise from Israel’s rejection of the Gospel and God’s rejection of the majority of the nation. First, Israel’s rejection is bringing salvation to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11-15). Second, Israel’s rejection is serving as a warning to the Gentiles (Romans 11:16-24).
We have already considered the first purpose of Israel’s rejection – that it is bringing salvation to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11-15). Since the majority refused to believe in salvation by grace through faith in Christ, it opened and has extended the opportunity for Gentiles to be saved. The Bible makes it clear that when Israel believes in Christ, He will come again and the door to salvation will be closed (Acts 3:19-21). Now we will begin our consideration of the second purpose of Israel’s rejection – that it is serving as a warning to the Gentiles (Romans 11:16-24).
We are living in the day of what I term, “Positive Christianity.” Over the last century there have arisen more and more proponents of a positive Christianity who insist that preaching should be positive and never negative. In our day, what is needed preaching is often called negative preaching. The motto of the day is, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.” After all, we are living in the dispensation of grace, which according to the proponents of positive Christianity, leaves no room for anything negative in the preacher’s message.
It is precisely here that positive preachers fail to accurately communicate the grace of God. Even the warnings of God are expressions of His great grace and mercy. Negative preaching that warns of the severity of God is as needed as positive preaching that woos with the kindness of God. We have already been wooed with the kindness of God where we have seen that He is using the rejection of Israel to bring salvation to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11-15). Now let us consider three warnings of the severity of God to the Gentiles through His rejection of Israel (Romans 11:16-24).
First, God in His grace warns us against arrogance toward Israel (Romans 11:16-18). We notice the word arrogant twice in verse 18. The word “arrogant” carries the idea of “to brag or to boast against.” The KJV uses the word “boast” instead of “arrogant” – “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” Arrogance is over-exalting one thing at the expense of another which results in wrong conclusions. This is boasting with a sense of false superiority. So in these verses we as Gentiles are warned against arrogance toward Israel. Let’s follow Paul’s argument and take heed to the warning against arrogance toward Israel.
First, we must understand God’s overall plan for Israel (Romans 11:16). The apostle Paul used the principle of the offering of first-fruits to establish Israel’s future revival in God’s plan of salvation. The principle of the offering of first-fruits was that the Lord’s acceptance of the first piece offered was an “earnest” or pledge on His part of a full and final acceptance of the remaining harvest. Not only was this principle symbolized in the offering of the first sheaf of barley presented to the Lord at the beginning of the harvest season (Leviticus 23:9-14) but also in the offering of the first piece of dough when Israel entered the Promised Land (Numbers 15:18-20).
Paul used the concept of the first-fruits pinched from the dough as an offering to God to teach that since God has accepted the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He will also accept the remaining harvest of Israel who have the same faith of the patriarchs. God is not through with Israel because His promises to Abraham concerning them and the principle of first-fruits have not been fulfilled yet. God is going to bring in a full and final harvest of Israel (Romans 11:25-27). There is no need for Gentile arrogance toward Israel.
Second, we must understand God’s overall place for Israel (Romans 11:16-18). Salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22). There is no getting around this truth. The promises of God for salvation are in His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through whom is the Christ. It is in Christ Jesus alone that the blessings of Abraham come to the Gentiles (Galatians 3:14). This means that the patriarchs are both the first-fruits in God’s overall plan for Israel and the root in God’s overall place for Israel.
The root provides nourishment to the branches, not the branches to the root. God did not graft in the Gentiles to provide nourishment to the root but so that the root could provide nourishment to the Gentiles. It is connection to the root that determines fruit. God did not graft in the Gentiles because they were fruitful but so that they would become fruitful.
Who in his right mind believes that the root is dependent upon the branches rather than the branches upon the root? No branch supports the root – the branch either partakes of the rich root or perishes. The branch does not impart life to the root or improve the life of the root. All that the connected branch can do is bear the fruit of the root (John 15:1-11).
Branches were broken off – some, not all (Romans 11:17) – not because they failed to provide life to the root but because they failed to receive life from the root. We as Gentiles are not to over-exalt a false superiority over the branches that were broken off. We are not to boast against the cut off Jews. Arrogance is a false claim of superiority and worth. Arrogance denies salvation by grace and exalts salvation by works or worth. To claim Jewish unworthiness and Gentile worthiness is to make the same mistake that the broken off Jews made concerning their false superiority over the Gentiles. God doesn’t change. If He judged the arrogant Israelites He will judge arrogant Gentiles. God in His grace warns us of the dangers of grace rejecting arrogance toward Israel.
