The Pride Crusher – Romans 11:17-21

So, Father, as we come now to look into Your Word, we ask for the ministry of Your Holy Spirit to be powerfully at work within our minds, within our hearts, that He would grant us understanding of the passage and that our hearts would be greatly affected by what we study and what we see. I pray for these men as we have gathered here that You would just continue to take them on their journey as they walk by faith with You and follow Christ. And for all who are watching by way of live stream, I pray that You would meet personally with each and every person and that Your Word would come strongly to their hearts. So, Father, we commit ourselves to You. Use me now as an instrument, stimulate my mind and my heart so that I can be a faithful teacher. In Christ’s name. Amen.


Okay, we are in Romans 11, men. Romans 11, and our focus this morning is on verses 17 through 21. And you know, as you go verse by verse through a book in the Bible, there are certain verses that just stand out that you are familiar with, that you are drawn to, and then there are other verses that you are not as familiar with. And there is a sense which I am familiar with all of these verses, but this one is one that might be easily passed over and so many times they yield the greatest blessing.


So, Romans 11, I am going to read the text, verses 17 through 21. Paul writes, “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree.” I think you understand why these are more obscure, “do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either.”


So what do these verses teach? What are they about? Let us get the big picture first. We are in a large major section of the book of Romans, Romans 9 through 11. The big picture is on the sovereign election of God, the doctrine of predestination, and specifically of Jews and Gentiles. That is the big picture. And this is Romans 9 through 11. It is the strongest teaching in the entire Bible on the subject of sovereign election, that God has chosen before the foundation of the world those whom He will save and He has passed over others.


Now, we might say to ourselves as I have read these verses, “So, what does this have to do with me? Why couldn’t I’ve been here on a Sunday or on a Thursday morning when the verses really connected with my heart? What is this about? And how does this affect me?”


Well, nothing hardly could be more practical for your Christian life than the subject of the doctrine of sovereign election, and I could make a long list of twenty practical applications for our lives from this truth. This is a game changing truth that is taught in the Bible. But just to pull one of those threads, just to pull out one arrow out of the quiver, it would be humility, that the doctrine of election is the greatest pride-crusher. I think, along with the atonement of Christ and His substitutionary death, this truth should drop us to our knees, what we are looking at today. It should put the fear of God in every one of us. And if it doesn’t put fear into your heart, you are not quite there yet on really paying attention to what God is saying in this text.


In fact, what we are looking at should cause us to tremble literally. In Philippians 2:13, it says, “God is at work within you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” The previous verse, it says, “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” There should literally be an aspect of this that causes us to tremble on the inside, and that is a missing note in Christianity today. We just want everyone to be comfortable. We want everyone to be at ease. We want everyone to be just filled and flooded with joy, and rightly so, but we don’t want a Christianity that produces trembling, that produces the fear of God within us.


This text does and it is actually specifically stated that we are to fear, we are to fear God. So, every one of us needs the practical application of these verses, which is pointed at humility. Now, if anyone of us here today say, “You know, I don’t need any more humility,” then you need it more than anyone else in the room, okay? It is kind of like the church that ran a contest to see who is the most humble man in the church, and they gave him a button. He then wore it to church next Sunday, and they took it away from him. So, he lost it real quick.


So, what is humility? Humility is lowliness of mind. It means literally to think or judge with lowliness. And it is to assume a lowly posture under God and under others. It involves self-denial and a lowly walk of serving the interests of God and others rather than yourself. So, that is going to be the bottom line of this study. And I need this in large measures. God knows I need this in large measures, and I believe every one of us does as well.


So let us just begin to walk through this passage starting in verse 17. I want you to see the admonition. It is in verse 17 and the first part of verse 18. And an admonition is a warning, and the warning will come at the first part of verse 18, but verse 17 is the setup for the warning. So let us begin with verse 17. He says, “But if some of the branches.” The branches here refer to unbelieving Jews. We know that in the context from verses 7 through 10, and this really flows out of verse 16. Just to try to make this as simple as possible, verse 16 talks about the root and the branches. I think you see that.


