for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
This is one of the strongest theological verses in the Bible to support the belief that Salvation is irrevocable. In the book of Hebrews this idea is further elaborated on, but Paul puts it plain and clear – it is irrevocable. Yet traditionally, perhaps due to how simple and straightforward it is, this verse has always caused misunderstandings. In Romans 11, Paul ends off his long theological lecture on various core theology with the ideas of the elect and the nature of grace. To expound on his teaching of the greatness of the Lord’s grace, he emphasizes that the gift, which is Salvation, that the Lord has given us is irrevocable – that can only come from grace, a grace that is completely divine and supernatural. The context is clear – he was talking about Israel, and he was referring to their salvation, via the new covenant as described by Jeremiah in Jer 31:31 – Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah – a covenant that was unconditional. Without taking away any significance of this verse to the Israelites, let us attempt to apply this verse to our modern Christian lives. In this study, we will address the issues people often have with this verse and ponder on the word ‘irrevocable’.
God’s gifts – this is always potentially misleading, no? I’m going to first argue that the gifts here refer not to natural gifts, like blessings and favours in terms of health, work, relationships, opportunities, families etc. Job, in the midst of his adversity, declared that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away [Job 1:21], and indeed, we owe God nothing. He is the originator of these gifts, and he has full sovereign over when and what to give, and when and what to take away. Neither does it refer to what we loosely term spiritual gifts – talents, as referred to skills that aid us in our ministry services in the Kingdom of God, for example teaching, serving, encouraging, leading etc. This is very important – the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 clearly tells us that the Lord is sovereign over us in this matter, and if we do not use our gifts wisely, he can and will take it back.
What then, does it refer to?
Salvation. The gift of salvation, the gift of God’s grace and favour freely given to us, concerning the eternal welfare of our souls. You may disagree, and many will disagree, but amongst all the gifts that God grants humanity, this is perhaps the greatest of all, and perhaps the only one that merits the adjective ‘irrevocable’.
and his call – What then, is his call? Probably not like how the Lord called Samuel, not literally. Probably not what many pastors and missionaries today term as their ‘calling’ – in which they have been prompted by the Spirit to commit to the Lord’s work. No, this probably reflects to something far simpler, far more personal and intimate – the internal call that God reserves for everyone of us, in which he calls us to know him, to worship him, to love him, to enjoy him. Again, many may disagree, but this forms a close connection with the gift of salvation.
are irrevocable – There are many verses that complements this idea – I the Lord do not change [Mal 3:6]; God does not change like shifting shadows [James 1:17]; God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind [Num 23:19]; But you remain the same [Psa 102:27]. Yet, there are also verses that seem to contradict it – The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth [Gen 6:6]; I regret that I have made Saul king [1 Sam 15:11]; So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them [Isa 63:10].
Conflicts seem to happen when we fail to understand what the gifts and the call in this verse refers to. God himself, do not, and cannot change. His regret of making human beings is well-known, yet his regret stems from the deviation of humanity from his original plans for us. God has not changed. It’s just that humanity has swayed away from him, and for that God grieves. Likewise Saul – God’s regret is perhaps better understood as his grief at the road that Saul has chosen, by his own free will, to walk upon.
Let’s get back to point – I have elaborated a lot on what this verse isn’t talking about. Blessings are not irrevocable – your blessing of wealth today does not mean you will not one day be declared bankrupt. Spiritual gifts are not irrevocable – your ability to sing, or to encourage, or to teach, or to have compassion on others may all one day dwindle and fade away. The temporal nature of blessings and of gifts do not mean that our God is inconsistent – no, it simply means that we need to cherish our blessings and spiritual gifts while we have them, and to hope in the Lord when we have them not.
Yet, the gift of Salvation is irrevocable. You may have heard of people who were life-long, strong and committed Christians, who meet a crisis of faith and leave the church and their walk with God for a while. Perhaps they may one day return to the walk with God, but what if they die while they are away? Does that mean they perish? I would like to think that once a person confess with their mouths and truly admit in their hearts that Jesus is Lord, then they will be saved [Rom 10:10]. Even if they only do it once in their lifetimes, even if later on they doubted and questioned and indulged in sin and revelry. This is but just a school of thought, and there will be differing ones, but this is one of the core doctrines, simply because of its implications.
We do not need to worry about our salvation. We don’t do good to ensure we keep our salvation. We don’t need to pretend our doubts in our hearts do not exist for fear of losing our salvation – and we can take the time and the resources that we require to deal with these doubts – it may take a lifetime and more to do so. Instead, we do what is good in the eyes of the Lord because we rejoice in our Lord. God’s gift and call are irrevocable. If you truly believe, you will be saved. This is a cold hard rule. There are no exceptions. Just like how Israel will be saved, that’s a promise, and that’s irrevocable.