Romans 1:30 – The Verse That Made Me a Calvinist

Romans 1:30 – The Verse That Made Me a Calvinist September 30, 2016

You’ve heard it said “you are where you come from”, and I’m convinced that environmental influences of your youth, in part, make you who you are today. Eli and Peyton Manning grew up their whole lives around football. It’s no wonder, then, they each became Super Bowl MVPs. It’s what they knew. So what does that say for a kid who grew up in a large church, under the preaching of published theologians and seminary professors in the reformed tradition, while being guided at home by a father who taught reformed theology in a popular lay-led adult Sunday school class? What future would you envision for that same young man who, in his senior year of high school, opted out of the traditional youth group Sunday school class in favor of an alternative youth Sunday school which went through John Stott’s commentary on Romans? (I cannot recommend that commentary enough). You might say that such a young man was aligned (predestined?) to be a Calvinist from the start… maybe even a preacher.

Such was my experience… and as I sat in that class as a high school senior, going through Romans 1 at a painstakingly-detailed pace, we came to Romans 1:30… the verse that made me a Calvinist.

I wouldn’t even say it was the whole verse, but simply one phrase:

“[They are] slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;” (I quote the NIV here, because that’s what I was reading at the time)

To sum up the latter half of Romans on (for the purposes of verse 30)…. BIG LONG LIST OF SINS… and right in the middle of all of them, “God-haters”. This phrase… this specific sin… had a profound effect on my spiritual thinking. If one is to understand the doctrine of Total Depravity…. not being as depraved as we can be… but the idea that everyone has every part of their being (heart, soul, will, mind) tainted by the curse-ridden effects of their sin….. If we are to understand that, then we have to (at least in part) find places in Romans 1 where we can identify or relate.

Preachers love to use the latter half of Romans 1 to show how God’s wrath is burning against “THEM”. And while the unrepentant, un-regenerate “THEY” certainly may be the main contextual focus of the passage (one I will not discredit), I do not think that lets “US” off the hook. Bearing in mind that Paul wrote no chapters, we can keep going straight in to chapter 2 verse 1… and see that judging “them” is not exactly Paul’s recommended outcome here: “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (2:1). Rather, Paul’s call is to repentance: “…do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (2:4).

I, like many of my Calvinist colleagues, came to the extremely humbling realization that I was once part of the “they”. My personal sin of choice? Being a “God-hater” through my sinful actions. Growing up as a person who always believed I loved God, even as a sinner, this was a shock. How could I ever hate God? I believe it was John Piper who once quipped that we become a “mini-atheist” in the exact second in time that we commit a sin, and do so every time we sin. This is due to our sin nature. Hating God is our default. To try to mix in “free will” into the solution to our sin problem is to fail to understand the true condition of a human heart tainted by sin. Romans 1:30 led me on a journey to discover, from God’s word, the true state of my own heart:

-The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jer. 17:9)

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Rom. 3:10-12)

-“… you [Christian] were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”  (Eph. 2:1-3)

-[God speaking] “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh..” (Ezk. 36:26)

What do these verses reveal about our sinful heart? Simply that, to quote Jason Mraz, “nothin’s gonna stop me but divine intervention”. I came to realize, over time, that hating God was in my nature, in the time before I was Christian (my “old nature”, to borrow from Paul). In reality, a dead man can’t love anything of its own free will. A heart of stone cannot love unless it is transformed into a heart of flesh (which, may I add, is the only heart vulnerable enough to be penetrated).

When studying Romans 1, you have GOT to take it personally. I WAS the one who “exchanged the truth of God for a lie”. I WAS the one who’s “foolish heart was darkened”. I was a “GOD-HATER”. That, dear friends, is the “T” of TULIP. There’s a reason it’s first.

Just like the first cannonball into the water is always the coldest, it was only through the brokenness of a full scriptural understanding of “Total Depravity” that I was wonderfully immersed in the unspeakable joy, hope, and purpose found in the “U-L-I-P”. You have to first know you’re sick, in order to search for the cure, right? But how can you know you’re dead, unless you’ve first been resurrected. Fortunately, my savior is in the resurrection business. The beauty of the cross is that Jesus died for “God-Haters”. You say “whosoever believeth in Him”? I say “ya, which is no one… cuz we’re God-hating dead men”. AND YET… “while we were YET sinners, Christ died for US” (Rom. 5:8).

My first time jumping into the scriptural pool of Calvinism was, by far, the coldest theological swim I’ve ever had. Like the slave-owner-turned-pastor John Newton, I saw that God, by His grace, “saved a WRETCH like me”…. not a basically-moral-man like me… not a free-to-choose-Him man like me… a wretch. Romans 1:30 helped me quickly come to Newton’s final realization, the two ultimate conclusions that all knee-bending, worship-shouting Calvinists come to: “I am a great sinner… and HE is a great savior”

Featured Image: Mountains by Alper Çuğun; CC 2.0

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  • Jashobeam

    I concur that the “they” in Rom 1 also includes “us.” However, Rom 1 is problematic in that it doesn’t support the “P” in TULIP thus exposing a weakness in the Calvinist framework. Those who are called, those who are elected to salvation by the Father will always persevere according to the Reformed camp. But note Rom 1:28 which refers to those who have an “adokimon” mind, variously translated as debased, depraved, reprobate. Paul uses the same word “adokimos” to refer to himself in 1 Cor 9:27. Paul wrote that it is possible even for him to become “adokimos” were he not to discipline his own body. Thus perseverance for the believer is not a certain outcome as Paul himself testifies.

    • Scooter

      At first glance it may appear that Paul is suggesting that he could become reprobate again and thus lose his salvation. However the bigger picture and the witness of Paul in his other writings denies this possibility. For example Romans 8:28-30 proves that Christians will never be separated from Christ. In particular Phil. 1:6 proves that since Christ is the author and finisher of our faith what He starts in our lives he will bring to a proper conclusion. All this is not to say that Paul’s warnings should be taken lightly but I see them as a means to encourage the believer to keep on.

      • Jashobeam

        Proper interpretation requires that one first interpret the text according to its immediate context where Paul plainly states that he himself could become adokimos. According to a Calvinist, this would mean that the Apostle Paul wasn’t a believer in the first place (since all true believers persevere) which would of course be a ludicrous explanation.
        Given the plain meaning of what Paul wrote about himself, even when one looks to the broader context to buttress one’s theological paradigm, do the scriptures support Reformed teaching? Rom 8:28-30 which you’ve cited – particularly v.30 is a bedrock text that Calvinists frequently employ to support the teaching that the elect can never fall away. This “golden chain of salvation” is said to contain unbreakable links of redemption which demonstrate that once redeemed – always redeemed as those whom the Father elects will always persevere until the end. This logic is unsustainable given what Paul also writes in Gal 1:6. Paul testifies that some Galatian believers who were “called,” were turning away from the grace of Christ to follow another gospel. The word “called” is from the Greek word “kaleo” which is the very same word used in Rom 8:30. These Galatian believers were “kaleo” and thus according to Rom 8:30 they were also predestined, justified and glorified – yet according to Paul’s own witness – they were apostatizing from the faith. If one attempts to argue that these “called” believers were really not believers in the first place, note that Paul just a few verses later uses the same terminology to refer to himself in v.15 – “called/kaleo me through his grace.” Since Paul referred to himself as called, it is highly unlikely that he would consider these Galatian believers whom he also referred to as called, as unbelievers.
        Finally, Phil 1:6 is indeed true as God is faithful however that does not entail that we as humans are always faithful as Gal 1:6 demonstrates. That is why in Phil 2:12 we are admonished to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” as our outward works and conduct are the genuine evidence and proof of our inward faith.

        • David Bordy

          Bear in mind that both Eph. 1 and Phil. 1 talk about being elected/adopted (called) “before the foundation of the world”. One cannot respond to a call if they are dead. Think Ezekiel’s dry bones or “MY sheep hear MY voice”.

          My question to you is THIS…Given the statements made in the entirety of the Pauline epistles (AND by Jesus in the gospel of John)… both in English and the original Greek… what would you propose as a scripturally-sound alternative to what we (Calvinists) are espousing here?

          • Jashobeam

            A closer examination of Eph 1 reveals that holiness is connected with predestination (vs.4-5). Predestination does not stand by itself without any regard for our being holy, and without blame before him in love. Thus although the Father called us before the foundation of the world according to his will and purpose, the element of our participation is still required as manifested through our obedience – which is also his will and purpose. This is consistent with Jesus’ words that not perishing and being plucked out of the Father’s hand is only promised to those sheep who hear and follow his voice.
            Calvinists espouse God’s sovereign will in electing those whom he chooses unconditionally. Accordingly, the elect will always obey and be holy. If that were indeed true, then there would exist no conditional scriptures regarding our salvation and the possibility of apostatizing. Some problematic verses are Rom 8:13, Col 1:21-23, 1Tim 3:6, 4:16, 5:8. Despite being called before the foundation of the world, Paul made it clear that believers can become spiritually dead and apostatize from the faith as he described in 1 Tim 4:1, 5:6; 5:15. Just these small sampling of verses gives evidence for conditional rather than unconditional salvation.

