Romans 8, the Holy Spirit & Election

Romans logo ENG PART 2Romans 7 in my view is more or less the idea that we are not under the law and the struggle there would be that of someone attempting to keep the law by asserting our sinful human nature (flesh).  Take a pencil and mark all the uses of “I” and you’ll see what I mean.

Romans 8 turns the page to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Mark the uses of the word Spirit to see the difference.

Now then Romans 8:26 – 30 seems to start with the idea that “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” and then discusses three points.

  • Prayer v. 26-27 – “…the Spirit himself intercedes for us…”
  • Providence v. 28 – :… all things work together for good…”
  • Predestination v. 29-30 “…those whom he foreknew he predestined…”

The connection to the Holy spirit and Prayer is clear in the text and intuitively.  Prayer generally takes the shape of appealing to the Father in the name of the Son.  the Spirit enables, and so some extend prays for us.

Providence in verse 28 is God’s care over all the parts of our lives so that for the believer they come to a good purpose.  We generally think of this is a God the Father issue – Isn’t the Father the one who decrees and orders things? So then what role does the Spirit have in this?    This is a new perspective for me on this question. I have a few thoughts

  • The Spirit enables our response to hardship to be beneficial.  hardship can just as easily lead to anger or bitterness.  However, the internal work of the Spirit can be seen to work transformation in us, so we gain perseverance, empathy, hope and other virtues.  (See Romans 5; James 1 and 2 Corinthians 1).
  • The external ordering of things seems to be the Fatherly part. The internal transformation of us seems to be the Spirit’s part.

Election and Predestination again seem to be the work of the Father, who decrees all things.  Yet can see a role of the Holy Spirit in this.  I learned the difference between “eternal security” and “Perseverance of the saints” some time ago. I had tought of them as the same. However, the first idea seems to be that God says “what is saved will be saved.”  The second has the idea that God acts in us to cause us to persevere.  His care goes with his decree.  Now some thoughts of the Holy Spirit in this.

  • The Spirit walks us through foreknowledge, when we remember that to “know” in the Bible us usually a personal thing not just intellectual.  The Spirit knows us deeply (V. 27).
  • Predestination in the text is tied to “being conformed to the likeness of his Son”. This is a transformation, and are we not accustomed to see that the process of sanctification is spiritual?
  • Predestination is also linked to  Christ “being the firstborn among many brothers.”  This is the new birth (our part of it).  John 3 has Jesus telling Nicodemus that he must be born of the Spirit.
  • Calling of course reminds us of the decree of the Father, but how is the call accomplished?  Does not the Spirit of God draw, convince and convict us?
  • Justification is a legal status, where the work of Christ is applied to the believer.  How is that applied?  I think of the classic theology text, “Redemption Accomplished and Applied” by John Murray.  Is it not the work of Christ to accomplish redemption. He said, “it is finished.”  Yet is it not the work of the Spirit to attach that work to us?
  • Glorification is the final transformation to perfection. Then the struggle of Romans 7 is forever gone, as are the struggles of Romans 8 (which meet with more success.)  when we are transformed.  I Corinthians 15 speaks of being raised to a Spiritual Body.

These are just rumination at this point.  The main insight ist hat we can look at these words from the standpoint of the Father and his decrees, the Son and his finished work and the Spirit who lives in us and attaches Christs work to us.

As the Church Fathers (and probably some Mothers) said, “All the works of God are undivided.”   This means that in creation and is redemption the Father, Son and Spirit work as one.

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What happens when you ask the pastor about predestination…

scribe.2A friend from church handed my his thoughts on election and free will last Sunday and asked for my comments.  so I thought I would delete any names and post my thoughts here.

Hi______, I looked at your notes from Sunday.

First of all, I recommend this book:  Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer, IVP (it has been around forever, so it is probably cheap on Amazon). He lays out the issues.

Second, I see two overall ideas in the scripture

  • Our choices and actions are real, have significance and we are accountable for them.  How could that be true if they are predetermined without our will.
  • God knows and elects us from before the foundation of the world is an idea found in a varity of places, including Ephesians 1 and Revelation (book of life) and Romans 8-11.

Packer calls this an antinomy – two ideas held to be true despite their apparent contradiction.  (Wikipedia: Antinomy (Greek αντι-, for or instead of, plus νομος, law) literally means the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws. It is a term used in logic and epistemology, particularly in the philosophy of Kant)

Most people resolve the antimony by

  • emphasizing God’s Sovereignty –  Election.   This is the “Calvinist” position (but really looks back at least to St. Augustine).  This position can be either rather blunt (God does all the deciding) or nuanced (our will is somehow concurrent with the will of God, or he cause it so we freely choose, or something similar – this is called “concordism” if I recall correctly))
  • Emphasize human choice, often called “free will”.  This is the Arminian/Wesleyan position.
    Basically saying that God cannot or does not negate our choices – how could he pass judgment against sin if it was determined by him?  Can God predetermine sin?  etc.  The older Wesleyan Arminians held that God knows everything in the future but somehow limited himself.  Some open theists say that God die snot know the future but makes good guesses.

I prefer to leave the antinomy unresolved and allow for the fact that somehow in the nature of God it is not a contradiction.  If you press me, I think it has to do with God’s eternity.  He is somehow outside of time (science tells us that time is a dimension;  a product of space/time)  So it would be possible for him to know in his eternal present what is future to us.  In “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis he describes it as like a man watching a parade, not from the street, where it is seen from start to finish sequentially,  but from a tower, where the viewer can see it all at once.

There are other antinomies – God is love and holy – how can he forgive sin when he is pure?  (the Cross)  

“Free will” is a specifically Arminian kind of term.  I prefer to use other words less loaded.  Our wills are not totally free or someone could have decided not to sin, but none have.  So we are effected by the corruption of sin in that way.  I use the term “choice” or “will”.  Luther was a hard liner on this point and wrote a book “The Bondage of the Will”. John Wesley talked about “prevenient grace” where God enables us to get to the place where we can hear the gospel and decide.  Calvinists will say that God saves us and only then do we believe.  (There is an old debate over the Order of Salvation – “ordo salutis” – which I find to be a lot of picayune scholasticism.

I have also found that the Bible does not “answer” some classic philosophical questions such as the problem of evil or free will.  Job and other passages deal with the problem of evil, but in the form of a narrative story and epic poetry that in the end does not give a rigorous answer but says “you have to trust me on this.”  I note that the logic of election and free choice run into a wall of apparent contradiction.  but so do other things we hold to such as:  Matter can be described as waves or particles and both are true depending on how you look at it.  Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is another example.   Is that a contradiction or is there some deep level of science where that will be resolved.

I hope that helps.