If You Continue: How God Keeps Us Saved

“Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.” (Romans 11:19–24, ESV)

Think soberly about the kindness and severity of God

“Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.” (Romans 11:22)

The kindness of God and the severity of God, these are like two divine counterbalances. Both are true in God. The kindness of God is the grace, love, and mercy of God.

But we must also consider the severity of God. The NIV translates it, sternness. The lexicon includes harshness. This side of God flows from holiness and justice. God was severe in his judgment on those branches that were broken off.

One of the great failures in evangelical Christianity is that we have distorted God by emphasizing only those qualities we like about God.

Grafted by Grace, Branches by Faith

“If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.” (Romans 11:11–24 ESV)

You don’t have to be a tree expert to get this anymore than they needed to be in the first century. Paul goes with the very familiar olive tree. If you’ve been to the Middle East, this tree and wood is everywhere, and you can buy an olive wood sculpture of almost anything. They are for sale by every street vendor to this day. One commentator says the olive tree was the “most widely cultivated fruit tree in the Mediterranean area.” (Dunn)[1] This would be like writing to Indiana Christians and saying, it’s like a corn plant. Everyone is with you.

“…if the root is holy, so are the branches.” (Romans 11:16)

God Will Never Reject His People

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever” (Romans 11:1-10 ESV).

God Will Never Forsake His Promises

God made promises in the Old Testament to Israel. Is he fulfilling them through the gospel of Jesus the Messiah? Paul screams yes! Why? Because our God is a promise-keeping God even as Israel have been promise-breakers. This is the test of our integrity, isn’t it? It’s easy to keep our promises when everyone else is keeping theirs. Business is easier when your associates are truthful and honest. Marriage is easier when your spouse is promise-keeping. Friendship with a promise-keeper is great. But when people are promise-breakers, when people break with us and betray us, that is the real test of our character.

The Old Testament is not a pretty story. It’s basically the story of God promise-keeping and Israel promise-breaking. Just glance at the book of Judges as an example. Seven times Israel is unfaithful and cries out to God for help. Each time God is merciful and sends a judge to deliver them only to see Israel once again betray him.

But what about God? Never, ever one time does he fail to fulfil his promise. This brings us to the New Testament and Jesus and the gospel. Who gets the front row seat for the miraculous life of Jesus? Israel. Who are the first to hear that the kingdom of God has come? Israel. Who does the Holy Spirit fall upon at Pentecost? Israelites. What ethnicity are all the apostles? Jewish. Where does the era of the church begin? Jerusalem. No Israelite could ever accuse God of not fulfilling his promise.

If God was utterly faithful to unfaithful Israel, will he not be faithful to us chosen by grace? We are the people of God as much, if not more than, Israel ever was. We are more spiritually privileged than any Old Testament Jew, even Moses himself. Christian, you know Jesus—his humanity through incarnation, his deity through miracles and resurrection, his redemption through atonement on the cross, his person, his work, his character, his story—far more clearly than any Old Testament Jew. And you know the promises of God with greater clarity and fullness through the New Testament.

God’s faithfulness to his Old Testament promises should greatly encourage us that he will be true to us no matter what!

God Will Never Forsake His People

This is where the concept of remnant is so precious. God is a promise-keeping God who makes promises to real people. Real people like you and me. He doesn’t keep his promises in the theoretical or the abstract, but in the reality of our lives. We can know he will never reject us because his faithfulness and love and glory are forever bound to us. This is true even when it seems that evil is winning on all sides.

So many of the stories we love involve an apparent victory of evil. But wait, there’s a remnant, there’s a small band of faithful people who have not bowed to the evil king. What about those hobbits carrying the ring of power to Mt. Doom? What about those four children mysteriously arriving at the lamppost of Narnia? What about these few resistance fighters hiding from the First Order? What about Robin Hood and his few merry men? We love these stories partially because we see a little remnant surviving in the apparent victory of evil. A little band, a little group, surviving by the power of Aslan.

Christian, you are living that story now. You are a part of the resistance, the remnant, those who are God’s people living by God’s promise trusting God to be a promise-keeping God despite the evil all around and the uncertainties of life. Be encouraged! God always has a remnant through which he is exercising his sovereign grace and fulfilling his sovereign will.

“And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.” (Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, 1529) There you have it. God will never forsake his promises and he will never forsake his people. Will God reject his people? Never! Never! Never!

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2019 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Happy Feet

“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:13–15 ESV)

All Christians are “preachers”

“As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’(Romans 10:15)

This is a quote from Isaiah 52 where Isaiah speaks of a herald who goes to the destroyed city of Jerusalem and declares, Our God reigns! For the stragglers and squatters in a destroyed city, how do they hear that message? Yeah, right. If our God reigns, it sure doesn’t look like it. Is the herald’s job to change their minds? No. A herald is called to herald. To declare. To communicate. Often in gospel evangelism it feels like we are shouting in a destroyed city the love, kindness, and grace of God. Many people will scoff. Our responsibility is not to do the saving, but to do the sharing.

If there is a downside to Missions Sundays, it is the misconception that missions is what our missions partners do, and we support them with money and prayers. No. Mission and gospel sharing and gospel neighboring are all our responsibility. Jesus’ Great Commission is for all of us. Is it urgent that Hindus in south India be reached with the gospel through Abraham Thomas’ efforts? Yes! Any more urgent than Hindus who live next to you, or Muslims, or the unreligious or those hostile to the gospel? It’s all critical.

Friend, in your home, neighborhood, work, or school, how goes the heralding?

Our feet are beautiful when the gospel (to us) is wonderful

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15)

“Preach” here is not simply sermon-type preaching but it means to herald. To share. To communicate. Most gospel sharing of impact is interpersonal. Person to person.

