I just want to bullet a few points and then I’m going to leave this subject alone for awhile. It’s taken me most of my 56 years to sort it out this far, and I don’t expect to make any great gains in it anytime soon.
- I don’t believe the Roman epistle was intended to be — solely or even primarily — a commentary on man’s inclination toward evil. It’s an answer to Jewish and Gentile Christians who are having difficulty living with the reality of their equality in God’s eyes, and that equality is based on the fact that everyone sins; no one is perfect.
- The first ten or so chapters are written to resonate with the Jewish-trained mind; references to existing scripture and point-of-view. This seems to be because the Jewish Christians were lording it over their Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ that they were of God’s chosen people. (There seems to be a brief break at Romans 11:13 when Paul addresses Gentiles at that point.)
- Romans 1:18-32 is not necessarily talking about the wickedness of all people (the word “all” does not appear there), but specifically of “people who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (NIV) or “men who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (ESV) or “men who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (KJV). There’s no punctuation in the original Greek text, so we endanger the meaning by placing a comma there after “people” or “men.” I think the importance of this passage is that there is no distinguishing between Jew and Gentile; people of both groups have been guilty of these sins — hence the use of the non-specific term “men” or “people” (as the NIV renders it).
- The text specifically names sins which are in play because of this wickedness: idolatry, sexual immorality (perhaps in the context of idol worship), trading God’s truth for a lie. And this unholy idolatry led to further sin: ” … They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips,slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.” It’s a history of how people have gone wrong through having ignored the plain evidence of God in creation.
- Romans 1 is not separate in thought from Romans 2, which condemns the kind of judgment and racial line-drawing that evidently had been going on between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. Romans 2:5-11 not only quotes a Psalm and a Proverb, but also agrees with what Jesus teaches in Matthew 25: God will judge according to what people do.
- Please consider very carefully the verses in Romans 2:12-16 before confidently concluding that belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God through hearing the gospel is an absolute prerequisite to the salvation that His blood enables and that God gives as a free gift.
- No matter how many good things people do, it can never be enough to earn or merit salvation. That’s the point of Romans 4-9. That’s the weakness of the Jewish law. It was never meant for salvation, but preservation of God’s people as sanctified, set apart to prepare the way for the Chosen One — and by far the greatest share of them paved their own paths to nowhere instead.
- Abraham was justified by faith in God (Romans 4:1-3); and so are we (Romans 5:1-2). But the good works we do testify to our faith, just as Abraham’s act of faith did (James 2). The purpose of those good works is to bring the judgment of those who have not heard and do not believe to bear on the goodness of God. They give us an opportunity to explain the good and giving nature of God through His most extravagant gift: His Son, Jesus, the Christ. No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6ff); He and the Father are One.
- Adam brought sin and therefore death into the world; Jesus took away sin and the sting of death (Romans 5-6). Jewish law could not bring life; only judgment, by specifying what constitutes sin (Romans 7). Sinleadstodeath … sinleadstodeath … sinleadstodeath (one of the major subtexts of the entire Bible, but especially Romans). Adam is not responsible for our sin; we are (Deuteronomy 24:16).
- The Spirit of God/Christ rescues us from slavery to sin and the consequence of death (Romans 8). He is given to those God foreknows and predestines and calls — but there is no language there that says God only calls certain people, or that He alone determines how they respond to that call. (See Isaiah 65:12, 66:4, Jeremiah 7:13; but also see God’s promise to answer even before they call for Him, Isaiah 65:24.) In all cases in scripture, the subject for the word “predestined” is plural. It is never used in a singular, individual sense. The same is true of the word “foreknew” and “foreknowledge.” Is there anyone God does not foreknow? Is there anyone He does not call?
- The point in Romans 9:18-33 seems to be that God calls to the Gentiles as well as the His chosen people, the Jews, to prove that righteousness in Christ is not achieved by obeying their law/doing good alone, but through faith. The choosing spoken of here, again, is of a group of people (Jews, Gentiles) — not of individuals.
- To me, the sense of the foreknowledge and choosing is that God knew in advance that he would be calling a group of people to follow His Son from among the Jews and the Gentiles. He predestined this group to be, and to be mixed. Nothing in the text says He predestined individual persons to be a part of that group and made their choice for them. At the same time, nothing in the text says that God does not permit Himself to save — show mercy — to whom He wills if they have not heard of His Son.
- Romans 10 concludes that Jews and Gentiles (that’s everybody, folks) need Jesus … and need to hear about Jesus so they can believe. Romans 11 maintains that God has not rejected his people, Israel (the Jews), but wants for them to know not just of Him but of His Son and what has been done for all people through Jesus. To the Gentiles, Paul advises that they should not get a sense of superiority over their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ, because they were grafted in; not inherently better or some kind of “new” chosen people.
- The rest of the epistle is filled with instructions for both Jews and Gentiles, addressed to all, capstoned (perhaps) by: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. ” (Romans 15:7-9)
- None of that says anything about people being incapable of imagining or doing good of themselves. Assuming that people do, in fact, make their own decisions based on the faith God gives them (Ephesians 2:8) without God making the decision for them, then people are capable of making a good decision when they decide to follow Jesus Christ. And people who do what the law requires without knowledge of the law are capable of making a good decision when they decide to do good works.
- There is no record that Cain and Abel were commanded of God to offer sacrifices. If they were not, then both of them were capable of making a good decision in making an offering of gratitude to God … a creative choice in lieu of a command to follow. And, yes, even one out of two of them managed to mess that up badly … yet Abel offered his gift in faith (Hebrews 11:4).
- What value would our choices to follow God have if He made them for us? This is the rhetorical question Paul asks, almost as a joke (“Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” ~ Romans 9:19-24). Paul’s answer is that the sovereign God has the right to make our choices for us — He made us — but His will is to call even the Gentiles as well as the Jews to the relationship made possible through His Son. This agrees with what Paul taught in Athens, that God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31). Peter agrees (2 Peter 3:9).
- But: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14)
- It’s important not to say “can’t” where scripture says “doesn’t.” The fact that we do not choose to do good things does not mean that we cannot.
Okay, that’s all for now. I may or may not respond to comments; I’ll just tell you that in advance. I’m not good at arguing with people and I don’t enjoy it. It doesn’t usually set a good example for people who read arguing comments and conclude that Christians are more comfortable at arguing than they are at doing good in the world.
I’m having a more and more difficult time with that perception, myself.
That means I am re-evaluating the kind of blogging that I do here, and it means that a change is in order. I don’t know what that change is, but I have a strong feeling that it will be more writing about Jesus, which I have badly neglected.
I just feel deeply that we believers have too often made a very bad impression on those who don’t know of Him except through us, especially by judging them and using expressions like “total depravity” and generally leaving the impression that God only loves people who have heard about Jesus and have accepted Him as Son of God and Savior and Lord. And that means us and not them.
Nothing could be further from God’s truth.
2 thoughts on “Partial Depravity”
As a faithful reader, I look forward to your new direction here, whatever that ends up being.
I recall a time a few years ago when you blogged nothing but Jesus for several weeks…
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