[This post was revised and expanded on 8/27/16]
In Romans 8, Paul lays out the truth that nothing can separate the elect Christian from the love of God. The question then arises: how is that true and how is that comforting if Israel, God’s chosen people, have been separated from God? I believe Paul answers the question using the same framework that he explains in Galatians 4.
In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul uses the terms children of flesh and children of promise with a double meaning. The first meaning refers to the physical births of Ishmael and Isaac. “[H]e who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise.” (v23) He notes that Ishmael “born according to the flesh then persecuted” Isaac “who was born according to the Spirit.” (v29)
He then gives takes these facts and gives them a symbolic interpretation and application. “[W]hich things are symbolic.” (v24, NKJV) “Which things are an allegory.” (KJV) “These things are being taken figuratively” (NIV). “These things are illustrations” (HCSB). “Now this may be interpreted allegorically” (ESV). “By the which things another thing is meant” (Geneva). “The which things be said by another understanding.” (Wycliffe) “[W]hich things are allegorized” (Young’s Literal).
Paul allegorizes the historical narrative of Ishmael and Isaac to explain the differences between the Old and New Covenants “For these are the two covenants” (NKJV). “The women represent two covenants” (NIV). “[T]hese women are two covenants” (ESV). “[F]or these mothers are the two Testaments” (Geneva). The mothers of Ishmael and Isaac correspond to these two covenants. “[T]he one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar.”
The two covenants, in turn, correspond to two Jerusalems: one earthly, one heavenly. “[F]or this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free.”
The allegorical correspondence to Ishmael and Isaac are what these two covenants/Jerusalems had given birth to in Paul’s day: Judaizers and Christians. “Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children – but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.”
After establishing all of these points, Paul then applies the double meaning of the terms children of flesh and children of promise. “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.” (v28) Note that “children of promise” is being used in two different senses. The first sense (v23) referred to the historical narrative of Isaac’s birth as a fulfillment of God’s promise to give Abraham a physical offspring. The second sense refers to eternal salvation as a fulfillment of God’s promise to give Abraham a spiritual offspring (as Paul just established in 3:29). Just as Isaac’s birth was a work of the Spirit apart from Abraham’s work of the flesh (giving birth to Ishmael), so the Christian’s birth is a work of the Spirit apart from his works of the flesh (which the Judaizers insisted upon). In other words, Paul gives Isaac’s birth a typological significance. Commenting on this passage, Augustine said
This interpretation of the passage, handed down to us with apostolic authority, shows how we ought to understand the Scriptures of the two covenants—the old and the new. One portion of the earthly city became an image of the heavenly city, not having a significance of its own, but signifying another city, and therefore serving, or “being in bondage.” For it was founded not for its own sake, but to prefigure another city; and this shadow of a city was also itself foreshadowed by another preceding figure. For Sarah’s handmaid Agar, and her son, were an image of this image. And as the shadows were to pass away when the full light came, Sarah, the free woman, who prefigured the free city (which again was also prefigured in another way by that shadow of a city Jerusalem), therefore said, “Cast out the bond woman and her son; for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac,” or, as the apostle says, “with the son of the free woman.” In the earthly city, then, we find two things—its own obvious presence, and its symbolic presentation of the heavenly city. And this was typified in the two sons of Abraham,—Ishmael, the son of Agar the handmaid, being born according to the flesh, while Isaac was born of the free woman Sarah, according to the promise. Both, indeed, were of Abraham’s seed; but the one was begotten by natural law, the other was given by gracious promise. In the one birth, human action is revealed; in the other, a divine kindness comes to light.
If we turn to Romans 9, we can see Paul employ the very same reasoning. Augustine saw these as parallel passages.
And no doubt the great apostle understood perfectly well what he was saying, when he described the two testaments as capable of the allegorical distinction of the bond-woman and the free,—attributing the children of the flesh to the Old, and to the New the children of the promise: “They,” says he, “which are the children of the flesh, are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom 9:8) The children of the flesh, then, belong to the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; whereas the children of the promise belong to the Jerusalem above, the free, the mother of us all, eternal in the heavens. (Gal 4:25, 26)
How does God’s Word not fail when Israel has not been saved through the Messiah? Because Israel according to the flesh was never promised eternal salvation through the Messiah. God’s election to eternal salvation is not based on anything any person does, including being born a child of Abraham. To prove this point, Paul demonstrates that even the blessings his “countrymen according to the flesh” received (principally that “according to the flesh, Christ came” from them) were never based upon physical birth but were only given by God’s sovereign election.
Paul’s approach is the same as in Galatians 4. He gives the birth of Isaac a typological interpretation.
6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” 8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”
Note carefully that the word of promise is “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.” That promise refers specifically to Isaac’s physical birth. That particular promise does not apply to Christians. It is not a promise of salvation. But, just as in Galatians 4, Paul uses that historical narrative and applies it typologically to the question of eternal salvation. And just as Paul’s argument in Galatians 4 emphasized the work of the Spirit apart from the Christian’s works, Paul applies the typology of Isaac’s birth in Romans 9 to teach that salvation is rooted in God’s sovereign election apart from works – “not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” He does this by showing that Isaac’s physical birth was according to God’s sovereign election and that Jacob’s selection as the one through whom the Abrahamic Covenant would continue and thus through whom the Messiah would be born was also according to sovereign election. Augustine notes “what we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical [typological] meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith.” Isaac Backus notes “in the fore-mentioned 9th of Romans, Paul evidently shews, that as Israel literally, was chosen out of other people: so that Israel spiritually are chosen out, from among both Jews and Gentiles.” Nehemiah Coxe said “Believers are the children of promise… typified by Isaac, being begotten to God of his own will by the efficacy and grace of his free promise.” (80)
Romans 9:14-23 then addresses the objection that is raised against God’s sovereign election – both “to service” and “to salvation.” v24-33 then return to the question of Israel’s salvation where he demonstrates the Israel that will be saved is the Israel chosen by God “not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” Just as “the children of promise” has a double meaning, so too does “Israel.” There is a typological (“my countrymen according to the flesh”) and an anti-typological (“even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles”) Israel. Therefore “[T]hey are not all Israel who are of Israel.” Paul continues his argument through chapter 11, concluding that “all Israel will be saved” (see Irons “Paul’s Theology of Israel’s Future: A Non-Millennial Interpretation of Romans 11”).
This interpretation has the added benefit of more satisfactorily addressing the typical Arminian objection to the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9, which argues that Romans 9 is about election to service.
The only approach to Romans 9 that truly addresses the issue of God’s righteousness as it relates to ethnic Israel is that the election spoken of in verses 7–18 is election to service. Paul’s thesis is that God’s word of promise to Israel has not failed (Rom. 9:6a). Why not? The answer is Romans 9:6b (NASB), “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” Here Paul is not distinguishing between two groups within Israel, the saved and the lost, with the ensuing discussion focusing on how God unconditionally makes the distinction. Rather, the contrast is of a different sort altogether. There are two groups, but they are not completely distinct from each other. One is actually inside the other, as a smaller body within a larger body. Both groups are called Israel, but they are different kinds of Israel. The larger one is ethnic Israel, the physical nation as a whole; the smaller belongs to this group but is also distinguished from it as a separate entity, i.e., as the true spiritual Israel, the remnant of true believers who enjoy the blessings of eternal salvation.
But the contrast between these two Israels is not that one is saved while the other is lost. This cannot be, since the smaller (saved) group is also a part of the larger body. What is the difference between these two Israels, and why does Paul even bring it up here? The key difference is that God’s covenant promises to these two groups are not the same. The promises God made to ethnic Israel are different from the promises he has made to spiritual Israel. Paul is saying, in effect, “You think God has been unfair to ethnic Israel because all Jews are not saved? Don’t you know there are two Israels, each with a different set of promises? You are actually confusing these two Israels. You are taking the salvation promises that apply only to the smaller group and are mistakenly trying to apply them to Israel as a whole.”
