Romans 11:22. 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.
Rome in Paul’s day was not unlike America today, very divided. In the first century Jews and Gentiles were often at odds, and this prejudice found its way to even the highest levels. At one point the Roman Emperor Claudius actually removed all Jews from Rome. The church in Rome, once predominantly Jewish, was now mostly Gentile. By the time of the writing of Romans, the Jewish Christians were trickling back into the city, but the power balance has shifted. Christians used to be seen as a subset of Jews, but not anymore. Now Christianity is seen as its own thing. And Jewish Christians are in danger of being rejected by Gentile Christians. So the book of Romans is not just a theological treatise on salvation, it is a call for unity. And humility.
What is the basis of our humility? God. His character. His kindness and his severity. God is holy and gracious. He will punish and destroy all evil (severity) and he will reward all faith (kindness). God is always both severe and kind. “Old Testament God” is both severe and kind. And “New Testament God” is both severe and kind. If God is severe without kindness he is an unloving tyrant. If God is kind without severity, he is an unjust pushover. For God to be good he must be both.
He’s not a tame lion, but he is good. Lucy continues in the kindness of Aslan.
Romans 11 is a warning to the Gentile Christians in Rome using the metaphor of a tree. In his severity God removed the Jewish branches because they rejected grace and embraced self-righteousness. So, in his kindness God grafted in Gentile branches. But then the warning – otherwise you too will be cut off. What happened to the Jews can happen to Gentiles too. Jews weren’t saved just because they were Jews. And Gentiles aren’t saved just because they are Gentiles. And you’re not a Christian just because you call yourself a “Christian.”
And so there is this warning for us as well – provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
Wait what? “I’m in Christ.” “I’m ‘to live is Christ’.” “I have the Spirit.” “How could I be cut off from God?”
How do we reconcile this very real warning in Romans 11 with Romans 8 and statements of “no condemnation,” and “more than conquerors,” and “nothing can separate us from God’s love?” How can a Christian live in both of these realities – we are eternally secure within God’s kindness, and yet we must continue in God’s kindness?
Remember, you were saved through faith in grace. You are being saved through faith in grace. And one day you will be saved through faith in grace. Your faith must persevere. It must persist. God will be kind on judgment day to those who have continued steadfast, trusting in his kindness. In the words of Tim Keller:
The only way we know God’s sovereign love is upon us is that we continue; we persevere in seeking to be like Jesus, until the day we meet Jesus. If that continuing disappears…then we will and should begin to wonder if his kindness is upon us, if we were ever chosen.
Will the true Christian continue in God’s kindness? YES.
Must the true Christian continue in God’s kindness? YES.
How? By faith. Faith in who God really is and what he has done for us at the cross.
We must maintain the proper view of God as both severe and kind. It’s too easy for us to lose sight of the severity of God. And when we do, we fail to continue in the kindness of God. In other words, we must never take our eyes off of the cross – the place where the collision of God’s severity and kindness are in full display.
The cross reveals what is required by God. It reveals the curse of sin and law. It reveals the consuming holiness of God. On the cross God’s severity was poured out on Jesus as he endured the physical death and separation from God that we all deserve. But, at the same time, God’s kindness was poured out toward us as Jesus became our curse, took our sin, and died our death, resulting in new life through union with Christ. It is this kindness that produced our repentance (Romans 2:4), and it is continuing in this same kindness that will bring you safely home to Jesus.
“To live is Christ” is to continue to trust in the kindness of God. First, by not losing sight of the severity of the cross, or the severity of God’s work in your life in destroying your old self. Then, by letting the severity of the cross drive you constantly back to the kindness of the cross. Continuing in it. Persevering in the faith. Pressing forward to the prize of Jesus our Savior – the very incarnation of God’s severity and kindness.