Mysteries of the Kingdom


   Cliff Clavin got robbed. In the TV series "Cheers," our know-it-all character Cliff went on the game show Jeopardy where contestants must phrase their answers as questions. Cliff did so well throughout the game that he unnecessarily bet all of his winnings in the final round. He had become so sure of his own knowledge as to put himself in jeopardy on Jeopardy.
   Cliff's final question came from the trivia category of "Movies." With the whole game on the line, three obscure birth names were given as the "answer" to which each contestant had to ask the right question. Since he did not know the screen names of those three actors, Cliff could not use the right question: "What are the birth names of..." So he asked instead, "Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?"
   The gameshow host Alex Trebek refused to accept Cliff's technically-correct question, giving the reward and the title of "Champion" to a player who had done poorly throughout the game. Cliff protested vehemently that his question was correct, but he had no power to award himself the winning money or the winning title. The game show host had all the authority, and Cliff was only a contestant with a pride problem and a losing-but-correct question.

   Perhaps like Cliff Clavin, we have become proudly obsessed with our technically-legitimate questions while ignoring the question required of us by the Authority. We often say, "There are no stupid questions," but a foolish question is one we force a scripture passage to answer that God did not intend that passage to answer.
   Cliff Clavin asked, "Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen." Like Cliff Clavin, we have asked of Romans 8:29, "Does God predestine people to salvation?" and "Can Christians lose their salvation?"
   Romans 8:29 simply says God knew us before we were born and predestined us to being conformed to the image of His Son. If any man prefers to argue salvation from this passage, he can surely justify doing so. Cliff Clavin was proudly right about his question on Jeopardy too, but his question brought no benefit. Similarly, our freewill and security questions have brought no benefit; instead, they have deeply divided the body of Christ which He designed to operate in unity.
     If I choose to require that Romans 8:29 answer my question of predestination or security, then I must take Romans 11:21 in the same vein. If I force these passages to answer my questions, then I learn I am predestined to salvation with eternal security and am also in constant danger of being broken off of God's vine without predestining or security. The reader readily sees my error; God does not contradict Himself, nor does He intend every verse to teach me whatever I want taught.

   God's message in Romans 8:29 sounds similar to our Cliff Clavin questions, so without proper context His great message might be indistinguishable from our questions. We should ask of Romans 1:1-4, "What is the gospel?" because Romans 1:1-4 tells us the gospel is "concerning" the fact that Jesus is King as a son of David and as the unique Son of God.
   Of Romans 1:5-16 we might ask, "What are the assignments of King Jesus?" We learn from that passage the King's various assignments with the focus on Paul's assignment to preach the good news that Jesus is the King (Christ).
   Then we can ask Romans 1:17, "What is revealed in the gospel of His kingship?" We learn in verse 17 that God's righteousness is revealed in the gospel.
   We may then ask of Romans 1:18 through 6:10, "What then is the righteousness of God?" A more thorough explanation may be found <here>, but the righteousness of God can be summarized from Romans 1:18 to 6:10 as imputed justification, death, and rebirth to those who believe Jesus is King.
   With all that context, we can ask of Romans 6:11 through 8:39, "What burden remains on the citizens of Jesus to lay hold of the imputed justification, death, and rebirth?" We have used these verses for arguing predestination and security while largely ignoring God's intent for these verses. I believe the question Alex Trebek wants asked of 6:11 to 8:39 is, "What burden remains on the citizens of Jesus to lay hold of the imputed justification, death, and rebirth?" God's answer in Romans 8:28-29 is that He knew us long before creating us and has provided everything we needed to be conformed to the image of His Son who is righteous, has died, and has risen to new life.

   In Romans 8:29, I believe God showed no interest in declaring winners of unnecessary debates. He declared instead His preplanned work of conforming the citizens of Jesus to the image of their King. I submit that although many Christians want to answer their questions of predestination and security, neither of those topics are God's topic in the book of Romans. Forgive my bluntness, but I believe we have been asking Cliff Clavin's kind of questions proven to be losing questions by their divisiveness and by their absence from the overarching message of Romans. For more about the message of Romans, see <Reckoning.pdf> and this.

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"Jeopardy Theology" by Matthew Bryan was first published at on March 25th, 2013. All rights are reserved.