Here is the point: there are two “chosen peoples,” two Israels; but only remnant Israel has been chosen for salvation. Contrary to what the Jews commonly thought, ethnic Israel as a whole was not chosen for salvation but for service. God’s covenant promises to physical Israel as such had to do only with the role of the nation in God’s historical plan of redemption. Their election was utilitarian, not redemptive. God chose them to serve a purpose. The Jews themselves thought that this election involved the promise of salvation for individuals, but they were simply mistaken. This same mistake lies at the root of the Calvinist view that the election in Romans 9 is election to salvation. This is Piper’s root exegetical error, as he strains mightily to read salvation content into the blessings described in Romans 9:4–5. He concludes that “each of the benefits listed in 9:4, 5 has saving, eschatological implications for Israel,” and then proceeds to try to explain why such benefits were not enjoyed by all Jews. His answer is that God makes a distinction within Israel, unconditionally choosing to apply these saving benefits to only some Jews. Schreiner takes a similar approach, saying that Paul’s thesis in Romans 9–11 as stated in Romans 9:6—that “the word of God has not failed”—refers to God’s promises to save his people Israel.
Even Forlines, an Arminian, interprets God’s covenant promises to Abraham and his seed (as in Gen. 13:14–15; 17:8) as including “the promise of eternal life.” But this is simply not true. The terms of the covenant God made with Abraham and later with Israel as a whole did not include a promise to save anyone simply because he or she was a member of the covenant people. The key promise God made to Abraham and his seed was this: “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3 NASB), a promise that was fulfilled when “the Christ according to the flesh” ultimately came from Israel (Rom. 9:5 NASB). All the other promises and blessings were subordinate to this one and were designed to bring about its fulfillment. None involved a promise of eternal salvation for the individual members of the covenant people. The blessings listed by Paul in Romans 9:4–5 do not include salvation content.
Jack W. Cotrell (2006-11-01). Perspectives on Election (pp. 125-126). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
I completely agree with Cotrell’s criticism of the typical Calvinist misreading of Romans 9 and with what he has said about the Abrahamic Covenant. Of course, he is wrong in the rest of his exegesis, and he misses Paul’s allegorical application as Paul very clearly also speaks of individual salvation. Piper is helpful in addressing this:
The clarifying question that must now be posed is this: If, as we have seen (p53), God’s purpose is to perform his act of election freely without being determined by any human distinctives, what act of election is intended in Rom9:11—13—an election which determines the eternal destiny of individuals, or an election which merely assigns to individuals and nations the roles they are to play in history? The question is contextually appropriate and theologically explosive.18 On one side, those who find in Rom 9:6-13 individual and eternal predestination are accused of importing a “modern problem” (of determinism and indeterminism) into the text, and of failing to grasp the corporateness of the election discussed. 19 On the other side, one sees in the text a clear statement of “double predestination” of individuals to salvation or condemnation and claims that “the history of exegesis of Rom 9 could be described as the history of attempts to escape this clear observation” (Maier, Mensch und freier Wille, 356)…
J. Munck (Christ and Israel, 42) argues that “Rom 9:6-13 is therefore speaking neither of individuals and their selection for salvation, nor of the spiritual Israel, the Christian church. It speaks rather of the patriarchs, who without exception became founders of peoples.”
The list of modern scholars on the other side is just as impressive… On the larger context (including Rom 9:16) Henry Alford (II, 408f) writes, “I must protest against all endeavors to make it appear that no inference lies from this passage as to the salvation of individuals. It is most true that the immediate subject is the national rejection of Jews: but we must consent to hold our reason in abeyance if we do not recognize the inference that the sovereign power and free election here proved to belong to God extend to every exercise of his mercy – whether temporal or spiritual… whether national or individual.”…
The basic argument against seeing individual, eternal predestination in Rom 9:6-13 is that the two Old Testament references on which Paul builds his case do not in their Old Testament contexts refer to individuals or to eternal destiny, but rather to nations and historical tasks. The argument carries a good deal of force, especially when treated (as it usually is) without reference to the logical development of Paul’s argument in Rom 9:1-13…
By this election of Isaac instead of Ishmael God shows that physical descent from Abraham does not guarantee that one will be a beneficiary of the covenant made with Abraham and his seed… But, the interpretation continues, the covenant blessings for which Isaac is freely chosen (before his birth) and from which Ishmael is excluded (in spite of descendancy from Abraham) do not include individual eternal salvation. One cannot legitimately infer from Rom 9:7-9 that Ishmael and his descendants are eternally lost nor that Isaac and his descendants are eternally saved. What God freely and sovereignly determined is the particular descendant (Isaac) whose line will inherit the blessings of the covenant: multiplying exceedingly, fathering many nations, inhabiting the promised land and having God as their God (Gen 17:2-8). This benefit, not eternal salvation, is what is not based on physical descent from Abraham, but on God’s unconditional election…
A plausible case can be made for the position that “Paul is no longer concerned with two peoples and their fate but rather in a permanent way with the election and rejection of two persons [Jacob and Esau] who have been raised to the level of types” (Kaesemann, Romans, 264). I think this is probably true… But… the decisive flaw in the collectivist/historical position is not its failure to agree with Kaesemann’s contention. It’s decisive flaw is its failure to ask how the flow of Paul’s argument from 9:1-5 on through the chapter affects the application of the principle Paul has established in Rom 9:6b-13. The principle established is that God’s promised blessings are never enjoyed on the basis of what a person is by birth or by works, but only on the basis of God’s sovereign, free predestination (Rom 9:11,12)… We may grant, for the sake of argument, that in the demonstration of this principle of God’s freedom in election Paul uses Old Testament texts that do not relate explicitly to eternal salvation… [But] the solution which Rom 9:6-13 develops in response to this problem [9:1-5], must address the issue of individual, eternal salvation…
[W]hether Paul sees the election of Isaac (Rom 9:7b) as the election of an individual to salvation or as the election of his posterity for a historical task, the principle of unconditional election is immediately applied by Paul to the present concern, namely, who in reality does constitute true, spiritual “Israel” (9:6b), whose salvation is guaranteed by God’s word?”
– John Piper, The Justification of God, p. 56-73
An Internal/External Old Covenant?
Many Calvinists have simply missed this clear and historic explanation of Romans 9 because they have been too eager to use it as a proof-text for infant baptism (and Calvinist Baptists like Piper and Schreiner mentioned above have unwittingly followed this line). Paedobaptist covenant theology views all of the post-fall covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New) as various expressions (“administrations”) of the same covenant. They are all the covenant of grace and they are all made with more than just the elect. However, WLC 31 says “With whom was the covenant of grace made? Answer: The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” How do the non-elect fit into that definition? Louis Berkhof notes
What induced these theologians to speak of the covenant as made with the elect in spite of all the practical difficulties involved?… Reformed theologians were deeply conscious of the contrast between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. They felt that in the former the reward of the covenant was dependent on the uncertain obedience of man and as a result failed to materialize, while in the covenant of grace the full realization of the promises is absolutely sure in virtue of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. Its realization is sure through the operation of the grace of God, but, of course, sure only for those who are partakers of that grace. They felt constrained to stress this aspect of the covenant especially over against the Arminians and Neonomians, who virtually changed it into a new covenant of works, and made salvation once more dependent on the work of man, that is, on faith and evangelical obedience. For this reason they stressed the close connection between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, and even hesitated to speak of faith as the condition of the covenant of grace…
The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly Scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-12… But now the question arises, whether in the estimation of these Reformed theologians all the non-elect are outside of the covenant of grace in every sense of the word. Brakel virtually takes this position, but he is not in line with the majority. They realized very well that a covenant of grace, which in no sense of the word included others than the elect, would be purely individual, while the covenant of grace is represented in Scripture as an organic idea. They were fully aware of the fact that, according to God’s special revelation in both the Old and the New Testament, the covenant as a historical phenomenon is perpetuated in successive generations and includes many in whom the covenant life is never realized. And whenever they desired to include this aspect of the covenant in their definition, they would say that it was established with believers and their seed.
He then discusses various attempts by reformed theologians to explain these different senses of covenant membership under IV. The Dual Aspect of the Covenant. He lists An External and Internal Covenant, The Essence and Administration of the Covenant, A Conditional and an Absolute Covenant, The Covenant as Purely Legal Relationship and as Communion of Life. He defends the last view (and argues against the others):
E. Membership in the Covenant as a Legal Relationship…
2. Children of believers in the covenant. With respect to the children of believers, who enter the covenant by birth, the situation is, of course, somewhat different. Experience teaches that, though by birth they enter the covenant as a legal relationship, this does not necessarily mean that they are also at once in the covenant as a communion of life. It does not even mean that the covenant relation will ever come to its full realization in their lives. Yet even in their case there must be a reasonable assurance that the covenant is not or will not remain a mere legal relationship, with external duties and privileges, pointing to that which ought to be, but is also or will in time become a living reality. This assurance is based on the promise of God, which is absolutely reliable, that He will work in the hearts of the covenant youth with His saving grace and transform them into living members of the covenant…
The promises of God are given to the seed of believers collectively, and not individually. God’s promise to continue His covenant and to bring it to full realization in the children of believers, does not mean that He will endow every last one of them with saving faith. And if some of them continue in unbelief, we shall have to bear in mind what Paul says in Rom. 9:6-8. They are not all Israel who are of Israel; the children of believers are not all children of promise. Hence it is necessary to remind even children of the covenant constantly of the necessity of regeneration and conversion. The mere fact that one is in the covenant does not carry with it the assurance of salvation.
Excerpt From: Louis Berkhof. “Systematic Theology.” iBooks.
Note the Westminster Larger Catechism:
WLC Question 166: Unto whom is Baptism to be administered? Answer: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.
In other words, there is more than one sense in which a person can be in the covenant of grace. Paedobaptists without exception go to Romans 9:6 to defend this “dual aspect” of the Covenant of Grace. It says “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” which they interpret to mean “not all who are in the Covenant of Grace belong to the Covenant of Grace,” thus establishing two levels of covenant membership. But is that what the text is teaching?
The fundamental error of paedobaptist covenant theology is that they combine all of the post-fall covenants together into one covenant, against the testimony of Scripture which clearly distinguishes them as separate covenants. If we approach Romans 9:6 with this faulty presupposition, we will misread the text. As we saw above, Romans 9:6 is a parallel to Galatians 4:21-31 where Paul distinguishes between the Old and the New as separate covenants. In addition to simply not understanding Paul’s argument, and Paul’s view of the typology of Israel throughout his letters (as explained above), this has two more problems.
First, it leads them to identify the promise of Isaac’s birth itself as somehow identical to the promise of salvation. After all, Paul says “For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.'” Thus many try to argue this meant that salvation was to be confined to the line of Isaac, rather than the line of Ishmael, which is not supported by anything in Scripture. This line of reasoning is found as well when it is implied that salvation was limited to the nation of Israel during the Old Testament. Not only is this the necessary implication of their misreading of Romans 9; it is also a necessary implication of their identification of the Old Covenant as the Covenant of Grace. Nehemiah Coxe explains:
[T]his [Abrahamic] covenant did not confine the solemn worship of God (by sacrifices or otherwise) to Abraham’s family. Nor were other holy men living then under any obligation to incorporate themselves into it by circumcision or at all to take on them that sign or seal of this covenant of peculiarity that God now made with Abraham. Yet without a doubt they should have done this if in its first institution it had been given simply and directly as a seal of the covenant of grace. For then by reason of their interest in that covenant, both in point of duty and privilege, it belonged as much to them as to the seed and family of Abraham.
From the sacred history it is evident that the command by virtue of which circumcision was administered, extended no further than to Abraham and his family. Therefore we have no ground to conclude that Lot (though closely allied to Abraham) was circumcised. There is nothing in the command of God or in the first institution of circumcision that obligated him to it or interested him in it. Yet there is no doubt to be made of his interest in the covenant of grace.
Nor was Lot the only righteous man living in the world beside those of Abraham’s family for the patriarchs Heber, Salah, and Shem were now living. They had their distinct families and interests so there is no question that the pure worship of God was maintained in them and they promoted the interest of true religion to the utmost of their power while they lived.
Melchizedek was alive about this time. Whether he was Shem named earlier or another does not concern us. But this is certain: that it was he who was the priest of the most high God and King of Salem. In both respects he was the most eminent type of Jesus Christ that ever was in the world; a person greater than Abraham, for Abraham paid tithes to him and was blessed by him. Now considering that he was both king and priest, there is no doubt that there was a society of men that were ruled
by hint and for whom he ministered. For a priest is ordained for men in things pertaining to God. This society was at this time as much a church of God as Abraham’s family was and as truly interested in the covenant of grace as any in it. Yet they were not involved as parties in this covenant of circumcision nor to be signed by it. And so it is manifest that circumcision was not at first applied as a seal of the covenant of grace, nor did an interest in it presently render a man the proper subject of it.
Again, to suppose that all good men then living should have been circumcised as Abraham was, and their offspring bound to keep this covenant in their generations as his were, would necessarily frustrate one great (if not the greatest) end of circumcision and its covenant. This was the separating of one family of people from all others in the world for the bringing out of the Messiah, that promised seed, from them and among them for the establishing of all the promises made to the fathers. Moreover, the promise of this covenant regarding the inheritance of the land of Canaan could never have been made good to them all. And yet certainly the sealing of that promise was on thing intended in circumcision.
From the whole it appears that, on the one hand, there was a positive command which made it necessary to circumcise many that never had interest in the covenant of grace. So, on the other hand, from the first date of circumcision there were many truly interested in the covenant of grace who were under no obligation to be circumcised. This is how far from truth it is that a new covenant interest and right to circumcision may be inferred the one from the other.
Covenant Theology From Adam to Christ, p. 116-118
Second, and following the above, there is no way to explain why Ishmael, someone whom God declared was not a child of promise (and therefore, according to their reading of Romans 9:6-8, declared reprobate) and with whom the Abrahamic Covenant would not be established, would receive circumcision, which paedobaptists claim is a seal of the righteousness of faith.
Rather than being a proof text for Westminster federalism, the internal/external covenant construct is imported into Romans 9:6 because of a prior covenantal commitment. Paul is making distinctions between Israel after the flesh, to whom belong the [old] covenants (they are/were actually in covenant with God), and true, spiritual Israel, to whom belong the ultimate fulfillment of those previous covenants: the new covenant/covenant of grace. He demonstrates that even Israel after the flesh was granted blessings on the basis of God’s sovereign election and he applies this historical reality allegorically to come to the conclusion that they are not all [spiritual] Israel [with whom the New Covenant is made] who are from [carnal] Israel [with whom the Old Covenant was made].
