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Romans 9, Predestination and Total Depravity

Here is a blog link to a great blog where the writer writes about Romans 9, predestination and total depravity.  Overall I am greatly impressed with his logic, exegesis, and his writing in general.  I highly recommend it.

Greg Boyd On Romans 9 And Election

I am not an open theist but I do share the same concerns about divine determinism with Greg Boyd.  He has written a series of articles on Romans 9 and election.  I do recommend it.  You can find the first post here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/23/2015 at 2:01 PM

John Wesley’s Strong Words About Unconditional Election

I found this quote while reading some of John Wesley.  He wrote this about unconditional election:

This is the blasphemy for which (however I love the persons who assert it) I abhor the doctrine of predestination, a doctrine, upon the supposition of which, if one could possibly suppose it for a moment, (call it election, reprobation, or what you please, for all comes to the same thing,) one might say to our adversary, the devil, “Thou fool, why dost thou roar about any longer? Thy lying in wait for souls is as needless and useless as our preaching. Hearest thou not, that God hath taken thy work out of thy hands; and that he doeth it much more effectually? Thou, with all thy principalities and powers, canst only so assault that we may resist thee; but He can irresistibly destroy both body and soul in hell! Thou canst only entice; but his unchangeable decrees, to leave thousands of souls in death, compels them to continue in sin, till they drop into everlasting burnings. Thou temptest; He forceth us to be damned; for we cannot resist his will. Thou fool, why goest thou about any longer, seeking whom thou mayest devour? Hearest thou not that God is the devouring lion, the destroyer of souls, the murderer of men” Moloch caused only children to pass though the fire: and that fire was soon quenched; or, the corruptible body being consumed, its torment was at an end; but God, thou are told, by his eternal decree, fixed before they had done good or evil, causes, not only children of a span long, but the parents also, to pass through the fire of hell, the ‘fire which never shall be quenched; and the body which is cast thereinto, being now incorruptible and immortal, will be ever consuming and never consumed, but ‘the smoke of their torment,’ because it is God’s good pleasure, ‘ascendeth up for ever and ever.'”

Strong words but I believe Wesley is correct.  How can one preach that God is loving and good when you turn around and teach that God has chosen, before time began, whom He will save and whom He will damn.  God has then created people knowing that the vast majority will be cast into hell and God has chosen this for His glory.  The Calvinist simply points to Deuteronomy 29:29 and lives it there.  I say, “No, no, no!  This is not the picture of the God of the Bible.”

Of course, the true Calvinist will respond in one of two ways.  The hyper-Calvinist would respond with clear affirmation of this doctrine that John Calvin called “the horrible decree.”  Some would respond with glee that God will punish most people for their sins (even before they were born and had nothing to add or take away from their predestination).  Other Calvinists will respond that the Calvinist doctrine of conditional election shows the goodness of God and His love that despite our sinfulness, God has chosen a remnant of grace (Romans 11:5-6).

However, the truth remains.  Calvinism teaches that God has predestined some to eternal salvation and most to eternal damnation.  John Calvin preached from Romans 9:22-23 that God had indeed prepared vessels of honor and wrath meaning that God did create most people as vessels of wrath for the purpose of destroying them.  This is where Calvin called “the horrible decree.”  It was horrible only from the human viewpoint according to Calvin but from God’s viewpoint is loving and good.  After all, reasons the Calvinist theologian, God could have just destroyed all of humanity for their rebellion but He chose instead to redeem a few from among the sinful and sent His Son to save them.

The Arminian view is very different.  Our view is that God punishes each sinner for their own sins (Ezekiel 18:4).  People die for their own sins (John 3:16-18).  People need divine grace to be saved (John 6:44) and God has sent His Son to redeem fallen humanity by His grace (Titus 2:11-12).  Jesus came to save whosoever will come and be saved (Romans 10:13).  Those who hear the gospel are given free grace to either receive this salvation or reject this gift.  God does not force salvation upon anyone.  Those who believe are saved by God’s grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  The work of God is to believe the gospel and be saved (John 6:29; Acts 2:37-38).  Those who believe the gospel become the elect of God by grace (Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 Timothy 4:10).

Thank God for His free grace by which He saves sinners!  I pray that we would preach the grace of God to the lost and call them to repentance (Acts 17:30-31; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:10).  All men need the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20) and I pray that all would hear the gospel and hear that Jesus will save those who come to Him in true saving faith.

