The Golden Chain of Redemption (Part 1): Old Posts Revisited

This is part of a series of posts in which I will be critiquing my old book, “Calvinist Verses? Responding to the Errors of Calvinism.” When I began writing that book at the beginning of 2012 I was an Open Theist and began to lean towards the Classical Arminian position some time during that year. The following is one of my old posts which was part of the previously mentioned book. This post was originally posted on 5/8/2012. My critique of the original post will be in bold.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:28-30

Calvinism’s Error:

God chose (foreknew) unbelieving individuals and eternally decreed (predestined) that they would be adopted as God’s children. He not only eternally decreed the salvation of these unbelieving individuals, he also drew them to Christ by irresistible grace through new birth (called), after he gave them faith through regeneration he forgave their sins (justified) and will certainly, without any qualifications, raise them from the dead and give them eternal life (glorified).

Biblical Response:

As we jump into these encouraging verses it is always helpful to take a look at the context. The second part of Romans chapter 8 discusses the believers hope for the eventual resurrection of his body at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is the concluding section in a long summary of the main aspects of the Christian life. In chapters 1-3 (roughly) Paul discusses the corrupt and fallen nature of Man and their need for salvation. In Chapters 4 and 5 he shows that the forgiveness of sin and right-standing with God comes through Jesus Christ and is received by faith. Then in chapters 6 through the first half of 8 he discusses how the believer is freed from the controlling power of sin by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. We will begin our detailed discussion in Romans 8 verse 1.

Calling & Eisegesis

At this point I would like to pause and point out something I missed in the contextual summary of the book of Romans. I left out an important concept that is found in Paul’s introduction.

…among whom you also are called by Jesus Christ: To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints… 

Romans 1:6-7

The term “called” is in the passage we are considering (Romans 8:28-30) and comes up in Romans chapter 9 as well. I wish I could say this term, which is used in various biblical passages, escaped my noticed before I believed God’s sovereignty in bringing individuals to salvation, but it did not. I felt the force of how it is often used in Scripture, but my prejudice against all things Calvinistic led me to seek other explanations for its use. But I now believe that though it is used in various ways in the Bible, it is often used to refer to God’s work of drawing particular individuals to salvation in Christ, and implies, sometimes explicitly, that others were not called in this same way. That has significant theological implications which I was unwilling to accept. I hope the reader will not let his/her prejudice hold them back from scriptural teaching as we continue to walk through these issues in this present series of posts. 

For observe your calling, brothers. Among you, not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty men, and not many noble men were called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And God has chosen the base things of the world and things which are despised. Yes, and He chose things which did not exist to bring to nothing things that do, so that no flesh should boast in His presence. But because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, whom God made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

1 Corinthians 1:26-30

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:1-2

It cannot be emphasized enough that the book of Romans as a whole, and the 8th chapter in particular is written to believers. It is not written to the world, but to the Church. God is not writing to certain individuals, but to all those who have come to faith in Christ and have already become members of his Body. Whatever warnings or promises are presented in this chapter, they are given to the people of God, not unbelievers. It is crucial that we understand this from the beginning.

Corporate or Individual

What I was trying to allude to in this paragraph, before I had the chance to make my full argument later on, was that anything we find written in Romans is only applicable to the Church as a whole, and does not apply to individuals. I had to keep this thought in mind at all times when reading certain passages of Scripture to make sure I did not accidentally see something Calvinistic in those passages. This is called eisegesis, which just means I was reading my own thoughts and concepts into the certain biblical passages. I needed to do this for Romans 8:28-30 because it explicitly refers to individuals who were were known and predestined by God before they were “in Christ.” In other words, this passage refers to unbelievers who were known by God and brought to justifying faith by His saving call. We will see this more clearly later on.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:11

This is a great summary of the hope that Paul will now turn his attention to in the rest of chapter 8. The Christian hope is not merely for our spirits to “go to heaven after we die,” but for our physical bodies to be raised from the dead when Jesus returns from heaven. God didn’t just come to save our souls; he came to redeem every part of our nature. Paul tells us it is the Spirit of God dwelling in us that gives us reason to hope. It was the Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the dead and he will also be the one to raise us up.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:12-17

Paul continues to encourage the Christians in Rome that the presence of God’s Spirit in their lives is an assurance that their bodies will be raised up at the Second Coming of Christ. But he has not yet finished with the topic of sanctification (i.e. growing in holiness, experiencing a transformation of character) that he began in chapter 6. He tells us that not only is the Spirit’s presence a reason for hope, it is also a reason for active obedience to God. He tells us that since God gave us the gift of his Spirit through faith in the cleansing blood of Jesus, we are now “debtors” to submit our lives to the Holy Spirit. To whom much is given, much is required! Since God has given us the Spirit “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” we are obligated to walk out that righteous standard (Rom. 8:3).

