The Mystery of Grace | Romans 11
Brian Hedges | November 17, 2019
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Romans 11. Have any of you guys ever been to an escape room? Have you ever had that wonderful experience? A few of you have. I know a few of you have, because my small group has done this a couple of times. An escape room, if you’ve never been in one, it’s where you go and you actually pay people to lock you in a room as you then try to figure out how to get out.
I don’t know why we do these kinds of things, but we do it. Our first experience in an escape room was to go to one where we were disarming a bomb, and unfortunately, we did not get the bomb, the bomb got us. We all blew up at the end. So that one was a total fail.
About a year ago, we did another escape room, and we were searching for the Holy Grail. It was kind of fun, you know, Indiana Jones style. We actually found the Holy Grail in this one. You can see the picture, after we had succeeded.
One of the interesting things about escape rooms is you get in this room, you’re locked up, and there are all kinds of clues everywhere. There are little hints, there are keys, there are numbers, there are maybe odd books—all this interesting stuff, and you have no idea what it means, you just know that somewhere there’s a clue or there’s a key that’s going to unlock the next piece of the puzzle, until you finally get all the way through, and hopefully get out without the bomb going off.
In some ways, when we start studying the Bible, sometimes it can feel like that, that we’re looking for a clue, we’re looking for a key that will unlock other parts of Scripture. Did you know that Martin Luther actually thought that the book of Romans was that key? I want to read to you what Martin Luther said about the book of Romans.
He said, “In Romans we find most abundantly the things that a Christian ought to know; namely, what is law, gospel, sin, punishment, grace, faith, righteousness, Christ, God, good works, love, hope, and the cross; and also how we are to conduct ourselves toward everyone, be he righteous or sinner, strong or weak, friend or foe; and even toward our own selves. Moreover, this all ably supported with Scripture, improved by Saint Paul’s own example and that of the prophets, so that one could not wish for anything more.” Listen to this. “Therefore it appears that he wanted in this one epistle to sum up briefly the whole Christian in evangelical doctrine, and to prepare an introduction to the entire Old Testament. For without doubt, whoever has this epistle well in his heart has with him the light and power of the Old Testament. Therefore let every Christian be familiar with it and exercise himself in it continually.”
Well, I think Martin Luther is right. I do think that in the book of Romans you have something like the key to the Old Testament, you have an introduction to the rest of Scripture, you have insight into everything essential that a Christian needs to know. Of course, we need the whole of Scripture, we need the whole Bible, but the Bible sometimes feels like this vast mansion with many locked doors, and you never quite know what’s behind some doors, and the book of Romans is something like a skeleton key that will open up all these doors, even, sometimes, a door that you didn’t even know there was anything behind this door!
We’re going to look at some things this morning that some of us, perhaps, have never thought about before (unless you’re a student of Romans). We’re going to be looking at some things that Paul is using the Old Testament Scriptures to unlock a door. He’s using it as a key to give us some insight into the mystery of God’s grace and of God’s plan for his people, including and especially his people Israel.
Now, if you remember, as we’ve been studying together Romans 9-11, this has really been the focus all along. Paul has exulted already in the grace of God that has been given to us in Christ Jesus in Romans 1-8, but in Romans 9 he begins wrestling with this problem, that here you have many Israelites, many people who were of Jewish descent, they’d received all of these amazing privileges, and yet they don’t believe. So Romans 9 begins with Paul’s burden. He’s so burdened for their lostness that he even says he’s willing to be cut off from Christ, to be accursed, if that were possible, which it’s not; but if it were, he’s willing to be lost himself in order that they might be saved.
He’s wrestling with this tension between the promises that God made to Israel and their present unbelief and their lost state. He’s asking the question, “Is God faithful? Has God’s word failed?” He’s given an answer to that question, and we’ve seen so far two parts to the biblical argument, the argument that Paul is drawing from the Scriptures themselves, with many Old Testament Scriptures being quoted.
The argument is essentially this, that God’s saving purpose is being accomplished, God is saving his elect people (that’s Romans 9:6-29), and then that, from the human perspective, the reason Israel is lost is because they’ve rejected Christ. They’ve stumbled over the stumbling stone and they’ve rejected the gospel. That’s Romans 9:30 through the end of chapter 10, as we saw last week.
