Theological Inclusivists Cannot Deal with Romans 2:12

Theological inclusivism is the belief that people can be saved apart from conscious faith in Christ or without believing the gospel message. The work of missionaries is not absolutely essential for salvation in this view.  While there are many passages that address this issue: (Rom 1:18-25; 10:13-18; 1 Cor 1:21; Eph 2:12; 2 Thess 2:13-14; 1 John 5:5; 2 John 1:9), the strongest passage in all of Scripture is Romans 2:12: “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” Here we have an explicit statement that all without access to the Torah or God’s Word will perish – there are no exceptions.

Those who sin without the law are the pagan Gentiles of Romans 1 who do not have special revelation while those who have sinned under the law are Jews who possess the Torah from God. Paul says that all of those who sin without possessing the special revelation of the law will perish. His logic is inescapable. If a person does not have special revelation, they will perish without it. Not having access to special revelation does not excuse a person from the judgment of God even though they are judged on the basis of the revelation they have received through general revelation.  They have enough knowledge to be condemned (Rom 1:20-23), but not enough knowledge to be saved (Rom 10:13-18). This is why it is essential that the church supports world missions through prayer, sacrificial financial giving, and sending missionaries. God will judge churches and pastors for their lack of contribution to the Great Commission.

In all of the writings I have read from inclusivists, only Terrance Tiessen makes an attempt to answer the exclusivist argument based on Romans 2:12. He recognizes that this verse is a problem for his position so he turns it around and instead makes it an argument in favor of inclusivism: “Those who do not have Scripture will not be judged according to Scripture.” But Paul is not denying that those without the law will be judged when he says that they will all perish. The fact that the standard upon which they are judged is not Scripture does not negate the final outcome of that judgment – perishing for all of them. He does not say they “will not be judged,” but that they “will perish.” The Greek term for “perish” here is from apollumi which means to be destroyed. A close parallel is John 11:50: “It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Paul has damnation in view here, not merely dying. It is self-evident that everyone will perish in the sense that all die. But Romans 2:12 occurs in the context of salvation and what a person must do to be saved from the perspective of the law. Verse 10 mentions “glory and honor and peace” (salvation) for anyone who could hypothetically keep the law perfectly in contrast to God’s “wrath and fury” coming upon the disobedient (2:8-9). Perishing in verse 12 is contrasted with to “be justified” in verse 13 to describe someone who could be justified by perfectly keeping the law. The point of the verse is that if a person wants to be justified by the law, they have to actually keep the law, not just possess it or hear it as the Jews did. This is further evidence that “the law” in verse 12 is the special revelation given to the Jewish people which pagans do not have.

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The Holy Children of 1 Corinthians 7:14

What did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 7:14 when he said, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy”? This verse has perplexed many Christians throughout the centuries and paedobaptists use this verse to support infant baptism since they argue that the holiness Paul speaks of demonstrates that the infant children of believers are part of the covenant community and therefore are deserving of the signs of the covenant. Despite the confusion, the answer to what “holy” means here is obvious from the context of the verse. Paul is addressing the question of whether or not a Christian should leave her unbelieving spouse and children. His answer is a resounding “no” and verse 14 gives the reason why.

The point that Paul is making is simply this: unlike in Ezra 10 and Nehemiah 13 when the Israelites had to forsake their pagan wives and children, a believing husband should not leave his unbelieving wife and children because the marriage is truly valid in God’s sight and therefore your children are legitimately yours and not illegitimate. A similar use of “holy” is found in 1 Timothy 4:5 in reference to acceptable food that would of been unclean prior to the coming of Christ: “For it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” God’s Word now declares that all food is clean (Mark 7:19). There are no more food laws binding on the New Testament Christian and the Old Testament laws concerning the invalidity of mixed marriages are not binding on Christians today though Christians are instructed to only marry in the Lord (1 Cor 7:39).

