A reader recently wrote GES asking for comments on an article found online. The article deals with Romans 5-8. Click here for the article. In Romans 5-8, Paul deals with the Christian life. The main point of the article is that in these chapters Paul is saying that a productive Christian life is inevitable in the life of every believer. All true Christians will do the things Paul discusses. All Christians will rejoice in tribulations and persevere in good works (Romans 5). No true Christian will continue in sin (Romans 6). All Christians set their minds on the Spirit and walk by the Spirit. In addition, all Christians suffer with Christ (Romans 8). The author says at the closing of the article that these chapters in Romans help to substantiate the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (in good works).
In order to make his case, the author says that he will not discuss the commands and subjunctive verbs Paul uses since these verbs do not express certainty. In addition, verbs in the future are suspect as well. In many cases, the author thinks these future verbs speak of the experience of believers after the resurrection in the Kingdom (Rom 5:9-10; 6:23; 8:11). As a result, the author focuses on indicative present tense verbs to argue for the perseverance of all true believers.
An example of the argumentation is found in Rom 5:1-3. Since all believers have (present indicative) peace with God, all believers “exult” (present indicative) in their tribulations. The author maintains that it is not acceptable to say that the first present tense verb (have peace) refers to all believers, but that only some believers exult (also indicative present) in their trials. The context indicates that all believers respond in a positive way during trials.
However, two present tense verbs can indeed be used to describe different groups, even in the same context. For example, we just finished celebrating Memorial Day. Consider the following statement: “As Americans we are (present indicative) free because of the sacrifices of those who died in battle. Today, we honor (present indicative) those who died to make us free.” While all Americans are free, it is not true that all Americans honor those who died. Some (perhaps most!) have no idea that is what Memorial Day is all about.
Experience and the rest of the New Testament also show that not all believers do the things Paul discusses in these chapters of Romans. We see numerous examples in the Epistles of believers who did not love the Lord, were not walking by the Spirit, and who did not persevere in good works (the believers at Corinth would be great examples!). We all personally know believers who failed in these areas as well.
Of course, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints as presented in the article also robs the believer of assurance. Who could read Romans 5-8 and conclude with certainty that they are “truly” saved because they do all the things it exhorts the readers to do? The author of the article perhaps unknowingly admits this. At the conclusion he says that the commands in these chapters in Romans show that Christian fruit-bearing is never “completed or perfected.” The commands are given to “continually” call Christians to obedience and growth. But how does any believer know that he will “continually” do the things Paul discusses in these chapters? Since none of us can know such things, none of us can have assurance that we are true believers.
It is interesting that the author does not discuss Paul’s own struggle in Romans 7. The verbs that Paul uses in his struggle against the flesh (“I don’t do the things I want to do”) are in the present indicative. Perhaps the author thought Paul is describing his pre-salvation days. If so, the chapter is certainly out of place in the larger context of Romans 5-8, where the author agrees that Paul is talking about the Christian life.
It is much better to see Romans 5-8 as discussing what the Christian life can be. All believers have been justified. In Christ, and in the power of the Spirit, they can walk by the Spirit. Not all Christians do that. Not all Christians exult in trials. Not all Christians suffer with Christ . But they can.
In Romans 5-8, Paul says that a believer has a choice. All believers are (present indicative) children of God (Rom 8:16). However, only those believers who are led (present indicative) by the Spirit are mature “sons” of God (Rom 8:14). All believers will live with Christ in His Kingdom. However, only those who suffer with Him will reign with Him (Rom 8:17).
This fits perfectly with Paul’s struggle in chapter 7. It also explains the commands and subjunctives in these chapters (which describe uncertainty). In addition, it does not rob the believer of the assurance of salvation. To put it simply, Romans 5-8 does not substantiate the doctrine of the inevitable perseverance of believers in good works. These chapters in Romans destroy it.