Grafted In, Grafted OutBy Nathan Mates
The Jews were God's chosen people. Note the past tense in 'were'. God called Abram out of the Ur of the Chaldeans, promising that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." [Genesis 12:3] Later, Moses led the nation of Israel (after Abraham's descendants were numerous to be called a nation) out of Egypt and they took their promised land as their inheritance. Yet, on numerous instances, they disobeyed God-- wicked Kings, wicked people, wicked deeds. God cannot stand sin, and the nation of Israel was given over to Babylonian conquerors for decades with Jerusalem in ruins.
God dealt with the sin problem once and for all on the cross, but large numbers of Jews at the time didn't accept that solution. One of them was Saul of Tarsis, who approved of the outright killing of Christians until Jesus showed up and had a little "talk" with Saul. Years later, Paul had this to say about "the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." [Romans 9:4-5]
Continuing on in his letter to the Romans, Paul detailed how the Israelites had lost their exclusive ties with God-- it was now the turn of the Gentiles (non-Jews) to also get the chance to hear and respond to God's word. Jesus's Great Commission had officially started that-- Jesus said "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations," [Matthew 28:19a] to his disciples after the resurrection. God commanded the disciples that the truth of Jesus was to be spread to the whole world, and most of us are the direct beneficiaries of that. I'm just one example of that-- my family tree heads towards England and Northern Europe, areas that the Jews never occupied.
Paul compared the shifting of the focus of preaching away from only the Jews to the Gentiles as a graft. No, not the illegal payments of money as in corruption (as if God needs or could be given cash directly), but the agricultural graft. A branch from one tree can be broken off, and attached to a spot on a different tree where a branch had just been broken off. It's much easier to rearrange limbs of various trees than limbs of animals, and to Paul's first century AD readers, this was a good metaphor for them. Centuries later, when most people haven't farmed for a living, this metaphor takes more explaining.
Paul's words on this subject are as follows, where "you" are the non-Jewish audience of this letter: "If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either." [Romans 11:17-21]
"Harsh" words towards the end of that: those who've been grafted into God's Kingdom (i.e. most of us) can be ripped out if they fall into the same mistakes as the Israelites did. And yet, we owe our salvation to this "harshness" God had towards the Israelites who refused to listen to his word. If God had not been harsh to others, we would be going to hell. Period. So, thank God for the mercy he's given you, and listen and obey his words. Unbelief (and inaction, by James 2:26) is to reject God. You cannot reject God and get into Heaven. There's simply no other way into Heaven, though the devil would love to sucker you into believing in something that'll only keep him company.
There are many who call themselves Christian these days, but their actions deny that. Over 95% of Americans are surveyed to believe in God, but is that what we see when sin is running rampant? Murder, suicide, teen pregnancy, and crime rates-- all external sins-- have gone through the roof, but people still claim to be religious. If the outward actions are sinful, how can people's hearts be pure towards the Lord? Simply claiming to be Christian is not enough-- it's Jesus who's the decider of that. As Jesus said, "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" [Matthew 7:23]
The New Testament, contrary to what many would like to believe, is harsh on the deliberate unbeliever. [As opposed to the unbeliever who's never heard the Gospel, the deliberate unbelievers are those who've heard God's word and rejected it.] As noted above, Paul says that it's within God's will to graft out those who reject him. Later, he advocates expelling those who take pride in the immoral behavior of their congregation: "And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?" [1 Corinthians 5:2] Yes, everyone is a sinner, and there's no congregation without sinners in its midst. But, proudly accepting blatant sinners-- who were practicing immorality of the kind not occurring among even the pagans [1 Corinthians 5:1]-- without working to reduce the sin in their life is wrong.
This "harsh" attitude was not just limited to Paul's writings. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote this: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." [James 1:22] James also condemns the rich oppressors of the poor: "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. [...] You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you." [James 5:1, 5-6]
The final book of the New Testament, Revelation, starts with warnings from Jesus given to seven churches in chapters 2-3. These are hardly pleasant warnings, as a sampling shows:
"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." [Rev 2:4-5]
"Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols." [Rev 2:20]
"To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you." [Rev 3:1-3]
"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent." [Rev 3:15-19]
Jesus knows your words, your deeds, your thoughts, your actions, and your temperature. You can't get into heaven by the good works of others, or by association with Christians-- this must be a personal decision of yours, and yours alone. Don't delay this decision, or grow lukewarm days, months, or years after accepting God. What God has grafted into his Church, he can and will graft out the unbelievers. In Romans 11:25-32, Paul notes that once the "full number of Gentiles has come in," God's attention and favor will shift back exclusively to the Israelites, allowing them to acknowledge him and be saved. That number of Gentiles left to be allowed in is dropping. Only God knows how many are left, but I pray you won't be caught unready for God's return.