    • David Bordy

      If Romans 1 was your ONLY scriptural support for “TULIP”, then I’d be inclined to agree with you. However, it’s not. Most scholars studying Romans outline chapters 1-3 as dealing with the problem of sin (sin, a Calvinist would say, makes your “depraved”). Paul’s purpose is not to argue for perseverance of the saints HERE (in chapter 1).

      The crescendo in chapter 8 clarifies that NOTHING can separate us (those who are in Christ / the “elect”) from the love of God (I would add not even our own sinful disobedience). Even we ourselves, as regenerate Christians, cannot separate us from God’s love, regardless of what we do. It will persevere us to the end.

      If you don’t like Paul’s argument, then perhaps you’d consider Jesus’:

      “I GIVE them eternal life, and they will NEVER perish, and NO ONE will snatch them out of MY HAND. My Father, WHO HAS GIVEN THEM TO ME, is greater than all, and NO ONE is able to snatch them out of the FATHER’S HAND. I AND the Father are ONE.” (John 10:28-30)

      The purpose of this post was to talk about my own experience, and how Total Depravity (via Romans 1:30) was my gateway into discovering Calvinism throughout the entire bible, rather than make an argument for “TULIP” entirely from Romans 1. Thanks for your comment, though.

      • Jashobeam

        Thank you for your reply, I understand you were sharing from your experience. My experience was similar to yours as that is what I was also taught. However, my view was changed after years of studying this issue. I agree with you that Paul’s main issue is not to argue for perseverance in Rom 1; however that does not preclude us from noticing other details in that same chapter that apparently contradict the Reformed understanding of perseverance when compared to Paul’s other writings, i.e., Gal 1;6 as I have already pointed out. As a Calvinist, you would have to somehow reconcile this apparent discrepancy as we know that the scriptures do not contradict each other.

        You wrote: “The crescendo in chapter 8 clarifies that NOTHING can separate us (those who are in Christ / the “elect”) from the love of God (I would add not even our own sinful disobedience).”
        You have inferred that sin does not separate us from God’s love even though the passage itself does not even mention sin. From v.35 onward Paul lists persecution, famine, distress, tribulation, etc. as things that are not able to separate us from the love of Christ. He goes on in v.39 to list other things outside of ourselves that cannot separate us from God’s love such as death, life, angels, principalities, etc. No where in this entire passage does Paul mention sin, as sin/disobedience does indeed separate us from God. In fact, Paul made that very clear earlier in the same chapter when he warned the brethren in Rome: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (v.13). This is a conditional sentence indicating choice on the part of the believer with habitual sin/disobedience in the life of a believer resulting in spiritual death.

        You and I would agree that Paul’s writings cannot contradict what Jesus himself taught. You quote Jn 10:28-30 but overlook v.27. The promises of eternal life, not perishing and not being snatched out of the Father’s hand are predicated on v.27. This verse specifically identifies that only his sheep who “listen” and “follow” Jesus are assured of the promises of vs.28-29. Conversely, those sheep who choose to not listen and follow; i.e. are disobedient, do not have the assurances of vs.28-29. Therefore Jesus’ words are consistent with Paul’s writings in Rom 8.

  • Dmember

    John Calvin was a very arrogant, prideful, cold and cruel man. And his teachings are reprehensible. For just one example, John Calvin accuses Christ of lying. At John 6:29, Jesus Christ calls faith a work…which goes against John Calvin’s personal man-made theology. So Calvin fixes Jesus’ error by saying…. “First, it is plain enough that Christ does not speak with strict accuracy when he calls faith a work.” (That’s in his “Institutes” if you care to see it online….)

    It’s clear if you read enough of Calvin’s lies that he is sovereign in the lives of his followers, not God. (I know Calvinists can manipulate and use every other trick to cover Calvin’s sin of ‘correcting’ Jesus, but I’d had enough.) I could write a book but I won’t. There are already plenty of books against Calvinism on Amazon already, and they’re all excellent. But as for me, I will believe and follow the God-man Jesus Christ instead of a god-man like John Calvin.