I have been meditating on Christ’s promises to His people that He will never leave us or forsake us (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5-6).
In my decade long life in Christ, I have learned much and grown much in my knowledge of the Bible, but nothing has comforted me and created more joy in me than the promise that I cannot lose the grace of forgiveness that God has given me.
I want to hone in on Romans 8:28. In regarding this verse of Scripture, we can see that the clear testimony of the Holy Spirit is that those He has called are never lost, but will always remain the people of Christ. Let’s soak in this joy together.
Three excellent translations of the verse:
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (NASB)
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (NKJV)
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)
The NASB draws from a slightly different ancient manuscript tradition than the NKJV and ESV. Let’s look at it first before the latter two, treating the three as a harmony, and like a jewel being turned in the light.
“And we know that…” Paul/the Holy Spirit is giving us assurance of the knowledge of the information in this clause. For the Christian, there is no doubting what will be said hereafter.
“…God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…” So then, for the Christian, we can always fall back on this sure knowledge: there is nothing outside of “all things” – and praise God, He “causes” everything that happens to “work together for good” for His people. Nothing is outside of God’s sovereign, gracious control. When there are calamities both within our lives and in the world at large, God is actively orchestrating and allowing these “all things” for the good of “those who love God,” which is another way of saying “Christians.”
This precludes – I cannot say this loudly enough – PRECLUDES (makes impossible) the idea that a Christian can do/not do something that will lead to their ultimate destruction in hell. Think with me, friends – if a Christian (someone who loves God) were able to stop believing the gospel and thus lose the grace of justification, how would that be a part of the “all things” that God causes to work together for his or her good?
It is at this point in the text that the unfortunate Lutheran/Roman Catholic doctrines of apostasy are finished. (The two are very different in details, but in effect are the same teaching). There is no way to hop-scotch away from the absolutely clear, linear logic of the text.
If a Christian (one who has believed on Christ, been baptized into His name for the forgiveness of sins, has been adopted into the family of God, has been given the Holy Spirit, and who is justified by the imputed righteous standing of Jesus), is allowed by God to undo their salvation by quitting Christ in unbelief, thus falling from justification, adoption, and the love of God… then Romans 8:28 is false.
And look at the second half of the verse: “…to those who are called according to His purpose.” This is a clause clarifying the preceding “those who love God.” If a Christian is one who is “called according to His purpose,” doesn’t that purpose include the glorification in verse 30? If one would argue that we can reject our salvation and thwart the purpose of God, I ask again, how does that square with God causing all things to work together for our good? If He knows that a Christian (one who loves Him) will make choices that will derail their salvation, will He not thwart that path by causing all things to work together for their good?
It’s not that we are incapable of falling away from our justification, but rather God will not allow the circumstances and choices which would lead us there. (Praise His Name for His grace!!)
There is simply no way to refute this text. If one argues that it is not that simple, I will reply that there is then nothing in the Bible that is understandable. This most clear, perspicuous text norms and interprets any other indication of apostasy within the Church, and in fact forms the basis of the doctrine of the hypocrite’s faith.
Slightly different wording is again based on the minor variants in the manuscripts compared to those of the NASB. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God…”
In the NKJV, the “all things” is worked passively, rather than actively as in the NASB. The difference in translation could be meaningful, except the rest of the passage clarifies who does the working of “all things” – it is yet God our Advocate.
The second half of verse 28 in the NKJV gives us the definite article “to those who are the called according to His purpose,” indicating a specific group of people – clarified in the next verses. It is significant to note that the executive editors of the NKJV were Arminians (or worse): Arthur Farstad and Zane Hodges, two men who had no love for the doctrines of sovereign grace.
Their choice of the definite article in “the called” must have been derived from the force of the text following verse 28:
29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
The people described in verse 28 are enumerated in the proceeding passage as those who are foreknown, predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, called, justified, glorified, having God as “for us” that none can be against us (including ourselves); as those for whom the Son was delivered up, as those for whom all things are given freely, as the elect against whom no one shall bring a charge, and as those for whom Christ intercedes.
Yes, Farstad and Hodges, as Arminian as they could have been, recognized the type of people described in verse 28: we are “the called.” There is nothing – NOTHING – that can separate us from the love of Christ, no matter how sophisticated the argumentation from our dear Lutheran brethren.
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Simply taken, this translation is a rearrangement of the NKJV choice, yet without the definite article before “called.” Although I’ve made a central part of my argument highlight the NKJV use of that article, the ESV (whose translators and editors are notably more Calvinistic than those of the NKJV), the force of the passage remains clear and full. I will not elaborate further.
Yes, Lord, Amen, Lord
The real, permanent apostasy of Christians is impossible in light of this passage, among the rest of Scripture which frames the argument irrefutably. If a Christian can fall away, become a non-Christian, be lost from Christ’s hand and flock, and end up in eternal hell, Romans 8:28ff should not tell us that “all things” are used by God for our good. For the falling away of God’s child to damnation is surely not for our good, and it would surely be contained in “all things”.
I understand the commitments in Lutheranism (and Roman Catholicism, Arminianism, etc.), that force this grievous reading of the Bible, so I do not pretend that the most blatant biblical proof otherwise will sway them… but to God I pray:
Father, Our Father,
Have mercy on the Church of Your beloved Son Jesus, that we would be united in one truth, one doctrine, one faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Father, please extinguish false doctrine from the bride of Christ. We need more than ever to know Your eternal bond of covenant love with the people You have chosen to give to Jesus – and I ask that You would be pleased to open the eyes of my brothers and sisters who believe contrary to Your word that You would ever cast out Your people. God, forbid it.
Please help me to also be cleansed of any errors and false doctrine I have believed, and forgive me my sins in the name of Your blessed Son Jesus.
These things I pray by Your Holy Spirit, amen.
Thanks for reading,