God calls things that are NOT as though they were (ALREADY)
Paul introduced the above principle of God calling things that are NOT, as though they were (ALREADY) in Romans 4:16-18. He used that principle at least four times, that I am aware of so far, in the same book of Romans. I have also counted another six times where he employed this principle in other books written by him. Christ also used this principle on a number of occasions.
This principle is important to understand, and see examples thereof, because without this knowledge scriptures involving this principle can be puzzling and make little sense. It is particularly helpful to be aware of this principle when studying the book of Romans, “in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”(2 Peter 3:16; NJKV)
This study has helped my see, for example, that I and many other ex worldwide Church of God people have misunderstood 1Colossians 2:13, which is explained further down in this paper under the heading “Example 6.” In my case, I had misunderstood this verse for about 37 years. It has been only as a result of fellowshipping with members of the body of Christ in a less stifling environment, where Gods spirit of sincerity and truth has been free to flow and unbiased discussion has taken place, that I have come to grow in better understanding of this verse.
A deeper awareness of this principle also caused me alter slightly all my articles on this web site about the subject of justification, because I now know, for example, that when God inspired Paul to write: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.”... “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin,...” in Romans 8:9-10, God was NOT speaking figuratively or using death as an analogy to describe justification, as I had supposed. Rather He was just referring to Christians as no longer in the flesh ALREADY, as spirit beings ALREADY, as dead ALREADY to describe justification. In other words, speaking of things that were not yet as though they were already to show how our salvation is certain, and that we are NOT condemned, despite the fact that Christians still sin to varying degrees.
The relevant verse quoted:
“Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he believed — God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; ...” (Romans 4:16-18; NKJV).
Barnes Commentary: Romans 4:17
[I have made thee] The word used here in the Hebrew (Genesis 17:5) means literally, to give, to grant; and also, to set, or constitute. This is also the meaning of the Greek word used both by the Septuagint and the apostle. The quotation is taken literally from the Septuagint. The argument of the apostle is founded in part on the fact that the past tense is used have made thee—and that God spoke of a thing as already done, which he had promised or purposed to do. The sense is, he had, in his mind or purpose, constituted him the father of many nations; and so certain was the fulfilment of the divine purposes, that he spoke of it as already accomplished.
My comment: The OT verse quoted by Paul in Romans 4:16-18 about having made Abraham a father of many nations is Genesis 17:5:
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly." Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your our name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations (NKJV).
It is interesting to note that the statement: “...I have made you a father of many nations...” was made with Abraham long before God had put him through various trials and tests, like that of sacrificing his son Isaac, who was not even born at that time. At that time Abraham did not even have any children by his wife Sarah because she was barren. However, the promise was based on Abraham making an initial commitment to follow God. Like the commitment a person makes at baptism. Abraham believed God and his faith was imputed to him for righteousness:
“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe” (Romans 4:11; NKJV).
So once Abraham had committed himself to God, like Christians at baptism, he was righteous in God’s eyes, and began to follow God. Therefore, God was now bound by his own PROMISE: "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations...”, and referred to Abraham as the Father of many nations ALREADY – which is stated in the same verse: “... I have made you a father of many nations...” even though as yet he had no children by his wife Sarah. It is also interesting to note that there is absolutely no indication that by referring to Abram as already a father of many nations that it was never not going to happen. All indications are that God, as with prophecy, would make sure it was brought to pass and that Abram had met already all that God required for Him to make such a promise. In other words, even though Abram had not lived out his full life, God knew with his help that Abraham would never turn away from God and give up the faith. God knew Abraham would not fail in his calling because it was His plan that Abraham would later be known to future Christians as the father of the faithful. There was no, if, but or maybe about it. God knew Abram well enough and would make sure that He fulfilled his purpose for him.
It is no coincidence that the relevant statement by Paul in Romans 4:16-17 that God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did; ...” is followed by a number of examples where this was the case. They can be found in the proceeding chapters of the Book of Romans, as well as other books written by Paul. This sort of present tense statement can be confusing if one is not aware that God has on a number of occasions employed such a principle.
The examples are as follows:
Example 1: “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18-19; NKJV).
My comment: While the above verse is talking about freedom from sin in the sense of justification, actual freedom from committing sin in the flesh will come as Spirit beings, which is in the future. In the meantime God speaks of Christians as ALREADY free from sin as a way of describing the fact that we are not under any eternal death penalty (negative consequence of sin) if we continue in the faith.
Example 2: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9; NKJV).
Example 3 “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin,...” (Romans 8:10; NKJV).
My comment: Our fleshly sinful side does not cease to exist until we are spirit beings, yet we are ALREADY referred to by God as not dwelling in the flesh, but dwelling in the spirit. In other words, referred to as spirit beings, free from the sins of the flesh. That being the literal meaning of what is stated in the verse (Romans 8:9, 10), and as such can only refer to our future as spirit beings. This verse also refers to our justification. The fact that it refers to Christians as spirit beings ALREADY is a way of describing the fact that our sins have been forgiven and that we are under no death penalty.