The transformation of our character will not happen automatically or irresistibly. We must be sanctified in the same way we were justified. We received the forgiving grace of God through faith. And as believers we must continue to receive the grace of God through faith. The enabling power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sin’s power in our lives must be applied by submission to that same Spirit. One who believes in Jesus Christ cannot claim to be a “child of God” unless he is “led by the Spirit of God” (vs. 14). Being transformed into the character of Jesus is an active process. We can only become like Christ through the power of God, but his power must be received through faith. We cannot do what God does, namely changing our hearts and renewing our minds from day to day. But God will not do what he has decided we must do, namely actively submit to the sanctifying grace of the Spirit through a living faith. Sanctification is not automatic. Though it is done by the power of God, it is done in cooperation with the faith and submission of man.

This is absolutely true. “Without holiness no man will see the Lord” and “he who endures to the end shall be saved.” 

We might feel like rejecting this truth and say that God should just do it without requiring any participation from us, but “Who are we to answer back to God?” “God is in the heavens and does as he pleases,” we must surrender to his wisdom. We might cry “foul” and say, “Salvation is by grace alone!” And so it is, but that saving grace is received through faith alone. Again I hear an objection, “But you are saying that Man’s faith ‘helps’ God’s grace!” On the contrary, faith is the only “work” that man can do in that gives God all the glory (Rom. 4:20). It was for this reason that God chose faith, and not the works of the law, as the means of receiving God’s grace. “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring” (Rom. 4:16). But, alas, Calvinism’s devotion to monergism has made us digress;-)

The Reformation & Eisegesis

I believe this is true. For theological reasons the Calvinist system imagines that faith, because it proceeds out the human heart, is in conflict with God’s grace. Classical Calvinism imposes an unbiblical concept on the passages that refer to the conflict between works and grace, particularly in the writings of Paul.

During the Reformation men like Luther, Calvin and others were opposing the Roman Catholics teaching of merit by religious ceremonies. They rightly argued that we are saved by grace and not by the moral merit we earn by our religious acts. But then they falsely concluded that Paul was arguing against the exact same error. They read their cultural and historical context into Paul’s writings. Actually Paul was primarily arguing against first century Jews who believed that people came into right-relationship with God by obeying the Law of Moses. This is similar, but not identical to what the reformers were dealing with in their day. Paul’s argument against that first century error was that we are saved by God’s grace that is found in Christ Jesus and is received through faith, not by keeping the Old Covenant ordinances.

The Calvinist perspective imagines that anything a person does is counted as “works,” and so the Calvinist reads the Reformation debate into the Scriptures (another example of eisegesis). Actually the New Testament teaches that faith is on the side of grace and works is on the side of law. Because the Calvinist reads this theological concept into the text he feels compelled to emphasize that a person must be regenerated monergistically (by God’s work alone) before they can repent or trust in Christ. It is true that a person can not repent or trust apart from God’s work, but it is also true that God expects people to respond to His gracious work on their hearts. God calls, they respond, then God forgives and adopts.

And as I pointed out above in my original post, progressive sanctification in the life of the believer works in the same influence/respond fashion. It is not automatic, but we work out our salvation as God works in us. Classical Calvinists understand this about sanctification even if they deny it about regeneration.

Besides telling us that sanctification is done only with the participation and cooperation of believers, Paul also lets us know that glorification (i.e. the resurrection and exaltation of believers with Christ) is not unconditional. In 8:13 he promises believers, “If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” In the same verse he warns believers, “If you live according to the flesh you will die.” In verse 17 he promises the Christians in Rome that they will be “glorified with” Christ. But he makes sure to let them know that their exaltation with Christ is conditional on their willingness to endure suffering with him in this present age. As Christ said, it is those that endure to the end that will be saved. Only by losing our lives can we hope to save them.

In these few verses Paul makes it abundantly clear that our glorification with Christ is dependent on our progress in sanctification. And our sanctification is dependent on actively submitting to the Spirit’s leading. Reformed Theology will try to make all of this hypothetical by saying that those who were unconditionally chosen by God from all eternity could never do anything other than persevere in holiness. This unbiblical theology tries to tell the saints that they can never “die” if they are truly the elect. We cannot stand for this! We cannot accept that the plain warnings of the God of truth are a mere formality. God does not waste his words. As our loving Shepherd he warns us, as he did the first couple in the Garden, “You will die.” Satan tried to tell them that God’s warning was hypothetical, and they believed it. We will not make the same mistake as them.

Calvinism Vs. Hyper-Calvinism

I agree with these two paragraphs in principle. It is true that God warns believers of the dangers of sin and calls them to actively participate with His sanctifying work. But my past conflict was not with classical Reformed Theology, but with my understanding of it. If one reads old commentators like Matthew Henry or Albert Barnes, they will find that these Reformed men did not wink at the practical warnings of Scripture. This is because they understood that human beings have the responsibility to respond to God’s sanctifying influence. It is true they deny that unbelievers have the ability to respond to God’s gracious call to salvation due to their doctrine of total inability, but they do not deny that the born again soul can respond to God.

