Romans 11: “Grafted In, By Choice”

An Orange Tree in Orlando

When I was little my grandfather planted an Orange Tree in the back yard of his house. He actually planted it around the year I was born so my grandfather always told me the tree was as old as me. My grandfather was very particular about a number of things, and the growing of his fruit trees was one of them.

I can remember visiting my grandparents once and noticing my grandfather standing in the back yard staring at the tree. If you know my grandfather you can picture him standing there with his hands behind his back, moving his head a little to catch a better look.

Because I had to see what he was looking at, I went out and joined him. As we stared at the tree together I asked the obvious question, “What are we looking at Pop-Pop?” He went on to tell me how the tree was damaged by a strong storm and that he had used a special tape to hold the split limb together. He said, “when the tree is strong enough I’ll remove the tape and it will look like nothing ever happened.” I saw that crack and remember thinking to myself, that seems far fetched. I also remembered that it showed how much my grandfather cared for the limb. I would have thought he cared for the tree, but really the tree would have survived without his intervention. It was the limb he was looking out for.

Fast forward to the next time I visited, Pop was out again working in the yard and I had to go over and inspect the broken limb. Much to my surprise I was shocked that the tape was removed and the limb didn’t look like it had any damage at all. The phenomenon of grafting isn’t a new concept to trees, in fact, it’s not even a new concept to scripture, but when you really think about it, it’s truly remarkable.

Grafted In, By Choice

Like I mentioned in my reflection in Romans 9, in order to fully grasp the whole context of Paul’s point, you have to read Chapters 9, 10, and 11 all together. Paul hasn’t and won’t deviate from the theme of faith and law; He also hasn’t deviated from the difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. In Chapter 11 Paul makes this point by using the analogy of an Olive Tree.

He points out that there are these native olive branches (Jews) who have been temporarily broken off from the tree of the people of God. He then talks to the Gentiles (the wild olive branches) and tells them that they have been grafted in. Paul is communicating some profound truths, one of the truths can be determined by asking a simple question. How many trees are there? Answer, one. This helps us to understand that there has been, is, and will be only one people of God… His people. Paul argues that both Jew and Gentile are united as one “in” and “as” the body of Christ. Now, there are branches that haven’t been broken off, Paul calls them the “righteous remnant.” These are, like Paul, Jewish Christians. Those who have come to confess and believe that Jesus died and was raised for them (Chapter 10). But Paul has a lesson both for these Jewish believers and especially the Gentile believers.

Paul’s lesson to the Gentiles is for them not to think themselves too righteous to experience the same fate as their Jewish counterparts (11:19-21). He basically tells them, watch yourself, the Israelites were disobedient and behaved badly, if you behave badly, you too will be broken off.

Behavior Communicates Choice

Notice the emphasis that Paul places on behavior. Now, if the people of Israel were “elected” than why does their behavior matter? Think about that for a minute. Well, what is it that makes the lost, lost? It’s not God’s preordained plan, it’s the behavior of God’s people. As Ben Witherington likes to say, “You’re not eternally secure until your securely in eternity.”

If I tell my son to stop bouncing the ball in the house, he has a choice. Even though he doesn’t say to me, “Dad, I choose to disobey your order;” I know how he feels when he starts dribbling the ball after I asked him to stop. We don’t need to tell God we don’t want to live for him, our behavior communicates it quite well on its own.

And you don’t think God can see your heart… I stare at my son’s heart all the time, and I’m not even close to being God.