This means that these children are legally the children of the believing spouse and not illegitimate offspring. This use of “holy” is similar to the Hebrew term kosher describing that which is acceptable or allowed. If the marriage was not valid (like the mixed marriages of Ezra and Nehemiah), then the children born would be illegitimate and have to be sent away. But on the contrary, Christians are not Old Testament Jews living in a theocracy, but individuals called to dwell in the midst of an unbelieving world; to be a light shining in the darkness. For a Christian to forsake his children would bring reproach upon the gospel.

The paedobaptist argument based on this text is also invalid since the unbelieving spouse is likewise called holy since Paul uses the verbal form of the same word that is used to describe the children. If the children are to be baptized because they are holy, then the unbelieving spouse should also be baptized because he or she is holy too! As Abraham Booth explains, “If, then, that sanctification of the unbelieving husband gives him no claim to baptism, the holiness thence arising cannot invest his children with such a right.”

Who Is the Restrainer of 2 Thessalonians 2?

Much ink has been spilled over the identity of the restrainer of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7: “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.” I will argue in this article that the best interpretation of the restrainer is the Roman Empire and the Roman emperor rather than the Holy Spirit or the church.

What is interesting about the restrainer is that Paul uses two different participles to describe this person or thing. In verse 6 he uses a neuter participle translated “what is restraining” to describe the restrainer and in verse 7 he uses a masculine participle “he who now restrains it.” This leads me to conclude that the restrainer is both personal in one sense and impersonal in another. Whoever or whatever the restrainer is, the Thessalonians certainly knew what it was and we know that the restrainer was active during the first century.

I believe that the best interpretation of the restrainer is the Roman Empire and its emperor in order to explain the neuter participle as the government as a whole and the masculine participle as a line of individual emperors who by their ruling presence prevent the rise of the man of lawlessness. When those entrusted with enforcing the law are removed (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), lawlessness and lawless men arise to vie for power and exalt themselves. As long as the Roman Empire exists, the man of lawlessness cannot arise to a place of prominence because the emperor already holds that distinction. Paul does not say whether the restrainer is something positive or negative, only that it holds back the man of lawlessness. Even though the Roman Empire is evil because it opposes the lordship of Christ, it still has a positive role to play as ordained by God to suppress evil. We need both Romans 13 and Revelation 13 as Russell Moore has said.

Just as the mystery of Christ is at work in the world bringing salvation to the ends of the earth, the mystery of lawlessness is also present trying to stop the spread of the gospel by keeping men and women enslaved to false gods. When the restrainer is removed, the mystery of lawlessness will burst forth in a stream of deception and ungodliness upon those who are perishing. The restrainer must be removed and taken out of the way so that the man of lawlessness can arise. The restrainer cannot be the Holy Spirit because God is omnipresent and cannot be removed from something (Psa 139:7). The work of the Holy Spirit is essential for salvation since he is the one who brings about regeneration (John 3:3-6). If a person is not indwelt by the Spirit, he is not saved since he is still in the flesh (Rom 8:7-9; Gal 4:6).

The restrainer cannot be the church because the church will endure until the second coming and the Bible makes no distinction between the rapture of the church and the second coming of Christ since they both occur at the same time (see my theses on eschatology article for more detail). Jesus promised that his church would endure and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matt 16:18). He prayed that his church would not be taken out the world, but endure to the end (John 17:15). The temple of God in verse four must be the church because no human temple could be described as God’s temple after the abolition of animal sacrifices by the death of Christ (Eph 2:21; Heb 3:6). That makes it impossible for the restrainer to be the church since the church would have to be in existence for the man of lawlessness to take his place in it and for “the apostasy” to occur. An apostasy implies the presence of the truth since there must be something for people to depart from. For these reasons, interpreting the restrainer as the Roman Empire and emperor seems to be the only valid option available by process of elimination.

Was Jesus a False Prophet?

Did Jesus get it wrong in Matthew 24:34 when he said: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Did he wrongly predict that his coming would take place in that generation? What does “this generation” mean?  Do “all these things” include his coming again? The unitarian New Testament scholar James Dunn believes that Jesus wrongly prophesied that he would return before the end of that generation: “Putting it bluntly, Jesus was proved wrong by the course of events. . . . Nor is this a conclusion I would wish to resist on my part. I do not think the conclusion can be easily escaped that Jesus expected the kingdom to come with final outcomes which have not appeared” (Jesus Remembered, 479).