Today we look at the third leg of this argument, and it all has to do with God’s purpose and Israel’s future. This is chapter 11:1-32. It ends with just an explosion of praise, doxological worship, in Romans 11:33-36. This morning we’re going to just take a birds’-eye view of Romans 11. I won’t be able to answer every question that you may have, but hopefully we can at least get the basic contours of Paul’s argument, and then we’re going to end by looking at four practical applications.
Now, here is the main issue in Romans 11. The main issue in Romans 11 is God’s faithfulness to Israel, and you see it in verse 1. Verse 1 begins, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” He’s thinking here of his people Israel. The answer is, “By no means!” Has God rejected Israel? “By no means,” Paul says.
What follows is an extended argument that God has not rejected Israel, and in fact that Israel’s rejection is only partial, Israel’s rejection of the gospel is partial, and it is not final. It is not total, and it’s not final. It’s a partial hardening and it’s a temporary hardening.
So what we’re going to see as we work through this passage are these two things. Israel’s rejection is not total because there’s a remnant, and then Israel’s rejection is not final because there will be a restoration. Let’s look at these two pieces of the argument and then see how this leads Paul into worship, and then let’s talk about how this applies to us today.
I. Israel’s Rejection Is Not Total: The Remnant
So, first of all, in verses 1-10, Israel’s rejection is not total. Paul gives us here a theology of the remnant. Again, he asks the question, “Has God rejected his people?” and answers, “By no means!”
Then what follows are four pieces of evidence to prove that God has not rejected his people. I’m following here the outline of John Stott, which I find very helpful. Stott says that there is personal evidence, theological evidence, biblical evidence, and contemporary evidence, and you see these strains of evidence in verses 1-10.
(1) Here’s the personal thing. “Has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself,” Paul says, “am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.”
The first thing he says is, “God has not rejected Israel; I’m an Israelite! I’m a Jewish person, and I’m a Christian!” And Paul was one of a number of Jewish believers in Jesus the Messiah. So the very fact that there were some Jewish believers, that there’s a remnant of Jewish believers, means that God has not rejected his people Israel. Paul himself is Exhibit 101, right? He is Exhibit A, the first example. He is an example of God’s grace to rebellious Israel.
In fact, if you remember, Paul before he was converted was Saul of Tarsus, and he was a persecutor of the church, he was an enemy of Christ, he was hostile to the gospel. Yet, even though he was breathing out murder and blasphemy against the Lord, even though he was persecuting the church, even though he was an unbeliever, yet God had mercy on him and God saved him. In the hardness of his own heart, God changed him. Jesus Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus, and Paul was utterly changed and became, of course, the apostle to the Gentiles.
So just this itself is an evidence of God’s faithfulness to his people. That’s the personal evidence.
(2) Then there is, very briefly, in verse 2a, a theological piece. Paul says, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” His people whom he foreknew.
Now, if you know Bible language, you know this a loaded theological term. “God’s people whom he foreknew.” The word “foreknew” is almost a synonym with those who are elect. It’s those whom God has seen and has chosen and has loved from before time.
Here it is a specific application, I believe, to the nation of Israel, that God foreknew the nation of Israel, he loved them, he cared for them, he chose them. They were the elect people of God in the Old Testament.
(3) Then Paul gives us a biblical argument as he appeals to the book of 1 Kings. Look at verses 3 and 4. “Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.’” This is so often how God’s people can feel. They can feel like the purposes of God are in great danger, that God’s purposes are being threatened, they can feel like they’re the only ones left, that there’s just this small minority of people. That’s what Elijah felt like. “I’m the only one left!”
Do you remember what God said to him? Look in verse 4. “But what is God’s reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’” In other words, there’s a remnant. God preserves a remnant.
This has always been the case. Throughout Old Testament history, when there was widespread apostasy, even within the people of Israel, God would still preserve a remnant. There would be a remnant of people. What Paul is saying here is that God still preserves a remnant, and this remnant believe in Jesus Christ.
(4) Then Paul gives us a contemporary bit of evidence for this. Look at verse 5. He says, “So too at the present time,” contemporary to Paul, “there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
This is always the answer to the problem, isn’t it? Whatever our problems are, the answer is the grace of God. When we wonder if God is faithful to his people, the answer is the grace of God. When we wonder if God’s people will endure, the answer is the grace of God. This is what Paul appeals to. There’s a remnant, but it is a remnant chosen by grace.