The root are the promises of salvation that God gave to Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12, Genesis 15, Genesis 17, and the branches are ethnic Israel that is growing out of the root. Now he says, “If some of the branches.” The word “if” really should be “since.” It is what we call a “first class condition” in grammar, and it really is, “since some of the branches,” and it is really “most of the branches.” The vast majority of Jews, he says, were broken off. And they were broken off by God because of their unbelief in the gospel. And this really points back to verse 7 and following when he says, “the rest were hardened.” Verse 8, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day.” Verse 9, “Let their table become a snare and a trap.” Verse 10, “Let their eyes be darkened and their backs bent forever.” Here in verse 17, when he says, “These branches were broken off,” they have been aggressively snapped off by God Himself and discarded and removed from the place of blessing. This is a very severe statement that he makes at the beginning of verse 17. And then he adds, “and you,” referring to Gentile believers who were in the church at Rome as Paul is writing this to them, “being a wild olive, were grafted in.”


Now, we are just going to have to stop here for a moment and plow through this. The Gentiles were like a wild olive tree. A wild olive tree is one that has never been pruned. It has never been cultivated. It has never been trimmed. It has just has been out by itself, out in a wilderness area. No attention has been given to it. And what this is saying is God has gone to this wild olive tree that lacks shape. It lacks really fruitfulness. And God has cut off some branches from the wild olive tree, and God has walked it over to the root from which Israel is growing. And He has snapped off branches that are unfruitful and unproductive and were filled with unbelief towards Christ and the gospel. And God has taken these wild olive branches representing chosen Gentiles, and God has grafted it in to this one tree such that the life that is in the root is now flowing into the wild olive branches that are grafted in. So, the same spiritual life that is flowing into elect Jews is flowing into elect Gentiles, and they have now become one people of God. There is not two distinct people of God. There is only one people of God and they are all grafted together.


And I think it would be important for us to turn to Ephesians 2 for a quick moment. In Ephesians 2, beginning in verse 11, this text says, “Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,'” that is referring to Jews, “‘which is performed in the flesh by human hands,'” meaning they don’t have the true circumcision in the heart by the Spirit. They only have a circumcision by the hands in the flesh. So they are Jews outwardly, but they do not know the Lord inwardly.


Now verse 12, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ.” He is talking to the Gentiles, “You were a long way away from God.” “Excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off,” that refers to Gentiles, “have been brought near by the blood of Christ,” near to God. Verse 14, “For He Himself,” referring to Christ, “is our peace, who made both groups,” a reference to Jews and Gentile, “into one.” That is the imagery in Romans 11 that we’re looking at, “and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.”


In the temple there was a partition, a wall that separated the Jews from the Gentiles, and Christ at the cross tore down that wall and has merged the two people into one people, believing Gentiles and believing Jews. So, verse 14, “who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” So, there is no Jewish church and then there is a Gentile church. There is not a Messianic Jewish church and then there is a Gentile church. No, Christ has torn down that wall and the two are merged together into one body of Christ. And the image here is that this one tree, that Gentile branches are grafted in. It is a horticultural process where you make a slit in the one tree and you put the other branch into that stem so that it is all growing together as one tree.


So, he says this in verse 15, “by abolishing,” Ephesians 2 verse 15, “by abolishing in His flesh,” referring to Christ on the cross, “the enmity, which is the law of commandments contained in ordinances.” And it was the ceremonial law of the Mosaic Law that made this separation from Jews and Gentiles. In the death of Christ, He fulfilled the ceremonial law. There is no more priesthood that is unique and set apart from the rest of the believers. Every believer is a priest now with direct access to God. Christ offered the perfect sacrifice of Himself. There is no more sacrifices to be made, and He has now merged the two groups into one body of Christ. The church has not replaced Israel. The church is merged in with Israel to be one church.


