God's Promises Never Fail: Romans 11
We Can Trust the Lord
A Promise-Keeping God
It was Thomas Fuller who said: "A man apt to promise is apt to forget." While that is true of most men, there are those who see a promise as binding on themselves long after many may have forgotten. In his autobiography: "Up From Slavery" Booker T. Washington tells the story of another former slave that he met. Here is what he relates to us:
"I found that this man had made a contract with his master, two or three years previous to the Emancipation Proclamation, to the effect that the slave was to be permitted to buy himself, by paying so much per year for his body; and while he was paying for himself, he was to be permitted to labor where and for whom he pleased.
Finding that he could secure better wages in Ohio, he went there. When freedom came, he was still in debt to his master some three hundred dollars. Notwithstanding that the Emancipation Proclamation freed him from any obligation to his master, this black man walked the greater portion of the distance back to where his old master lived in Virginia, and placed the last dollar, with interest, in his hands.
In talking to me about this, the man told me that he knew that he did not have to pay his debt, but that he had given his word to his master, and his word he had never broken. He felt that he could not enjoy his freedom until he had fulfilled his promise."
If a man could do this, how much more the Lord of the universe. Our God is a promise-keeping God. And nowhere is this seen better than in His many promises to His covenant people Israel. He has given His word to them that they would be a great nation, that they would have land that would be theirs forever. Abraham was promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the sands on the seashore and the stars in the heavens. He was told that his people would be blessed and all nations of the world will be blessed through them. Also, the Lord told King David that he would have a descendant who would rule forever on David's throne.
There is a major problem with this, however. God is not directly dealing with the nation of Israel at this time. They have been cast aside and now the Lord has a new people called the Body of Christ. This new group, although containing some Jews, is made up primarily of Gentiles. And the Lord has made numerous promises to us as well.
The questions that the Apostle Paul is answering in Romans 9-11 are: "What about Israel? What is to become of them? Has God rejected His people whom He foreknew? Have they fallen, never to rise again? Is God going to fulfill all His promises to them, or not?
And the unspoken questions are: "If God doesn't fulfill His promises to Israel, will He abandon the Church as well? "Can we trust God with our future, if Israel's future is uncertain?"
In Romans 8 Paul just got finished telling us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1). And at the end of the chapter, he says that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (38-39). However, if God can cut off Israel, how do we know that He won't cut us off as well if we give Him enough reason to do so?
The answer is that God has neither abandoned His people Israel and He certainly will not abandon us. He will again deal with this stubborn and rebellious nation. And He will never stop dealing with the Church, the Body of Christ. Neither will He abandon His promises to us as individual believers. Though we fail God, He will never fail us. We can indeed trust God for our life now and for eternity.
Summary of Romans 9-10
In chapter 9 Paul tells us that not all Israel is part of the promise made to Abraham. Physical descent from Abraham never guarantees that an individual has a right to God's grace. Further, God has the right to choose whom He likes with regard to whom He shows mercy. And the Scriptures have taught that God chose long ago to bring salvation to the Gentiles. Also, Israel lost its place with God because it failed to seek righteousness through faith. So God cannot be charged with unfairness here. The Old Testament clearly lays out every principle that God has taken in Christ with this rebellious nation.
Chapter 10 begins, as did 9, with Paul's desire for the salvation of his people Israel. They have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. He reiterates that fact that they refused to submit to God's righteousness. They were unwilling to submit to God on the basis of faith. Rather they insisted on misusing the Law in creating their own righteousness.
True righteousness comes from believing the gospel. It means believing that Christ has come down from Heaven, has died and risen again. Now all that is left for a person to do is accept that sacrifice for sin. God has promised to bless all that will call upon the name of the Lord, both Jew and Gentile (10:1-11).
Despite Israel's rejection, God's hands are not tied. The universal Gospel is going out to the whole world and many are being saved, including some from Israel as well. Though, at this point, not many. And as Lawrence Richards has said:
"For Paul the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles is not evidence of God's rejection of the Jews but the evidence of the Jews rejection of God."
However, it is still Paul's hope and prayer that some of those within his nation will be moved to jealousy by God's mercy upon the Gentiles and be saved (10:12-21).
Now turning to chapter 11, we find that Paul's prayers will one day be answered in a huge way. There are at least 3 reasons that we can be sure that God's plans for Israel will move forward despite their present rejection of His righteousness.
