by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 8 Paragraph # 4 Study # 6 February 19, 2008 Lincolnton, N.C.
28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
1901 ASV Translation:
28 And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.
I. Paul's Deliberate "Limitation".
A. It is clear that "all things" do not work together for the good of all men. Some end up in the Lake of Fire.
B. It is clear that "all things" do not work together for the good of all believers. Some end up losing at least a portion of their reward (2 John 1:8) and are to be ashamed before Him at His coming (1 John 2:28).
C. But this text says that all things do work together for good for those who are loving God.
1. The significance of the present tense participle ("loving") has two elements: first, the necessity of "loving"; and, second, the "on-going" necessity of "loving".
2. It is never true that "all things work together for good" for those who "hate" God, so if "love" ever turns to "hate", this supreme statement of victorious confidence will turn into vanity. Alternatively, even if "hate" turns to "love", the things done while "hating" are not declared to "work together for good".
II. The Inevitable Question.
A. It is a part of the essential fabric of Paul's theology that "boasting" is an evil that must be avoided at all costs.
1. The evil of it fundamentally consists of its inevitable cost at the relational level because it always inserts conflict.
2. The magnitude of the problem is highlighted by the fact that Paul's doctrine of the intransigence of God regarding the methodology of justification is absolute: God will not budge one fraction of an inch on justification by faith apart from works that lead to boasting. This means He will eternally condemn anyone who fudges on that issue and attempts to gain entrance to the Kingdom within the boundaries of that fudge. It must be a rather "big deal" if "boasting" is so bad that it inescapably leads to eternal condemnation.
B. Therefore this question will invariably arise if a kind of "limitation" is placed upon the outpouring of the favor of God that looks like something "human" is inserted: Do not those who "love God" and, therefore, have all work to their good, have somewhat of which to boast if it is their love for God that has created this?
1. This is a valid question and, if it is answered incorrectly, the answer will lead to boasting.
2. However, Paul has already established the absolute elimination of any "boasting" that is rooted in "human initiation" issues, or, for that matter, any "human response" issues: Romans 3:27.
3. Therefore, we must seek a way to reconcile Paul's insertion of the "limitation" issue at theheadof his declaration of supreme confidence without accepting any kind of basis for destructive boasting.
a. In 1 Corinthians 4:7 Paul raised this question: "For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? but if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it? (ASV). This question declares that there can be no boasting over "things received" that "create differences".
b. In Romans 12:3 Paul declares that his ability to "say" things to people for their good arose from "the grace given unto me" and that everyone else needed to take the same approach by "not thinking of himself more highly that he ought to think; but by thinking soberly, according as God hath dealth to every man the measure of faith." (AV slightly adjusted to fit my current grammar).
c. Then, in Philippians 1:29 the same apostle declared that the ability to believe is just as much a "given" as the necessity of suffering for His sake.
d. No matter where we turn, both human initiativeand human response are assumed to have underlying causes by the doctrine of the grace that eliminate boasting. It is the "underlying cause" that defines the issue of towhom the credit is to go.
C. Therefore we may conclude that the "limitation" is real, but the fulfillment of it is not of human initiative or response at the "credit level". This does not eliminate human initiative, nor does it eliminate human response, but it certainly does eliminate both as fundamental ("credit level") causes.
III. Paul's Movement Directly Into This Concern.
A. He acknowledges the limitation and inserts it first.
B. But he immediately re-identifies those who "meet" it.
1. He calls those who "love God" the "according to purpose called".
2. Then he proceeds to outline the "purpose" issue by means of "foreknowledge", "predestination", "calling", "justification", and "glorification".
C. This re-identification directly positions those "who love God" within an ineluctable stream of divine attributes and actions that clearly erase any and every basis for boasting.
D. Paul's immediate response to these truths (8:31 and following) is a more forceful triumphal declaration than even 8:28's claim that "all things work together for good".
E. It ought to be noted that the typical antagonistic human response to these things that "such a doctrine is 'not fair' and makes God some kind of an ogre" is also addressed by Paul a bit later in this teaching flow (9:14) where he raises thatexactissue: "Is there unrighteousness with God?".
1. It might be helpful to ask, at this point, this question: why do men often scream bloody murder about this doctrine of underlying divine initiative?
a. At its heart, this objection has more to do with "creatures" being "antagonized" by their perception of their "Creator" than, perhaps, any other issue. That, once clarified, means that the real issue is "creatures" finding fault with God because they want to take His place.
b. Then, as a mask for the real issue, this objection has to do with the issue of created, sensate, persons being subject to eternal condemnation. The very idea of persons being subject to what amounts to indescribable and unending pain sets our teeth on edge.
c. For some people it "helps" if they can point the finger of blame at the "subjected" rather than the "subjector". In other words, "God won't send you to Hell, but He will let you go there by your own free will." For others, there is no "help": these press, as an alternative, the notion that the Bible does not really teach such a "terrible doctrine". For these there are two "outs". The first is the doctrine of universalism that says that ultimately every created personality, angelic or human, will be reconciled to the love of, and for, God so that there is no need for "Hell". The second is the doctrine of annihilationism that says that the finally incorrigible will simply be subjected to the absolute cessation of being: they will be "annihilated".
d. However, the "outs" have never been able to establish themselves as "biblical" and the former "help" does not do much about the dreadful fact that there are still sensate persons subject to indescribable and unending pain.
1) How does "blame assignment" mitigate this enduring fact?
2) I would submit that if "blame assignment" solves the problem, then the problem is not really an issue of sensitivity regarding the issue of pain. If "blame assignment" solves the problem, the issue is "justice", not "personal pain". This, according to the aforementioned text of Romans 9:14, is the question that the apostle accepts as the one he is willing to address.
2. It might also be helpful to point out that Paul has already inserted a declaration of both his and God's abiding distaste for any "cause for boasting in the flesh" [Note both Romans 3:27 and Galatians 6:12-13].
3. And, finally, it might be helpful to ask, and give some thought to the answer to, this question: Why do men put so much stock in a doctrine of so-called "free will"? Can it be shown by any manner that "will", even in God, is "free"?