Romans 8:1 – The Verse That Made Me a Calvinist

Romans 8:1 – The Verse That Made Me a Calvinist October 7, 2016

Have you ever been scared? I mean really, really terrified? I’m not talking about being startled by a scene in a horror movie or just a sense of anxiety from the uncertainty of something, but have you ever been affected by fear to an extent that it immobilized you? If not in a literal, physical sense at least a mental and/or emotional sense? I have.

As a matter of fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been involved in some form of ministry for over 23 years. During all of that time I have had to take two doses of prescribed anti-anxiety medication a day. This is not something usually confessed by Pastors, Preachers, Bible Teachers, or anyone who holds position of authority in ministry, but I try my best to be an open “book.” After all of this time, all of the counseling, all of the prayer, all of the reflection I’ve done on my life, I think in just the last five years or so I’ve discovered the root of all that inner turmoil.

I was raised in an Assemblies of God (AG) church. I’m forever grateful for my parents having raised me in church and for the essentials of the gospel message I received in that environment. I recognized I was called by God to be His child during that time period. However, much of what I was taught instilled fear. To be completely transparent, from as early as I can remember and up through my undergraduate degree (at a popular AG bible college) I questioned most of what I was taught. It just didn’t seem to match up with what I was uncovering as I read and studied God’s Word.

Rebellion was not my motive, not even close. But things just didn’t “feel” right. I know we are not to be led by emotion, but it was from a place much deeper than just an emotional, or gut, feeling. One of my main problems lied in their eschatological beliefs (“End Times” views).

As a child, a young child, I remember often waking up in the morning with an impending sense of doom. If it was a day when people and noises were expected to be heard around the house and I woke up to silence I was immediately petrified. I would lay there straining to hear a sound. The crinkling of newspaper pages being turned, the sound of the coffee pot brewing, a voice, the TV, music from the stereo. And when nothing surrounded me except for silence I would erupt into a full blown panic attack.

Slowly I would climb out of my bed and then I’d explore each room trying to find signs of life. The “bird room” (my mom raised birds for quite some time), my parents room and bathroom, my sister’s room, the living and dining rooms, the main bathroom, the kitchen, the garage, and finally I’d check both the front and back yards. If no one was around my panic hastened and tears would follow.

At that point I would grab the church directory and start calling people I “knew” had to be “real” Christians. If no one answered at one number my terror increased. I would continue calling people until I would finally get an answer from someone I “knew” was a “good” Christian, and then I would immediately hang up. I would breathe a deep sigh of relief and try calming myself down. “Whew!” I would think to myself. “I didn’t miss the ‘rapture.’” Then I would pray feverishly asking forgiveness for any sin I had committed, thought I committed, or anything I had done against God’s will that I was unaware of. That is unhealthy, very unhealthy.

I had been manipulated all of my life by this notion of a “rapture.” Although I could never find the teaching spelled out in Scripture, all of those who I respected held to this view. From my earliest memories I recall being taught that if you were not “good” enough you would be “left behind” to experience the worst catastrophes ever known to humanity.

If you had done anything sinful and had not had a chance to confess and repent of it you were in trouble. I was taught that on Judgment Day there would be a literal screen and on it would be projected all of your sins for everyone to see. The whole hell fire and brimstone was taught as literal. The be-headings, torture, inability to buy and sell unless you had “the mark” of the beast, the anti-Christ, the catastrophic wars, etc. were all one had to look forward to if they didn’t live a good enough life.

This all sounded like baloney to me. When compared with other Scripture I knew there had to be a way all of this could be explained. But at the time I didn’t know any better and it was the view held by those I respected so I accepted it hook, line, and sinker.

Of course the root belief in all of this that Arminians hold is that you can lose your salvation. They pervert the only single passage that mentions 
“backsliding” to suit their purpose. They define it as backsliding out of salvation. That is not the point or intent of the passage at all. I’ll leave that for all of you to check out. Just remember to keep in mind the surrounding text, the chapter of the text, the book the passage is found in, the culture, all the surrounding information, and then it has to fit in the bible in its entirety.

