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Summary: God's gifts and calling are irrevocable.

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THE DUNGEON OF DISOBEDIENCE AND THE MYSTERY OF MERCY

Romans 11:1-32

The extended passage of Romans 9-11 may not with any justification be written off as nothing more than a parenthesis: as if it was a break in the flow of Paul’s argument. On the contrary, to omit or down-grade these chapters breaks the whole flow of Paul’s argument. And, if we do so, we may well be accused of ‘taking away’ from Scripture (cf. Revelation 22:19).

Neither may we explain it away as if Paul’s burden for his ‘kinsmen after the flesh’ - the ‘Israelites’ (Romans 9:3-4) - could be replaced by our burdens for our own kinsfolk and nations. The latter is relevant enough in its own context: but it is not what Paul is teaching here. Paul’s ‘prayer to God’ - his ‘heart’s desire’ - is that ‘ISRAEL might be saved’ (Romans 10:1).

Yet what is causing Paul so much stress and distress is that Israel ‘have not all obeyed the gospel’ (Romans 10:16). As we enter our present chapter, Paul is asking: Does this then mean that God has “cast away His people” (Romans 11:1)? This is a question expecting the answer, ‘No!’ - and Paul is emphatic in saying so - the dynamic of which is caught in various translations - “God forbid!” “Certainly not!” “By no means!” “What a ghastly thought!” “No way!!!’

No, argues Paul. There is always a remnant, a seed (cf. Romans 11:5) - and his own status is a case in point (Romans 11:1). So, no: “God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew” (Romans 11:2a).

This ‘remnant’ comes about by the ‘election of grace’ (Romans 11:5). If anybody at all is saved, Jew or Gentile: it is always by God’s grace, not by our works (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9). ‘Otherwise grace is no more grace’ (Romans 11:6).

One of God’s purposes in allowing His ancient people to reject the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, was to make a space (so to speak) for the inclusion of the Gentiles (Romans 11:11). This was not an afterthought on the part of God, but His set purpose from the first calling of Abraham (Genesis 12:3). And in its turn, Paul continues, the salvation of the Gentiles serves to excite Israel to jealousy (Romans 11:11).

The see-saw motion of this chapter continues. ‘If the fall of Israel brings riches to the world: how much more their fulness’ (Romans 11:12). ‘If the casting away of them brings riches to the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead’ (Romans 11:15). The few in Israel who did believe were the ‘first-fruits’ of the harvest to come (Romans 11:16).

The ‘space’ for the believing Gentiles is created through the removal of the unbelieving Israelites from their own ‘olive tree’ - a recognisable symbol for ancient Israel (Romans 11:17-18). Nevertheless, Paul warns Gentile Christians, don’t get big-headed about this (Romans 11:21). Let us never forget what Jesus taught: ‘Salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22).

There remains the possibility - indeed, the promise - that Israel may still be restored - if they turn away from their unbelief (Romans 11:23-24). Paul repeats the process, addressing his readers - both Jews and Gentiles - as ‘brethren’. Through the Apostle, God reveals to them anew His hitherto hidden ‘mystery’ (Romans 11:25).


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