Here is a quote from Isaac Backus:
But what will, I apprehend, set this matter in the clearest light, is to consider it in the line of type and antitype.—It is abundantly shewn in Scripture, that the Jewish church, and the forms and ordinances thereof, did shadow forth, and typify heavenly things, Heb. 8:2–6 and 9:9, 23, 24, &c. The seed of Abraham, Isaac and Israel’s being selected out of other nations, and being redeem’d with almighty power, and bro’t near to God, to be his peculiar people, and to partake of those ordinances and privileges which no other nation then enjoyed, did remarkably shadow forth God’s spiritual Israel, whom he hath chosen and by almighty grace redeemed; Out of every kindred, tongue, people and nation. Rev. 5:9. And as the Lord said to Israel at Sinai; Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, (Exod. 19:6) so these saints say, Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests, ver. 10. And in the fore-mentioned 9th of Romans, Paul evidently shews, that as Israel literally, was chosen out of other people: so that Israel spiritually are chosen out, from among both Jews and Gentiles. The same apostle calls the old-testament dispensation the Letter; and the new-testament, the Spirit, 2 Cor. 3:6. That church had a literal house and temple where God’s name was fixed, and his worship confined. Deut. 12:13. 1 King. 8:29…
Thus by jumbling type and antitype together, persons run themselves into a sad dilemma: whereas if we take them distinct, the case is easy…
Now if we take these things distinct, there is no difficulty; but to jumble them together, leads into endless confusion.
In “DOLPHINS IN THE WOODS”: A Critique of Mark Jones and Ted Van Raalte’s Presentation of Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, Samuel Renihan provides the following quote
We conceive, that this Scripture [Gal. 3:29; Rom. 9:6-9] doth expound, Gen. 17. God made an everlasting covenant of Grace with ABRAHAM and his seed. Now the Scriptures declare, that ABRAHAM had two kindes of seed; one born after the flesh, the other born after the Spirit, Gal. 4. 29. The question is, who are counted for Abrahams seed according to the covenant of grace?
-Benjamin Coxe, William Kiffin, and Hanserd Knollys
A Declaration Concerning the Publike Dispute Which Should have been in the Publike Meeting-House of Alderman-Bury, the 3d of this instant Moneth of December; Concerning Infants-Baptisme. Together, with some of the Arguments which should have been propounded and urged by some of those that are falsly called Anabaptists, which should then have disputed (London: n.p., 1645), 16.
“In Isaac will your seed be called.” It was Isaac’s seed and not Ishmael’s that the Lord would set apart for himself, give the land of Canaan to, and establish his solemn worship among them to be their God…
But once more the Lord restrains it by the rejection of Esau and the choosing of Jacob before the children had done either good or evil. This was so the purpose of God according to election might stand and he might set before us an awe-inspiring type of his sovereignty in the later dispensation of the grace of the gospel…
[T]he covenant of peculiarity made with Israel and the dispensation that God brought them under pursuant to its ends, was typical of the gospel covenant and the state of things in it. In Isaac we have a type of the children of God by faith. As he (in his seed) was the heir of Canaan, so they are heirs of heaven. As he was persecuted by Ishmael, so must they expect trouble in the world and look to be maligned by all carnal and Pharisaic spirits who seek to establish their own righteousness and refuse to submit to the righteousness of God. In a word, the people, their worship, and their inheritance were all typical. And yet, as Abraham’s spiritual seed may behold the shadow of their own state and privilege in the spiritual relation and typical economy of the Jewish church, so they again might and ought to consider themselves in their outward state to be but typical. While they were figures of the children of promise, both themselves, their state, and their end were figured in the son of the bond-woman and his rejection.
-Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ (102-3, 132)
[T]his article closely examines Gal 3 and 4:21–31 as well as Rom 4 and 9:7–13 in order to demonstrate that there is an underlying hermeneutical consistency to Paul’s typological use of the patriarchs and that this consistency is supportive of the view that “Israel” in Rom 9:6b refers to spiritual Israel—that is, the church… These texts are all part of a larger pattern of predominantly typological exegesis; they have all been cut, so to speak, from the same hermeneutical cloth and cannot be understood in isolation from one another…
[H]is argument in Rom 9:7–8 closely resembles and in part even seems to assume what had been explicitly proved in Gal 4:21– 31, namely, the existence of a typological antithesis between Isaac as a child of Abraham according to promise and Ishmael as a child according to the flesh with all that kata; sarkav often entails. The sudden introduction of multiple children of promise along with multiple children of flesh in Rom 9:8 only follows epexegetically (touÅt∆ eßstin) from the bare mention of Isaac in Rom 9:7 if the respective typological identities of both of Abraham’s sons can be taken for granted—identities that are not fully articulated here but in Galatians. In fact, only here and in Gal 4:23, 28–29 do we find the antithesis between “children of flesh” and “children of promise.” This makes the Galatians passage with its considerably greater elaboration indispensable for a proper understanding of Rom 9:8…
As a child of promise whose birth was wholly dependent on the gracious activity of God, Isaac stands as a type of the “children of promise,” namely, Jewish and Gentile believers…
Over against “the Israel of the old covenant,” Paul thus sets “the Israel of the new covenant, consisting of believing Jew and Gentile.”…
Believing Jews and Gentiles together are the people of God. They alone are the “seed” of Abraham and the “children of promise,” because they, and they alone, are the eschatological antitypes of Isaac and Jacob…
Not only has he consistently viewed descent from Abraham spiritually, he has consistently treated Abraham’s literal progeny typologically. The patriarchs of the first two generations after Abraham stand in Scripture as types of still greater eschatological realities. Isaac and Jacob are types of the “children of promise”… At the same time that these typologies were seen to be crucial to Paul’s view of the people of God in both Galatians and Romans, they were also seen to be part of a larger pattern of interpretation, namely, the systematic appropriation to the church of the Scriptures, blessings, and promises of Israel.
Finally, hear Augustine once more:
What then is the import of the “All, from the least unto the greatest of them,” but all that belong spiritually to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah,—that is, to the children of Isaac, to the seed of Abraham? For such is the promise, wherein it was said to him, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called; for they which are the children of the flesh are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth,) it was said unto her, “The elder shall serve the younger.” (Rom 9:7-12) This is the house of Israel, or rather the house of Judah, on account of Christ, who came of the tribe of Judah. This is the house of the children of promise,—not by reason of their own merits, but of the kindness of God. For God promises what He Himself performs: He does not Himself promise, and another perform; which would no longer be promising, but prophesying. Hence it is “not of works, but of Him that calleth,” (Rom 9:11) lest the result should be their own, not God’s; lest the reward should be ascribed not to His grace, but to their due; and so grace should be no longer grace which was so earnestly defended and maintained by him who, though the least of the apostles, laboured more abundantly than all the rest,—yet not himself, but the grace of God that was with him. (1 Cor 15:9-10)
“They shall all know me,” (Jer 31:34) He says,—“All,” the house of Israel and house of Judah. “All,” however, “are not Israel which are of Israel,” (Rom 9:6) but they only to whom it is said in “the psalm concerning the morning aid” (Ps 22) (that is, concerning the new refreshing light, meaning that of the new testament [covenant]), “All ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel.” (Ps 22:23) All the seed, without exception, even the entire seed of the promise and of the called, but only of those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28) “For whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Rom 8:30) “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed: not to that only which is of the law,”—that is, which comes from the Old Testament into the New,—“but to that also which is of faith,” which was indeed prior to the law, even “the faith of Abraham,”—meaning those who imitate the faith of Abraham,—“who is the father of us all; as it is written, I have made thee the father of many nations.” (Rom 4:16-17) Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.
As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament [covenant].”
A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.
Chapter 40.—How that is to Be the Reward of All; The Apostle Earnestly Defends Grace.
Chapter 41.—The Law Written in the Heart, and the Reward of the Eternal Contemplation of God, Belong to the New Covenant; Who Among the Saints are the Least and the Greatest.
Augustine explains Rom 9:6 with reference to Jeremiah 31:34. All Israel shall know the Lord, but they are not all [spiritual] Israel [with whom the New Covenant is made] who are from [carnal] Israel [with whom the Old Covenant was made]. He correctly identifies the thrust of Paul’s argument in Romans 9 as election & reprobation, but he also correctly identifies election to salvation as corresponding to membership in the New Covenant (not to “inner” membership in the Abrahamic Covenant/Covenant of Grace).
