Posted in Theology

To God Be the Glory: A Brief Stroll through Ephesians 1 & 2–Part II

A Brief Consideration of Ephesians 2:1-10

Last week I started a two-post look at Ephesians 1-2:1-10. As I explained last time, “Those that struggle with this portion of Scripture do so not because the language is difficult, but rather the concept that the language conveys is difficult. However, our theology should be derived from the text of Scripture…not the traditions that we tenaciously hold” (To God Be the Glory: A Brief Stroll through Ephesians 1 & 2, par 3). Thus, you often find a splitting of the road that people go down when walking through this (and similar) portions of the Bible.

So, what’s the difficult part? That God is the sole author of our salvation. Eph 1 details why any are found in Christ; whereas, Eph 2 discusses our state (condition) before being grafted into Christ (vv. 1-3), and then details the benefits we enjoy due to Him. Let’s take a quick stroll through the first ten verses of Eph 2 and see what we see. Enjoy!

Verses 1-3

In the opening three verses we are given a description fitting to the entire human race (past, present and future). If Ephesians 1 proclaimed our status because of what God has done, then Eph 2:1-3 speaks of our status before grace transformed us.[i]

Verse 1 reads, “And you were dead in trespasses and sins….” Dead in what way? The short answer is spiritually dead. Now, I realize that some professing Christians don’t like that phrase, but what do you suppose the Holy Spirit means by it? If not spiritually dead, then what?

Others don’t like the implications that Eph 2:1 necessarily brings to the forefront. There is nothing good in mankind. The proof is found in the description “…in trespasses and sins.” Moreover, it is obvious that “spiritual deadness” is being spoken referred to as we read on.

Verse 2 adds, “in which you once walked….” How did we formerly walk? Answer: “…following the course of this world…” What direction? Answer: “following the prince of the power of the air…” Who is this prince? Answer: “…the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”

Obviously, the description in the first two verses is troubling, but we should note that it is in the past tense. Paul is writing to Christians who “were dead,” who used to act like the rest of “the sons of disobedience,” “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air.” And so, while it is correct to say that the entire human race is alive, the point being made is that they lived in a fashion not pleasing to the God who created them.

Verse 3 teaches, “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.”

Verse 3 teaches quite a bit actually. Verse 1 gives a declaration of the former status (remember pre-grace, pre-faith) of those to whom Paul is writing. They “were dead in trespasses and sins.” Verse 2 begins to explain that deadness in terms of a pattern of life, one set by another master (external = Satan; internal = sin). Think of Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 about Him being “the way, the truth, and the life” in reverse from an unholy, unrighteous perspective.

In this 3rd verse we see a definition of sorts of “trespasses and sins.” They are identified as “passions of the flesh.” Now if you are insistent that human nature is essentially good and not wicked (i.e., fallen/corrupt/depraved), then you will have insurmountable difficulties understanding the meaning given here in Eph 2:3. Likewise, “trespasses and sins” are described as “desires of the body and mind” which the spiritually dead “[carry] out.” Sin is not just external activity, but inward motivation. God condemns not just the action, but the motive. Finally, we learn in verse 3 that these passions and desires are natural products of those not in Christ. Paul says the “dead in…trespasses and sins” are rightly identified as “children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

“Well…yeah,” you say “after we use our freewill to sin. After the age of accountability.” Sorry, that’s…not…in there. The Scripture says that mankind is “by nature children of wrath.” In other words, when we enter into this world. We are naturally bent towards trespasses and sins. We are naturally bent towards passions of the flesh and desires of the body and mind that follow the course of this world, “the way, the truth and the life” of the evil one—“the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2.2).

A Shift of Focus

Once Paul speaks of the Christian’s past condition, their status pre-grace, pre-faith, pre-Christ, he then reminds them of why they are in a new state of being. Once again, we see in this section that follows (Eph 2:4-10) that the emphasis is on what God has done. Therefore, the glory, the praise and the boasting belong to God.

Verses 4-5

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”

That which was said before (Eph 1) is being highlighted here. Paul says we have been “made alive together with Christ” because God is “rich in mercy.” Not only that, but also because of God’s “great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses.” God chose to be merciful and loving in spite of who we were, in spite of the condition we were in. For it is “by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2.5).

Grace is unmerited favor. It is not something owed. It is only that which can be freely given. There are variances in the forms of grace that come from God. God is gracious to the wicked and the good. That is a grace that is common to all of creation. However, there is a special grace that He dons on those whom He has loved. These are the predestinated ones identified in Eph 1.

Two times the phrase “by grace you have been saved” is mentioned in Eph 2. The first here in verse 5. The second is found in verse 8. Before we go there let’s take a quick look at something else. I want you to notice a continuing emphasis that the apostle gives.

Verses 6-7

Paul says, “But God…made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2.4, 6-7).

If we are going to get the genuine meaning from the text, we need to pay attention to its flow. Notice, it is God who made us alive (i.e., regeneration). It is God who raised us up (i.e., a spiritual resurrection). It is God who has seated us with him (i.e., co-heirs). It is God who has placed us in Christ Jesus. It is God who desires to show us His immeasurable grace. According to Eph 1 this is something God decided to do in eternity, before creation. He elected. He predestined.

Thus, Ephesians 2:8-10 finalizes this thought being conveyed by Paul.

