The law and spiritual death
Part 1 of your master plan says this about the law:
“Romans 7:8-9 and Romans 5:13 teach us that sin is not imputed when there is no law; this law was not the written law of the commandments, but is the call of God to the gospel made to each and every person.”
What is the law that Paul is referring to?
It is clear he is actually referring to the Ten Commandments, the Mosaic Law.
First, let’s address Romans 5:12-14
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-
13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.
14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
Here Paul explains that all men were sinners because of imputed sin from the “one man”, Adam. In verse 13 he describes the time before the Mosaic Law, when people sinned because of their sin nature, but because of the absence of a list of commandments, they were devoid of a standard to measure their own wrong deeds by. Therefore they were unable to conduct a spiritual inventory of their own violations. Paul did not mean a judicial accounting of their sins from God’s perspective. We know this because Romans 2:12-15 confirms that those who sin without the law also perish (v.12), and they are guilty because the law is written on their hearts (v.15). We also gleam from chapter 2 that exposure to the law does not in and of itself present a possibility of righteousness, because no one can keep the law. In fact, the bible is clear that the law “came in to increase sin” (5:20). To drive home even further the fact that Paul is referring to the Mosaic Law, he even transitions to mentioning Moses in 5:14, then alludes to the fact that even though they had no law and didn’t “sin like Adam” (Adam received direct special revelation from God in Genesis 2:16-17 and disobeyed), spiritual death still reigned in them, even in ignorance of the law.
Let’s now move to Romans 7:7-10
7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.
9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.
10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.
It is obvious and beyond debate at this point that Paul is certainly talking about the Mosaic Law once again. We see in verse 7 he actually recites one of the 10 commandments, “Thou shall not covet.”
What did Paul mean about being alive apart from the law?
This is where it is vital to point out a secondary interpretive error you have made about what Paul wrote in this set of passages. What you have missed in the important question of “what is the law?” sets your secondary interpretation on a false premise. Part 4a of your master plan says this:
“The first and greatest commandment is the commandment that came to young Paul when he was still spiritually alive, and through his disobedience of the command, caused him to spiritually die.”
Here’s what I mean. You said in Part 4a that the first and greatest commandment is revealed in Matthew 22:36-38. But you left out the second part of Jesus’ point in verses 39-40. Here’s the full context of Jesus’ statement:
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
38 This is the great and first commandment.
39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Christ was actually summing up the Mosaic Law in these two commandments, because they embody the heart of all of what the 10 commandments was about- Loving God and Loving Others. That’s why he said what he did in verse 40. When you hold the view that disobedience to the first and greatest commandment caused him to spiritually die, the very premise on which you base that stance is false. It is false because you are saying young Paul was exposed to right and wrong and realized he couldn’t meet the demands of the law, thus dying spiritually. This is contrary to the scriptural testimony of Paul because we know Paul didn’t realize he was guilty of the law until his adult conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul admits to his former perceived self-righteousness by his own delusion of perfect obedience to the law as a Pharisee in Philippians 3:5-6:
5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
We also know that Jesus condemns the Pharisees throughout the New Testament for their self-deceived belief of their own state of righteousness because they followed the external letter of the law. For your premise about 1) What the law is and 2) Paul was spiritually alive before the law to be true, you have to conclude that while Paul was murdering Christians, he was on his way to heaven being spiritually alive.
What Paul actually meant when he said he was alive apart from the law is that he was under the delusion of life that he could meet the external demands of the law, while missing the intent of the law- to bring sin to light. He describes this very language in Romans 7:10 by saying “the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” He was blind to his internal heart problem in that he was spiritually depraved and a “wretch” (Romans 7:24). When he then said he died, he actually meant what he said earlier in Romans 2:12, that “all who sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” He died to the thing that he thought was bringing him life- righteousness by the law.
Lastly, with regard to the law and spiritual death, Galatians 3 intertwines the law and faith nicely, and gives an even greater understanding of Habakkuk 2:4 “the righteous shall live by faith.” Paul says life is by faith not the law, which he clearly experienced the reality of in Romans 7. Galatians 3 also demonstrates the importance of the physical death Jesus died and how it played an integral role in our redemption from the curse of the law by referring to Deuteronomy 21:23- “a man hanged on a tree is cursed.” It seemed to me as though you marginalized the physical atonement aspect a bit, although that could have been a misunderstanding on my part. You stated the following in Part 2 of your master plan:
“So the physical punishment that Christ endured at the hands of Rome and the Jews was not the atonement; it was the spiritual punishment and sacrifice He endured at the hands of the Father that paid for the sin of the world.”
