God does not spare the branches

“Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either” (Romans 11:20, 21).

For a balanced understanding of this warning, we must remember the teachings in Romans 1 through 8.

Both Jews and Gentiles are condemned because of their sins, and can be saved only by grace. No one can earn salvation by keeping the law because all are sinners. Salvation is a gift of God, extended to those who believe in Christ.

Nothing external can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35, 39). Misapplying this passage, some claim it is impossible for a Christian to fall away. Although no external force can tear us away from God, many passages teach that we can choose the wrong path ourselves and go astray. Prominent among them are the warnings in Romans 11, that branches on God’s tree can be removed. As we consider these warnings we must keep in mind, that because of God’s grace, there is absolutely no reason for us to be cut off. We are cut off only if we turn our back on Christ.

In Romans 9 through 11 Paul discusses the new nature of God’s chosen people and explains why most of the Jews rejected Christ.

The Jews tended to think they would be saved because they were descendents of Abraham.

John the Baptist taught otherwise: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’” (Matthew 3:7-10).

Paul refers to Ishmael and Esau as proof that it is not a matter of physical birth. Although offspring of Abraham, they were not included among God’s people (Romans 9:6-15). Even of Israel, only a remnant would be saved (Romans 9:27, 29). God decides who is, and who is not, included among His people, and those who rejected the Messiah would be “utterly destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:23; see Deuteronomy 18:15,18,19; Numbers 15:30, 31; Acts 7:37).

Now, anyone who believes in Christ can be saved, whether he is a Jew or a Gentile (Romans 10:8-15). Now, it depends on faith and spiritual rebirth, not on physical birth (1 Peter 1:23).

But this gospel must be obeyed, and many of the Jews refused to obey: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our report?’So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.’ But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: ‘I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.’ But Isaiah is very bold and says: ‘I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.’ But to Israel he says: ‘All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people’” (Romans 10:16-21).

In Romans 11 Paul says that, although most Jews rejected the Messiah, God had not rejected His people, since all Jews still could be saved if they accepted Christ. The rejection of Christ by the Jews was part of God’s plan. This made it easier for believing Gentiles to be added to God’s people.

Paul then compares God’s people to an olive tree. The root is holy “and if the root is holy, so are the branches” (Romans 11:16). But dead branches are cut off. “Because of unbelief they were broken off” (Romans 11:20). Jews who do not accept Christ are removed from God’s people. Gentiles who believe in Christ are grafted onto God’s tree, although they originally came from a ‘wild’ tree.

But the Gentile believer may not be smug. “You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Romans 11:19-24).

Now, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, we can be branches on God’s tree only by faith. And we are told to fear. If we are unbelieving or disobedient, we will be cut off. “For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Romans 11:30-32).

Here Paul repeats the main theme of the letter to the Romans, that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are sinners and can only be saved by grace through faith in Christ. And he adds the warning that we must maintain our faith, otherwise we will be cut off. And severed branches can be grafted in again “if they do not continue in unbelief” (Romans 11:23, 24).

Jesus makes a similar comparison: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:1-8).

God does not spare the branches. A branch in Christ that does not bear fruit is taken away. Branches that bear fruit are pruned so they will bear more fruit. A pruned branch was referred to as having being ‘cleansed’. This is why Jesus says: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (verse 3).

Jesus says: “I am the true vine.” Many religious people are branches on false vines sprouting like weeds from traditions and teachings of men.

After Jesus had made a harsh statement about religious people in His day, His disciples asked Him: “‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’ But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch’” (Matthew 15:12-14). Jesus had just told the Pharisees: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:7-9).

These people are religious. They are praising God. But they are walking down the broad road to destruction because they blindly follow blind guides. They think they are branches on God’s tree, but they will be uprooted because in reality they are attached to a plant God has not planted. Turn your back on human denominations and serve God in the church of Christ.

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

What a wonderful privilege that by grace we can be branches on God’s tree, that we can partake “of the rich root of the olive tree” (NASV), that we can be branches on the root that is holy (Romans 11:16, 17), that we can bear fruit because we abide in Christ and His word abides in us (John 15:1-8).

God does not spare the branches. Therefore “let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28, 29), “looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15).

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive