Are we responding to God's favor with humility?

Recently, I stopped at one of my favorite local restaurants to grab a slice of pizza. After I sat down, a group of about eight teenage boys came in. Only one ordered food. The rest just made a mess, swore repeatedly and loudly, banged on the window near their seats, and left without tipping the waitress. After they walked out, she commented, "Some boys don't seem to know how to function in public without their mommies."

I mentioned this to my sons since I wondered if they might know some of the guys. They weren't completely sure who it was, but one of my sons said, "If I had to guess who it was, I'd guess it's probably some of the guys I know who have everything in life handed to them. They don't appreciate anything."

Isn't it ironic when we consider the fact that the more we're blessed, the more likely it may be that we'll begin acting like we actually deserved that blessing? Instead of treating our blessings like a gift, and responding with humility, we often puff ourselves up and begin thinking of ourselves as more worthy than others to receive them.

That was a mindset that the Apostle Paul cautioned us not to adopt in regard to our salvation. We don't deserve what God has given us. We actually deserve the opposite. So as we contemplate the gracious ways God has blessed our lives, we're encouraged to respond to His favor with humility. Look at how Paul elaborates on this in Romans 11:17-36...

I. Don't get a big head

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. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 
— Romans 11:17-21, ESV

In this portion of Romans, Paul continues the thought he was speaking about in the previous verses. Paul has been speaking about God's desire to offer the gift of salvation to the Gentiles since the children of Israel have primarily rejected Jesus. Paul uses the analogy of a tree in these verses, and he speaks of both Jews and Gentiles operating like branches. Unbelieving Jews were like branches that had been broken off, and believing Gentiles were like wild olive shoots that were grafted into the tree in order to share in its nourishment.

That's quite the blessing. To have been, at one time, excluded from the family of God, but now included, is rather significant. In fact, Paul estimated that some people might be tempted to brag about it a little by pointing out that, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." And while that's true, that isn't an excuse to get a big head. Rather, it should prompt a response of humility and reverence toward God. If God has the capacity to determine our eternal destination, we shouldn't act arrogantly toward Him, nor should we respond to His gifts in a prideful manner.

Exhibiting pride isn't something new for those God has created, but it remains repugnant. Consider for a moment how the Lord had blessed Lucifer. Lucifer was created by God as a perfect, beautiful, and powerful angel, but his response to his blessings was to worship himself and try to elevate himself above his Creator.

Yet for those of us who trust in Christ, a different attitude should flow freely from our lives. Jesus, who is by very nature God, came to this earth, walked in humility, and served those He interacted with. As recipients of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, we're called to mirror Christ's heart. When the world observes the children of God, they should see a reflection of Jesus in us, not a reflection of the pride of Satan. Therefore, don't get a big head about what God has done for you. Respond gratefully, joyfully, and humbly to His favor.

II. Don't minimize the value of God's kindness

Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.  And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.  For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
— Romans 11:22-24, ESV

As Paul continues to speak about the work of God in salvation, he points out both the kindness of God, and the severity of God. God has shown kindness to the Gentiles by grafting them into His family, and severity to Jews who have persisted in unbelief. But just as quickly as God was able to graft into a cultivated olive tree the wild olive shoots who believed, imagine how quickly He could graft natural branches into that tree.

The point being made in these verses is that those who continue in belief demonstrate that their faith is genuine. If a Gentile accepts Jesus Christ, they will be saved. If a Jew accepts Jesus Christ, they too will be saved. But those who continue in their unbelief will be cut off from the kindness of God forever.

The kindness of God is something that can be easy to minimize, and we've all done it. Likewise, we forget that His kindness and severity work hand-in-hand as the outpouring of His perfectly merciful and perfectly just nature.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,”
— Titus 3:4-6, ESV

Be honest with yourself for a moment. How many times in your life have you attempted to take advantage of the kindness of God? More times than I prefer to admit, I have minimized the value of His kindness by taking it for granted. Whenever I have wanted to justify rebellion, selfishness, and pride in my own life, I have conveniently assured myself of God's kindness as if that offered me the perfect excuse to live selfishly. But that's not God's desire for me as His child, so I'm grateful that Romans 11:22 also reminds me of God's severity. For the sake of our walk with Christ, it's healthy for us to be conscious of both.

III. Don't be unaware of God's long-term plans

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.  For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
— Romans 11:25-32, ESV

As Paul continues to educate the church at Rome, he begins speaking of God's long-term plans for humanity. God's gifts and His calling are irrevocable. His plans will not be thwarted. For a season, the children of Israel have been hardened, but God has not forgotten his covenant with them. The Deliverer, Jesus Christ, who has rescued and redeemed us, is the same Deliverer who will rescue and save them.

So, at this point, we live in a temporary season when God is focusing His attention on the Gentile nations until the full number of those who will believe are reached. Then, as Scripture reveals, His attention will again be directed toward the children of Israel, and many from among their tribes will become the recipients of the mercy of God, and will finally see that Jesus is their long-awaited, long-promised Messiah.

IV. Don't neglect to give God glory

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
— Romans 11:33-36, ESV

I enjoy how this chapter of Romans concludes. As Paul was wrapping up these thoughts, you can almost picture him leaning back a little, looking up with a smile, and beaming brightly as he acknowledged the depths of God's riches, wisdom, knowledge, judgments, and ways of operating.

And as he does this, Paul makes a point to give God glory for it all. That's quite appropriate considering that's what God has designed us all to do. In fact, giving Him glory is the chief purpose of our lives. So as we finish our look at this chapter, let's consider how we can truly honor, adore, praise, and give Him thanks.

  • We can glorify God by honoring His will through obedience to His word.

  • We can glorify God by recognizing that our hearts will never find true satisfaction until our hearts come to faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Everything else we're tempted to adore is going to eventually break our heart.

  • We can glorify God by praising Him in all circumstances. He knows what's truly best for us. If He ordains for us a season that will stretch our faith, we can praise Him. If He ordains for us a season that offers us rest from discomfort, we can praise Him for that as well.

  • We can glorify God by giving Him thanks. We can thank Him for showing us His mercy through the work of Christ on our behalf. We can thank Him for working all things together for our good. We can thank Him that His compassionate eyes are always upon us.

God has shown His favor to us in more ways than we often recognize. How are we responding to the favor He has graciously shown us? Will we respond smugly as if His favor is deserved, or will we respond with humble and grateful hearts that delight in giving Him glory?

© John Stange, 2019