It’s fascinating to me how Jesus escaped other methods of death more than once because it was determined that He must be crucified on the cross specifically
(Luke 24:7, John 3:14). From early on in his earthly ministry, Luke records in
Luke 9:51 that he “set his face to go to Jerusalem”, determined to die on the cross. If only his spiritual death and atonement was of most importance, could Jesus not have just died of old age or something? I do realize it is impossible for anyone to understand the scope of the atonement of Christ enough to fully grasp it in human terms, so I’m not taking a cheap shot here, but it’s worth mentioning.
Since we are on the subject of the atonement, let’s dig in a bit.
You said this in Part 2 of your master plan:
“Some try to deny Christ’s atoning work being for the entire world, but scripture is clear it was…Christ’s work on the cross, the penalty He suffered on our behalf, was for the entire world. His sacrifice and purchase through His blood was not limited to one group, but for all mankind, even the false prophets and teachers. Through His work on the cross, He is the Savior of all men, especially believers.”
Matthew 10:28 and Mark 9:47-48, among other passages, confirm for us that Hell is a real place. If Christ’s atonement was for all people, why are there people in Hell right now as I write this?
John 8:24 confirms for us that people die in their sins. If Christ’s atonement was for all people, why are people dying in their sins? If Christ’s atonement is for all people, is it not then limited in its effect, if all are not ultimately atoned for? Are the ones the atonement effectually covers a mystery to God?
Is He somehow sitting on the edge of his heavenly seat waiting to see who ends up in the kingdom? Does God look through the corridor of time and learn things about the future?
These are great questions to ponder, but let’s look at some of the passages you utilized to substantiate your view first.
1 Timothy 4:10 – For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
God is the savior of all men (in one sense), and especially of those who believe (in another sense). The Greek word here “soter” (preserver, sustainer, deliverer) is used other places in the LXX Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to kings and judges in places like Judges 3:9 and Nehemiah 9:27, respectively. Another intent could be reference to God’s power and authority in passages like Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:10 where “every knee shall bow” to God and Christ. The best explanation is that of common grace, which God grants to every human being. But this common grace is only a temporal preservation for unbelievers. Plus, in the context of the passage, Paul is exhorting believers in their toil and strife to urge them on, similar to how he did in Galatians 6:9.
2 Peter 2:1– But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
Peter is being sarcastic in this passage. He is expounding upon what their “destructive heresies” consist of. False teachers don’t arise in the church by espousing obvious false doctrines. Rather, they “secretly” introduce them with their words, but deny the Lord by their lives. They profess they are redeemed (purchased, God’s possession), but live as practical Atheists. This is similar to Titus 1:16 in that unbelievers are said to profess to know God, but deny Him by their works. Thus, they are “unfit for any good work.”
1 Timothy 2:1-8
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,
4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;
The primary passage used in your defense is verse 4, where it says God desires all people to be saved. However, in this section of scripture, context is of utmost importance. First, Paul urges for prayer for all people. Then he clarifies what he means by “all”, and mentions kings and others in places of high positions. Then in verse 3, he says this type of prayer is pleasing to God. Verse 4 says why it is pleasing to God, because he desires that all people to be saved. All does not always mean all people everywhere. Sometimes the Greek word “pas” used here means types or kinds, like in 1 Timothy 6:10, where it is used in this way- “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” In the KJV, 1 Timothy 6:10 doesn’t say “kinds”, it just says “all.”
Further down in 1 Timothy 2:6 Paul says Jesus gave a ransom for all. Then he says for this reason he (a Jew of all Jews) was appointed a preacher, apostle and teacher of the Gentiles. Lastly, in verse 8, he transitions with saying he then desires in “every place” men should pray. This section of scripture was intended as an exhortation for common men and peasants to pray for those in high positions because those kinds of people affect society, and if they become saved, a godly and peaceful life will be more attainable.
2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Again I realize you focused on verse 9, but as always, context is unavoidable. So if you have your bible, take a look at the entire chapter. Of course, the theme of this chapter is consistent throughout. This is another case where the word “all” is all important, because the context of the chapter gives us insight into who the “all” in verse 9 are.
