Romans – An Application of Chapter 1, Verses 2-4, Part 1

Doctrine 1: The secret, eternal, purposes of the Godhead are revealed to us in the Trinitarian nature of gospel redemption (verses 1-4)

1) The promise of salvation in Christ, is an eternal covenant decree, purposed by the Father

The Triune God is revealed to us in Scripture as One Being consisting of three distinct Persons. They are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All three are introduced in verses 1-4, as actively involved in gospel redemption. This is something revealed by Paul not only here in this epistle, but by him as well as other writers throughout Scripture. That is to say these three Persons appear regularly in Scripture, either together or separately in any given text. It was a matter of controversy in the early church to define the peculiar station or office each Person occupies within this Trinity. Jesus provides us a clue to solving this in the gospels. “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” (John 15:26). We see an order of activity within the Trinity here in Jesus’ words.

The first Person whom we call the Father is the original, and therefore, the highest within the order of Godhead. It is to Him Jesus directs the prayers of His people saying “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” (Matt. 7:9). Jesus Himself directed His own prayer to the Father (John 11:41). Now this shows a fellowship that exists among the Persons of the Trinity. To say there is an order among the Persons is not to say that there is a subordination of essence or of power. Since God is One that is an inconceivable notion (Deut. 6:4; I Tim. 2:5). Order within the Godhead is that of individual function within the economy of redemption. We see the Father sending and commanding the Son (John 12:49,50). We see the Holy Spirit sent by the Father and the Son (John 15:26). So the order of which we speak is not one of Being, but of function within the Divine nature.

Since God the Father is the formal head of the Triune Deity, we must think of Him as the originator of the eternal covenant decree of salvation. A decree by definition is the proclamation sent forth into the public arena that declares the edict of a sovereign. A decree states the will or command of the Ruler with regard to policy among those whom He governs. It is the law of the land in terms of all who fall under his jurisdiction. Now this decree as revealed in Scripture is taken up as a matter of promise and reward. The promise aspect of it involves the revealed will of the Father to His creature. The reward aspect of it involves the blessing or cursing of God upon the creature. This decree of God concerning salvation has gone forth into the world in the message of the gospel.

Now the gospel according to the decree involves two distinctions which are termed the antithesis. That is to say there are two distinctly opposite theses regarding the promise and reward character of God’s eternal covenant decree. Since a covenant is a relationship, it involves either peace or harmony between the parties involved, or enmity. There is no parity whatsoever between the creature and the Creator when it comes to covenant relationship. Still, a relationship exists. That relationship must have regard to the character of the Creator. It is one that is based on righteousness. So the two theses involved in the covenant relationship to God are that of acceptance of a creature according to his duty, or obedience to the Divine will. And the other is that of acceptance of the creature according to grace, based on the merit of another. This is what the gospel message entails.

The antithesis regarding the principle of righteousness is revealed in creation through either a covenant of works, or a covenant of grace. How did this manifest itself according to the decree of God? Man in his original state was made right with God. So it was a matter of duty on his part to obey and glorify his Creator. There was a promise and reward component in this too. It amounted to a perpetual maintenance of the original relationship that man enjoyed with God. What did that duty of man entail according to Scripture? It involved three things. First, man being made in the image of God was duty bound to glorify Him in his thoughts and actions (Gen. 1:26,27). Second, they were to be fruitful in their lives together, both the man and the woman, in the multiplication of their seed (verse 28). And third, by virtue of obedience to God in the first two parts of their duty, mankind was to govern the world on behalf of their Creator. The faithful fulfillment of this was the substance of the blessing pronounced upon mankind at creation.

There was also at the same time an alternate side to the covenant of works in the decree. It was to be one of loss for mankind of all he was and had, upon his disobedience to God and defection from Him. The loss was also both temporal and eternal, and involved not only him but the entire cosmos (Gen. 2:15-17). Man’s life and the world he lived in was kept by his obedience, but it was lost and became a curse to him upon his excursion into sin (Gen. 3:1-18). The biblical record shows us what happened by way of God’s decree. Adam and Eve sinned and therefore, they came under judgement of the covenant. The judgement upon them was the curse of both temporal and eternal death. Spiritual death ensued upon the act itself (verses 6,7). Physical death followed them both later. And since it was their duty to procreate, God’s judgement was not only upon Adam, but upon his children as well. Even the world was cursed for mans sake (verses 17-19). It would eventually swallow him up.