Another point I did not understand about the Calvinist perspective was that there is a difference between believing the biblical teaching that God will certainly lead His elect to everlasting life, and the biblical teaching that a Christian’s assurance is based on whether or not he is living a sanctified life. As we grow in grace and in faith we also grow in assurance of salvation. When one turns into willful and habitual sin he has no biblical basis to imagine that he is saved. The fact that the elect will be preserved until the end is a divine certainty. The fact that we are among the elect will only reach the same degree of certainty when we actually endure to the end.

The Bible has two lines of thinking. The first is God’s perspective: those whom He predestined He WILL also call, justify and bring to eternal life. The second is the human perspective: IF we put sin to death by the Spirit and IF we endure to the end in holiness, then we will inherit eternal life. Non-Calvinists often explain away the passages that teach God’s perspective because they cannot reconcile them with the passages that teach the human perspective. The Hyper-Calvinist usually explains away the passages that teach the human perspective because they cannot reconcile them with the passages that teach the divine perspective. In my paragraphs above I was arguing against the Hyper-Calvinist, not the classical Calvinist who accepts both the human and divine perspective as taught in the Bible.

For if these things reside in you and abound, they ensure that you will neither be useless nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But the one who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted because he has forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, diligently make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never stumble.

2 Peter 1:8-10

For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:18

In verse 18 Paul begins the next section of his teaching. This is the section where will find the verses known as the “Golden Chain of Salvation.” We will notice that Paul is contrasting the suffering of Christians in this present age with the glory that they will receive at the return of Christ. The Church in that time, and in our time in most of the world, suffers opposition from every angle. They could easily feel besieged and overwhelmed. These demonic attacks came in order to discourage them and seek to overturn their faith. But Paul wants to encourage them that these are “light and momentary” troubles. But the glory that will be revealed at the coming of Christ will last forever.

In verses 19-22 he speaks about the longing of all of creation to be set free from the corruption that came from the sin of our first parents. It is God’s plan, not only to redeem our bodies, but even to renew this fallen physical universe. Paul tells us that in some sense, the creation itself is longing for this redemption.

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:23-25

Paul here turns to the longing in the believer’s heart. We thank God we have been forgiven of our sin, and freed from its power over our lives, but we are still ever troubled by its presence. The corruption of the world and the temptations we face on a daily basis make us long for the complete eradication of sin’s presence. We long to experience the complete redemption of our bodies and the absolute freedom it will bring. We are painfully aware that we are still waiting for the fullness of our salvation.

With the clear knowledge that we have not arrived and that we still see through a glass dimly, we are tempted to feel hopeless. After all, how can we overcome all the forces that assail us? The world, the devil and even the un-renewed aspects of our earthly nature are always seeking to destroy us. We seem to be outnumbered and outgunned. But it is here that Paul will reveal to us the reason we have for hope!

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27

It is not just us that longs to be transformed and finally free, but the Spirit of God himself is longing for this very thing. Many see in these verses the charismatic gift of speaking in tongues. But the problem with that is that tongues are spoken out, but the groaning of the Spirit in this passage is “too deep for words.” No, it is not the gift of tongues being spoken of here, but the inward renewing of the Holy Spirit. God is working deep in our hearts bringing change to our mindsets, perspectives and priorities. We cannot search our hearts to their very depths, but God’s Spirit can. And as he digs deep into the thoughts and intents of our hearts he cries out for transformation according to the will of God.

We will soon get to verse 29 which reveals exactly what “the will of God” is for his people, namely that we be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, but here we just want to note that we are not working alone. We are not just “trying” to become better people. We are not just following a set of religious rules that can only clean the outside of the cup; no, we are being transformed from within by God’s powerful Spirit.

Therefore, my beloved, … work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13

These two verses are a great summary of what we have seen so far in Romans chapter 8. In verses 12-17 we were told to work out our salvation by actively submitting to the Spirits leading. And now here in verses 26-27 we are realizing more fully why we must “strive for holiness.” Philippians verse 13 does not make verse 12 unnecessary; instead it is given as the reason to “work out” out our salvation. Both here and in Romans 8:12-17 Paul uses the work of God as the thing that obligates believers to strive for holiness. But if we look at it in another way, we can see that not only does it obligate us, but it also encourages us. After all, if God is working transformation “within us,” we have hope that our “working it out” will be effective. The fact that God’s Spirit is “groaning” and “interceding” within us, gives us hope that we are not laboring in vain. We can strive for holiness with all of our energy because we are sure that we are not striving alone!

Now that we have the context clear, let’s start unpacking Romans 8:28-30!

I can give a hearty AMEN to the above paragraphs! 

To Be Continued….

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