041: An Issue Turning Kindness Into Sternness

Devotional On Romans 11:22-24

One Critical Issue That Turns Kindness Into Sternness

It’s a warm summer morning, the sun feels great because the breeze is strong enough to stop me from overheating.  While I’m jogging along the sidewalk I casually wave to a neighbour, and with a smile on his face he waves back.  Because my athletic conditioning is nothing to brag about I find myself grateful for any shortcut I can find on my running routes.  Suddenly my kind neighbour lets out a stern yell, “Hey, stay off my grass.”  (You know, I do feel slightly sorry for those corner lot home owners with that walking path at the corner of their lawn.)  My neighbours’ kindness and sternness is often dependant on my behaviour.  God’s kindness and sternness can be similarly dependant.

 

In Romans 11:22-24 we learn about One Critical Issue That Turns Kindness Into Sternness

 

1.     Overconfidence is the opponent of faith

Step aside complacent Jewish person, and step up overconfident Gentile person.  If one’s worthy of being slapped, so is the other!  At this point in Romans, Paul takes a break from focusing on Jewish complacency and starts targeting a Gentile problem.

You and I who are Gentiles (not Jewish), we have been shown God’s kindness simply because of our belief in Jesus.   However, we will just as quickly be shown God’s sternness if we follow in the Jew’s direction of unbelief.

Overconfidence is a Believer Killer!  It creates plastic, lukewarm, and dispassionate Christians.

I wish I could tell you that your worse struggle is purely against a demon, or another person, because that would be easier.  Your struggle is also against your own tendency to get overconfident and drift.

 

2.     Overconfidence is a universal challenge

Belief is the only thing that connects us with God and salvation.  Unbelief and a loss of belief will disconnect us.  The critical issue is the same for both the Jews and the Gentiles – sternness because of a lack of genuine and humble faith.

For the Believer of 90 seconds or 90 years, overconfidence is your common enemy.

 

3.     Be confident about your simple belief in Jesus expressing itself in love for God and others 

It is crucial that we resist becoming overconfident.  We can’t fall into the trap of believing that salvation is ours.  Salvation belongs to God.  We are saved only by our belief in Jesus. Becoming overconfident is a set up for godly correction.

 

One Critical Issue That Turns Kindness Into Sternness

A sense of overconfidence concerning our connection to God doesn’t rest on humility and isn’t concerned with faithfully loving God first and others second.  Overconfidence takes us down a path that ends in a confrontation with God.

 

What about you?

Is overconfidence getting the better of you?  Are you recognizing your humble context while loving God first and others second?

Or, did you see something different in the text?

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11 thoughts on “041: An Issue Turning Kindness Into Sternness

  1. Hey Rick, started reading your posts. Are you looking for dialogue on these? If so I have a question for you…
    What does “disconnected” look like in this description? I know some teachers suggest that disconnected means God becomes mad at us for our arrogance, and sinful behavior removes us from his presence and we need to seek His forgiveness to reconnect, but I’m not of that mind set anymore. What I’m trying to wrap my head around now is, how could we possibly be disconnected in any way with God if we are in Christ and Christ in us? I thought that when Christ said “why have you forsaken me” it was because had never been disconnected before and on the cross he was, once for all. How do we reconcile that we too died with him on the and faced the final act if separation prior to being made perfect in Christ with no possibility of disconnection again? It’s an interesting perspective to remove any element of disconnection, seperation, anger, etc, from God based on our fleshly behavior. It seems like cheating to think that we don’t deserve to be disconnected because of wrong choices. Yet I can’t reconcile complete forgiveness and reconciliation with the punishment for bad behavior background I grew up in. Thoughts?

    • Don, I’m not sure if I’m understand you correctly, so I’ll try to move the conversation forward by asking for some clarity…

      re: “How could we possibly be disconnected in any way… in Christ and Christ in us?”

      I also find it a little challenging understanding how we have total forgiveness and being hidden in Christ, and yet also seeing Hebrews teach us that we can lose our salvation. This Romans text is also challenging because it’s a direct warning.