By communicating in such a way God gives the idea that as long as Christians continue in the faith, even though they are not perfect yet and still commit sin, their future in his Kingdom is assured. The idea that we are justified from sin is conveyed by such language. Therefore, all indications are that at least one reason God speaks of things that are not yet as though they were already is to convey the certainty of His plan of salvation. It WILL come to pass. The certainty of what God purposes is also conveyed in principle in an OT verse concerning prophecy:
“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it” (Isaiah 46:9-11; KJV).
Now for those who still have doubts about whether God sometimes speaks of future events as if they already were, have a look at the following verse in which God refers to Christians as ALREADY glorified:
Example 4 “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:30; NJKV).
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary on above verse:
And whom he justified, them he also glorified - brought to final glory (see Romans 8:17-18). Noble climax, and how rhythmically expressed! And all this is viewed as past; because, starting from the past decree of "predestination to be conformed to the image of God's Son," of which the other steps are but the successive unfoldings, all is beheld as one entire, eternally completed salvation.
My comment: The following examples of God’s using present or past tense, as though the future had already happened in reference to Christians, is not only found in the book of Romans, but interestingly enough, in other books that Paul wrote. Paul being the one who was inspired by God to introduce the principal in Romans 4:16-18.
Example 5: “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ...” (Colossians 2:11-12).
My comment: Once again, the time when our fleshly sinful existence ceases to exist is in the future when we are spirit beings; however God, in the above verse, speaks that way in order to describe how Christians are JUSTIFIED in this life NOW because of faith in Christ’s blood. They are deemed righteous, innocent, and in that sense free from sin. (Even though in reality they still commit sin)
Example 6: “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,...” (1 Colossians 2:13; NKJV).
My Comment: Many, including myself for some 37 years, have understood this verse in the following way:
1) Before a person receives the Holy Spirit he is spiritually dead.(not physically)
2) When a person receives the Holy Spirit he is made alive spiritually (not physically of course, because he is already alive physically).
One commentary commented on Ephesians 2:1-3, which is talking about the same subject in Colossians 2:13:
He is dead (v. 1). Of course, this means spiritually dead; that is, he is unable to understand and appreciate spiritual things.
(from The Bible Exposition Commentary).
However, when one becomes more aware how God inspired Paul to use present tense or past tense to refer to events that have not yet come to pass, additional light is thrown on Colossians 2:13-14. It then becomes apparent that this is just another example of that same principle being applied.
In fact this verse parallels Ephesians 2:5-7, in which more detail is given when it is states how Christians are not only made alive, but as a result sit in heavenly places, adding more evidence that Colossians 2:13-14 is an example of God calling things that are not yet as though they were already.
If your still not sure what the words ‘heavenly places’ refers to, just read the following explanation in an earlier chapter of Ephesians:
“Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:...”(Ephesians 1:20-21; KJV).
It is true that people are given spiritual life when they receive the Holy Spirit, but they are not alive as fully developed spirit beings yet, even though God in these verses refers to them as such NOW. God seems to do this for two reasons: a) because being begotten spirtually by the Holy Spirit after baptism in water is like being resurrected already. b) To show the certainty of a Christians future; as long as they continue to want His way of life. He WILL save them.
Colossians 2:13-14 is therefore, now, understood in the following way:
1) The verse is not talking about people being dead in a spiritual sense, they were never alive spiritually in the first place anyway, so how could they die. Rather, the verse is talking about us being just plain dead - ALREADY. In other words its talking about the future of people who don’t have the Holy Spirit – both there body and spirit will be destroyed, unless they repent of sin.
2) The verse it not referring to the fact that a person has become alive spiritually, even though, yes, that does happen when you receive the Holy Spirit. Rather, the verse is referring to Christians, who have been made alive spiritually when they received the Holy Spirit – as though they were resurrected with Christ (ALREADY). In other words, its once again talking about the future of a person if he continues to be led by the Holy Spirit – he WILL become a spirit being.
Can you see now the subtle difference, and why it is important to recognize when God is using present tense to referring to events that are not yet, as though they were already. It is just one of the keys to understanding, specially the difficult book of Romans.
Example 7: “Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold the fresh and new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17; AMP).
My comment: In the above verse reference is made to those in Christ (Christians). They are referred to God as a new creation, and the old things are described as ALREADY as having passed away. This verse, like other previous present tense verses so far discussed in this study, is about the same subject – JUSTIFICATION. Hence, the future tense principle is employed by God once again.
Example 8“Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:” (Colossians1:13; KJV).
My Comment: In 1Corinthians 15:50, God says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom, so the above verse, which refers to Christians while human, must be another future tense statement.
Example 9 “...made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:5-7; NJKV).
My comment: This verse speaks of Christians as being saved already. However, of course, people are still given the choice of whether they want to live God’s way of life, and He will not force his way of life upon them if they don’t want it.
Having said the above, there are other scriptures which show that a Christian will be growing in works of righteousness. It is not just a matter of believing and doing nothing and you will be saved. No, God, if we are willing, will make sure Christians are growing in good works as the following verse indicates:
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10; NJKV).