So, in verse 15: “So that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.” The peace here is peace not just with God, but peace between Jew and Gentile. Verse 16, “and might reconcile them both in His body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” Now, verse 17, “He,” referring to Christ, “came and preached peace to you who were far away,” that is Gentiles, “and peace to those who were near,” that is Jews. Verse 18, “for through Him,” Christ, “we have our access in the Spirit to the Father.” All of that is just simply a restatement of what Paul is saying in Romans 11 verse 17, that the two have been merged together now in a very intimate and direct way. We have been grafted together. And he says in verse 17, “have become partakers with them of the rich root of the olive tree.”


This “rich root” is literally the fatness of the root which speaks of how prolific and productive this root is. It is able to pump the sap of life into as many branches as God chooses to graft in to this tree that began to grow in the Old Testament uniquely with His chosen people Israel. It is a potent source of life into every life. In fact, Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” The word “abundantly” means His supply far exceeds your demand.


So, as a result of that, he says in verse 18, now here is the application: “do not be arrogant toward the branches,” referring to the cut-off branches. And this word “arrogant,” “do not be arrogant” means “do not be boastful against them, do not elevate yourself above these Jews who have been cut off, do not look down your long nose at them, do not glory in yourself, this now favored position that you have while other branches have been cut off.” This is a very strong warning to every one of us that as we are now placed in Christ by the sovereign grace of God this should produce such humility in each and every one of us that it should drop us to our knees and look up to heaven and say, “Why me, Lord? Why am I not still out here in the wilderness, part of this wild olive tree that is far away from God?”


Now that I am in Christ, I cannot look now at others who aren’t a part of the kingdom of God and have an arrogant, haughty spirit towards them, because there is no difference between them and us except the grace of God, the old saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.” So that is the point that Paul is making here, and it was obviously a problem with the church in Rome, as they had begun to somewhat within their own heart elevate themselves above those who were not in Christ. And so, Paul has to remind them, “Listen, you have forgotten how it is you got here, and there is no difference between you and the unbelieving Jew, except by the grace of God.” So that’s how he starts this. That is the admonition.


Now, he comes to the latter half of verse 18, and it is the recollection, you need to remember. So, he says, “but if,” and that again should be translated “since,” “but since you are arrogant.” See, this is a rebuke to the self-inflated Gentile believers in Rome. “Since you are arrogant, remember, just keep this in mind, don’t let this go in one ear and out the other, that it is not you who supports the root.” The “you” refers to Gentile believers who have been chosen by God. Again, the “root” refers to the saving grace of God as given to Israel and the Abrahamic covenant, promises of God’s sovereign grace. “It is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.”


You are not contributing to anything. You have brought nothing to the table. It is God by His grace who is supporting you. You are not propping up the church. You are not propping up the kingdom of God. It is the kingdom of God who is propping up you. Have you forgotten this? That is why he says, “Remember.” So, nothing in our salvation is dependent upon us, and everything in our salvation is dependent upon God. Just write that down. Nothing in your salvation is dependent upon you, and everything in your salvation is dependent upon God. It is all of grace, not ninety percent grace and ten percent you. Paul said, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” And so, you and I, this is the practical part of this, you and I have zero reason to be proud. We have every reason to be humble.


Occasionally, after I preach, I will have someone come up to me and they will want to give me an encouraging complement. They will start off by saying, “Now pastor, I don’t want you to get the big head,” and they will start to give the encouragement. I am like, “Bring it on,” you know, “Bring it on,” but honest-to-goodness I think the last time someone said that to me, which was very recently, I just stopped them and I said, “I want you to know that I know I have zero reason to be proud.” Now, I do become prideful and I battle it like anyone else, but there is no intelligent reason, there is no theological reason, there is no biblical reason for there to be one half of a grain of pride in me, nor is there any reason for there to be any arrogance in you. We have every reason, those reasons are to be stacked up to the heights of the throne of grace, every reason to be humble. And the only reason we battle with pride is we have forgotten that, listen, we are not contributing anything; God is contributing everything in our salvation.


