NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXXVIII)
The writer of Hebrews, whom many believe to be the Apostle Paul, echoes this same thought: “Christ came with this new agreement so that all who are invited may come and have forever all the wonders God has promised them.”1 But this was not just Paul’s theology. The Apostle Peter also taught along the same lines: “You have been chosen by God Himself – you are priests of the King, you are holy and pure, you are God’s very own – all this so that you may show to others how God called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were less than nothing; now you are God’s own. Once you knew very little of God’s kindness; now your very lives have been changed by it.”2 When he wrote them again, Peter said: “Dear brothers, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen, and then you will never stumble or fall away. And God will open wide the gates of heaven for you to enter into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”3 This surely sounds like divine planning, not a system of “do as you please.”
But there is another factor involved here, so Paul makes the point that none of this has been done based on man’s merits, but on the merits of Christ. In other words, God is justified in doing all of this for those who were once sinners because of what someone else did, not what they did, in order to be among those chosen. Paul explains this to the Corinthians: “Don’t fool yourselves. Those who live immoral lives, who are idol worshipers, adulterers or homosexuals – will have no share in His Kingdom. Neither will thieves or greedy people, drunkards, slanderers, or robbers. There was a time when some of you were just like that but now your sins are washed away, and you are set apart for God, and He has accepted you because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you.”4
Paul passes on this same message to Titus: “When the time came for the kindness and love of God our Savior to appear, then He saved us – not because we were good enough to be saved but because of His kindness and pity – by washing away our sins and giving us the new joy of the indwelling Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us with wonderful fullness – and all because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did so that He could declare us good in His eyes – all because of His great kindness.”5 This is why it is important that we teach new Christians that it was not they who chose God, but it was God who chose them. They have no justification for saying they acquired salvation based on their own decision. Paul says God had His own justification for offering them salvation.
Jesus made His feelings known to the Father: “This is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those He has given me, but that I should raise them to eternal life at the Last Day. For it is my Father’s will that everyone who sees His Son and believes on Him should have eternal life – that I should raise him at the Last Day.”6 In other words, Jesus is more or less saying: I was the one who suffered and died on the cross; who carried the sins of the world on my shoulders; I was the one who died so I could be raised to life again. So, Father, do it for my sake. This is the justification God needed to offer salvation to whoever believes on Christ as their Lord and Savior. Mankind could offer no other reason to justify God doing what He did to save them.
In another prayer, Jesus touches on how He feels about those who have been called: “I have given them the glory you gave me – the glorious unity of being one, as we are – I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one – so that the world will know you sent me and will understand that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want them with me – these you’ve given me – so that they can see my glory. You gave me the glory because you loved me before the world began!”7 So, Jesus not only wanted to share His work of salvation with the chosen but also His glory.
This gave Paul the courage to tell the Corinthians: “We do not look at what we can see right now, the troubles all around us, but we look forward to the joys in heaven which we have not yet seen. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.”8 And to the Ephesians Paul wrote: “Even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, He gave us back our lives again when He raised Christ from the dead – only by His undeserved favor have we ever been saved – and to lift us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, where we will sit with Him in the heavenly realms – all because of what Christ Jesus did.”9 Then to the Colossians Paul writes: “When Christ who is our real life comes back again, you will shine with Him and share in all His glories.”10
Paul also had this message for the Thessalonians: “We talked to you as a father to his own children – don’t you remember? – pleading with you, encouraging you and even demanding that your daily lives should not embarrass God but bring joy to Him who invited you into His Kingdom to share His glory.”11 And to Timothy, Paul had these encouraging words: “I am comforted by this truth, that when we suffer and die for Christ it only means that we will begin living with Him in heaven. And if we think that our present service for Him is hard, just remember that someday we are going to sit with Him and rule with Him.”12 The writer of Hebrews echoes this hope: “Christ came with this new agreement so that all who are invited may come and have forever all the wonders God has promised them.”13
Here is an illustration from everyday life that may make this idea of glorification clearer. Think of a young man looking for a bride, and willingly goes through all the tests and meets all the standards the bride’s father required. After getting approval to marry the bride, the groom gives her a ring and tells her she can spread the good news everywhere and show them the ring as proof of her claim. But, he informs her that she will not be invited to the wedding and will not live in the groom’s brand new house. Such would be the same if Christ had only desired to share His death and resurrection with us, but had no interest in returning so that we could go to live with Him on His Father’s heavenly estate and enjoy all of God’s goodness for eternity.