However, the following verse reveals that we also have a part to play:
“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-11; NKJV)
Example 10:“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28; NJKV)
My Comment: Some may think that this verse is describing how we should not discriminate, and that for example men differ not from women, but are equal, in the sense that they were created with equal abilities. They have made this assumption about this verse because they apparently have not taken into consideration the principle that God speaks of things that are NOT YET as though they were already. We still live in the physical realm, and there are still physical differences between males and females. They are not equal, in the sense that they are not the same, but have different abilities and talents in general. According to God they also have different roles. This verse is talking of Christians as though they were already spirit beings. As spirit beings we will be neither male nor female. There will also be no one who is a slave of another. God apparently speaks this way because from a salvation point of view God does not discriminate; both males, females, bond or free, as spirit beings will inherit His Kingdom. He speaks as though it has happened already. It’s that certain.
Christ employed the same principle on a number of occasions as follows:
Example 11: “Then He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves "Who is this who even forgives sins?" Then He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." (Luke 7:48-50; NKJV).
Mt Comment: the Greek word translated ‘has saved’ in the above verse’ is soso (Strong’s NT: 4982), and in this verse the Greek form of the word is written in present tense. It could have been written in a certain form to give a future tense meaning to the verb but was NOT.
However, the fact that God spoke as though salvation was a done deal, does not mean, as some may believe, that she was not expected to live God’s way of life and have works of righteousness. As Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, it is a done deal only IF:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you — unless you believed in vain” (NKJV).
The word if is definitely in the Greek and translated from the Greek word ei (NT: 1487) and means: (i); a primary particle of conditionality; if, whether, that, etc.
Note: in ALL other translations that I have seen, it is stated that she was saved already present tense. Yet on other occasions same Greek word soso (NT: 4982) used in Luke 7:48-50 is written in future tense form in other places such as in Matthew 24:13:
“But he who endures to the end shall be saved...” (NKJV).
Note: Unlike prophecy, which is not conditional, salvation, since we have free will, is conditional, as indicated by the big IF in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2. Therefore, provided that we are willing and do not reject God, the verses that speak about Christians as already saved or already in the Kingdom, means that God is BOUND to bring the actual event to pass. There are also other verses in the Bible that also Guarantee our future in the Kingdom:
a) “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone 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 My Father's hand. I and My Father are one." (John 10:27-30; NJKV).
b) “...who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:22; NKJV).
The following verse shows how Gods desire is that none perish:
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9; NKJV).
Example 12: “...But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead." (Matthew 8:22).
My Comment: He spoke of people who did not have the Holy Spirit as dead ALREADY, even though they were at that time still alive.
Example 13: “ Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”(John 4:35-36; NKJV)
My Comment: Even BEFORE these people received the Holy Spirit, because they believed, Christ spoke about them as WHITE ALREADY. Throughout the bible white represents spiritual purity or righteousness.
Other present tense verses showing the certainty of what God purposes are as follows:
Example 14: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8; NKJV)
Barnes commentary on Revelation 13:8:
[Slain from the foundation of the world] See the notes on Rev 5:6. Compare the notes on Rev 3:5. The meaning here is, not that he was actually put to death "from the foundation of the world," but that the intention to give him for a sacrifice was formed then, and that it was so certain that it might be spoken of as actually then occurring. See Romans 4:17. The purpose was so certain, it was so constantly represented by bloody sacrifices from the earliest ages, all typifying the future Saviour, that it might be said that he was "slain from the foundation of the world." Prof. Stuart, however (Com. in loco), supposes that this phrase should be connected with the former member of the sentence, "whose names are not written, from the foundation of the world, in the life-book of the Lamb, which was slain." Either construction makes good sense; but it seems to me that what is found in our common version is the most simple and natural.
My comment: By speaking of Christ’s sacrifice as having already taken place from the foundation of the world, there is NO indication whatsoever that there was any possibility that Christ’s sacrifice was not going to happen. God would bring it to pass. Christ possessed the fullness of God’s divine nature (Colossians1:19; John14:9-10; Hebrews1:3), and was never going to fail. He would sacrifice his life; the purpose being to achieve remission of sin.
Example 15: Therefore the wisdom of God also said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,' that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation...” (Luke 11:49-51; NKJV).
My Comment: It was purposed by God and therefore as good as done already; it was that certain.
EXAMPLE OFTEN OVERLOOKED
“For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” (1 Peter 3:12; KJV).
My comment: Actually, the number of scriptures referring to Christians as righteous is too numerous to mention.
Until a person has researched the principle of God calling things that are not as though they were (already) it is easy to overlook some scriptures, such as the above example, and not consider that God may be employing the same principle. God refers to Christians as righteous, even though we still sin to varying degrees. However, other verses reveal that this description of Christians is only imputed or reckoned. Apparently, implying that the reality is not yet, but takes place when we are fully developed spirit beings.
“And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;...”
(Romans 4:22-24; KJV).
Side note: Throughout the Bible God refers to only 2 categories of people. He refers to people as wicked or He refers to people as righteous. There is no in between category referred to by God.