This is striking because of all our body parts, our feet are the most not beautiful. And our feet look much better than first-century feet that walked in sandals everywhere. They didn’t have Nike gel pad shoes or Dr. Scholl’s inserts. They walked on paths that animals walked. I was recently on Mackinac Island, which is both charming and stinky with horse manure everywhere you go. It’s hard to have beautiful feet at Mackinac and frankly, anywhere else.

What makes our feet beautiful? When our feet take us into relationships with people that we love and earn the right to share the gospel with them. The mouth goes were the feet go. Did anyone leave their mouth at home today? Beautiful feet are connected to Christians whose hearts are treasuring Christ and his gospel.

Can we be honest? Why are we so often quiet? Why don’t we share the good news of Jesus when we will share any other good news? The reason we don’t share the good news of Jesus is that often we don’t treasure it as good news. It’s news. Maybe old news. But too often not good news or not good enough to share.

The people who have been most effective in their evangelism are those for whom the gospel is great news. “The feet are said to be beautiful because their movements betray the character of the message being brought.”[1]

There is a kids’ movie about penguins called, Happy Feet. This little penguin can’t help but dance. The dance is infectious to the other penguins. That’s the sense of this verse. Do you have gospel-happy feet? This isn’t urging us to have beautiful feet, rather it is urging us to so treasure the gospel of Jesus that happiness in Jesus causes happiness to flow out of our mouths. Happy Christians have happy feet that take the infectious gospel dance across the street and around the world. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15)

Can I ask a question that challenges my soul too? Is the reason you don’t share the gospel because to you it’s not good news or not good enough news? If so, let’s repent together on this. Think of the effect of a church-wide repentance for our devaluing of the gospel and our silence in sharing it.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2019 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] John Murray, New International Commentary on the New Testament: Romans, p. 59.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Saving Faith is Heart and Mouth

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:9-13 ESV)

Mouth NOT Heart: Confession without Belief

This has been a plague on the church since Judas appeared to be a disciple and wasn’t. How easy it is to confess Jesus as Savior but not have Jesus as Savior. There are many, many people who have said the Apostles’ Creed, sung gospel songs, prayed prayers, perhaps even been baptized. Their mouth is saved but their heart isn’t. Why? They have confession without genuine belief.

How has this happened? Unfortunately, well intentioned pastors and leaders have wanted people to be saved and have urged them to say the right words in the hopes that it was true in their hearts.

Jesus: The End of Human Trying

“What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 9:30–10:4 ESV)

But what if I am sincerely trying?

Here is another fallacy so common in our culture. Sincerity is the important thing. Listen to Paul, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1) As a side note, since we are coming off Romans 8 and 9 dealing with God’s sovereignty in salvation, did you hear what Paul said here? He is praying to God for Jews to be saved. What? Why? Here is another mistaken understanding of God’s sovereignty that says, why pray? They are either elect or not. How can Paul say only the elect are saved in chapter 9 and start chapter 10 with his fervent prayer for Jews to be saved? Once again, is Paul just talking out of both sides of his mouth?

He Calls Me Beloved

Warning the Spiritually Privileged (Romans 9:27-29)

“And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.’ And as Isaiah predicted, ‘If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.’ (Romans 9:27–29 ESV)

Both quotes from Isaiah have the theme of remnant. What is a remnant? Go to a carpet or a fabric store and ask for a remnant. What will you get? A little portion of the original roll of carpet. A smaller section of the entire bolt of fabric. A remnant. We saw this earlier in Romans 9, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” (Romans 9:6)

The first quote from Isaiah 10 says that though there are descendants of Abraham like the sand of the sea, only a remnant will be saved. That connects because in Genesis 12, God promised his descendants would be like the sand of the sea. It’s a huge number of ethnic descendants. Are they all under God’s grace? No. “Only a remnant of them will be saved.” (Romans 9:27) The revered prophet Isaiah himself said so.

The second quote refers to Sodom and Gomorrah. Why is this compelling? It continues the basic theme of some saved against the backdrop of God’s expansive judgment and wrath.[1] Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God for their wickedness, yet in his mercy, God rescued Lot and his family just before it happened.

What’s the point? The Jews were spiritually privileged. They were descendants of Abraham and the patriarchs. They had the Mosaic covenant and the land and the legacy. You grow up thinking you are special in God’s eyes because of your DNA, and then you read the Bible stories like you’re the hero. You’re on the winning team. You’re with Lot, not with Sodom. Yet, even Isaiah agrees with Paul. DNA doesn’t save you even if its Abrahamic DNA. No. God has no privileged children.

The application is an easy one for us here. Are you special? Were you raised in spiritual privilege? Do you still have your perfect Sunday school attendance certificate? Or worse, have you held on to your award for memorizing Bible verses for 40 years, like me (see below)?

If there’s any question about my getting into heaven, I can just hold this up, right? I memorized 500 verses when I was in third grade, therefore, I must be going to heaven.

American evangelicalism drips with privilege as 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation Christian kids grow up in a Christian subculture where everything affirms them as special in God’s eyes.

Yet, what is also true? I think about my own youth group friends. I went a couple years to a Christian school. When I think about who was singing the songs and going to camp back then and who is following Jesus today, what word comes to mind? Remnant.

Northwest Indiana is loaded with residents with Christian legacy who have no current affection for Jesus or the church. I’ve often thought if we could evangelize just a small percentage of the thousands who once claimed allegiance to Jesus, that number alone would be massive.

Paul is issuing a warning to anyone who thinks spiritual family legacy alone saves. Tragically, hell will have many who will quote Bible verses to themselves and remember truth that could have saved them. But they trusted their legacy or their DNA instead of trusting Jesus. Might that be you?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2019 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] See Thomas Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Romans, p. 530.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here