Next, God in His grace warns us against conceit toward Israel (Romans 11:19-20). Both arrogance and conceit are forms of pride. Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling (Proverbs 16:18). Pride is the antithesis of grace. The person full of pride would believe that he is saved because of his worthiness and not in spite of his wretchedness. He would misinterpret God’s grace as a sign of his own goodness.
Paul anticipated the prideful response of the Gentiles toward Israel and that there was real danger for the Gentiles to misinterpret God’s grace as a sign of their own goodness or worth (Romans 11:19). We are not to misinterpret God’s grace as a sign of our own goodness.
Paul answered the prideful response of the Gentiles toward Israel and gave a warning against conceit (Romans 11:20). Paul explained the reason for the broken off branches – their unbelief! The broken off branches stumbled because of unbelief. The grafted in branches stand because of faith. Since pride is the antithesis of grace it is a manifestation of unbelief. The branches were broken off for unbelief which means they thought too highly of themselves and saw no need for grace. They were conceited.
So Paul issued a warning against conceit. “Do not be conceited, but fear.” Conceited means having an excessively favorable opinion of oneself. It is to be wrongheaded and wrong-hearted about your own ability or importance. Instead of being conceited, we should fear. The word fear comes from the word phobia. It means “to put to flight; terrify; to frighten.” We should be terrified or frightened of any trace or evidence of arrogance or conceit toward those who are perishing. We should especially be terrified if we are prideful toward broken off Israel. The Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ doesn’t puff up – it humbles; it doesn’t make you conceited – it makes you contrite. God in His grace warns us against grace rejecting conceit toward Israel.
Finally, God in His grace warns us of His immutable holiness (Romans 11:21-24). The word “immutable” means that God does not change. This is speaking of His essence and His nature. The holiness and righteousness of God will never change and will never be compromised. On this basis, Paul issued a warning to the Gentiles from the example of God’s dealings with Israel.
Paul antidoted the prideful response of the Gentiles toward Israel and warned of God’s impartiality (Romans 11:21). Here is a powerful antidote for Gentile pride – “For if God did not spare the natural branches [physical descendants of Abraham; Israel], He will not spare you [Gentiles], either.” Pride is the antithesis of grace and is outright unbelief. If God did not spare Israel for their pride and unbelief, He certainly will not spare the Gentiles for pride and unbelief. We are to learn from Israel’s mistakes and not repeat them. God is no respecter of persons. He does not show personal favoritism. No man will ever be able to boast before God and therefore we should never be arrogant or conceited.
Paul analyzed the perfect righteousness of God toward both belief and unbelief and warned of God’s severity (Romans 11:22-24). If there is one thing we should learn from Israel’s pride and unbelief, it is the severity of God toward pride and unbelief – no matter who is guilty. The immutable holiness of God which shows itself in the perfect righteousness of God has both a positive and a negative outworking.
First, Paul analyzed the negative side of the perfect righteousness of God (Romans 11:22). God is unchanging in His dealings with pride and unbelief. Since pride and unbelief are rejections of the grace of God, God in His perfect righteousness gives the unrepentant what he or she deserves and has earned – eternal destruction. All men are sinners and all men have earned death and eternal destruction as sin’s wages. God has provided the only remedy by which He can give sinners who have earned Hell what they have not earned – Heaven – while still upholding His perfect righteousness. God saves by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ. Salvation is by the kindness of God and not the works of man. Those who do not see their need for God’s grace through faith in Christ will receive the severity of God’s perfect righteousness.
Second, Paul analyzed the positive side of the perfect righteousness of God (Romans 11:22-24). God is unchanging in His dealings with humble repentance and belief. Since repentance and belief are receptions of the grace of God, God in His perfect righteousness gives the repentant and believing sinner what he does not deserve but what has been earned for him by Another – eternal life! “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). That’s grace! As long as Gentiles repent and believe they will be grafted in and given eternal life. If the Gentiles ever get to the point that they no longer repent and believe they will be cut off (Romans 11:22). If Israel ever gets to the point where they no longer are prideful and unbelieving, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again (Romans 11:23-24).
God is immutable in His holiness and perfect in His righteousness. His mercy is for anyone who believes whether Jew or Gentile. His wrath is for anyone who does not believe whether Jew or Gentile. We must never forget or lose the doctrine of both the kindness and severity of God.
God’s dealings with unbelieving Israel clearly show His unchanging nature toward pride and unbelief. Since He didn’t spare them, He will not spare anyone else either. Is God going to destroy all who have not been humbled and brought to repentance and belief through the Gospel? Yes!
God’s dealings with the believing Gentiles clearly show His unchanging nature toward humble repentance and belief. Since He grafted them in, He will certainly graft in anyone else who believes. Is God going to redeem all who have been humbled and brought to repentance and belief through the Gospel? Yes!