Then you get the conclusion of Paul’s argument in verses 7-9, the first piece of this argument. “What then?” he says. “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking.” If you go back to chapter 9, we know what that was; they were seeking righteousness. They failed to obtain that, they failed to attain it (Romans 9:31). They “failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’ And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.’”
What you have here is Paul looking at Israel as a nation, he’s looking at the Jewish people, and he sees them in basically two different categories. There is the remnant chosen by grace, and there is the rest, who are hardened, who are blinded. They have this spirit of stupor. They don’t believe. They don’t believe the gospel, but you have a remnant who do believe the gospel.
(a) I think the first application point for us today is just to grab onto verse 6, “But if it is by grace it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”This is what you and I need to take home personally, first of all. Simply this, that if you’re a believer today, the reason you’re a believer is because you were chosen, because you were called, because you were justified, because you were sanctified, and because you are preserved by grace, by grace alone.
One of Paul’s exhortations, as we’re going to see, is to exhort Gentile believers not to be proud over Jewish unbelievers, but to be humble and to continue in the grace of God, continue in the kindness of God. We should not be proud that we are believers; we should be immeasurably thankful that God has had mercy on us, that when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, God gave us life. If you believe today, its grace and grace alone.
I love the words of Samuel Rutherford. I came across this reading Rutherford’s letters a few months ago. He said, “Grace, grace, free grace, the merits of Christ for nothing, white and fair, and large Savior mercy, hath been and must be the rock that we drowned souls must swim to.” Rutherford had a way with words.
It’s free grace, it is grace alone, by which we are saved. Everything good in our lives we owe to the grace of God. Paul’s argument here is that there’s a remnant chosen by grace, and because of God’s grace, he proves that Israel’s rejection is not total. There’s still the remnant.
II. Israel’s Rejection Is Not Final: The Restoration
Now, the next part of the argument, verses 11-32, embraces a lot, and here Paul wants us to see that Israel’s rejection is not final, that there will be restoration. This is the basic point that is repeated several times in different ways, and I want you to see this in terms of a kind of cycle. There are three parts to Paul’s argument, but he repeats it about five times.
Here are the three parts, and then I’m going to show you a chart you can follow as I read through the text, and see how Paul says essentially the same thing five times.
He says, first of all, that Israel has rejected the gospel. Okay, Israel’s rejection, that’s the first piece of it; but this has led to something surprising. It has led to the inclusion of the Gentiles.
Jewish people reject the Messiah, and in God’s mysterious and inscrutable ways, what happens is that Gentile people, non-Jews, embrace the Messiah! Now, if you’re a Gentile and you believe in Jesus this morning (that’d be most of us in this room, I think), then the reason is because of what God did and what Paul is explaining here in Romans 11.
This may feel distant and far-removed and historical and theological to you, but you wouldn’t be a believer and you wouldn’t be here this morning and you wouldn’t know Jesus if God had not worked out his mysterious plan by grace through what Paul is describing here.
So the first piece of it is Israel’s rejection of the gospel, then Gentile salvation and inclusion in the people of God; but then what Paul is saying is that this, in turn, is to lead to salvation for Israel, an ingathering for Israel.
Now, you see this on a chart that will kind of show you how this works out in verses 11-32. I’m going to read these verses, and as I do you can kind of follow along on the chart or in your Bible if you’d like to and just see how Paul says essentially the same thing five times. Beginning in verse 11.
“So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall?” He’s talking about Israel. “Did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” Okay, so verses 11 and 12. That’s the first way in which Paul says this. Israel’s trespass means riches for the Gentiles, but how much more the full inclusion of Israel.
Pick up in verse 13. “Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.” You can see what Paul’s motivation is here. He’s seeking to win Gentiles to Christ, but his earnest desire and hope is that in doing so it will provoke Jewish people to actually believe the gospel and to embrace Christ.
Look at verse 15 (here’s the second way in which Paul says this). “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” By “life from the dead,” he probably means that figuratively, that when Jewish people come to faith in Christ it’s like the dead coming to life, it’s like Ezekiel 37, it’s like the valley of dry bones, and the Spirit breathes life and resurrects people to believe in Christ.