I certainly don’t mean to focus more than necessary on Piper, but he tends to be involved at significant levels in a number of different issues. I was recently talking with people on facebook about double predestination. Someone linked to Piper’s Are There Two Wills in God?, a very, very commonly linked article. I said that Piper was wrong, and when asked why, gave the following explanation (along with this link to an AOMin response to Piper’s article http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2008/12/10/1-timothy-24-an-exegesis/):
Marc, thanks for the opportunity to clarify. Please see the link I provided as it interacts with Piper’s article.
It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass. This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. It is not a new contrivance. For example, theologians have spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, secret will and revealed will, will of decree and will of command, decretive will and preceptive will, voluntas signi (will of sign) and voluntas beneplaciti (will of good pleasure), etc.
This is true. But Piper does not understand these two wills in the same way that typical Reformed theologians do. Thus he is creating confusion and is unjustified in the way he attempts to find support for his view in Reformed history. (If someone can point me towards Jonathan Edwards’ interpretation of 1 Tim 2:4 I would appreciate it)
The distinction simply stems from the fact that the word “will” can refer to more than one thing. In the Bible, it refers to God’s decree and it also refers to God’s commands (or law, as Piper quotes Edwards). But note that those are two very different things. It is not a contradiction or even a paradox to say that God commands men to do something, and then decrees that they do not do it.
“we must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and [that] both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will.”
It is important how one understands that phrase. By “what God would like to see happen” do you simply mean what God commands? Or do you mean God longs for and desires for something that He does not actually accomplish? If the latter, then you have a problem with Is. 46:10; Ps 115:3. If God does not decree something, it is because He does not desire it.
What Piper is actually arguing for is 3 wills in God: a decretive will, a preceptive (command) will, and a will of unfulfilled desire or simply, a wish. Piper creates confusion by claiming his third view is just God’s preceptive will. It is not.
Piper’s error can be seen in his attempt to apply an understanding of God’s preceptive (command/precepts) will to John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4.
1 Timothy 2:4, for example, is not talking about God’s command to repent and believe. It is referring to God’s redemptive *work* of salvation. It is referring to something God does, not to something man must do. Therefore it refers to God’s decretive will. That being the case, it simply does not make sense to say it refers to some kind of lower desire in God that is superseded by a greater desire (“God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to the glorification of his sovereign grace”). If God’s will to save all is restrained by His commitment not to save all, then we shouldn’t pray and ask Him to save all. (Let me give you an example. If I have a desire to go on vacation with my wife, but I have a greater desire to pay rent, why would I tell my wife to continually ask me to go on vacation?) It just doesn’t make any sense of 1 Timothy 2:4. Either the Arminian interpretation is correct (or the Universalist’s), or John Calvin’s interpretation is correct. Piper’s is not exegetically viable.
Let me know what you think. Aside from all the other issues, of particular interest to me is that Piper’s interpretation just doesn’t seem to make any sense of 1 Timothy 2:4.
R.C. Sproul is a good enough communicator to recognize that what John Piper is arguing for is really 3 wills in God, not 2. In his Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, he says
“When we speak about God’s will we do so in at least three different ways… The three meanings of the will of God: (a) Sovereign decretive will is the will by which God brings to pass whatsoever He decrees. This is hidden to us until it happens. (b) Preceptive will is God’s revealed law or commandments, which we have the power but not the right to break. (c) Will of disposition describes God’s attitude or disposition. It reveals what is pleasing to Him [Sproul places Ezekiel 18:23,32; 33:11 in this category].”
Whether one agrees with Sproul’s reading of the Ezekial passages or not, he is much more helpful in that he does not muddy the waters of God’s preceptive will, as Piper and others do.
Also, I came across a critique of Piper’s essay written by an Arminian. It is worth taking note of:
The fact that God wants all men to be saved, set in juxtaposition with the fact that not all men end up saved, suggests that there is not only one will in the universe, but at least two. Arminians say that there is the will of God and the will of man – two wills at odds in the universe. Calvinists say the two wills that are at odds are both in God. That is, in one sense, God wishes all men would be saved; in another sense, He really wants millions of people to burn in hell for all eternity. Piper opens his essay with this ambitious statement of purpose:
“My aim in this chapter is to show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God’s will for ‘all persons to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4) and his will to elect unconditionally those who will actually be saved is not a sign of divine schizophrenia or exegetical confusion.”
I have been surprised to see how many readers seem to think that he accomplished this goal. He does make about as good a case as can be made for such a doomed postulate, but he does so by tricking the mind of the inattentive reader (I don’t suggest that John Piper intends to “trick” anybody. I am sure that he is very convinced of the validity of the case he makes, but Calvinists have in many ways allowed themselves to be “tricked” by a faulty logic which they would never accept if used by their theological opponents. It manifests the phenomenon of how intense desire to believe a thing to be true will lead a man to accept uncritically the flimsiest case in its defense).
“There is but one will of God; however, there is a distinction in the objects to which His will relates. Therefore in recognizing this distinction we differentiate between the will of His decree and the willof His command… The will of God‟s command is also referred to as His preceptive will or His revealed will. This will has reference to the regulative principle of life as well as to the laws which God has made known and prescribed to man in order that his walk might be regulated accordingly… it is primarily descriptive of man‟s duty… In making a distinction in the will of God, we are not suggesting that God has two wills. In God the act of the will is singular. The difference rather relates to the objects towards whom His will is exercised. Much less do we suggest that God has two wills which are incompatible, as if God with His revealed will would desire something and His secret will would be opposed. When we consider the will of God as being either secret or revealed, this distinction pertains to decidedly different matters [commands vs volition].”-Wilhelmus à Brakel A Christians Reasonable Service, vol. 1, 114-115
“The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter what he wills that we should do… Therefore Godcan (without a contradiction) will as to precept what he does not will as to decree inasmuch as he wills to prescribe something to man, but does not will to effect it (as he willed Pharaoh to release the people, but yet nilled their actual release).” -Francis Turretin, Institutes, 3rd Topic, 15th Question
“The will of precept has no volitional content, for it simply states what God has commanded *ought* to be done by man… So it is quite inappropriate to say that God wills something to be with reference to His will of command, for the preceptive will never pertains to the futurition of actions, only to the obligation of them.” -Matthew Winzer, review of Murray’s “The Free Offer of the Gospel”
I’ve been having a rather lengthy conversation with some Arminian/Molinist acquaintances about Calvinism generally and about God not being the author of sin specifically. Overall I think it has been beneficial in drawing out the underlying differences between the two views. In particular, I wanted to share an excerpt regarding the vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath that is rather telling:
Suppose a beautiful pot says, “Look how beautiful I am, won’t you congratulate me for being so beautiful?” And the potter then says, “You don’t deserve any credit for being beautiful because I am the one who made you beautiful; I am the one who should be praised for making you beautiful, and you have no right to claim any credit for it.”
The potter’s response, to my lights, is completely sensical.
But now exchange “beautiful” with “ugly””: The pot says “Look how ugly I am, won’t you blame me for be being so ugly?” And the potter then says, “You don’t deserve any blame for being ugly because I am the one who made you ugly; I am the one who should be blamed for making you ugly, and you have no right to claim any blame for it.”
If the potter to pot relation undercuts the pot’s ability to be praised, the same relation undercuts the pot’s ability to be blamed.
And hence, so much for a soteriological reading of Romans 9.
