Friday, October 14, 2011

Inclusivism: Outside Evangelical Tradition Part II

In my previous blog, I stated I would respond to both of Glen Miller’s propositions. I responded to his proposition that the judgment of God would not consider the gospel as part of its process for, well, determining whether or not a person would enter heaven. In this blog, I shall return to Miller’s second thesis, namely, that men can reach a state of moral purity in theory apart from the gospel according to Romans 2. Now, to be fair, Miller did qualify this statement by relegating this possibility to the theoretical. In this post, we shall simply ask the question of Romans 2: “Is the Apostle Paul actually teaching that men can achieve moral purity apart from the gospel”

We do not have the benefit of understanding Miller's view of moral purity because he neglects to provide one. Does he mean sinless perfection? Such a state is beyond the grasp of the sinner in this life. Anyone who says they do not sin is guilty of lying. How can one reach moral purity given the existence of past sins? Forgiveness in Christ without knowledge of Christ? What about forgiveness without knowledge of forgiveness? What if the culture practices polygamy? What if sexual immorality has become the norm in a given culture? There are many questions regarding the "moral purity" that Miller does not address. It is possible, I suppose, that he has grappled with them elsewhere and I am simply unaware of it. It would be much more convenient for this post if we knew precisely what Miller means when he uses the term "moral purity." I can only assume his meaning and move from there. But in my response, I will show that Romans 2 does not teach that man can attain moral purity, theoretically or otherwise, not only of Miller's hidden definition, but of moral purity in any sense of that term whatever.
Paul wrote the second chapter of Romans in the larger context of the book Romans. In order to understand the immediate context of Romans 2, we must understand the larger context of Romans. The central concern of Romans is justification by faith that comes through the impartiality of the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God to salvation. In other words, the offer of salvation is universal and God is in fact saving Jew and Gentile alike. The gospel of Christ is now the power of God to salvation for all of humanity.
Paul lays the foundation for this thought in Romans 1:18-32 by announcing the universal guilt and depravity of the human race. Paul paints an exceptionally ominous picture of the human condition. He says man knows God, but wickedly suppresses his knowledge of God and perverts it. Given the universal nature of this language, the implications of Paul’s point are considerable. All men possess knowledge of God through creation and conscience. Unfortunately, all men, to varying degrees respond to that knowledge with wicked hostility. In 8:6-8, Paul says that unregenerate men are hostile toward God. In other words, men do not possess some natural neutrality toward God. All men are born with the curse of hating God as part of their nature. The human mind, as it stands outside Christ, will not and cannot please God because, by its very nature, it hates God. It is not as if man can change his own nature. This is what it means to be born into sin. It is God’s curse brought on by the fall. In Romans 3:10 Paul says that there isn’t one righteous person among humanity, not even one. In fact, he says they have all turned aside from God and have become useless. It is important to note that Paul lumps the Jews in with the Gentiles as he paints this picture of hopeless depravity.
Enter the second chapter of Romans. Paul opens the second chapter with a blow against the self-righteous tendency of Jewish judgment. He points out that everyone is guilty of the wicked charges of chapter one and concludes that no one then is in a position to boast about their privileged position in God. Paul drives his point home in verse 11, saying, “For there is no partiality with God.” Everyone who sins without the Law, and that would be everyone without the Law, will perish without the law. Since everyone sins, everyone perishes. Moreover, everyone who sins under the Law will be judged by the Law. All humankind is guilty. The Jews had the special revelation of the Law and still sinned against God and stand fully culpable before a righteous and holy God. However, the Gentles did not enjoy the privilege of special revelation and should get a pass, right? Wrong! Since there is no partiality with God and all who sin will perish, the Gentiles will perish along with the Jews for there is no partiality with God. How are the Gentiles culpable for their sin since they do not enjoy the benefits of special revelation? They are culpable because they were created with the knowledge of God in the conscience as well as in nature. The innate moral law condemns the Gentile for his wicked deviance just as the Mosaic Law condemns the Jew. Verses 14 and 15 tell us that the Gentiles bear the fingerprint of God’s moral law and at times they do right, while at other times they do wrong. We see this today. A person justifies themselves by saying, I am married and would never cheat on my wife. They feel good about that. Conversely, a person that does cheat on their spouse is condemned in their conscience without anyone saying anything to them. They know it is evil. The moral law within the conscience and the power of creation without serve as the basis for making Gentiles culpable for their sin. General revelation in nature is sufficient to produce culpability, but insufficient to produce salvation. This is Paul’s entire point through Romans 2. The Gentile stands condemned by God’s law on the heart while the Jew stands condemned by the Law given at Sinai. Romans 3:10-18 makes this point abundantly clear as Paul points to the complete and utter depravity of the human condition. Paul moves into the third chapter od Romans, informing his audience that the entire world stands guilty before God. In chapter four, he lays the foundation for his argument for justification by faith by pointing out that Abraham was justified by faith before the law. Paul’s point is not that people in general, by good works, can achieve justification before God. His point is that God is the justifier of men rather than the law of Moses or the law of conscience. Without specific election and calling by God through special means, man’s present condition and eternal destination are dreadful indeed.
Paul moves to his largest discourse on justification in Romans 5. He does not abandon his universal language. All men in Adam are dead and subject to judgment. All men who are in Christ are justified and have eternal life. This language continues through Paul’s argument in Romans.
After taking a very brief look at Romans 2 in the larger context in which it was written, there is nothing in that chapter to indicate that Paul actually intended to assert that men could attain moral purity outside the gospel or otherwise. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Paul provides a vivid description of the depraved condition of the human race in chapter 1. He moves to the impartial character of a Holy God in chapter two and the moral culpability of humanity. He then pronounces all the world guilty before God, Jew and Gentile alike. Then, after informing us of our hopeless condition, he gives us hope. That hope is faith. The power of God to produce faith comes by the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is in perfect harmony with his teaching in Eph. 2:8-10. For by grace we have been saved through faith. If man may attain moral purity apart from the gospel, why did Jesus come to begin with? All men have sinned! Are we to believe we can actually stop sinning apart from the gospel, on our own? Even if that were possible, and it is not, what of those sins that we have committed prior to attaining moral purity. Or are we talking about moral purity relative to the rest of humanity? Such relativistic views of morality have far more in common with ungodly cultural philosophies than they do biblical Christianity. To claim that men can attain moral purity apart from the gospel is as antithetical to Christianity as any teaching could possibly be.
“Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

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