If you haven’t already, please read this series’ introduction.
Paul claims that God transforms his people into entirely new creatures: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2Co 5:17).
Through Ezekiel, God promised:
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Perhaps alluding to the prophecy in Ezekiel, Paul says, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).
He told Titus, “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ … gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Tit 2:13-14).
John implied that those who are born of God will receive Christ and believe in him, resulting in their official adoption into the family of God:
All who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
Jesus taught that unbelievers don’t believe because they’re not his sheep. On the other side of the coin, he explained that his sheep not only hear his voice but also follow him. He said, “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (Jn 10:26-28).
In John 6, he tells his Jewish audience, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6:44). Then, he says, “They will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (Jn 6:45).
According to Christ, the very essence of eternal life is to know him. After telling his disciples that his Spirit would come for the distinct purpose of bearing witness about him—he said, “When the Helper comes … he will bear witness about me” (Jn 15:26)—he prayed, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3).
According to Hebrews, “[Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb 5:9). Paul tells the Thessalonians, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2Th 2:13-14).
Peter says that we are “born again to a living hope,” not a dead, dormant hope (1Pe 1:3). In fact, he says that God purifies our souls by our obedience to the truth:
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23)
Consider what Jesus said Paul’s preaching would accomplish among the Gentiles:
“I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:16-18)
A favorite chapter among Primitive Baptists is, of course, Romans 8. At the beginning of the chapter, Paul says that God’s people are set free by the Spirit. Jesus died to satisfy the law. In turn, the law is fulfilled in us because we now walk according to Christ’s Spirit.
The Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:2-4)
He then claims that the Spirit causes us to know that God is our Father and we are his children:
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. (Romans 8:13-16)
Let’s not overlook the most beloved passage of all:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
First, notice that those whom God has called according to his purpose are those who love God. Second, Paul says they are the firstborn among many brothers. James used similar language when he said, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (Jas 1:18).
Third, Paul gives us an ordered list of what God has done: (1) He predestines us; (2) He calls us; (3) He justifies us; (4) He glorifies us. If Paul was referring exclusively to justification by blood on the cross, then why does it follow the individual call of sinners? He should have said, “Those whom he predestined he also justified, and those whom he justified he also called.”
Think back to Romans 3-5. Paul began his exposition of salvation by grace by showing that justification follows God’s effectual call. Christ is the “justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Ro 3:26). “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Ro 4:5).
Like Abraham, God calls us, and we respond in faith as his Spirit moves us. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Php 2:13).
To be clear, God’s calling is real and practical, not some mystical concept that produces no change in the one who is called. Again, Paul said, “He called you through our gospel” (2Th 2:13). He told the Corinthians, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2Co 5:20). Reread Acts 26, 1 Peter 1, and James 1.
While there is a supernatural drawing by the Spirit taking place, God is calling his people through us, “and as many as [are] appointed to eternal life believe” (Ac 13:48).
Then, of course, Paul gives us Romans 10:
“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 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. (Romans 10:8-17)
I know that you put your scissors to the page between Romans 9 and Romans 10 just as you do between Romans 3:20 and Romans 3:21. Without any regard to the flow of the text or Paul’s clear intent, you claim that the salvation of Romans 10 is not the salvation of Romans 9. But I can’t do that.
I spent most of my life shoving these passages into my theological boxes. I so badly wanted them to fit, but they don’t fit. The verses I’ve quoted and many others defy the black-and-white “time-versus-eternal” categorization. For instance, is Paul talking about “timely” sanctification in 1 Corinthians 6 or eternal?
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Christ and his Spirit washed and sanctified the Corinthians. As a result, they were no longer living in the blatant sin they once did. Is Paul referring to their invisible, eternal sanctification or their so-called timely, practical sanctification? The fact is, it’s both. We can’t separate the two.
When God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, he didn’t save them to merely enter the Promised Land. Rather, Moses was to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness. … Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God” (Ex 5:1; 3).
First, God saved the Israelites so they could worship him. Second, he led them through the wilderness for forty years to teach, discipline, and sanctify them before entering the Promised Land. The same goes for us.
“Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Ro 6:1-2). We were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked” (Eph 2:1-2). But God “made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:5). “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Ro 6:4).
When Lazarus was raised from the dead, Christ didn’t leave him wrapped in grave clothes. He told the people, “Unbind him, and let him go” (Jn 11:44). He was made alive, and living people don’t wear the trappings of death.
For most of my life, I defended hyper-grace theology because the logic behind it seemed perfectly reasonable, but it doesn’t match the teachings of Scripture. How can new creatures in Christ remain unchanged? How can God bring dead sinners to life, yet they remain completely unaware? How can the Spirit produce the fruit of faith while we remain faithless?
You may tell me that faith doesn’t necessarily mean faith. You may try to convince me that Jesus didn’t mean that his sheep would actually follow him or come to him. You may dissect every passage I’ve quoted and claim that I’m wrong about every last one of them. But my goal isn’t to persuade you or anyone else. As I told Angier Church before I left, my convictions are not your convictions.
If you’re satisfied with your interpretations of the Bible, that’s fine. As for me, I ran into roadblock after roadblock. The verses that contradicted what I had always known piled higher and higher.
Eventually, I became willing to ask myself, What if you’re wrong? What if God transforms us through what is more than a mystical internal conversion? What if faith—and I mean genuine faith where we believe that God saves and Christ is Lord and Savior—is an integral part of our salvation by God’s design? What if God providentially leads his Word to go precisely where he wants it to go, reaching all of the people he intends to reach? What if?
Once I was willing to consider even the possibility that I may have been wrong, the Scriptures became clear for perhaps the first time ever. I didn’t have to sidestep all of the passages that contradicted my former soteriology. I didn’t feel a need to insert imaginary disclaimers such as, “Paul’s not talking about eternal salvation here.” Paul meant what he said, and I find it refreshing to accept that.
But that’s me. Obviously, there are a lot of well-studied preachers among the Primitive Baptists who disagree with me. I respect them whether they reciprocate or not. I just don’t see what they see anymore. My conscience won’t allow me to interpret the Bible through the filters I once used. Maybe after all of my rambling thus far, you are beginning to understand why.