      From your point of view, is it possible for a Believer to place their faith in Jesus and then later to walk away from God and denounce Him? Or, more easily asked, can someone lose their salvation?

      re: “Why have you forsaken me?”

      Have you read Psalm 22? This is an awesome quote from an awesome Psalm. IMO, Psalm 22 was written [by Jesus/inspiration] so that we would know everything Jesus wanted to tell us while He was on the cross. Any thoughts on that?

      re: “Yet I can’t reconcile complete forgiveness and reconciliation with the punishment for bad behaviour”

      Here’s my thought on this. IMO, we’re not talking about punishment for bad behaviour. Paul has already shown us in Romans that the Law has no power over us because we are dead to it. However, that’s not the end of the story when it comes to our freedom of choice. We have the freedom to choose to love God with our first and our best. We also have the freedom to choose to pull away from God. He warns that it is for freedom that we have been set free (Galatians), so he warns not to surrender ourselves back into the deeds of darkness (Romans). So, to summarize, Christianity is a relationship. We are either choosing the relationship and growing it, or we are rejecting the relationship (intentionally or driftingly) and are losing ground and getting closer to no longer having a friendship. If we’re drifting, then Hebrews is the perfect book to look at to see how dangerous it is when we choose not to prioritize our friendship with Jesus. If we’re arrogantly dismissing the warnings of living according to our sinful nature, than this text is vital to our understanding – just like Israel was arrogant (thinking that salvation was theirs and there was nothing that God could do about it, because God owed them eternity), Gentiles can be arrogant (thinking that Jesus owes them eternity based on their belief in Him and thinking that there’s nothing that God can do about someone who expresses faith yet lives like the devil).

    • Very thorough response, thanks. Didn’t mean to leave you hanging, but I had a wedding and honeymoon to get to 😉

      I’ve reflected on your answer and on my notes and conclusions on Romans and Hebrews. Based on your view of being able to lose your salvation I see why you sought clarity and the reference to disconnection and fear. I’m convinced, however, that Hebrews and Romans are speaking to Jews and gentiles at a corporate and historical level, not at a personal one. So, the likes of grafting in and out and/or warnings are not directed to those who are already in Christ. I assume there are some who take license of God’s complete grace out of arrogance, but I think you’ll find there are plenty of humble believers who accept that gift and absolute assurance with humility, and a great deal of awe and appreciation. I know for me that perspective has brought me so much closer to God and ironically much more able to walk in greater obedience.

      Looks like we have some good dialogue ahead of us around that foundational point. Glad we both have open minds, hearts and spirits, because that one has divided many.

      Thanks for the dialogue brother!

      • That’s a great perspective. Someone this past Sunday began a discussion with me about “losing salvation.” You’re not alone in your position, although you just put a different spin on it than Sunday’s discussion.

        IMO, although I agree that Paul sometimes paints with a wide brush when talking about Jews and Gentiles, I also see a warning for individuals not to allow arrogance to grow, and an encouragement to stay faithful rather than drift. No warning would be needed if no penalty existed. Also, with Paul’s illustration about being grafted in and and un-grafted, I think the application can be made by an individual rather than the entire community of Gentiles (world-wide).

        I really don’t think the average, humble Believer who really loves Jesus is at risk. However, there are some who would rest their eternity on a moment in time rather than a daily engagement. Rather than seeing that as a “false conversion,” I’d say that one cannot have a “false grafting” (borrowing from Paul’s illustration).

        Additionally, I have a couple of friends who have intentionally chosen to walk away from Jesus, or have simply drifted away. I don’t question the faith they had in their 20’s and 30’s. I do question their eternal security.

  2. Clearly the church has enough division, so I’m a big fan of open, honest and direct debate in love.

    Regarding Paul’s general painting technique 😉 I’m suggesting that we need to be very specific when interpreting this passage if we want to make an arguement for losing salvation on it. In the verses leading up to this point he is speaking about all gentiles and all Jews in his analogy of the olive tree, and the tree is in reference to Gods plan for salvation, not salvation for an individual in itself. So when he heeds a caution we can not conclude it is toward converted individuals being cut away from salvation, rather Jew or gentile as a whole being cut away from God’s plan. And, although I see warning for believers throughout scripture not to become arrogant, I’ve found no evidence that arrogance at the individual level leads to removal from Christ (ie-losing your salvation). In fact, I’d argue that given that we have had our hearts completely renewed and replaced that a believer’s heart can never be hardened.

