In Romans 11:28 – 32 Paul explains the equalization of all people – both Jews and Gentiles – that is revealed in the Gospel. He has already written about this at length in 1:18-3:20, and effectively summarized it in 3:22-24:

'There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.'

Here in 11:28-32 Paul restates this:

Both Jews and Gentiles are disobedient to God.

This means that the salvation of either can only be in terms of mercy, never merit.

This throws the whole question of salvation open to all people - both the (disobedient) Gentiles and the (now revealed as disobedient) Jews. So long as salvation is viewed as according to merit/performance it is not open to all - it is only open to those who can merit it. (And Paul has clearly demonstrated there are none who can!)

But because salvation is, by the Gospel, shown to be freely given on the basis of mercy, it is available for all (irrespective of their present disobedience). The Jews' present disobedience cannot annul the promise made to the patriarchs that justification is by faith not works - a blessing brought to all the nations of the earth through Jesus Christ, the one promised offspring/descendant of the patriarchs (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14).

‘The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”’ (Galatians 3:8)

Paul concludes his exposition of the gospel (Romans 1:18 – 11:32) with a doxology of praise (11:33-36) in which he extols the wisdom, knowledge, judgements and mind of God.

We, with our limited wisdom, would relate to him on the basis of our own merit (11:35) seeking reward from God for what we have done for him.

God, in his unfathomable wisdom, knows and operates in a far superior way: he knows we could never merit salvation, he knows that we cannot by our own efforts gain legal acquittal and the right to eternal life through our own deserving.

Just as everything that exists owes its origin and present existence to him, even so our salvation - our believing, our repentance, our life with him – owes its origin, its present existence, and its purpose to him:

'For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.' (11:36)

In this doxology in praise of God's wisdom Paul puts forth his final argument against a merit based concept of salvation and life with God. God simply does not operate that way. It is we humans who devise an anthropocentric and egoistic way of relating to God. In our insignificance we desire this personal claim to fame, this personal significance, that we, by our efforts, can move the hand of God to accept us and grant us entry to life with him.

Not so.

All things are from God. All things are through God. All things are to God. Even our salvation.

Let us therefore cast aside, let us bury, our human desire to gain and maintain salvation by our own performance, and in that casting aside, in that burying, give to him the glory that is his due.

The Lord is our salvation: we trust not in ourselves, but in him.

And we need to pause here and wonder: is this perhaps the deepest meaning of Jesus’ statement that we must deny ourselves? That to follow him, we must surrender every thought that we are somehow worthy of the salvation he freely gives us? That in following him, we must cease our arrogant feelings of personal merit, and rest solely on his mercy and his grace? That we follow him, not to ‘get saved’, but because he, the glorious Lord, God over all, is worthy.

Giving him alone the glory. Forever.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020