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Thoughts on Romans 8, Justification and Pelagianism


The following come conversations I’ve had recently which have helped me to think through certain issues. Edited slightly to suit the present format.


In regards to Romans 8:28-30

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[a] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom heforeknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (ESV).”


The golden chain per reformed seems to support their position, only if certain understandings are brought in.

I think the first thing is to consider the importance of the “those” (vs 30) Paul is speaking of. I think the qualifying mark is *those who love God* (vs28).

First because it turns on what one means by justification. One does not need to be Catholic or Orthodox to believe that one can be at one stage considered in a state of justification/righteousness and then later apostatises. Even Luther held that regeneration =/= final salvation. So reading Paul as saying *anyone* who is ever justified, will be glorified, presupposes Calvinistic soteriology. And likewise for my non calvinistic position, the ones He calls cannot here mean everyone ever without exception. Even though I affirm God’s universal love. Because not everyone ever is *personally* justified. I could say per *nature* they are as per Romans 5:18, however I don’t feel that’s the flow of Pauls thoughts as he is in my opinion speaking about the blessings of individuals who are conformed to the image of God’s Son. So that Christ is first among many brethren. Though all have the imago dei, the brethren connotation seems to express personal/individual filiality.

So Paul is speaking of those who love God. And whether foreknowledge means knew beforehand or loved beforehand, I don’t think is a massive issue for our position. In fact the love presupposes knowledge. The difficulty may come in speaking about in what manner they were loved that differs if at all from God’s love of all people which we would hold to.

Even still we must further investigate the “those who love God qualification”. It does not dismiss the Reformed position, nor explicitly give a non-Reformed one either. Because from the start one could be reformed and agree with this qualification. Because of course all the elect will love God. However one need not take the Reformed position, which is monergistic. For them God can elect individuals, determine that they will love him, only justify them, and so the chain is unbroken.

We however are synergists, God cannot determine that I love Him. And if I do it is in co-operation with grace. So the “those who love God’ don’t need to be monergistically compelled individuals. So Romans 8:28-30 can be understood as saying that God has predestined that those whom he knew and loved before the foundation of the world, the ones who would love God (with the assumption that love cannot be compelled), and by virtue of that love remain in state of grace (John 15), their end is glorification. The fulfilment of the human telos, imago dei. Their end is sure. Their hope not in vain. Regardless of how desperate things look. Which is exactly why Paul goes from the surety of the victory, to listing all their troubles and possible troubles and showing that nothing can thwart God’s plan for them. Indeed he repeats in Romans 8 that we must suffer with Christ to be glorified with Him. And that our present sufferings don’t compare to this glory. This hope. Roman 8 is not an exposition on God mysteriously electing some while passing over others. But on the surety of the end, for those that love God. That love of God is synergistic state conditional both on grace and the human will. Romans 9 is demonstration of this fact. Far from being about God arbitrarily electing some over others, it is a demonstration that God’s purposes will always work out in the end as he desires. Humans can choose whether or not they will be on the good side of these purposes once the end comes about, but whether they choose to rebel or obey, God’s purposes will come to pass. And he will use their disobedience to accomplish them, just as he did with Pharaoh, and just as He was doing with Israel at the time Paul wrote. Which is exactly what Paul is writing about. That though Israel is unfaithful, God has indeed not been unfaithful to His promises but instead has even used Israel’s disobedience to bring about the salvation of the world through them. As He had always promised He would. This is the proper context of the potter-clay imagery used in Romans 9. Often used as a Reformed silver bullet, the passage in Jeremiah, from which Paul more than likely got his imagery, tells a very different story. Not of God doing something without thought for human decision. But of His accomplishing his purposes, inspite of them.

I point these out first to illustrate that the golden chain can be read differently and need not be a reformed *golden bullet* (apologies for the bad pun). And aso to show, as you’ve pointed out, the issues of making the call a general one. So then it is very likely that Paul is speaking about *all those* with the *those who love God* qualifier in mind.


<<Personally, I think that Reformed people would say that you are presupposing that those who loves God do so with their free will without the determination of divine grace in a monergistic fashion. They wouldn’t say that the text precisely says that in this case, but they would challenge your assumption on that point because that is a presupposition that you are holding.>>


I did not say the text says it is the case. But scripture is not an island. Synergistic love is the only model I can accept as true to the biblical account. Given my anthropology. Plus I would say back to the Reformed person that I’m simply showing how the text would read according to a different model. If they wish to counter my anthropology they are free to do so. I just don’t see why I need to default to their position. Only thing I’m showing is that if the subjects of Paul’s passage is are “those that love God.” Then the nature of the persons in question will determine how one understands the rest of it. And since on my view, love cannot be determined, then the rest of the passage cannot be a predestination in the Calvinistic sense, aka, not based on foreknowledge, but having the decree determine the foreknowledge.


