Romans 11 admonishes us to consider the KINDNESS and the STERNNESS of God. A lot of heartache, bad fruit, and loss can come from emphasizing either one to the exclusion of the other. This chapter contains one of my favorite passages of Scripture, because it reveals so much about God's character and our relationship to Him. In it Paul is speaking to Gentile believers about salvation, Israel, and their own standing as Gentiles:
"I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
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.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off."
A sobering warning, to be sure. But our God is that awesome, that amazing, that terrifying (do a study on "fear" and see how many times people are terrified, frightened, phobeo in the Greek--yes, even in the New Testament).
This is the very same God who speaks in a still, small voice; who is a consuming fire; at whose name demons tremble--and yet is the God who numbers the hairs on our heads and whom children were unafraid to gather around! Who is this amazing and wonderful Creator?
He does not change. He is the only true God (John 17:3), and He is the same in the Old Testament as in the New. Did you know that the Hebrews in the desert, after fleeing Egypt, had the gospel preached to them?
Hebrews 3:17-19, 4:1-2
And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
The gospel has been preached, in a sense, throughout the entire Bible. Salvation has ALWAYS been by grace through faith, even for those in the Old Testament.
Which brings me to another favorite passage...Heb 11, the "faith chapter."
Heb 11:1-2, 6-10
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval....And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
By faith, by faith, by faith. Look at the whole chapter, at the saints of the Old Testament, the faithful, those who hoped in God: they believed that He had a plan. Many people make the mistake of thinking that for faithful Jews in the Old Testament, salvation came through the Law. Many places in the NT make it clear that it never came through the Law--it has always been by faith, and was made complete by the obedience and suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross. By Him we gain entrance to "a better country, that is, a heavenly one" that Abraham and the other OT saints looked to and believed in (Heb 11:16).
Let's press on in faith, that we too might enter His Rest (Heb 4:1-6).