Does Paul Teach That the Gift of Salvation is Unconditionally Irrevocable in Romans 11:29?

Romans 6:23; 11:29

For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord….For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Many see here a strong assertion of unconditional eternal security based on the fact that “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (NAS), and that eternal life is a gift (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8, 9), therefore, they reason, eternal life must be irrevocable.  God is always faithful to his promises (both pleasant and terrible, e.g. Joshua 23:15, 16), but his promises are not without conditions.  God’s gift of salvation is irrevocable so long as the condition is met.  Paul was speaking of Israel’s final restoration in Rom.11:29, but he was giving no assurance to those branches that had been broken off in unbelief (verse 20), and sternly warned that those who were now standing by faith, could yet be broken off through unbelief (verses 20, and 21).  God’s divine gift (of life) is always and only for believers!  God does not revoke his gift, for it cannot exist outside of Christ.  Only believers are “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).  If we fail to meet the condition for union with Christ, we can have no claim on the gift (see Jn. 3:16 and 10:27-29 discussed above).

From: Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security

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16 Responses

  1. Even this reply doesn’t get to the heart of it Ben. The verse there is not about the Gentile believers or anything like that. It has to do with the chosenness of the people of Jacob for God’s service, which many from within Jacob have forsaken (see. ch.9–I warrant that’s the whole argument). Nevertheless, Jacob is still called and privileged. So it’s Judaeo-centric. Again.

  2. If we fail to meet the condition for union with Christ, we can have no claim on the gift

    Or even just, If we reject the gift we do not have the gift

  3. bethyada,

    Good point.

  4. B.P.,

    I don’t think I agree with that. The chosenness of God’s people (whether Jew or Gentile) in Romans 9-11 certainly encompasses their salvation in Paul’s argument. That is why he has such grief for Israel that has rejected Christ and now ceased to be God’s chosen people. His grief and wishing to be accursed for their sake is not because they have lost their privileged state of service, but because they have lost election/salvation. In rejecting Christ, they no longer belong to God.

    Maybe I misread you, but it seems as though you are saying that the election Paul is describing throughout Romans 9-11 is just an election to service. I know many Arminians hold to that view, but I don’t think the language allows it.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  5. Ben,
    I think the language does allow it, and that what is so grievious to Paul is not that they have lost their election, but that they rejected the promise given to the elect (which is received by faith). I don’t see how Romans 11:11ff would make sense by what you’ve said.

  6. slw,

    I don’t see any problem with Romans 11:11ff based on what I have said. Perhaps you would like to elaborate? What is the promise given to the elect? Is it not salvation and the reception of the Holy Spirit who marks us out as God’s people? Israel has largely been rejected because of unbelief, but their rejection is not necessarily permanent, since they can be grafted in again by faith. That is the only reason that Paul sees their fall as not necessarily irrevocable. They still have hope, but that hope is only in receiving Christ. Christ is the sphere of the new covenant and God’s election/chosen people. Only in Christ can Jews and Gentiles be God’s chosen people and only God’s people receive the gifts of the new covenant, including salvation. Galatians makes this especially plain. Paul’s angusih is that they have been cut off from Christ, not that they have been displaced for service.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  7. Ben,
    Sorry to be so long in getting back to you. The problem I see with Romans 11:11ff if it can be said that in chapter 9 that they had lost their election is that it would imply, in my mind, that they had lost their quality of appointment or designation by God. Romans 11 does not imply that they had lost a quality that made them “natural” as opposed to “unnatural,” or “beloved for the sake of the fathers” rather than something else. In God’s mind, they continued, and continue to have some special quality, which I take as being wrapped up in election, which marks them out. What they had lost was the benefaction of the promise to the elect because of unbelief, but Paul reveals, despite that, that God is not done with them yet–there will be a time

    I agree with your assessment concerning theirs (or anyone’s) singular hope for salvation in receiving Christ. That is the promise given to the Jewish patriarchs and prophets, for which they were elect in order to bring forth.

    I think Jesus’ remarks in Matt 22:14 (“many are called but few are chosen”) has a bearing on all this. If, as BPB suggested, and as I think is the case as well, Israel’s election had to with serving the need to bring forth both the Messiah and the promise of redemption in him to the world, then their election had only a tangential connection to any of their own salvations. Israel’s election was not about salvation per se, it was about service, about function in redemption history.