<<So that is one. Justification is a topic that is extremely difficult. Romans 5:18 appears to speak of justification of life for all men. But yet, Romans 8:33 says that God justifies his elect. So they would say that Romans 5:18 doesn’t necessarily clearly demonstrate justification in the thought of Paul because he uses justification in various ways. They would simply say that if one takes a cumulative study at justification as taught in the writings of Paul, then one would see that justification by faith alone is the main theme of Paul’s writings.>>


For the reformed salvation is seen primarily in individualistic terms. The person and nature aspects are collapsed unto one. Whereas scripture is quite clear (in my opinion) that the resurrection and immortality of all humanity, is contingent on the work of Christ. So by his incarnation and defeat of death, he brings salvation to all mankind on the level of nature, but personal salvation only to those that co-operate with grace. Plus I would agree that initial justification may be by faith alone (apart from any good deeds or works of the torah) because faith receives grace. And grace empowers the individual to cultivate righteousness. What they mean by faith alone however includes the notion of imputed righteousness, which I do not see Paul teaching.


<< Some Reform would take issue with some of the things you said in your comment. You say that Paul in Romans 8:28-30 cannot be talking about “anyone” in that passage because not everyone is personally justified. You then say that speaking of nature, through Romans 5:18, you can make that argument, but however, you say that Paul’s thought is speaking more about those who love God as being justified and glorified then about all people. They would say that there are numerous problems here. First, which was already discussed, you presuppose that people can love God synergistically, which is begging the question because the passage doesn’t yield such an interpretation.>>

Currently the only thing I would be doing is showing that the Reformed reading is not the only model. And that it only seems to indicate a strong reformed chain, if one already presupposes their understanding of what certain terms mean. In regards to justification, my point was that even in Protestantism, “being justified” at one stage, does not necessarily mean one will then be guaranteed glorification. To say that it does, begs the question on a particular protestant position that all who are justified are only those that will in the end be saved. Thus having the “no true Scotsman” scenario as it were that anyone who apostatises, was never really in the faith to begin with.


<<They would argue, through rigorous exegetical evidence, that Paul is speaking of those who love God as God determining them to love him.>>


In other words, they would provide many texts that when read with a reformed anthropology would force one into reading them to a reformed conclusion. Hence why on these issues I go for the underlying presuppositions. I show how they can change the meaning of the text, and then it becomes of matter of who’s pressups are correct and why. That’s why I’m not particularly fond of prooftexting. And sure I find difficult passages, but if there is a good reason to hold to a particular over arching framework that renders certain readings impossible/or highly improbable, then I’ll assume there is an answer that will solve it, or there is a contradiction in scripture. Or my framework is wrong, but that would have to be demonstrated.


<< Second, the grammar of the chain is vital. Paul says that those who are justified are also glorified. In the Greek, all of the verbs are in the aorist tense in the indicative mood in the active voice, which means that it was a decisive moment in the past in which God actively predestined, called, justified and glorified those in the chain.>>


Not everyone is glorified yet. Some haven’t even been born yet. Unless we want to advocate for B-theory of time. Paul is either speaking of those who love God, who have already experienced these things (but full glorification is not yet). Or is speaking about the certainty of hope that those who love God have. Speaking of it in the past tense, to demonstrate its certainty. I don’t think many Reformed would go for the “already happened view” but for the certainty view. Just as Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The difference would be for the Reformed, the certainty is due to God determining certain individuals to be saved. For us, it would be God, knowing and loving these individuals beforehand, has made certain a particular end/telos, Glorification, for those individuals who love him. Since only those that love God will be with God. If you remain in his love and he in you, you will be saved (John 15).


<<They would say that it was God who enacted –hence is the “actor”– these things to occur and “those” in the passage are the recipients of these actions. So Reform believers would say that this gives more credence for their position than our own position.>>

The verse only says that God does certain things, predestined, justify, glorify. It does not say what these things mean. The verse simply speaks about the certainty actions in relation to certain peoples. But synergism and certainty are not necessarily opposed. The certainty of God’s actions need not rule out synergism. Nor does the passage say whether or not synergism is taken into account and thus rendering the combination of grace and human will to a certain conclusion. It all turns on what one means by predestined, justify etc.


