Posts Tagged ‘Doctrines of Grace

27
Aug
17

Authentic Evangelism and Its Counterfeit–Study Guide

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26
Aug
17

An Appeal to Closet Calvinists

This appeal is addressed to those evangelical pastors and Christian teachers who admit to a belief in God’s sovereign grace but, for reasons which we shall discuss in this booklet, never preach or teach this truth. For the lack of a better designation, we will refer to such pastors and teachers as ‘closet Calvinists.’

A Description of a Closet Calvinist

Like many of his contemporaries in the Lord’s work, the closet Calvinist is quite bold when he expounds those truths that he knows his hearers already believe. Notice how courageous he is when he proclaims popular evangelical opinions that are calculated to please the ears of those who have gathered to fulfill their religious obligation for another week. Yet, there are some biblical truths that cause him to cower in the cloistered safety of his ‘study’ where, if cornered, he might own up to believing some of the ‘deeper truths’ of Scripture. On these rare occasions, he will quickly explain that the ‘meat of the Word’ is not for everyone. Meat is only intended for the mature to masticate in the seclusion of their closets. It is surely not good for the sheep.

Devastating Effects

The truth is, the closet Calvinist knows that, to fleshly minds, some biblical truths are more palatable than others. His loud proclamation can be heard for miles when he declares some of these more tasty truths. He is often heard by thousands of people who will marvel at the great work that he is doing. The tragedy is that his ministry is having a devastating effect on the Church. Closet Calvinists are guilty of allowing fleshly hearers to persist in the delusion that they love the truth of God and the God of truth. The reality is that if he were honest in his teaching about God’s attributes and His discriminating decrees, many of his hearers would go back and walk no more with him (see John 6: 65-6). A more serious effect of the closet Calvinist’s sinful silence is that he is robbing Christ’s sheep of the very truths that God intended for their spiritual growth and edification.

In his classic book, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, written over a century and a half ago, Octavius Winslow warned of the devastating effects of holding back God’s revealed truth. He wrote,

Is there not in the present day a criminal keeping back by some, and a painful undervaluing by others, of the scriptural and holy doctrines of grace [italics his]?-The doctrines which unfold the eternity of God’s love to His people-the sovereignty of his grace in their election-the effectual power of the Spirit in their calling-the free justification of their persons through the imputed righteousness of Christ, and the entire putting away of their sins by his atoning blood-the solemn obligation to ‘live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world,’ and the certainty of their final glorification in the world to come,-are not these Divinely-revealed truths, at the present moment, and by the great mass of Christian professors and preachers, excluded from our pulpits and exiled from our land” are they not considered mean and unfashionable? and, having lost their savor with many, are they not cast out and trodden under foot of men? We verily and solemnly believe that it is so. By some they are professedly received, but criminally held back; by others they are professedly preached, but with such timidity and obscurity, as to render them of none effect: and by the many they are disbelieved altogether, and therefore openly and boldly denied! And yet, these are the doctrines which shine so luminously in every page of the apostle’s writings-these are the doctrines which formed the grand themes of Christ’s ministration,-and these are the doctrines, to the preaching of which by the reformers, we owe all the civil and religious liberty which, as a nation, we now possess. We hesitate not, then, to say that, along ‘with the denial or the undervaluing of these doctrines of grace, there will go forth an influence that will wither the spirituality and obstruct the prosperity of the churches of our land. It is true, an outward appearance of fruitfulness may follow the exhibition of opposite and conflicting doctrines,-crowds may flock to their standard, and multitudes seem converted by their influence,-but soon these delusive appearances are seen to pass away. The time of trial and sifting comes’, and then it is found-when, alas! too late to close the floodgate against the overwhelming evils which the preaching of error has produced-that the truth, and the truth only in the hands of the Eternal Spirit of God, can really enlighten the dark mind, regenerate the lifeless soul, and subdue and sanctify the rebellious heart: it is then discovered, that the true prosperity of a church, its stability, its spirituality, its vigor. and its holy influences, are essentially, and therefore inseparably, connected with a fearless and holy maintenance of the doctrines of grace; that where they are denied, or held back, or in any way obscured, there may indeed exist the form of godliness, but the power-the glorious, Divine, and sanctifying power-is wanting.1

Knowing Concealment of the Truth

Now, let’s be clear that we are not talking about those who are ignorant of these precious truths that God has revealed in His Word, the Bible. They have another reason for which they ought to be ashamed of themselves. Instead, we are talking about those who profess to know the truth, but willingly conceal it for expedience sake.

For example, there are many pastors who will tell you, behind closed doors, that they believe that, before the world began, God unconditionally chose those whom He intended to save. They will even admit that He determined beforehand to bring these chosen people to faith in His Son. Yet, they will tell you that these truths constitute the ‘meat of the Word’ and are not intended for everyone. The sad reality is that such preachers seldom, if ever, teach these truths to anyone.

Hard Questions

There are several questions that I would like to ask the closet Calvinist and his companions. I would be very grateful if they would give me a straight and satisfying answer.

First, what criterion do you use to distinguish the “meat of the Word’ from the ‘”Milk of the Word?”

I suggest that the distinction between “milk” and “meat” prevalent in evangelicalism today is one that was foreign to the mind of the Apostle Paul. When he distinguished between the milk and meat of the Word, e.g., Cor 3:2, he referred not to two different classes of teaching but to two different ways of presenting the same teaching.This was the view of Charles Hodge, among others. Commenting on I Cor 3:2, he wrote,

What is the distinction which the apostle here makes between milk and meat? It is evidently not the distinction between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God’ Paul did not preach the wisdom of the world to babes in Christ and the wisdom of God to advanced Christians. Neither does he sanction anything of the nature of theDisciplina Arcani, or doctrine of the hidden essence of Christianity, which was introduced in later times. For the sake either of conciliating the heathen, or of preventing believers from forming false notions of the gospel, it became common deliberately to conceal the truth. This is the foundation of the doctrine of reserve, as it is called. which the Romish church has so extensively practiced and taught, inculcating a blind faith, and keeping the people in ignorance [Does this sound familiar?] . . . The import of the figure leads to the conclusion that the difference is rather inthe mode of instruction, than in the things taught. The same truth in one form is milk , in another form strong meat. “Christ,” says Calvin, “is milk for babes, and strong meat for men.” Every doctrine which can be taught to theologians, is taught to children. . . . The important truth is that there are not two sets of doctrine, a higher and a lower form of faith, one for the learned and the other for the unlearned; there is no part of the gospel which we are authorized to keep back from the people [emphases mine].2

God plainly revealed the teaching of free, sovereign and distinguishing grace in the Epistles of the New Testament Scriptures. Are we to assume that there were no new or weak believers in the churches to which the apostles published these truths so clearly. How can we explain the fact that they did not conceal these teachings, if they are only suitable for mature Christians?

