Readers Question / Comment - Are Christians 'broken off' and lost or are they eternally secure?

Hi,

There is one passage that I don't have an explanation for when it comes to defending eternal security..

Romans 11:19-22 "...You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off"

He is clearly saying that once you are in the faith we can still be cut off later.

How do you explain this? Saying they are not really saved is not correct because Paul says they "stand by faith"

Thanks,
Raj
 

JPN Reply:

Hi Raj,

thanks for the email. The important thing to note about that passage is the context and who Paul is speaking of. Who are the natural branches that were broken off? Who are the branches grafted in? Who are the ones that can be cut off? The whole passage is speaking of the place of privilege in God's plan and is contrasting the position of the Gentiles (as a group) and the nation of Israel (as a group). The natural branches are the nation of Israel that held that position. Because of unbelief they were cut off (for a time). The Gentiles were grafted in and currently hold that position (in the large part as the nation of Israel has been hardened in part currently). But Paul is warning that the Gentiles (as a group) can also be cut off or removed from that position of privilege and the natural branches (Israel can be grafted back in again). Paul is not talking about an individual born again Christian being cut off. He is talking about God's purpose for the Gentiles and for Israel as a group. The fact is that the Gentiles (especially in the West) have become arrogant and live in unbelief. God ultimate purpose will again switch at some stage to fulfill all that He has promised to the nation of Israel - they will be saved and restored!

Here is what the Believers Bible Commentary says about this whole passage. I'll highlight some parts. It should help clarify it for you:

