Consider the Severity of God (Romans 11:22)

two-faced

Whenever I tell people about God’s goodness, I can just about guarantee that someone will call for balance and say I should also preach on God’s severity. Then they will quote this verse:

Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. (Rom 11:22, NKJV)

“You see, God is kind, but he’s also severe, so watch yourself! God has given you a chance to repent, but now you have to prove you were worth it by getting your act together, otherwise it’s the chop for you!”

And we wonder why unbelievers don’t get excited about this so-called gospel!

In my ongoing series on eternal security, I have maintained that we are saved by grace and kept by grace. Your eternal security rests on God’s promises, not your behavior. But, the insecure don’t believe it. They read the above passage and worry that they will be cut off if they fail to continue in the Lord’s kindness.

How do you continue? The insecure are uncertain, but it probably has something to do with working hard, being good, and hoping for the best. But look at what Paul says:

You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. (Rom 11:19)

This is about belief not behavior, faith not works. “They were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith.” Continuing in God’s goodness is less about working and more about trusting. But I am getting ahead of myself. Before we go further we need to ask an an important question:

Who is Paul talking about?

Who are the “they” that were broken off and who are the “you” that were grafted it? Paul is not speaking about individuals and he is not speaking about the church. He is talking about Jews and Gentiles:

Concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” … I am talking to you Gentiles. (Rom 10:21, 11:13)

The nation of Israel, as a group, was broken off and the Gentiles, as a group, were grafted in. The Jews had been shown favor from the Lord but they did not receive it (although certain individual Jews had, such as Paul himself). God reached out to the Jews in love but they gave him the cold shoulder. Now God’s favor is also extended to the Gentiles.

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him. (Rom 10:12)

God’s desire is to bless everyone, but not everyone receives his blessing. As a group the Jews tried to earn his favor and were cut off. That sounds like divine judgment as though God were rejecting them. But look at what Paul says:

Did God reject his people? By no means! … God did not reject his people… they stumbled … they were broken off because of unbelief. (Rom 11:1,2,11,20)

The condemnation of unbelief is self-inflicted. Refuse his blessings and you won’t be blessed. You’ll be cursed. This is why Paul warns the Gentiles to “continue in God’s kindness.”

What is God’s kindness?

God’s kindness refers to his unmerited favor or grace which comes to us through Jesus:

In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:7)

To continue in kindness is to continue in grace which is to continue in Christ.

As a nation, the Jews stumbled in unbelief. But the grace of God is for the whole world. Hence Paul says, “Don’t boast over the Jews – you Gentiles have a window of opportunity, like they did, and it won’t last forever. Receive God’s goodness! Receive Jesus! Confess him as Lord (Rom 10:9). Clothe yourself with Christ (Rom 13:14).”

What about God’s severity?

Here is the wrong way to interpret the severity passage: “I need to work hard for God and keep 100% of his commands to avoid getting cut off.” That’s what the Jews thought and it led to their downfall. By betting on their performance they rejected God’s grace.

And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Rom 11:6)

At the start of his letter to the Romans, Paul says everyone receives one of two gifts from the Lord. We either receive the free gift of his righteousness that comes by faith (Rom 1:17), or we receive, through hard-nosed and stubborn unbelief, the unwanted gift of his wrath (Rom 1:18). The Jews, as a group, had chosen the bad gift (Rom 10:21). We do well to choose the good one.

Who is in danger of being cut off?

Not those who are joined to the Lord.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)

The insecure thinks, “If I can graft myself in through belief, then I can cut myself off through unbelief.” To this I respond, “You are saved by Jesus and kept by Jesus. You are one with the Lord and what God has joined together, no man can tear apart.”

“But what if I stop continuing in his kindness.” Paul answers that question when he talks about the importance of continuing in the faith. Although there are consequences to not continuing, Paul never says the Christian will be cut off. You are the body of Christ and Jesus doesn’t self-amputate.

Continue in his kindness, otherwise, you also will be cut off. (Rom 11:22)

Remember, Paul is addressing groups – Jews and Gentiles – not individuals. He clarifies this in the next two verses: “And if the Jews… You Gentiles…” (Rom 11:23-24, GNB). The Jews, as a group, were written off even as individual Jews, such as he and all the apostles, were grafted in through faith. Similarly, the Gentiles as a group have benefited from the kindness of God, but individual Gentiles may yet miss out through unbelief.