Second, what right do you have to conceal the truth that God has revealed?

At times, closet Calvinists resort to Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God. . . . ” in an effort to excuse their lack of faithfulness in proclaiming God’s truth. It is true that God has concealed the answers to some of our questions. These matters belong to Him, and we have no right to pry into them.This is a truth that should stand without controversy. Yet, this is not the only truth that is disclosed in Deut 29:29. The verse continues, “but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Just as we have no ability to reveal or pry into what God has concealed, so we do not have the right to conceal what God has revealed.

Tell me, you who love to quote the well-known Spurgeon, have you not heard Spurgeon? He was no closet Calvinist who exulted in the truth of unconditional election in the solitude of his study. No! He loved to preach on these grand old themes. He said in one of his many sermons on election,

It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching; no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines that are called by nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage to the past. and as I go, I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone. Here and there a heretic, of no very honorable character might rise up and call me brother. But taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren. I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church [emphases mine].3

In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul reminded them of his faithfulness in declaring all the revealed wiII of God. He wrote,

I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable. . . . Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:20-25).

The reason for such boldness is that Paul unequivocally believed these truths. For him, they were not mere academic propositions with which he might entertain himself in his more private moments. He perceived their value, as God’s revealed truth, for abasing the sinner’s arrogance and for training believers in practical godliness. Since he valued God’s truth, he could not conceal it. In his second epistle to the Corinthians he wrote, “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE’ we also believe, therefore also we speak,”. . . (2 Cor 4:13). If God’s truth is burning in our hearts, “. . .we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard”(Acts 4:20). See also Jeremiah 20:9.

Paul tells us in the second chapter of I Corinthians that God’s purpose in revelation is ‘that we might know the things freely given to us by God’ (I Cor 2:12).

If God has plainly revealed the truth of His sovereign grace, what right do you have to conceal it from those to whom it belongs?

Third, if your hearers remain fleshly after hearing all those teachings that your call ‘the milk of the Word,’ what do you now plan to do for them to bring them to maturity?

Such a situation existed among the addressees of the Epistle to the Hebrews.The writer of that treatise had many truths to teach his readers about Melchizedek, but they were dull of hearing. He told them that they needed milk and not solid food (meat).

Concerning him [Christ, a priest after the order of Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness’, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:11-14)

What did he propose to do in that situation. Did he plan to leave them in their state of stupor and continue to feed them nothing but the ‘milk of the Word?’ Did he intend to conceal this important truth from them until they came to maturity? No! He understood that if they continued in this state, they would do so because they had never become Christians at all. It would profit nothing to continue to teach them those doctrines that belonged to the infant state of God’s family. Pursuant to that purpose, he pressed on, in Hebrews seven, with the meaty doctrine of Melchizedek.The lesson this teaches is that we can never hope to mature God’s people as long as we continue to conceal from them those truths that God has revealed for their growth and development.

Fourth, if it is not yet time to teach your people the truth of God’s distinguishing grace, how will you know when that time has come?

What evidence do God’s people give that they have become ready to hear the truth of God’s distinguishing grace? Will they tell you that they have now become disenchanted with your “free will” approach to preaching and ministry and wish to delve into the”meat of the Word?” How do you expect them to become ready to hear the “deeper truths” of God’s Word if you continue to steer them away from such truths? If some of your sheep began to mature through their personal study of the Scriptures, would you continue to starve them in your public teaching and preaching? Would you rob them of God’s revealed truth because there might be some weak believers in your audience whom you fear would be offended by a plain description of their Father’s character and work? If you do not intend to teach the truth now, when do you plan to start?

Finally, I ask you in all candor, is it not true that you have concealed these truths because you have undervalued them?

Is having a large and “successful” church more valuable to you than being faithful to God’s truth? Have you counted the cost of standing up with those who have suffered for the faith and judged it to be to high? Is the approval of your peers more important to you than the smile of God? If so, it is time for you to get your priorities right.

In his excellent, little book, Warnings to the Churches, J. C. Ryle reminds us of an occasion when Bishop Latimer was called on to preach before King Henry VIII. He cites, from memory, the manner in which Latimer began his sermon.

‘Latimer! Latimer! dost thou remember that thou art speaking before the high and mighty King Henry VIII. before him who has the power to command thee to be sent to prison; before him who can have thy head struck off if it please him” Wilt thou not take care to say nothing that will offend royal ears” Then after a pause, he went on: ‘Latimer! Latimer! Dost thou not remember that thou art speaking before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; before Him, at whose bar Henry VIII will stand; before Him, to whom one day thou wilt give an account of thyself’ ‘Latimer! Latimer! be faithful to thy Master and declare all God’s Word.’4

I leave you with two words of exhortation from Paul’s Epistles. In his closing words to the Corinthians he wrote, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (I Cor 16:13). Never has there been a time when there was a greater need for pastors and other Christian teachers to act like men and be strong. In his final exhortation to Timothy, Paul identified the area in which lies our greatest need for manly strength when he wrote,

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship. do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:1-5).


1 Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of religion in the Soul, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust reprint ed. 1962), pp. 121-2.

2 Charles Hodge, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., reprint ed. 1969), pp. 48-9.

3 Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol. 2, (Grand Rapid: Zondervan Publishing House, n.d.) pp. 69-70.

4 J.C. Ryle, Warnings to the Churches, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust. reprint ed. 1967) pp. 34-5.

25
Aug
17

Issues in Romans Nine

It is common for Arminians and other Synergists to accuse Calvinists of taking verses in Romans 9 out of context and using them to prove a doctrine they were never intended to support. This is quite common among Dispensationalists who imagine that God is pursuing two separate programs for two separate peoples. For this reason, they imagine that because Paul is addressing an issue that concerns ethnic Israelites, the doctrine he sets forth must have no application to the Church and to spiritual salvation at all.