The early church Bishop of the Apostle Paul’s hometown of Tarsus had much to say about our being conformed to the image of God’s Son. He says that Paul did not write this to take away our free will. He used the word “foreknew” before he used “predestined.” So it is clear that “foreknowledge” does not suggest our having to meet any expectations in order to be among the called. That’s why Paul said that Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners.14 Then Bishop Diodore suggests that what Paul says here would be clearer if we started from the end and worked backward by first asking. Who will God glorify? Those He justified. Who did He predestine? Those He foreknew, who were called according to His purpose, namely, those He found worthy to be called for His purpose so they could be made conformable to Christ.15
Chrysostom puts the emphasis on our relationship as God’s children by pointing to the fact that Jesus is God’s only begotten Son. In one of his sermons he told his listeners what a superb honor it was, for what the only begotten Son was by nature, we have become by grace. Christ in His human nature has become the firstborn of many, even though in His divine nature He remains the only begotten16.17 It is important that every Bible scholar know how the English term “only begotten” is to be interpreted by understanding the meaning of the Greek word monogenēs. It is fairly easy to grasp, for it means “only one of its kind.” Furthermore, in Thayer’s Lexicon, we find that this term, used 9 times in the NT, was employed by Greeks when referring to having only one son or daughter. We can see this reflected in the story of the widow of Nain whose only son died,18 and in the case of the synagogue ruler’s only twelve-year-old daughter,19 as well as the man whose only son was possessed by an evil spirit.20 Thayer goes on to say that when used of Christ, it implies that He is the only Son of God, God has no other children. And that’s what was so amazing to Paul. Because of Christ’s willing sacrifice, God has adopted many sons and daughters who can rightly call Jesus their big brother.
Then Bishop Theodoret addresses one factor in our being conformed to the image of God’s Son. He wrote that God did not simply predestine everyone; He only predestined those He selected before they were born. That’s why Paul says everything so precisely and writes “conformed to the image of His Son,” and not just “conformed to His Son.” That’s why no one believes that when we are born-again our human body is conformed to Christ’s divine body. Rather, it will one day be to His glorified body. He was God’s only Son before He was ever born as a man. As God’s only begotten, Christ does not have any divine brothers. He’s the only one. It was only when He became a man that He is able to call us His brothers and sisters21.22
Then Paul adds predestined to the list of called, justified, and glorified. Origen hints that not all the scholars of his day understood the difference between being predestined and being called. The way he takes what Paul says here means that someone who is justified is only justified because they have been called. Furthermore, when someone is called, it is because they were already picked out and, therefore, have been predestined. Origen chides those who think that God’s foreknowledge is limited to knowing what will happen in the future. How can there be any divine foreknowledge if it is not tied to predestination and the same thing in reverse? These two things go together. Origen also wants to know how can it be that all who are called should be justified when we know that many are called but few are chosen?23 For indeed many are called, but are all called according to God’s purpose? In Origen’s view, only those who are called according to His purpose are justified.24 It is better to understand Origen’s reasoning here if we delineate between those who accept the call and those who do not. When God calls, it’s up to the person being called to respond or refuse. Those who respond are chosen, those who refuse, are not.
1 Hebrews 9:15
2 1 Peter 2:9-10
3 2 Peter 1:10-11
4 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
5 Titus 3:4-7
6 John 6:39-40
7 Ibid. 17:22-24
8 2 Corinthians 4:18
9 Ephesians 2:5-6
10 Colossians 3:4
11 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
12 2 Timothy 2:11-12
13 Hebrews 9:15
14 Romans 5:8
15 Diodore: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 See Hebrews 2:5-18
17 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 15
18 Luke 7:12
19 Ibid. 8:42
20 Ibid. 9:38
21 See Hebrews 2:5-18
22 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
23 Matthew 22:14
24 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.