April 7 (Reading for April 4-10: Romans 11; both NASB and NIV are used). “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
God had intended for these beautiful words written by Peter to apply to Israel, but they could not because Israel rejected the Messiah. But God in His mercy invites everyone to be saved. This is the message here: all people, Jews and Gentiles, can be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ! God has not totally rejected Israel. In verses 2-4, Paul used the illustration of Elijah to prove this point. Elijah was discouraged, saying, “I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” But God told him, “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (1 Kgs. 19:14, 18). God had called out a remnant. This remnant exists by grace, and not by works (vv. 5-6).
I was shaken a bit by Paul’s statement in verse 6: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, since otherwise grace is no longer grace.” When we try to accomplish God’s work by our own methods, by our works, we are nullifying grace. We are like Esau who took the bowl of soup, and said essentially, “God, I don’t need you or your gift of the birthright.” When we try to work “for God” depending on our human capabilities, we are saying to Him: “I don’t need your grace for this task. I don’t need the power of the Holy Spirit; I can take care of things on my own.” Be careful; God might let you do just that, and the consequences might not be pretty!
Paul again speaks of the heart condition of hardness that comes by repeated rejections of God’s will in one’s life. The Jews were hardened by their repeated rejection of Christ. The remnant is still there, not because they were Jews, but because of their faith. Before Christ, it was as we saw with Abraham: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). After Christ, righteousness comes because of our receiving Him into our lives. “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).
The Jews have no reason to boast. God’s blessings to them were all about grace, and never about merit. The Gentiles have no reason to boast (see verses 17-21). God made room for them in His tree by breaking off some of the natural branches (Jews) and grafting in the wild branches (Gentiles). They receive the same spiritual sap from the root that the natural branches receive. Paul said, “Do not be conceited, but fear.” We are grafted in by grace and remain as branches of His tree only by His love and mercy. We did not do anything to deserve this, and we certainly cannot do anything to make sure we remain. It is by grace alone!
Why did God “break off” the natural branches? Two reasons: to redirect the flow of the gospel to the Gentiles, and to provoke Israel to jealousy. Paul wrote that he hoped to “move my own people to jealousy and save some of them” (v. 14). Remember how he began chapter 10: “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). He then concludes: “And so all Israel will be saved” (v. 26). J.W. Shepherd wrote that this does not mean that every Israelite individual will be saved, but by God’s grace the opportunity exists. Many Jews believe in Christ as the Messiah, and many more will do so in the future.
Look again at Romans 11 and read the doxology in verses 33-36. When the reality of this amazing chapter settles into our hearts, we will all say: “To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”
– Al Gary