The decree of God was such however, that provision was made of salvation too. It involved the promise of a Savior from the woman’s Seed (verse 15). This was salvation based upon sovereign grace, toward those whom God elected from eternity. It would be a covenant of grace. It was based upon a new and different promise, with an exponentially greater blessing to those included in it. It is redemption and eternal life which cannot be lost. The covenant of grace is centered around the promised Savior. He would be not only the Seed of a woman, but the second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God too. This birth was to be the union of the two natures in the one Person. He would secure the redemption of God’s elect by fulfilling the requirements of man’s duty contained in the covenant of works. It included not only man’s moral obligation to the law, but the death he deserved for violating it.

This is to say that the promise of salvation contained in the gospel of God regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is no afterthought in the mind of God. It is the substance of an eternal decree. There is no way that God proposes a method of salvation in His Son that is based on man’s defection from Him after the fact. It is a promise predicated upon the eternal purpose of the Triune God. As such, it is not an indiscriminate promise, although the gospel is and should be universally proclaimed. It is abundantly clear in Paul’s preaching that the benefit of the promise is confined to a certain class of hearers. Ultimately, the elect of God are those to whom the promise made in the gospel rests (Eph. 1:3-14). The universal proclamation of the gospel goes forth calling those elected to salvation out of the world. It is a content specific message, one in which those who receive it by faith have confidence from God in it that they are the eternally elect.

That the covenant of grace is original with the Father is made abundantly clear in Scripture. We are given a glimpse of this in the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah. “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.” (Is. 42:1). Isaiah was confronted with this prophetical statement regarding the Messiah. In it all three Persons of the Trinity are revealed. First, God the Father speaks in the first Person to Isaiah in this text. He says of Himself these words. “My Servant, I uphold, My Elect One, My soul, I have, My Spirit.” That it is the Father speaking in a contradistinction to the other two Persons of the Trinity is made clear by His reference to them as part of His overall plan that He intends to execute.

Second, God the Father is speaking of His Son in the text, who is the second Person of the Trinity. The Father refers in the text to the Son as His “Elect” “Servant.” This expresses His headship within the Trinity. The Father chooses the Son to perform the task for which it has been decreed. That is the task of performing the requirements contained in the covenant decree as revealed in the gospel, and obtaining it for the intended recipients. The Father declares His commission of the Son to Isaiah. He even goes so far as to assert that it is He who establishes, “upholds” the Son in this commission. And how does the Father establish the Son in His commission? It is thirdly, by appointing the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, to perform this task in conjunction with Him. And to Isaiah’s presumed amazement, the covenant decree as revealed here in this text is to include the justification of the Gentiles who have been elected to life.

This revelation to Isaiah gives us a window into the inner workings of the Triune Deity. That the decree of salvation in Christ is, though the unified work of the Trinity, yet it emanates from the Father to the Son and the Spirit. Each one together is involved in the work of creation first (verse 5), then in the work of salvation. But it is the first Person of the Trinity that is the original in this, by way of covenant decree. Observe what the Father says to the Son in the next verse. “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles” (verse 6). The Father sends the Son forth to accomplish His purpose. In fact, the Son is called the “covenant,” meaning it is He that provides the mediatorial function of the relationship with the Father. But why the repeated reference to the Gentiles? It is to show Isaiah the scope of this salvation that it extends throughout the world.