Then in verses 16 and 17 Paul gives a couple of illustrations. He talks about dough, yeast in the dough infecting the whole lump, and then he really begins to develop this illustration of the olive branch. Look at verse 16.
“If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off [again, he’s talking about Jewish unbelievers], and you [Gentiles], although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant towards the branches.” There’s application, Gentile believers. Don’t be arrogant that you believe in Jesus when many Jewish people do not. That’s what Paul is saying here.
Remember, he’s saying this to a mixed audience. He’s saying this to a Gentile/Jewish church, and in a context where there are many Jewish unbelievers around them. He’s exhorting these new Gentile believers, “Don’t be arrogant, but realize that you’ve been grafted into this olive tree.”
Verse 18, “...do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do no become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. [I’ll come back to that in a few minutes.] Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in…”
Okay, so once again you have restoration for Israel. If Israel believes, they will be grafted back in, “for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.”
Then you have the fourth way in which Paul says this, beginning in verse 25—really, verses 25 and 26. He says, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening as come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved…”
Once again, you see this pattern, Israel’s rejection, Gentile inclusion, and then Israel’s restoration. Then Paul defends this from Scripture, in the middle of verse 26.
“As it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob’; ‘and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’
“As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”
Once again, you see the pattern. Disobedience of Israel leads to mercy for the Gentiles, in order that it will lead to mercy for all, all meaning not all human beings, but all including Jews and Gentiles, all kinds of human beings.
That’s the cycle. Israel’s rejection leads to Gentile inclusion and salvation, which Paul says leads to Israel’s restoration.
Now, the big questions here are whether when Paul says, “All Israel will be saved,” whether this means the nation of Israel, does it mean the church, the spiritual Israel; or does it mean the nation, ethnic Israel? If it is the nation of Israel, is this historical or is this future? Is this something that’s already happened or is happening progressively throughout history, or is this something that’s going to happen in the end times, that all Israel will be saved?
Then the salvation; what is that? Does it mean that they will be spiritually saved, redeemed from their sins, or does it mean they will be restored politically as a nation and as God’s people on earth?
Now of course, different theological systems have different views and perspectives on those questions. I’m less concerned about trying to answer all those questions. I’ll tell you what I tentatively think, and then I want to get to application.
I think that when Paul says all Israel will be saved, he means by Israel what he has meant by Israel throughout the whole chapter; so I think he’s talking about the nation of Israel. I don’t think he’s talking about the church here. I think he’s talking about the nation of Israel, or ethnic Jews.
When he says they will be saved, I think he means that they will be brought into the church, that they will be brought into the kingdom, that they will be rescued from their sins, that they will become believers, and that there will be some kind of restoration through widespread conversion among Jews. I think probably he is thinking of something that he wanted to happen in his own ministry, but will happen in a fuller and greater measure in some way towards the end of human history as we know it.
So I think there are some good reasons to believe from Scripture that in the future there could be widespread conversion of Jewish unbelievers to faith in Jesus Christ, which is a very strong argument, and a very controversial thing to say as well, in the post-Holocaust era. It is an argument that Christians should evangelize Jewish people. I don’t think that Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus are saved. The way that they can be saved is through embracing their Messiah, and it seems that Paul is saying that there will come a time where this will be widespread; so all Israel, not necessarily every single individual person of Jewish descent, but widespread conversion among Jewish people, as they are brought into God’s kingdom and into the body of Christ.
Paul makes this argument, a very simple argument that he makes five different ways, and then notice he just kind of explodes in praise, in one of the greatest doxologies in all of the Bible, verses 33-36.
He says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
Paul works through this tough theological argument, and the result is that his heart is bursting with praise to God.
Now, what’s the application for us? I’ve tried to give you the gist of this chapter; hopefully you understand it a little bit better than you did before. But how does this apply? What does this mean for us?
I remember hearing years ago that every preacher has to get over the “so what” hump. In every sermon there’s a “so what” hump. People are out there listening, they hear preachers make these theological arguments and these biblical statements and all these grand things that we say; but you’re sitting there thinking, “So what? What does this mean for me?”
Well, I don’t know that all of you think quite that way, but I want us to get over the “so what” hump. I want us to answer the question, what does this mean? What are some takeaways? Because there are four very practical takeaways for us from this passage.
