Romans 8, Verses 16 to 39, Part 3
by Karl Kemp
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Here in Part 3 we'll continue where we stopped in Part 2.
I'll quote part of what Henry Alford said under Rom. 8:28 ("New Testament for English Readers," Vol. 2, page 914). "...on the one hand, Scripture bears constant testimony to the fact that all believers are chosen and called by God, - their whole spiritual life in its origin, progress, and completion, being from Him: - while on the other hand its testimony is no less precise that He willeth all to be saved, and that none shall perish except by wilful rejection of the truth. So that, on the one side, GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY, - on the other, MAN'S FREE WILL, - is plainly declared to us. To receive, believe, and act on both [of] these is our duty, and our wisdom. ... ...all attempts to bridge over the gulf between the two are futile, in the present imperfect condition of man. [We're also limited to what God has chosen to reveal to us.] The very reasonings used for this purpose are clothed in language framed on the analogies of this lower world, and wholly inadequate to describe God regarded as He is in Himself. Hence arises confusion, misapprehension of God, and unbelief. I have therefore simply, in this commentary, endeavored to enter into the full meaning of the sacred text, whenever one or other of these great truths is brought forward; not explaining either of them away on account of possible difficulties arising from the recognition of the other, but recognizing as fully the elective and predestinating decree of God, where it is treated of, as I have done, in other places, the free will of man. If there be an inconsistency in this course, it is at least one in which the nature of things, the conditions of human thought, and Scripture itself, participate, and from which no Commentator that I have seen, however anxious to avoid it by extreme views one way or the other, has been able to escape."
I'll also quote part of what William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam said under Rom. 8:28 ("Epistle to the Romans" [T. & T. Clark, 1977 printing], page 216). "There can be no question that St. Paul fully recognizes the freedom of the human will. The large part which exhortation plays in his letters is conclusive proof of this. But whatever the extent of human freedom there must be behind it the Divine Sovereignty. It is the practice of St. Paul to state alternately the one and the other without attempting an exact delimitation between them. And what he has not done we are not likely to succeed in doing. In the passage before us the Divine Sovereignty is in view.... It is the proof how 'God worketh all things for good to those who love Him.' We cannot insist too strongly upon this; but when we leave the plain declarations of the Apostle and begin to draw speculative inferences on the right hand or on the left we may easily fall into cross currents which will render any such inferences invalid. See further the note on Free-Will and Predestination at the end of ch.11."
I'll quote two excerpts from the note mentioned in the last sentence; the first is from page 347, " 'Whom he called, them he also justified: and whom He justified, them he also glorified' (Rom. 8:30). But, although the assurance of hope is given by the Divine call, it is not irrevocable. [It's true though that our salvation is super-secure if we continue to look to Him in humble faith, and, significantly, He's not trying to get rid of us, quite the contrary.] 'By their unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by thy faith. Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will He spare thee' (Rom. 11:20, 21)."
The second excerpt from the note by Sanday and Headlam (pages 348, 349) deals with the important fact that Paul's holding the sovereignty of God and man's free will without trying to show where the balanced truth lies was typical of the Jews of his day. (This viewpoint wasn't limited to Paul and many of the Jews of his day. This viewpoint is also demonstrated in many verses of the Old Testament and in many verses of the New Testament that were not written by Paul.) "...[Paul's] view was shared by that sect of the Jews among whom he had been brought up, and was taught in those schools in which he had been instructed. Josephus tells us that the Pharisees [Paul had been a Pharisee] attributed everything to Fate and God, but that yet the choice of right and wrong lay with men...War II viii. 14...; and so in Pirqe Aboth, iii. 24 (p. 73 ed. Taylor) [This quotation is from Rabbi Akiba, who was born about AD 50 and who died a martyr in the revolt of Bar Kochba against Rome in 135.] 'Everything is foreseen; and free-will is given: and the world is judged by grace; and everything is according to work.' ...." (I had a footnote: For further study, these quotations from Josephus and Rabbi Akiba are given in much fuller form, and they are discussed, by C. K. Barrett ("New Testament Background" [Harper and Row, 1961], pages 125, 126, and 142-144.) For more on this topic see pages 23, 24 of my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?" There I referred to, and quoted from, "Paul and Palestinian Judaism" by E. P. Sanders. For one thing, Sanders includes quite a few relevant quotations from the Dead Sea Scrolls. For further study see pages 257-270, 446, 447 of his book.