Many possible explanations for Jesus’ words have been brought forward. One of these interpretations is that “this generation” only refers to the generation before the second coming and not the current one in the first century. This interpretation seems incredibly unlikely since Matthew 23:36 uses the same phrase to refer to that current generation when the temple would be destroyed in 70 AD: “Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” This interpretation also makes the prophecy unfalsifiable since of course Jesus will return during the last generation before his coming. By definition, this prophecy never could fail and so would not be a prophecy at all. Anyone could say that the future and last generation before the age to come will include all these things.

Another poor interpretation of this verse is that all of Matthew 24 is about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and has nothing to do with the second coming. Preterists interpret Matthew 24:30-31 to be a description of the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome rather than a depiction of the second coming. They argue that Jesus could not have been wrong because the entire chapter concerns the events of that time instead of the second coming. While I don’t have the time or patience to list all of the problems with this interpretation, a quick study of the parallels that exist between Matthew 24:30-31 and other passages demonstrate that this is indeed a description of the second coming (Zech 14:5; Matt 13:41; 16:27; 25:31-32; Mark 8:38; 1 Thess 4:17; Jude 14; Rev 14:14-16).

So what did Jesus mean when he said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”? When he says, “all these things” he is referring to the necessary preconditions that must take place before the second coming can occur, not the second coming itself. The disciples know that once Jerusalem falls and the tribulations that Christ has spoken of come to pass, all the necessary preconditions Jesus has listed before he can return in this passage have been fulfilled. It does not mean that the return of Christ will happen immediately after Jerusalem is destroyed; only that it is now possible for Christ to return just as the bearing of fig leaves does not immediately bring summer. Paul gives another necessary precondition before Christ can return in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 as well.

George C. Fuller is exactly right in his article on this passage:

“The point of his lesson was this: when his disciples see “all these things”, they are to know that he (his parousia, his kingdom) is near, ‘even at the doors’. Now obviously ‘all these things’ cannot include his parousia, for they are signs of that event and precede it. The meaning of Jesus is that when his disciples see the destruction of Jerusalem (and the events related to it), they are to know that the next significant event will be his parousia and that he is about to come forth at any time. We find here the key to Matthew 24:34: ‘This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished’. What things? The most logical answer to that question is found in verse 33, the immediate context, where ‘all these things’ cannot include the parousia. ‘These things’ again refers to those events that surrounded the destruction of Jerusalem” (“The Olivet Discourse: An Apocalyptic Timetable,” Westminster Theological Journal 28:2 [May 1966]: 162-63).

As Robert L. Reymond explains:

“The phrase ‘all these things,’ here and in the next verse, refers to the worldwide preaching of the gospel and the surrounding of Jerusalem by the Roman army. It would be an absurdity to understand Jesus as saying: ‘When you see the abomination that brings desolation, the worldwide tribulation, the sun darkened, the moon not giving light, the stars falling, the powers of heaven shaken, the Son of man coming in the clouds, all the tribes of the earth mourning, and finally, the ingathering of the elect, know that the kingdom is near,’ for his Second Coming will have already come and the kingdom of power will have already arrived” (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 1004-05).

The Marks of True Christians (Part 2)

What are the outward evidences that distinguish those who are saved from those who are lost? These are truths that describe genuine Christians, not prescriptions for how to be saved (except for the first mark). True saving faith results in not just salvation, but in good works as well because those who are saved have been regenerated and have a new nature that desires after the things of God (2 Cor 5:17). I offer the following list based on the testimony of Scripture through the lens of Thomas Brooks, Jean Taffin, and Paul Washer.