Verses 8-10

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

That whole phrase “for by grace you have been saved through faith” is what Paul says “is not your doing; it is a gift of God.” What is the gift of God? that you have been “saved through faith.” Grace means gift or favor. What sense would it make to say “grace” is the gift of God, not faith. Those that want “faith” to remain as the sole property of the man or woman have forgotten that anything that we possess is from God. Therefore, the person who has faith in Christ, who has repented of their sins and entrusted himself/herself to the work He has done, has nothing to brag about over those who have no faith. For the faith we have is a gift from above.

Moreover, what we possess in Christ—namely our salvation status—is “not a result of works.” Meaning what precisely? That salvation has nothing to do with the person, but everything to do with God. Paul’s driving message is this. Only twice does he state the Christian’s belief (Eph 1.13; 2.8), but before the Christian can go smacking themselves on the back congratulating their faith as if it was naturally ours, he says two things.

  • It is the gift of God[ii]
  • Not a result of works
  • Therefore, “no one may boast.” (Man…you didn’t do it!)

Notice that he doesn’t stop there. He says that “we are his workmanship;” something God made (clay pots, earthen vessels?). Now Paul is not merely speaking of us being created in Adam—that is a given—but “created in Christ,” both are acts of God and both say nothing of the ability of the person. Our purpose for being in Christ is to “walk in [goodworks]” but these were “prepared beforehand” by God, so again nothing that we can boast about. The whole dialogue up to this point in Ephesians has stressed one central point.

What we experience in Christ is due to God’s activity both in eternity (choosing, predestinating), and in history (dispensing salvific grace and enabling belief). Therefore, the only thing we can rightly do is say (shout) in our hearts and with our voices: “To God Be the Glory, great things He hath done!”


ENDNOTES:

[i] This “transforming grace” or salvific grace is not realized historically until a person is found entrusting their life, hope, reliance, dependency, etc. into Jesus Christ. This is a logical, but not a chronological step. The manner in which faith is expressed in the heart of the believer is instantaneous (from our vantage point) with regeneration. “Unless a person is born from above, they cannot ‘see’ the kingdom [rule] of God,” (John 3.3) which is a necessary prerequisite before one submits to the command of the gospel.

[ii] For the argumentative Arminian or “traditionalist,” both of which are synergists, allow me to stop your complaint before it starts about “gifts.” The premise they have to be “received” or they are not a gift. No one denies this. What is denied is that receiving a gift has to be in an active sense, rather than a passive sense. Is life a gift? Yes, did you reach for it? No, it was given to you passively—i.e., your will had nothing to do with it. Jesus said, “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3.8). Everything that we possess is a gift from God, but not every gift that we receive from God did we reach for and grab like fruit on a tree. This text does not say anything about you reaching for salvation. How do the lame walk to the Lord? How do the blind see what is being offered? How do the dumb ask for mercy? How do the leprous feel for it? How do the dead come to it? What is required is a supernatural act of God, which is what Paul has been speaking about through Eph 1 into Eph 2.

Posted in Theology

To God Be the Glory: A Brief Stroll through Ephesians 1 & 2

To God be the Glory great things He hath done…”

This opening of the popular hymn entitled To God be the Glory emphasizes the fact that God alone deserves glory. The reason He deserves praise above all others is emphasized in the portion “great things He hath done….” Well, what are those great things?

In the opening chapters of his Ephesian epistle, the apostle Paul shares with the members of God’s household what great things God has done for them (us) in Christ. Unfortunately, God’s accomplishments are sometimes muddled by those who insist that individuals share some part in His work. A faithful reading of the first two chapters of Ephesians squelches this idea.

The second chapter of Ephesians discusses our state (condition) before our being grafted into Christ. It follows the discussion from the first chapter, and sheds further light on why any are found in Christ. Those that struggle with this portion of Scripture do so not because the language is difficult, but rather the concept that the language conveys is difficult. However, our theology should be derived from the text of Scripture…not the traditions that we tenaciously hold. Over the next couple of posts, we shall begin looking into the argument presented by the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians.

A Brief Consideration of Ephesians 1: The Underlying Emphasis

Those that enter into fellowship with God through Christ, having the seal of the Holy Spirit placed upon them, are in that condition because of God’s action in history. It is God our Father “…who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1.3; ESV throughout). We ought to note that the emphasis given here is on what God has done. We, who call Christ Jesus Lord, do so because of the blessing that God has poured upon us. Chief among them (or included among them, if you will) is that “…he chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1.4a). God did this choosing so “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1.4b).

Which means what exactly? This verse insinuates that before our being found in Christ we were anything but “holy and blameless.” The state we were formerly in will be discussed when we start looking at Ephesians 2. For now, though, I want you to recognize one more point.

God did this act of “choosing” (eklegomai) out of “love.” Now you can place this “love” at the end of v. 4 or the beginning of v. 5. It does not change that God decided to do what He did out of love. “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons [heirs] through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1.5-6). Again, the emphasis is on what God has done.

I once had a student make a very astute observation regarding our being “heirs” by way of adoption. She pointed out that an heir has no say in their status. You do not choose to be an heir. Just as you don’t choose your inheritance. The Adopter and the Author of the Will decides who shall be adopted and who shall receive what.

God predestinating means “determining before,” this decision by Him was before He began creating. In other words, He knew who He wanted out of love to be adopted, to be considered heirs with Christ Jesus. This has nothing to do with the man or woman in question, but everything to do with God who is gracious (cf. Rom 9.16).