Now, it is true that Israel is not the church and the church is not Israel in the sense that Israel as a nation was a body of believers washed in the blood of the Lamb. One does not enter the community of New Covenant in the same way that people became a part of the Old Covenant community. What we must understand is that because the nation of Israel stood as type or prefiguration of the Church, the same principles that applied to that nation in a typical sense are now applicable to the Church in a spiritual sense. None of the blessings the members of Christ’s body now receive were granted to the Israelites, as mere natural descendants of Abraham, in the same sense as they are now granted to believers in Christ. They were chosen, redeemed, called, adopted, granted inheritance etc., but none of those blessings are spiritual or eternal in nature.I

My approach to this passage will necessarily depart from both the classic Reformed view and from the classic Dispensationalist understanding of Israel and the Church. The Reformed view is that the Church is the visible Kingdom of God that is, by design, comprised of believers and unbelievers [i.e., believers and their infant children] in the same way that Israel was the visible Church in the Old Testament. The Dispensational view, as already mentioned, is that God is pursuing two perpetually distinct purposes for two perpetually and perhaps eternally distinct peoples. But we must understand that God has not planted a separate olive tree called “the Church” that is separate and distinct from the good olive tree that is rooted in covenant promises. Instead, he has grafted Gentile believers into “the Righteous Branch” of the good olive tree through faith in Christ, so that they have become heirs of the spiritual promises made to Abraham. According to the Dispensational view, Romans chapters nine through eleven can have little if any significance for anyone other than natural Israelites.

My view is that natural Israel stood as a type or prefiguration of the true people of God [I am using the word “true” here in the same way John and Jesus used the it, i.e., to denote the fulfillment as opposed to the type and shadow. Consider as an example, “I am the TRUE bread.” Jesus did not mean that the manna in the desert was not REAL bread, but that he was the fulfillment of the type]. It helps to understand that the study of typology is simply a matter of recognizing that there are repeated patterns in God’s dealings with his creation.

Some time ago I posted an article titled “Thoughts on Romans 9-11” which I intend to repost at the end of this article since I believe it is important to understand the issues involved in the entire context. What I would like to do here is simply consider this important chapter in its context in an attempt to discern whether Calvinists are truly guilty of misusing it to illegitimately support their doctrine of God’s sovereignty in the matter of the sinner’s salvation.

Romans Nine Is About Spiritual Salvation

My first observation is that the entirety of Romans nine though eleven concerns spiritual salvation. There is not a single word in the entire passage, if properly understood, that concerns the reestablishment of Israel as a political entity, the restoration of the land to that nation, etc. It should be clear to any thinking person that Paul would not be willing to be accursed from Christ for such mundane reasons. It was for the spiritual and eternal salvation of his people that he was concerned. We must remember that after types or prefigurations are fulfilled, they cease to exist. Paul understood that “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise.” The issue here was salvation through union with Christ. This becomes clear as we near the end of the chapter and move into chapter ten. In verse twenty-three Paul wrote about the “vessels of mercy which he [God] had prepared beforehand for glory.” Since this is set over against “destruction,” it must be a reference to spiritual salvation. In verse twenty-seven he wrote, “the remnant will be SAVED.” In verses thirty-thirty-two he wrote specifically about the attainment of righteousness through faith, another clear reference to spiritual deliverance. If any question remains about the subject of this pericope, it should be laid to rest once for all by Paul’s opening statement in chapter ten, “Brethren, my prayer to God and heart’s desire for Israel is that they may be saved.” Finally, Paul closes his argument with the conclusion, “and thus, all Israel shall be SAVED.”

The Apostle’s Argument in This Chapter

We must first understand that this entire section is intended to answer a single issue. That issue concerns the promises God made to Israel during the Old Covenant period. It seems that Paul has anticipated an objection about what he had written in the foregoing chapters. This was the objection. When we consider what has happened to Israel, “his own people” to whom he came, does it not appear that the promises of God have fallen to the ground without fulfillment? His initial answer to that objection was, “but it is not that the Word of God has taken no effect.”

The remainder of chapter nine is concerned to address two issues relative to that objection:

  1. The first issue is the identity of the ultimate recipients of God’s promises to Israel.
  2. The second issue is whether those who were the recipients of these promises were to receive the blessings promised as a matter of right or by sovereign disposition.

These two issues are related in that, due to their physical ancestry, the Jewish people of the first century had developed a sense of entitlement. One can see this attitude reflected in such statements as we find in John 8:33 “We are Abraham’s descendants and were never in bondage to any man.” Paul’s argument in this passage is reminiscent of John the Baptist’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they came to him for baptism–“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matt. 3:7-9). Paul’ s two-fold argument is that his brethren according to the flesh are entitled to no spiritual blessing by virtue of their physical lineage. The inheritance is not of bloods [bloodline], and the reception of spiritual blessing is a matter of sovereign disposition.

The Identity of “Israel”

Paul began to speak to the first of these issues in verse six of this chapter, “. . .for they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” This understanding must control our thinking concerning everything else Paul wrote in this entire passage. When he speaks of “Israel” he is not referring to all the physical seed. Toward the end of the chapter, Paul introduces a theme that recurs throughout the passage, i.e.,  it is not to the nation as a whole that the promises are made but to the elect remnant (see 11:5) within the nation. The physical promises [e.g. the promise that they would be blessed in the land as a result of their obedience to the covenant] that God made to members of the nation, based on covenant fulfillment, [promises of living and being blessed in the land of promise] find their fulfillment in Christ, the consummate Israelite, and in those united to him by faith (cf. Exo. 19:5-6, 1 Pet. 2:9-10). True believers in Christ have entered into the inheritance of which the land was a type. God did not promise eternal, spiritual blessings to any of Abraham’s natural offspring except Christ.

There can be no question that the supernatural character of Isaac’s birth stood as a type of the believer’s supernatural birth. The true seed, the true heirs are children of promise as was Isaac (see Gal. 4:28). The point Paul was making is that God’s promises to Israel have not fallen to the ground without fulfillment at all since those promises belong to those who are born supernaturally as was Isaac. Surely, this is what Jesus had in mind when he told Nicodemus that he needed to be born from above. Though one could enter the material kingdom of Israel by physical birth, one can only enter Christ’s kingdom by supernatural, spiritual birth. That which is born of flesh belongs to the realm of flesh and has no ability to function in the spiritual realm.

In the same way, Paul intended the recounting of God’s choice of Jacob over Esau to illustrate that God’s promises to Abraham were not intended for all the physical seed but for those sovereignly chosen by God and blessed contrary to the natural order. The fact that the reference to Jacob and Esau in Malachi extends to their descendants does nothing to diminish Paul’s argument in this passage. The principle remains the same; God’s blessings are granted according to promise and not according to physical descent and are determined by God’s elective purpose. This does not in any way suggest that every descendant of Jacob was an heir of God’s spiritual blessings. That is simply not the case. What it does suggest is that just as God’s love for Jacob and the physical and material blessings he granted to the nation of Israel were determined by God’s electing love, so the spiritual blessings that flow to the antitypical Israel are determined by the sovereign will of God. Additionally, Paul showed that God’s choice is not only made apart from merit but contrary to merit. Jacob was not the most likely candidate to father a holy nation. It is quite true that in this context these principles have primary application to Paul’s brethren according to the flesh, but, as he stated in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, they are no less applicable to those God calls from among the Gentiles.