Losing one’s salvation? That seemed so foreign to me even as a child. If salvation is up to God and not man, how can there be a loss of that salvation. Is it not described as an eternal salvation? How is it eternal if it doesn’t last forever? Doesn’t Scripture say no one can snatch one of God’s own from His hand? If we are a “someone” aren’t we included in the “no one”? A/G and other Arminians try to change the meaning to anyone except ourselves. But that is not even close to being justifiable.

Just to choose one passage to support what I’m saying let’s take a brief look at Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (ESV). Indeed we are saved by grace through faith and who is this not of? Us. It’s not of our own doing. It is God’s gift and does not come by way of works. They respond with, “Yeah, but the passage still says you need faith.” This is true, can’t argue with that. But where does that faith come from? Us? No. If you read the passage carefully you’ll see that the nearest referent to the word “this” regarding what is not of our own and being a gift from God it’s “faith” that is the nearest referent. In interpreting this short passage the faith, and not just the grace, are gifts that come from God and do not come from us of our own volition. So many other passages could be cited but I direct you to my articles on the subject of eternal security and assurance found on this very website.

Later in life as I grew spiritually and in my knowledge of God’s Word I realized the absurdity of it all. I was like Martin Luther in the sense that after really reading and studying the book of Romans that I needed to really dig deep and explore other possible theological possibilities and interpretations to most of what I had been taught all of my life.

It’s extremely hard to pick a single verse to point to that turned me from the man and deed focused bent of Arminianism to the God and grace focus of Calvinism. But if forced to choose just one I have to admit it’s one that most of those who are converted Calvinists don’t single out. There are a couple for me, but considering my experience shared above I’d have to say it was Romans 8:1-4 with a special emphasis on verses one and two:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (ESV).

For me it was more of a theological position that directed me toward the road of Calvinism. I mean it is so clearly spelled out in the above passage – “no condemnation,” “set you free,” God did what the law could not do yet I was still being taught a form of the law, “sending his Son…for sin,” and sin was condemned through Him, so “the righteous requirement of the law… [was] fulfilled.”

This discovery was life changing and from this passage I traveled the road of Calvinism step by step until my theology had fully developed. It’s God, not man. He’s in charge, not me. Christ ALREADY did what I could never do. It wasn’t about specific actions, it was about walking in freedom and grace because those born again were of the Spirit not the flesh.

I could go on forever detailing every aspect of discovery, or enlightenment, that led me to start “tip toeing through the T.U.L.I.P.(‘s)” but this is not the time, place or the forum. Suffice it to say, this is where my road to the truth beyond just recognizing I was called by God to be His child began. Was I saved as a child? Absolutely. Was my psyche, my id, my ego, my core warped in a way that has affected me for a life time? That would be a yes as well. But I cannot express how joyful and freeing it was to find a sound, biblical, orthodox doctrinal position that fit what I had been feeling all along and that has freed me to believe and walk in what I consider to be true faith.

Featured Image: Waves by Samantha Beddoes; CC 2.0

This was a guest post from Dr. Jeff Hagan.

Jeff is an ordained Christian minister with over 23 years of ministry experience. He has attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary, Tyndale Seminary and a handful of other institutes as well. He has earned several degrees including the Doctor of Christian Education and the Doctor of Theology.

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  • bumbutcha

    You wrote: “…for sin,” and sin was condemned through Him, so “the righteous requirement of the law… [was] fulfilled.”
    Your statement contradicts what verse 4 states:
    V.4 indicates that righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk according to the Spirit.- not via the condemnation of sin through Him as you assert. V.1 is certainly true as there is no condemnation for those “in Christ.” However the pertinent question is what does it mean to be in Christ? Does not being in Christ refer to those who meet the righteous requirement of the law? And who are those who meet the righteous requirement of the law? Answer – only those who walk according to the Spirit in v.4. Thus v.4 modifies and clarifies what it means to be in Christ in v.1. This is also consistent with what Paul writes later in v.13: “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.”
    Therefore, contrary to your claim that “It wasn’t about specific actions” [that we do], it is indeed about specific actions that we do as believers and followers of Christ; namely living an obedient life. Those believers who lead disobedient lives cannot be said to be “in Christ” and the assurance of no condemnation does not apply to them.