Misreadings of Romans 9

I have told this story before but I once knew a Calvinist who admitted to me that he read Romans 9 nearly everyday.  To him, Romans 9 was the backbone of Calvinism.  It was his refuge when he doubted the sovereignty of God in salvation.  This Calvinist saw God’s sovereignty in individual salvation all in Romans 9.  He said that he also read John 6 and Ephesians 1 nearly as much as Romans 9 but Romans 9 was his refuge when in doubt.

Calvinists believe that Romans 9 is the go to chapter to tear down Arminianism.  They see Romans 9 as teaching that God elects some to salvation while electing others to damnation.  Well, not really.  Most see God electing some in Romans 9 but ignore Calvin’s comments on Romans 9:23 and his “horrible decree” of double predestination.  I have met a few Calvinists who have no problem with Calvin’s view on double predestination and some affirm that Romans 9 does teach this view.  R.C. Sproul, for example, acknowledges that Calvin taught this from Romans 9:23 but he can’t swallow the idea that God elects people to hell.

So how is it that Arminians can read Romans 9 and miss the clear evidence of that personal election?  As an Arminian, I love Romans 9.  I don’t have any trouble reading the text and dealing with the issues involved.  I have dealt with it here on my blog from time to time.  Arminians have never ignored the text nor is there not an Arminian reply.  I once heard a Calvinist teacher say, “Romans 9 shuts the mouths of Arminians and leaves them humbled at the sovereign grace of God in salvation.”  In reality, Arminians have dealt with the text since Arminius.  We have always understood that Romans 9 is a chapter that Arminians had to deal with and we have.

In short, when we read Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:4 is becomes clear what Paul is dealing with.  He is not dealing with individual persons here but cooperate groups.  Gentiles and Jews.  Paul is arguing against the Jews who would say that they are the elect of God because of their race.  Paul is arguing that people are saved by grace and that God has the sovereign right to save whoever He chooses.  If God so chooses to save Gentiles instead of Jews, that is His right as God.  Notice Paul’s use over and over again of Israel and the Gentiles.  He never once even mentions salvation in Romans 9.  The word salvation doesn’t appear until Romans 10:1 which is Paul praying for the Jews to be saved through Christ (which would be pointless if absolute monergism were true).  There is no doubt that God chose Israel in the Old Testament for the purpose of the Messiah (Romans 9:1-5) but not once is salvation mentioned in Romans 9:1-5.  The Jews were the chosen nation for the Messiah but this did not guarantee individual salvation.

So here is the premise.  Calvinists read Romans 9 with the presupposition that the point is God is sovereign in individual salvation and He has elected some to salvation and others to damnation but we are not question His absolute sovereignty in this issue (Romans 9:18, 20).  Calvinists see individual salvation in Romans 9.

The Arminian reads Romans 9 and sees the sovereignty of God in choosing to move past the chosen people of Israel to the Gentiles but He will save all who call upon Him in truth (Romans 10:13).  Romans 11:32 is clear: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”  The Israelites are now disobedient to Him by rejecting His Son but God will save both Jews and Gentiles through Christ Jesus (Romans 10:4).  Arminians see God choosing groups in Romans 9.

Quick Note on Romans 9

Some months ago I started a series on Romans 9 but got bogged down with work and other matters that made me lose some steam and due to time, lost track of the series.  I hope to get the series back up soon.  Until then, enjoy this short note on Romans 9.

I was reading the “conversion” story of a man who converted to Calvinism.  His story was interesting for one major reason and that was that he was saved in a Calvinist church and remained a Calvinist for many years before questioning some points of Calvinism but mainly the atonement.  He landed on his feet as an Arminian in his understanding of the atonement but sadly, he went back to Calvinism.  He is now reporting this as a “reconversion to the truth.”  He also is doing the typical Calvinist mantra of “surrendering to Scripture” or “surrendering to God’s grace.”  It is sad to read.

One major portion of Scripture that has been used to sway people toward Calvinism has been Romans 9.  Calvinists love to quote especially Romans 9:14-18 where we read (NASB):

14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

It is taught by Calvinists from this text that election is based on the unconditional nature of God.  God sovereignly draws the elect to Himself and He sent His Son to redeem His elect.  When Arminians (or others) reject this view because it brings injustice to the character of God, the Calvinist will repeat Romans 9:14.  If you say that God has given us free will to either receive or reject His offer of free salvation, the Calvinist will reply with Romans 9:16.  If you bring up how sinners, by no choice on their own, bring glory to God by going to hell by His sovereign choice the Calvinist will reply with Romans 9:17.  The doctrine of unconditional divine election is based, says the Calvinist, on Romans 9:18.

