Tag Archives: Romans

The Abrahamic Tipping Point


One of the primary areas of disagreement over the interpretation of Scripture is the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the implications that flow downstream from this,  such as: Israel vs. the Church, infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism, and the Future of ethnic Israel.  The tipping point in each of these debates, and the key to unraveling the continuity/discontinuity issue between the Old and New Covenants, is the meaning and significance of the Abrahamic Covenant.

On the one hand, finding too much continuity between the Old and the New Covenants, results in a continuation of the practices regarding infants, i.e. infant circumcision under the Old is continued under the New by means of the practice of baptism.  Additionally, this view collapses Israel and the Church and sees them as a (near) continuous unit.  On the other hand, finding too much discontinuity between the Old and the New, results in two distinct purposes and plans of redemption for the people of God, namely Israel under the Old Covenant and the Church under the New Covenant .  Historically, the distance between these two views has been approached from a variety of angles with a myriad of different solutions, each of which must reconcile what to do with the Abrahamic Covenant.

Keep in mind, when we are mentioning the Abrahamic Covenant, we are referring to the progressive unfolding of the covenant that God makes with Abraham, which begins in Genesis 12 and is woven throughout Genesis until around Genesis 22.  While there are many passages which one could examine to arrive at a solid conclusion on the issue of how to interpret this covenant, one passage of particular interest occurs in John 8, within the context of Jesus’ dialogue/sermon with the Pharisees and those who claimed to believe in Him.  We pick up the debate in verse 31

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Here, the dialogue centers around Jesus’ statement that the truth is freeing.  It’s rather obvious that He is not talking about  being in physical captivity, as the Jews assume, rather He is talking about being enslaved by sin.  The truth, says our Lord, will set one free from this enslavement.  The reply by the Jews assures us that they do not have the ears to hear what Christ is saying, because they immediately state their heritage with Abraham, followed by an affirmation of their physical freedom.

Though He certainly did not have to clarify His statements, our Lord condescends to the Jews misunderstanding with the following

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

With this, we have a crystallizing statement that Jesus is not talking about physical slavery, rather the slavery to sin.  The contrast in the dialogue is between Jesus’ spiritual analogy of slavery and the Jews physical concept of slavery.  Next, Jesus addresses their claim to Abraham

37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Jesus affirms the statement that the Jews are the offspring of Abraham.  Remember that their statements were affirming physical realities: 1. We’ve never been enslaved 2. We have Abraham as our Father.  Remember too that Jesus was talking spiritual realities.  In verse 37, He affirms their physical relationship with Abraham, yet in verse 38, He goes back to the spiritual, “you do what you have heard from your father.”  The following verses add clarity

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” 

Notice again that the Jews assert that Abraham is their father.  Clearly they recognize that in verse 38, Jesus is talking about a different father.  Our Lord’s next statement is the focus of our post and serves to highlight the duality with Abraham

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.”

After previously affirming the Jews relationship with Abraham, Jesus (who we may be reminded was Himself a Jew) now questions their relationship with Abraham by focusing on their deeds, or works.  Either Jesus has forgotten what He said earlier or He’s confused right?  What gives?

Well certainly He’s neither.  How can one’s works determine whether or not you have a physical ancestor in Abraham?  Clearly, Jesus is now back to an emphasis on spiritual realities.  The works that Abraham did were the results of the “obedience of faith” (see Genesis 15:6; 22:12, 16-18; Romans 4:3ff; James2:23ff).  Again, Jesus references another father in contrast to Abraham.  Let’s finish out this section of the dialogue and then summarize what we’ve seen

They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The above passage is an important conclusion because for the first time we see the Jews finally grasping the spiritual realities that Jesus has been discussing.  They assert that yes, Abraham is their physical ancestor, but God is their true Father.  Jesus immediately debunks this superficial claim by again looking to the fruit in their lives and seeing a lack of love for Himself.  In contrast to their claim of God as their Father, Jesus goes to the heart of the matter by stating they have the devil as their father.

Summarizing then

  • The Jews claim and Jesus affirms their physical relationship with Abraham.
  • Jesus presents a paradigm wherein the Jews do not have a spiritual relationship with Abraham.
  • The Jews claim and Jesus denies their spiritual relationship with God as their Father.
  • Jesus presents a paradigm wherein the Jews have the devil as their spiritual father.