    I would agree with you that there are many who rest their eternity in a moment in time. I think this is a negative bi-product of the Billy Graham mass inspired ‘believers prayer salvation movement’ of simply reciting words in an emotional moment (not that I’m saying Billy intended that deviation). Also, I don’t believe there is an average humble believer and therefore an above average arrogant believer. I think there are true believers or there are con artists (to others or themselves). But whether one believes in “false conversion” or not I don’t think we are safe to translate the broader reference of “false grafting” that Paul speaks to here as “false conversion”. Again, because this grafting is in reference to God’s plan for Jews and gentiles as a whole, not individual salvation per se. I just think it twists Paul’s illustration to align with a prescribed doctrine.

    Regarding personal experience with fellow believers who appeared to be believers and now appear not, I think we are at risk affirming doctrine from that experience. In fact, I have brother’s who may just put me in that very category based on my departure from my marriage. In fact, I even pursued that thought myself through a long and deep scriptural study, many prayers and tears, and much trepidation, because I was raised on the precept and fear of backsliding. Yet after rigorous effort I have found no sustainable evidence for it. Also, in that very pursuit my awesome father gave me the greatest freedom and the greatest assurance of my salvation that I’ve ever had.

    Anyway, like I said before, I’m very grateful that God has given me a loving brother with the courage to openly question and dialogue these very important tenants with me. I believe that reflects what He wants us to have with Him and each other.

    • Great conversation!

      IMO, I think that my challenge is to clearly show that Paul’s thoughts in this isolated passage are spoken to individuals rather than the entire Gentile community. IMO, if I can do that then I can move my argument forward. So, that’s what I’m going to try to focus on.

      re: “he is speaking about all gentiles and all Jews in his analogy of the olive tree…not salvation for an individual”

      IMO, when Paul writes, “provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off” he’s writing specifically to his audience (individuals), not the entire Gentile community. Also, he uses the word “you,” which, to me, seems to indicate an immediate application to an isolated reader or group of readers (namely, his original audience – Believers in Rome).

      Yes, I do agree that the illustration grabs all of Israel and all of the Gentiles into it, but I see the application as more focused than that. The letter is occasional and the audience is an actual audience of a group of people. Paul is making application to the readers of his day before he’s making application to you and I – that’s to say, there is a specific application for a group of individuals where this applies to them specifically.

      IMO, the thought that the “ungrafting” is really applying to all Gentiles can’t be true. I know I’m pulling in other references within Romans to support this thought, but I believe it’s important to the context of what Christianity is. This new way of salvation under the new covenant includes both Jews and Gentiles, and it does not include a new law.

      So, two points here: 1) if the Gentile community is removed, we’re really talking about all of humanity (there is no old covenant for the Jews to return to, all are saved the same); 2) it’s impossible for all of humanity to break this new covenant because it’s based on Jesus’ ability to uphold it. So, the point that this passage can only speak to the entire community of Gentiles (specifically, warning that the entire community of Gentiles will lose it’s place within the new covenant unless it applies itself to abstain from arrogance (isn’t that a new law?)), isn’t making sense to me. Where it would be impossible for the entire Gentile community to be removed from the new covenant due to arrogance, the warning is moot and the whole passage just wouldn’t make any sense.

      IMO, every individual is responsible for their personal arrogance, which really becomes unbelief. And, IMO, arrogance and unbelief are developed by people who had made a choice to believe in Jesus. And, IMO, Paul is addressing Believers with a warning of something that’s truly possible (otherwise, no warning would be needed).

      So, who did I do? Are you any closer to seeing how this text could be applicable to individuals?