The Basis of Blessing

The second of these issues rises out of Paul’s explication of the first. Paul wants his natural brothers to understand that they have no rightful claim to God’s blessings since those blessings are sovereignly granted and not a matter of right. If they are blessed it will be due to God’s sovereign mercy granted contrary to merit, and not because they are entitled to his blessing.

This truth could not have been elucidated more clearly than Paul has expressed it in verses eleven through thirteen of this chapter. He wrote, “(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him who calls), it was said to her, ‘the elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.’” At the very least, one would have to conclude from the Malachi passage from which Paul has quoted that God did not love Jacob and Esau equally and it the same way.

It should be clear to any reader that Paul’s intention was to show that the salvation of his brethren according to the flesh has been determined by the same sovereign principle as that enunciated in these verses. It they are saved, it will not be because they deserve God’s favor but because he has sovereignly decreed to show them mercy.

Some, e.g., Norman Geisler, have had the temerity to suggest that God foresaw the actions of the nations that came from these two individuals and chose them on that basis. There are two basic and, one would think, obvious objections to that view. The first is that it absolutely contradicts Paul’s clear statement in verse eleven, “before the children were born, and had not done any good or evil, THAT the purpose of God according to election might stand. . .”. The second reason his assumption cannot stand is that it would obviate the need for Paul’s entire argument in the following verses.

Two Common Objections to Sovereign Election

There are two objections that are commonly brought against the doctrine of divine sovereignty in the salvation of sinners. Paul introduces both these questions in Roman’s chapter nine. It is impossible to say whether these are objections that had been introduced by real detractors or if he introduced them for the sake of making a point. One is that if sovereign election is true, it would make God unfair–“What shall we say then, is there unrighteousness with God?”. The other is that if the bestowal of mercy is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God’s who shows mercy, and if God grants mercy to whomsoever he will show mercy and hardens whomsoever he wills, how can he hold his creatures responsible? –“Why does he still find fault, for who has resisted his will?” The will about which the apostle has written must be God’s will of decree since we have all resisted his revealed will from time to time.  If all that occurs has been decreed by God, how can he hold people responsible for our actions?

Both these question could have been answered very simply with one statement.  All Paul needed to explain is that God has left the issue of our salvation to libertarian free will.  If only he had explained that God’s choice of certain sinners was based on the faith and perseverance that he foresaw in them, neither of these questions would have arisen. Their very presence is the evidence that God’s foresight of certain sinners’ faith could not have been the basis for his choice. What better place could there have been for Paul to give such an explanation? Yet, there is not the slightest hint that God’s choice was determined by the sinner’s free will choice. Instead, he doubled down on his insistence that salvation depended on the will of the sovereign potter.  There are two important truths he offers to help his readers understand the true doctrine of God’s saving activity.  One concerned the proper relationship between God and his creatures. He asked, “Who are you, the creature, to question the Creator?”  As you consider this issue, you need to remember that there is only one true God and that God isn’t you. You aren’t in control, God is. The second answer to these questions concerns the nature of that “lump” out of which God forms one vessel for honor and another for dishonor.  Notice that he refers to the vessels of honor as “vessels of mercy.” That tells us that these vessels did not deserve God’s favor any more than did the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.  God being righteous [fair] would have condemned the entire sinful lump.  How can God hold sinners responsible for our sins when we are simply fulfilling his decree? Because when we sin we are doing what we desire most. We are acting according to the sinful nature that we share with the rest of mankind.

The Nature of Salvation Itself

One reason people wish to argue that Roman’s nine is not about the sinner’s salvation but about some future work God intends to perform in restoring Israel as a nation grows out of their inadequate view of salvation itself. If we persist in defining salvation in terms of heaven and hell, we will not only continue to misinterpret passages such as Romans nine but will miss the entire biblical teaching about the nature of salvation itself. I am willing to concede, and I am sure others are as well, that Paul does not speak a word in Romans nine about some sinners being chosen to go to heaven when they die and others being left to perish in hell. That is clearly not the issue. But that does not mean this passage does not concern the sinner’s salvation or the teaching that salvation is granted to sinners by the sovereign good pleasure of God alone.

Not once in the entire inspired record of first century gospel preaching do we have an example of any preacher asking sinners if they wanted to escape hell and be assured that they will go to heaven when they died. The reason we find no such example is that such was never the issue in the salvation of sinners. Jesus framed the issue succinctly when in his intercessory prayer recorded in John seventeen he said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3). He immediately follows these words with “I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to do” (v.4) from which one could argue that eternal life is principally concerned with the manifestation of God’s glory [the sum of his glorious attributes].

It is my belief that much of the controversy that persists between Monergists and Synergists exists because the latter view salvation in such a superficial manner. Often they speak of salvation as “simply reaching out and accepting the free gift,” or to put it in the terms they like to use, “taking the life ring that has been thrown to the sinner [indeed, to all sinners equally].” Among the many biblical issues that this simplistic approach completely ignores is the universal hostility of sinners to the rescuer. If being on the lifeboat requires being in the presence of the lifeguard, they would prefer to drown.  Additionally, this view reduces Jesus to a mere means to an end. All the focus is on the sinner. Once the rescue is accomplished, the life ring can be hung out of view and ignored. All the life ring represents is the possibility of salvation, not salvation itself. We would agree that unregenerate sinners are able to walk down a church aisle, sign a card, repeat a prayer, and submit to “baptism.” What we do not believe is that such actions constitute genuine salvation from sin.

The assumption of some seems to be that since Paul does not speak of heaven or hell in Romans nine, the passage must not concern the salvation of sinners, but this simply reflects a faulty understanding of the nature of salvation itself. The primary purpose of God’s salvific activity is not to establish the eternal destiny of sinners, but to restore in sinners the ability to reflect his glory. Please understand that I am not denying that there are two distinct and different destinations for the saved and the lost. I am simply denying that establishing that destiny is the primary consideration in the salvation of sinners. I would challenge you to examine those biblical passages that state the purpose of Christ’s redeeming work to either verify or falsify my contention here. Let me simply suggest three verses for your consideration—Ephesians 5:25-27; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24-25. As you consider these verses, note well the purpose clauses introduced by the words “that” or “in order that.”

The modern church has become so absorbed with the idea that Jesus died to forgive our sins so we can go to heaven when we die, that we have forgotten that salvation is not principally about the forgiveness of sins. Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, based on the promises of Scripture alone is certainly a key doctrine that we must not surrender for a moment, but being declared right with God is not the ultimate end of his salvific purposes. In reality, it is a means to an end. Before we can approach God with any kind of confidence, we need to know that he has cancelled our guilt and that he has declared us righteous in his sight. Justification is necessary because people burdened with a sense of unpardoned guilt do not love, glorify and enjoy God.

