by Richard Mansel
We accuse God of injustice when he does the same things that we all do. We find certain practices perfectly acceptable and wholesome for ourselves, but not for God. Suddenly, sound practices are cruel and unloving when committed by the hand of God. Our unfairness to him is palpable.
Everyone applauds goodness and severity, when applicable. Students who behave receive merits. The poorly behaved receive punishments. Parents reward good behavior and punish insolence. Good drivers receive insurance discounts while bad drivers receive demerits.
While these are not exactly equitable to God judging sin, it nonetheless proves the validity of the consequences of goodness and severity in the minds of men.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off” (Romans 11:22, NKJV).
Paul is continuing to develop an argument begun in the opening part of Romans. The Jewish Christians in Rome felt superior to the Gentile Christians because they were the “chosen people.” However, Paul is carefully building an argument illustrating that the Law of Moses no longer was in effect. They were under a new covenant where the saved were born spiritually, not physically.
The Jews rejected Christ as the Messiah (Matthew 27:21-26; Acts 13:40-47; Romans 11:1-25). Therefore, their days as the chosen people ended. Christ rejected them for being unbelievers, not for being Jews.
Paul never told them to stop being Jews or Gentiles but to understand that spiritually it played no part in their salvation (Galatians 3:26-28). They were all sinners in need of grace and together in the family of God (Romans 3:23; Romans 5:6-11; Romans 8:1). Being in Christ was all that mattered.
“Goodness,” often translated kindness, refers to “God’s gracious attitude and acts toward sinners.”/1 “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Paul illustrates his message with the maintenance of olive trees. He excised unhealthy branches and grafted in healthy branches so the entire tree could prosper. The unhealthy branches were the unbelieving Jews and the new branches were the believing Gentiles.
Paul says that the unhealthy branches were “broken off,” which means they were “sharply cut” with “unrelenting severity.”/2 God had given them enough chances to become right spiritually. They chose to separate themselves and God merely complied with their wishes (Matthew 25:46).
His goodness is beyond the comprehension of man. The Psalms are full of examples of this truism. Likewise, the severity of God is also exceedingly powerful. Heaven will be as wonderful as hell will be terrible. The extremes will be intense.
The lessons for us are crucial.
First, if being a member of God’s chosen people under the old covenant did not prevent Jews from being unbelieving and rejected, why would the same thing not happen to Christians under the new covenant today (Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 8,9; 10:26-31)?
Second, “In an age of political correctness men simply refuse to consider the ‘severity of God.’ But the goodness of God makes the severity of God necessary. If God failed to punish wickedness what impression would that leave with regard to God’s justice?” (Matthew 7:6-14, 21-23)./3
In Romans 11:22, the phrase “cut off” means literally “to strike out.” It referred to medical surgery./4 We will be cut off if we are not bearing fruit in the kingdom (John 15:1-8).
Do we wish to avoid this fate? Trust him implicitly and obey him completely (Ephesians 2:8,9;Acts 2:37,38; Acts 22:16).
1/ Gerhard Friedrich, editor, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 9:490
2/ Gerhard Friedrich, editor, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 8:106,108
3/ Tom Wacaster, Studies in Romans (Talco, Texas: Tom Wacaster, 2005), 491.
4/ Gerhard Kittell, editor, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 3:858.
by Richard Mansel