Derek, your statements here betray a poor understanding of salvation. By beauty and ugliness I assume you are referring to righteousness and unrighteousness (since that is the standard of salvation). Let’s plug those words back into your objection and see where it gets us:
Suppose a righteous pot says, “Look how righteous I am, won’t you congratulate me for being so righteous?” (Luke 18:9-14) And the potter then says, “You don’t deserve any credit for being righteous because I am the one who made you righteous; I am the one who should be praised for making you righteous, and you have no right to claim any credit for it.”
Now, if the righteous pot was righteous because he lived a life of perfect obedience, then he deserves congratulation (Rom 4:4). Even if it was God who willed him to live that perfect life, he still did it, so he does deserve honor. But the truth is, no pot can say “look how righteous I am” because no pot is righteous. The vessels of mercy are not made righteous, they are counted righteous. They are covered, or clothed, in an alien righteousness, the righteousness of Christ. That is why they cannot boast in their righteousness, because they have none of their own.
“Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
I read this to mean that Abraham himself is now righteous because he believed in God.
Though Abraham believed, his mere believing isn’t what makes him righteous; because he believed, he can now take on the righteousness of Christ. So Abraham’s believing is a necessary but insufficient condition for Abraham being righteous. Do you agree?
Though, on my view, it was up to Abraham to believe or not, his act of believing itself is no work, and even though we can credit Abraham, in part for believing, the consequence of his believing-viz. taking on the righteousness of Christ, is not something Abraham can credit himself for.
I think the forensic model is helpful here. Suppose the the Judge says “someone else has atoned for your sins, do you accept?” If the defendant says, “Yes.” We can say correctly that, “He said “yes”, and therefore he as become atoned, in part, because he believed. But because the actual work of atonement was not his own, but another’s, he cannot credit himself for his own righteousness, though whether or not to be atoned was something he did choose.
You might insist: Paul says his faith is not “of himself”. In one sense this is true: Without the calling of the HS, Abraham couldn’t have had any faith-viz., the Holy Spirit is an enabling condition. But though the HS is a necessary condition, the HS’s enabling is not itself sufficient, for it is Abraham who believed and not HS; not the HS causing Abraham to believe.
his act of believing itself is no work
This is a very important point. We must understand exactly why believing is not a work, even though it is equally an act of the will of Abraham. Why is it that Paul contrasts the two so strongly? Why is faith so diametrically opposed to works?
The answer lies both in the object of saving faith and in the necessary flipside of saving faith – repentance. I would argue that the illustration you have provided is not wholly biblical and may be introducing some difficulty. Nowhere in Scripture do we see a sinner told that Christ atoned for their sin and then asked if they would like to accept it or not. What we read in Scripture is that all men everywhere are commanded to repent of their sin. They are also told that if they repent and place their faith in the work of Christ alone, they will be saved. Repentance is an essential part of saving faith. You cannot have one without the other.
I would also add that Abraham was not clothed in Christ’s righteousness as a result of his faith. Abraham’s faith was itself the putting on of Christ. I think the difference is very important. That is what is meant by faith being the instrumental cause of justification. I would also say that faith is much closer to someone (the Holy Spirit) notifying you (by monergistic regeneration) of the fact that your debt has been paid. It serves the function of a receipt for what has already been paid in full and nothing else is required.
The London Baptist Confession states this very well when it says:
Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.
What is repentance and how is it related to saving faith? Repent means to change your mind. It means to change your mind about who you are and who Christ is. It means to turn away from trust in yourself and place your trust in Christ alone.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
This is why saving faith is so diametrically opposed to works – because saving faith in Christ’s work means abandoning all faith in your work and worth and despising yourself as nothing.
So then, to bring this back around to your original illustration:
Suppose a repentant sinner says, “Look how righteous I am, won’t you congratulate me for being so righteous?” And the potter then says, “You don’t deserve any credit for being righteous because you are not. I am the one who is righteous; I am the one who should be praised for being righteous, and you have no right to claim any righteousness of your own.”
Suppose a repentant sinner says, “Look how righteous I am” is a contradiction. It is not possible. If someone says “look how righteous I am,” they are not repentant and do not have saving faith in Christ’s work and thus are not justified. This is what Christ teaches us in Luke 18:9-14
Here is an excellent (short) statement in regards to this:
Do Protestants Believe that True Faith = Faith + Works?
“This is a very important point. We must understand exactly why believing is not a work, even though it is equally an act of the will of Abraham. Why is it that Paul contrasts the two so strongly? Why is faith so diametrically opposed to works? ”
Yeah, we’re already going to part ways from here. From my reading of Paul, we could summarize works as:
(works) = S’s living/acting in accordance with the law.
(faith) = S’s trust in Christ.
Understood like so, though faith and works are both what proceed from Abraham’s will, it’s simply wrongheaded to think of faith as a work because of this similarity. Faith is simply when Abraham trusts God, and works are simply Abraham’s living in accordance with the law; and this difference is the one and only difference between “faith” and “works”, and this difference itself is what constitutes their “diametric” opposition.
“The answer lies both in the object of saving faith and in the necessary flipside of saving faith – repentance. I would argue that the illustration you have provided is not wholly biblical and may be introducing some difficulty. Nowhere in Scripture do we see a sinner told that Christ atoned for their sin and then asked if they would like to accept it or not. What we read in Scripture is that all men everywhere are commanded to repent of their sin. They are also told that if they repent and place their faith in the work of Christ alone, they will be saved. Repentance is an essential part of saving faith. You cannot have one without the other. ”
Right. Who said this? My view is that Christ’s work is sufficient for atoning S’s sin on the condition that they have faith. I.e., Sinners are told that their sins will be forgiven if they repent. And this is tantamount to saying that if S trusts in Christ’s blood (which would include repentance), then he shall be forgiven.”
“[…] Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.” (Mk 4:25)
“I would also add that Abraham was not clothed in Christ’s righteousness as a result of his faith. Abraham’s faith was itself the putting on of Christ.”
I agree here, but I don’t agree with what follows.
“I think the difference is very important. That is what is meant by faith being the instrumental cause of justification. I would also say that faith is much closer to someone (the Holy Spirit) notifying you (by monergistic regeneration) of the fact that your debt has been paid. It serves the function of a receipt for what has already been paid in full and nothing else is required.”
Nope. If faith (and repentance) are conditions for one to be forgiven, then I don’t know what it means to construe faith “as the notification that your debt has been paid.” Faith, again, is S’s trust in Christ and his atonement, and the result POST-FACTO is that S’s “debt has been forgiven.”
“What is repentance and how is it related to saving faith? Repent means to change your mind. It means to change your mind about who you are and who Christ is. It means to turn away from trust in yourself and place your trust in Christ alone. Job 42:5-6 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” This is why saving faith is so diametrically opposed to works – because saving faith in Christ’s work means abandoning all faith in your work and worth and despising yourself as nothing.”
We both agree that faith and repentance are coextensive; one who has faith is one who repented.
I do think, however, Job’s language ought to be qualified a bit. It’s true that we are absolutely nothing without God, since only He makes our very being possible. But, insofar as we have being, even in our fallen state, we are still made in God’s image, and Christ thought that we are worthy to be saved (Christ loved as, even as sinners), and hence if we weren’t worthy to be saved, Christ wouldn’t have gone through the trouble.
”So then, to bring this back around to your original illustration: Suppose a repentant sinner says, “Look how righteous I am, won’t you congratulate me for being so righteous?” And the potter then says, “You don’t deserve any credit for being righteous because you are not. I am the one who is righteous; I am the one who should be praised for being righteous, and you have no right to claim any righteousness of your own.” Suppose a repentant sinner says, “Look how righteous I am” is a contradiction. It is not possible. If someone says “look how righteous I am,” they are not repentant and do not have saving faith in Christ’s work and thus are not justified. This is what Christ teaches us in Luke 18:9-14”
I agree this all true for anyone who is saved by grace. My original issue is that if God unequivocally causes men to sin, then he cannot blame them for sinning, and if God unequivocally causes Job to be righteous, for instance, then he cannot be praised. So if someone goes to hell, it’s because they freely sinned and because they rejected Christ, and they deserve such a fate because God did not unequivocally cause them to reject Christ.
