Romans 11:1: Paul, an instructive conversion


  • His Jewishness
  • His stubbornness


We all love to hear stories of radical conversions. I think we are addicted to radical conversions because we forget that every conversion is radical, because to raise the spiritually dead is something no one but God can do, no matter what sort of sins you were involved in. Our faith is small and hearing of the conversion of those more sinful than us encourages us and reminds us that God can save even us, as well as loved ones and friends who appear so hardened. We love to hear of atheists who convert to give us confidence against atheists, or Muslims because of their dominance in the world.

A recent high profile conversion would be that of Rosaria Butterfield. She was a lesbian professor in California and is now a home-schooling; Reformed pastor’s wife with several adopted children. She describes her life like this:

‘After my tenure book was published, I used my post to advance the understandable allegiances of a leftist lesbian professor. My life was happy, meaningful, and full. My partner and I shared many vital interests: aids activism, children’s health and literacy, Golden Retriever rescue, our Unitarian Universalist church, to name a few.’

She was doing research on the conservative Christian right and wrote a controversial critique of the Promise Keepers movement. This resulted in hate and fan mail. However, she received one letter which she could not categorise and which challenged her. It did not denounce or defend her but challenged her to examine the assumptions of her assertions. This led to her meeting the pastor who began a two year friendship which included bringing her into their home, which resulted in God converting her.

She has sold many books talking about her conversion and is extremely intelligent and insightful in how Christians should be talking to and about homosexuality. Her conversion is in many ways a Godsend and has been the means by which many Christians have learnt how to navigate the controversial and confusing waters off sexual identity. Paul’s conversion is being held up by Paul to encourage us in the same way.

We are looking at the unbelief of the Jews and God’s plan of salvation for them. We know that if God fails to keep His promises to Israel He will be proven to be a liar and all of Christianity will fall apart. Paul is addressing matters that relate to the foundations of our faith, the assurance of our salvation, as well as race relation issues between Jews and Gentiles. We have seen that the Jews have wilfully disobeyed and not believed in Christ but clung to their self efforts for righteousness. This observation can make us very pessimistic and leap to wrong conclusions about the Jews. In v1 Paul points to himself as the reason why we must not be pessimistic but trust in God to keep His promises and fulfil His plan. Paul reminds us by His conversion that God is a God of mercy, faithfulness and power, He does and can save hard cases.