I. Reason 1: A Remnant of Israel Remains (11:1-10)
The very first reason that Paul gives for God's future plans for Israel is the fact that there is a remnant that have obeyed God and accepted His offer of righteousness by faith alone, in Christ alone. In fact they numbered in the thousands when Romans was written. Paul himself is living proof of that fact.
Remnant theology is a key to understanding both the Old and New Testaments and God's dealings with His people. If you look throughout the history of the Scripture, you will find that God never allows total apostasy in the world. There is always a person or persons who will have faith in Him and will follow His plans for the world.
Paul gives an example from Israel's history. He tells of Elijah, after he had completed the contest on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal, and proved decisively that God was the true God of Israel (I Kings 18). He later fled the wrath of evil king Ahab and his wife queen Jezebel who vowed to kill him for having the prophets of Baal killed.
It was then that that a depressed Elijah talked to God and said:
"I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, for the sons of Israel have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life to take it away!" (I Kings 19:14).
God's answer to Elijah, which Paul paraphrases in 11:4 of Romans, is found in I Kings 19:18. The Lord tells the prophet:
"Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him"
In the same way, Paul said that there was a remnant in his day of Jewish believers who have given their allegiance to Jesus Christ. And it is totally by God's grace. Human effort and grace are mutually exclusive ways to salvation and we have seen from the rest of Romans that works can never save anyone. The remnant, like the rest of us, are saved totally by the grace of God ( Romans 10:5-6).
Better yet, there is still a remnant of Jewish believers that make up the Church today in the 21st century. They are the continuing promise of God that He is not finished with the Nation Israel and that all of His promises will one day be fulfilled.
What National Israel was seeking, the remnant has obtained through grace. Paul says that the rest are hardened, just as the Old Testament Scriptures had predicted they would be (7-10).
II. Reason 2: A Restoration to God is Coming (11:11-24)
Though National Israel's future may seem bleak with regard to the gospel message, Paul says not to count out God's grace. Israel's rejection is only temporary. The Apostle says these words:
"I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!" (11-12).
The Apostle to the Gentiles then specifically begins to talk to the Gentiles here in order to help us all to have the proper humility. For we are saved by grace, through faith and have nothing to be arrogant about. God had mercy on us and that is the only reason we have any standing in God's program for today. And besides, Paul has an ulterior motive of moving his people to jealousy by preaching to those who are of other nations so his people might again turn to their Lord (13-14). He tells us:
"For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (15).
This is not bodily resurrection here but spiritual death to spiritual life. This phrase here describes the future spiritual rebirth of Israel.
He then goes into two metaphorical pictures. One of a lump of dough and the other of an olive tree. Both represent believing Israel. He says of the dough that:
"If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also." (16). In terms of the Law, the first-fruit offering, which was to be given to the Lord, represented the entire offering. So the entire piece of dough could be said to be holy.
In the same way, if the root of the olive tree is holy, so are the branches. The root here represents the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And the branches are their descendants (16).
However, through unbelief, some of the natural branches were broken off and Paul, continuing to talk to the Gentiles, tells them that they, the wild olive branches, were grafted in and they, the Gentiles, became partakers with Israel of the spiritual blessings that belonged to Israel (17). Paul says essentially the same thing about spiritual blessings and standing to members of the Body of Christ in Galatians 3:29 when he states:
"And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants and heirs according to the promise."
To those who would brag that they were grafted in and Israel has been lopped off, Paul would say that they mustn't be arrogant. You don't support the root but the root supports you (18). The branches of national Israel were broken off because of their unbelief. And we Gentiles stand because of faith. But they can be grated in again if they have faith.
Many people misinterpret this next section to mean that Paul is saying that true Christians can lose their salvation. This can't be true, both because of the rest of Romans and many other Scriptures. Other theologians would say that Paul isn't even talking about Gentiles at all here but is referring to the remnant. However, if we follow the context, he hasn't stopped talking to the Gentiles as their Apostle.
And here is what he says to them:
"You will say then: 'Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.' Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear, for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off." (19-22).
The bottom line here is that any true believer will never brag that they have any standing with God whatsoever, for they know that they don't deserve it. He is talking to Gentiles here who claim to be Christians but are really part of the apostate church. They brag about how great they must be in order for God to accept them instead of National Israel. They don't really lose faith for they never genuinely had it in the first place. On the other hand, genuine faith always perseveres. True Christians won't lose their faith in Christ alone for salvation so they will not become arrogant and get cut off.