So, that is the point that Paul is making. So, this leads us to verse 19 now, the temptation, because the Gentile believers in Rome were tempted to think God had disposed of the Jews in order to make room for them, like “We’re really something special.” So it is like God the tenant moved out the old renters in order to bring in some better people to live in His house. So, He got rid of the lowlife to bring in these who are a whole lot better and will build up His image.


So, that is the temptation that Paul addresses in verse 19. You are not any better than the Jews that God cut off. So he says in verse 19, “You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.'” So, in essence God traded up to get us. I mean, God sold high and bought low to get us. I mean, we were the deal. That is the temptation. And the Gentile mindset is, “Oh, okay, God removed the Jews. They crucified Jesus. They were hardheaded, uncircumcised, stubborn of heart, stiff-necked. God had to remove them to make room for us.” That is the temptation that he addresses in verse 19. And that is a temptation that you and I are going to have to resist as we look out at the world and we see people lost in sin and living wicked, depraved lives and we are sitting in church, for us not to fall into that same temptation and go, “Wow, I mean isn’t God lucky to have us, you know, instead of those reprobates out there in the street?” So that is the temptation he is addressing, and I want you to see now in verse 20 the correction. Paul says, “Quite right.” In other words, “We agree to a point that the Jews were removed and you have been brought in, but let us remember why they were removed and why you were put in.” “Quite right, they,” referring to unbelieving Jews, “were broken off,” meaning removed by God in severe judgment, “for their unbelief.”


Now, we just need to pause here for a moment. The stress that is being made here is on the human responsibility of non-elect Jews. Paul does not say they were cut off because they were not chosen. Paul lays the stress at the feet of the unbelieving Jew. No, they were cut off because of their unbelief. They go to hell, not because God didn’t choose them. They go to hell because of their unbelief, and they will stand in the judgment on the last day and the books will be opened and their entire life will be played out before them and every sin they have ever committed will be resurrected and brought to the surface and be shown that their name is not in the Lamb’s book of life. And they will be judged because of unbelief.


So, this is actually a very important verse for us to maintain this balance in this section on sovereign election. In other words, everyone in hell is there by their own free will, and everyone in heaven is there by divine sovereign will. So don’t argue for free will. Free will will send you to hell every time were it not for God’s divine intervention. They are broken off because of their unbelief towards Jesus Christ their Messiah and because of their rejection of His saving work upon Calvary’s cross.


And now, he flips this and addresses the believing Gentiles and addresses them on how they were grafted in and he said, “But you stand by your faith.” Now, the emphasis is not to be like, “Okay, like you had enough sense to believe in Jesus and you were smarter than someone else.” The emphasis really here is on the object of faith. Though not stated, the object of faith is what saves you. Your faith doesn’t save you. It is the object of your faith that saves you. Your faith wasn’t crucified on the cross to take away your sins. Jesus was crucified on the cross to take away your sins. He is the Savior, not you. It is the faith that you exercise, which is the faith that God gave to us. It is in Jesus Christ, and Christ is the Savior. And so, the correction that Paul is making here is that it is their unbelief, it is your faith, that is what has distinguished you. It is the object of your faith.


But he builds to this in verse 20, “Do not be conceited.” Obviously, the believers in Rome were becoming entrapped in conceit for Paul to have to bring this. This is the third time he has brought this up, verse 17, verse 18, and verse 19. And this word for “conceited” is a different word than he used earlier in verse 18 about being arrogant. The word “conceited” means to be high-minded. It means to put yourself above others. It really means to have your nose in the air and to elevate yourself above others with your attitude.


And so, Paul sharply rebukes them and says, “Do not be conceited.” And that is an imperative command. And it is an imperative command to each and every one of us here today that we must clothe ourselves with humility and not have our nose in the air. And it is the doctrine of sovereign election that drives that home to our hearts that God could have just as easily passed over you as chosen you. And the fact that He chose you, there is no difference between you and anyone else. You are not any better than those who are passed over. You need to get rid of this conceit. And then he adds, “But fear.” Do you see that at the end of verse 20, “but fear”? And unfortunately, there is a lot of Christians today who have no place for the fear of God in their Christian life, and they think that is an Old Testament concept and that we now have upgraded to just a softer, more effeminate Christianity, quite frankly. No, we are to still have fear in our heart, and this fear is to take God very seriously.