So what does all this contribute towards understanding the Abrahamic covenant?

In the context of this dialogue, Jesus presents a duality with respect to Abraham, that he has BOTH physical AND spiritual descendants.  The physical covenant with Abraham was marked by circumcision.  The “spiritual covenant” more properly called the Covenant of Grace, was marked by faith and obedience, the evidence of a circumcised heart.  All of Abraham’s descendants were to be marked by physical circumcision, remarkably, this included both Ishmael and Isaac, as well as the servants in Abraham’s house.  All of Abraham’s spiritual descendants are marked with heart circumcision.

17th Century Baptist, Nehemiah Coxe summarizes this duality in Abraham with the following words,

“Abraham is to be considered in a double capacity: he is the father of all true believers and the father and root of the Israelite nation.”

While the physical and the spiritual seed of Abraham at times had overlap, as in Isaac not Ishmael and Jacob not Esau, and the promises to Abraham, both physical and spiritual had overlap, nevertheless recognizing and maintaing this duality is critical to understanding the relationship between the Old and New Covenants.

One final note for consideration, both the seed and the promises given to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.” Galatians 3:16  This fulfillment in Christ reaches its pinnacle through His death on the cross, shedding His own blood for the inauguration of the New Covenant*, see Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:6-13.



(*essentially this is the fulfillment of the Covenant of Grace that we mentioned earlier).


The Total Inability of Man


Recall from the last post summarizing the historical developments of Calvinism that the 5 points of Arminianism were compared with the 5 points of Calvinism.  The first of these points is Free Will/Human Ability vs. Total Inability/Total Depravity.  A summary of the differences[1] is below:

Free Will or Human Ability
Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.
Total Inability or Total Depravity
Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore, he will not — indeed he cannot — choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ — it takes regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God’s gift of salvation— it is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.

I’ve highlighted some of the important distinctions from the views above.  Fundamentally, the difference comes down to this, both sides agree that God’s grace is necessary in salvation; however, the Arminian view requires that man add to God’s grace by their own faith.  In other words, God provides the grace necessary for salvation universally and indiscriminately to all, but the final decision rests upon them to come to Him in repentance and faith.  The ultimate determination of salvation rests with man.  Therefore, the Arminian view neglects to properly weigh man’s sinful condition, the extent of their sin nature, and the bondage of their will toward sin and pleasures of the flesh.

Conversely, the Calvinists too recognizes that God’s grace is necessary, but that apart from God’s “irresistible grace” to change the heart of the sinner from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, i.e. regeneration (born again), the sinner will never choose God on his/her own, indeed they cannot because they are dead in sin and although they are not as depraved as they could be, their depravity certainly causes their inability to believe.  Therefore, in this view, God’s grace must overcome the inability of the sinner and enable them to repent and believe through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.  The ultimate determination of salvation rests with God.

Both sides in this debate will appeal to Scripture and both sides have some legitimately difficult verses for the other side to reconcile.  So it is the responsibility of the reader to examine what the Scriptures say and allow the Holy Spirit to illumine their mind as to the truth of what God’s Word says.  It could be that starting with those verses that the Arminians/Free Will’s champion would be an appropriate starting point.  However, the better place to start will be what God has to say about the human condition and how it relates to Him and then move out from there to conclude whether man is able or unable to come to God by his own free will.  Likewise, it will serve us better from a biblical standpoint and allow us to understand those passages which support Arminianism.

There are 4 primary passages in the New Testament that I’d like to examine.  Of course there are numerous others, in both in the Old and New Testaments, but these are familiar.  First up is Romans 3:9-19:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14    “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