Revelation of Graceful Inheritance…

Verses 7, 11 reveal two things that we have acquired (inherited) as a result of God’s grace.

“In him we have redemption…” (v.7)

“In him we have obtained an inheritance…” (v.11).

Again, the emphasis is on what God has done.  There is no way around it. There is no way to shift from what God has done, in an effort to say “yes, but this is what man has done!”  I think that of all the truths contained in Scripture there is nothing more distasteful than “God has to do it for you or it won’t be accomplished; it is impossible without God doing it.”

It is God who “…predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1.11b; italics added). This emphasis is repeated in vv. 5, 9 that came before. This is the only reason given for us who “hope in Christ” (Eph 1.12).

The Objector Protests…

“But, what of verse 13?” the observant reader asks.

What of it? What does it say? It speaks of another blessing that we have acquired from God.

In him you also…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1.13-14; italics added).

“But you left out a key part!” you exclaim.  What part? Ahhh…you mean the section that says this:

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph 1.13; italics mine).

Do you think that this proves the emphasis should, at least in this part, be given to the person rather than God? That you have done it? That you have become a co-partner with God in your salvation?

Hmmm…Interesting.

The Slight of Hand…

The whole chapter has emphasized what God has done, how He has blessed, How He has given, but you want to emphasize what man has done? A tell-tale sign of a man-centered theology is one that tries to shift the focus from what God has done, to what the person has done. As if the person’s action is really the important factor.

Could it not be understood that Paul is merely telling you how God’s predestinating choice of love took place in history? Could it not be that Paul is saying that this blessing was realized in your life when you embraced the gospel’s command, and at that moment were sealed in eternity with the Holy Spirit? Therefore, this descriptive statement (Eph 1.13-14) is telling you how God has worked out His plan of purpose in your life, and the proof that you are truly an adoptive co-heir with Christ is that the gospel struck you open. Therefore, you turned to God beseeching mercy, and according to the riches of His glorious grace you experienced His merciful redemption?

Surely, that makes much more sense.  But maybe not. Maybe you aren’t convinced. Perhaps, these are the kinds of discussions that turn you off. The sort of Christian talk; Bible pillow talk, that keeps you tossing and turning throughout the night.

But let’s be honest, shall we. Faith in God is NOT mankind’s default mode of operation. Faith in the salvific work of Jesus Christ is NOT mankind’s default mode of operation. Faith in the Holy Spirit driven Word is NOT mankind’s default mode of operation. We are in every way antithetical towards God, His rule, His will and His Word. Which is a focal point of Paul in Ephesians 2.

To Be Continued

Posted in Theology

Predestination Controversy: A Review of “Paul on Predestination” by Haden Clark

Recently fellow blogger Haden Clark wrote an article (here) attempting to refute the biblical doctrine of predestination. Using a few key proof-texts found in Ephesians 1 he sought to offer what he believed are key reasons why Christians should reject the Reformed1 (i.e. Calvinist) understanding.  According to Clark, “Ephesians 1 is not a Calvinist proof-text for ‘unconditional election’ in the sense that God unconditionally elects some individuals to salvation” (par. 43) Confidently asserting that Paul “never says we are predestined to be ‘in [Christ].’ God has not chosen, or predetermined, who will believe and who will not” (par. 40). After offering his reasons for believing this is the case, he then invites his readers to: “Let me know what you think…” (closing sentence).

I accept the invitation of “fun dialogue” (to use Clark’s words) to offer my own thoughts to be scrutinized by him and his readers. I hope in this I treat him fairly, and that my citations of his thoughts are accurately cited.2 I will begin where he started…

Ephesians 1

Clark’s effort to refute Calvinistic teachings on predestination begins with Eph 1:1. He writes, “As far as I can tell, this verse is the key to understanding, or rightly interpreting, the rest of Ephesians. It sets the stage, or the content for the rest of the letter” (par. 13).  I think he makes a valid point here. A key to properly understanding what is written is the “who” and to “whom.”

I will provide this verse for the reader in more than one English translation:

  • “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus” (ESV; italics added).
  • “From Paul, who by God’s will is an apostle of Christ Jesus—To God’s people in Ephesus, who are faithful in their life in union with Christ Jesus” (GNB; italics added).
  • “From: Paul, an apostle of the Messiah Jesus by God’s will. To: His holy and faithful people in Ephesus who are in union with the Messiah Jesus” (ISV; italics added).
  • “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints [in Ephesus], the faithful in Christ Jesus” (NET; italics added).

All of these translations (you can check more)2 emphasize the same thing. Do you see it? What is it? (Well if you don’t see it that’s okay we’ll discuss it later).

Clark believes the answer is found in “the phrase ‘in Christ’ [which] is repeated throughout…at least 13 times…” (par. 15) in various forms in the first chapter alone. I believe this is an important observation by him.

Obviously, Paul is very concerned about the people he is writing to (not just in Ephesus, but abroad as this was a circulatory epistle sent to several church’s).  He identifies them personally and lovingly as can be seen in v. 2, where the apostle says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now Clark believes he’s onto something here. He then cites three important verses (vv. 4, 5-6) that he rightly identifies as proof-texts for the Calvinistic thinker. Here they are:

  • “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless…” (v.4)3
  • “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,” (v.5)
  • “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (v. 6).