In "Once Saved, Always Saved?" (on page 23), I also quoted from D. A. Carson, "Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension" (Baker, 1994). Here I'll quote several sentences from his last chapter. "The fourth Gospel [Carson's comments in this book that deal with the New Testament are mostly limited to the Gospel of John] never presents divine sovereignty and human responsibility as mutually restrictive" (page 202). "...as in the Old Testament, John does not seem to experience any difficulty in simultaneously adopting both divine sovereignty in the most unrestricted sense, and human responsibility that carries real significance. ... The treatment of the sovereignty-responsibility tension by John, then, is distinctively Jewish. It stands in a direct line of descent from the Old Testament, opposed to most of the relevant developments in the intertestamental literature [where, according to Carson, "legalism is on the rise, and with it merit theology" (page 120)], but somewhat akin to the DSS [Dead Sea Scrolls]" (page 205). "I have shown that the Old Testament, the fourth Gospel, and some other writings juxtapose divine sovereignty and human responsibility at every turn, manifesting little if any awareness of the theoretical difficulties which later thinkers discover in such a juxtaposition" (page 206). On pages 102, 118, and 119, Carson discusses the quotations from Josephus and Rabbi Akiba included in the last paragraph.]] (31) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us [This is a class one condition in the Greek, which means the "if clause" is assumed to be true. Instead of if it could be translated because, or since. Romans 8:32-39, along with the entire epistle to the Romans and the rest of the New Testament, demonstrate that God is for us.], who is [who can effectively be] against us? [["These things" refer to the things of this age that involve suffering with Christ, which Paul began to discuss in Rom. 8:17 and will continue to discuss to the end of this chapter. Note "in all these things" of Rom. 8:37. The end result of all these things, as Paul has been saying (especially in Rom. 8:26-30), and as he will continue to say in the following verses, will be that, although many are against us (very much including all our enemies in the spiritual dimension), no one (or, no thing) will be able to frustrate God's plans for us; they can't be effective against us. THEY LOSE! WE WIN! These things will all work for our good (Rom. 8:28), and we will end up in ETERNAL GLORY!
I'll quote part of what Douglas Moo said under this verse ("Epistle to the Romans," page 539). "If this be so [that God is for us], Paul asks, 'who is against us?' Obviously, Paul does not mean that nobody will, in fact, oppose us; as Paul knows from his own experience (to which he alludes in v. 35), opposition to believers is both varied and intense. What Paul is suggesting by this rhetorical question [of Rom. 8:31b] is that nobody - and no 'thing' - can ultimately harm, or stand in the way of, the one whom God is 'for.' " Amen!]] (32) He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all [cf. Rom. 4:25; 5:6-8; 8:3; and Isa. 53:4-12], how will He not also with Him freely give us all things [cf. Rom. 8:17, 18; Heb. 1:2 (Christ was "appointed heir of all things")]? [[Romans 5:6-8 emphasize that the Father's Sacrifice of His Son in our behalf was a powerful demonstration of His love for us. I don't suppose it would be possible to think of anything else the Father could have done that would equal what He has done - in the incarnation and the atoning death of His Son - to demonstrate His love for us. Knowing and believing that God loves us (that He is for us) is extremely important: Christianity can't work right unless we Christians are convinced of this. It's no wonder that the devil (starting with the temptation of Eve) makes it a top priority to try to convince God's people that He doesn't really love us. How could we trust God, for example, if we didn't believe that He loved us (if we wondered whether He really is concerned for our ultimate good). We must also be convinced of the truth of God's Word, of His sovereign authority and power, of His righteousness, goodness, etc.
There is another, closely related super-important gift that God has given us that demonstrates His love for us. In some ways, this other gift is even more significant to demonstrate God's love for us as individuals than the death of the Lamb of God, because it is so personal (Christ's death for us was personal in some ways, but He died for all mankind); this other love-gift from the Father also confirms that the Lamb of God really has died for us and has saved us as individuals. GOD HAS GIVEN US HIS SPIRIT, the Holy Spirit, to dwell in our hearts (e.g., Rom. 8:9-11, 23, 26, 27).
In Rom. 5:5 Paul speaks of the glorious fact that God, through the pouring out of His heart into our hearts the Holy Spirit, was pouring out (a powerful manifestation of) His love for us as individuals. The Greek verb used in Rom. 5:5 for pouring out ("ekcheo") is also used in Acts 2:17, 18, 33; 10:45 for God's/Christ's pouring out the Holy Spirit, starting on the day of Pentecost. Paul's point in Rom. 5:5 is that we can be sure that our "hope of the glory of God," which was mentioned in Rom. 5:2 (our hope of being caught up into eternal glory when Christ returns), will be fully realized because we can be sure that God loves us (in that, for one thing, He has demonstrated His love for us as individuals by pouring out the love-gift of the Holy Spirit into our hearts).
