NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXIV)
Hodge also adds another thought to be considered by the Gentiles. They had even more reason to fear than the Jews. It was in itself far more probable that God would spare a people so long connected with Him in the most peculiar manner than to spare those who had no such claims on His faithfulness. The idea Paul intended to express by this verse probably is this: that the Jews, from their relationship with God, were more likely to be exempt from punishment than the Gentiles. After all, God is accustomed to being patient with the recipients of His mercy before He will reject them. In the same way that a parent will put up with a son’s contrariness longer than someone else’s son before they send them away.1
Karl Barth has a very eyeopening exegesis of what Paul is saying here about why the Jews were broken off because of unbelief and why the Gentiles were implanted by faith. For him, it establishes the criterion of election: a standard which should at least put people on their guard. For a person to try and assess their own position in the Kingdom of God is a risky effort. To look at their place in the long history of God’s plan of salvation and then consider themselves equal with others who were called first is exceedingly dangerous. It can be hazardous to their spiritual health if they insist on being treated the same as others in the Kingdom of God. It is not how long one is part of God’s plan but how committed and faithful they are. It is better to leave it all up to God to determine that. For it lies within His competence to decide whether any person is what He was looking for or if they have ceased being of any use to Him as a vessel of the Gospel message and the growth of the Church.2
Barth continues by establishing that the ground of election is belief, and the ground of rejection is unbelief. But who is a believer, and who is an unbeliever? Belief and unbelief are only measured by God’s measuring stick of faith. For to us, such measurements are unobservable, incomprehensible, and uncertain. Only the root is effective. And in regard to the root, what preeminence have the wild branches over the natural branches which have been cut off? So don’t be guilty of being high-minded. Instead, become known for your reverence. Faith in God’s righteousness, unlike self-righteousness, is not a thing which can be vaunted and paraded before God and our fellowman or played one against the other. Faith is not a visible ladder, up which we can climb. Faith is born in reference and awe from the knowledge that God is God. Anything else is not faith.3
Then Barth says that the term, “Assurance of salvation” – is a phrase of doubtful legitimacy. Salvation is not a possession which can be claimed either against or on behalf of the Church. Only complete misunderstanding of what the Reformers taught could lead to such an opinion. The decision is God’s. His approval or disapproval are – because they are His – new every morning. Election stands by grace: we must never forget this. An “assurance of salvation” would require “assurance of damnation.”4 In Barth’s mind, such false belief is worse than heathenism.5
Verse 22: So you can see that while God is kind, He can also be very strict. On the one hand He was strict with those that were broken off, but, on the other hand, He will be kind to you, provided, that you continue trusting in His kindness. If you don’t, you will be cut off too.
Here is something that many people adhere to, but not all denominations fully endorse: “Once saved, always saved.” It is a doctrine that God’s Word could be interpreted as teaching, but with qualifiers. With respect to something that came as a gift; something we neither deserve nor merit; a blessing which is bestowed upon us through the unselfish act of another, we need to be careful that we do not take unjustified liberties in declaring that we are heirs to the kingdom regardless of how inattentive we are to the stipulations in God’s Will and disobedient to the specific factors placed there by the Giver. True, once one is born-again they cannot be unborn. True, once the blood of Jesus washes away the sins of the past and a person is declared innocent by God’s grace, that act will not be voided nor reversed. But that’s not where it ends – salvation, it is only the beginning – redemption.
But the Scriptures accentuate over and over again that whatever claims or status one may have in the kingdom of heaven, they will one day be judged on their faithfulness and obedience. It will be sad to see so many judged and condemned because they did not acknowledge or accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but it will be even more chilling and disheartening to see those who did accept that invitation and did receive the free gift of salvation which gave them entrance into eternal life, barred from going in because they turned around and threw away the gifts they were given while being disobedient to God’s commands; to the teachings of the Master and the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit. But then again, ask Moses why he did not make it into the Promised Land.
So Paul is trying his best to let the Gentiles know that what happened to the disobedient Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai could be repeated in keeping disobedient Christians from the Promised Land of heaven. God is too often preached as a loving, caring, forgiving God who not only loves us but is in love with us. As such, He becomes a figure of unlimited grace and, therefore, not to be feared because of His disgust for sin and disciplining of those who deserve it. However, He does it all to try and save, not to destroy.