None of this talk about being cut off from Christ applies to Christians. But don’t take my word for it. Here is the Believer’s Bible Commentary:

It must be constantly borne in mind that Paul is not speaking of the church or of individual believers. He is speaking about the Gentiles as such. Nothing can ever separate the Body of Christ from the Head, and nothing can separate a believer from the love of God…

Romans 11 is a warning to those who, like the Jews, stubbornly refuse the grace and goodness of God. Reject his blessings and you’ll curse yourself. This should not frighten the believer. Although the Gentiles as a group may receive or miss out on God’s grace, the body of Christ will never, ever experience the sternness or severity of God. It’s one or the other, not both. Don’t let anyone curse what God has blessed.

Romans is good news for the believer!

Romans 11 has been used to sow fear and terror into the children of God. It has been twisted into a works-based message of conditional salvation that is a million miles from Paul’s heart. We would not fall for this nonsense if we had an assurance of our Father’s love and grace. If only Paul had given us such an assurance. He does!

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Rom 8:15-16)

The Holy Spirit says you belong to your heavenly Father and you are his dearly beloved child. If a sermon on Romans 11 fills you with fear, you can be sure that the spirit behind it is not the Holy Spirit. If Romans 11 scares you, read Romans 8.

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Comments

  1. Great write here. Im blessed.

  2. keep up the good work brother,its amazing how i have to hear the on going message of grace and eternal security, the enemy must really hate it, to fight so hard against it

  3. Hi Paul,
    Do you think the knowledge of why some people believe whereas others don’t is possible and is it even profitable to try to discover?
    Blessings.

  4. Awesome teaching. Give us more!

  5. “You are saved by Jesus and kept by Jesus. You are one with the Lord and what God has joined together, no man can tear apart.” Are you not referring to Mark 10:9, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Its say’s ‘let not’ man do this! Not that man ‘will not’ do this. So, its a bit of a twist you give.
    We are saved by Jesus and kepted by him. “For by grace are we saved, through faith,… it is a gift. Ephesians 2:8. Even our faith (the measure, Romans 12:3) is given given to us. Sure! But it is still something we have to defend and fight for, to “lay hold of eternal life” 1 Timothy 6:12.
    As Colossians 1:22,23, say’s; “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard,…”
    Again, It say’s, ‘let not’ man do this! Not that man ‘will not’ do this!

  6. Thank you here for this Paul, got me to secure deeper this love, mercy and truth of father through Son. knowing this is done and confirmed by God in spirit of to me as you pointed out Rom 8:16. This is not to be taken for granted and to think me as someone special, rather keep me in humiliation
    Romans 2:1-4 came to mind in me as reading this

  7. Amen! Pastor Paul, thank you for these awesome words! God richly bless you & your family.

  8. ronald alvero says:

    What about the Bible says in Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:14-16; Ephesians 5:25-27; 1Peter 1:14-16 (Peter’s warning to the believers to be Holy); Matt.5:8 (Jesus said-Pure in heart to see GOD); Yes we receive our salvation by grace through faith..but that does not stop there. There are lots of passages in the Bible that requires us to live a Holy life here on earth to get rid & put to death our earthly nature and set an example to the world “Holy living” that we are really a Child of God..like Paul & Peter & other apostles. Pls. preach the full gospel not only the grace gospel.

    • You will find articles on many of those scriptures (and hundreds more) in the Archives > Scripture index. Yes, there are many scriptures that exhort us to be holy, since that is what we are in Christ, but there is no such thing as a graceless gospel.

      • Truth! Preach it! You are dead on. People today don’t understand the true nature of God. Jesus changed things for us when He gave the ultimate sacrifice. When we truly seek Him, we don’t have to worry about being perfect. We just want to try harder to be more like Jesus because we love and have a relationship with Him. The closer I get to Him/the more I learn about Him, the less I want to be like the world. Great teachings, as always! I can tell you have listened to our favorite…Andrew Womnack…who knows The Word very well.

  9. Rachelle says:

    Wow; that’s GOOD.
    Thanks Paul.:)

  10. Thanks for the great message. It’s hard in this day of us being told we’re “Masters of our own Destiny” to admit Gods irresistable grace is free and is unmeritted and cannot in any way be earned.
    Amazing Grace how sweet the sound.