I have observed over the years that, even though most commentators understand the words "the love of God" in Rom. 5:5 to speak of God's love for us, most Christians think Paul is speaking of the fact (an important fact) that we can love because God's love is now in our hearts. (It's true that we can love because the Spirit is now in us, but that's not the idea, at least it's not the primary idea, behind Paul's use of the words "the love of God" in Rom. 5:5. Romans 5:6-8 help confirm that the apostle is dealing with God's love for us as individuals.)
Talk about two great love-gifts, two great manifestations of God's love for us, that couldn't (I don't suppose) be equaled, not even by God! On Rom. 5:6-8 see page 90 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin."]] (33) Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; (34) who is the one who condemns? [[Compare Isa. 50:7-10. Many will bring a charge against and will condemn God's elect, but these charges/condemnations can't be effective against us (cf., e.g., John 5:24 ["judgment" probably should, be translated "condemnation"]; Rev. 12:10, 11). God's verdict is the only one that counts. Here "justifies" probably is used in the full sense discussed under Rom. 8:30 (Paul has repeatedly spoken of this victory over sin throughout Romans chapters 1-8, especially in chapter 6 and in 8:1-14), but it could also be understood here in the less-full sense of the Judge declaring us righteous. Either way it must be understood that God does more than just declare us righteous through His Son and His atoning death: He makes us righteous with His imparted righteousness. Also, even if Christians should slip into sin, they can be immediately restored through the blood of Christ (e.g., 1 John 2:1, 2). We can't lose unless we choose to rebel against God and the covenant He has made with us. Apathy and indifference toward God and the things of His kingdom is a form of rebellion, and it can easily lead to full-scale rebellion and apostasy.]] Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. [Hebrews 7:25 (cf. Heb. 9:24; 1 John 2:1), which speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ, our great high priest at the right hand of God the Father, says, "Therefore He is able to save forever [or, completely] those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives TO MAKE INTERCESSION FOR THEM." And, not only this, but as we saw in Rom. 8:26, 27, the Holy Spirit also INTERCEDES for us.] (35) Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness [cf. 1 Cor. 4:11], or peril, or sword? [Cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-26.] (36) Just as it is written, 'For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' [[Psalm 44:22. Compare 2 Cor. 1:9; 4:7-12 (Note that Paul makes a distinction in 2 Cor. 4:7-12 between what he and his companions had to go through and the situation for the Christians Paul ministered to). The point is that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (His love for us). This doesn't mean, however, that Christ (or God the Father) will always continue to love us just the same whether we continue to have faith in Him, to love Him, and to be faithful to the covenant established on His blood, or not. We can, and we must, do the basic things required of us (according to the new covenant) by His grace - this must be top priority!]] (37) But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. [[Compare 1 Cor. 15:57. On our being loved by Christ, cf. Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2, 25; and Rev. 1:5. "Him who loved us" here refers to Christ (cf. Rom. 8:34-36), but there is also a strong emphasis on the love of God the Father for us in Rom. 8:31-39 (cf. Rom. 8:28-33, 39). Christ loves us now, but by speaking of "Him who loved us," Paul undoubtedly puts some emphasis on the past event of His dying for us, bearing our sins with the guilt and the penalties, which powerfully manifested His love for us. Christ was doing the will of the Father when He died for us, but He clearly did it voluntarily, laying down His life for the sheep (John 10:11-18).]] (38) For I am convinced that neither death [cf. Rom. 8:36], nor life, nor angels [Paul was undoubtedly thinking of evil angels (cf., e.g., 2 Cor. 11:14). The angels of God always work for our good (e.g., Heb. 1:14); they certainly haven't been sent to work against us.], nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, (39) nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God [God the Father], which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." [[The Lord Jesus Christ has authority over all things, including all the things listed in these last two verses (e.g., Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 2:10; and 1 Pet. 3:22). On death, the last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26), see Rev. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:1-10; and Phil. 1:21-23. How about those who die as martyrs for Christ - isn't that defeat? According to the viewpoint of God (which is the only viewpoint that matters) it's victory! Whether we live or die, we have the victory in Christ. Whatever Satan and his hosts (or men) may do (and God limits what they can do), we have the victory in Christ, not that the victory is just automatic, or that it's always easy or fun (e.g., Eph. 6:10-17).