When Moses saw the disobedience of the children of Israel he prayed to God: “So now, please, let your power, ADONAI, be as great as when you said, ‘Adonai is slow to anger, rich in grace, forgiving offences and crimes; yet not exonerating the guilty, but causing the negative effects of the parents’ offences to be experienced by their children and even by the third and fourth generations.’ Please! Forgive the offence of this people according to the greatness of your grace, just as you have borne with this people from Egypt until now.”6
Rabbi Saba makes note that in Numbers 14:20 God backed up His words that He had forgiven the people of their obstinance in asking for another leader to take them back to Egypt with the vow: as truly as I am alive, the whole earth will be filled with My glory and no one will doubt My powers. This implied that because He is eternal and has unlimited time at His disposal, He can wait for the right time to carry out any of His plans.7 And later on God reiterated this when He told the children of Israel: “See now that I, yes, I, am He; and there is no god beside Me. I put to death, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; no one saves anyone from My hand!”8
According to Jewish theology, in Deuteronomy 32:37 God began asking the children of Israel questions about heathen gods in order to prove through their answers that there was no other God like Him: Could any of these idols prove to be as reliable as He? To be as appreciative as He for their sacrifices? To be as protective as He in keeping them safe? This is what made their God different from any other deities. But the final test was what other god could both give life and take life? Which one could bring sickness and healing? In other words, there was, is, and never will be another God like Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.9
So it is not surprising that after they entered the Promised Land, Joshua had to remind them: “Every good promise that the Lord your God made to us has come true. But in the same way, the Lord will make His other promises come true: If you do wrong, bad things will happen to you. You will be forced to leave this good land that the Lord your God has given to you. This will happen if you refuse to keep your agreement with the Lord your God. You will lose this land if you go and serve other gods. You must not worship those other gods. If you do, the Lord will become very upset with you. Then you will quickly be forced to leave this good land that He gave you.”10
That’s why Joshua was forced to give the Israelites this ultimatum: “If it seems bad to you to serve Adonai, then choose today whom you are going to serve! Will it be the gods your ancestors served beyond the River? or the gods of the Emori (Amorites), in whose land you are living? As for me and my household, we will serve Adonai!”11 And that’s why the same offer was used in Isaiah’s day: “‘Come now, let’s settle this,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.’”12
Now, all of the mercy, grace, tenderloving care, kindness, patience and forgiveness that we find in God, can only be seen in its greatness, effectiveness, blessedness, and something to be truly appreciated when it is compared to His severe discipline and punishment. That’s why Jesus told the Jews who believed in Him as the Messiah: “If you continue to accept and obey my teaching, you are really my followers. You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”13 Our Lord reiterated this same principle to His disciples: “I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I to you, you will produce plenty of fruit. But separated from me you won’t be able to do anything. If you don’t stay joined to me, you will be like a branch that has been thrown away and has dried up. All the dead branches like that are gathered up, thrown into the fire and burned. Stay joined together with me, and follow my teachings. If you do this, you can ask for anything you want, and it will be given to you.”14
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 574
2 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Barth: ibid.
4 Double Predestination: “The Bible does not contain the doctrine of double predestination, although in a few isolated passages it seems to come close to it. The Bible teaches that all salvation is based on the eternal Election of God in Jesus Christ, and that this eternal Election springs wholly and entirely from God’s sovereign freedom. But wherever this happens, there is no mention of a decree of rejection. The Bible teaches that alongside of the elect there are those who are not elect, who are “reprobate,” and indeed that the former are the minority and the latter the majority; but in these passages the point at issue is not eternal election but “separation” or “selection” in judgment. Thus the Bible teaches that there will be a double outcome of world history, salvation and ruin, Heaven and hell. But while salvation is explicitly taught as derived from the eternal election, the further conclusion is not drawn that destruction is also based upon a corresponding decree of doom.” Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950), p. 326.
5 Barth: ibid.
6 Numbers 14:18-22 – Complete Jewish Bible
7 Tzror Hamor: op. cit., loc. cit., Vol IV, p. 1620
8 Deuteronomy 32:39
9 Tzror Hamor, Deuteronomy, Vol 5, p.2166
10 Joshua 23:15-16
11 Joshua 24:15 – Complete Jewish Bible
12 Isaiah 1:18
13 John 8:31
14 John 15:5-7