Now comes a verse that is difficult to understand — Rom 11:25.
Rom 11:25 – 25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in…
Israel is cut off and hardened for a period of time so that the full number of Gentiles can be grafted in and saved.
Then in Rom 11:26-27, he mentions that all Israel will be saved and he reminds his readers of the covenant that God made with his people. A covenant involves two parties. And this harkens back to the Old Testament when the Israelites hardened their heart toward God and broke their side of the covenant but God gave them chance after chance to repent and turn back.
And sometimes during that history, the Israelites repented and tore down their idols and put away their religion and returned to God. Other times, they ignored God’s warning and suffered the consequences.
If Timothy grew up and became a drug addict, I’d probably have to cut him off and kick him out of the house so that he would come to his senses. But that doesn’t mean that he’d stop being my son. That’s our covenant, our blood line. And Paul uses that covenant language when speaking about Israel. They are cut off, but this is a temporary cutting off or a temporary hardening because the covenant God made with them from the days of Abraham still stands. Isn’t that what a covenant means?
Then, more confusing verses in v29 — Israel may be cut off now, but we read about God’s irrevocable gifts and call. That sounds like assurance of salvation. Meaning once you are saved, you cannot lose your salvation because God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
So how do we reconcile these two sides? Are we cut off from God and does this mean that we can lose our salvation? Or is it more accurate to say that once you are saved and God establishes a covenant with you, even though you stray, God’s gifts and call are irrevocable so you cannot lose your salvation? There are proponents on both sides.
One of my former coworkers was a very fundamentalist Catholic. And he was very evangelistic because he believed that Protestants were not saved. So while I was reaching out to him before I knew he was a Catholic, he was reaching out to me and he brought his friend who was also a die-hard Catholic and they were tag teaming and trying to convert me. And his theology is that you have to be constantly confessing your sins and trembling before God because you can lose your salvation even in the final moments before your death. That’s one extreme. And you got the other extreme, once saved, always saved. And I never have to examine myself. I got my ticket to heaven because I raised my hand at a retreat and I prayed a sinner’s prayer when I was in junior high so I don’t need to sweat it.
So which is it? Does being cut off mean you can lose your salvation? Or is it that once you are saved, you can have assurance of salvation because God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable? Or maybe it’s somewhere in between — as in the case of Israel, is it more accurate to say that you are only cut off temporarily so that God can discipline you until you are ready to turn back.
Which one is it? Paul’s answer in Rom 11:25 — it’s a mystery. Haha, you were waiting for the punch line, weren’t you? But I am not giving you one! I warned you at the outset. We will never know this side of eternity what this cutting off means precisely. Sounds like an earlier message I gave in Romans, doesn’t it? Again, we must live in this tension. Because it’s a mystery. That’s why Romans 11 ends with v33-34.
Rom 11:33-34 – 33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
There are just many things God never intended for us to figure out. Where God is deliberately unclear in His Word, we should not insist on our theological position.
In this tension, in this mystery, one thing is unmistakable — God is both kind and stern. God’s gifts and his calling are irrevocable and we are grafted in by grace even though we deserve to be cast into the eternal fires. God is gracious beyond comprehension. At the same time, God is just and this judgment of God leads to certain people being cut off and others grafted in. And we live in this tension.
And in that mystery, we have to realize that if God’s chosen people, the Israelites, can be cut off in any sense of that word that we think cut off means, then we better watch out. We should not be arrogant, but tremble.
The natural question then is, what are we trembling about? I submit to you that the key question we have to ask ourselves today and for the rest of our lives is this — Is Christ at the root of my salvation, and hence, my life?
Jesus is the culmination of the law. That’s one way to say Christ is at the core. And we are saying the same thing again today — Jesus is the root of our salvation.