Thesis:The participation of the grafted branches in the "fatness" of the olive tree with the possibility of being "cut off" because of a return to the former unbelief is an issue we need to understand.
Introduction:Before Paul launched into his treatment of "the problems with election" in Romans 9-11, he pointedly declared that "nothing" can separate us from the love of God. He said this as an "I have been persuaded" fact (8:38). That means that this "fact" had become an integrated part of his personal belief system. But it is Paul who declares to his readers that they live in danger of the possibility of being "cut off from the tree into which they have been grafted" in Romans 11:22. For most people this sets up an impossible conundrum for which their only solution is to embrace one side of the issue and reject the other. This is the reason that the Calvinist/Arminian debate has raged through the ages and continues to do so today. In the street language of "Christendom" this is expressed in opposing declarations: "you cannot lose your salvation" and "you can, too, lose your salvation". This point that I wish to make at the outset of our study this evening is that it is Paul who made the declarations that appear to be irreconcilable.
Another point, however, is that, since Paul was an inspired apostle, the problem is not with him, but with those who do not understand him.
This evening we are going to attempt to grasp the meaning of his warning by looking at the issues of his extended metaphor regarding the olive tree that is being altered by pruning and grafting. If we are able to do this we will also be able to grasp the meaning of his conviction that he could not be separated from the love of God.
I. The Major Question: What Causes One to be Grafted Into the Olive Tree?
A. This is the major question because it is not presented as leading to an immutable presence in the participation with the fatness of the tree.
1. There would be no rationale of which I am aware that could proclaim a warning to a grafted branch without that warning being real.
a. In what way is the fear that "God may not spare" a person from His demonstrated willingness to break branches off of the tree supposed to be real if, in fact, He will spare the "fearful"?
b. In what way is the danger that "God shall cut thee off" real if, in fact, God will not cut someone off for cause?
2. If the warning is real, the question of how its reality affects our thinking about participation in the fatness of the olive tree is the major question.
B. This is the major question because it posits the necessity for a solid understanding of the answer: "You stand by faith".
II. The Details of the Answer: "You Stand By Faith".
A. In the first place, "faith" is never presented by the Bible as "inevitably enduring".
1. Luke says that Jesus declared that some people "believe for a while" (Luke 8:13).
2. He goes on to record that Jesus told Peter that he was going to be subjected to a sifting that contained the possibility that his faith would fail (Luke 22:31-32).
B. In the second place, no one has the experience of faith never failing in general terms.
C. In the third place, it is endemic to "faith" that it never exists on a one-fact foundation.
1. The Truth is an indivisible unity made of a myriad of individual parts.
2. Faith in any one of those individual parts is dependent upon all of the others.
3. Faith in an individual truth claim can be unseated by the arrival of a sufficient number of other, but contrary, truth claims.
4. The only way faith in an individual truth claim remains stable in the face of the arrival of other contrary truth claims is that it is sufficiently supported by enough other compatible truth claims that the contrary ones are deemed untrue.
D. In the fourth place, the development of an understanding of a sufficient number of compatible truth claims is a time-consuming process, not an instant fiat.
1. At any time a person "believes" anything that is actually true, there is a response by God to that "faith" that enables participation in the blessedness of Truth.
2. At any time a person "believes" anything that is actually not true, there is a withholding by God of blessedness and some degree of an imposition of death-consequences.
3. The reality of the "belief unto results" process takes a lot of time and it is complicated by the presence of Sin and its ability to confuse the learning process.
a. On one hand, a belief in an actual truth will result in a legitimate blessedness but the Adversary may time an attack so that it coincides with the experience of the blessing and may divert the attention of the one who believed.
b. On the other hand, a belief in a lie will result in the imposition of death-consequences but the Adversary may provide a diversionary pleasure that confuses.
4. Thus, "faith" is endangered from its inception until it has been sufficiently supported that it becomes impregnable.
E. In the fifth place, Paul places the "grafting" event in the period while "faith" is still an endangered phenomenon.
1. There is no point to a vacuous warning; faith has to be able to fail if the breaking off of branches is caused by unbelief.
2. This has to mean that the grafting occurs before the faith that justifies has been exercised.
a. Paul wrote in Romans 8:30 that the "justified" were also "glorified".
b. It was those "justified/glorified" persons who were the recipients of Paul's "persuasion speach" about the impossibility of being separated from the love of God.
F. And, finally, in the sixth place, Paul actually tells his readers of the "lies" that, if "believed", would destroy the progression of "faith" and cause it to fail.
1. The first "lie" is the notion that the "believer" bears the root rather than the opposite truth (this is actually a variation of the attempt to establish one's own righteousness, but it is in the form of the fleshly "faith" that I am where I am by my own diligence).
2. The second "lie" is the notion that the "believer" has been grafted into the tree because of his/ her superiority to the natural branches (this is just a variation on Israel's pride of election).
3. The third "lie" is that "repentance" is simply a one-time event that carries the rest of the life (Paul claims one must continue in His goodness which, he says, produces repentance).
A. It is by Paul's own words that "faith" is not an impregnable constant in its earlier stages.
B. It is by Paul's own words that grafted branches can be cut off for unbelief.
C. Thus we can only conclude that the grafting occurs before faith has been established.