One could argue that there is no need to write this blog. Shawn Lazar wrote a great book on the subject, called Chosen to Serve. But I decided to write it because I have done a number of blogs on how certain words are used in the Book of Romans. I have done nine words so far. I needed to round it off to the number ten if, for no other reason, my friend Bob Wilkin wrote a book called The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible. I couldn’t let him outdo me. Also, since some people might not read a whole book on the subject, perhaps they will read a short blog.
How does Paul use the verb “called” in the Book of Romans? He uses it seven times (4:17; 8:30; 9:7, 11, 24, 25 26). He uses the adjectival form of the word four times as well, where it is basically translated in the same way (1:1, 6, 7; 8:28). The adjective can have the meaning of being called to an office (1:1) or an invitation given to somebody (1:6-7).
However, I would like to concentrate on how the verb is used in Romans. Calvinists often look to how the word is used in the book to support their view that God predestines people as to where they will spend eternity even before they are born. They maintain that God has chosen some people to be in the kingdom of God and others are chosen for hell. For those chosen to be with the Lord, He “calls” them to Himself. They have no free will in this matter. They will answer that call.
Those who hold this view say this is the meaning of the verb in Rom 8:30; 9:11, 24, 25, and 26. I am not under the delusion that I will change the mind of a Calvinist in a short blog like this. But I would hope that even the brief discussion here would cause a few to at least look at the possibility that maybe the belief that God chooses people for hell even before they are born is not a Biblical one.
The occurrences of the verb in Romans 9 do not deal with God choosing individuals to either eternal life or an eternity in the lake of fire. (For those interested in a fuller discussion, I highly recommend Shawn’s book mentioned above.) In Rom 9:11, Paul says that God chose Jacob as the one through whom the promises would be fulfilled. He became the father of the Jewish people. In other words, God’s call of Jacob involved the calling of a nation to fulfill God’s purposes.
In Rom 9:24-26, we see the idea of calling a group of people as well. Paul says that God now calls people in the Gentile world to be a part of His plan. Both Jews and Gentiles will make up the Church. The Church was always a part of God’s dealings with mankind. Simply put, Gentiles can now be called the children of God. All of this became a reality when the Jewish nation rejected their Messiah. It seems clear that it is inappropriate to use Romans 9 to argue that God calls individuals to eternal life after choosing them in eternity past.
The Calvinist can make a stronger case with Rom 8:30. Paul says that God has predestined people and has called them. Those that He has predestined and called are also justified and glorified. Is this verse saying that God has already chosen those who will receive glorified bodies in the kingdom of God?
The context would say “no.” Once again, Paul is not talking about how a person is saved from hell. Instead, he is talking about suffering for the Lord (8:17, 18, 23, 25, 35, 36). Those believers who suffer for the Lord will reign with Christ in the world to come as a reward. God has predestined this destiny for those who suffer in this manner. They will be declared righteous at the Judgment Seat of Christ (justified) and glorified as they share in Christ’s rule and glory (8:17).
God does not want believers to just be saved from hell. They are called for a purpose. Paul uses the adjective “called” in this way in verse 28. That purpose is to reign with Christ. In verse 29, Paul mentions that Jesus is the firstborn among many brethren. The idea of being a firstborn involves the position of authority and rule. Those believers who suffer with Christ are called by God to rule in Christ’s kingdom.
Bottom line: Nobody should use the word “called” in Romans to argue that there is a large number of people who, even before they are born, have been chosen by God to go to hell.