Some years ago, I was asked by a friend the following:
“-When I asked about how we determine which passages of scripture get “interpretive precedence” over others — for example, say that Romans 8 keeps us from reading any kind of warning into Romans 11 — Rhology told me that I “can’t do that b/c John 10 says that we will never perish.”
…Why could I not say that Romans 11, with its warning against those truly grafted into Israel being cut off by not continuing in the belief that originally saved them, could not color our view of John 10?”
This illustrates why discussing things like the perseverance of the saints can be so important, so revelatory. It might not be a primary doctrine, of the most central importance, but it can bring out and shed light on other problems that underlie and surround it.
Now, it’s a good question, but it’s not that good once you think about it.
Why is it not that good? Because of what I went on to say:
“-Well, OK, but I’m sure you would agree that one’s position on Issue X must be able to take into account all that the Bible has to say on the subject. If it can’t, it does not earn the label “biblical” and I would say needs to be rejected.”
We have several choices when we face a difficulty between two or more passages of Scripture.
1) They contradict each other.
2) They are mysterious and we don’t know.
3) They are harmonisable, reconcilable.
4) One is to be ignored.
5) Appeal to another authority, which diverts and may or may not even answer the question, but at least the pressure is off, kind of (if you’re into that kind of thing).
It should go without saying that option #3 is that which is to be sought after. If you disagree, have fun living life that way.
Romans 11:13Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? 16If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing rootc of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.
Now, why did I paste such a large portion of the text of each, especially Romans 11? Well, for one thing, if someone proposes a biblical interpretation that disagrees with another possibility (say, Jesus’ discussion of His preserving His people in John 10:25-28 [whose discussion is next in line]), then the first place we check is the context of the passage(s) in question, as opposed to throwing brief phrases at each other “The Bible says ‘Otherwise you too will be cut off!'”, etc, closing the Bible, and being done with it.
My friend proposed above that Romans 11 teaches that an individual can be at some point in his life in such a state that he would go to Heaven forever if he were to die at that moment, and later in life be in such a state that he would go to Hell forever if he were to die at that later moment. Which I deny.
Look at Romans 11’s whole topic – Paul is completing his three chapter long discussion of the Jewish people as a whole and now introduces the idea of ‘competing’ peoples – Jewish and Gentile.
The Jewish people in general have received a hardening from the Lord such that most will not come to Jesus in faith (v.7). This has occurred in order that the “fullness of the Gentiles (might) come in” (v.25) and in order to make Israel jealous (v.11).
V. 17 begins Paul’s thought about the branches, where some branches (the Jews) were broken off in order that wild branches (Gentiles) might be grafted in. And yet the Gentiles (to whom he’s writing, after all) must not become prideful but fearful, reverent that they were grafted in by God’s favor and not because of anything good that they were or had done.
The warnings are for the group as a whole. Do not think that you (all) (y’all) have anything to offer to God. Just as in Deuteronomy 7, God has chosen the GentileS (as a group) to receive salvific blessings. Let’s follow Paul’s thoughts through the previous chapters:
Rom 9:5-8 – To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
22-24 – What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
30-32 – What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.
10:16-21 – But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.”
But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
“I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
Then the passage I cited above (13-23), then v. 25 seems to be tying up the thought:
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
Alternatively, we must also remember that warnings in Scripture are for real consequences:
- of suffering consequences of sin in this life
- of losing assurance of God’s presence in our lives and our forgiveness of sin (how ironic that we have the least assurance of forgiveness when we are the most in sin!)
- to warn us that falling into unbelief/disobedience would prove that we were never of God to begin with but had been deceiving ourselves all along.
- to warn us against losing our heavenly rewards, which are based at least partly on our actions after we are justified.
Further, such warnings are part of the means God uses to preserve His saints. Consider what another blogger recently had to say:
“Calvinism doesn’t take the position that God would never cast us away under any circumstances. The warnings are conditional. If we did such things, God would cast us away. It’s just that those circumstances will not eventuate. And the warnings are part of what restrains us from doing such things. They serve as a disincentive to apostasy. So the worst-case scenario does not play out—thanks, in part, to the fear of consequences. It’s easy for Christians to take revelation for granted. After all, we have divine revelation. So we know what’s expected of us. But suppose we didn’t? We do not enjoy an inborn knowledge of everything that’s expected of us. So we depend on divine revelation to inculcate some of our duties to God and man. Suppose I don’t know that a certain type of mushroom is poisonous, but you do. So you warn me not to eat that type of mushroom. As a result of your warning, I refrain from eating that type of mushroom.
The warning was hardly superfluous. It furnished me with some important information I wouldn’t otherwise have—information which enabled me to act prudently in that situation. …the road signs would only be bogus if the bridge wasn’t washed out. But if the bridge is, indeed, washed out, and you disregarded the cautionary signage, then your car will plunge into the river below and you will drown.
–“Thus even if fear and coercion unto holiness were the sole intent of the consequences in God’s warnings to the saints, the teaching of a doctrine that absolutely no saint can fall away directly contradicts such an intent.”
This is like saying that if I tell you not to eat those mushrooms because you’ll die of food poisoning should you do so, and you refrain from eating them as a result of my advice, then the warning was meaningless.
The statement “God uses means to preserve His children” might be more easily understood if reworded: God warns that Action X would result in loss of justification, so that the person would be condemned if he died thus. Thus God preserves him who is truly justified (whom God alone knows with infallible certainty) by preventing that person from committing the action warned against. As an example, Rom 11:22: “…provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.”
Thus, God protects the elect from not continuing in His kindness. Works by means, as opposed to by an invisible, ‘magical’ power by which He snaps His divine fingers and zaps the guy who just sinned his way out of justification back into justification in the blink of an eye.
My discussion of John 10’s application to this question will follow soon.
[Contributed by Rhology]
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