Earlier Clark had noted that the Calvinist finds Eph 1 “of particular importance…because it is here we find ‘predestination’ and ‘being chosen before the foundation of the world” (par. 16). Please note that the words he refers to are in the section he and I cited by Paul. The bold highlights what Clark believes the Calvinist focuses on, and the italicized identify what he finds of particular importance.

After citing these three verses, Clark asks his readers a very important question: “Do these verses teach that God chose before the foundation of the world a select number of people to be saved” (par. 25). He then offers his own answer: “Honestly, I couldn’t force my eyes to see that interpretation” (par. 26; italics in original). I’m not entirely sure that this was meant to be funny, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the honesty of the statement.

Clark admits earlier that he is not “entirely objective” –that’s good, because none of us are—but here he identifies the underlying issue. It is not that he cannot see the possibility of another interpretation, but that he will not allow it. You can’t force him to do it. He won’t!

To be fair, he gives another reason for not accepting what the Calvinist believes. He says it is due to “…the phrase ‘in Him’ that I emphasized in the above verses” (par. 27) He asks, “Who is the ‘us’ that God has ‘chosen before the foundation of the world’? The ‘us’ refers to those who are ‘in Him’ back in verse 1…Paul and the ‘faithful saints’ in Ephesus are the ‘us’ in verse 4 and they are also ‘in Christ’” (par. 28). Agreed!

On this point Clark appears to be on the right track. He is correct that the “us” are those who are also “in Christ.” The question I present is “Why? Why are they in Christ?” Herein lies the line of demarcation between Clark and the theological system he is arguing against.

He argues that the only thing predestined (predetermined) is the destination and the blessings promised to those who are headed that way. He writes, “Those who are ‘in Christ’…were not predetermined to be ‘in Christ,’ that’s not what the verse says. It says those who are already in Christ are predestined” (par. 32). In essence, one must first be in Christ—be a Christian, be born-from-above—in order to be predestined. Christians are not predestined until they have decided that is the route they want to travel down.

I’m not sure if you are getting that, but what he is saying is that “we,” the “us in Christ,” first predetermined to be such, before we were predestined. God cannot personally predestine a particular individual, He can only predestine the rewards, the blessings, and the final destination; an impersonal thing(s). God has determined that “believers in Jesus will reach their destination: sanctification and glorification. God has predetermined it to be so” (par. 33).

Let me get this straight. We predestinate ourselves, God just ratifies our decision? The Creator of Heaven and Earth is left to the whims of his creatures? Regardless of what all else is said, that’s the argument. Is that really what you believe?

Looking Back…

I want to walk through those verses and see if you are able to notice what is truly being said in them. In Eph 1:1 we learn who is writing to whom. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus…To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Jesus Christ.” The apostle of our Lord is writing to Christian men and women in Ephesus and in various other locations throughout the Greco-Roman world. We know that Clark believes the key is in understanding those “in Christ Jesus,” the “us” discussed throughout the letter.

But I have a question of my own, why is Paul writing to them…other than edification and instruction? Why is he an apostle? Who determined that Saul of Tarsus would be sent as an apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles throughout the Roman world? It wasn’t Saul; Paul did not choose to be such, it was chosen for him (cf. Acts 8.1, 3; 9.1-20).

In his own words, Paul says it was because of the “will of God,” (Eph 1.1) not his will; not his choice. If left up to him, he’d still be murdering Christians, but something (or rather someone) changed his heart. It was God’s plan of purpose in the life of Paul that transformed, or rather, transferred him into Christ. God’s will not Paul’s.

I agree with Clark that this verse is paramount to understanding the rest of the letter, but he has passed over a key part of this verse. What Paul reveals in verse 1 he continues to reveal throughout the entire first chapter and beyond.

Clark did not just miss that, but he also missed what was being said in vv. 4-6.  In grammar, English or Greek, there is a wonderful rule regarding subjects, verbs and objects. The verb identifies the action/activity being presented in the sentence. The subject identifies the one who is doing the action/activity. And, object is the one who is receiving the action/activity.

For example, “the doctor gave him a vaccination shot.” In this sentence the verb is “gave.” Who gave the shot? The doctor did; the subject. Who received the shot? “Me” or I am the one who received the shot; the object. Where do you suppose the emphasis is truly being laid in this sentence? Is it the one who received the shot or the one who gave the shot? It is the one who gave the shot, for the doctor performed what needed to be done. Had the doctor not performed the shot, the person in question would not have received the necessary medicine to protect life.

I think if you want to clearly understand what is being said by Paul in Eph 1, you need to not only pay attention to the flow-of-thought (i.e. context), but you also need to pay attention to where stress is being laid. Whose activity is being highlighted, and who is the recipient of that activity. Look at those verses cited by Clark again, but this time, let’s include v. 3.

**Note to Reader: “Bold” is for God (subject), “bold-italicized” is for activity/action (verb), and “italicized” is for “us in Christ” (object).