(1) Here’s the first. Don’t skip the hard parts. Don’t skip the hard parts! I think it is significant that at the end of three of the hardest chapters in the Bible, Romans 9, 10, and 11, that you have one of the grandest doxologies in the Bible, Romans 11:33-36. Now, I know that in many ways this short little series through these three chapters has been heavy sledding. We’ve been talking about election and predestination and hardening and Israel and Gentiles and Old Testament stuff. There’s some hard doctrine here. This is not the kind of passage that you’re going to get in Our Daily Bread, right? This is hard. It requires more thought. Nothing wrong with Our Daily Bread, but you need more than that; you need the whole Bible.
My exhortation to you is don’t skip the hard stuff. Don’t skip it. You need all of God’s word, you need the whole Bible, and you need the theology. I love what C.S. Lewis said about theology. This is one of my favorite of all Lewis’s quotes.
He said, “For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await others. I believe that many who find that nothing happens when they sit down or kneel down to a book of devotion would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”
You may or may not want the pipe in your teeth, but certainly work through the tough bits of theology, because what you may find is a song unbidden from your heart. You begin to wrestle with God’s grace, with God’s mysterious purposes in history, with difficult doctrines like predestination; you begin to understand and appreciate the grace of God in your life in a new way; and what happens is the heart bursts and you say, “Oh, the depths of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!” To God be the glory!
Worship happens on the far side of theology. Theology leads to doxology. One reason we need exposition of Scripture, one reason we need classes on theology, one reason we need books, one reason we need to care about this stuff, is because we care about worship, and theology leads to worship. Our goal in worship is not to just manipulate emotions and get people in an excited frenzy for Jesus, without any content behind it. We want to be all excited for Jesus, full of praise for our triune God, but because we see his glories, because we see his wisdom, because we see his plan, his purposes, because we see his grace. That comes by working through the hard parts. Don’t skip the hard parts. That’s application number one.
(2) Number two: Don’t unhitch from the Old Testament. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. A year, maybe a year-and-a-half ago, a very famous preacher, Andy Stanley, preached a sermon where he essentially said that Christians today need to “unhitch from the Old Testament.”
Listen; I’ve read books by Andy Stanley and I’ve been helped, okay. I’m not trying to dog Andy Stanley here. He’s written some good things, he’s said some good things.
It’s true that believers today are new covenant believers, not old covenant believers, and therefore there are some things in the Old Testament that are not directly applicable to believers. There are civil laws and ceremonial laws that are encoded in the Pentateuch that don’t have a direct application to us. I understand that.
But it’s saying too much, it’s an overreach to say "unhitch from the Old Testament," and I think it’s misguided in two ways. It’s misguided, first, because it is a big mistake on an apologetic level to try to distance people from the Bible and to tell unbelievers who are struggling with the Bible, “Listen, you can ignore two thirds of it and just follow Jesus.” That’s a big mistake. We should not do that.
As Christians, we have an entire Bible, and it includes all 66 books. It’s not just the New Testament. Let’s not become Marcionites in our theology. Marcion was a heretic in the early church who said that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the Jesus of the New Testament. That’s not true. The God who is revealed in the Old Testament is the same triune God who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ, and it is a big mistake on an apologetic level to say, “Ignore the Old Testament.”
Secondly, and maybe even more importantly, you can’t understand the New Testament without the Old Testament, and you can’t understand the Old Testament without the new. The two belong together. Someone once said, “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”
When you read Paul and Matthew and John and the writers of the New Testament, and you read with just the least bit of attention, not just eyes passing over words but actually looking at the text and looking for the quotations and chasing down the cross-references, what you’re going to see is that they are filled with the Old Testament Scriptures. They are quoting it over and over again.
In Romans 11 alone there are no less than nine Old Testament passages quoted, and in Romans 9-11 there are 32. Thirty-two Old Testament quotations, and probably more allusions, in just three chapters! Paul didn’t unhitch from the Old Testament. His hope was that Jesus was the fulfillment of the old covenant and had brought in a new. The Old Testament is crucial to our understanding of Christianity. Don’t unhitch.