    On the other hand, the election of NT saints is all about salvation. Those are chosen to be saved in Christ who put their trust in him. In other words, I think it is a mistake to equate the election of Israel with the election of the saved. As the promises of the new covenant are better than the old, I suggest so too is the election associated with it.

  8. I am sorry Ben, somehow what I thought I was typing at the end of the first paragraph didn’t come out. It should continue, after the “time” with:

    when God will turn back to the Jews and see them respond to the gospel of Christ with vigor.

  9. slw,

    You wrote,

    The problem I see with Romans 11:11ff if it can be said that in chapter 9 that they had lost their election is that it would imply, in my mind, that they had lost their quality of appointment or designation by God. Romans 11 does not imply that they had lost a quality that made them “natural” as opposed to “unnatural,” or “beloved for the sake of the fathers” rather than something else. In God’s mind, they continued, and continue to have some special quality, which I take as being wrapped up in election, which marks them out.

    I agree that Paul speaks of them being loved for the sake of the patriarchs, but what that means is that they will not be entirely cut off without hope. It doesn’t mean that they will not be cut off. Indeed, they are cut off from the olive tree which is founded on the promise to the patriarchs and represents God’s election. The olive tree represents the people of God, and in this context, the true people of God- the Israel within Israel. In being cut off from God’s people through unbelief they forfeit their salvation. The image of the olive tree makes it clear that this is not just an ethnic or national election to service, since the defining factor regarding who is in the olive tree or out of the olive tree is faith or unbelief. So I don’t see how you can question that salvation is not a factor in the metaphor of the olive tree.

    Compare Romans 9:1-5 with 10:1-4. Clearly, Paul is saying that their salvation is lost while they remain in unbelief, despite the many privileges and benefits they had received as Jews. They have forfeited their election, their status as God’s people. Both Jews and Gentiles are elect “in Him [Christ]” (Eph. 1:4). Again, I suggest taking a close look at Galatians and what marks us out as God’s people and how being God’s people is the essence of the “promise” that comes by faith. Even in Romans 11:7 we see that Paul is making a distinction between believing Israel and unbelieving Israel and marks that distinction as the elect (believing Israel) and the hardened (unbelieving Israel). In 11:14 Paul again makes it clear that he hopes his ministry to the Gentiles will move some of his country men to jealousy that might result in faith and salvation. This leads us right into the imagery of the olive tree which simply highlights this distinction further. So I guess I don’t see how you can read Romans 9-11 and conclude that Paul is just addressing an election to service in chapter 11 and especially in the imagery of the olive tree. Romans 11:28 states that they are still loved for the sake of the Fathers, but this is based on the choice of the Fathers and God’s promise to them, not on their current status, for their current status is of the non-elect/hardened (Romans 11:7).

    The promise and purpose of election of the patriarchs was, as you point out, that the world might be saved. The promise has come in Christ and only those in Christ share in that promise. Because of that initial promise, though the hardened Israelites are cut off from receiving that promise as God’s people, they can still be grafted in again through faith for the promise was that the world might be saved, and again that promise is wrapped up in Christ. So because of the promise given to the elect patriarchs, the hardened Jews still have hope for the promise makes hope and salvation available to all who will believe (Romans 10:4, 12; 11:30-32).

    What they had lost was the benefaction of the promise to the elect because of unbelief, but Paul reveals, despite that, that God is not done with them yet–there will be a time when God will turn back to the Jews and see them respond to the gospel of Christ with vigor.

    Exactly, they lost the promise to the elect because they are no longer elect. The promise is for the elect. The promise is ultimately Christ and we are chosen (elect) in Him. You are also right that God is not done with them yet. That is all that Paul is expressing. They have not been permanently cut off without hope. They can turn to Christ in faith and become God’s children again, receiving the promise of sonship and salvation in Him.

    I agree with your assessment concerning theirs (or anyone’s) singular hope for salvation in receiving Christ. That is the promise given to the Jewish patriarchs and prophets, for which they were elect in order to bring forth.

    And the true election is wrapped up in the promise, which is Christ. That is why those who believe in Christ are children of the promise. They are God’s chosen people in Christ.

