“Seventh, particular intent maintains the parallel between our solidarity with Adam and our solidarity with Christ. As Neal Punt puts it, Romans 5:15-17 ‘[does] not say that one of the differences between Adam’s transgression and Christ’s obedience is that the transgression resulted in actual death while the obedience merely established a potential or possibility for life. Instead of making such a distinction, Paul, using the identical grammatical construction, makes a parallel application of actual death and actual life in verse 18. Calvinists are unmistakably correct in noting that Romans 5:12 through 21 says‘acquittal and life’ actually come to all those represented by Christ just as certainly as it declares that‘sin and death’ actually came upon all those represented by Adam’” (Dr. Terrance L. Tiessen, “Who Can Be Saved? ReAssessing Salvation in Christ and .” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004, page 98).
In recent posts, I have discussed in great detail the Calvinist notion that God’s sovereignty involves the necessity of salvation for all those God intends to save. Since the Scriptures and experience teach that every individual does not come to faith, Calvinists reason that this is evidence in favor of the Calvinist position of . God did not die for every person; therefore, every person cannot be saved. As a result of Calvinist logic, the phrase “all men” in Romans 5:18 has been twisted to mean “all men that Christ intends to save.”
But today, I wanna examine this concept in the text of Romans 5 itself to see if the Calvinist interpretation plays itself out. Did Christ’s atonement not only purchase but THROW the gift of salvation into the laps of certain individuals? Or did Christ’s atonement purchase salvation while allowing individuals to receive or reject it? For the answers to these questions, we now turn to the Scriptures themselves.
Tiessen (and Neal Punt, in the quote above) argues that Romans 5 details the parallel unions between Adam and Christ (the “second Adam,” 1 Cor. 15). In order to keep the parallel (according to Neal Punt, whom Tiessen quotes), we have to argue for efficacious grace; that is, that “all” that Christ intended to save were made alive and justified because of Christ’s obedience. If we don’t argue the Calvinist logic, we lose the parallelism of Romans 5.
But why is this the case? I will get into that momentarily. If one reads Romans 5, one will quickly notice that Neal Punt (and Dr. Tiessen) quickly skirt over verses that seem to undermine their interpretation of the passage. For example, they point to verse 18 (in the above quote) but what about verse 17? Verse 17 states that “those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, ” (NKJV). So here, the gift is given to those who “receive” it, not just given to a select few. The gift is not automatically given without reception. The condition for possessing the gift is reception of the gift. One must reach out and grab it, otherwise, salvation becomes of no use.
But what about the parallelism of the passage? Doesn’t Romans 5 loses the parallelism if we interpret the text the way I did above, that “all men” are those who “receive abundance of grace of the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17)? Actually, no. Dr. Tiessen and Neal Punt err when they make such a statement. Why? Because, if you look at the text, you’ll notice that Romans 5:12 states that Adam sinned, death spread to all, and that “all sinned”. Every single human being sinned in Adam. When Adam chose to disobey God, every human being (by virtue of mortal union with Adam) disobeyed God as well. Paul tells us in the text that “all sinned,” asserting that it was a deliberate choice on the part of humanity to sin against God.
So, if “all sinned,” then what does the text mean by “all will be made alive”? As I aforementioned, the “all” of the text in verse 18 refers to “those who receive” the grace and gift in verse 17. “All will be made alive” means “all those who receive the grace and gift of salvation” will be justified. The parallelism of Romans 5 has not been lost. Every single person CHOSE to sin in Adam; there must be a choice if someone is to be made alive in Christ. The mortal union involved a deliberate choice to sin; the spiritual union with Christ involves a deliberate choice to receive God’s grace and His gift of salvation. Where has the parallelism been lost in this interpretation?
But what about Ephesians 1? This is the classic text used by Calvinists to claim that humans don’t make choices...rather, God picks and chooses. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,” they say (Ephesians 1:4). The problem with the Calvinist interpretation is that they don’t see the phrase “in Him.” How is one united to Christ? Romans 5 tells us: we are united to Christ “by faith.” The spiritual union with Christ comes to those who “receive abundance and the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17). God chose humans before the foundation of the world to be His own...but He did not choose individuals without regard to Christ. Rather, He set faith as the condition for salvation and, on that basis, chose believers to be His own.
To end the post, I’d like to talk more on Ephesians 1. I just stated here that God “chose believers to be His own.” This is a significant statement indeed: God could not choose individuals without regard to grace and faith because, prior to this, we were all “children of wrath.” Calvinists often read Ephesians 1 but fail to read ; yet, it is in Ephesians 2 that we realize we were under the wrath and condemnation of God prior to faith. So if God chooses us without regard to faith, God chooses to smile on sinners and their sin---which is something that the Bible states God cannot do. Whenever a Calvinist says, “God chose us to be in Christ,” what he is really saying is “God was delighted to smile on us while we were yet sinners.” If God favored us as sinners, why then, did He require Jesus to go the cross? Why was Christ the penalty for our sins, if God smiled on us as sinners? Paul states that the reason Jesus was sent to Calvary was because
“in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, TO DEMONSTRATE AT THE PRESENT TIME HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, THAT HE MIGHT BE JUST AND THE JUSTIFIER OF THE ONE WHO HAS FAITH IN JESUS” (Rom. 3:25-26).
Part of the purpose of Calvary (aside from purchasing the salvation of every person) was to deal with sin. “The ,” Paul writes (Rom. 6:23). Christ came not only to purchase our salvation, but to suffer the penalty for our sin (1 John 2:1-2; 4:10). If this be the case, then God must first have dealt with sin in the eternal decrees before granting salvation. This is why Classic hold to the idea of conditional election. When it says that God “chose us in Him,” we understand that only by the divine gifts of Christ, grace, and faith, are we chosen for salvation.