  11. I recently learned a new insight about Adam and Eve eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life. Partaking of The first tree has caused being us to try to do good and run from evil in our own strength. Since then, humanity has been born fiercly independent from God, seeking to be like God in our own strength, yet we are helpless to overcome evil on our own. Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden no longer had access to the tree of life. But that tree of life is really Christ. So we got a second chance to partake of that increated divine life which is Christ. I believe that our brothers and sisters in Christ who are stuck in the performance mode, who critisize the grace teaching are really ignorant of the fact that they are still eating from the wrong tree! I was. Then Jesus mercifully set me free! But not until I came to an end of myself. Burnt and exhausted and ready to give up! Christ revealed grace to me and that I was seeking to please Him in my own strength! It was religeous pride in me that sought to remain in religion and also bad teaching (beware of the leaven of the Pharasees) Since then, I’ve learning to live by Grace which is really Christ and being aware of His indwelling Spirit and resting in Him!

  12. A couple points on what you have written, Paul…

    “Your eternal security rests on God’s promises, not your behavior. ”

    So why should anyone turn from their sinful behaviour? If behaviour doesn”t count we can go on being sinful.

    “This is about belief not behavior, faith not works. “They were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith.” Continuing in God’s goodness is less about working and more about trusting.’ ”

    Is faith not seen in, and manifested by, works, as James says (James 2:14-26)?

    • (1) Why would anyone turn from sin? Because sin is stupid, it’s destructive, it’ll destroy your marriage, your health, your family. “All things are allowed, you say. But not all things are good” (1 Cor 10:23). Sinning is inconsistent with who you are in Christ.

      (2) Yes. But living faith is not seen in dead works.

      • 1) As fallen, carnal creatures, people love to sin. Sin is enticing, exciting, exhilarating, and enjoyable. If it were not all these things why would people love to do it? Do you think people really care how destructive it is? They just want the pleasure. The majority of the world are sinners. Why haven’t they turned from it, if it’s so stupid and destructive? Why haven’t even so-called Christians turned from it, if it’s so stupid and destructive? But what I’d really like to ask you this: Do you sin, Paul Ellis? If so, you are, as you say, being ‘inconsistent with who you are in Christ.’

        2) How is the cessation of sinful behaviour a ‘dead work’ if done by faith?

      • Sinning comes naturally to a sinner but a saint has the mind of Christ. I am a new creation with a new heart and desires. If you find sinning exciting and enjoyable it is because you have not met Jesus. When you encounter the love of Christ, you no longer want to sin. I don’t want to sin. You don’t want to commit adultery or get drunk or do the things the world falsely advertises as pleasurable or risk-free. The fruit reveal the tree and those with Christ living in them don’t want to have anything to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.

        Why don’t sinners turn from sin? Because they can’t – sin is a slaver, says Paul again and again, especially in Romans. Try and turn from sin in your own strength and resolve and you set yourself up for defeat (Romans 7). Only the supernatural grace of God revealed in Jesus can empower us to say no to ungodliness. Only those who have died with Christ can reckon themselves dead to sin. I encourage you to turn to the Lord and experience his grace for yourself.

      • ‘I don’t want to sin.’

        But you still sin, don’t you? Or are you telling me that you’re sin-free? The one who sins is a sinner, not a sanctified saint.

        In one of your writings, you say: ‘If you’re a butterfly, don’t act like a caterpillar. If you have been given a new nature, don’t act in accordance with your old one’.

        There are so-called Christians who sin. But how can one be a Christian, and still find it possible to sin? When have you ever seen a butterfly behave like a caterpillar, even just once? Have you ever seen a butterfly crawl? And have you ever seen a caterpillar fly? They’re natures are different, so they do not behave like each other. Likewise a saint does not – not even once – behave like a sinner. Saints cannot sin, just as butterflies cannot crawl. But you seem to be saying that a saint can sin, and still be a saint.

        By the way you didn’t answer the second question I put forth (not that you’re obligated to): ‘How is the cessation of sinful behaviour a ‘dead work’ if done by faith?’

      • To define someone by their behavior is old covenant; I am not a sinner who sins, I am a saint still learning to renew his mind and live out his Christ-born identity. I am not a saint because I am righteous but because Jesus is righteous and he has exchanged my sin for his righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). Saints do indeed miss the mark from time to time, as Peter did when he withdrew from the Gentile believers and had to be confronted by Paul. If Christians never sinned we would not need the frequent exhortations to be holy, to put off and put on, or to reckon ourselves dead to sin. We wouldn’t have First Corinthians.

    • You have a sin focused mind-set instead of a Christ focused mindset. Sin focus makes everything about sin. We are not the children of God based upon our level of sin behavior. We are the children of God based upon the behavior of Jesus if we accept God’s gift by faith. The wages of sin is death but the gift(not wages of sin-free, holy living) of God is eternal life. And it’s eternal, everlasting life not if-you-can-keep-it life that you rent from God via your good behavior with risks of losing if you miss your behavior payments.

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