<<Third, when you say that no one is “personally justified”, Reform would say that if you mean that human beings can personally justify themselves with their own righteousness through grace, then that is a point that cannot be coherently defended. It is impossible according to them. One cannot justify themselves to stand before God because we are so full of sin. The way in which we become justified is if Christ imputes his righteousness in us because it is simply impossible to suggest that we can work our way to God with our own righteousness. So thus, if you suggest that one can be “personally justified” with their own righteousness, then that is utterly false in their view because one cannot coherently demonstrate this truth in the slightest. >>


This is only an issue if one is under law and not grace. Faith puts one under grace, which includes not only the power to please God by works of the Spirit (Romans 8:4, Gal 5:6), but it also includes with it the pardon for sin when one actually fails. That’s why when speaking of justification, Paul in Romans 4:8 (funny how it’s a reversal of romans 8:4, the other point of justification lol) includes God not holding sins against the individual.


If one rejects God’s grace, then they are under law. And must fulfil it perfectly. But in this state they cannot. What grace does, is not remove the criteria of the law, but nullifies its power to punish if one fails and enables one to fulfil it. They have ceased to be in a strict Master/Worker, Judge/Criminal relationship with God, whereby they receive only what they merit. Rather they enter into Sonship. Where they choose to obey God, believing that He will keep his promise of salvation and eternal life. Not because they’ve earned it, but because He is good. They have *faith* in His grace to them. That is why Paul says that to the one who works under law, what they receive is an obligation. Which includes strict merit and demerit. But to the one who works under grace (Gal 5:6) it is a gift, based solely on promise, received by faith. With the works here being for personal edification in order to be compatible with God (because without Holiness, no man will see the Lord). And God graciously choosing to grant these creatures in their sorry estate, eternal life and the blessings there of, because they love Him. Like the workers who were called to work in the field at different times of the day and all receiving the same pay. Because they got what they were promised, not what they deserved. That’s grace.


The problem with the Reformed, and their “can’t personally be justified” quip is that their position is essentially Pelagian. It is either you have strict law or you have grace and imputed foreign righteousness. You have no third option of personal righteousness by working with grace to fulfil the law. Hence the Law/Grace dichotomy. It’s Pelagian, because it places the Law side as being over those who are Adamic. And that Adam himself was on the Law side. Thus not the grace side. Hence human nature had in and of itself, the intrinsic grace needed to fulfil the law. But due to total depravity, human nature changed and thus we no longer have the ability to fulfil the law. Grace then must come in and rescue, doing what we couldn’t. The assumption of nature being grace is Pelagian. As opposed to the true Augustinian and Orthodox position that human nature always needed grace, which was extrinsic to human nature, in order for Adam and Eve to be personally righteousness. And so they were not under strict law with no grace. And thus from the beginning justification was a matter of grace which involved works. What was added with the fall was that this grace now included remission of sins by nullifying the law’s power to punish failure and the eventual redemption of the corruption in human nature. While pre-fall, grace served to sustain things as they were and help them grow in virtue. The goal is concrete righteousness, not an abstract transaction of imputed guilt and righteousness which has no ontological grounding in order to satisfy relations in God’s mind. Which is what imputation essentially is. If grace was always needed, then the idea that from the beginning we are co-operating with God to be righteous, becomes more plausible. If grace is only needed after the fall, then it means prefall the issue was not really about perfecting, but about one in a perfected state earning a right. In which case, Adam didn’t earn it, we can’t earn it. Thus someone else must earn it and it must somehow be credited to us.

No one is denying that Reformed theology says grace is working intrinsically. However that is only post fall. Whereas pre fall, human nature is said to be fully graced already as to not need any externally added grace. Thus putting Adam in a relationship with God via an extrinsic covenant of works.

And then when he fails, human nature changes from being grace, to being sin. Hence total depravity. And grace now being needed from the outside to come in and monergistically turn one to God. And still there is the need for a human whose nature is fully graced, and thus on this schema without sin, to fulfill the covenant of works and somehow have their merit credited to our account.

So we see the dichotomy being put in place that one either has full grace or full sin. Either grace with imputed righteousness or strict law without grace.