Whether you be Jew or Gentile, those who accept His gracious offer of salvation by faith will experience His kindness. Those who don't, and who reject his offer, will experience His severity.
In verses 23 and 24 we see that those who are Jews and change their minds, accepting God's salvation, can more easily be grafted back into the Olive tree because they were the ones that belonged there in the first place.
III. Reason 3: All Israel Will Be Saved (25-36).
In verse 25 Paul wants to show us a mystery and, at the same time, gives us his final reason that God isn't finished with National Israel. What Paul is saying here is that there was something previously hidden but now revealed. A partial hardening of Israel has happened until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. Most Dispensational theologians take the fullness of the Gentiles to be when God has completed the Body of Christ, and the last of the Gentiles is reached. Then, according to I Thessalonians 4, the Church, the Body of Christ, will be caught up or raptured to meet the Lord in the air. And we'll be with Him forever.
It is then that God will resume His dealings with Israel as a nation and will fulfill all the promises made to the patriarchs. And all of National Israel will then be saved. We know from other Scriptures that a 7-year Tribulation, sometimes known as "the time of Jacob's trouble," will take place, followed by the return of Christ to earth to set up a thousand-year reign. It is this return that Paul is referring to in quoting the Old Testament Scriptures again. These quotes from Isaiah 59 and 27 make it clear that Paul believes these promises of a redeemer are to be literally fulfilled.
Now, from the standpoint of the Gospel, the People of Israel are enemies. But because of the patriarchs, or the fathers, they are still loved by God. For God's gifts and His calling are irrevocable (28-29).
Just as we once were disobedient and now have been shown mercy because of Israel's disobedience so now the obedience of the Gentiles will bring about God's mercy on the Israelites. Paul says that, in today's age God has shut up all men in disobedience so that He might have mercy on them all.
This leads Paul to a wonderful doxology of praise to our God who has made it all possible. He says:
"Oh, the depth of the riches of both the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him, and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen!" (33-36).
And with that, Paul concludes his analysis of Israel. The promises to them are indeed secure, as are God's promises to us, the Body of Christ, as well.
When I think of our promise-keeping God, I can't help but remember a story I read of a Father and his son. This true story illustrates God's unfailing love for each of us. The author writes:
On December 7, 1988 an earthquake devastated the northwestern section of Armenia, killing an estimated 25,000 persons. In one small town, directly after the earthquake, a father rushed to his son's school only to find that the school had been flattened and there was no sign of life.
But he had no thought of turning back. He had often told his son, "No matter what, I'll always be there for you when you need me!"
Though the prospects appeared hopeless, he began feverishly removing rubble from where he believed his son's classroom had been. Other forlorn parents only wailed hopelessly. "My son!" "My daughter!" Some told the father to go home, that there was no chance that any of the pupils could be alive. To which this loving father replied, "I made my son a promise that I'd be there for him anytime he needed me. I must continue to dig."
Courageously, he proceeded alone. No one volunteered to help him. He simply had to know for himself: "Is my boy alive or is he dead?"
With strength and endurance beyond himself, the faithful, loving father continued to dig... for 8 hours... for 12 hours... 24 hours... 36 hours. Then in the 38th hour, as he heaved away a heavy piece of rubble, he heard voices. "Armand!" he screamed.
A child's voice responded: "Dad! It's me,... Armand!" Then, the boy said: "I told the other kids not to worry. I told 'em that if you were alive, you'd save me, and when you saved me, they'd be saved. You promised you would always be there for me! You did it, Dad!"
Moments later, the dad was helping his son Armand and 13 other frightened, hungry, thirsty boys and girls climb out of the debris. Free at last! When the building collapsed, these children had been spared in a tent-like pocket. The father lovingly carried his son home to his mother, where he was given the care he needed."
That is the story of our loving God. It is the story of our merciful Heavenly Father who made promises long ago to His people Israel. And He intends to keep them. He also promised us that he'd save us and that he'd always be there for us when we needed Him. And nothing in Heaven, earth, or Hell will keep Him from getting to and helping those children whom He loves.
Do you know this loving, promise-keeping Heavenly Father today? He wants you to know Him. In fact He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die to make a relationship with Him possible. All you have to do is accept His free gift of salvation.
If you know Him already, then you, like Paul, can praise God for His wonderful plan that included you in eternity with Him. God's promises will never fail! Let us continually praise Him for His wisdom, His mercy, and most of all, His Love!
© 2019 Jeff Shirley