Monday, July 23, 2012

So What's Your Answer?

In part one, we looked at the numerous blessings that Jesus secured for his people through his death and resurrection.

Part two looked at the tremendous chain of rhetorical questions Paul asked at the apex of his greatest gospel presentation.

Now in part three, I want to issue a simple request. Romans 8:32 asks: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? In immediate context, "all things" refers to the blessings from 8:28 (that God orders the entire universe so that all things work for the ultimate benefit of his people) to 8:39 (that nothing can ever separate Christ's people from his love). In the broader Biblical context, "all things" includes all the blessings of part one - all the myriad graces Jesus promises for his people. If Jesus died for you, "all things" are surely yours.

But there are numerous Christians, notably Arminians and Amyraldians, who completely disagree with this interpretation. They assert that there are many - the vast majority - for whom Christ died, yet who will not receive "all things", or any of these blessings. I believe Paul is asking this rhetorically, stating that the notion of Christ dying for someone who will not be redeemed/glorified is utterly inconceivable. These brothers, on the other hand, would assert that the question is not rhetorical, and that there must be an answer. They assert that the notion is not inconceivable, but the normal course of things for the vast majority of humanity.

So my request is to Arminians, Amyraldians, TU?IPs, and the like. I have a few questions for you, if you wouldn't mind explaining your position.

1) How do you answer Paul's question?
2) Do you think the other questions in this chain also have answers, or is this the only non-rhetorical in the chain?
3) If it's the only non-rhetorical, how did you come to that determination? If it's not - if the others also have non-zero answers, how would you answer them - who can be against us, who can charge God's elect, who is to condemn, and what can separate us from the love of Christ?

There ya go. Have at it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rhetorical, eh?

Part two begins with one of my favorite scenes from The Simpsons. We join as Homer overhears Lisa and Grandma singing a hippie classic:

Grandma: How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?
Homer: Seven!
Lisa: No, Dad, it's a rhetorical question.
Homer: Rhetorical, eh?  Eight!
Lisa: Dad, do you even know what "rhetorical" means?
Homer: Do I know what "rhetorical" means?!

Ahem. Rhetorical questions are a powerful, um, rhetorical device. A particularly strong use implies that the answer is so obvious, only the most ignorant or foolish could possibly disagree. The apostle Paul was a huge fan of this technique, perhaps never more prominently than at the end of Romans 8. You may have heard of the Golden Chain of Salvation from 8:28-30 - that those who are foreknown are predestined, the predestined are called, the called are justified, and the justified are glorified.

What immediately follows that is something I like to call the Golden Chain of Rhetoricals. At the apex of Paul's magnum opus on the glory of salvation, he hammers home the point with a series of five rhetorical questions. For each one, an answer is assumed (and sometimes stated outright, because people as a rule are dense and spare no expense to avoid the undeniable conclusion), and Paul finds it inconceivable that anyone could think otherwise.

1) If God is for us, who can be against us? If God has forknown/predestined you to be called, justified, and glorified, what enemy can possibly stop it? Those whom God has chosen will be born again, come to faith, persevere, and be glorified.

It's worth pausing to reflect on the amazing idea that God could be for you! Consider how this letter starts off back in 1:18ff, where God's wrath is completely and justly fixed on us because of our unrighteousness. Our only hope is to have righteousness - the very righteousness of God - credited to us, which, incredibly enough, God does (1:17). Now that is gospel worth proclaiming without shame (1:16)!

2) He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? I was going to link to Piper's chapter on this verse in Future Grace, but apparently that's not available free online. Bummer. Oh well, go buy the book and read it, it's great.

This question amplifies the previous - there is no way God could be more "for you" than by giving Christ. Paul's point here is that for the Father to send the Son to the cross was the most difficult thing imaginable. Compared to that, giving you all things - which in this immediate context, includes ordering the entire universe so that all things (including persecution and death itself!) work to your ultimate benefit - is trivially easy. If the Father gave Jesus up for you, it is utterly inconceivable that He would withhold anything which is for your good.

3) Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.

When God declares someone righteous, which He ultimately does for all He has chosen, who can dispute that? What higher authority exists that can overrule God's declaration?

4) 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.

Suppose we skipped the last question, and someone was bold enough to bring a charge against God's elect. What would he find? Jesus, who was delivered up for our tresspasses and raised for our justification (4:25), at the Father's side interceding on our behalf. In order for this accusation to be successful, the Father would have to ignore Christ's death and resurrection on their behalf, and value the accuser's argument over his Son's. This case could never be brought, and even if it could, it could never win.

5) 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, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor 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.