    I think Jesus’ remarks in Matt 22:14 (“many are called but few are chosen”) has a bearing on all this. If, as BPB suggested, and as I think is the case as well, Israel’s election had to with serving the need to bring forth both the Messiah and the promise of redemption in him to the world, then their election had only a tangential connection to any of their own salvations. Israel’s election was not about salvation per se, it was about service, about function in redemption history.

    It was about service to a great degree, but it was only to service because they were God’s people, belonging to Him. Election has always been primarily about who are the people of God. That is not to say that there are not elections to service, but Paul is primarily addressing who are the true people of God in Romans 9-11 and why the rejection of the greater part of Israel does not mean that His promise to them as failed. God has the right to determine the conditions of His covenant and how one will be identified as His children. In the past that identification was through (or “in”) the chosen patriarchs (though even then it was only the faithful who ere the true election), and now the promise is ultimately fulfilled in Christ who is the chosen covenant Head in and through whom Jew or Gentile become the people of God. And BTW, the parable of the feast also makes it clear that the “chosen” are those who are saved, while the unbelievers are cast out.

    On the other hand, the election of NT saints is all about salvation. Those are chosen to be saved in Christ who put their trust in him. In other words, I think it is a mistake to equate the election of Israel with the election of the saved. As the promises of the new covenant are better than the old, I suggest so too is the election associated with it.

    But Paul is addressing who are truly the elect of God (the people of God) and that has not changed. It has always been those who receive the promise by faith. That is what the imagery of the olive tree is directly addressing.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  10. Hey Ben, I have a short 3000 word writing on Rom. 9 where I argue for the Judaeo-centric nature of it. Since Rom. 9 predicates ch.10-11 and is itself being predicated by ch.1-8 & the OT, maybe it could help clarify my point about that verse in ch.11. Just email me at brendan [underscore] 27 [at] hotmail [dot] com and I will send you a copy.

    Tschuess! ~ BPB.

  11. Hopefully I will get some time to look at it soon, but I have seen many treatments of Romans 9-11 that say the election being described is only to service. Also, I never denied that Paul’s emphasis is not “Judaeo-centric”. That doesn’t really get to the heart fo the question: Is Paul describing an election to service only, or an election that encompasses salvation?

  12. Paul is in fact describing both in a manner of speaking…

    In Romans 9 is Paul dealing with an (assumed) Jewish perspective on election that would have taken it to encompass salvation. However, the Jews were not getting saved despite being the chosen people, therefore that perspective cannot be correct. One cannot envision election that encompasses salvation, because such an election would be inherently conditional (as salvation is conditioned on faith) and therefore self-contradictory. That is the issue that Paul unpacks in Romans 9. Paul’s explanation was that the Jews were indeed select at some level as they assumed, but that salvation comes through faith. Therefore, their election as a people would have to be primarily to serve God’s purpose in bringing forth a redeemer and secondarily to have “first shot” at the consummation of that purpose.

    A NT conception of election (i.e God has chosen all who put faith in Christ, or all that are in Christ, to be saved), which is what Paul fine tunes at 11:7, is not contradictory because the condition is built in. Israel was chosen for service, and because they were, God harbors a desire to bring the fullness of them into Christ at some time, though at this time and historically only a bare remnant will. When speaking of election in regard to a people, the question to ask is “for what?”

  13. Ben,
    In response to your comment at 3:26 on 5/23.

    I don’t see how you can question that salvation is not a factor in the metaphor of the olive tree
    I do not question that, but I do not believe the olive tree is meant to symbolize something as narrow as the Israel of Israel as you suggest . The tree does symbolize the people of God in right relationship with God (or salvation) through history, and which was always (if one thinks about it) established by grace through faith. Israel was natural to that tree (branches), because they had the adoption as sons, the glory and the covenants, and the Law and the temple, the promises, the heritage, and from them would come Christ. Israel had that which should have given them all that was necessary to come to faith in God’s promise and be rightly related to him (although they would have looked forward through type by faith to the provision of Christ). Gentiles, on the other hand, had none of those benefits, and so would not have “naturally” come to an awareness of how one is made right with God–they would be unnatural to that tree. I think that tree would have had other notables attached as well who were not Jewish–Abel, Noah, and even Abraham and Isaac (who were not, strictly speaking, Israel). Regardless, the attachment point of any branch, Israelite or not, would be trust in the promise of God, and the break off point would be unbelief just as you said. I don’t see where it is necessary, however, to involve the concept of election in the substance of the metaphor, if anything I see it as part of the corrective to such a notion that Paul began developing in chapter 9.

