Now I (the apostle Paul) am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 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. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. Romans 10:13-24 (NIV)
God gave the apostle Paul a rather difficult mission field. Jesus sent him as the apostle to the Gentiles (Gentiles=everyone who isn’t a Jew.) Paul was formerly the Pharisee, Saul- a persecutor and murderer of Christians, a person who tried to save himself by obeying the Law. After he was converted to Christian faith by Jesus on the road to Damascus, (Acts 9:1-19) Paul wanted his hearers to understand that one’s heritage and genetic lineage are not the things that reconcile a person to God. God grafts us into His family, into the covenant of faith, the covenant of Abraham.
The Jewish people for the most part, rejected Paul and the message Jesus had given him. Paul had made it clear to the Gentiles that had come to faith, that they were accepted by God on the basis of their faith. Paul also made it clear that God did not necessarily exclude those from whom the faith had first been given.
It is an interesting paradox of theology that while Jesus died to save every person from their sins regardless of their ancestry, not everyone will accept the gift that He has given.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (ESV)
Lutherans accept the paradox. We believe Jesus indeed died to redeem everyone- to take away the sins of the world.
He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2 (NIV)
We also believe that there are some that for whatever reason, will not accept the free gift of salvation. God alone knows who and why. As Christians we are instructed to tell others about Jesus and trust that the Holy Spirit works through the hearing of God’s Word (Romans 10:17.) God alone judges the living- those who have faith- and the dead, who have not come to saving faith in Jesus.
We don’t inherit faith like we inherit our genes. Just because a person’s parents or grandparents are of a particular ethnicity or were members of such and such church does not automatically make faith a child’s birthright. Being born into a non-Christian family does not exclude a person from coming to saving faith in Christ, as many people who have no familial tradition of belief do come to faith when the Word is spoken and taught. God’s means of grace are exactly that- God’s. We are called to see people as God does, without regard to their ancestry or history. We are adopted into His family by grace, by faith in Jesus, just like everyone else who believes in Him. The Good News is for everyone.
In baptism we become children of God, but it takes us a lifetime for God to transform us into the people He created us to become. Children learn the dogma (statements of belief) of the faith from parents and grandparents, pastors and teachers. We can lead horses to water as it were by bringing our children to the font, by providing the information (catechesis) and by our examples, but the Holy Spirit opens the heart to hear what is taught and He creates faith.
Paul was telling the Gentiles that no one is more or less special in God’s eyes by means of their ancestry or background. It may seem more natural for those of Jewish descent to believe, and this is Paul’s hope, but he doesn’t want the Gentiles to feel as if they have a special privilege because they were adopted into God’s family and non-believing Jewish people were left out. Faith is what justifies us, regardless of our heritage, and faith is a gift from God. God is the one doing the acting.
In our baptism we are reminded that it is in Christ alone that we remain in faith, that we are forgiven, and that we are made children of God.
Thank God for His gift of faith. May He give us the grace and the passion to live in response to it.