  • “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” (Eph 1.3; emphasis added).3
    • Here Paul tells his readers that God is to be blessed (i.e. praised) because of what he has done. What has God done? He “has blessed us in Christ.” Who did the blessing? God did. He is the one to be praised for the activity! How so? That is answered in what follows.
  • “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him…” (Eph 1.4; emphasis added).
    • Here Paul explains the reason for “us” being “in Christ” because God chose us. This looks back to verse 3 and the spiritual blessings that we have received, chief among them our union with Jesus Christ. Who did the choosing? Paul says “God” did. Who received the activity of God? “We” (i.e. us) did. When did this action of God take place? Before the world began, which is the meaning of “before the foundation of the world.” Notice the emphasis is not laid on our having believed as Clark says; rather, Paul says we are found in Christ—the chief of all blessings because God chose to put us there. Where? In union with Christ Jesus, from which all the other blessings of God flow.
  • “In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” (Eph 1.5; emphasis added).
    • Here Paul gives the reason for God’s choosing the “us in Christ.” He says it was “in love” or because of God’s love that we find ourselves adopted into His Holy family through Jesus Christ—the gate that all must pass to be saved. Jesus is the means to which we are grafted into the family of God. How so? Again, who is doing the action of predestinating? God is. Who is the recipient of this activity of God? We are; those in Christ. And this, we find an important tie in by the apostle with what he said in verse 1: “according to the purpose of his will….” Whose will? Whose purpose? God’s or man’s? According to Paul it is because of God, not man…not the believer.
  • “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1.6; emphasis added).
    • The reason, Paul says Christians should praise God is because “of his glorious grace.” Because of God’s undeserving favor and mercy, He has chosen to bless “us in the Beloved.” Again, who is doing the action here? God is. Who is the recipient of the activity of God? We are; the “us in the Beloved [Christ].”

The emphasis is continually laid on what God has done, not on what we have done in Eph 1. Clark would like to reverse that order and deny its personal application. Yet, Paul is speaking to specific persons, not everyone in Ephesus—the city or the church—is found in Christ. The choosing and predestinating of God is a personal activity, not impersonal. In writing this letter, the Holy Spirit through Paul is making a necessary distinction.

Moreover, our “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (v. 7a) are not the result of our activity, but the Lord’s. It was “according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” (v. 7b-8a). God did that which was “according to his purpose” (v.9). Yes, Christ was “set forth” (v.9b) as the necessary sacrifice and gift, “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (v. 10). Again, Paul emphasizes to the observant reader that “In him [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance…” (Eph 1.11a) How so? “…having been predestined according to the purpose of him [God] who works all things…” (Eph 1.11b). All things? All things. Even my belief in Christ, God worked that out as well? Yes, all things are brought about in creation “…according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1.11c).

What of our belief? What about our choice? Did we not choose Christ? Does not Paul say as much in v. 13. Yes, he does. He writes, “In him you also, when you heard, the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit….” No one denies that we are the ones called (commanded) to believe in Jesus Christ as the only true source of our hope. The question is “why?” Why do we believe in Him? Paul addresses that in the 2nd chapter, but again you will find the emphasis is laid upon God’s action not man’s.

Eph 1 explains our station before God, the benefits that are a part of that station, and the emphasis he lays is on God’s activity not our own. Paul develops why that is necessarily so in Eph 2 and beyond. Clark refuses to accept this (at least for now, I hold out hope) because of another underlying issue. Rejecting the fallenness of mankind, he still assumes that we possess the neutral disposition towards right or wrong that Adam and Eve appear to have been created with. Believing it is in our power to either chose or reject righteousness/holiness as a mere mental exercise, leads to the erroneous position that it is wrong for God to change our hearts to love Christ, whom we formerly hated.

While I appreciate the anthem cry of “Freedom!” as done by William Wallace in Braveheart, the fact of the matter is that we are not free unless the Son sets us free; allowing us to be adopted into His Father’s house (John 8.35-36; cf. 14.2-4).

I hope that I have been fair to Clark, and want it known that I have no ill will towards him. I want to thank him for the exercise in thought, and pray that the Lord lead him down right paths. And, I also extend the invitation that he put forth in his own writings; all critical thought is welcome! God bless.

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ENDNOTES:

1 Calvinist theology is a nickname for Reformed theology. John Calvin was not alone in his thoughts regarding “predestination,” “free-will,” “divine-election,” “depravity of fallen man,” etc. as many of the initial Reformers held his convictions. He is more well-known due to his ability to systematically categorize the Christian faith-system (worldview) in his mountain of literature that he produced.  Unfortunately, many of those writings are unread by those who find it necessary to take to task that which they are somewhat unfamiliar with. For starters most believe Calvinists start their thinking with predestination, but soteriology is only one branch in the Reformed theological tree as important as it may be. Reformed thought has more to offer, but for some ignorance is bliss. Moreover, I’m not sure that Calvin would be overly thrilled with his name being used to define a particular branch of theology, as his premiere purpose was exalting the God of the Bible, being led by the Holy Spirit, in order to magnify the Name of Jesus Christ.  In any event, I will go by that title if it eases identification for the reader.

2 I chose the indicator “par.” to help the reader find their way through Clark’s work. Sometimes, what I call “par.” is only a sentence long, but I thought that “line” would have been much more tedious that what I had chosen. Hopefully, my eyes did not jump a line here or there, but if they I pray that the reader would show some grace on my part.

Posted in Divine will, Foreknowledge, irresistible, resistible, Sovereignty, Theology

Divine Decrees: Understanding the Distinction present in the Will of God

How does God will for things to be done?  What is meant by the “will of God?” Theologians tend to define the will of God in two specific categories: decretive and preceptive.