There is no reference to the name of the Father in the text just mentioned. But there is in other places of the Old Testament. God is called the Father in reference to the covenant relationship he had with the people of Israel as a community (Deut. 32:6; I Chron. 29:10; Is. 64:8; Jer. 31:9; Mal. 2:10). God is also called the Father in reference to the everlasting covenant of redemption with people He has elected (I Chron. 17:13, 22:10, 28:6; Ps. 89:26; Is. 63:16). It is in the New Testament however that God the Father as the first Person of the Trinity is most prominently declared. Jesus taught His disciples to think of God and address Him as “your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16,45,48,6:1; Mark 11:25,26). In what sense were they to think of Him as their Father? It was in their special covenant relationship to Him as His redeemed children. The name of “Father” is familial in nature (Rom. 8:15).

Jesus taught His disciples to acknowledge the Headship of the Father. He even included Himself with them in this arrangement as the Son of Man. He did this in teaching them not only how to pray, but who it is they are to direct their prayer to. “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2). This was stated for two reasons. First, God the Father is the first Person of the Trinity. All things regarding the purpose and work of God begin with Him, and descend from Him, albeit through the Son and the Spirit. And second, He is to be hallowed, both in the Headship of His Person as the first and original, and in the place of His estate which is high above “in heaven.” Jesus always directed His prayer upward to God as His “Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” Even though He was His Son (Luke 10:21).

Jesus ascribed authority to the Father regarding His prior knowledge of the coming kingdom (Acts 1:7). Peter ascribed the Pentecostal blessing of the Spirit to the promise of the Father (Acts 2:33). Paul said that it is from “God, the Father, of whom are all things” that the church has what it possesses (I Cor. 8:6). James said in his epistle that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father” (James 1:17). Peter said that election to salvation is according to the “foreknowledge of God the Father” (I Peter 1:2). John testified in his epistle that it was the Father that sent the Son to be the “Savior of the world.” (I John 4:14). And finally, it is Jude who says in his epistle that we who are saved are also sanctified and preserved in Jesus Christ “by God the Father” (Jude 1:1). All of this and more has its source in God as the Father, the first Person of the Trinity.

2) God the Father, sent forth His Son Jesus, to redeem our fallen humanity from sin and death

It follows then from Scripture that God the Father sent forth His Son into the world. All things that pertain to the kingdom of His Son began with Him. It was from an eternal decree that all things that exist and take place do so according to that eternal purpose. The eternal purpose was that God would have a kingdom of people who would join with the Trinity in communion and in fellowship (II Cor. 13:14; I John 1:1-3). The first part of that decree made it necessary that He create the world. The second part of that decree was the foreordination of the fall of man into sin and corruption. And the third part of that decree was the redemption of fallen mankind from sin and death. This is a group of people predestined to life (Matt. 24:31; Rom. 9:11; II Tim. 1:9; I Pet. 1:2). There is also a group of people who are predestined to death (Luke 12:46; Rom. 1:28; I Thess. 5:9; I Pet. 2:8).

The means of accomplishing all these ends is in what the Son of God did by taking on our humanity to Himself at His incarnation. The chief end of the decree is that He and His salvation are accomplished and made known in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Every part of the decree relates to Him. First, it was in and through the Son that God created the world and everything in it (John 1:1-3). The very image of God in the life of man comes from the Son of God (verse 4). Second, it was the Son as the Word of God, that spoke and revealed Him and His will to man at the creation (Gen. 2:16-18; John 1:18). Likewise, when Adam and Eve fell, it was the Word of God that pronounced the curse on them. Third, it was there that the truth of salvation began to unfold. It was seen in the seed of the serpent, comprising fallen humanity. It was seen in the Seed of the woman who is the Redeemer.

God the Father sent forth His Son into the world at the appointed time in history. When Jesus came into the world it had been lost and without hope for four thousand years. Until then, salvation had been confined mostly to the Jews, the descendants of Abraham. Before him there was but a handful of faithful believers back to the beginning of time. But even though God established Israel as the one nation on earth to have his word and ordinances, there was never more than a remnant of true believers’ ever found among them. The whole world dwelt in darkness, given over to idolatrous superstition and humanistic philosophy. The time of Messiah’s appearance was one that was pregnant with need. So it was at that time that God acted. “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Gal.4:4,5).