    • As I’m sure you can imagine, I completely disagree. As does Calvin, Spurgeon, Tyndale, and a host of others. You are walking an extremely narrow balance beam between works salvation and salvation by grace.

      You underestimate the power of God and overestimate the power of man. Sadly, that is the core problem with the Arminian camp.

      My statement in now way contradicts what verse 4 states and to interpret it as so is, well quite frankly, missing the point of the entire passage. We are “in Christ” if we have new life (regeneration) by the Spirit. Nowhere do we see anyone’s heart being “un”regenerated in Scripture. JESUS only can meet the “righteous requirement of the law.” You can’t, I can’t. If we are born again we ARE walking in the Spirit. And in verse 13 Paul is making a statement, “if you live according to the flesh you will die [I suggest studying what of the flesh means]” and goes on to say “if [or IF as you felt the need to put it] by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” This in no way contradicts anything I wrote. This is Paul virtually saying, “If you live a life of sin you will die. If you live a life in the Spirit, which can only be done by being regenerated (so, are a believer) you will live.” Continue in unbelief you will die, believe in Christ you will live.

      As for “my” claim it wasn’t about “specific actions” it’s not my claim. It’s a clear pattern in Scripture. And your commentary, your last paragraph: “it is indeed about specific actions that we do as believers and followers of Christ; namely living an obedient life. Those believers who lead disobedient lives cannot be said to be “in Christ” and the assurance of no condemnation does not apply to them” is way off.
      If it is about specific actions and obedience that KEEPS us saved then we are all doomed. My friend, you and I both can do NO action to keep us saved, that is works salvation. You and I both are unable to live completely obedient lives. If we were able to, Christ died for no reason. And then in your final sentence you contradict yourself. You state those “believers” who lead disobedient lives cannot be said to be ‘in Christ'” if one is as true believer they ARE IN Christ. If they have times of disobedience it does not disqualify them, if so you and I are disqualified.
      Are we to be obedient, of course? And that will be the desire of a true believer most of the time, we all go through spells. Obedience, works, etc., flow from being saved they are not a condition for being saved.
      Again, your theology gives man too much credit and God not enough.
      Thanks for reading and interacting though. It is greatly appreciated. And regardless of our stringent disagreement, I value what you had to say and appreciate your serious desire to follow and study God’s Word.

      • bumbutcha

        Indeed, no surprise here that you disagree. Iron sharpens iron and although we disagree, we benefit by having to defend our positions in respectful fashion which is appreciated and refreshing.

        Now on to the subject…doesn’t matter whether Calvin and others agree as they are still fallible so your appeal to authority constitutes as a logical fallacy which won’t get very far in debate class. I don’t see anywhere in your response how I miss the point of the passage. So I will again, doesn’t meeting the righteous requirement of the law constitute the very definition of what it means to be in Christ? And doesn’t v.4 say those who do fulfill the law’s requirement are those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit? In fact if one relies on the Textus Receptus, that manuscript contains the additional clause in v.1 “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” – which exactly mirrors v.4. Even if one discounts the TR text, one must still address the question as to whether our being in the state of “no condemnation” depends solely upon our position in Christ [which you believe] or also upon the way we walk and live out the Christian life [which I believe]. I submit that v.4 contains a qualifying clause which modifies what it means to be “in Christ” in v.1. V.4 refers to our walk and actions – not our position. Moreover, the verbs in v.4 are present tense verbs indicating ongoing action which would nullify your contention that being in Christ stems from a past action of belief in Christ. Rather, these present tense verbs indicate that the righteous requirement of the law is met by those believers who continue to walk according to the Spirit. If you still believe that our actions have nothing to do with our righteous position in Christ, then I refer you to 1 Jn 2:5: “But whoever keeps his word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we KNOW we are IN HIM.” 1 Jn 2:6: “He who says he abides IN HIM ought himself also to WALK JUST AS HE WALKED.” 1 Jn 2:29: “…everyone who PRACTICES righteousness is BORN OF HIM.” 1 Jn 3:7 “Little children, let no one lead you astray; the one PRACTICING righteousness IS RIGHTEOUS, just as He is righteous. And also 1 Jn 1:5 “But IF anyone OBEYS his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are IN HIM.” These verses indicate that being in Christ depends on our practical demonstration of our righteousness; not just our positional righteousness. Even if you were to say that all those who are regenerated are righteous and hence all will walk according to the Spirit, why does John write “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 Jn 3:14). John is addressing the brethren here and apparently John did not believe that all true believers will automatically walk in the Spirit and act in love toward our fellow brethren. He specifically warned that the brother who does not love his fellow brother is spiritually dead.