The decretive will of God is the eternal decree that He has purposefully set to do in history for His own good.  Here are a couple examples:

  • “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen 1.26a; NKJV)
  • “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exod 4.21; NKJV).
  • “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish my purpose, and I will do it” (Isa 46.8-10; cf. Dan 4.35).1
  • “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph 1.11).

The decretive will of God is God’s purposeful desires and actions taking place in history (time) as He sees fit.  What He has decreed (i.e. willed) cannot be undone…ever (cf. Isa 43.13; Prov 21.30). This will of God is irresistible, because it is in no way limited by the creature’s, desires, nature or action (activity).

This is one aspect of God’s will, here is the other.

The preceptive will of God is the standard the Lord has given for human behavior.  God is a moral being and He expects His creatures to act in a like manner (i.e. image bearing).  This will of God is specifically tied to God commandments, His Law (precepts, statutes, etc.). Here are a couple examples:

  • “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.  Make yourself an ark of gopher wood.  Make yourself an ark of gopher wood.  Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.  This how you are to make it…’” (Gen 6.13-15a).
  • “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (Gen 12.1).
  • “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20.2).2
  • “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Lev 20.7-8; cf. 18.4-5; 19.37)

The preceptive will of God is God’s purposeful desire for mankind’s actions in history.  The commands of God are given as a standard for the functionality of imaging (mirroring) God’s Holy heart in all of creation.  Unlike the decretive will, the preceptive will (what God has commanded men and women to model) can be resisted.  Something Stephen declares to the ruling body of religious elites in Jerusalem (i.e. Sanhedrin) in Acts 7:53, “…you who received the law as delivered by angels did not keep it” (Acts 7.53; italics added; cf. Ezek 20.18-21; Heb 2.2).

One of the things I hoped you noticed is that a couple of my examples above appear to leave open the possibility that the man commanded could rebel.   Look at Noah and Abram (Abraham).  Could Noah have refused the will of God and not built the ark?  Could Abraham refused to go to a foreign country leaving all that he knew in his former life?  Certainly, by mere appearances this seems to be the case.  Some will use a similar argument to say that Jesus could have sinned, and Judas Iscariot could have chosen not to betray Christ.  Although God’s Word testifies otherwise.3

The alarming truth (and it is only alarming if you refuse to believe it) is that Noah and Abram (Abraham) could not have rebelled against the preceptive will of God (His command to build and to leave) because it is also an instance of His decretive will (His purpose in history).  God had set both Noah and Abraham apart (aside) to do that which He willed (decreed).  Had they rebelled they would have been sinning against God, but the grace of God had changed their hearts to not only want to obey but also equipped them to obey. Therefore, they kept the preceptive will of God because it was a part of His decretive will.

We are given an example of the opposite in 2Sam 24.

In this passage David is the current reigning king of Israel.  In the historical retelling, the reader finds that David sins and the result of that sin is the death of 70, 000 men (2Sam 24.15).  David knew that he had sinned against God, and pleaded for the Lord’s mercy in punishing him (2Sam 24.14).

If David sinned, then why did 70,000 others die?  The answer is related to the covenantal nature of God, and David’s status as the covenantal head of Israel (civil magistrate).  As we have seen with Adam and Christ Jesus what the covenantal head does, those under them receive the consequences.  For those interested you may check out the following article to see why this is the case: https://kristafal.wordpress.com/2019/04/05/gods-covenant-with-adam/.

So, the question before us is “why did David do what he did?” Well, let’s have a look see.

  • “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go number Israel and Judah” (2Sam 24.1).

What do we learn in this verse?  Well, we see that God is angry at Israel.  We are not told the reason, but we are given this status.  We also see that David’s sin was numbering Israel and Judah.  If we take the time to sift through the rest of the narrative, we find that David’s concern was measuring his military force (cf. 2Sam 24.9). Evidently, David thought it necessary to see what his current military status was in case of conflict.

The reader is blessed with the fortune of having the same account spoken of in another place; namely, 1Chron 21.  This is an instance of a parallel account.  These are helpful to the students of Scripture as they shed more light on what is really going on in the text in question.  Listen to how 1Chron 21 reads:

  • “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (v.1).

What do we learn here in this text?  Well, we find that David sinned by numbering Israel, but this time we find that an adversary (identified by many English translations as Satan) has provoked David to number Israel’s military might.  All men are sinners that is our status before our Creator.  And while it may be true that Satan or an unidentified agent of the dark lord (a foreign pagan king threatening Israel?) incited David, he could not say “the devil made me do it” to get out of bearing the responsibility of his action.  We are responsible for our own sin, although the consequences may ripple beyond us.

There is something that I purposefully left out of the observation of the 2Sam 24:1, did you notice it?  Go back and compare the two accounts (2Sam 24:1; 1Chron 21:1), what was left out?  The Chronicler focuses on two agents: David, and an adversary (the Devil and/or one of his ilk), but who does the author of 2Sam focus on?  In 2Sam 24:1 we see that the two agents focused on are: The Lord, and David. Who incited David to sin?  The Lord did: “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them….”  How can that be?