This passage is the apex of the Apostle Paul’s argument for the condemnation of both Jew and Gentile under the wrath and condemnation of God.  Both have violated God’s law and both deserve God’s judgment.  In reaching this conclusion, Paul draws from several Old Testament passages to form one, single, consistent and logical idea, that there are none who seek God.  His quotation of OT sources proves that Paul is not the inventor of total depravity, but that instead it is a pervasive biblical theme.  As much as one would like to design a church using a “seeker-sensitive” model, there simply are no seekers.  Jesus states clearly in John 6:44 that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  Notice what the Apostle is saying from our Romans passage above: None is righteous, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God; all have turned aside; no one does good, not even one.  Their throats, tongues, lips, mouths, feet, and purposes are condemned.  No peace, No fear of God.  The question must simply be posed, based on this passage does man have any ability within himself to choose God?  If God’s grace is universally and indiscriminately given to all, then based on this passage which of those men would ever seek out God?  Which of those men understand God enough to desire Him and make Him the object of their ultimate affections?  Who among them fears God enough to choose to follow Him, abandoning self and the world and turning from sin to Christ?

The next passage is also from Romans:

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:6-8

Within the Apostle Paul’s argument here of the flesh vs. the spirit, we glean insight into our discussion concerning the inability of man.  We have already seen the condemnation against all men, that none seek God, indeed none understand.  Here, we read that natural man, those who are in the flesh, i.e. those who are unbelievers, are hostile to God and do not submit to God’s law.  One might ask, if those who are in the flesh are hostile to God, yet God has extended His grace universally to all, then what causes the sinner to overcome their own hostility to God?  A simple change in attitude toward God one day on a whim? As if this were not enough, Paul extends his condemnation by saying that those in the flesh do not submit to God’s law, indeed they cannot.  Totally unable to submit to God’s law.  How then does one overcome this inability?  By free will?

Based on just the two passages we have seen so far, the will is bound and the evidence is that no one seeks God, no one in the flesh submits to God’s law and in fact can’t.  Finally, Paul says those in the flesh cannot please God.  Certainly coming to faith in Christ would be deemed pleasing to God, yet the condemnation from Paul is all-inclusive and leaves man in a sinful, helpless, quagmire of sinking sand unable to choose God, simply because he does not desire to do so, indeed he cannot.

For the third evidence of man’s condition, we turn to 1 Corinthians 2:14:

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

In this passage we find another explicit example of man’s inability as it pertains to spiritual things.  The Apostle Paul again concludes that the natural man, that is man in his natural, unregenerate state, is simply unable to understand the things of God, because they are spiritually discerned.  He is emphatically stating once again that man not only doesn’t choose God, or doesn’t choose to delight in spiritual things, but that he is unable to do so, even unable to understand them.  If the Arminian view is correct, that God has bestowed and lavished His grace upon all men freely and indiscriminately, then those men in their natural condition should be able to be handed God’s Word and understand the things that are written in it.  Only Paul contradicts that notion and says no, they are not able to understand spiritual things.  It requires spiritual discernment and that comes only by the indwelling Spirit, as a result of the regenerating work of the Spirit.

Finally, the common view of man, at least from the Arminian perspective, is that man is sick in need of medicine.  God’s free grace is that medicine given to him enabling him to be well and now it is up to man whether he, working with the assistance of the physician, would rise up out of the hospital bed and walk.  The problem is that Scripture does not view man’s spiritual condition as a sickness.  It views man as spiritually dead.  Note our final passage from Ephesians 2:1-10 below:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

It is clear from this passage than man is not simply well (as Pelagians say), man is not merely sick (as semi-Pelagians and Arminians say), but man is born dead in trespasses and sins.  Therefore, man is not morally neutral, nor is he in a position to simply cooperate with the physician, but is in need of resurrection.  God doesn’t visit the hospital bed and apply the medicine, He visits the morgue and performs a heart transplant.  He then doesn’t say whosoever will, He says “Lazarus come forth!”

All the whosoever’s of the Bible must be viewed in light of the spiritual condition of man.  We must understand that God views man not merely as sick, but as spiritually dead.  We must come to understand that our sinful condition is far more dire than simply being able to choose out of our own natural volition to follow God.  Scripture is clear about our inability to do so.  It must be remembered that the “whosoever believes” of John 3:16 follows the “you must be born again” of John 3:3; 3:5; 3:7.  The “whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” from Romans 10:13 follows after the passages that we just listed above; the condemnation of man from the first three chapters of Romans, the inability of man described in chapter 8, and even the sovereign purposes of God from Romans 8-9 that we will examine in a subsequent post.