Christ Jesus has everything covered - He has every location covered (whether height or depth), and He has the present covered along with the future, etc. He is Lord! He is our elder brother! He loves us! And, as the last words of verse 39 show, when we are caught up into this glorious love relationship with Christ, we are also being caught up into the love of the Father, who is behind this super-glorious plan of salvation. Compare John 17:20-26.]]
Some Abbreviated Excerpts from Norman Geisler's
"Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election" with Many of My Comments and Some Excerpts from Others
This study builds on and supplements what I said under Eph. 1:3-14 and Rom. 8:28-30. The paper on Ephesians chapter 1 is included on this Christian article site. (Eph. 1:3-14 and Rom. 8:28-30 build on and supplement what I said in my "A Paper on Faith" and "Once Saved, Always Saved." Also see my paper on Romans chapters 9-11. All of these papers are on my internet site, for one place.)
INTRODUCTION. While reading this book by Norman L. Geisler (which was published in 1999 by Bethany Press), I knew I wanted to include some excerpts in this paper. For one thing, I wanted to acquaint my readers with this book. So much of what Dr. Geisler says in this book squares with what I have said regarding the later view of Augustine and regarding Calvinism in my papers. These excerpts from Geisler will help confirm what I have said, and they will help the reader better understand this rather important topic. Geisler uses most of the 256 pages of this book to demonstrate that what he calls extreme Calvinism misses the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. He calls himself a moderate Calvinist.
Dr. Geisler, a well-respected evangelical scholar, "is President of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is author or coauthor of more than sixty books and hundreds of articles and has spoken or debated in all fifty states and in twenty-five countries. He holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Wheaton College, a Th.D. from William Tyndale College, and a Ph.D. from Loyola University in Chicago." (Taken from the flyleaf of "Chosen but Free," which was published in 1999.)
Most Calvinists would object to being called extreme Calvinists by Geisler. They would undoubtedly say that most of what Geisler calls extreme Calvinism is rather standard Calvinism, and that what he calls moderate Calvinism deviates substantially from standard Calvinism. Based on what I know of Calvinism, I would agree with them in this assessment, but I agree with most of what Geisler says regarding (extreme) Calvinism's missing the Scriptural balance. Geisler doesn't accept any of the first four points of Calvinism that are contained in the TULIP in the way they are typically understood by Calvinists. "T" is for Total Depravity; "U" for Unconditional Election; "L" for Limited Atonement; "I" for Irresistible Grace; and "P" for Perseverance of the Saints.
I discussed the TULIP to some extent in my paper, "Once Saved, Always Saved?" under "Origin of the Doctrine 'Once Saved, Always Saved.' " On pages 116, 117 Geisler briefly outlines what he calls a moderate Calvinist's understanding of the five points of the TULIP. Geisler agrees with the "P" of the TULIP, that it's impossible for the elect to lose their salvation. I'll include a section titled "Perseverance of the Saints" in Part 4 of this paper. For one thing, I'll briefly discuss what Geisler said regarding this topic there. Although I have much respect for Calvinists, I don't agree with any of the so-called five points of Calvinism the way they are typically defined by Calvinists.
Ephesians 1:3-14 and Rom. 8:28-30 are two of the most important passages in the Bible that emphasize God's role in our salvation. Both of these passages are very relevant to the later view of Augustine and Calvinism (so too for Romans chapter 9), since that viewpoint very strongly emphasizes God's role in our salvation. I believe (with Geisler) that the later view of Augustine and Calvinism overemphasize God's role, while understating man's role. (It's important to emphasize God's role, and I'm very thankful for all the good fruit that has come from Calvinists, but we desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.) Geisler deals to some extent with verses from Eph. 1:3-14 and Rom. 8:28-30 in this book, but I won't be quoting from that material in this paper.
I have greatly abbreviated the quotations from Geisler that were included in the original paper for this internet version. (I had received permission to quote extensively for the original paper, but not for this internet version of the paper.)
Pages 29-37 (of "Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election"). ...
"From beginning to end the Bible affirms, both implicitly and explicitly, that human beings have free choice. This is true both prior to and after the Fall of Adam, although free will is definitely affected by sin and severely limited in what it can do. ... ...the image of God (which includes free will) is still in human beings after the Fall. ..." (page 32).
"... ...belief is our responsibility and is rooted in our ability to respond. This view has overwhelming support by virtually all the great church fathers up to the sixteenth century (see appendix 1 [which starts on page 145 in Geisler's book])" (pages 34, 35).