-------------------

11:12   As a result of Israel's rejection of the gospel, the nation was set aside and the gospel went out to the Gentiles. In this sense the fall of the Jews has meant riches for the world, and Israel's loss has been the Gentiles' gain.
But if that is true, how much more will Israel's restoration result in rich blessing for all the world! When Israel turns to the Lord at the close of the Great Tribulation, she will become the channel of blessing to the nations.
11:13   The apostle here addresses the Gentiles (11:13-24). Some think he is speaking to the Gentile Christians in Rome, but the passage demands a different audience—that is, the Gentile nations as such. It will greatly assist one to understand this passage if he sees Paul as speaking of Israel nationally and of the Gentiles as such. He is not speaking of the church of God; otherwise we face the possibility of the church's being cut off (11:22), and this is unscriptural.
Since Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles, it was quite natural for him to speak to them very candidly. In doing so, he was only fulfilling his ministry.
11:14   He sought by every means to provoke to jealousy those who were his countrymen, so that he might be used to save some of them. He knew and we know that he himself couldn't save anyone. But the God of salvation identifies Himself so closely with His servants that He permits them to speak of their doing what only He can do.
11:15   This verse repeats the argument of 11:12 in different language. When Israel was set aside as God's chosen, earthly people, the Gentiles were brought into a position of privilege with God and thus in a figurative sense were reconciled. When Israel is restored during the Millennial Reign of Christ, it will be like worldwide regeneration or resurrection.
This may be illustrated in the experience of Jonah, who was a figure of the nation of Israel. When Jonah was cast out of the boat during the storm, this resulted in deliverance or salvation for a boatload of Gentiles. But when Jonah was restored and preached to Nineveh, it resulted in salvation for a city full of Gentiles. So Israel's temporary rejection by God has resulted in the gospel going out to a handful of Gentiles, comparatively speaking. But when Israel is restored, vast hordes of Gentiles will be ushered into the kingdom of God.
11:16   Now Paul employs two metaphors. The first has to do with the firstfruit and the lump, the second with the root and the branches. The firstfruit and the lump speak of dough, not of fruit. In Num_15:19-21 we read that a piece of dough was consecrated to the Lord as a heave offering. The argument is that if the piece of dough is set apart to the Lord, so is all the dough that might be made from it.
As for the application, the firstfruit is Abraham. He was holy in the sense that he was set apart by God. If this was true of him, it is true of his chosen posterity. They are set apart to a position of external privilege before God.
The second metaphor is the root and the branches. If the root is set apart, so are the branches. Abraham is the root in the sense that he was the first to be set apart by God to form a new society, distinct from the nations. If Abraham was set apart, so are those who are descended from him in the chosen line.
11:17   The apostle continues the metaphor of the root and the branches.
The branches that were broken off picture the unbelieving portion of the twelve tribes of Israel. Because of their rejection of the Messiah, they were removed from their place of privilege as God's chosen people. But only some of the branches were removed. A remnant of the nation, including Paul himself, had received the Lord.
The wild olive tree refers to the Gentiles, viewed as one people. They were grafted in to the olive tree.
With them the Gentiles partook of the root and fatness of the olive tree. The Gentiles share the position of favor that had originally been given to Israel and is still held by the believing remnant of Israel.
In this illustration it is important to see that the main trunk of the olive tree is not Israel, but rather God's line of privilege down through the centuries. If the trunk were Israel, then you would have the bizarre picture of Israel being broken off from Israel and then grafted back into Israel again.
It is also important to remember that the wild olive branch is not the church but the Gentiles viewed collectively. Otherwise you face the possibility of true believers being cut off from God's favor. Paul has already shown that this is impossible (Rom_8:38-39).
When we say that the trunk of the tree is the line of privilege down through the centuries, what do we mean by “line of privilege”? God decided to set apart a certain people to occupy a special place of nearness to Himself. They would be set apart from the rest of the world and would have special privileges. They would enjoy what we today might call the “favored-nation status.” In the different ages of history, He would have a special inner circle.
The nation of Israel was the first to be in this line of privilege. They were God's ancient, chosen, earthly people. Because of their rejection of the Messiah, some of these branches were broken off and thus lost their position of “favorite son.” The Gentiles were grafted into the olive tree and became partakers with believing Jews of the root and fatness. The root points back to Abraham, with whom the line of privilege began. The fatness of an olive tree refers to its productivity—that is, to its rich crop of olives and oil derived from them. Here the fatness signifies the privileges that flowed from union with the olive tree.
