Preservation and Perseverance: Part V

leatherbook.jpgRocky 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.


18 thoughts on “Preservation and Perseverance: Part V”

  1. I’m with you Burly. Good analysis of the films. Way to ignore the slightly more important subject matter of the post entirely.

  2. Yeah, I’ve seen Rocky Balboa. I think that’s what Burly meant by Rocky VI in his comment above. I might even bump it up to number 3 in the Rocky rankings. It was pretty dang good.

  3. Darius: Film. Not flick. ‘Twas a work of art.
    B.C. McWhite: Just showing what would happen if you used the Rocky illustration in a sermon. It’s such a good illustration, it would overshadow the content of what you intended to convey. I did you a favor *wink*

  4. Thanks for the careful wording in this post.
    As for the actual debate, I don’t agree with the entire Arminian position and cannot/willnot defend that straw person. On matters of human agency as part of the salvation equation, I tend to agree (like I said in an earlier comment, I’m a wanna-be-free-determinist). However, I do believe that believers are “sealed” by Christ at salvation. (as an aside, I remember one of my early questions as a Junior High kid to my pastor was, “if i’m in heaven for ever, can I eventually chose to sin there? After all, Lucifer and 1/3 of all the angels did so why not me?” I was really worried about the possibility of becoming the “new” satan in the new heaven and earth. The comfort giving answer was the sealing of believers).

    So I really cannot weigh in on what Arminians believe about the ability to lose salvation.

    What I can say though, is that there are several hoops that appear to be being jumped through in your analysis of this particular instance of the phrase, “…the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord….”

    The analysis is definitely *arguable* but it does not seem (to me) to be prima facie or intuitive. You make quite a case for this “love of God” to be uniquely different from the common (to all people/creation) love of God and, if I understand you correctly, to *really* be a proxy phrase for “salvation”. Really???? Am I understanding it correctly? I read all of Rom 8 as an encouragement chapter to folks afflicted and persecuted and wondering whether or not God has stopped loving them just as soon as they commit their lives (literally!) to him. Rom 9:6 continues with that them explicitly where Paul says “It’s not as if Gods word has failed”.

    Rom 8:16 sets the stage (at least as it appears to me) where Paul says, essentially, “look, you’re going to suffer – Christ suffered and He was God’s son! So be ready for it.” Rom 8:34 uses love as an adjective to describe Christ. “him who loved us”. So nothing can separate us from God’s love (that is provided through common grace to all).

    So If that’s what Arminians posit, then I guess I agree with that portion. But what I reject is the notion that this somehow nullifies the sealing of God through salvation.

    They’re two separate topics

    Anyway, thanks for the dialog. I’m traveling all next week and will check back and engage as I am able.

    Peace and love my brother!

  5. Kind of like extolling some perceived virtues of the Green Bay Packers… completely overshadows any further theological point you could attempt to make.

    Ah, I didn’t look at Burly’s list very closely.

    Burly: I stand corrected. Rocky Balboa was a pretty decent FILM.

  6. Darius,

    Who said anything about perceived virtues? I certainly know Ted Thompson wouldn’t fine a player for attending his grandmother’s funeral and making travel arrangements for his entire family.

  7. I had no idea what you were talking about, so I looked it up. That’s pretty cold, Williamson shouldn’t have dropped those passes. 🙂

    Once Favre retires, you are welcome to Viking fanland. Adrian Peterson is worth it.

  8. Then again, not paying Williamson is the same as my company not giving me bereavement leave. I have to take a vacation day or unpaid leave. Pat Williams lost his dad the day before and still played, as did Reggie Wayne after losing his brother last week. What’s one paycheck among millionaires?

  9. Billy,

    I’m not sure I understand how you think we disagree. Is not the most powerful encouragement in times of affliction the fact that nothing can separate us from God’s (saving) love? Caesar can kill me, but he cannot change the fact that God has me in his unfailing, gracious grasp.

    Do we disagree in some way that I’m not seeing?

  10. …And Brett Favre threw for 400 yards and 4 TDs the day after his dad died. Doesn’t mean that the Packers would have fined him if he had wanted to go home to be with his family.

  11. It wasn’t a fine, they just didn’t pay him for a game in which he didn’t play. Just like my company won’t pay me for not showing up to work if I have a funeral (unless I take a vacation day).

  12. Nacho,
    I don’t think we’re disagreeing on what is encouraging. Rather I think I’m finding nuance where I don’t see such in your original post. Not all of God’s love is a “saving love”. I would allow for a non-salvivical love to be evident in Rom 8 while I understood your post to be making the point that the push of Rom 8 was that the love talked about there was a unique instance of saving love and could only be understood as such.

    BTW: Rocky Balboa was the best Rocky since Rocky (I)

  13. Billy,

    Well, exactly. What I’m saying is that it’s oversimplistic to have a monolithic understanding of God’s love. God’s love functions in a half a dozen different ways (at least). One of my issues with Arminian theology, as a matter of fact, is that it flattens out God’s love so that it tends to be portrayed as rather one-dimensional. My point is exactly as you stated, I think: In Romans 8:31-39, the sort of love being spoken, based on the context, must be God’s electing, saving love.


    D.A. Carson’s book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God is brilliant in its exploration of the different sorts of divine love.

  14. (1st-time commenter reposting) “Funny timing to run into this blog post. P is the only petal on TULIP that I’m starting to get shaky on. 5-pointer for the longest time.

    Logically, biblically, theologically… “P” makes complete and total sense. It totally follows as a necessary consequence of the other 4 points.

    So why am I shaky? Because of the empirical evidence. And growing dissatisfaction with the response: “S/he wasn’t ever a Christian. You can’t fall away from something you never received.”

    Hypothetically, suppose our blog host (Sorry BCW) renounces his Christian faith 10 years from now! And before then he was a faithful servant-warrior for Jesus, ministering as an undershepherd, fulfilling the Great Commission, and obeying the Greatest 2 Commandments. Wonderful walk with the Lord, many folks discipled, and many of the lost now became saved because of BCW’s faithfulness.

    Then suppose either a Job-like experience or a “liberal theology awakening” occurs. And so much doubt creeps in poor BCW that he becomes an atheist or a gross heretic or a terrible apostate. (Heaven forbid! But this is just a hypothetical example, remember!)

    And this sad turn of events remain this way until the day BCW passes on. Although we are not to judge another person’s eternal destiny, let’s speculate on it anyways.

    Did BCW, a staunch 5-pointer in the beginning and middle of his walk, really persevere to the end?

    I’ve posed this question to others and they say that he was never a Christian in the 1st Place! And I’m like, “How can you say that?” And they say, “Did he persevere?” And I go, “Doesn’t look like it.” And they say, “Either he was never a Christian or you gotta lose the ‘P’ in TULIP.”

    And I’m like, “Awwww man, this finite brain just cannot process. It’s beyond my CPU cycles. I’m just trusting God cuz this mystery is beyond me.”

    This hypothetical example has real-life parallels. As I stated before, “P” has empirical difficulties for me. The theological, biblical, and logical aspects of why “P” must true make sense to me; it’s the empirical part that’s posing major difficulty for me.

    I look forward to the rest of the series.”

    BCW, you wrote: “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.”

    Given my initial comment above reflecting my ponderings and wonderings, and coupled with your comment above, I’m led to grimace in agreement that there are some “Christians” who will not persevere to the end. In fact, there will be some baptized “Christians” who will not persevere to the end either.

    What is the right way to conceptualize the relationship between the doctrine of perseverance and the doctrine of assurance of salvation?

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