Here is where things get a bit interesting…

This is where your theological assumptions will either hinder or help your reading of the text.  Exegesis is taking out from the text what is there.  Eisegesis is the opposite, this is where things get smuggled in.  Why?  To protect a vital aspect of your foundational perspective such rescuing devices are proposed.  Such as?  Such as saying that the “and he” in the verse cannot possibly be pointing back to the Lord God.  Why?  Because that would mean that God wanted what transpired to happen to happen.  This is an example of God’s decretive and preceptive will at work.

For David to sin, he would have to go against something purposefully and willfully that God had commanded (preceptive will).  We are not told what exact command David violated, but we do know that he sinned.  So, the question is, why count the army (military might) of Israel?  Many commentators believe that David was feeling threated by some other national force.  First, we see David’s pride being wounded and his doubt being aroused; a violation of the 1st and 2nd commandments.  Second, we see that since his trust has evidently failed in the Lord, he begins to trust in his own power which is to take the Lord’s name in vain; a violation of the 3rd commandment.  How so? As God’s representative man over a nation that was enlisted to be a light to the rest of the pagan world, David’s thoughts and actions reveal a heart that treats God’s Name lightly…what we call blasphemy.  Third, it is possible that this is a violation of the tenth commandment as well “being covetous” of one’s neighbor’s possessions.  If a foreign king and army were threatening David, then David’s numbering may be a sign of wanting to demonstrate his superiority.  This sort of behavior is provoked when we feel inferior to others.  The reason we feel inferior is because we feel as if our neighbor is our better.  Our wanting to prove our superiority is a sign of the jealously that dwells within our hearts.

Now the point is that God knowing David’s heart, used these things to instigate David to sin.  Why?  Well we are now beginning to touch on the decretive will of God.  God knows everything that was, is and shall be (He’s omniscient), this is not a passive knowledge.  God does not learn.  He does not look down the corridors of time seeing what His creatures will do, and then like a boxer react to the blows being thrown.  Rather, God has determined how things will lay out in history (the beginning from the end).  He has established reality and does not leave things to chance or accident.  Like the quantum realm things appear chaotic from our perspective, but just because we fail to see the reasons behind all activity does not mean that there aren’t justified reasons that God has for bringing about all that happens in life: the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak.

The Lord was angry with Israel and He had determined long ago to deal with whatever idolatry they were being condemned over.  God used His agents (creatures) namely Satan and David to bring about the end that he desired.  He used their sinful dispositions to bring about what He desired (decreed will) in history.  God was sinless in the endeavor because God’s motives were pure and good; whereas, David, Satan and the other agents in this history had impure and evil motivations.  This historical event highlights how God can will for something, but be untainted by sin.   His decretive will is His plan of purpose for all of history, and His preceptive will is the commanded standard by which all mankind is judged.

Suppose you don’t like that and you refuse to believe that and you out-rightly deny that.  What have you gained?  Where should you turn to find answers?  What should govern your thoughts?  What we see in 2Sam 24/1Chron 21 is likewise true of Jesus of Nazareth, God used sinful agents to bring about what He had planned from eternity: “…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4.27-28; cf. 2.23). And not just Him, but Joseph, Job, Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, Jonah, David, Ruth, Esther, etc., etc., etc.

This paradoxical teaching from Scripture is beyond the grips of our 3lb brains.  I realize even that statement is psychologically unsatisfying, but the fact remains that there are things that God knows and understands that we do not.  And yet we are promised that what He has given us is for our good, if we love Him.  Those who do love Him find the following answer from the Lord satisfying in acceptance of our creaturely limitations:

  • “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut 29.29; italics added; cf. 2Tim 3.16-17).

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ENDNOTES:

1 All other Scripture references in this work shall be of the English Standard Version

2 All the commandments of God found in the books of Moses, expounded upon in the civil sanctions, preached by the prophets, prayerfully sung by the Psalmists, taught through the wisdom writings, and further built upon in the N.T. are binding as ethical/moral precepts for all image bearers.

3 Considering Jesus, see these passages:  Gen 3.15; 49.10; Mic 5.2; Isa 9.6-7; Dan 2.1Pet 3.19-20; Rev 13.8; for Judas Iscariot look to these: Psa 41.9; 109.6-19; John 17.12; Acts 1.16-20, 25.

Posted in Christian Perspective, Covenant, Sin, sinners, Theology

Proper Perspectives for Hard lessons…

All people sin. There is not a righteous person on the earth (1Kgs 8.46). The only one that ever existed in the history of human beings who did not sin is Jesus of Nazareth. That might not sound appealing to you. You may even want to say that I am exaggerating the truth a bit, but according to the Holy Triune God of the Bible that is the reality of how things truly are, and to take any other position regarding it is to call God a liar.

All are sinners and the evidence is that we all die. We are not sinners because we sin; rather we sin because we are sinners. Sinners is a noun, nouns describe a person, place or thing. Sinning (to commit sin) on the other hand is a verb; verbs describe the activity of the subject in question. There are stative verbs, verbs that identity a state of being, but when the Bible describes humanity as sinners, and then attributes to our good works as dirty menstruation rags fit to be cast out as they bear the fruit of death (Isa 64.6), the point being blatantly made is that our state of being is that of a sinner—it is who we are as fallen creatures—and the result of our state of being is that we sin. Death is the wages of sin, because sin can only produce death. Living in sin is living in death; because that is the only possible outcome since as sinners we are separated from the Lord of Life.

