Rocky IV was one of the best of the series.
IV had it all: Apollo Creed, Paulie, James Brown, Kenny Loggins, Ivan Drago and his saucy wife with their matching commie crew cuts, USA vs. USSR at the height of the Cold War, Drago’s classic line with his faux Russian accent: “I must b-d-reak you,” Rocky winning and draping himself in the stars and stripes while the Soviet crowd and Politburo cheers for him. I mean, has blatant American propaganda ever been more entertaining?
And then Rocky V stunk.
I’m hoping my Part V doesn’t do a similar face plant.
Romans 8:33-39: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, neither things present nor things to come, nor powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In the comments on yesterday’s post, it was suggested that I had been “flippant” in my confidence in my arguments over against those of Arminians. I did go back and read what I had written to see if it seemed that there was flippancy in my tone. And while I didn’t get that impression, I took it to the Lord and asked him to humble me, to guard me against arrogance and to forgive me if I had dishonored him in my handling of his word.
I tell you this because I’m worried that this post is going to seem flippant as well. Please hear me say that I really do not mean to be flippant. I honestly simply do not understand how Arminians can square the above passage with their view of God’s (lack of) preserving grace. So, I’m going to try to say as little as I can in this post, and then listen carefully to what you all have to say in your comments. My plea to any who disagree with what I say is that you would state clearly and biblically what your disagreement is with my reading of this passage. I honestly want to understand more fully how Arminians make sense of this passage in particular.
The clear meaning of this passage, which all (I think) would agree, is that there is nothing that can possibly separate believers from the love of God. Given that common denominator, the question then becomes: What is meant by “the love of God”? What is it exactly from which believers cannot be separated?
Arminians tend to argue that this is a general love. A love extended to all people. A John 3:16 kind of love: “For God so loved the world….” In other words, we can never be separated from God’s love because God loves both believers and unbelievers and no person or circumstance can remove God’s love from his creatures. So, it is no difficultly to say that nothing can separate us from God’s love because even if a believer rejects him and falls away, there is still a sense in which God loves him.
But once again, I humbly submit that a person cannot read the passage this way without completely ignoring the context. Arminian interpretations of the text strike me as assuming that genuine believers can fall away and then attempting to find a way that the text can allow for this idea, rather than listening carefully to the plain meaning of the text.
Here is my reasoning for why the love mentioned in 8:39 cannot be a general love for all people. In v. 33, Paul makes it clear that it is the elect to whom he is speaking. For our purposes, it doesn’t matter whether you think the “elect” refers to the Church (so Arminians) or to the individuals who comprise the church (so Calvinists). All that matters is that Paul believes himself to be included in the elect. So, as far as Paul is concerned, he is definitely included in the “we’s” and “us’s” of this passage.
Again, v. 33 implies that he is speaking to those who have been justified. That’s believers. Unbelievers are not justified. Moreover, Paul is writing this letter to a church. More specifically, he is writing it to “…you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (1:6-7). So, his words are not meant for everyone, because not everyone in Rome is “loved by God” in the sense Paul is using the word “loved.” Only those who are “called to be saints” are “loved by God.”
Therefore, it is beyond question, in my view, that the sort of love that Paul is speaking of in 8:39 is a love “in Christ Jesus” for those who are called to be saints; those who are called; those who are elect. And that group does not include everyone. Paul is absolutely confident (“I am certain,” v. 38) in the absolute impossibility of himself being separated from the special, saving love of God for his chosen people. Nowhere does Paul ever suggest that the sort of thing he says in vv. 38-39 will only remain true so long as he keeps himself in the “elect community” by his own efforts and love for God.
But, some might suggest, could not Paul himself separate himself from this special love of God? Is Paul not simply encouraging the Romans by telling them that no one or nothing outside of themselves can separate them, leaving open the possibility that they themselves could, in fact, separate themselves from God’s love? The only way I know how to answer that question is with a question: Are you, as a believer, included in “anything else in all creation” (v. 39)? If you are a part of creation, you cannot create a separation between God and any of his elect—even yourself.
Now, do I think all believers must persevere in faith and good deeds through to the end of their life? Yes, I absolutely do. Please hear me: Praying a “salvation prayer” or signing a “commitment card” guarantees nothing. If we do not persevere to the end despite our occasional backslidings; if we reject Christ and live in such a way that manifests that rejection to the end, we will die and go to hell. I am not creating a license for loose, lazy, apathetic, grace-presuming, God-offending, Christ-dishonoring “once-saved-always-saved-so-I-can-live-however-I-d&$#-well-please” behavior.
Nevertheless, in my view, the Scriptures clearly teach that God will see to it, by his preserving grace, that all of his chosen people will invariably persevere to the end.
The Hebrews 6 and 10 “warning” or “apostasy” passages are up tomorrow.