Confessions on Total Depravity, Part 5: Romans Eight

Let me therefore continue, oh Lord, as I seek to understand your word. Withhold not your answer from me nor deny my sincere question. Open my eyes, that I may behold the incredible meaning of your word.

They say, my Master, that since sin has entered the world and all have been condemned under Adam’s sin, no one is capable of responding to your light. “All humanity is dead,” they assert, “unable to respond to God’s light. As the Scriptures say,

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Romans 8:5–8 (NRSV)

Therefore, an unbeliever is unable to submit or to please God. He cannot respond to God’s light because it is revulsion to him.” Yet, mighty God, these who claim of themselves that they alone follow Scriptures, do not follow Scripture closely. For if they would, they would see your truth.

You say, “the mind that is set on flesh is hostile toward God.” What does hostility mean? You say thus, “it does not submit to God’s law.” Hostility is the inability to submit to your Law. This is true, and none of us can submit to your law. Even as a believer, your servant Paul struggled to please you : “I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it” (Rm 7:18). What is your solution to this conflict? “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rm 8:2, NRSV). And “You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rm 8:9, NRSV). The antidote to the flesh is your Spirit. The solution to hostilities is the life of your Spirit.

How comes the Spirit? How do you impart life? As Paul asked the Galatians: “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?” (Gal 3:2, NRSV). No, not by works, but as you have revealed: “In Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:14, NRSV). Faith, then, is the means by or condition into which the Spirit comes. And when faith is exercised and the Spirit comes, then hostility is done away and a person can submit to your Law. Thus, throughs the exercise of faith humanity is able to respond to your light. In himself, there is nothing that comes to you. But when you break through and shine the glorious light of your Gospel, he may respond to you in faith.

“But,” they say, “man cannot exercise faith on his own: ‘And without faith it is impossible to please God’ (Heb 11:6, NRSV). Again, they do not read your word closely. You do not say here, “faith pleases God.” You say, “without faith, to please God is impossible.” Thus, you are not saying people are unable to exercise faith apart from regeneration. Nay, in fact you say, “for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6, NRSV). All people are able to exercise faith in response to your revelation in order to please you.

“But,” they rejoin, “faith is a gift (Phil 1:29). Therefore, God must cause faith for a person to be freed from hostility.” Yet, Father, when you give gifts, you do not force your hand. And this gift is not limited to an elected few. For, “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17, NRSV). Your word, your revelation, which has gone out to the ends of the earth is freely available to all (Ps 19:1-3). You lay on me the responsibility to respond to you.

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