This is pelagian. Human nature is not autonomous but even from the beginning required the supernatural union and activity of God in order to grow in righteousness and remain in a state of justification. We were never placed in a situation of strict law sans grace because human nature always needed grace. And so after the fall, we are not put in a position of strict law sans grace either. Grace then truly enables one to be righteous (Romans 8:4).

It is rather the one who rejects God’s grace, which includes not only the power to live right, but the forgiveness of sins when one fails (Romans 4:8), they are the ones who place themselves under strict law and justice and must keep the law perfectly or suffer the full curse. So grace is not opposed to works, but works of the flesh, by which one must under strict merit or demerit receive the wages of either eternal life or death. As opposed to grace putting one in a relationship of Sonship, by which they are enabled to grow into the likeness of their Father and forgiven when they fail. And are rewarded based not on what they deserve but the promise of God and his good pleasure. Just as the workers who were hired at different times of the day and all got the same reward by evening time. Because they worked and got what was promised. Not what they deserved. An analogy of the world of grace.

So the only way to have a scenario of strict law on our schema is to reject grace which we were always meant to have. On the Reformed schema, strict law is the default and one must accept grace which they only need because of the fall, in order to escape the law.


Thus the idea of no personal righteousness before God possible, because:

  • That strict law is seen as the only other option to imputed righteousness by grace. This by default puts any personal righteousness as a matter of law sans grace which is impossible. And Pelagian, since it assumes that the Adamic side, is pure law without grace in the first place. And opposed to it being law with grace given to fulfil it and thus render one personally righteous.


  • Ignores the pardon of sins that for those under grace, when they do mess up. So as not to count as a barrier to fellowship with a perfectly Holy God.


  • God’s perfect Holiness indeed makes the main issue one of concrete compatibility and sanctification. As said, the goal is concrete righteousness, not an abstract transaction of imputed guilt and righteousness which has no ontological grounding in order to satisfy relations in God’s mind.


“The primary error of Pelagianism is the identification of nature with grace. For Pelagians, nature is grace, completely. Because they thought this was so, Adam was not deprived of anything at the Fall and children inherit no deprivation of divine power or corruption. Adam’s  nature is impenetrable by sin since grace or righteousness is intrinsic to it. The only way for this not to be so along Pelagian lines is for Adam’s nature to be fundamentally changed, for him to then possess a sinful nature or a nature of sin. But Pelagians thought this was impossible since God created Adam intrinsically righteous. Consequently, for the Pelagians, Adam only requires not power to achieve salvation, but a good example to follow. The effect of the Atonement could only be an extrinsic moral influence according to an imposed law. The Law then was a grace, but only an extriniscally effective one which is why it required a free consent. Pelagianism denied then the necessity of grace if by grace one understands it as something that is not an actualized power intrinsic to nature from the begining of creation. Adam was then perpetually under a “covenant of works” since he intrinsically possessed the requisite power to fulfill it. This is why incidentally the Reformed doctrine of the Covenant of Works is essentially Pelagian.” [Robinson, Perry. ‘We Have Met The Enemy’. Energetic Procession. N.p., 2009. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.]


“Now the theological standard for conservative Presbyterian denominations in America is the Westminster Confession and its attendant catechisms. Within the document is a section describing the “Covenant of Works,” a late Calvinist doctrine explaining how our first parents were to inherit eternal life. As Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof explains, if the gap between God and his creatures is infinite, there is no possibility for a creature to merit anything with respect to God.8 The Covenant of Works doctrine seeks to solve this problem by positing an extrinsic arrangement whereby God promises eternal life to Adam and his descendants upon Adam’s perfect obedience (WCF, ch. 7, sec. 2). Without such an arrangement, man could in nowise merit eternal life from God.


The parallel between this doctrine and Pelagianism is that Reformed theologians who accept the Covenant of Works tradition ascribe to Adam and Eve a natural righteousness and a natural power by which they were to keep the Covenant of Works. These theologians deny the Catholic doctrine that the first couple needed a supernatural charity infused into their souls to make their wills proportional to the supernatural end of the vision of God. Berkhof is explicit here: “[Man] was by nature endowed with that original righteousness which is the crowning glory of the image of God.”9 Thus, for Calvinists with allegiances to Westminster, the Covenant of Works doctrine implicates them in a basic Pelagian view of salvation in the original state of man.’ [Turner, Barrett. ‘“Pelagian Westminster?”’. Called to Communion. N.p., 2015. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.]



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This entry was posted on December 2, 2015 by in Theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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