First of all, the subject of the whole chapter is the second coming of Christ. Secondly, Peter is writing to believers, “the beloved.” In verse 1 he says “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved.” Even more, since this is the second letter addressed to them, the first letter makes the audience clear as well in 1 Peter 1:1- “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect…” Thirdly, he makes the transition from warning believers of scoffers (whom he refers to as “they”) that will come, to reminding the beloved to not overlook that the Lord is not beholding to time, and also not slow to fulfill his promise of coming again in verses 8-9. Who is he patient toward?… “you”, the beloved. God is not willing that any of the beloved, the elect, should perish, but that they should reach repentance. Election leads to faith, which justifies, and therefore the elect will hear the gospel of Christ with faith and be justified. Christ will not return until all the elect are gathered. In the correct context, this verse is actually one of the strongest supports of the complete sovereignty of God in salvation and for limited atonement.
Who did Jesus come to save?
Luke 19:10 says he came to seek and save the lost.
Luke 5:32 says he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Matthew 1:21 says he will save his people from their sins.
In Luke 1:76-77 John the Baptist would go before the Lord and give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.
His people are sinners in need of saving, whom he will not fail to save.
His people are lost people in need of being sought, whom he will not fail to seek out.
There are several passages that indicate Jesus died for the whole world.
For example, 1 John 2:2 says this:
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
We know that propitiation means appeasement from the wrath of God. As discussed earlier when addressing 1 Timothy 4:10, we understand that God exercises his common grace toward all people on earth. Each breath we breathe and each new day is a grace that is not owed to any of us, but we all receive it nonetheless. A similar idea is expressed here, in that Jesus calms God’s wrath, and allows even unbelievers to enjoy a temporary stay of relief from the wrath they will eventually incur.
Another example is 1 John 4:14:
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
The context of this entire section of scripture is crucial. Notice the term “world” is used 9 times in chapter 4 alone. For contextual purposes, every other time it is used refers to the physical world. Once again, context is key.
The intercession and mediation of Jesus
Hebrews 7:25 says Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him. If I’m not mistaken, you actually used this passage in some capacity in your master plan. By extracting context from earlier in the book of Hebrews, we see the writer clearly explains the motivation for drawing near to God. Hebrews 4:14-16 says the confidence to draw near is only because of Christ, our great high priest, and the accompanying confession and realization of His “ability to sympathize with our weaknesses, one who in every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin” (paraphrased). Jumping back to Hebrews 7:25, it is vital to view verses 17-25. When we do, we catch another reference to Jesus’ permanent and perfect priesthood, whereby He is the “guarantor of a better covenant” (v. 22) and “a better hope through which we draw near to God” (v. 19). Lastly, verse 25 says by His state of perfect and eternal priesthood, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
If it’s not in God’s nature to need to learn anything by gazing into the future and he knows who will be saved and who will not, does he then atone and make intercession for those who will not be saved, all the while knowing they will end up dying in their sins? How does someone die in their sins (John 8:24), if their sins are atoned for?
Jesus’ atonement is an actual atonement, not a potential atonement. It is a real atonement, not a hypothetical atonement. It is limited because it only atones for all who would ever believe. This limitation is something you know and confess as well, and thus you affirm a limited atonement. Since the sinner is unable and unwilling to believe apart from divine intervention on any level, “all who would ever believe” is necessarily determined by the power of God, based on the eternal and effectual decree of God.
On the cross Jesus said “It is finished”, not “It is possible.”
Why do we preach if Jesus’ atonement is limited?
This is a great question, and one that needs an answer.
Let’s look at John 11:47-52:
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.
48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all.
50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”
51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation,
52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
In John’s explanation of Caiaphas’ prophecy, he says that Jesus would die to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.
Here we see sneak a glimpse of the remnant to be saved, which Paul speaks of in both Romans 9:27 and Romans 11:5. We know that election by itself does not save. Faith saves and justifies a man. But God divinely chose the vehicle of his word as the means of grace, by which faith is made active. We see that Romans 10:13-17 describes the gospel duty of the preacher and the necessity of preaching of the word, and how faith comes by hearing the word of Christ.
Is it just for God to save anyone He chooses? Is it just that he exercises his wrath on whomever he chooses? Is it just that he would let everyone die and suffer eternal damnation? Is God obligated to offer salvation to anyone? Is it just for him to save some and not to save some?
God did not intend to save everyone. He could have saved everyone, but he didn’t choose to, and he has the freedom to choose in that way (Psalm 135:6), and every choice he makes is just and above reproach (Psalm 111:7).
The effectual call
We have already addressed in both our podcast conversation and our response to your Salvation FAQs classical Calvinistic uses of Romans 9, Ephesians 1 & 2, and John 6, among others. It’s certainly understandable how Romans 9 by itself opens up a debate about corporate vs individual election, because of the allusions to the significance of Jacob and Esau’s metaphorical parallels to nations. We lean toward the latter individualistic interpretation for several reasons. Perhaps the best contextualization and backdrop for all of the Pauline epistles is found in Galatians 1:11-16 where Paul talks about the effectual call on his life from birth:
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.
