Whole Counsel Theology

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sermon Review Post the Second: Romans 5:6

This is the second post in the series (which I guess is a redundant statement, given the title). The precursor to the series, which contains a link to the sermon mp3 file itself, is located here.

At one point in his message, my pastor cited Romans 5:6, and made comments saying that when Christ died for the ungodly, it would mean *all* the ungodly. The question is, does that interpretation square with the context, even of that verse? I don't think it does, so I'll provide the context (any emphasis added is mine):
Romans 5:5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (6) For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (7) For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- (8) but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I have bolded all of the 1st personal pronouns above, the words "we" and "us." Verse six is paralleled with verse eight, and verse seven is explanatory of them.

Christ died for the ungodly in verse six. In verse eight, Paul says he died for "us." Verse seven explains how evil we are, which magnifies the grace of God that He exhibited toward the "us" who He died for. Given that the elect are ungodly like everyone else in the world, why must this word "ungodly" mean "every single person" especially given the fact that the word is surrounded by those pronouns, and when it is qualified by the parallel statement that He died "for us"?

What we must understand then is who the "us" is. It is a valuable discipline to acquire: Any time we see a pronoun in the Scriptures, we should ask what the antecedent is. Since the "ungodly" is paralleled with the "us" we need to know who the "us" is, and the Scripture in Romans does not leave us without an answer:
Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Romans 1:6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

So then, since we have a plural pronoun, we need a plural antecedent. Paul is one party to it, and those who are in Rome who have been called to Christ are the rest of it. Now, since Paul refers to these same "called" as brothers in verse 13, this must be understood to be something more than the general call that goes out to all men in the Gospel. Indeed, this is an "effectual call" that he is talking about here, the call of the Holy Spirit that brings one to faith.

As we can see, context provides us the meaning of the word "ungodly" as it does with any word or text.

So, given the context of the chapter and the book of Romans, I must disagree with my pastor's interpretation of the passage.


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