Understanding the Message

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, September 22, 2015 0 comments

by Bill Seng

“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.  You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.”  Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” ~Romans 11:17-21

Romans is considered by many people to be one of the most important books of the Bible. Thus far, my theme throughout this book has been predestination because it is commonly perceived that Romans advocates for a model of predestination that neglects free choice. Romans 9 is the most cited chapter in regards to this idea, and many evangelicals will conclude that it definitely proves that God chooses salvation for us and that we have no say in that decision. What I wonder is what such people think about Romans 11.

A specific doctrine that always goes along with the type of predestination that undermines free choice is commonly called “once saved, always saved.” What this doctrine says is that once you have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior you can never lose your salvation. Romans 11:11-24, at the surface, seems to advocate against this doctrine.

It uses the imagery of an olive shoot that has many branches. People who abide in Christ are the branches while Christ himself is the root for all of the branches. The Gentiles are described as unnatural to the original plant, so when they are connected to the root, they did not belong there to begin with. The Jews are the natural branches and some of them have been rejected. Paul warns the Gentiles that if they too are not careful, they can be rejected as well. This is a drastic change in theology from two chapters ago. Is the Bible contradicting itself?

This is a good opportunity to talk about how to read the Bible. Not too long ago I was researching the topics of free will and predestination in relation to the theologies most associated with each concept, Arminianism (most associated with free will) and Calvinism (most associated with predestination). John Wesley, one of the founders of the Wesleyan and United Methodist churches, was a well-known Arminian. When preaching on Romans 9, he stated, “Whatever it means, it cannot mean that.” An Arminian theologian quoted this inside of one of his blogs and immediately found himself being accused of denying Scripture. Is accepting Wesley’s statement denying the clear meaning of Scripture?

First, I would like to refer you to our earlier blog posts on this topic in relation to Romans chapter 9; you can search for them on the right side of this page.

Second, I am of the opinion that Wesley was not denying Scripture at all, but he understood that within its context it might mean something different from what it appeared to be saying. When we choose to take Scripture literally, we need to be cautious to take it literally within its proper context. As a result, I do not believe that Romans 11 contradicts Romans 9 in regards to its theological implications.

Whether you choose to believe a strict model of predestination or believe more so that our salvation is dependent on our free choices, Romans 11:11-24 is not a contradiction so long as we base our theology on the overall message of Romans. Just this weekend a pastor that believes in “once saved, always saved” shared how he cautioned a former member of the congregation from pursuing a life of sin at the threat that he would be putting himself on a pathway to hell. His congregant tried to assure the pastor that he was covered by grace, but he did not buy this man’s concept of cheap grace.

Does Romans 11 teach that it is possible to lose one’s salvation? I have my own thoughts about that, but I do not think I am ready to reveal what they are on this subject. For now I will leave it at this: it is of utmost importance that we abide in Christ. If you do not abide in Christ, you will not be saved on the day of judgment. I know that I am the one who wrote the blog post on the Get Out of Jail Free Card, but hopefully I will have an opportunity to go more in depth with how abiding in Christ relates to predestination, eternal security, and free will. In relation to Romans, I think it all makes a lot more sense after you make it to chapter 12. Hang in there!

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