Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Nature of God's Election, Part I

About two days or so ago, I tackled Augustine’s remarks on what he calls “the merits of faith” in Romans 9 (Augustine was quoted by Paul Helm in his chapter of the book “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views”). I showed that faith cannot be a “merit” because it is not a work, but instead, yielding to the work of God in us (and accepting Christ’s work on the cross).

Well, I’m back to dive into Romans 10. I think this chapter is an important one to discuss—because, if the answer to salvation is the choosing of individuals, as Augustine, Calvin, and others claim, then we should see Paul discussing that in Romans 10 and Romans 11; however, what we see is Paul writing about faith as the BIBLICAL NATURE OF GOD’S ELECTION. We see Paul writing about the UNIVERSALITY of salvation—that EVERYONE has the opportunity to be saved! And, to make matters even worse for the Calvinist, Paul reveals in Romans 10 that faith has ALWAYS been the way of salvation, throughout the entire Old Testament Law!

In Romans 10, verses 1 through 3, we find that Paul reveals his distress over his own people: he wishes that they were saved (10:1). But the reason that they are not saved is because they are still trying to keep the Law: “because they…attempted to establish their own righteousness…” (v.3, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

And then comes verse 4:

For Christ is the end [b] of the law for righteousness (C) to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4, HCSB)

The word for “end” here is “telos,” which could mean “end,” but also “goal.” The point to emphasize here, however, is that, while Christ was the goal of the Law (the Law was to point to Christ), the Law was a substitute until Christ. Read Galatians 3:
23 Before this faith (AJ) came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. (AK) 24 The law, then, was our guardian [k] until Christ, (AL) so that we could be justified by faith. 25 But since that faith (AM) has come, we are no longer under a guardian, [l] 26 for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:23-26, HCSB)

When Paul writes that “the law…was our GUARDIAN until Christ,” Paul is saying that the Law was only temporary; for Christ was planned to come. This is why in Galatians Paul references “the fulfillment of time,” or “the fullness of time.” There was time that Christ was appointed to come give His life for the world. So, according to Romans 10, Christ is literally THE END of the Law for the one who believes, the one who professes faith in Him.

5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is from the law: The one who does these things will live by them. (Romans 10:5, HCSB)

In other words, for the person who seeks to establish righteousness through the Law, that person must do EVERYTHING THE LAW REQUIRES. Imagine how tiring of a lifestyle that would be—trying to be PERFECT and keep every jot and tittle of the Law! And to break one of the laws would make you a transgressor:

For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of [breaking it] all. (James 2:10, HCSB)

When Paul writes in Romans 10:5 that “the one who does these things will live by them,” he is referring to Leviticus 18:5. As I said earlier, Paul is making his case that the Mosaic Law has ALWAYS pointed to Christ and that keeping the Law itself was impossible. The impossibility of perfection before the Law was spoken even back as early as the book of Leviticus! As Leon Morris quotes in his commentary on Romans:

"Paul insists that his view of justification by faith is SCRIPTURAL. It is important for him that it is not some new-fangled idea, but that God has always accepted people on this basis. So now he assembles a group of passages from Scripture to show that GOD HAS ALWAYS ACCEPTED PEOPLE THROUGH GRACE. ALL THAT HAS BEEN REQUIRED ON THEIR PART IS FAITH" (Leon Morris, "The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Romans." Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988, page 381, emphasis mine).

6 But the righteousness that comes from faith (G) speaks like this: Do not say in your heart, "Who will go up to heaven?" (H) (I) that is, to bring Christ down 7 or, "Who will go down into the abyss?" (J) (K) that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.(Romans 10:6-7, HCSB)

The righteousness of the Law requires (as verse 5 tells us) that a person keep EVERY JOT AND TITTLE, every single commandment; but the righteousness by faith doesn’t require DOING any work! It is here that Paul quotes “Do not say in your heart, ‘who will go up to heaven?’ that is, TO BRING CHRIST DOWN or, ‘who will go down into the abyss?’ that is, TO BRING CHRIST UP FROM THE DEAD.” The reference here about taking Christ down or bringing Christ up from the dead is from Deuteronomy 30:11-14—

11 "This command that I give you today is certainly not too difficult or beyond your reach. 12 It is not in heaven, so that you have to ask, 'Who will go up to heaven, get it for us, and proclaim it to us so that we may follow it?' 13 And it is not across the sea, so that you have to ask, 'Who will cross the sea, get it for us, and proclaim it to us so that we may follow it?' 14 But the message is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may follow it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14, HCSB)

In the context of Deuteronomy 30, Moses is giving his speech to the children of Israel before they cross over into the Promised Land. He has spent the last 29 chapters reminding them of God’s goodness and exhorting them to remain in God’s kindness and walk right before Him. But in verse 11, he tells the congregation that no one has to go to Heaven to bring down the Law, or go across the sea to get the Law; but, instead, the Law is near, God’s Word is near—“in your mouth and in your heart, SO THAT YOU MAY FOLLOW IT.”

I think these words are interesting. Moses says that the people cannot claim ignorance in regards to the Law, because the Law is in them, so that they are able to follow it. They have access to it, so that they are now responsible for obeying God’s commands. Paul, in the context of Romans 10, is not talking about “the Law” of Deuteronomy 30, for he has just stated that Leviticus asserts the impossibility of human perfection before the Law. Instead, he is referring to a different message altogether, which he will reveal a little further along in the text.

Deuteronomy 30 mentions going up to heaven and traveling across the sea as the human effort to retrieve the Law; in Romans 10, Paul uses going to Heaven to bring Christ down and going to the “abyss” to raise Christ from the dead. Paul says that the righteousness that is of faith does not ask these questions—in other words, the righteousness that comes by faith DOES NOT ASK, “WHAT HUMAN WORK MUST I PERFORM TO BECOME RIGHTEOUS?”. What does it do, then?

8 On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. (M) (N) This is the message of faith that we proclaim: 9 if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," (O) and believe in your heart (P) that God raised Him from the dead, (Q) you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9, HCSB)

Now, back in verses 6 and 7, the Old Testament reveals that no HUMAN MERIT can earn the righteousness of God. In verses 8 and 9, we see the question asked to receive the righteousness of faith: “The message is NEAR YOU, in your mouth and in your heart.” For the Jew who wonders how to receive the righteousness of faith, Paul stands as a “New Testament Moses”. He tells the Jew that the message they are to receive is “in your mouth and in your heart.” In other words, like the Israelites of Deuteronomy 30, they have the “law” [that being the law of Christ] near them so that they can obey it. The “message” they are to receive is “the message of faith that we proclaim.” Paul tells them that the message to receive is what he and others have been preaching all the time: “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him [Jesus] from the dead, you will be saved.”

So the message is not like that of the children of Israel (to keep the Mosaic Law), but instead, to obey the law of Christ—to confess that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God raised this Christ, the Son of God, from the dead back to life. FAITH, then, is how salvation is applied to each and every individual!

Since faith is the way of salvation, Calvinists find themselves in another rut. For all their emphasis on faith being a “merit,” Paul didn’t think so; for him, faith was the ONLY way to have the righteousness of God imparted to our lives.

Verse 10 tells us that faith in Christ results in the impartation of righteousness; and that with confession, salvation comes. It is easy to believe in the Lord with an “emotional” assent; but until one voices their belief, AFFIRMS God’s Lordship in their lives, that belief remains hidden. Only by OPEN CONFESSION can a person demonstrate his or her conversion decision.

I will discuss more of Romans 10-11 in posts to come. Stay tuned for more on the nature of God's election.

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