In all these things the sinner is in great need of the grace of God, not to be improved upon by their own faith, but to utterly and completely save them and draw them out of the pit, severing the bondage of the will with sin an enabling the sinner through the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit to believe in Christ by grace alone.  His grace is sufficient and we should be cautious to either state, assume, or believe otherwise.

IT IS: But for the grace of God go I; NOT: I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.


Sola gratia.

The Sanctifying Power of the Gospel


“So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Romans 1:15

In the first chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul introduces his most profound and dense letter to the saints of Rome.  Undoubtedly the most quotable verse of this chapter occurs just after the one quoted above.  Verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” has garnered a significant amount of attention, and rightly so, but it has in part caused me to overlook what the Apostle has said right before it.

“So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

For me, the focus for this verse has often been on Paul’s desire to go and preach at Rome.  This is no doubt true, for Paul has prayed “that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you,” “long[s] to see [them],” and has “often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented).”  However, lost in the anticipation for Paul to preach at Rome is the content of the message he intends to bring to the saints there.  The Gospel.

Remember that in the opening verses of chapter 1, Paul is intentionally addressing the saints, i.e. the saved, collectively the Church.  He writes in verse 7, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”  This is important not only for the passage we’re looking at today, but for the overall scope and direction of the letter.  It is not intended to be a letter for unbelievers.  Though we often use the “Roman Road” for evangelism, the Epistle to the Romans, like the other letters of Paul (and arguably the entirety of Scripture), was intended for the Church, i.e. believers only.

As it relates to verse 15, this becomes all the more significant in that Paul doesn’t intend to bring the Romans a message of high-theology, a second work of grace, or philosophical musings that will grant them a deeper understanding of the workings of God.  He intends to bring the message of the Gospel to the saints!  Perhaps a first or second reading of this chapter might leave one with the impression that Paul’s anticipated mission to Rome is one of evangelism, however the Church is his intended audience and the gospel his intended message.  We must step back then and ask why would this be his message?  Given our understanding of the gospel in so many of today’s evangelical churches, who see it as a first step unto salvation rather than the beginning, middle, and end of all the Christian life, it’s no surprise why this verse might be overlooked.

Throughout Paul’s writings, he views salvation as past-saved (Romans 5:1, et.al.), present-being saved (1 Cor. 15:1,2, et.al.), and future-will be saved (Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13, et.al.).  When he follows up his statement on his desire to preach the gospel with, “for it is the power of God unto salvation” I think it is helpful to understand that for Paul, salvation most always encompasses more than a past event.  Secondly, we must come to understand the significance of the gospel in our lives as an on-going reality of the finished work of Christ on the cross and the implications of this as we become more conformed to the image of Christ.  Practically speaking, the Gospel is the key, the fuel, and the destination of the Christian life.  It is inaugurated (justification), anticipated (sanctification), and consummated (glorification) in the life of a believer.

Note how Paul unfolds the Gospel in chapter 6 of his epistle,

1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

In verse 1, Paul begins his argument for sanctification in the life of a believer by asking the rhetorical, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (for complete context, refer back to Romans 5).  He then frames his argument by referencing the finished work of Christ on the cross, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” and the implications for us of His resurrection, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  This is the Gospel and woven within Paul’s description is the implication for how the believer ought to live a life of holiness.  The significance of Paul’s statements here is the union of Christ with the believer.  Again, this unappreciated doctrine, can be expressed in Romans 6 in terms of past (vs. 3,4,5,6), present (vs. 4,6,7,11), and future (vs.5,8,).  The elect of God have been united to Christ before time began, “Even as he chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” Eph. 1:4  Believers have been united to Christ by faith in the present (Eph. 1:7,11, 13; Gal. 2:20; 3:26; John 15:5) and will be united to him, as His bride – fully consummating this union, at His second coming having been saved from the wrath of God (Romans 8:1; Eph. 1:10,13,14).

This is the Gospel.  It is not an introductory Sunday School lesson for unbelievers or infant Christians.  It is the entirety of the Christian life and all that he or she is flows forth like a fountain from this great and powerful work of Christ through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Hasten to know the Gospel in and out, daily returning yourself to the meditation herein, for truly it was, is, and will be the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.