In chapter 11 Paul continues his explanation of Israel’s place in God’s plan of salvation. He explains that God didn’t reject his people, but saved out a remnant (such as Paul); just as in the time of Elijah, God saved 7,000 who remained faithful. Paul explains that this remnant has been saved purely by God’s grace. He states in verses 5 and 6:
So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
Verse 6 is totally a side note in Paul’s overall message in this passage, but I love the nugget we find here. In chapter 10 Paul explains that there is a righteousness that comes from works and a righteousness that comes from grace. The righteousness from works is basically unobtainable. So the only thing we can hope for is the righteousness that comes from grace. Here he further sets works and grace apart from one another. Grace and earning are opposed to each other and can’t be reached for simultaneously. Grace is something that is freely given and undeserved. Righteousness-by-works is something a person would deserve. Grace, by definition can’t be earned. To give someone something through grace is to acknowledge that they don’t deserve it. The ONLY thing a person can do to qualify for the gift of grace is to be undeserving of it. No one can ever deserve grace, if they could, it would no longer be grace.
I think grace, by definitions, stands in contrast to any idea of us paying off a debt and then God swooping in to pay off what remains because he saw that we were trying our best to pay it off. God already knows our best efforts aren’t going to do it, so grace pays the entire debt.
Paul goes on to explain how parts of Israel have been broken off from the vine, this allows Gentiles to be grafted in even though we are like wild olive shoots. Though parts of Israel may be cut off from the root, it’s not a permanent condition. If something foreign and untamed like Gentiles can be grafted in, so too can the natural branches be rejoined. This condition the Jews find themselves in is a temporary hardening of their hearts “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”.
There’s something perplexing in verses 28 -31 pertaining to our freewill. Paul explains that Israel will always be loved by God because of his covenants with the patriarchs. Though they are disobedient God will show mercy to them just as he showed mercy on those of us who were disobedient Gentiles. Then in verse 31 he states
For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
I’m not sure what being “bound over to disobedience” means. But I love how “The Message” explains this passage: In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in. There’s bad news in there for everyone, but the good news is bigger than the bad, God wants to have mercy on everyone.
The chapter ends with a closing prayer that echoes the final chapters of Job. Who can know God’s mind? Who can give him advice? Who does God owe any favors to? No one. Everything ever given to us is from God, through God and ultimately for God. All glory goes to God. If you’re ever looking for a good novel on this topic I recommend “Till We Have Faces” by CS Lewis. Lewis claimed it was his own personal favorite.
“I’m not sure what being “bound over to disobedience” means.”
I think it means that because of ‘the fall’, we are now bound to sin. Read Luther’s ‘The Bondage of the Will’. He argues the point that Paul makes, very convincingly, like a bulldog after a bone, and with humor as he goes after his adversary, Erasmus.
“In chapter 10 Paul explains that there is a righteousness that comes from works and a righteousness that comes from grace. The righteousness from works is basically unobtainable.”
You are spot on, Tim!
Tim said re Romans 11:32:
The NET translates the verse this way: “For God has consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all.”
I see the verse as affirmation of the doctrine (an LDS doctrine, although not uniquely so) that the Fall wasn’t a mistake but was part of God’s plan.
It’s difficult to analyze this chapter without getting into Paul’s broader argument relating to how the Jews and Gentiles differently fit into the total scheme of things. But aside from that, I do think there’s a broader message here, that sin isn’t the end of the human story, but God’s grace and mercy are.
“For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” (v. 31)
While the Fall is treated in Romans 5, in chapter 11 the context doesn’t seem to be the Fall at all. Rather, it seems to be the fact that God has hardened Israel (11:7-10) so that the floodgates of the gospel would be opened up to the Gentiles. He opened up the floodgates of the gospel to the Gentiles so that when the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in”, then Israel would be jealous and angry and then be aroused to faith and repentance unto salvation (10:19; 11:11,14).
Paul reasons in 11:12 that if the hardening/rebellion/trespass/failure of Israel meant riches of grace for the Gentiles, then how much more will the end-time inclusion of repentant Israelites mean riches for Gentiles? (Another reason for Gentiles not to get cocky over the Jews!)
In verses 29 and 30 (the two verses preceding the verse in question), Paul argues,
“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.”
In other words, the disobedience of the Jews led to the salvation of the Gentiles (cf. the story in Acts 13:44-49), and the unbelief of the Jews, which led to the salvation of the Gentiles, will indirectly bring about the end-time salvation of Israel through that jealousy and anger which somehow will arouse faith and repentance.
“Oh the depth”!!! …
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Doesn’t Romans 11:36 hit on some of life’s philosophical questions?
Where did we come from?
What are we to do with our lives presently?
Where are we headed?
It still may be my favorite book of all time.