Monday, February 19, 2018

All Five Points of Calvinism in Romans 8

This past Sunday, I preached a sermon that I called “All Five Points of Calvinism in Romans 8." It was a meta or excursus sermon plopped down in the midst of our exegetical series on the book of Romans. Sermons like these help people see the forest because we spend so much time looking at the trees. I believe they are necessary to both give breaks in extended series and to focus minds on the big pictures of Scripture. Before I show you these five points from Romans 8, here are some introductory points I presented to the congregation:
  • The Five Points are not at all the totality of Calvinism. They originated through the Synod of Dordt as a response to the Arminians’ Five Articles of Remonstrance. 
  • The word “Calvinism” is a shorthand label for key theological affirmations. It does not refer to the cults of personality found in 1 Corinthians 1. It quickly distinguishes between good and poor Scripture interpretations and doctrinal affirmations. Calvinism includes all that is implied by the unflinching affirmation of God’s absolute sovereignty. 
  • Other words are tightly knitted to the word Calvinism:  Reformed Theology, Doctrines of Grace, Covenant Theology, Presbyterianism, Reformed Baptist, et al.
  • The five points necessarily go together; none can be dropped for two reasons:
    • Scripture teaches them.
    • They are logically interdependent (related by good and necessary consequence).
  • We use the acronym TULIP to aid memorization, but the words each letter stands for in that acronym are not always best or preferred. Each needs further explanation, and sometimes alternative terms are better for clarity’s sake. 
  • While all five points of Calvinism can be found in Romans 8, the chapter does not contain all the Scriptural evidence that could be presented in support of the doctrines. 
Total Depravity

Romans 8:7-9 teaches that those who are in the flesh are hostile to God. They do not submit to God’s Law. They cannot please God. They do not have the Spirit, and therefore, do not belong to Christ. This picks up themes on depravity that Paul has taught over and again beginning in the first chapter.

Unconditional election

Romans 8:28-30 speaks of those who are called according to his purpose. They were foreknown, which means that God knew beforehand exactly whom he wanted to predestine. His foreknowledge is the blueprint of his mind and it is coextensive with his purpose. Those he foreknew he predestined to be called-and-justified in this life and glorified in the next.

Romans 9:10-11 explains the reason for the unconditionality of election (i.e. God’s choices were not conditioned upon his observing anything meritorious about the people he chose--contra those who believe God's foreknowledge was his looking ahead and choosing those he saw would choose him). The purpose was to magnify the grace and mercy of God--not because of works but because of him who calls.  Any conditionality undermines this purpose.

Limited or Definite Atonement/Particular Redemption.

Romans 8:28-34 explains that Christ was given over for us all (32) and explicitly describes both the atonement and its scope of application. Us all cannot mean all people. All is always delimited in some way. Here it is delimited by the identity of us in the phrase us all. Who is us?

In verse 28-34, the us is identified as all who love God (as opposed to those mentioned earlier who are hostile to God); those for whose good God works all things (28); those he has foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified (29-30); those whom God is for (31); those whom God graciously gives all things that pertain to salvation (32); the ones who are protected from any charge because they have been justified by God (33); those for whom Christ died and was raised (34); those for whom Christ intercedes (34).

Christ was not given over for anyone other than the us all who are unambiguously identified in the passage.

Irresistible Grace/Effectual Grace

Romans 8:29-30 speaks of the inexorability of the glorification that began before creation with the eternal, divine blueprint. The calling that leads to glorification is necessarily effectual because it is grounded in the eternal decree of God. No one can prevent what God has determined to accomplish.

We are not merely enabled to love God by the Spirit--so that now we can freely choose to or not to love God. Instead, we are made to love God--a gift far past mere ability. This grace produces actuality, not mere potentiality. It pours out actual love for Christ into the heart by the power of the Spirit (Romans 5:5). Romans 8 says that anyone who does not have this work of the Spirit, does not belong to Christ. Because of this work of the Spirit, Christians now walk with, live by, and are led by the Spirit.

Perseverance of the Saints

Romans 8:31-39 makes clear that our perseverance in the faith is guaranteed by God’s preserving grace. We persevere because we are preserved. We are preserved because nothing about our salvation depends upon ourselves. He elected us before the foundation of the world. The end of that election is our glorification through the divine chain of calling and justification. God will finish what he alone started because he is both the author and the finisher of our faith.


  1. Far from producing arrogance, this theology--these doctrines of grace--should produce profound humility. Those who believe and teach these doctrines with an air of arrogance are misapprehending their entire point: The purpose of election is so that salvation is not by works, but by him who calls. 
  2. In these doctrines of grace, more than through any other means, we locate our assurance of salvation. We can be assured of our salvation because we do not contribute to our salvation in any point along the way. He will be the finisher of our faith because he was the author of our faith. Because of what he has revealed in these doctrines of grace, we can have assurance that God will keep us through this life until glory, and that nothing can ever pull us out of his hand.

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