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. (Romans 11:20-22)
Perhaps the greatest ‘enemy’ believers face is that of pride – the root and best friend of rebellion. It’s a sneaky, sinister thing, able even to masquerade as humility in the most devoted believers. It masks itself in wisdom and good works and even in worship. Cloaked and invisible, it creeps among us and constantly insinuates itself into ministries, missions and our day to day lives. Hidden among us it erodes our faith little by little through shifting our focus from total reliance on God to reliance on self. Faith means knowing and utterly believing God as the source of all. Pride’s mission is to steal that from us to lead us into rebellion.
While many Christians discount ‘replacement theology’ – which sets the church in place of Israel as God’s chosen people – not many believers give that question the relevance it deserves. While the church doesn’t necessarily go around claiming to be ‘the new Israel,’ it also doesn’t provide solid, Word-based teaching, particularly to new believers, on the right relationship between Israel and the church. The result is a slightly skewed perception which, sadly, creates a chasm between us and the Jews that is unscriptural and dangerous.
Many Christians have a vague understanding that God has somehow ‘given up’ on Israel and transferred His love to the church without stating it in so many words. This is frighteningly wrong and encourages the state of complacency that we encounter in so many Christians. It is the subtle machinations of pride at work, stirring up the perception that the church is somehow ‘special’ and thus ‘untouchable.’ We could not be more wrong, and dangerously so.
Today’s verses put this into absolute clarity, revealing a few facts. It is true that when the Jews rejected their Messiah, God turned His attention to the gentiles and afforded us the opportunity to accept Him. That is His marvelous grace in action. But we should never lose sight of the fact that salvation came from the Jews (John 4:22). Jesus was – and in eternity still is – a Jew. He was never ‘transformed’ into a gentile or in any way repudiated His Jewishness. He came to us from the line of Abraham, and will always be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is critical that we always remember that God Himself linked His name to these names – and through them to Israel – forever.
The other thing we should remember is that ‘some of the branches’ – the natural branches are the Jews – were cut off so that we could be grafted in. The church does not exist separately from Israel. No, we were not grafted into the Jewish faith – believers do not become Jews when they accept Christ and salvation. But we do become part of God’s chosen people.
To illustrate this, we need to see the difference between the physical and spiritual aspects. The Jews exist as a physical race on earth who follow the Jewish faith. In the spiritual realm, however, they exist as God’s chosen people, raised up by Him for His specific calling and purpose. The same applies to the church. We exist physically as a people with a specific faith, with the singular difference being that we are drawn from a multitude of races and nations. In the spiritual, however, we are grafted into God’s chosen people. Israel is the root of our faith, but even more so in the spiritual realm where we, by being grafted in, become part of God’s ‘family tree’ which is rooted in the Jews, His chosen people.
This does not mean that we should assume Jewish religious rituals or other aspects of the Jewish faith. Our purpose in all of this – the purpose of the church ‘branch of the family’ – is to reveal the Messiah constantly to Israel. We must never lose sight of the fact that the bride of Christ includes both Jew and, by grace, the church. While we pray earnestly for the church and for the unsaved, we should be praying as earnestly for our ‘sister-bride’ – Israel – that they would turn back to God. This is part of what is involved in praying for the peace of Jerusalem – to pray that they would receive the peace that comes with salvation. God Himself has declared a blessing on those who pray for His people.
Nor should we lose sight of the fact that God will, one day, turn His attention back to Israel. Both Luke and Revelation speak of the ‘age of the gentiles.’ The word ‘age’ infers a limitation. It means that the opportunity for the gentiles to turn to Christ is for a limited time, and we should hasten to gather in the harvest. The reality is that our time is rapidly running out. We no longer have time to be comfortable and complacent, to flaunt our status as ‘chosen by God’ and therefore somehow exempt from any consequences to our blindness and pride in this respect.
Paul is warning the gentile believers – the church – against this in the strongest of terms. We need to remind ourselves that God’s relationship with Israel is a manifestation of who and what He is. More importantly, it reveals to us how He deals with His people. The God of the Old Testament is the same God in the New Testament. We are urged to consider both the goodness and the severity of God. They are inseparable, and we can only depend on receiving His goodness if we continue faithfully in Him.
The warning is clear. If God dealt severely with Israel – His chosen people – when they fell, we can expect nothing less. In being grafted in we become one with His people in the spiritual, and God is no respecter of persons. He will deal with us exactly the same as He has dealt with Israel through the ages. He will not have one rule for the Jews and another for the church. In God’s eyes, we are one – the bride of Christ. It’s a sobering thought, but also one of great encouragement. It is a wonderful act of grace that roots us in an eternal, covenant relationship. But it brings responsibility and it demands like commitment.
Father, thank You for Your grace that has grafted us into Your people. Thank You for the priceless treasure of covenant relationship with You. Forgive us if we have misunderstood, and help us to love all of Your people as You do. Help us to keep sight of Your truth, to and set aside our pride and complacency and live in Your Wisdom and truth, and so be always rooted in You.