12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.
14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.
15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,
16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;
In verse 15, Paul says he was called by grace and set apart before he was born. This confession of what he believed to be the effectual call on his life reveals a great deal about all of his other references to the sovereignty of God in salvation in his epistles.
Universal Revelation vs Specific Revelation
Role of the Holy Spirit
In John 15:26 Jesus says the spirit testifies about him.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;
10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;
11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
Jesus here says the spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. All of these refer to him specifically:
Sin- not believing in Christ
Righteousness- the spirit takes the role of Christ’s ministry on earth in testifying about him, because of his ascension
Judgment- in not believing in Jesus, they are already condemned (John 3:18-19).
Role of the scriptures
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,
40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
Jesus said the scriptures bear witness about him.
Role of the prophets
36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),
37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed:
38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree,
40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear,
41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.
43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Luke says here that “all” the prophets bear witness about Jesus Christ, and that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Cornelius, Lydia, and the Ethiopian eunuch
Acts 10 tells of the encounter between Peter and Cornelius, who was “an upright and God-fearing man.” But in Acts 11, Peter is recounting his experience with Cornelius to the Jews. Specifically in verses 13-14 he recites what the angel told Cornelius:
“Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” If he was saved prior to meeting Peter, why does the bible say the message Peter would give him would save him and his household?
Lydia was referred to as a god worshipper in Acts 16:14-15. Then it says the Lord sovereignly opened her ears to hear the gospel Paul was preaching, then she got baptized. Why would God open her ears to the same gospel she already knew, which led to her baptism?
Acts 8:27-36 describes the interaction of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. It says
in verse 28 the Ethiopian was reading the prophet Isaiah, implying a curiosity and desire for the one true God. Then in verses 32-36, you see Philip’s clear explanation of who the prophet Isaiah was talking about:
32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
Our belief in the total sovereignty of God in salvation does not naturally compel us to account for gaps in or lack of knowledge for saving faith, because we believe God will not fail to save his elect. Thus, he will sovereignly make sure his elect hear the complete gospel that includes the preaching of Christ crucified, just as he did the Ethopian eunuch, Cornelius, Lydia, and others demonstrated in the NT.
John 6:44 coalesces with both Calvinism and specific revelation of Christ.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
1. No one comes unless God draws, and all that He draws are raised.
2. All that God draws come to whom? Jesus- without exception. It’s not some that come to Jesus, but all that are drawn come to Him.
The law that Paul speaks of in Romans 5 & 7 is the Mosaic Law. The law of sin and death is something all together different, and Paul talks about it in Galatians 6:8.
The atonement is limited. You actually agree it is limited, but you don’t realize it. To believe any different seems to affirm universalism. No one has ever been saved against their will. But the question is how did they become willing? God bends the will, so that a sinner necessarily sees the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The sinner then is compelled to run to Christ in an unrelenting manner. Scripture teaches that God is sovereign, loving and just. Psalm 110:3 is a good explanation of this. Sinners are free to choose, but only free to choose which sin they want to be enslaved by. What the mind thinks is best is always what we end up choosing. During our time here on earth, we will never find our minds in a state of neutrality toward the things of God. Without divine intervention, our minds will always be set on sinful things. Unwarranted confidence in human ability is merely a symptom of the depravity of man. That sort of thinking is itself a by-product of our fallen human nature. If a man thinks that both the choice of salvation and the preservation of his salvation is in any way dependent upon him, he has essentially denied the sealing and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The message of the cross is the power that resurrects a man’s soul and awakens him to a life that is free of the slavery of sin.
Romans 1:1-7 handles the “Gospel of God” in spectacular fashion.
Paul says in verse 3 that the Gospel of God concerns His Son. The following 6 verses after tell of His full humanity, deity, death and resurrection. In 1-7, Jesus or Son or Christ is mentioned 6 times. Paul is very concerned about mentioning Christ in the message of the Gospel of God. So in these first 7 verses we see the full gospel, God’s calling, and obedience through faith in this gospel. Paul was all about the great commission. He was called, saved, and lived a life committed to the great commission. He was focused on making disciples of all nations which includes baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that Christ commanded. On this side of the cross, only Christ followers are disciple makers, not any of the rest of creation. Any combination of “witnesses” without the central Christ-centered message is not sufficient to save a man, and thus it is an incomplete gospel according to what the entirety of the scriptures has divinely revealed to us.