Have you ever received a surprisingly generous gift? Maybe you argued, “I can’t accept this” (even if the giver insisted) or you felt compelled to show a lot of public gratitude to the giver. The fact is, when something is truly a gift, we have to be a little bit humble in order to accept it graciously. Trying to just “pay it back” (with a gift of equal or greater significance) devalues the gift into becoming just part of a transaction.
However, let’s think about how excited you were when you received a gift that you really appreciated. Then, let’s ask ourselves: did we ever get this excited about a paycheck? Yes, it’s great to earn money (especially if it’s our first job, or if we really need the money), but there’s something different in getting what we earned, compared to receiving what we didn’t earn.
In the previous article, we looked at Romans 11:17-21, learning that receiving the gift of being reconciled to God isn’t something to brag about. I see three reasons in this passage why Gentiles who follow Jesus are not justified in looking down on Jewish people who have not yet made that decision.
- For one thing, these “Gentile branches” (including me) aren’t doing the foundational work here. The life of a branch, and everything that it achieves, doesn’t merely come from itself. Instead it comes from the source to which it is attached. And, it was God who grafted us (meaning myself and other Gentiles, which may or may not include you, depending on your heritage), onto the vine (or the root, per Cottrell), through His grace. We didn’t somehow detach ourselves from a life of sin and attach ourselves to the family of God. Our adoption was by invitation as a gift, not something we forced our way into. (Cottrell, cited below, also makes the point that the Gentiles owed the Jewish nation for their salvation.)
- Next, the fact that some branches were removed (which I interpret here as Jewish people who didn’t accept Jesus) doesn’t mean that those who were grafted in should become conceited about it. God didn’t take some branches out to make room for Gentiles because we were better than the Jewish people. There is no “limited seating” on the number of people who can be part of the family of God. The branches that were removed did not produce fruit (see John 15:1-17), independently of the faith that allowed other branches to be grafted in.
- And thirdly, the lopping shears are still sharp (although that’s a modern metaphor; it appears that branches were sometimes broken off in Paul’s writing). If Gentiles are inclined to trust in themselves for their salvation, they shouldn’t expect any different treatment from the Jewish people to whom Jesus spoke, whether that’s pruning parts of our lives (perhaps arrogance?) that are blocking our fruitfulness, or something more dramatic.
As Christians today, we must – we have to – remain humble about our role in what God has done for us. We are no more deserving of God’s grace than other sinners who haven’t yet accepted His gift. Our sin invalidated our righteousness just the same as everyone else’s did, and even if we have the advantages of a renewed spirit within ourselves and guidance from the Holy Spirit, our ability to sin less isn’t the cause of our salvation. In fact, our capability to sin less is more like the result of our salvation process.
Remember that salvation is not a zero-sum arrangement. God’s grace is so great that He doesn’t have to “un-save” someone every time someone new is saved. There is room for everyone in the family of God, as we learn from John 3:16. So, if you’ve become part of the family of God, don’t think that you’re better than those who aren’t. Instead, reach out to them and let them know how much God loves them, too. If I’m OK in combining the metaphors from John 15 and Romans 11, there’s room for both current believers and new believers on the life-giving vine that is Jesus Christ.
If we look ahead to Romans 11:28-32, God’s plan included a Jewish rejection of Jesus (not all Jewish people, though, and not that He caused this rejection), but He still loves them. They can be grafted in, even if they initially rejected Jesus.
However, in the end, everyone is shown to have fallen short of God’s glory (see Romans 3:22-24), and everyone needs God’s gift. In the end, everyone needs God’s mercy (not being punished for what we deserve) and everyone needs God’s grace (receiving a gift that we didn’t earn). No wonder we shouldn’t be arrogant just because we follow Jesus.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for March 20, 2022
- The Lookout, March 20, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 2, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1998.