11:18   But the Gentiles should not take a holier-than-thou attitude toward the Jews, or boast of any superiority. Any such boasting overlooks the fact that they didn't originate the line of privilege. Rather, it is the line of privilege that put them where they are, in a place of special favor.
11:19   Paul anticipates that the imaginary Gentile with whom he has been conversing will say, “Jewish branches were broken off so that I and other Gentile branches might be grafted in.”
11:20   The apostle admits that the statement is partially true. Jewish branches were broken off, and the Gentiles were grafted in. But it was because of the unbelief of Israel and not because the Gentiles had any special claim on God. The Gentiles were grafted in because, as a people, they stood by faith. This expression, you stand by faith, seems to indicate that Paul is speaking about true believers. But that is not necessarily the meaning. The only way in which the Gentiles stood by faith was that, comparatively speaking, they demonstrated more faith than the Jews did. Thus Jesus said to a Gentile centurion, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (Luk_7:9). And Paul later said to the Jews at Rome, “Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!” (Act_28:28). Notice, “they will hear it.” As a people they are more receptive to the gospel today than Israel. To stand here is the opposite of to fall. Israel had fallen from its place of privilege. The Gentiles had been grafted into that place.
But let him who stands beware lest he fall. Gentiles should not be puffed up with pride but should rather fear.
11:21   If God did not hesitate to cut off the natural branches from the line of privilege, there is no reason to believe that He would spare the wild olive branches under similar circumstances.
11:22   So in the parable of the olive tree, we see two great contrasting facets of God's character—His goodness and His severity. His severity is manifest in the removal of Israel from the favored-nation status. His goodness is seen in His turning to the Gentiles with the gospel (see Act_13:46; Act_18:6). But that goodness must not be taken for granted. The Gentiles too could be cut off if they do not maintain that relative openness which the Savior found during His earthly ministry (Mat_8:10; Luk_7:9).
It must be constantly borne in mind that Paul is not speaking of the church or of individual believers. He is speaking about the Gentiles as such. Nothing can ever separate the Body of Christ from the Head, and nothing can separate a believer from the love of God, but the Gentile peoples can be removed from their present position of special privilege.
11:23   And Israel's severance need not be final. If they abandon their national unbelief, there is no reason why God cannot put them back into their original place of privilege. It would not be impossible for God to do this.
11:24   In fact, it would be a much less violent process for God to reinstate Israel as His privileged people than it was to put the Gentiles into that place. The people of Israel were the original branches in the tree of God's favor, and so they are called natural branches. The Gentile branches came from a wild olive tree. To graft a wild olive branch into a cultivated olive tree is an unnatural graft, or, as Paul says, it is contrary to nature. To graft natural branches into their original cultivated olive tree is a very natural process.
11:25   Now the apostle reveals that the future restoration of Israel is not only a possibility but is an assured fact. What Paul now reveals is a mystery—a truth hitherto unknown, a truth that could not be known by man's unaided intellect, but a truth that has now been made known. Paul sets it forth so that Gentile believers will not be wise in their own opinion, looking down their nationalistic noses at the Jews. This mystery is as follows:
Blindness in part has happened to Israel. It has not affected all the nation, but only the unbelieving segment.
That blindness is temporary. It will continue only until the fullness of the Gentiles arrives. The fullness of the Gentiles refers to the time when the last member will be added to the church, and when the completed Body of Christ will be raptured home to heaven. The fullness of the Gentiles must be distinguished from the times of the Gentiles (Luk_21:24). The fullness of the Gentiles coincides with the Rapture. The phrase “times of the Gentiles” refers to the entire period of Gentile domination over the Jews, beginning with the Babylonian captivity (2Ch_36:1-21) and ending with Christ's return to earth to reign.
11:26   While Israel's judicial blindness is removed at the time of the Rapture, that does not mean that all Israel will be saved right away. Jews will be converted throughout the Tribulation Period, but the entire elect remnant will not be saved until Christ returns to earth as King of kings and Lord of lords.
When Paul says that all Israel will be saved, he means all believing Israel. The unbelieving portion of the nation will be destroyed at the Second Advent of Christ (Zec_13:8-9). Only those who say “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” will be spared to enter the kingdom.
This is what Isaiah referred to when he spoke of the Redeemer coming to Zion and turning transgression away from Jacob (Isa_59:20). Notice that it is not Christ's coming to Bethlehem, but His coming to Zion—that is, His Second Coming.
11:27   It is the same time referred to in Isa_27:9 and Jer_31:33-34, when God shall take away their sins under the terms of the New Covenant.
11:28   So we might summarize Israel's present status by saying first that concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake. They are enemies in the sense of being cast off, set aside, alienated from God's favor so that the gospel might go forth to the Gentiles.