This is the direct result of Adam’s transgression in the garden. This is what he purchased (gave to) all his offspring. Again, this point is stressed in Scripture (cf. Rom 5.12-21; 1Cor 15.21-22). What happened in the garden is that Adam apostatized from the covenant that God had established with man when he created him (them). Through Adam the human race (his offspring) became covenant-breaker’s—i.e. apostate’s.

Death as Biblically Defined…

If you are not a part of the True Vine, you wither and die. There are those who will argue that true death did not occur in the Garden of Eden. They take a naturalistic view of death as the true definition of death, but the Bible does not describe death in that fashion. Death is also referred to as separation. Being separated from something like the body, righteousness/sin, or ultimately God.

For example, we are told that when we die our spirit returns to the One who created it (Eccl 12.7). The spirit within this earthen vessel returns to its Maker for judgment (Heb 9.27). The physical body returns to dust; to the very earth it was taken from (Gen 3.19b). **The reason we return to dust (body’s die being separated from the spirit that sustains them) is because human beings in Adam have been separated from the life of God.

And yet, we are also told that there will come a time when all human beings’ lives will be weighed in the balance (not just temporally, but eternally). The scales will either be tipped in our favor or against it. The determining factor is whether (or not) we reside in Jesus the Christ (Rev 2.11; 20.6). For those who do not their inheritance is eternal death—i.e. separation from the goodness of God for all eternity; the lake of fire. The lake of fire (final judgment of the unrepentant not found in Christ) is rightly called the 2nd death or lasting/final death (Rev 20.14; 21.8).

The in-between that I have not discussed is another instance of death. In Romans 6 Paul effectively argues that those who are in Christ have died in Him and have been raised to new life. What the Scriptures refer to as a heart transplant (spiritual) in other places where the heart of stone is removed, and then replaced with a heart of flesh (Jer 32.39; Ezek 11.19-20; 36.26; Heb 8.10; 10.16-17). This the Holy Spirit does for many, but not all. When this transaction takes place, Paul says we have just witnessed the death of sin in the life of believers. We are no longer slaves to that former dominion, but are now transferred to slaves of righteousness. As I noted earlier this does not mean that we no longer sin, but our desires because of a new disposition gained by a new heart (spiritual bent) have effectively been changed. We have died to sin, to live in righteousness. This circumcision of the heart as it is also called is true death according to the Bible, but it is not naturalistic.

Seeing the Relational Connection…

Why is that important? Do you not see the connection? Are you purposefully closing your eyes so that you cannot see it and then can willfully deny it? It should be obvious…

The reason that should strike a cord in our minds is because the exact opposite occurred in Genesis 3. You say that Adam (and Eve) did not truly die, but God says that they did. “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.17). Some make a big deal about the fact that the words here repeat death in Hebrew so that it literally reads, “a death thou shalt die; or, dying you shalt die,”1 but the point is merely being emphatically stressed that death will result the very day this tree’s fruit is eaten. From the moment of Adam’s transgression (note the stress is on Adam in the Bible because he was the representative head of his wife and his children through him)—his apostacy—he died. He was separated from the life of God, his spiritual tie that originally bound him to the Lord was severed and this is evidenced by him and his wife’s behavior immediately after the deed was finalized.

Therefore, through Adam we have all become covenant-breakers. In a very real sense, we have been born in this world as apostates of the original covenant that God established with our forefather. We did not ask for this status, but we did inherit it.

Some may decry the unfairness of God’s judgment in this. “How can I be held accountable for Adam’s sin?” The answer is “You’re not. You are held accountable for your sin.” But then you say, “Yes, but doesn’t the Bible teach we are all condemned in Adam (cf. Rom 5.16, 18)?” The answer is “Yes, it does. However, the condemnation is judgment already past. The result or consequence being that in Adam we all die because we are all separated from the life of God. The resulting bent in the human heart is now in opposition to God. Thus, a new birth is necessary to have communion/fellowship/life with God (cf. John 3).

Proper Perspectives for Hard Lessons…

Why trudge on well beaten paths? Because, if we are going to understand properly the commands by God that seem to some cruel beyond measure in the O.T. we need the proper lens through which to view them. When individuals read or hear about the accounts of the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the devastation of Egypt and Canaan, or one that really baffles the minds of some which I shall revel later, then our assumptions/presuppositions needs to be checked at the door.

Human beings are not described as good, but evil. We are not described as free, but slaves. We are not described as seeing, but blind. We are not described as living, but dead. Nor are we described as innocent, but guilty. Human beings are not neutral towards God, but it is written that they hate him. Therefore, with those precursors in place, I am hoping that you are prepared to properly digest what comes next…

Not everything that God’s commands are for the good of all people, but only for those who love Him (Rom 8.28). God does not always command that which is beneficial towards humanity, but is always beneficial to Him so that He alone receives the Glory owed to Him….:

“To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rom 16.27; ESV).

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ENDNOTES:

1
Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible (published 1810-1826), Gen 2.17. Clarke was an Arminian minister/theologian that was an expert in multiple ancient languages. I chose him primarily to show that this is an orthodox understanding of this text. Despite the claim often said that this is just the Calvinistic understanding. For Clarke also states in his notes that this declaration of God is not limited to physical dying, but spiritual death: “Thou shalt not only die spiritually, by losing the life of God, but from the moment though shalt become mortal and shalt continue in a dying state till thou die…Other meanings have been given of this passage, but they are in general either fanciful or incorrect.”