  3. “How did I do?” … I think you did the best you could with the text you had to work with 😉 Also, I think you rightly captured the impossibility of severing all gentiles from salvation, and I agree with that whole heartedly. My response must have led you to understand that I meant severing them from “salvation”, where I definitely think it means severing them from “access to salvation”. Access from salvation is a more accurate and clear way of articulating it rather than “plan of salvation” as I used in my response. Below I have attempted to share a different perspective on the analogy of the olive tree to clarify that. I’ve also tackled the plausibility of shifting to singular voice, because I can’t find room for that in the syntax of this passage.

    1. Dealing with the singularity of “you”:
    – Vs 13: “I am speaking to you GentileS…inasmuch then as I am an apostle to you GentileS” I’m not sure what you do with the plurality that Paul uses to start this section, particularly since he uses it again in vs 17 when he introduces the branch analogy “but if some of the branches were broken off, and you, who were grafted in…”
    2. The futility and consequences of arrogance:
    – Paul then introduces the attitude of arrogance to the topic in vs18: “do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are remember it is not you that supports the root, but the root that supports you”. IMO, Paul is reminding the audience here of God’s sovereignty that he spoke to in detail in chapter 9, and the arrogance is not associated to the assurance of one’s individual salvation, rather, being arrogant that they did something better then the Jews to deserve grafting in to God’s plan (or, access to God). IMO, Paul is cautioning the gentiles against thinking they are better then the Jews…as if they were given this “special place” in place of the Jews.
    – Paul then proposes the natural arguement to his point that they (the gentiles) may have in mind, in vs 19: “Then you will say, ‘branches were broken off SO THAT I may be grafted in'”. Paul is attempting to remove any possible thought that they were broken off in place of the Jews. I think this is to keep them focused on the sovereignty of God and not the merit of themselves…thus, arrogance.
    3. The analogy of ‘broken off’
    – IMO, ‘broken off’ refers to ‘broken access’ to salvation, not removal from salvation. vs20: “that is true, they were broken off because of their unbelief…” Clearly not all Jews were broken off out of salvation. Those who believed had already entered into righteousness and salvation. So the removal was removal access to those of Jewish lineage that have not yet entered. IMO, Paul is saying that access to salvation was broken off (and that access only for a limited time by hardening of heart, and that for a purpose…which he expands on later). “…but you stand fast through faith, so do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches nether will he spare you.” IMO, Paul is warning them that their window of opportunity to connect to the root (enter salvation) is by faith. He is cautioning gentiles collectiveively not to be arrogant and think that they have earned this access already, rather; they still must humble themselves and response to God’s gracious access to enter. This is the same access he gave to the Jews, who by arrogance thought they were saved and righteous by lineage not by faith. The consequence will be removal of the access to the root, or salvation, if they continue in their arrogance of thinking they already have it without faith. You can imagine how passionate Paul would be about this caution against arrogance, because his own people missed the window if entry because of it.
    4. The kindness in continuing:
    Vs21: “Note the kindness and severity of God. Severity to those who have fallen, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness.” I think once you shift the perspective from grafting being ‘salvation’ to ‘access’ this becomes clear. His severity comes to those who have ‘fallen’. ‘Fallen’ is a complete departure from the analogy of the tree. If fallen was losing salvation Paul would have continued the analogy and said “cut off”. In the same context His kindness is only given if you continue beyond the awareness of this new access and actualy enter into salvation through faith. Continuing, therefore, is moving beyond the position of access AMD entering into salvation.

    All that said, I haven’t based my doctrine of eternal salvation on this one section, but I am confident there is nothing in here that causes it to stumble. What I found was that once the possibility of eternal salvation entered into my head (as I was on the fence for many years) I was able to see these passages in a different light.

    How did I do? Are the arguments solid…even if they don’t change your doctrine just yet? 🙂 I’m a big believer that brother’s should never argue scripture to win or lose, rather to consider the possibilities and let the HS do the rest. Live and love in Christ.

    • Great stuff! I want to keep us engaged, so I’m gong to leave an initial reply with some easier comments. BUT, man, there’s something I’d like to dig into a little more, but need to put some thought into what you’re writing. So, here’s a quicker, initial reply.