God the Father sent forth His Son to assume our humanity and redeem it. This is a most amazing thing. That God would undertake to redeem lost humanity, by assuming it’s nature to Himself. For it is in the human and Divine Person of Jesus Christ that salvation is accomplished. None other than such a union, designed for the purpose of redemption could do this. The Divine incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of a virgin is a miracle that has baffled the church for two thousand years. Yet it was the plan of God foretold long before it happened (Is. 49:5,6). The scope of God’s eternal plan was to redeem people from every corner of the world. Although the world is made up of people of many different nations and tongues, there is only one human race. So the advent of God in the flesh was sufficient to save people everywhere it is intended.

God the Father sent forth His Son to save people from sin. “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21). The perfect life and vicarious death of Jesus Christ for sin are the central truth of the gospel. It is God’s elect, called “His people” whom Christ came to save. So it is their sin that was accounted to Jesus in the eternal decree. Therefore, everyone for whom He died, will most certainly be saved. Proof of the satisfaction rendered by His death for them is in the resurrection. It is public proof from God of the success of His accomplishment at the cross. When Christ died on Calvary, He satisfied the wrath of God against every sin, of every one of His people, past present and future. Each and every child of God is a purchased possession of His.

The nature of this eternal accounting is one of Divine imputation (II Cor. 5:21). The sins of God’s people are accounted to Christ by Divine declaration of the Father. And, both the forgiveness of sin and positive righteousness is accounted to the Christian by way of imputation as well. Both are on account of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. The very word ‘redeem’ is an economic term. It means to buy back or repurchase that which was once owned, like that of a pawned possession which had been lost. The doctrine of definite atonement is surrounded by this word redeem (Eph. 1:7-11). It is revealed in conjunction with the predestinating purpose of God. It was His purpose that Jesus should pay the price necessary to redeem or buy back that which was lost to the Devil in Adam’s sinful rebellion. This makes the salvation of the Christian one that is eminently personal, rather than some sort of broadly defined universal possibility.

But far from limiting the efficacy of Jesus’ death concerning salvation, it is the guarantee of its success. For no one would be saved without it, owing to the fact that it is accomplished by God alone rather than by sinners themselves. The eternal predestination of the elect to salvation is what provides the ground of assurance to a believer. Otherwise, they would have to have faith in them that it was real. The message of the cross would be nothing but a quaint testimony of the hope of God that someone might obtain it through their own effort. No, it was purposed beforehand by the eternal disposition of the Father to save certain people unto Himself. (II Tim 1:9). Therefore, this salvation as accomplished on the cross by Jesus is the outworking of an eternal plan, one performed within the confines of space and time. God effectually calls each one, one at a time in history unto this blessing.

3) The work of the Holy Spirit is seen in the fulfillment of the Fathers purpose, and the Son’s work in our redemption

The work of God is not performed apart from the full involvement of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity is enigmatic in some ways, yet He is displayed in Scripture as present and powerful in every aspect of Trinitarian salvation. The Spirit of God is the effectual power that works in all of God’s plans. We see Him at work in creation (Gen. 1:2). We see the Spirit at work in carrying out God’s command to Israel in building His sanctuary (Ex. 31:3). The Holy Spirit is the power and means through which prophecy came to the Israelite elders (Num. 11:17,25,26,29). The Spirit of God was the power of anointing unto Joshua in his function as the leader of God’s people (Num. 27:18). Likewise, it was the Spirit’s work to deliver Israel from their enemies each time during the period of the Judges (Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 13:25, 14:6,19, 15:14).

The chief and primary work of the Holy Spirit however is in the work of redemption. In the Old Testament focus is made upon the Spirit more in the area of creation, empowerment for service and prophecy (Job 33:4; Ps. 51:11,12; Is. 59:21). Of course, these things all relate to the grand scheme of salvation too. The work of the Spirit is introduced to us in the Old Testament in conjunction with the Messianic work of God (Is. 11:2, 42:1, 48:16, 61:1). The Messiah’s “wisdom and understanding,” “counsel and might,” “knowledge and of the fear of the LORD” are all attributable to the Holy Spirit’s Divine enablement. It is the special work of the Spirit in the Messiah to anoint His ministry of preaching about the coming of the kingdom. All the miracles the Messiah performed while doing this in attestation of His office is the direct work of the Holy Spirit in Him. And finally, the Messiah’s work of redemption was wrought through the Divine enablement of the Holy Spirit. And it was the Father that appointed and sent Him to do just that.