We must remember that God’s redemptive plan is concerned not only with saving sinners from his wrath but also with purifying them so that they will be able to glorify him. Remember Paul’s words, “That we should be to the praise of his glory. . .” God is concerned not only with our guilt but also with our sinful hearts that are hostile toward him in a state of nature.

Unlike his remedy for our guilt that is wholly outside of us, his remedy for our spiritual blindness, hostility, pollution in sin, and deadness toward him must be internal. To use one of Paul’s metaphors, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor.4:6).

Paul has framed salvation in terms of glory just as Jesus did. When he was praying to the Father about finishing the work he had given him to do his words were, “I have glorified you on the earth. . .I have manifested your name to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:5-6). One of the primary differences between soteriological synergists and monergists is in their view of God’s purpose in saving a people for himself. It should not escape our notice that in its statement on the decree of God concerning the salvation of his people, the Westminster Confession of Faith begin with these words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory. . .” The Scripture reveals no higher motive for God’s creative, providential and salvific activity than this. This must be our starting point in all our thinking about His purpose in the world.

God’s Sovereign Bestowal of Mercy

It is as Paul begins to answer the first objection to his doctrine that his argument begins to turn from an articulation of general principles regarding God’s sovereign disposition of his favors to an application of those principles in the sovereign bestowal of saving mercy.

As we have seen, Paul does not even hint that God maintains the integrity of His righteous kingdom by merely rubber stamping decisions he foresaw his creatures would make. He has tersely dismissed the idea that God could be unrighteous in anything that he has done with the words, “Certainly not!” or “God forbid!”  Literally he wrote, “May it never be!”(μη γένοιτο). Then, he proceeded to show that God is himself the standard of righteousness who has the absolute right to dispense his mercy to whomsoever he will. He owes mercy to none. If it were a debt, it would cease to be mercy. So then, he concludes, it [the showing of mercy and compassion] is not of him who wills [it is not based on human decision] or of him who runs [it is not by human exertion] but it is of God who shows mercy (see verse sixteen).

In the verses that follow, Paul illustrated this truth from the life of two men.  One was the Pharaoh of Egypt; the other was the leader of God’s people, Israel. God treated these two men very differently but showed no injustice to either of them. In hardening the Pharaoh’s heart, God made him no more evil or rebellious at heart than he was by nature. He simply removed his gracious restraints and permitted him to be himself. He did nothing to him that he did not deserve.

In treating Moses as he did, he gave him nothing that he did deserve. The verse that Paul quoted in Romans nine, fifteen is found in the context of Moses’ request to see Yahweh’s glory (see Exo. 33:19). Remember here what we have written about the nature of God’s saving activity. Salvation is ultimately a matter of God’s self-disclosure. It is a manifestation of his glory. When John summed up his and his companions’ experience with the eternal Word, in what words does he express that experience? He wrote, “and the Word became flesh and tabernacled [pitched his tent] among us, and we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth [compare “full of grace and truth” with “abounding in goodness [lovingkindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness]” in Exodus 34:6.

What is it that Paul tells us the unconverted are unable to see when the gospel is preached to them because the god of this world has blinded their minds? He answers, it is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (see 2 Cor. 4:4). I believe we think of salvation rightly only when we think of it in terms of the manifestation of God’s glory as it now stands revealed to us in Christ.

Paul clenched the case we are making when he wrote in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, “and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he called, not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles.” We must understand the word “called” here not in the sense of a mere invitation but in the sense in which Paul has used it in chapter eight, verse thirty where he wrote, “. . .those he called, he also justified.” He is referring to that divine activity by which believers are called into union with Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:9),

It should be clear to any but those who have deliberately closed their eyes to God’s truth that Paul was writing about God’s saving mercy in revealing his glory to Moses. The point that he would have his readers take away from what he has written is that the bestowal of his favor was altogether of sovereign mercy. It is not that the Pharaoh deserved condemnation and Moses deserved a manifestation of God’s glory. No, Paul writes, “It is not of him who wills or of him who runs, but of God who show mercy.”

We should not forget that in the case of both the Pharaoh and Moses there was a manifestation of God’s glory. In the case of the one, it was a manifestation of his glorious justice but also of his power. God showed his power in the case of the Pharaoh not only in his destruction but also in his patient endurance of Pharaoh’s recalcitrant rebellion. Time after time God gave him opportunity to repent and let his people go, but Pharaoh hardened his heart. God demonstrated his longsuffering in giving him space to repent. In the case of Moses, God made known his glorious attributes and all by his sovereign mercy.

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Thoughts on Romans 9-11

  1. One should understand everything in the entire section in terms of the issue Paul is addressing and not import other issues that are not mentioned.

The issue is the spiritual salvation of Israelites and whether God’s promises to them have fallen to the ground without fulfillment. Paul begins the section by expressing that his prayer to God and his heart’s desire is that Israel might be “saved.” There is no justification for the assumption that the Israelites for whom he expresses concern are on a separate and different trajectory from Gentile believers. There is nothing in the entire context about Israel being restored as a nation, the establishment of an earthly, Jewish kingdom, the nation’s restoration to the land etc.

