As Paul states in Romans 11:29, “the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable” or “without repentance” (KJV). “Gifts” are those things that are freely or graciously given—think of the Christmas gifts you may have been given as a child. “Callings” are those things someone has summoned or invited another to do. In this instance, the gifts and callings come from God—God is the giver of the gifts and the initiator of the callings. These particular gifts and callings “can never be withdrawn” (NLT).
In the immediate context of Romans 11:29, Paul is discussing the place of Israel in God’s plan. Romans 1—8 discusses the condemnation, justification, sanctification, and future glorification of all the world. He concludes chapter 8 with a wonderful statement of the surety of all these things, particularly the security of the believer in Christ regarding eternal life. The following questions then arise: “Didn’t God make promises to Israel? Are those promises going to be kept?” Paul answers in Romans 9—11.
Prior to the statement, “The gifts and callings of God are without irrevocable” in Romans 11:29, Paul says that “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). When all the Gentiles who will be saved receive salvation, Israel will return to God and be saved (verse 26). Paul then concludes that, from the viewpoint of the Gentile, the Israelites are enemies, but, from the viewpoint of God, they are His beloved (verse 28). God will not renege on His promises to Israel, because the gifts and callings of God are without repentance (verse 29).
The history and future of Israel are foundational for understanding Romans 11:29. In Genesis 12, God makes a seven-part promise to Abraham. The first part of this promise is, “I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). Abraham follows the command of God and leaves his homeland. God fulfills His promise by making the descendants of Abraham a great nation—Israel. God calls Abraham to be the father of this nation. This calling is irrevocable. Throughout the Old Testament, God makes many promises to Israel, including an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12–13), fellowship with Him (Jeremiah 31:31–34), and much more.
Paul was sure that God had plans for Israel. The people had hardened their hearts against God, but God’s gifts and callings are without repentance. God did not regret those gifts and callings and would not revoke them. Even to this day, God has not fulfilled all the gifts, callings, and promises given to Israel, but we can be certain, as Paul was, that He will.
God’s gifts and callings to the believer in Christ are also irrevocable. For example, “the free gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23). This gift is given to those who believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9); namely, His death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). That gift is truly eternal, secure, and irrevocable.