This fear is a Greek word. I am going to pronounce it only because you are going to hear the English word in it and it is going to, I think, come home: phobeo, “phobia.” I mean, you need to have a phobia. You need to be alarmed is what this word literally means. You need to be afraid and it is the kind of fear that would put you to flight. You need to be struck with sobering terror in your heart. You need to be seized with alarm is literally what this word “fear” means. I just pulled those definitions literally out of a Greek dictionary what this word means. You need to fear because God could have just as easily broken you off and discarded you as grafted you in.


So, don’t be just whistling your way to glory with a complacent spirit and a haughty attitude. No, there needs to be an earth-shaking fear inside of you that shakes you a bit and shakes you to your knees that you take this very seriously. God holds your life and your eternal destiny in His hands and He will do with you as it pleases Him. None of us are in charge of our own lives whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever. Every one of our lives is in His sovereign hand, and He has already appointed the day of our birth. He has already appointed the day of our death, and He has appointed every day in between. He is the potter and we are the clay, and He has chosen to make us vessels of mercy rather than vessels of wrath. There needs to be a healthy, holy fear of God within us, not fear that we are going to be rejected by Him, but a fear that He holds my eternal destiny in His hands and He has held my salvation in His hands.


So, that is what Paul says. And this is why we need the doctrine of sovereign election preached in pulpits on Sunday morning to strike a necessary holy fear in the hearts of God’s people. This is not to be reserved for a Wednesday night prayer meeting with ten people who are over the age of eighty hearing this message. This needs to strike every teenager. This needs to strike every single in their twenties and thirties. This needs to strike every young married couple square in their heart. We need the doctrine of sovereign election preached, and the church has always been the strongest when this truth has been blown like a trumpet, and the church has always slithered down into effeminate weakness when this truth has been withheld.


When this truth is preached, it produces a manly fear of God in the hearts of God’s people. And that is really at the heart of what Paul is driving at here as he is writing this to the church in Rome who have really become a little bit too big for their britches, quite frankly, and probably like their real estate location in Rome and probably like some of the fanfare that goes with being in the big city in Rome, and they are elevating themselves. And Paul addresses them right now and says, “You have zero reason to have this attitude in you. It is only because God chose to snap you off of a branch out in the middle of nowheresville and some unknown zip code and come and just graft you in to the place of blessing, and it is this root that is pumping spiritual life into you. And you’re not supporting this root, this root is supporting you, and you are now receiving all of the benefits that God originally bestowed upon His chosen people, Israel. So, that is really the tenor of what Paul is saying here. And I realize these verses are somewhat hard to interpret at certain points, but as we squeeze this lemon there is good juice coming out of these verses.


So look at verse 21 and we will wrap this up and we will have some time for discussion. Verse 21 is the explanation. Verse 21 begins with the word, “For,” which I have told you several times, introduces an explanation why we should fear God as we do. So, he says, “For if,” and again in Greek this is called a first-class condition. It is assumed to be true. A better word is “since.” “For since God did not spare the natural branches.” That refers to God breaking off unbelieving Jews and casting them into the fire and just throwing them away. If God did that with the natural branches, those whom He first chose to be His people to reach the world with the gospel, he argues, “He will not spare you either.”


So, this is not saying that they could lose their salvation. This is not saying we need to fear God so that you stay in His circle of grace. We can never lose our salvation. Romans 8:29 to 30 makes that abundantly clear, even all the way down to verse 39 in Romans 8. But what this is saying, He will not spare you the judgment on the last day, that every one of us as believers, let us not forget we will stand at the judgment of God and we will give an account of ourselves to God. This saving grace of God has not eliminated our last day of accountability to God for how we have conducted ourselves.