Those who are saved in contrast to religious hypocrites:

1. Trust in Christ alone for salvation (Rom 4:5). 2. Wait patiently upon God (Isa 30:18). 3. Hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt 5:6). 4. Seek the approval of God, not man (Psa 139:23-24). 5. Strive for personal holiness (Heb 12:14). 6. Desire to live out the gospel (1 Pet 2:11-12). 7. Grieve over their sin because it offends God (Psa 51:4). 8. Desire God (Psa 73:25-26). 9. Are willing to lose everything for Christ (Phil 3:7-8). 10. See Christ as precious (1 Pet 2:7). 11. Are subject to the lordship of Christ (Rom 10:9). 12. Seek to grow in grace (2 Pet 3:18). 13. Examine themselves (2 Cor 13:5). 14. Make their calling and election sure (2 Pet 1:10). 15. Have godly sorrow and repentance over sin (2 Cor 7:10). 16. Love Christ (2 Tim 4:8). 17. Endure to the end (Heb 3:14). 18. Are faithful in the midst of persecution (Rev 2:10). 19. Are persecuted for their godly life (2 Tim 3:12). 20. Gladly suffer for the sake of Christ (Acts 14:22). 21. Pray without ceasing (Job 27:10). 22. Forsake sin (Isa 55:7). 23. Seek God with all their heart (Jer 29:13). 24. Deny themselves (Matt 16:24). 25. Persevere in the cause of Christ (Luke 9:62). 26. Forgive others (Matt 6:15). 27. Fear God (Psa 66:16). 28. Hate sin (Psa 97:10). Hate evil (Prov 8:13). 29. Love God, not their sin (Rom 8:28). 30. Endure affliction rather than sin (Job 36:21). 31. Walk in the light (1 John 1:6-7). 32. Are marked by confession and repentance (1 John 1:8-10). 33. Keep God’s commandments (1 John 2:3-4). 34. Walk as Christ walked (1 John 2:5-6). 35. Love their fellow brothers in Christ (1 John 2:9-10). 36. Disdain the world (1 John 2:15-17). 37. Continue in the historic doctrines of the Christian faith and Christian fellowship (1 John 2:19). 38. Do not deny Christ (1 John 2:22-23). 39. Practice righteousness (1 John 2:29). 40. Purify themselves (1 John 3:3-6). 41. Overcome the world (1 John 5:4-5). 42. Believe the testimony of God concerning his Son (1 John 5:10-12).

The Marks of True Christians (Part 1)

What distinguishes a true Christian from someone who is self-deceived into thinking they are saved when they are still lost? Do such people really exist or is belief in the basic truths of Christianity enough? Can a Christian live in unrepentant sin? What is saving faith? How do works relate to salvation? Is repentance necessary for salvation? What is self-examination? The debate over “lordship salvation” has brought these questions to the forefront of the church’s thinking. The danger and reality of self-deception is seen in Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”

When I speak of the marks or signs of a true Christian, I am not talking about what a person does to become saved, but the outward evidences or fruits that come from a person who has been saved. As it turns out, you can judge a book by its cover: “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matt 7:16-17). Good works are the outward evidence that we have been saved: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Our suffering for Christ will be evidence on the day of judgment that God is righteous to accept us into his presence and punish those who persecute us: “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering” (2 Thess 1:5). Good works serve as evidence on the day of judgment to demonstrate the righteousness of God’s judgment. The descriptions of the saints in Matthew 25:31-46 are the evidences that will be brought out on the day of judgment rather than prescriptions for how one is saved. These things are descriptions of being saved, not prescriptions for how to be saved. We are saved in the context of them, but not by them.

It is only those who abide in Christ’s teachings who will be saved: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples'” (John 8:31). The phrase “had believed” is in the perfect tense describing a past action in contrast to the normal present tense of the verb “believe” in John which describes those who having a living faith and are saved (John 3:16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47; 7:38; 11:25-26). We see another example of false faith in John 2:23-24: “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people.” The word “believed” is in the aorist tense which describes a one-time action without reference to the present. That is why Jesus did not “believe” in them because their belief was not a true and abiding one. Their faith was not true saving faith which is trusting in Christ alone for salvation. True faith is a living and active faith that results in good works as James 2:14 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”

But what are these evidences and fruits of which Scripture speaks? I will answer that question in my next article.