  1. One should understand “Israel” in the entire passage according to Paul’s definition caveat in 9:6-7, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” There is an “Israel” that is not Israel and Paul refers to this group of unbelievers in this section, but it is to the true Israel God’s ultimate spiritual promises were made, not to the natural offspring of Jacob.
  2. The entire issue hinges on God’s sovereign decree. God will have mercy on those he will save not because of debt but because of grace (9:10-25). Not even all who are of the promised seed, Isaac, are heirs of the promise.
  3. Paul further narrows the focus of God’s saving grace to that remnant within Jacob’s (Israel’s) offspring who are called. Here we must understand “called” not as an invitation but as an effectual divine action that unites the called ones to Christ (9:23-29). Those “called” are the vessels which he “prepared beforehand for glory.” This agrees with Paul’s previous statement in chapter eight that “those he predestined for future glory [being conformed to the image of Christ or glorified], he also called. (8: 29-30).”
  4. Paul lays the burden of responsibility directly at the feet of Jacob’s offspring who had rejected “God’s righteousness” [I understand the term “God’s righteousness” in Romans to refer to his method of putting sinners right with himself in faithfulness to his covenant promises] and insisted on going about to establish their own method of self-justification (9:30-10:21). God presents himself as an ever willing and able Savior for all who will call on his name.
  5. When Paul answers the question “Has God cast away his people?” (11:1), his answer is conditioned and delineated by the definition he has already given of “his people.” There is no question he refers to those who are the physical descendants of Abraham, but the reality is God has cast many of them away. The burden of his question at this point seems to be whether God has completely abandoned all Abraham’s physical descendants because of the unbelief of the majority of them. Paul’s answer is that though God has cast away unbelieving Israel, he has not cast away those whom he “foreknew” (according to the law of first mention, “foreknew” should be interpreted in light of Romans 8:29). Paul himself is an ethnic Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin yet he has not been cast off. Even now there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (See 11:5-7).
  6. The blessings God will grant restored Israelites are the same as those now enjoyed by believing Gentiles. Paul’s concern is to “save some of them,” not to see a Davidic dynasty established under Christ’s Messianic rule and a fulfillment of land promises (see–10:1, 13; 11:14, 26-27, 30-32). Note: the mercy now granted to the Gentiles is parallel to the mercy God may show to believing Israelites. The mercy he has shown us is the forgiveness of our sins and in parallel must refer to the same kind of mercy granted to believing Israelites.
  7. The blessings Gentile believers now enjoy result from Israel’s unbelief. The inclusion of the Gentiles was to have the effect of making the Israelites jealous so that some of them might be saved. Verses 11 through 15 of chapter eleven give us important insight into the way the New Testament writers used the word translated “world.” It should be obvious that “world” in these verses does not refer to every person without exception since every unbelieving ethnic Israelite is excluded from it. Their exclusion has resulted in the reconciliation of the “world,” i.e., believing Jews and Gentiles.
  8. It seems clear the root of the “good olive tree” refers to the covenant promises made to Abraham. The good olive tree grows out of that root. It is important that we remember there were natural branches of that tree that should have produced good fruit but did not. Ishmael and his descendants were branches of the tree as were Isaac and his descendants. Isaac was the heir produced by faith, the child of promise; Ishmael was the child of the flesh, a child of unbelief. Still, both benefited physically and materially from their paternal relationship with Abraham.

The family tree on Isaac’s side of the family continued to branch until the ultimate offspring to whom the promises were made was born. He was the true offspring who was the ultimate heir of the Abrahamic promise. All the promises of God find their fulfillment in him. None of the branches of the olive tree were fruitful as the mere natural offspring of Abraham. Abraham was “the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom. 4: 12). What Paul was saying is that physical descent from Abraham is of no value at all in terms of the spiritual inheritance. To be a son of Abraham in the spiritual sense, one must walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham.

Natural birth is no advantage in the spiritual realm. The reason the natural branches were broken off was unbelief–rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. They thought they could receive the inheritance apart from the heir, merely because they were Abraham’s natural offspring. Gentile believers have become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19), because, through faith, we have been united to the Christ, the seed of Abraham. Assuming God intends to graft believing Israelites back into the good olive tree, it will be a grafting into Christ, a natural branch of the tree, by faith. It is in him that God has made believing Israelites and believing Gentiles one. He has made us one with the true Israel by grafting us into Jesus who is the true Israel. Jesus and those united to him by faith are the true seed of Abraham. We are not a replacement for Israel; we are the fulfillment of Israel and the promises made to them.

  1. This passage does not necessarily teach a future salvation of ethnic Israelites, though I would lean toward that position. It is possible Paul is stating that the full number of the elect remnant within ethnic Israel will come to faith before the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. “In this way, all Israel will be saved” (11:26). There are several considerations that might lead one to this conclusion:
  2. Throughout the entire section, Paul has focused on passages that speak of the salvation of a “remnant.”
  3. He speaks about God grafting them in again more as a possibility than as a certainty, “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (v. 23).
  4. He writes, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25). It is possible he means this hardness will never come to an end. In 1 Sam 15:35 we read, “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.” This does not mean that Samuel came to see Saul on the day of his death, but that he never came to see him again. In the same way, Paul could be saying that this partial blindness will never come to an end until the full number of the elect from among the Gentiles have been saved and the full number of the remnant of ethnic Israel and the full number of elect Gentiles will occur at the same time.
  5. The focus of verses 26-27 is on the redeemer coming to or out of Zion to establish the new covenant by his redemptive work, not on the redeemer coming out of heaven to apply that accomplishment. That is, he is speaking about the basis on which this salvation about which he speaks has been accomplished, not about the time at which it will be applied. It is the certainty that all of these who have been redeemed from sin will be saved that is in view, not the occasion on which it will be accomplished.

I have mentioned these issues not to argue for them but to show that in such areas as this, dogmatism is probably unwarranted. What is clear is that there is not a word in the entire text about restoring Israel as a nation. One must read this idea into the passage since the passage says absolutely nothing about it.

  1. The part of the olive tree into which members of ethnic Israel will be grafted is not merely a natural branch but also the spiritual branch, namely, Christ. Paul’s concern is not with those promises that granted the natural seed of Abraham physical, material, and nationalistic blessings, but with spiritual and eternal blessings. They will not be grafted into Jacob; they will be grafted into Christ and thus become the “true Israel.”
    12. In 11:28-32, Paul’s focus is on God granting mercy to sinners, not on God granting nationhood to Israel. In other words, Paul clearly saw the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in their spiritual salvation “But it is not as though the Word of God has failed, for. . .” (9:6) “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).
27
Oct
16

My Latest Book

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19
Sep
16

I thank you, Lord of Earth and Heaven

I thank you, Lord of earth and heaven,
That from the wise you’ve hidden light
But unto babes your truth have given,
For this was pleasing in your sight.
Into the hands of Christ, the Son,
All things are from the Father given.
His purpose is to make him known;
It was for this he came from heaven.
No one can truly know the Son
Except the Father on the throne.
The Father none can know, not one
Unless the Son should make him known.
To weary ones bowed down with sin
The Savior calls with tender voice
And promises sweet rest within
To all who in his name rejoice.
“Come unto me,” he calls aloud
To helpless ones who’ve fallen down
And lie beneath the heavy load
Of sin, and of Jehovah’s frown.
“Take on my yoke and learn from me
For I, in heart, am meek and low.”
In coming you will be made free
And given grace my rest to know.
Randy Seiver
Based on Matthew 11:25-29