But that is only half the picture. Concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers—that is, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
11:29   The reason they are still beloved is that God's gifts and calling are never rescinded. God does not take back His gifts. Once He has made an unconditional promise, He never goes back on it. He gave Israel the special privileges listed in Rom_9:4-5. He called Israel to be His earthly people (Isa_48:12), separate from the rest of the nations. Nothing can change His purposes.
11:30   The Gentiles were once an untamed, disobedient people, but when Israel spurned the Messiah and the gospel of salvation, God turned to the Gentiles in mercy.
11:31   A somewhat similar sequence of events will occur in the future. Israel's disobedience will be followed by mercy, when they are provoked to jealousy through the mercy shown to the Gentiles. Some teach that it is through the Gentiles' showing mercy to the Jews that they will be restored, but we know that this is not so. Israel's restoration will be brought about by the Second Advent of the Lord Jesus (see 11:26, 27).
11:32   When we first read this verse, we might get the idea that God arbitrarily condemned both Jews and Gentiles to unbelief, and that there was nothing they could do about it. But that is not the thought. The unbelief was their own doing. What the verse is saying is this: having found both Jews and Gentiles disobedient, God is pictured as imprisoning them both in that condition, so that there would be no way out for them except on His terms.
This disobedience provided scope for God to have mercy on all, both Jews and Gentiles. There is no suggestion here of universal salvation. God has shown mercy to the Gentiles and will yet show mercy to the Jews also, but this does not insure the salvation of everyone. Here it is mercy shown along national lines. George Williams says:
God having tested both the Hebrew and the Gentile nations, and both having broken down under the test, He shut them up in unbelief so that, being manifestly without merit, and having by demonstration forfeited all claims and all rights to divine favor, He might, in the unsearchable riches of His grace, have mercy upon them all.
11:33   This concluding doxology looks back over the entire Epistle and the divine wonders that have been unfolded. Paul has expounded the marvelous plan of salvation by which a just God can save ungodly sinners and still be just in doing so. He has shown how Christ's work brought more glory to God and more blessing to men than Adam lost through his sin. He has explained how grace produces holy living in a way that law could never do. He has traced the unbreakable chain of God's purpose from foreknowledge to eventual glorification. He has set forth the doctrine of sovereign election and the companion doctrine of human responsibility. And he has traced the justice and harmony of God's dispensational dealings with Israel and the nations. Now nothing could be more appropriate than to burst forth in a hymn of praise and worship.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
The riches of God! He is rich in mercy, love, grace, faithfulness, power, and goodness.
The wisdom of God! His wisdom is infinite, unsearchable, incomparable, and invincible.
The knowledge of God! “God is omniscient,” writes Arthur W. Pink, “He knows everything: everything possible, everything actual; all events, all creatures, of the past, the present, and the future.”
His decisions are unsearchable: they are too deep for mortal minds to fully understand. The ways in which He arranges creation, history, redemption, and providence are beyond our limited comprehension.
11:34   No created being can know the mind of the L, except to the extent that He chooses to reveal it. And even then we see in a mirror, dimly (1Co_13:12). No one is qualified to advise God. He doesn't need our counsel, and wouldn't profit by it anyway (see Isa_40:13).
11:35   No one has ever made God obligated to him (see Job_41:11). What gift of ours would ever put the Eternal in a position where He had to repay?
11:36   The Almighty is self-contained. He is the source of every good, He is the active Agent in sustaining and controlling the universe, and He is the Object for which everything has been created. Everything is designed to bring glory to Him.
Let it be so! To Him be glory forever. Amen.
-------------

Also, here is the Bible Knowledge Commentary on vs 22-24 which something similar but in far less words!:
God’s sovereign choice involved severity toward the Jews who stumbled (fell; cf. Rom_11:11) in unbelief and were hardened (Rom_11:25), but that same decision displayed the goodness of God toward individual Gentiles. God’s continuing His goodness to the Gentiles depends on their continuing in His kindness. If Gentiles do not continue in God’s kindness, they also will be cut off. This does not suggest that a Christian can lose his salvation; it refers to Gentiles as a whole (suggested by the sing. you) turning from the gospel much as Israel as a nation had done.
Conversely for the people of Israel, if they do not persist (lit., “continue”) in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. At issue is not God’s ability but God’s decision. God sovereignly chose to put Israel aside corporately because of unbelief and to extend righteousness by faith to everyone. This demonstrates His decision to graft Gentiles into the spiritual stock of Abraham (cf. Rom_4:12, Rom_4:16-17; Gal_3:14).
Obviously, therefore, if the unbelief which caused Israel’s rejection by God is removed, God is able and will graft the people of Israel (the natural branches) back into the spiritual stock to which they belong (their own olive tree). After all, as Paul wrote earlier, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom_10:13).

All the best.