Are We All Children of God?

The universal Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man was the rallying cry of the social gospel. It proclaimed that all men are brothers and so Christianity must work for the good of society, rather than preaching about hell. Christianity was reduced to social and moral reformation and the exclusive claims of Christ were downplayed or ignored completely. Fundamentalism reacted violently against this theological liberalism and withdrew from the culture rather than engaging it. Evangelicalism arose as an inner critique against this withdrawl. Carl F. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism took Fundamentalism to task for its isolationist tendencies and lack of cultural engagement.

But were the proponents of the social gospel like Shailer Mathews correct to speak of the universal fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man? In one sense, yes. Malachi 2:10 uses the term “Father” to describe God’s work of creation: “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” God is the Father of all in the sense that he is the creator of all. Just as a human father raises children, analogically, God has “fathered” us through creation. This is why Paul can say that we are all his offspring (Acts 17:28-29). There is also a stronger sense in which all men are brothers. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve.  There is only one human race, not races. We are one human race with multiple ethnicities. The irony is that the proponents of the social gospel embraced evolution which undermines the brotherhood and equality of man. Without a historical Adam, we do not have a historical ancestor from which we can all trace our lineage. Charles Darwin and the eugenics movement were unabashedly racist. What is even more ironic is that many Southern Baptists who did not agree with Darwin on evolution were racists even though they believed in a historical Adam which undermines racism.

But in another sense, God is not the Father of all and we who believe are the only ones who have been adopted into God’s family. John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” It is only those who believe in Christ who have the right to be called God’s children. Jesus denied that God was the father of those who rejected him: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth” (John 8:44). The purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross was to save those whom the Father had given him (John 6:39-40). He died “not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:52). These are the “other sheep” – elect Gentiles who have yet to believe the gospel (John 10:16). Hebrews 2:13 states the same truth: “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

All of those who are God’s children have the indwelling Spirit: “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Gal 4:5-6). But only those who are adopted into God’s family have the indwelling Spirit as Romans 8 says:

“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. . . . For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. . . . that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. . . . And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Those who are God’s children are contrasted with unbelieving sinners: “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15). Those who are God’s children do not belong to the world who fail to recognize us: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1). Only those who practice righteousness and love their brothers are children of God (1 John 3:10). Only the children of God love him and keep his commandments (1 John 5:2; 2:3). Only those who are peacemakers are called sons of God (Matt 5:9). Only those who have faith are sons of God (Gal 3:26). Only those who are his sons receive his fatherly discipline (Heb 12:7). Only those who are predestined by God through Christ receive adoption (Eph 1:5).

Matthew 25:45 is often misused by politicians to invoke Christ’s blessing upon their over-bloated budgets: “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” But in context, “the least of these” are referring to Christ’s brothers in contrast to the goats who go into eternal punishment. The parallel to 25:40 confirms this where “my brothers” follows “the least of these.” Those who are Christ’s brothers are only those who do the will of the Father: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:50).

The reference to being “sick and in prison and you did not visit me” is not a general plea for prison reform, but a call to care for Christians who are in prison for their faith (Matt 25:43). The parallel to Hebrews 10:34 confirms this: “For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” These Jewish Christians were facing persecution for their faith in Christ and we are called to stand in solidarity with those who belong to Christ who are suffering for their faith (Heb 13:3; Col 4:3; Acts 26:10). Roman prisons were not like the prisons of today where they actually feed you. In order to prevent Christians from starving to death in prison, other believers had to risk their lives to bring food to them. And the only people who would bring food to a Christian in prison were other Christians and if the Roman guards were not in a good mood they could throw you into prison too and then the only way you would avoid starving to death is if other Christians risked their lives to feed you.

The greatest irony of all is that those who misuse Matthew 25 for political gain usually support the killing of unborn children through abortion. Why shouldn’t unborn children be included among “the least of these” if you are going to use the passage in a broad general sense without respect for its context? “The least of these” will be among the sheep on the right who will cheer when corrupt and evil politicians are cast into hell for their murder (Rev 6:9-10).