        These passages taken from 1st John alone demonstrate that being in Christ depends not only on our position in Christ but also on our practical demonstration of living out our faith in Christ. Those Christians who choose not to live accordingly, cannot be said to be in Him. As for the rest of your reply, I will try to reply later as my comments are already too long for which I apologize.

        • Appealing to the greats who have traveled the road before us is not necessarily proof in and of itself, but it is a legitimate appeal to “support” a position if one indeed respects those early church fathers to have been solid and reliable exegetical sources. I have actually debated this issue (more narrowly eternal security) in a number of forums: online which I can tell by your intelligence you recognize as well as I do, this type of forum is far more of a discussion and does not really lend itself to stringent rules of debate; but I have debated in undergraduate, graduate, seminary, and post-graduate educational training as well as in churches, teaching in bible colleges in my ministry career as well. Not tooting my horn, for all you know I could be lying, but I was just trying to make the point I’ve been in debates and resources (such as those names I mentioned) can be used effectively. In fact, when comparing the immense literature available from the early church fathers up to “theologians” of today, the side of the coin I fall on is addressed and supported far more often by those respected in academic and theological circles then the names (which are dramatically fewer) the fall on your side of the coin. (As I look over this I apologize for spending so much time on this point but I’m just free thinking so please excuse the rambling… and typos). 🙂

          At any rate, back the the “business” at hand. “doesn’t meeting the righteous requirement of the law constitute the very definition of what it means to be in Christ? And doesn’t v.4 say those who do fulfill the law’s requirement are those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit?” This was basically the first issue you brought up in the most recent correspondence, and I agree with everything said, almost. I see this passage this way, CHRIST MET the righteous requirement of the law, not us. He already met it for those “in Him.” As for you second issue in this sentence, If we are believers, let me say true believers as I know we are both aware that one can believe without faith as the demons and Satan himself believe, are already walking according to the Spirit. Once God regenerates our heart we are new creations, from that point on we are in the Spirit. It does not mean if you continue to fulfill the law and be obedient to the law’s righteous requirements (which were never intended for Gentiles or those after Christ’s resurrection anyway) the you will be righteous. He did what we CANNOT ever do. So, if we are regenerate we become part of those who walk in the Spirit. There’s no qualifier of “if,” it’s a statement of what happens at the time.

          You point out the current tense, this is true with much of what is said, but again, it’s a resultant truth not a conditional one. Let me apply to reason for a moment if I may, if it does NOT mean what I claim it does where do you draw the line? What action(s) do you consider to be legitimate, obedient actions and which ones send us spiraling into damnation? A white lie? Divorce? Fighting physically without it being self-defense? Smoking? Going to the “moving pictures” (as was the big sin back in the day)? Dancing? You get it, the list goes on. If you are talking about living life in a spirit of doing your best to live “in Christ” I could get behind that. But we all falter, we all disobey, we all sin. Some spells (dry spells perhaps they may be called) last longer for some than others. If they’ve strayed from the path it doesn’t mean they are lost and cannot find their way.
          Cases in point: the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son (prodigal son if you will). The single coin never stopped being under the original person’s owner ship, the lost sheep was never considered out side of the flock, the lost son never lost his inheritance nor was the father/son relationship ever lost.