And I want to take you to Romans 14, where we will be in about five years, Romans 14, and he says in verse 10. And I can’t wait to get to this section when we will be talking about this, and it is between the stronger brother and the weaker brother in Christ and Christian liberty, and the weaker brother will not participate in what he has liberty to, and the stronger brother knows he can go ahead and participate. So, verse 10, “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” And the “we all” refers to all believers. So why are you judging your brother when God is going to judge you and judge your brother? I mean, who died and made you God? I mean, who are you to go around with a judgmental spirit towards your brother when God is going to settle all this on the last day. God will sort this out in His judgment.


So, in verse 11, “For it is written,” and he quotes from the Old Testament, “‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow to me,'” and that is including every knee of Christians and believers, “‘will bow to me and every tongue will give praise to God.'” Verse 12, “So then, each one of us,” that is referring to believers, “will give an account of himself to God.” So, verse 13, “Therefore let us not judge one another,” because we are all going to have our day in court. It will not be a judgment of our sin, that was all nailed to the cross, but it is going to be a judgment of how you have conducted yourself toward others and a judgment of how you served the Lord and a judgment of how you have invested your life in the cause of Christ, and it is all going to come out on the last day. And so, I will face the record, and you will face the record on the last day. And there are some theologians, not the least of which Dr. R.C. Sproul, maybe the preeminent popular theologian of our day, feels that we will give an account even for our idle words as Christians on the last day.


So that is why Paul is saying in Romans 11 verse 21, “If He did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either.” Our judgment will not be a judgment to determine our salvation. That has been settled. And it will not be a judgment of sin per se and the condemnation that comes with it, but it will be a review of our life. And I can’t draw a tight circle around exactly what all is in that circle and what all is on the outside of that circle. I just know that day is coming. And it should create fear in a healthy way. We are not just going to cruise into glory and it is going to be a parade down Central Avenue. There is going to be a standing at the judgment seat of Christ before we enter in, and we will give an account of ourselves.


And so, apparently, for the believers in Rome, even their attitude is a part of, “You better get your act together because there is coming a final accounting to God.” So some of this is nebulous in the sense I can’t draw up a precise line as far as what is going to be exactly all brought up and what is not going to be brought up. I think part of the mystery keeps the line tight that I need to walk with humility and I need to fear God, and I cannot allow conceit and arrogance to establish a beach hold in my heart. And Paul includes this in this section on sovereign election, and by its context this says to me the truth that God chose you and predestined your salvation ought to keep a lowliness of mind and a lowliness of heart within your soul.


So, just to end with maybe a word or two of application, and I have really already said it but let me just restate the positive three things, how you and I can cultivate proper humility in our hearts. Number one, consider your election. You are in Christ because God chose you to believe in Christ. You would have never believed in Christ if God had not chosen you to believe in Christ. So just consider your election.


And then second, consider your place. You have been grafted into the place of blessing that was first offered to others. I mean, we are eating a meal that was first served to someone else. We as Gentiles are late to the party, and let us just remember our place. And then third, consider your accountability. Though chosen, you will not be spared the judgment seat of Christ. You will stand before Him on the last day and give an account of yourself to the Lord, which is what Romans 14:10 through 12 clearly says.


And so, there is this responsibility, as we live our Christian life, that is pressed strongly upon us. I have no reason to be proud. I am and I fight it and you fight it, but let us remember we have no reason to be. We have every reason to be humble. “Every good thing and every perfect gift,” James 1:17, “has come down from God above,” the Father of unshifting shadows with whom there is no variation. Every good gift has come from God above.


So, that is these verses and this is the best I can do to untie the knot on these verses and to extract what I think is the meaning and then to also make application and to show the relevance for our lives. And let me say this: No one needs this more than I do. And you might think, well, no, I don’t. Well, you don’t live with me, okay? I live with me. My wife lives with me. I need this more than anybody.