Wilson on Romans and Romanism

[Romans] is not a letter written to generic Gentiles. These words are given to the saints in Rome. “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7). When he cautions them against hubris, why would he do this? He did it because he saw the first stirrings of it. Remember that Paul characteristically argues “one of you will say then,” and he does this because he knows how the Q&A sessions usually go. And what happens here? “God cut out the Jews to make way for us Romans” (v. 19). Remember that this was the capital city of the most powerful empire in the world. Anyone who thinks that Christians don’t get caught up by this kind of reflected glory need to ask more pointed questions of their sinful hearts. The Lord spurned the devil’s offer of all the kingdoms of men in their glory—His followers have not always been so successful.

Classical Protestants, following Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 have long held that nothing can separate the elect from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8: 33). We hold to the final and complete perseverance o f the elect because God will not fail to complete what He has begun (Rom. 8: 38-39). In contrast, the Church at Rome has ignored and set aside the letter than Paul wrote to them, not only on the question of faith alone, but also on the question of whether their church can fall away. The Roman church teaches that the salvation of no one is secure in this life—three popes in a row, and ten cardinals in succession, if they commit mortal sin, could all die and be condemned eternally. But they also teach that their church is incapable of falling away, that it is “unfailingly holy,” to use the words of their catechism. Paul reverses this, and so must we. Any church can fall away (Rev. 2:5), and the elect of God cannot cannot fall away (John 10:29).

We must face up to our constant temptation to draw contrasts between our position as Christians and the Jews’ position in the Old Testament. The New Testament consistently draws parallels, and we (for the sake of our traditions) want to draw these contrasts. But the way Israel fell into sin is set before us regularly (1 Cor. 10: 1-11; Heb. 3: 7ff; 4: 11; Rom. 11:17ff), and we are consistently warned against doing the very same thing. This means that the fact that Rome received this letter two thousand years ago does not make the warning less relevant, but rather far more relevant. How long before Paul wrote these words had the Jews been called through Abraham? Two thousand years—that is what created the temptation for them. And we should take care as well. Eventually the Westminster Confession will be two thousand years old.

Full post here.

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