A Preface to Romans 9: A Will Commanded by Love

And if my feet would go astray,
They cannot, for I know
That Jesus guides my falt’ring steps,
As joyfully I go (E. S. Hall, His Love Can Never Fail).

When we spoke yesterday on the fixed will of the unregenerate, we spoke nothing on their destination. This is partly due to the fact that their destination will be addressed in detail in Romans 9, and also it is assumed to be common knowledge that the wages of sin is death and this death is the final destination of unregenerate. The destination of the wicked could be much more complicated than this (if you wished to engage in the infralapsarian / supralapsarian debate), but it needs not be. Regardless of the timing of God’s decree of their damnation, the wicked will be judged for their deeds and condemned justly.

When we speak of the regenerate, however, we cannot speak of their destination apart from God’s decree, for we find that the two are intimately bound in Scripture. We find this truth most explicitly in the word predestine–a word that attempts to capture both the beginning and end of time in its parts. And when we speak of the predestination of the saints, there is no debate on its timing (as there is in the unregenerate), for Scripture makes it clear that God chose the saints in him before he created the world (cf. Eph. 1:4).

Also, when we speak of the predestination of the regenerate, we cannot speak of it rightly apart from the love of God. In the great chain of the sovereign works of God in the regenerate in Romans 8:29, 30, we see this at the beginning, “Those whom he foreknew, he predestined.” This foreknowledge of which the Apostle speaks is simply put, to know beforehand. This knowledge is not some mental assent to a creature’s eventual existence nor is it some feigned Arminian notion of God’s seeing a person’s faith before time began, but it is God’s choosing to set his love upon particular persons before the foundation of the world. This knowing is the same act of knowing that is seen in God’s declaration to Israel in Amos 3:2, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” This is made more clear in the declaration of Ephesians 1:5: “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” In other words, the saint’s existence is preceded by the love of God and his destination is in the love of God.

Not only is the saint preceded and ended by the love of God, his present life is commanded by the love of God. This portion of the saint’s life brings us back to our topic of yesterday, namely the bondage of the human will. Just as the wills of the wicked are bound to evil deeds and thus their souls to destruction, the wills of the saints are bound to righteousness and their souls to life. And though Scripture is full of exhortations to the Christian to live according the Spirit, to live not according to flesh, to mortify the deeds of the body, etc., these exhortations do not negate the sovereign and providential hand of God in the life of the saint. The Apostle reveals this truth in Philippians 2:12, writing, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. The exhortation to work out one’s salvation or to do good deeds is never apart from the sovereign working of God in the saint.

The objections to this doctrine (as are most objections to orthodoxy) are derived from the experiences of certain individuals rather than from Scripture. The chief objection is found in the so-called “fleshly” or “carnal Christian.” These carnal Christians are those who have made professions of faith in the past, or, more likely, grew up in the Church, and now live lives that make no demonstration of the power of the Spirit. They might have lives that are characterized by drunkenness, sexual immorality, or even apathy to the Gospel, but these are saved by some concocted doctrine of eternal security. Those who profess such a doctrine pay no heed to the Apostle’s warning in Romans 8, “If you live according to the flesh you will die,” or to the declaration of James in his letter, “Faith without works is dead.” Those who believe in the existence of carnal Christians make light of the transformation wrought by God in the regenerate and of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Righteousness in the Christian life to them is a free will choice, just as their belief in the Gospel was, which explains its lack of Power.

However, the necessity of righteousness in the life of the saint is such that the Apostle writes in Romans 6:18, “Having been set free from sin, you are now slaves of righteousness.” He writes this reluctantly (as seen in the phrase “I am speaking in human terms” of v. 6:19) for he knows that he will be writing on the sonship of the saints and their freedom in Christ in Romans 8. Though reluctant, he writes of the saints in this way to make it clear that there are only two types of people in the world–those who present their members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness and those who present their members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (cf. 6:19). For the freedom afforded by Christ is not freedom of the will to neutrality, but it is the freedom of the will from sin and death so that it might be bound to Another (cf. 8:2-4).

Therefore, as saints, our steps our bound to Christ and his righteousness and are directed by the Father’s loving and sovereign hand. Just as he predestined us in love to be glorified into the image of his Son, so now he works and wills his good pleasure in us and leads us through the good works that he has prepared for us beforehand (cf. Phil. 2:12, Eph. 2:10). All these things are a part of God’s glorious plan to accomplish for us our greatest good by making known the riches of his glory to us, his vessels of mercy.

Categories: Fridy Night Bible Study

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