          As for your list of passages concerning obedience I completely agree. That is our aim, our goal, and it’s one we all miss. That should be the result, or fruit, of our walk. I completely agree. But again, we all will “miss the mark” and probably more often than not. It is impossible for man to live up to what the law requires, it is impossible for us to be righteous without Christ having fulfilled that in us already by way of the Cross. What does Paul consider our righteous acts to? Filthy rags! But worse than that, if you have even an elementary grasp of the original languages, which it appears you do, I assume you do have at least some knowledge there, perhaps more than me, perhaps just with study helps, either way, if you know the power contained in those words of Paul then you know that to say the same thing today would get many preachers kicked out of their churches. I have used the strongly worded description in the same venacular (sp?) of our time and culture and it certainly raised a few eyebrows. To say the same today with the same effectiveness it would be along the lines of, “Your so called righteous acts are as disgusting as a dirty, used up tampon!” Without Him doing what He did we could never perform a single act of righteousness. We are only able to do so now because God views our acts through the blood of His Son, that is the only way humanity can even be seen as having a hint of righteousness (through the work of the Son on the cross).

          I better stop here as well. I too apologize for the length. And don’t sweat it, we don’t have to hit every single point of the other person’s comment. I just enjoy the exchange. Let me also apologize if I ever seem snippy or abrupt. I am told I can come across that way in written discourse, in fact I think I saw it myself in my original comment to you (or most recent). Thanks for looking beyond that for as if we were face to face you would be able to see it is merely passion and in no way is said (written) in a purposefully derogatory fashion.

          God bless. Perhaps we can exchange emails sometime. I’ll think about that. I don’t really want to drop that bomb in a pathoes comment though. Who knows what that could bring? I do have an idea though for it, but will revisit that another time. In fact, contact me at if you wish and from there I can give you the email I check most frequently.

          • bumbutcha

            We both agree that Christ met the requirement of the law but we essentially differ on whether those who are regenerated WILL walk in the Spirit as you wrote: “There’s no qualifier of “if,” it’s a statement of what happens at the time.”

            When we look at Rom 8:13 however we see that it is a first-class conditional sentence containing two clauses with the qualifier “if.” According to what you wrote then, the “if” is not a qualifier and hence it means “since.” Is that true? I would argue that IF (possibility) the protasis is true, then the apodosis is also true. When we examine v.13 it is clear that Paul is addressing believers, not unbelievers as he refers to them as the brethren in v.12. Thus your previous explanation of Rom 8:13 as addressed to the unregenerate is unsupported by the context. Even if you somehow ignore the context of v.12 and still assert that v.13 addresses unbelievers then I assume you would translate v.13 as: “Since you live according to the flesh you will die, but since by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” My question is how can an unbeliever put to death the deeds of the body since they are incapable of doing so due to the fact that they are unregenerate and have no choice other than to live according to the flesh? Only believers have a choice of whether to sin or not to sin thus appropriately Paul’s use of the qualifier “if”. Moreover the verbs in v.13 are rendered in the present tense so Paul is not speaking in terms of what an unbeliever might do in the future in terms of belief in Christ. Instead Paul is describing what actions are currently ongoing in the believer’s life (walking in the flesh vs. walking in the Spirit) and warning of the attendant consequences; i.e. spiritual death or spiritual life that is reaped based upon the believer’s choice of lifestyle.

            You wrote: What action(s) do you consider to be legitimate, obedient actions and which ones send us spiraling into damnation? A white lie? Divorce?….You ask the wrong question. We know that we all sin and sin is sin irrespective of what kind of sin it is. Therefore your question is a red-herring. Instead of which sins, your question should be whether our sin(s) are characteristic of our lives. The scriptures refer to living according to the flesh (Rom 8:5), practicing sin (1 Jn 3:8-9) sowing to the flesh (Gal 6:8) which are descriptive of a lifestyle of sin which damns us – not specific sins. Habitual sins whatever they might be are characteristic of chronic disobedience, which is the evidence of no repentance. No repentance = no salvation.

