At our last house, as with every house we’ve owned, we needed a lot of landscaping work done. The previous owners had brought in a professional to design their landscaping, and this person had done a fantastic job. However, the owners for whatever reason had then never tended it, leaving it to grow wild. When we arrived on the scene, we had to pull out all the overgrown and dying shrubbery, flowers, and even uproot a small tree.
In it’s place, we bought a tree of our own. The space was small and close to the house, so we wanted a smaller tree. The neighbors had two huge weeping willows in their back yard and we loved them, so we decided to find a small (8 foot tall) weeping willow. Finding out there is no such thing, we bought the next best thing – a willow bush grafted on to the trunk of a different but compatible tree. It created a small weeping willow, and we were content.
From this experience, I learned about grafting new branches to old trees. I learned that the graft doesn’t always take, but when it does it is often seamless. I learned that this new creation may well send out branches of the trunk variety in the midst of the grafted-in branches. And I learned that you can create brand new things with these grafts.
Paul says that Gentiles (that’s you and me) are “grafted branches” on the tree of Christian faith. The trunk is Judaism, that faith through which God worked in the world for millennia. But the branches of this tree have been broken off through their unfaithfulness, namely their refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah and to accept righteousness as a free gift rather than an earned reward. In the place of these branches are new branches, Gentile followers of Christ. In grafting us in, God made a seamless graft, one that created a brand new thing, but one where the old characteristics of the old trunk can easily turn up in the new grafted branches.
Most notably, we can quickly turn to legalism just as the Jews did. And just like the Jews, a righteousness that is a reward for obedience is not a free gift as God intends. So as newly grafted branches, Christians with a Jewish heritage, we must be extra careful to keep the free gift of God’s grace free.