Question 1 – How does salvation for an Israelite work?
The real question should have been: what makes salvation for them any different than salvation for anyone else? Because salvation is through the blood of Christ, salvation is exactly the same for anyone, Jew or Gentile. In chapter 4, Paul places everyone in the same boat by using Abraham as an example of righteousness through faith rather than through the Law or circumcision. Although the Jews have connected with God through the Law since Moses and circumcision since Abraham, Paul emphasizes from chapter 3 to chapter 7 that the Law can only show people that they are sinful but it cannot produce righteousness and that circumcision was intended to serve as a seal of righteousness but does not bring righteousness of its own. Later in 7:4, Paul speaks about the fact that Christians have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that we can belong to Christ, who was raised from to dead to enable us to bear fruit.
But although salvation can only be found for the Jew or the Gentile through calling on Jesus Christ, it was mentioned that is was probably more difficult for Jews to turn to Christ instead of the Law. For hundreds of years the Jews had found righteousness in what they did rather than what someone did for them. They are the children of promise and perhaps it was difficult for them to accept that now Gentiles could accept God’s favor in the exact same way.
Question 2 – What makes the Jews special?
The biggest thing that makes the Jews special is God’s promise to Abraham found in Genesis 12:1-3 when God said,
Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (ESV)
The Jews were the children of the promise and carried with them the blessing of God. They were given the Law and the prophets and had the gospel preached to them in advance. Paul explains in Romans 11 that the Jews are the natural branches attached to the “nourishing root,” which symbolized God’s blessing to Abraham.
The blessing of God can also be seen in the nation of Israel. The United States’ blessing is an extension of this because of our nation’s support of Israel. Everything in the world revolves around what happens in Israel, even though they are a very small country. In fact, they are one of, if not the only, country in the Middle East that does not produce oil on a large scale but they are still in the middle of everything important that happens.
Question 2b – How should a Gentile relate with a Jew?
It was mentioned that it must be difficult for the Jews to accept that Gentiles can be grafted into the same olive tree and that Gentiles ought to be sensitive to this point. It is like a parent adopting a child and giving them the same exact rights and privileges as their natural child. It is understandable in the natural that the natural child might feel jealous. The adopted child ought to realize the gift that he or she has received and not be arrogant of their new-found standing. Paul emphasizes this in 11:17-18 when he says, “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” Gentiles should be quick to consider that their blessing comes from the root of Abraham.
Question 3 – Can a saved individual be cut off from their salvation? Why?
The 3 biggest issues brought up were: 1) Is is possible to have a true conversion to Christ and subsequently change your mind and reject Christ? 2) If it is not possible, how can we explain verses like Hebrews 6:4-6, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the son of god to their own harm and holding him up in contempt.” 3) Does this question truly matter if both sides agree from a practical standpoint?
It was argued that if Christ had truly converted someone to himself, that person would never be able to leave him (the idea of perseverance of the saints). It could be that the person who seems to fall away was never truly in relationship with Christ to begin with and therefore could leave the relationship because it was never really a relationship. Conversely, it was argued that in light of the verse above, it seems that people can in fact share in the Holy Spirit and then fall away. Why couldn’t someone choose no longer to be in relationship with Christ and therefore cease to be “in Christ”? This would seem to result in a loss of their salvation.
The final thought discussed comes from Paul’s exclamation immediately after his statement about groups or individuals being “broken off,” when he says that no one can understand the mind of God. Could it be that since we will never be able to understand this completely, we should focus on how salvation works practically more than theologically? In both viewpoints, there is a moment of repentance and then a continual relationship with the Lord in order to have salvation. Is is possible that understanding this is the most important aspect of salvation and that we ought to leave the decisions about the loss of salvation in God’s hands?