29 March 2012Romans 11:1-12
"If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace." (v. 6)
In this passage Paul gives the first indication of his answer to
the question that occupies him throughout Romans chapters 9 to 11: why have so few Jews responded
to the message about Jesus Christ in contrast to the welcome given
by Gentile (non Jew) converts? Has God given up on the chosen
people? Has God's favour now moved to the Gentiles?
Throughout the discussion Paul holds in tension human responsibility and divine providence. Those who reject God are responsible for their action, yet that action fits God's plan. It can even be said that God has brought it about.
God remains committed to the Jewish people. There are Jews who have become Christians and Paul himself is one of these. He stresses his Jewish pedigree lest it be thought that he was a Gentile by birth who had adopted Judaism, as many Gentiles in his day did.
But God has always worked through minorities. Paul quotes Old Testament examples to illustrate the point. The relatively small number of Jews like himself who have embraced faith in Jesus are a contemporary example.
But Jewish rejection of the message led to the rapidly-expanding mission to Gentiles. That was what God had in mind. But it is not the end of the story. The day will come when the pendulum will swing and the Jewish people will come to faith (see Romans 11:25-32).
In verse 6 Paul underlines the point made throughout the letter to the Romans: human beings do not deserve God's favour, since from the beginning all have sinned (Romans 3:23). What we know of God and the good things we receive from God are wholly the result of God's generosity, God's grace.
Many Christians today have a strong sense of being a minority in a world which does not share their faith. What might this passage have to say to them?
If everything depends on God's grace, what place is there for good works?