It is the New Testament where all of this is fully revealed. The very first place where the Holy Spirit is seen to act in conjunction with the Father’s purpose in redemption, is in the Divine incarnation (Matt. 1:18,20; Luke 1:35). The human nature of Jesus Christ was generated by the Holy Spirit’s conception in the virgin’s womb. In some mysterious unknown way, the second Person of the Trinity entered the womb of Mary through the third Person, leading to the birth of Jesus quite apart from the natural and ordinary means of intercourse. When the time was right, Jesus received the special anointing by the Father of the Holy Spirit spoken of in the Old Testament (Mark 1:9-11). It was also the Holy Spirit’s work in the providence of God, to lead Jesus into the wilderness where He would be tempted by the Devil and overcome him (verses 12,13).

All of this was preparatory to what the Holy Spirit would do regarding the salvation of God’s people. It’s here where the New Testament most fully reveals God’s purpose in His work. The reason for this being is the Holy Spirit is tasked with applying that which Jesus Christ has purchased for His people to them. He is the direct connection to it here and now in space and time. How is this? The redemption of God’s people is in the one time sacrifice of Jesus Christ in history. He died once for all the elect of God two thousand years ago. So it is something already done and secured for them in that event. There is nothing in it for them to do. The Holy Spirit brings Christ’s atoning sacrifice to God’s people, one at a time, wherever they are, and in whatever time they live. He applies its saving benefit to them as something already done, after the fact.

At an appointed time in each Christian’s life, God sends the Holy Spirit to regenerate them. He is introduced in this way for the first time in Scripture by Jesus (John 3:3-8). Speaking to Nicodemus Jesus informs him “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Verse 3). Why does He do this? Simply because Nicodemus was a teacher among the Jews and yet, did not understand the nature of salvation (John 3:9,10). Amazingly, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus as though he should have known. What Jesus told him about being born again goes right to the heart of his problem. As a sinner, Nicodemus was spiritually dead. In order to become born in a natural way, one must have life imparted to them first. So if one is born naturally, and is dead spiritually as every sinner is, he needs to be born again. How is this done? It is done by the effectual work of the Holy Spirit, imparting spiritual life to a sinner (verses 4-7).

The new birth is the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. He applies the saving work of Christ to a sinner first, by regenerating them, giving them spiritual life. Second, this in turn enables them to do what they were not in themselves able to do before. Nicodemus heard the words of Jesus and yet, had no spiritual understanding of them. He couldn’t even see the kingdom of God. Because of this, he couldn’t enter it either. Men are called upon in the preaching of the gospel to believe in it as the will or command of God. Yet, only those whom the Holy Spirit regenerates will respond in faith. It’s on account of them being born again. Only the elect ever receive this regenerating power of God in them. It is not something that any human does or can do through some work or ritual (John 1:11-13). Many do hear the call of God in their natural state of unregeneracy. But the Spirit of God effectually calls the elect through regeneration into that saving relationship with Him purchased by Jesus Christ (Matt. 22:14).

Another blessing by God to His people is in giving them a certain anointing of the Spirit too. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was given to select people in order to perform certain functions within the visible kingdom. In the New Testament, every child of God is anointed of the Spirit. They are given first “the mind of Christ” in spiritual discernment (I Cor. 2:10-16). They are second made witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ in the world (Acts 1:8). They are given third a special love for one another that translates into Christian fellowship (I John 4:12,13). They are fourth given special gifts for service and edification within the church (I Cor. 12:4-11). They are fifth sanctified by the Spirit (Rom. 8:9-13). And sixth they are given a personal assurance from God of their election unto life in salvation (Eph. 1:13,14). The Holy Spirit does all this and more in bringing to fruition the purpose and work of God in salvation.

 

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