19
Jun
16

Unless the Father Who Has Sent Me Should Draw Him

In John 6: 36-45, there are many important lessons for us to learn about the saving work of the Father and the Son. Jesus has revealed these important truths against the backdrop of a quite telling statement in verse 36 of this chapter. Having revealed himself to his hearers as the bread of life, he has confronted them with their unbelief and that unbelief in the face of full revelation. He said to them, “. . .you have seen me, and have not believed.” They could not plead ignorance or lack of information. They had rejected him in the face of full knowledge. They had enjoyed the blessings but cared nothing for the one who had blessed them. The reality is that though they were quite willing for him to feed and bless them physically and materially, they had no appetite for him as the true bread that came down from God out of heaven. Jesus was not merely describing the condition of these sinners; he was describing the condition of every sinner in a state of sinful nature. Paul wrote, “. . .but the natural man does not welcome the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, neither is he able to know them because they are discerned spiritually.”
The logical question that would occur to any thinking person, in the light of this revelation, concerns the success or failure of Jesus’ earthly mission. It would seem that his best efforts would be destined to fail given the obdurate condition of men’s sinful hearts. Jesus later made it clear that everyone who commits sin is a bond-slave of sin and that such a condition could only be remedied by the Son himself. Only he can make sinners truly free.
It was to answer such a question that Jesus spoke the words we find recorded in verses 37-40; 44-45, of this chapter. He wanted his hearers to understand that his is work would certainly succeed because it did not depend on the fallen will of sinful people but on the sovereign will of an omnipotent God. Paul wrote, “Therefore, it [the bestowal of mercy] is not of him who wills [It is not based on human decision] or of him who runs [It is not based on human exertion], but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16). In John 6:37-45, Jesus made the following lessons so clear that only a person with an extreme philosophical bias against the truth of God’s sovereign grace would miss them. Please consider the following lessons that are on the face of this passage:
1. The success of Jesus’ redemptive activity has never been in doubt. It was a matter of absolute certainty that he would save and keep for eternity all those the Father had given him in his decreed will and was giving him according to that will. “All that the Father is giving me shall come to me, and he who comes to me, I will never by any means cast out” (John 6:44). It should be clear to anyone who understands the function of verb tenses in any language that the “giving” precedes the “coming.” Though the primary force of the Greek verb concerns the kind of action in view, the time of the action is not unimportant. The simple question one must ask is whether a verb in the present tense [time] precedes or follows the future tense. “Is giving” clearly precedes “shall come.” It is impossible to reason from this syntax that Jesus was saying his Father would give to him [future] those who were coming to him [present]. He was saying precisely the opposite.
2. It is clear that the accomplishment and application of redemption was to be carried out according to the will of God the Father. Jesus not only linked those the Father was giving him (v. 37) with those he had given him (v. 39), but he has also linked both these divine acts with the purpose of God the Father in sending him (v. 39). Additionally, he states this fact as the foundation that undergirded and established the absolutely certainty of the success of his redemptive work. “. . .I will never by any means cast him out, Because I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. . .” It is not surprising, then, that Paul wrote concerning God’s people that we are “the called ones according to his purpose.” Jesus was talking about those who are the “given ones,” and the “drawn ones” according to the Father’s purpose.
3. These verses help us to understand that Jesus’ work was not intended to turn the Father’s wrathful heart toward sinners by his work of propitiation. Instead, it was the Father who loved a people that he had chosen for himself, given as a love gift to his Son, and sent his Son to be the satisfaction for their sins. John wrote in his first epistle, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (4:10). Jesus came precisely to execute the Father’s desires for his chosen people.
4. Jesus made it clear in the words of verse thirty-seven that it was he who was to secure the eternal redemption of those the Father had given him. Though those given him could not come to him and would not come to him apart from the Father’s drawing (v. 44), it was not the Father who, in drawing them, would secure their eternal redemption. Instead, it was the Son whose work it was and is to secure the salvation of those the Father has given him. His negative phrase “I will never by any means cast out” is intended to strongly emphasize a positive truth. That point is that he, himself, will certainly save and keep all those the Father has give him to redeem. He has emphasized the certainty of the success of his ministry by stating three times in this passage, “And I will raise him up again at the last day.” That is simply another way of saying that his is a “love that will not let me go.” If the Father has loved us and given us to the Son, it is an absolute certainty that he will save completely those who draw near to God by him. If they are his now, they have always been his and will forever be his.
5. Jesus repeated the words “. . .and I will raise him up again at the last day” three times in this passage (vv. 39,40, 44) and in doing so he has identified those mentioned in each of those verses with those mentioned in the other two verses. These groups are co-extensive. Everyone in each of these groups is also in the other two. Those whom the Father has given to Jesus are the same as those who see the Son and believe on him, and those who see the Son and believe on him are the same as those whom the Father has drawn. This being true, the drawing about which Jesus spoke in verse forty-four does not extend beyond those the Father has given to Jesus and who have seen the Son and believed on him. It makes no sense to suppose that those who see the Son and believe on him are somehow different from those the Father has drawn to Jesus. When Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me should draw him, the clear implication that this drawing is always effectual is confirmed by the phrase “and I will raise him [the one drawn] up at the last day, i.e., every person who has been drawn will fully and finally be saved.
Some have attempted to blunt the force of this verse by citing John 12:32 in which Jesus said “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to me.” In this effort to show that everyone is drawn, there are several factors they have overlooked. In John 6 it is the Father who draws; here it is the Son who draws. The context of this verse is one in which certain Greeks were seeking an audience with Jesus. When Jesus learned of their request, he seemed to ignore it. Instead, he began to speak about the necessity of his death if ever there was to be harvest of souls. These Greeks would never be able to approach him on an equal basis with God’s covenant people unless Jesus was lifted up to glory by means of being lifted up on the cross, but if Jesus is lifted up, he will draw all peoples, both Hebrews and Gentiles to himself. If we should insist that the drawings in both these passages have the same referent and that “all” in 12:32 must refer to every individual on the planet, then we are shut up to the conclusion that Jesus will fully and finally save every person without exception, i.e., “raise him [the one drawn] up again at the last day.”
6. The word translated “draw” (ἐλκύω) was not used of gentle persuasion but of such actions as drawing water from a well, dragging a net full of fish to shore, and drawing a sword from its scabbard. That is not to say that the Father’s act of bringing sinners to Jesus involves force. No sinner is forced to bow to Jesus against his will. Instead, Jesus used the word to emphasize the effectual nature of the Father’s drawing.
7. In verse 45, Jesus continued to speak about the Father’s drawing and explains its nature in terms of prophetic revelation. D.A. Carson has written, “When he compels belief, it is not the savage constraint of a rapist, but by the wonderful wooing of a lover. Otherwise put, it is by an insight, a teaching, an illumination implanted within the individual in fulfillment of the Old Testament promise, ‘they will all be taught by God.’” These words are a paraphrase of Isaiah 54:13. Isaiah’s prophesy was about more than occasional and casual instruction; it referred to a person becoming a disciple. The pr.evalent teaching of the prophetic Scriptures was that in the Messianic age, every member of the true Israel of God would become a learner through the internal illumination of the Spirit. This understanding corresponds to the teaching of passages such as Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-26 where God promises to write his law on his people’s hearts, and give them a new heart and spirit. Everyone who becomes God’s disciple, in this sense, comes to Jesus. William Hendricksen has reminded us that in showing how sinners come to Jesus, the Scriptures never merely set predestination and human responsibility side by side without showing a causal relationship between them. On the contrary, it is always shown that it is God who takes the initiative and who is in control from start to finish. I would add that not only does God take the initiative but he does so effectually. Everyone who listens to and is taught by God in this way will come to Jesus

12
Jan
14

“If God is For US” Romans 8:31-32

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave himself up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things (Romans 8:31-32).

