You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 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. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
What Was Paul Warning the Believers in Rome About?
A few weeks ago, I received this email question from one whom I’ll call NOSAS:
Greetings in Christ Jesus,
To start, I am thankful for your ministry; it is desperately needed. I may not, to this point in time, agree with all theological positions expressed by GES. I do believe Scripture unquestionably asserts that all are saved by grace through faith without works of any kind, be they front loaded, mid loaded, or back loaded. If any gospel does require works; then it is a false gospel with a false Christ, and it cannot save.
I don’t hold to OSAS. Were the definition such that it was understood as I understand Scripture declares it, I would and do hold to it. That declaration being Christ is our LIFE and if we depart from Him in Whom our Life is, and Who is our Life, then there is no life in us. That departure being not believing on or in Him anymore for eternal life in persistent unrepentant unbelief. I believe Scripture through Romans 11:20-24 (and other Scripture) firmly informs us we shall be cut off.
Some have said this speaks to the Jews. That assertion seems obviously incorrect; it is speaking to both and then zeroes in on the Gentile believer.
I was hoping to get GES’s position on this Scripture.
This is a tough question to answer because I agree with most of what NOSAS (not Once Saved, Always Saved) said. Our salvation is not of works, whether before, at the time of, or after faith. That is well said. It is by grace through faith, apart from works. Nice.
But then NOSAS says, “If we depart from Him in Whom our Life is, and Whom is our Life, then there is no life in us.”
The major problem with this statement is that it contradicts the Lord’s promise in John 3:16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35, 37, 39-40, 47; 11:25-27; and Rev 22:17. The Lord promised that once we believe in Him we will never perish, will never thirst, will never hunger, will never die spiritually, and will never come into judgment concerning our eternal destiny. That is clear and definitive.
Three Reasons Why We Know the Issue Is Not Being Cut Off from Eternal Life
There are three answers regarding Rom 11:19-24.
Answer #1: Whatever it means, it does not contradict the promise of life that the Lord made. Even if we can’t figure out what it means, we can be sure what it does not mean.
Answer #2: The context is not about one Jew and one Gentile. It is not about individual Jews and individual Gentiles. It is about Jews as a group and Gentiles as a group.
The church age is “the time of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). That time will end soon. (Some would say it ended in 1967.) Before the church age, from the time of Abraham onward, was the time of the Jews. But in AD 70, the time of the Jews ended. (Some would say it ended earlier, maybe in AD 33.)
Individual Jews have been born again during the church age. Probably millions of Jews have come to faith in the past twenty centuries. There is nothing in Rom 11:19-24 to suggest that an individual Jew ever lost everlasting life or that an individual Gentile ever could.
Answer #3. The olive tree does not represent the place of salvation. It represents the place of blessing. See this blog by me for more details.
Here is a quote from the just-mentioned blog:
In his commentary on Romans, Zane Hodges says concerning Rom 11:20, “Very simply put, should the Gentile world cease to be a responsive instrument for the gospel, God could return His focus to Israel. This would mean the cessation of the present period of Gentile privilege and a return to the original privilege of Israel as the chief vehicle for the divine message” (p. 336).
First Objection and Answer. The second person pronoun, you, is used seven times in Rom 11:19-24. All are singulars. That might lead one to conclude that Paul is talking about individual Gentiles being cut off. Maybe that is what confused NOSAS. However, we know that Paul is using you as a collective pronoun.
A collective noun refers to a type of noun that encompasses “a whole group as a single entity” as well as the members of that group. It is considered singular in form.
For example, words like faculty, herd, and team are collective nouns—they’re singular words but represent a group. There are collective nouns for people, animals, objects, and concepts.
The same is true with pronouns. Whenever a pronoun is used in reference to a group as a whole (rather than to the individuals within the group), a singular pronoun is used. The GES staff achieved its (not their) goals. The faculty reduced its (not their) number by two. The team is on a losing streak due to its (not their) injuries.
Paul is comparing Gentiles (you) with Jews (“those who fell,” “they,” “these natural branches,” “their own olive tree”). Since the Jews in the comparison are a group, then so are the Gentiles they are being compared to.
Nearly every commentary indicates that you in these verses refers to Gentiles as a group.
Richard Longenecker writes, “The diatribe form begins with the plural address ‘to you Gentiles’ (humin ethnesin) in 11:13a and continued in a more sustained fashion by the use of the second-person singular ‘you’ (su, se, and sou) and second-person singular verbal suffix ‘you’ (-as) here in 11:17-24” (Romans, p. 892).
Hodges says, “Paul’s su is a collective personification of the Gentiles” (Romans, p. 335).
Second Objection and Answer. Some Calvinist interpreters see the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints in these verses (e.g, F. F. Bruce, Romans, Revised Edition, pp. 206-207; John MacArthur, Romans 9-16, pp. 117-18). They think the tree refers to salvation, and those cut off are false professors (by their failure to persevere, they prove they were not saints). They see verse 22 as a warning that if a believer fails to persevere, “God’s patience will be exhausted and His offer of grace withdrawn, that blessing by association will be of no value when unbelievers face the living God in judgment and are eternally cut off from Him” (MacArthur, Romans 9-16, p. 118).
There is nothing in the context to suggest that this is a warning to false professors. Paul repeatedly indicated in Romans that he is writing to born-again people (Rom 1:7, 13; 6:1-14, 15-23; 7:1, 4; 8:12; 10:1; 11:25; 12:1-2; 15:13, 14, 15, 30; 16:3-16, 17). Nowhere in the book does Paul question the eternal destiny of his readers.
If we assume that Rom 11:22 is a warning that a believer who falls away goes to the lake of fire, then we understand Paul to be teaching justification by faith plus works. That would be a direct denial of justification by faith alone. Why would Paul contradict in Rom 11:22 what he clearly taught in Rom 3:21–4:25? Answer: he would not. If your theology does not fit the text, then change your theology, not the text.