(3) Number three. Third application. Don’t give up on the hardened. This passage talks about people who are hardened, and Paul didn’t give up on them, because in Romans 10:1 he says, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” They were hardened to Jesus—they’d heard about Jesus, some of them had even seen Jesus, they still rejected him; and Paul kept praying! He kept evangelizing. He didn’t stop. He did not give up on the hardened.
Listen, I know that there are some of us who have family members, who have brothers or sisters or parents or children or spouses, who are hardened against Christ and who do not believe. It can be temptation for a Christian, after a decade of trying to break through and the hardness is still there, to think, “There’s no use. They’re never going to believe.”
The answer of Scripture is, don’t give up on the hardened. The same God who showed grace on the hardened Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, the enemy of Jesus, and saved him and brought him into the kingdom, that same God can save anybody. No one is outside the reach of God’s grace. Don’t give up on the hardened.
If you have a child or a grandchild who’s far from Christ right now, who’s rejected the gospel—maybe they’ve heard it all, maybe they grew up in AWANA or in Sunday school or in the church or whatever—they’ve heard it all, and they still reject it, don’t give up; pray harder! Keep sharing, keep witness, keep praying.
In the words of Christopher Ash (this is not on screen, but listen to what he said), “We must not give up on the hard people. We must not get so used to their hardness of heart that we cease to weep for them, to pray for them, to take our opportunities to speak to them of Christ. Apply this especially to those close to us, perhaps the unbelievers in our families. We should pray fervently, preach passionately, live graciously.” Don’t give up on the hardened.
(4) Finally, application number four. Don’t stop believing. (Some of you are going to be thinking of that Journey song all day long! But maybe you’ll remember the sermon that way!)
Don’t stop believing. Look at verses 19-22 again. "Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear, for if God did not spare the natural branches neither will he spare you. Note, then, the kindness and the severity of God, severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.”
That’s a warning. It does not mean that you can lose your salvation, but it does mean that to be a genuinely saved person requires faith, and faith is this ongoing, persevering dependence on Christ. Continue in faith. That’s what Paul is saying. Continue in his kindness, you stand fast by faith. You stand fast by faith.
Listen, let me borrow an illustration from John Piper. This was helpful for me. Faith is not like an inoculation. You know what an inoculation is. You get a shot, or maybe your kids, when they’re babies, they get their immunization or whatever. They get a shot, and it’s one shot, and then maybe a booster, and then you never think about it, and they don’t get the measles. All great.
That’s not what salvation is like. Salvation is not you walked an aisle, you prayed a prayer, you said the words, “I believe in Jesus,” and then you forget about it and live for the next 50 years completely indifferent to Jesus. That’s not salvation.
Salvation is depending on Jesus, but it involves daily clinging. It involves that first act of faith and many repeated acts of faith. It involves persevering in faith, continuing in the kindness of God. It’s going back to Jesus again and again and again and again. It’s recognizing in your heart of hearts that you can’t live without Jesus, that you can’t endure without Jesus, that you can’t be forgiven without Jesus, that you can’t be holy without Jesus. You can’t do anything without Jesus and without the supply of the Spirit of God through the ministry of the ascended Jesus Christ, and therefore you cling to him with all your heart. You continue in his kindness, you stand fast by faith.
Why is it like that? Why is it dependent on faith? Why does Paul say it that way? Let me answer from two verses. Romans 4:16, “It depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace.” Romans 11:6, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
The reason it depends on faith is to magnify grace. When your whole life is based on believing in Jesus, clinging to Jesus, continuing in Jesus, holding onto Jesus desperately, white-knuckled, tight, holding onto Jesus kind of faith—when that’s your life, you know what it says? It says, “I am weak, but he is strong.” It says, “I’m a sinner, but he is righteous.” It says, “I’m a branch, he is the vine.” It says, “I am nothing, he is everything.” It’s clinging to him, so that he can be all in all, and it magnifies him, it glorifies him, it gives him the praise and the glory.
Therefore, for the glory of God and for the sake of our own souls, don’t stop believing, but continue in the faith.
Remember those wonderful words? I’ll end with this. Those wonderful words from Robert Robinson. We sing these periodically.
“Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be.
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.”
What do you do? You say, “Here’s my heart, Lord; take and seal it, / Seal it for thy courts above.” That’s a good prayer to pray.