This week’s lesson covers Romans 10 and 11, with a focus especially on chapter 11. It’s important to read both chapters in their entirety in order to continue to follow Paul’s line of thinking. These two chapters have been and remain the focal point of much discussion. One point, however, comes clearly through them all, and that is God’s love for humanity and His great desire to see all humanity saved. There is no corporate rejection of anyone for salvation. Romans 10 makes it very clear that “there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek” (Rom. 10:12)—all are sinners and all need God’s grace as given to the world through Jesus Christ. This grace comes to all—not by nationality, not by birth, and not by works of the law but by faith in Jesus, who died as the Substitute for sinners everywhere. Roles may change, but the basic plan of salvation never does.
Paul continues with this theme in chapter 11. As stated earlier, it’s important to understand here that when Paul talks about election and calling, the issue isn’t one of salvation; the issue is the role in God’s plan for reaching the world. No one group has been rejected for salvation. That was never the issue. Instead, after the Cross and after the introduction of the gospel to the Gentiles, particularly through Paul, the early movement of believers—both Jew and Gentile—took on the mantle of evangelizing the world.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 16.
Legalism can come in many forms, some more subtle than others. Those who look to themselves, to their good deeds, to their diet, to how strictly they keep the Sabbath, to all the bad things they don’t do, or to the good things that they have achieved—even with the best of intentions—are falling into the trap of legalism. Every moment of our lives, we must keep before us the holiness of God in contrast to our sinfulness; that’s the surest way to protect ourselves from the kind of thinking that leads people into seeking their “own righteousness,” which is contrary to the righteousness of Christ.
Romans 10:4 is an important text that catches the essence of Paul’s entire message to the Romans. First, we need to know the context. Many Jews were “going about to establish their own righteousness” (Rom. 10:3) and seeking “the righteousness which is of the law” (Rom. 10:5). But with the coming of the Messiah, the true way of righteousness was presented. Righteousness was offered to all who would fix their faith in Christ. He was the one to whom the ancient ceremonial system had pointed.
Even if one includes in the definition of law here the Ten Commandments, it doesn’t mean that the Ten Commandments were done away with. The moral law points out our sins, our faults, our shortcomings, and thus leads us to our need of a Savior, our need of forgiveness, our need of righteousness—all of which are found only in Jesus. In that sense, Christ is the “end” of the law in that the law leads us to Him and His righteousness. The Greek word for “end” here is teloes, which also can be translated as “goal” or “purpose.” Christ is the final purpose of the law in that the law is to lead us to Jesus.
To see this text as teaching that the Ten Commandments—or specifically the fourth commandment (what these folks really mean)—are now nullified is to draw a conclusion that goes against so much else of what Paul and the New Testament teach.
In the first part of his answer to the question, “Hath God cast away his people?” Paul points to a remnant, an election of grace, as proof that God has not cast away His people. Salvation is open to all who accept it, Jew and Gentile alike.
It should be remembered that the early converts to Christianity were all Jews—for example, the group that was converted on the Day of Pentecost. It took a special vision and miracle to convince Peter that the Gentiles had equal access to the grace of Christ (Acts 10; compare Acts 15:7–9) and that the gospel was to be carried to them, as well.
In Romans 11:8–10, Paul quotes from the Old Testament, which the Jews accepted as authoritative. The passages that Paul cites represent God as giving to Israel a spirit of slumber, preventing their seeing and hearing. Does God blind people’s eyes to prevent them from seeing light that would lead them to salvation? Never! These passages must be understood in the light of our explanation of Romans 9. Paul is not talking of individual salvation, for God rejects no one group en masse for salvation. The issue here, as it has been all along, deals with the role that these people play in His work.
In this passage, we find two parallel expressions: (1) “their [the Israelites’] fulness” (Romans 11:12) and (2) “the receiving of them [the Israelites]” (Romans 11:15). Paul envisioned the diminishing and the casting away to be only temporary and to be followed by fullness and reception. This is Paul’s second answer to the question raised at the beginning of this chapter, “Hath God cast away his people?” What appears to be a casting away, he says, is only a temporary situation.
Paul likens the faithful remnant in Israel to a noble olive tree, some of whose branches have been broken off (the unbelieving ones)—an illustration he uses to prove that “God hath not cast away his people” (Rom. 11:2). The root and trunk are still there.
Into this tree the believing Gentiles have been grafted. But they are drawing their sap and vitality from the root and trunk, which represent believing Israel.
What happened to those who rejected Jesus could happen also to the believing Gentiles. The Bible teaches no doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” Just as salvation freely is offered, it freely can be rejected. Although we have to be careful of thinking that every time we fall we are out of salvation, or that we aren’t saved unless we are perfect, we need to avoid the opposite ditch as well—the idea that once God’s grace covers us, there is nothing we can do, no choices we can make, that will take the provision of salvation away from us. In the end, only those who “continue in his goodness” (Rom. 11:22) will be saved.