    <Romans 11:28 states that they are still loved for the sake of the Fathers, but this is based on the choice of the Fathers and God’s promise to them, not on their current status, for their current status is of the non-elect/hardened (Romans 11:7).
    This seems equivocal to me. Their current status is that they have the fathers they have. If my father (and his progeny after him) are appointed something, my status as to that appointment is established at conception and subsequent birth. My reception of it is another question. So I would classify them as elect for service but broken off from salvation, not non-elect: a fact verified by the revelation that God is not done with them yet, but will bring them wholesale into salvation at a later time in history, and that Paul demonstrates that the notion that election for service equates with the reception of salvation is not true. No one is elect for salvation apart from faith in God.

    I don’t think our differences of opinion amount to much practically speaking. Neither of us sees the Jews as saved by virtue of being Jewish, even if only in the present.

  14. slw,

    We agree on quite a bit. I have few problems with what you write below,

    So I would classify them as elect for service but broken off from salvation, not non-elect: a fact verified by the revelation that God is not done with them yet, but will bring them wholesale into salvation at a later time in history

    My first issue here is that election for service is simply not an issue being described specifically in these chapters. Ethnic Israel received special benefits from their OT election (even ethnic Israelites who did not embrace the covenant through faith), but Paul does not specifically deal with a particular election to service vs. an election to salvation. I do think that Paul is presenting a paradox of Israel being elect and non-elect, but not in the sense of elect to service vs. elect to salvation. In what sense could we say that unbelieving and disobedient Israel is presently “elect to service”? Unbelieving Israel is in no way serving God, nor are they even capable of serving God. Election has both aspects, and I don’t see Paul divining Election into election to service (which you contend unbelieving Israel still possesses) and election to salvation (which they do not possess). Rather, Israel is still beloved in the sense that God is still devoted to them, has not entirely given up on them, and is still working towards their salvation (as Paul makes clear concerning the potential for jealousy in the Gentiles’ relationship with God through faith in Christ).

    Again, Paul makes clear in other passages that election is in Christ for both Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 1:4). No Christ, no election. This is plainly supported in the fact that Paul says the unbelieving Jews are non-elect (Roman 11:7), which leads right into the discussion of the olive tree (which in the OT represents God’s people). I think your basic assumption of the olive tree is accurate, except that you still seem to want to maintain that while salvation is involved, election is not. You say it is the people of God in right relationship with God throughout history. Exactly, the true Israel. I also agree that Noah and others would be a part of that tree, but Paul is being a little more narrow here for the sake of dealing specifically with unbelieving Israel’s status vs. the true Israel (all who receive the promise [which includes election] by faith).

    I also think some of our differences come from a different approach on what constitutes Israel. I know you are a dispensationalist, while I am closer to replacement theology. The church is now God’s chosen people. God has not forgotten about Israel and is still working towards their salvation (and the benefits of their history can strengthen that working), but they are not God’s chosen people in the fullest sense. That title is for the church only, made up of Jews and Gentiles who find their identity and election as God’s people in Christ.

    Despite our differences on election, we agree on the main issue in this post, which is that true believers can be broken off from salvation through unbelief and believers becoming unbelievers is something that Paul certainly sees as possible, rather than hypothetical-impossible.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  15. Thanks Ben for the response. I do, in fact, find myself in agreement with what you (and JC for that matter) write virtually always. I think you identify the source of our divergence on this side note to the original post accurately–dispensationalism vs. supersessionism. I appreciate the cross-pollination, but as for the original subject (the nature of perseverance) we’re of the same flower.

    God’s Best,
    slw

  16. slw,

    Thanks for the response. Supersessionism is probably a better descriptor. I do believe that God is very concerned about Israel and is working to bring them under One head with the Gentiles-Christ. However, so long as they reject Christ they are missing out on New Covenant election (and salvation, which is tied up in NC election), which is only through faith union with God’s chosen covenant Head (Christ), the promised Seed. I am not among those replacement theologians who seemingly do not see any significance remaining for Israel.

    At any rate, I personally don’t see why a dispensational view would necessarily need to take a different view of election and all that it entails in Romans than I take, though I can see dispensationalism providing the framework to take it differently.

    God Bless,
    Ben

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