What is missing here is the entire focus of Romans 9-11.  As Dr. Jack Cottrell correctly sums up about Romans 9: this is a focus on divine election to service (which is unconditional) and not to salvation.  Cottrell points out that salvation never appears in Romans 9.  Not once.  John Piper, in his exegesis of Romans 9:1-5, struggles to find salvation in there.  Romans 9:1-5 is clear that God sovereignly chose Israel for His purpose in bringing forth His Son but salvation is not mentioned.  Service is the key.

Romans 9 is all about service.  The Jews were arguing that by virtue of race they were saved.  Paul is saying no.  We are saved by grace.  Israel was chosen for service but each Jew has to repent on their own (Romans 10:1-4).  This happens by the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17).  The view of Romans 9 is not on unconditional divine election to salvation but to divine service for the purposes of God.  God has the right to choose whoever He desires for His purposes.  He did this with Israel, Pharaoh, Esau and Jacob, etc.

So service is the key to Romans 9.  Service and not unconditional election to salvation.  But we will deal with this more later.

Romans 9:4-5

This is part of a series of posts that I began on Romans 9.  You can find the first post here.

Romans 9:4-5 reads,

4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

Dr. Vic Reasoner correctly states that these two verses may be marked, “Israel’s Privilege and Presumption.”  He points out that Paul gives us eight advantages of the Jews in this text.

  1. Adoption
  2. The Glory
  3. The Covenants
  4. The Giving of the Law
  5. Worship
  6. Promises
  7. The Patriarchs
  8. From their flesh, Christ, who is God over all

However, nowhere in the Old Testament are individual Jews called “sons of God.”  It is obvious from reading these eight advantages then that Paul does not have individual Jews in mind but a corporate body in mind.  While John Piper sees salvation (unconditional election) in Romans 9:1-5, I do not.  I see God’s choosing of a people, the Jews, and Paul is about to discuss the faithfulness of God as it relates to His promises that He gave to the children of Israel.

Furthermore, it must be pointed out that, as Dr. Reasoner does in his commentary on Romans, that Israel lost all these advantages.  If we are to find individual salvation in Romans 9:1-5, why not also teach that a believer can lose their advantages as a believer?  This would obviously go against the doctrine of perseverance of the saints and thus would be denied.  However, the fact that Israel lost their advantages shows that the Israel’s election was not unconditional.  God clearly says in the Old Testament that Israel must not rebel against Him.  Deuteronomy 4:23-24 reads,

23 Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Deuteronomy 8:11-20 is also clear about Israel not forsaking the Lord God:

11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.

Israel must not forsake the Lord lest He forsake them.  It was clear that His covenant with Israel was not unconditional but was conditional.  Israel would be His chosen people if they followed Him.  If Israel rejected the covenant of God, He would forsake them.

The point of this, by Paul the Apostle, is to show that God was faithful to His promises and to all eight of the advantages that Paul gave in Romans 9:4-5.  It was Israel, as they often did in the Old Testament as well, who failed God.  Paul is wanting to show the Jews that their election was conditional and not unconditional lest the Jews would say that they are the chosen people of God by virtue of birth.  They would claim their salvation by their ethnicity and Paul is going to show (as he has shown in Romans 1-8) that salvation is based on faith in the Lord Jesus, the Messiah of God, and through Him alone.  This condition must be met or one is not a part of the true people of God.

One last note about Romans 9:4-5.  Does Romans 9:5 teach that Jesus is God?  John Fletcher, the esteemed theologian friend of John Wesley, wrote that Paul masterfully is able to place both the humanity and deity of Christ in the same passage!  In Titus 2:13 Paul calls Jesus God.  Here in Romans 9:5 Paul calls Jesus God as well.  In fact, Fletcher points out that Paul doesn’t simply say that Jesus is “with God” but that He “is God.”  Just as in Revelation 5:13, Paul is praising the Lord Jesus who is God over all.  Jesus is above all (Colossians 1:15-20) and He created all (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/05/2014 at 10:49 AM

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