No believer should boast of his or her own goodness or feel any superiority over his or her fellow human beings. Our salvation was not earned; it was a gift. Before the Cross, before the standard of God’s holiness, we all are equal—sinners in need of divine grace, sinners in need of a holiness that can be ours only through grace. We have nothing of ourselves to boast about; our boasting should be only in Jesus and what He has done for us by coming into this world in human flesh, suffering our woes, dying for our sins, offering us a model for how we are to live, and promising us the power to live that life. In it all, we are completely dependent upon Him, for without Him we would have no hope beyond what this world itself offers.
Christians have been discussing and debating Romans 11:25–27 for centuries now. A few points, however, are clear. For starters, the whole tenor here is that of God reaching out to the Jews. What Paul is saying comes in reply to the question raised at the beginning of the chapter, “Hath God cast away his people?” His answer, of course, is no, and his explanation is (1) that the blindness (Greek porosis, “hardness”) is only “in part,” and (2) that it is only temporary, “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.”
What does “the fulness of the Gentiles” mean? Many see this phrase as a way of expressing the fulfillment of the gospel commission, in which all the world hears the gospel. “The fullness of the Gentiles” has come in when the gospel has been preached everywhere. The faith of Israel, manifested in Christ, is universalized. The gospel has been preached to all the world. The coming of Jesus is near. At this point, then, many Jews start coming to Jesus.
Another difficult point is the meaning of “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:26). This must not be construed to mean that every Jew will by some divine decree have salvation in the end time. Nowhere do the Scriptures preach universalism, either for the entire human race or for a particular segment. Paul was hoping to save “some of them” (Rom. 11:14). Some accepted the Messiah, and some rejected Him, as it is with all people groups.
Commenting on Romans 11, Ellen G. White speaks of a time “in the closing proclamation of the gospel” when “many of the Jews . . . will by faith receive Christ as their Redeemer.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 381.
“There is a mighty work to be done in our world. The Lord has declared that the Gentiles shall be gathered in, and not the Gentiles only, but the Jews. There are among the Jews many who will be converted, and through whom we shall see the salvation of God go forth as a lamp that burneth. There are Jews everywhere, and to them the light of present truth is to be brought. There are among them many who will come to the light, and who will proclaim the immutability of the law of God with wonderful power.”—Evangelism, p. 578.
Paul’s love for his own people is clearly apparent in Romans 11:25– 27. How hard it must have been for him to have some of his countrymen fight against him and against the truth of the gospel. And yet, amid it all, he still believed that many would see Jesus as the Messiah. Read Romans 11:28–36. How does Paul show God’s love, not just for the Jews but for all humanity? How does he express here the amazing and mysterious power of God’s grace?
Through Romans 11:28–36, although a contrast is made between Jews and Gentiles, one point stands clear: God’s mercy and love and grace are poured out upon sinners. From even before the foundation of the world God’s plan was to save humanity and to use other human beings, nations even, as instruments in His hands to fulfill His divine will.
No doubt, through the centuries, had the Christian church treated the Jews better, many more might have come to their Messiah. The great falling away in the early centuries after Christ, and the extreme paganization of Christianity—including the rejection of the seventhday Sabbath in favor of Sunday—certainly didn’t make it any easier on a Jew who might have been drawn to Jesus.
How crucial, then, that all Christians, realizing the mercy that has been given to them in Jesus, display that mercy to others. We cannot be Christians if we do not (see Matt. 18:23–35).
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Before the Sanhedrin,” pp. 77–79; “From Persecutor to Disciple,” pp. 112–114; “Written From Rome,” pp. 474, 475, in The Acts of the Apostles; “Reaching Catholics,” pp. 573–577, in Evangelism; “What to Preach and Not to Preach,” pp. 155, 156, in Selected Messages, book 1.
“Notwithstanding Israel’s failure as a nation, there remained among them a goodly remnant of such as should be saved. At the time of the Saviour’s advent there were faithful men and women who had received with gladness the message of John the Baptist, and had thus been led to study anew the prophecies concerning the Messiah. When the early Christian church was founded, it was composed of these faithful Jews who recognized Jesus of Nazareth as the one for whose advent they had been longing.”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 376, 377. “Among the Jews are some who, like Saul of Tarsus, are mighty in the Scriptures, and these will proclaim with wonderful power the immutability of the law of God. . . . As His servants labor in faith for those who have long been neglected and despised, His salvation will be revealed.”—Page 381.
“In the closing proclamation of the gospel, when special work is to be done for classes of people hitherto neglected, God expects His messengers to take particular interest in the Jewish people whom they find in all parts of the earth. As the Old Testament Scriptures are blended with the New in an explanation of Jehovah’s eternal purpose, this will be to many of the Jews as the dawn of a new creation, the resurrection of the soul. As they see the Christ of the gospel dispensation portrayed in the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures, and perceive how clearly the New Testament explains the Old, their slumbering faculties will be aroused, and they will recognize Christ as the Saviour of the world. Many will by faith receive Christ as their Redeemer.”—Page 381.