In Romans 8:31 the apostle begins the conclusion to the argument he began to pursue in chapter five of this epistle. Note the words, “What then [or therefore] shall we say. . .?” That argument is that everyone God has justified, he will certainly glorify. He wrote,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2).

It is important to note that Paul did not write, “We have a conditional peace with God based on our repentance and confession every time we sin.” We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have obtained an access by faith in to this grace in which WE STAND, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God,”

Believers have been introduced into a standing in grace in which we continue to stand. The reason this standing does not change is that it does not depend on the believer’s faithfulness but on the faithfulness of Christ. It is grace that now governs the relationship of the believer to his God. Grace now reigns for all who are in Christ. The believer no longer rests on his record but on Christ’s record.

When Paul writes that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God, he refers to a confident assurance that the believer will be fully conformed to Christ’s image. We rejoice in the reality that our glorification with Christ is absolutely certain. If our rejoicing in hope of the glory of God depended on our faithfulness, there would be no ground of rejoicing whatsoever. On our very best day, we continue to fall short of the glory of God. God’s holiest people are not yet completely conformed to Christ’s image.

The best obedience of my hands
Dares not appear before God’s throne,
But faith can answer his demands
By pleading what my Lord has done.

The level of righteousness to which we have arrived in the process of sanctification is never intended to form the basis of our rejoicing regarding glorification. Though we should be encouraged to believe our faith is genuine when we observe the righteousness and obedience the sanctifying Spirit has produced in us, that righteousness can never form the basis of our acceptance before God or the ground of our certainty of glorification. Instead, it is because we have been granted an introduction into the reign of grace that we are able to exult in the confident assurance that we will certainly be conformed to the image of God’s glory in Christ. It is when we are assured that God has arrested us in our sinful course and that we are now under his control and under the reign of his sovereign grace that we will begin to have confidence that our glorification is certain.

Our concern as believers is to be certain we are found on the rock that cannot be moved. It is to ascertain whether God is for us or against us. Once we are convinced that we have been united to Christ by faith, we have every reason to believe God is for us and that our final perseverance in faith as well as our full conformity to Christ’s image is an absolute certainty.

There is no promise in the God’s Word that all who profess faith in Christ will infallibly be glorified. We must remind ourselves that not every blossom brings forth fruit. The focus of the Christian life is not on the inception but on the finish. It is the character of true faith that it endures. In Romans 8:37, having posed the question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” and having suggested a number of trying circumstances that might provoke such a separation, the apostle boldly asserted that none of these things could prevail to separate us from the great lover of our souls. This is a love that will not let us go. We are firmly in his loving grip. As a result, he wrote “ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” By his grace, God enables every true believer to be more than an over comer. It is not merely that he preserves us, but that because he keeps us and continues to perform his sanctifying work in us, we over come every trial and persevere in believing.

Once the Spirit of God assures us that God is for us, we are flooded with the abundant consolation of the gospel.

Before we consider the text itself, it is important that we examine its component parts and clear our minds of any faulty ideas that might cloud our minds and obscure its true teaching.

1. When Paul begins to draw his conclusion based on “these things” the blessings mentioned are not limited to the immediate context but extend to those blessings mentioned in the entire context beginning in chapter five.

2. The conditional clause “if God is for us, . . .” does not express any doubt. It is a condition of the first class in which the condition is assumed to be a reality. It is as if Paul is saying, in the light of everything we have been asserting, if we are genuine believers we must assume for the sake of argument that God is for us. If that assumption is true, who can prevail against us?

3. We must not derive from the words, “who can be against us?” a false notion that if God is for us we will never have enemies or face opposition. In reality, the exact opposite is true. Jesus made it clear the world is going to hate us if we follow him. Satan himself is our adversary. Paul’s teaching is that no one will be able to prevail against us if God is for us.

4. We must not think that the “us” in the phrase, “if God is for us” or the words “us all” in the phrase “gave himself up for us all” refer to all the members of the human family. The context clearly limits the referents of those terms to believers. To understand this we need only consider to whom these words were addressed. Consider the apostle’s salutation and greeting in chapter of this epistle. He addressed his words “ To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Rom. 1:7-8). Suppose one day while walking down the street I found a letter addressed to Frank Smith. Then out of overwhelming curiosity I opened the letter and read the message. It read as follows,

Dear Frank,

It seems like years since I was in your arms. You have no idea how much I miss you and how excited I am about being with you again. I can hardly wait to be in your arms again and to smother you with tender kisses. I am excited about seeing you soon. Incidently, since I saw you last, it have come into a sizable inheritance. It will be yours to share with me as soon as we are married. I am counting the days until I see you again.

Love and kisses,

Jane

The question is, What meaning would that letter have for me? Of course, the answer is Absolutely none since it was not addressed to me. The Epistles of the New Testament were not addressed to mankind at large, but to believers in Christ. When Paul speaks of “us” and “us all,” he refers to all of us believers in Christ.

5. When Paul wrote, “how shall he not with him also freely give us all things” he is not referring to physical, material, and temporal blessings. God does not promise us health and material prosperity. He has not promised to give us everything our greedy little hearts may desire. I am not warranted by this verse to “believe God” for a jet airplane or for a vacation home in the Bahamas. I can only “believe God” for what God has promised. The words “all things” in this verse refer in context to all things that belong to our salvation, more specifically speaking, they refer to our glorification with Christ.

Consider the blessings Paul refers to as “these things” that should induce us to understand that God is for us.

1. He has declared us righteous in his sight and given us an entrance into a standing of grace (5:1- 2).

2. He has given his Son to die for us when we were still his enemies (5:6-10).

3. He has freed us from slavery to sin (6:6).

4. He has freed us from condemnation (8:1).

5. He has made us his heirs in union with Christ(8:16).

6. Before we were even born he determined to conform us to the image of his Son and in accordance with his purpose, he called us into union with Christ in whom believers are justified and glorified (8:28-30).

What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Paul’s argument is that our glorification is certain because the only being in the entire universe who has a right to be against us has shown himself to be for us.

Further he argues that if God has given us the greatest gift imaginable, the delivering up of his Son to death for his people, he will not withhold any lesser gift but will graciously give us everything that belongs to our salvation. He has too much invested in us to cast us off now.