If we weren’t worthy to be saved, Christ wouldn’t have gone through the trouble.
Again, what disgusting pride!
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name…I will vindicate the holiness of my great name…And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
I don’t know what it means to construe faith “as the notification that your debt has been paid.”
This is because you don’t understand the atonement and you reject monergistic regeneration.
My original issue is that if God unequivocally causes men to sin, then he cannot blame them for sinning
Ok, then just go back to my original response, and Paul’s:
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”
and if God unequivocally causes Job to be righteous, for instance, then he cannot be praised
Yes He can, and for all the reasons I just laid out, including the fact that Job is not MADE righteous. He is counted righteous.
Yes He can, and for all the reasons I just laid out, including the fact that Job is not MADE righteous. He is counted righteous.”
It’s clear from the account that Job not only had faith like Abraham did, but unlike Abraham, he lived completely in accordance with whatever the law required of him:
“[…] and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” (1:1)
I take the “blameless” and “upright” part of the conjunction to be describing Job’s works: he never did anything wrong and did everything correctly. If your not convinced that this is right, then the whole narrative loses it’s potency, for Job’s friends are trying to find the one thing Job did wrong to explain his misfortune. That is, they are trying to construe what happened to him as an instance of God’s justice, as opposed to the unjust suffering of an unequivocally innocent man.
I take the “feared God” part of the conjunction to be describing Job’s faith in God.
So, on my account, God deems Job “blameless” because it was up to Job whether or not to sin (God didn’t unequivocally cause his blamelessness), and hence, we think Job is praiseworthy.
But, counterfactually, suppose that Job did sin yet feared (had faith) in God. He would then be in Abraham’s “camp”, where his faith would be “accounted to him for righteousness.”
Looking at the big picture.
I think that everything is causally dependent on God, in the sense that anything whatever is made possible by God’s existence.
So suppose that Adam resisted the temptation of the Serpent, or suppose, as is actually the case, that Job didn’t do anything wrong. We can praise Job and Adam because it was up to them whether or not they decided to be good. We can praise them because of their choices. They can say, rightly, that “God won’t punish us for our sins, for we have none.” Of course, they still must acknowledge that God is what made their righteousness possible, so they could never say, even if they never sin, “We don’t need God because we made the right choices.” Any righteous man who never sins still would acknowledge that his righteousness is derived from God.
But suppose that Adam sinned, like he actually did, and that Job sinned, though he actually didn’t. Because they sin, and God didn’t cause them to sin, then God rightfully punishes them with death, “for the wages of sin is death.” Paul’s whole story, I think, is this: even though they didn’t live in accordance with the law, they can be saved by grace, and take on an alien righteousness, if they have faith. Suppose that Adam has faith; then he will be saved. Suppose Job doesn’t; then, for the sins he chose to commit, and for rejecting Christ’s blood, he shall forever be left in his sin and the natural consequence that follow from it- i.e., damnation.
So at the back of this particular rejection of Calvinism lies pure Pelagianism and a refusal to despise oneself and repent in dust and ashes. In this instance, I agree with Ronald W. Di Giacomo when he says:
Now why won’t they [accept Calvinism]? Because the matter is ethical, not intellectual, that’s why. God has blinded the Arminian to the glorious doctrines of grace, which is why they say things like: “How can God find fault, for who can resist his will?” I’m afraid that Arminians don’t recognize that Romans nine is speaking to them.
This post was originally an email that I wrote last October. I hope that people who read it have had time to consider it. If so, I would really enjoy hearing your thoughts on it now. (I recommend listening to the 20 minute sermon again).
I recently listened to Mike Erre’s podcast of Ephesians 1 “Adoption into Freedom.”
There were a few things I heard that I felt like sharing with you. I’d love to know your thoughts. I wanted to write this email because I felt like a lot was left out of the sermon and because I feel like people may be misled by some of Mike’s comments. He implied that Ephesians has nothing to do with predestination because people in Ephesus wouldn’t have been debating Calvinism, they would have been crying. I feel that such an off the cuff remark unjustly dismisses the deep implications of Ephesians 1.
The Blessings of Redemption
1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
**A side note: the Hellenistic culture Mike rightly condemns is alive and well as he points out. The culture he described, the culture that practices infanticide, is the culture that millions of Americans flocked to cheer on in the recent film “300”. The theaters that Mike said were created to seduce the people into Hellenism are not unlike the cineplexes we visit weekly. Amanda also reminded me that infanticide is not something from history books. It is alive and well in America. When her sister was pregnant, they did a test to see if there would be any deformities or problems with the child… after the test results they asked her if she wanted to have an abortion. This is common practice.
Before I say anything about what Mike taught I want to say that nothing I say should be interpreted against Mike personally. My issue is strictly with what was taught.
One important issue that I want to address is how we are to interpret and understand Ephesians, and for that case, all of Scripture. Mike spends quite some time describing what he believes the culture of Ephesus was like at the time of the writing of the epistle. Mike’s speculations may or may not be correct, but it is important to realize that they are speculations not arrived at from Scripture. They rely on fallible men and women conducting historical studies. This does not mean they are necessarily wrong, it simply means that they are fallible.
I don’t think it is wrong to consider the context of a particular book in Scripture, in fact I think it is very necessary. However, the question is whether or not such context should be the primary means of understanding Scripture. Mike says we are to understand Ephesians 1 in light of Hellenism. Is there another alternative?
The best means of understanding something that has been written is to ask the author (prayer). Then we should consider what else the author has written on the subject. Certainly after this is done we can also study the historical context of the author’s writings, but the best means of understanding what an author is saying is to let him explain. The Bible was written by the Holy Spirit. Yes it was written by various men inspired by the Holy Spirit, and yes they wrote using the context of their particular culture, but the source of the revelation they communicated was the Holy Spirit.
The best way of understanding the adoption Paul talks about in Ephesians 1 is to consider if the Holy Spirit has discussed the issue of adoption at any other point in His writings. After this is done we may consider what insights the historical context may provide. Mike did not do this. He offered no other passages on adoption to help explain Ephesians 1. Instead, he painted a picture of what historians have said Ephesus was like at the time and said this is how we must understand adoption.
An important question to ask is: Is the Bible sufficient?
Do we need anything outside of the Bible to understand what the Bible is teaching us? I agree that historical context may provide us with helpful information. However, is it true that in order to understand what the Bible says in any particular passage, we have to resort to historical studies outside of the Bible? Is it possible to understand what adoption means without knowing the historical context of Ephesus? Must we rely on sources outside of the Bible to understand Paul’s point? Must we rely on sources outside of the Bible to understand what God is communicating to us – or has He provided us with revelation that is sufficient?
2 Timothy 3:15-17
the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
In his second sermon on Ephesians, Mike explains that there is disagreement about the historical background. He decides to believe what is right based on how many people agree with a particular stance. Is this the best we can do? Is the only way to understand the Bible to choose an historian’s research based on what is most probably correct and then form our theology around that? Or do we have something much more certain?
I also take issue with the way Mike characterizes Paul’s writing. He says Paul went “berserk” and we should imagine Paul pacing around, rambling, because its “just a series of clauses thrown together” that his scribes scribbled down. “He’s just searching for language exalted enough to describe what it is Jesus had done” “Paul keeps searching for words big enough.” This is not what Paul is doing. “Blessed” “heavenly” “predestined” “adoption” “unblemished” “glory” “grace” “redemption” “forgiveness” are not “big” “exalted” words that Paul had to settle with. Paul carefully chose these words because they each have a specific meaning and together they communicate exactly what God wants to communicate to us so that we understand exactly how He is working in our lives.
