Paul wrote the book of Romans to address the Roman church which comprised of Gentiles who were not part of God's chosen people in the Old Testament. Yet, in these verses in Romans 11, he goes on to show how salvation of both Jews and Gentiles work not just to save them from their sins, but more importantly in all things, they work for His glory.
(A) God's glory: Unwavering faithfulness to His Word (v.25-29)
In verse 25, we read of a mystery that Paul wishes to explain to the Roman church. What is this mystery? There appears to be a "partial hardening" of the hearts of Israel (v.25), but this will not be for forever. Paul says that there is a timeframe to this, "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in". Why? He gives us the answer in the following verse. It is "in this way all Israel will be saved" (v.26a). In the previous chapters, Paul has been arguing that Israel's disobedience and rejection of the gospel does not mean that God's promises have failed. In just these two verses, we are reminded God works in ways that we don't fully understand sometimes (i.e. the mystery). In fact, these verses provide some form of assurance, that though it may not seem like things are going according to "plan", it still is! God is a God who will keep His covenant promises to His people and people and circumstances are not outside of His power and plans.
Verse 26b and 27 tells us how God will accomplish the salvation of all Israel. These verses are a quote from Isa 59:20, and they speak not merely of Jesus' first coming, but also to His second coming, where everything will be perfected and completed. Israel, like the Gentiles, will only be saved through this Deliverer, and when Jesus comes again, we are told that He will take away all the ungodliness from Israel. In fact, in Jer 31:31-34, we are told that all these are made possible not by the old covenant with its rule and law-keeping, but only with a new covenant. This new covenant that God initiates will have the law in the minds of the people and written on their hearts (Jer 31:33), and God will be known by his forgiven people (Jer 31:34). God promised this in the Old Testament, and in Romans 11, we look forward to its complete fulfilment. Once more, who is responsible for achieving this promise? Not through the piety of the Israelites, but only because God said and He will be faithful to what He has said.
Paul describes Israel in two ways in verse 28. With regards to the gospel, Israel is described as enemies for the sake of the Gentiles. At the same time, pertaining to the issue of election, they are "beloved for the sake of their forefathers". Paul was writing this as a word of caution to the Gentiles, "lest [they] be wise in [their] own sight" (v.25), and let pride creep in. God was not done with Israel and will keep his covenantal promise made to their forefathers. Paul gives us a great assurance in verse 29, because God's gifts and calling are "irrevocable". Israel has been securely called by God and is seen as beloved not because what they have done, but because God is faithful to His calling of them.
(B) God's glory: All history, even sin, gives Him the glory (v.30-32)
From verses 25 to 29, we see that God is faithful to what He has promised, and therefore, He gets the glory. But, how does the disobedience of the people give Him glory too? Paul explains in verses 30 to 31 the mindblowing truth that in all things, even the salvation of disobedient sinners all work together to give God the ultimate glory.
For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.
(Romans 11:30-31 ESV)
The Gentile Roman church were once disobedient to God, and Paul said that they have received mercy and this salvation in the the gospel, because the Jews were disobedient and rejected the Messiah, even crucifying Him (v.30). In the first place, this salvation made available to the Gentiles came at a price, and in a way that defies the logic and ways of the world. But Paul goes on further to say that in the same way that mercy came to the disobedient Gentile Roman church, Israel's disobedience paves the way for mercy to be shown them, by this same God (v.30).
Verse 32 further emphasises the point that the disobedience of both -- either through blatant rejection of him, or even in failed attempts at rule-keeping as a means of earning salvation independent of him -- allow for God to show mercy on both Jews and Gentiles. In all things, God is at the centre.
What does this mean for us? Our salvation is really not about us getting saved, but in saving us, God gets all the glory. Has this ever occurred to you? Sometimes we are so caught up with the fact that we are saved, as if we have had a close shave and dodged some bullet, but forget who does the saving. Our salvation is not an end in and of itself, but is part of a larger story, God's story, that works to reveal His glory.
(C) God's glory: All sufficiency that deserves our worship (v.33-36)
This sets the stage for Paul's concluding words of this chapter where he bursts out in words of worship. Working backwards from verse 36, we learn that all things, literally everything is from Him, through Him and all things are brought to Him. God is the source, means and ends of all things. Naturally then, to this God that encompasses everything, we realise that we cannot give Him anything that He does not already own. Neither does He owe us anything (v.35). We cannot stand above God to tell Him anything that He does not already know, and we certainly cannot add to His knowledge (v.34).
How do Paul's description of God make you feel? How does this transform the way you think about Him or relate to Him? Is this who you think He is? How does this transform the way we think about prayer, or reading the Bible, or sharing the gospel, or living in community? For a start, do you realise that this completely changes the way we view our relationship with this God? in so many of our human relationships, we feel a need to contribute and pull our weight and do what is required for our significance. But these verses remind us that in our relationship with this God, we cannot and do not need to prove ourselves. (This is also what we have covered in the previous weeks!)
So what is left? Just to enjoy Him. Christianity is not dour and boring, and Romans 11 challenges our ideas of what it means to glorify God. God gets the glory, not so much in all that we can do for Him, but when we stop our striving, when we stop trying to add to all that He has already done, and finally enjoy and delight in Him.
Behold our God seated on His throne
Come let us adore Him
Behold our King nothing can compare
Come let us adore Him!