"...it is also true that no free human act can move toward God or do any spiritual good without the aid of His grace. [After going on to list some verses that acknowledge man's dependence on God, Geisler quotes from W. G. T. Shedd (he calls Shedd a moderate Calvinist):] '... The sinner is free in accepting or rejecting the invitations of the gospel. If he accepts them, he does so freely under the actuation of the Holy Spirit. If he rejects them, he does so freely without this actuation and solely by his own self-determination ("Dogmatic Theology," 3.298-299)' " (pages 35-37).
One difference between this viewpoint and the more standard Calvinistic viewpoint is that Geisler and Shedd do not believe that this "actuation of the Holy Spirit" works in man in an irresistible manner (note that Shedd spoke of the sinner being free to accept or to reject the invitations of the gospel). Also Geisler (and I assume Shedd) does not believe, as the (extreme) Calvinists do, that this enabling grace of the Holy Spirit is only for the elect. I'll discuss this rather important topic in the next four paragraphs.
On page 60, for example, Geisler answers the question: Does God give the ability to come to Jesus to all men? "The answer is that there is nothing here [John 6:65] or anywhere else to say God limits His willingness to provide this ability to only some." Geisler goes on to mention that the Bible states that God wants all men to repent and be saved (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; cf. Ezek. 18:32). On page 186 he mentions that "Moderate Calvinists do not deny that God moves upon the hearts of unbelievers to persuade and prompt them to exercise faith in Christ. They deny only that God does this coercively by irresistible grace (see chapters 4 and 5) and that He only does it on some persons (the elect)." He discusses this point further on pages 189-190, under the heading "Saving Faith Is Something All Can Exercise." And on page 66 Geisler says, "as a result of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit ON THE WHOLE 'WORLD' [my emphasis] (John 16:8) and 'the goodness of God' (Rom. 2:4 NKJV), some people are moved to repent."
It seems to me that Geisler misses the Scriptural balance here. I believe there is a big difference between saying that God wants all to repent and be saved and saying that He gives the ability to come to Jesus to all men (see Geisler's comment in the last paragraph). In John 6:44, 65, for example, Jesus clearly spoke of God (who knows the hearts of all people) drawing some and not others (I'm not speaking of an irresistible drawing), and there are many similar passages in the Bible that confirm this biblical teaching (including Eph. 1:3-14 [especially see verses 4, 5, 11] and Rom. 8:28-30; also see, for example, John 6:37, 39, 45; Acts 13:48; 16:14; Rom. 9:16-29; 1 Cor. 1:24). John 6:44, 65 are discussed on pages 34-37 of my "A Paper on Faith" on my internet site, and essentially all of these verses are discussed in my writings. Acts 13:48 is discussed on page 43 of my paper just mentioned. In my paper on Ephesians chapter 1 (including the lengthy discussion that follows the verse-by-verse study of that super-important chapter), for example, I dealt at length with the widespread, but mistaken, idea that God (who knows the hearts of all people) loves all the same with an abiding unconditional love. How about those that Jesus said were children of the devil, for example? How about those that God knows never will repent and submit to Him or His divine order? I don't believe it is biblical to say that God gives the ability to all people come to Jesus.
It is significant, for one thing, that the word "call" is typically used in the New Testament in the limited sense of God's calling the ones He has chosen (by His foreknowledge), not of His calling all people (Acts 2:39; Rom. 1:6; 8:28, 30; 9:24; 1 Cor. 1:9, 24; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 2:14; and Heb. 1:5; cf., e.g., Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8; and 17:8), though it is true that Christ died for all people and God calls all to repent and submit to Him and His salvation in faith (cf., e.g., Acts 17:30, 31; 26:20; and 1 Tim. 2:3-7). The Bible teaches both, and there is no contradiction.
There are even passages that speak of God's hardening some hearts (rather than drawing them to Christ), but SUCH HARDENING IS NEVER ARBITRARY. If He hardens the hearts of some people, rather than draw them to Jesus, He certainly knows that those people never would repent and submit to the gospel on His terms, which are necessary terms. We have to understand and believe, of course, that God is good and He knows what He is doing. He doesn't make mistakes, and He isn't on trial. Geisler would agree, by the way, as would all Calvinists, that God just calls the elect, but as we discussed, Geisler believes that God gives the ability to come to Jesus to all people. I believe that idea misses the biblical balance, but I am totally confident that any people who open their hearts before God and begin to cooperate with His Word and His saving grace in Christ and persevere in that direction will find salvation.
I'll continue to quote from Geisler, and others, and make many comments myself as we continue in Part 4.
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