Consider this statement from Mike:
“Don’t let the word predestined spin you out. First of all, Paul was worshiping, he’s not giving us theological, like, treatises. But secondly, nobody in the 1st century would have had a heated debate whether or not God was a Calvinist. You know what they would have been doing? They would have been weeping.”
Consider the implications of what Mike is saying. He says we should ignore specific words that Paul wrote because Paul was not trying to teach theology, he was worshipping, he was rambling and the words that came out don’t mean anything other than that they are “exalted” “big” words. Can we say the same thing about the word “forgiveness”? Or does the word forgiveness actually mean something? (Also, is he saying that teaching clear doctrine is not worship?) Mike also implies that Paul is only allowed to teach about what is currently under debate. Does God not have the freedom to teach what He wants about Himself to His people?
Other Relevant Passages on Adoption:
Romans 8: 29For those whom He)foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Galatians 3:3 In the same way we also, when we were children, [we] were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now
Romans 8:12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Not everyone is a child of God, not everyone is adopted
Ephesians 5:5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
John 8:41 You are doing the works your father did.” 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 has nothing to do with 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.
If we seek to understand the adoption that Paul is talking about by comparing it with other passages using the same language, we will have a much better chance of understanding what he is saying.
The last two passages are just a couple of the numerous passages in the Bible that present a contrast between children of the devil and children of God. We were all once children of the devil, under the just wrath of God for our disobedience.
Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 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. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved
We should seek to understand adoption, first and foremost, the way that the bible understands adoption. It is clear through these verses that the bible presents adoption as
1) an act that is possible only because of Christ’s work (he is the first born among His brethren)
2) something not everyone receives
3) bringing us out of darkness into light, out of the wrath of God into His grace
4) a matter concerning sin and righteousness (understood in the context of a fallen human race unable and unwilling to obey the law of God)
How the Ephesians in their Hellenistic culture viewed adoption may provide some interesting insight, but if we allow our understanding of the Bible to be shaped by what we think the Ephesians were thinking, rather than what the Bible explains, then we are truly missing the point.
A theme in Mike’s teaching was that “blameless” in verse 4 can be interpreted as “unblemished” as well. He said we are to understand this in contrast to the deformed, blemished infants who were thrown away. Thus we must understand all of this talk of God’s love and adoption as God overlooking our defects (mostly physical) and bringing us into his family despite our blemishes because in God’s eyes we are acceptable.
I do not believe this is correct. We are not acceptable in God’s eyes. Paul is not referring to the physical deformities of the abandoned children in Ephesus, he is referring to our blemished, stained, sinful condition. The NETbible is a great translation that includes extensive footnotes about different possible translations. It says this about blameless/unblemished:
The Greek word translated unblemished (ἀμώμους, amwmous) is often used of an acceptable paschal lamb. Christ, as our paschal lamb, is also said to be unblemished (Heb 9:14; 1 Pet 1:19). Since believers are in Christ, God views them positionally and will make them ultimately without blemish as well (Jude 24; Eph 5:27; Col 1:22).
Christ is acceptable in God’s eyes and His perfect righteousness is counted on our behalf. In judgment, God looks at us through Christ’s atoning blood. No mention of Jesus in this regard was made in the sermon, leading hearers to believe God simply ignores our sin (or rather, physical deformities in the world’s eyes – as Mike emphasized instead of sin) and loves us for who we are.
The language of v4 is a little confusing “He chose us in Him”. The NET bible makes the translation clearer: “For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished”
Mike also makes the analogy of “a God who goes up to a hill to pick those who, in the world’s eyes aren’t fit, aren’t acceptable, and He rears them and adopts them into His family.” Again, this communicates the idea that in God’s eyes we are acceptable and fit to be His children. This is not true. The verses above, specifically Ephesians 2 describes us as children of wrath. The only way we can be viewed as acceptable is by being made alive together with Christ (v5) so that God looks upon Christ’s righteousness, not ours. We are born sons of the devil. We are unacceptable in God’s eyes. God goes so far as to say our righteous deeds are filthy garments:
We are all like one who is unclean,
all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight.
We all wither like a leaf;
our sins carry us away like the wind.
Again, Christ alone is righteous and we may only be called sons of God because He perfectly fulfilled the law and became the first born among many brethren.
Mike then seems to change the analogy. First He talks of a sovereign Father choosing His children. Then He implies that the Father is simply pursuing His children, not choosing them. He says God’s not like the traffic cop waiting to catch you, He’s chasing after you. He then says we are chosen in passionate pursuit. This analogy no longer fits with what he said the verse is talking about – God choosing His children like a father chooses his children out of a dump of defects. Mike says “left up on the hill, we can’t save ourselves. It’s about the God who comes after us.” Here he tries to combine the analogies, but it just doesn’t work unless we are to assume that by pursuit, Mike means pursuit and accomplishment of pursuit. A man in pursuit of a dying baby cannot save the baby unless he actually picks him up and calls him his own. It does no good for the man to stand at the bottom of the mountain of babies and call out to it. The dying baby cannot respond, it cannot raise itself up and climb into the waiting arms of the father. Our situation is even worse. We are not dying babies, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Not only does God have to climb up the mountain and choose us, pick us up, He also has to give us life to bring us back from the dead. There is nothing the baby does in any of this, it simply receives the gift of life and adoption.
In this context, I would urge you to ask yourself which of the following you believe to be true:
1) You exercised saving faith and then you were born again
2) You were born again and then you exercised saving faith
To keep with our analogy: did the baby get up, crawl down the pile and jump into the father’s arms? Or did the father climb up the hill, give the dead baby a new heart, pick up the baby and then see the baby hug him in response to this love that has already saved him?
Salvation is of the Lord. It is not our doing, it is the work of God. This is what Calvinism teaches. This is what Ephesians and the rest of the Bible is talking about. To dismiss Ephesians 1 as having nothing to do with Calvinism is to keep you from understanding the deep reality of God’s sovereign work of salvation in your life. As the verse says, God predestined you to be adopted as His children. It is not something you did. You are not a child of God because you believe in Him, you believe in Him because you are a child of God.
If God is simply pursuing you, waiting for you to respond, then you will never be saved. We were all dead in our trespasses and sins, enslaved to the devil, unable and unwilling to turn to Christ. God must lift you up and give you new life in order for you to “choose” Him. This is Calvinism. Ask yourself what it means to be chosen by God before the foundations of the world. Go back and study this 1st chapter of Ephesians and then study the 2nd chapter and then ask yourself if you think the letter Paul wrote has anything to do with God’s sovereignty or if it’s just about people crying.
I hope I do not sound overly harsh. I hope I did not offend anyone by challenging your pastor’s teaching. I hope that you will consider this alternative view of Ephesians 1 and I really hope that you will write me back and let me know what you think. However, if you want to simply dismiss this email as an irrelevant disagreement, if you think it’s pointless, if you think it has no affect on your relationship with Christ, then I would like to know why you waste time going to church every week to hear someone teach you about the Bible.
If you’re interested in hearing other sermons on Ephesians 1, I recommend:
“Predestined for Adoption to the Praise of His Glory”
“God Has Chosen Us In Him Before the Foundations of the Earth”
“Chosen By the Father” + “Predestined for Adoption”
Mike says these verses are not about Calvinism. I urge you to compare John Calvin’s sermon on Ephesians 1:3-4 and decide who does a better job of explaining what the text says:
“Prayerless: Well, if God ordains and controls everything, then what he plans from of old will come to pass, right?
Prayerless: So it’s going to come to pass whether you pray or not, right.
Prayerful: That depends on whether God ordained for it to come to pass in answer to prayer. If God predestined that something happen in answer to prayer, it won’t happen without prayer.”
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