            You would likely respond that believers should indeed obey but those who exemplify chronic disobedience as described above were never saved to begin with. And conversely those who are truly saved may falter but they are never lost (as in losing one’s salvation). To support your claim, you cited the lost sheep, coins and the prodigal son. These examples that you cited in fact support the exact opposite of what you believe. The lost sheep was not an unbeliever as this sheep was part of the 99 other sheep who “need not repentance” indicating saved persons. But this sheep faltered, strayed and became lost. This sheep was no longer a saint but a “sinner” (v.7). Only upon the condition of repentance was this sheep found and restored to the shepherd’s flock. It stands to reason that if the sheep did not repent then the sheep would have remained lost and not found. Same thing with the coin as the coin which was originally in the owner’s/God’s possession is found only upon the condition of repentance (v.10). Finally, we come to the prodigal. You deny that the “father/son relationship was ever lost,” despite the lifestyle of sin in the prodigal’s life. That is not what the passage teaches as Jesus taught the exact opposite. Jesus repeats himself twice in this passage and we know that when Jesus repeats himself, it is for emphasis and likely the main point of his teaching. Jesus even closes with his repeated statement giving more credence that his is summarizing the point of this passage on the prodigal. Notice verses 24 & 32 where Jesus repeats himself saying that the prodigal “was dead and is alive AGAIN.” How can someone be made alive AGAIN? We are made alive in Christ when we first believe but how is the son made alive a second time? The father described his son as being dead – not physically dead but spiritually dead. The son was spiritually alive when he abided in his father’s house but when he separated himself to pursue a lifestyle of sin, he became spiritually dead. When he repented and returned to his father seeking forgiveness he was made alive AGAIN. Thus Jesus’ point is that a believer/child of God can forfeit their salvation/inheritance when they no longer abide and sever themselves from the vine through habitual disobedience. If one repents as in the case of the prodigal, God forgives and is made alive AGAIN but if one remains in an unrepentant condition one remains spiritually dead.
            This truth is confirmed elsewhere in the scriptures. In 1 Tim 5:6 Paul refers to the widow in the church who is dead while she lives for pleasure. Obviously Paul is referring to spiritual death here. 1 Tim 5:15 refers to the younger widows in the church who have already turned aside to follow Satan. An unbeliever cannot turn aside to follow Satan as they are already following Satan – only a believer can turn aside to follow Satan. Jude v.12 refers to those who are “twice dead.” Unbelievers are only “once dead” since they never converted and they remain dead in their sins. Only believers can become twice dead as they were made alive in Christ when they believed but reverted back to a lifestyle of sin and thus became twice dead. In my opinion it is hard to deny the plain meaning of these scriptures.

            I think I have allowed the scriptures to interpret themselves according to their plain meaning and that is the reason why I believe the way I do. You of course are free to disagree and you can have the last word as we both know we can go “round and round” regarding this subject. Thank you Jeff for the cordial and respectful discussion.

          • As you said, we could go round and round. Initially I started to reply and as I was typing, not that I don’t enjoy this, but I thought, “He’s right. We could go on forever.” So I stopped. However, I was going to ask if you minded if I used our little “conversation” in an educational way. It gave me an idea for an assignment. I guess since it’s on the internet and you’re anonymous I don’t need to ask, but here’s my idea anyway.
            Not sure if you’re familiar with Gregory Boyd? He’s a former pastor and a professor who is an Open Theist. Anyway, he published a book that was simply correspondences with his father over the years who was an unbeliever. The points and arguments posed were great, it was a great book. Of course the caveat is you will definitely find areas of disagreement do to his theology, but the book is still good and a great witness too. It helped with my witnessing to a firm, very firm agnostic and one of my closest friends since the third grade. He attributed reading it as the his point of recognition. ANYWAY…. (I guess you can’t stop a preacher from rambling even if they are writing – smoham, shaking my own head at myself…lol). I’d like to clean up and edit our exchange a bit, break it down into smaller pieces, have people take pro and con sides, study things within, maybe close it out better with a “fictional” close out, etc. I think you get the point.
            What do you think?

          • bumbutcha

            I haven’t read Boyd’s book but if you think your idea would be beneficial to readers of your blog, who am I to hold you back? 🙂 I’m somewhat familiar with open theism and always open to learning; might participate if I think I have something to add to the conversation – sounds interesting though.