      1. “I’m not sure what you do with the plurality that Paul uses to start this section”

      I agree that the application is for all Gentiles.

      Here’s what I do with the “you” and the plural: I keep in mind that Romans is an occasional letter – it’s written to a specific group of people for a specific reason. So, while it applies to all Gentiles, it first applied to a smaller group of people / individuals. So, the application first needed to be made by individuals. There was a risk to the Gentiles in the Roman church that Paul is making the original readers aware of. So, I think the “you Gentiles” was specifically targeting the original group of people Paul’s speaking to. Thus, I say there is a warning for every individual.

      2. “I think this is to keep them focused on the sovereignty of God and not the merit of themselves…thus, arrogance.”

      I’m fairly sure that we’re tracking here. I don’t think I’d say anything differently.

      3.

      4. I’m probably not able to comment on 4 yet because I’m focused on 3. I don’t think I’m seeing what you’re seeing. Please give me some time to put some thought into that.

      Enjoy your Sunday! I’ll reply again after I’ve read over your third point some more.

    • 3. The analogy of ‘broken off’

      “IMO, ‘broken off’ refers to ‘broken access’ to salvation, not removal from salvation.”

      I don’t see it like that at all.


Here’s a theme verse to summarize what I’m writing: Romans 11:32, “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”


      Everyone, including the Jews, need to choose to believe in Jesus. That’s the New Covenant.

      God really did severe Israel from salvation because salvation is now based on faith in Jesus rather than on the Old Covenant. Israel’s disobedience broke their covenant relationship with God (the OC – Old Covenant).

      Here’s why I’m not tracking with your use of the word “access.” Israel’s rejection is part of God’s plan of salvation. The entire world, including the Jews, need mercy because no one qualifies for salvation by upholding the Law. Everyone is required to choose to believe in Jesus.

So, access to God isn’t restricted to anyone. However, a relationship with God is conditional – where the condition of faith isn’t met there is no relationship.

      So, yes, the Jews were rejected as the only saved people on the planet via the OC. However, they’re not rejected as though they don’t qualify to place their faith in Jesus – they have as much access as any other group of people do.

      So, the “broken off” (when speaking of the Jews) absolutely refers to removal of salvation (namely, salvation via the OC). The Jews continue to have access to salvation through faith in Jesus, but their path to God via the Old Covenant is discontinued.

      I think I’m having trouble understanding what you mean by “access.” I don’t understand what you mean when you seem to imply that access was broken, but salvation wasn’t lost.

      Thanks for putting so much thought into this! You Rock!

  4. This is great dialogue! and it’s getting so deep we really need to do it over a burger, beer and a bible 😉

    Allow me to clarify what I mean by “access” because this is critical to the passage.
    “God really did severe Israel from salvation because salvation is now based on faith in Jesus rather than on the Old Covenant”
    – Are you actually saying he severed them from “salvation”? Meaning, they lost their salvation just like your analogy concludes that born again believers lose theirs if there branch is severed. Because if you are saying ALL of Israel lost their ‘salvation’ that would mean everyone from Abraham forward lost their salvation at the time of severance (Christ’s death) and would have to now start over again and make a decision to believe God and accept Christ.
    – Alternatively, if Paul’s analogy is saying they lost ‘access’ to salvation then all those of Israel who already believed would remain in God (saved/salvation -the true seeds of Abraham) not needing to start over and believe in God again through Christ); however, that would mean that those of Israel who have not yet entered would have their ‘access’ to God cut off (access to salvation through faith in Christ). That closed access would be through a ‘temporary’ hardening of their heart, but would be reopened at a later time by grafting then back in. And, by “grafted back in” it can not mean grafted into “salvation” because salvation requires a choice and an act of the will. Rather, “grafted back in” can only mean being brought back into his plan and given ‘access’ again to God – only this time under the new covenant through faith in Jesus Christ.

    Does this clarify what I mean by ‘access’ and illustrate why severing the branches can’t mean losing salvation? Btw, if you choose to agree on this point you don’t need to abandon your belief in this doctrine, but I’m hoping we can collectively interpret the analogy of the tree together.