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 John 6

The Meaning Christ gives John 6:37: Counterargument to Haden Clark, Part I

The most important part of biblical study is “observing the text.” Once that has been done you are able (capable) of rightly “interpreting the text.” Fail at the beginning and you will misstep throughout.

A few years ago, I was sitting in a public setting where an individual asked me the following question, “Isn’t reading the Bible just a matter of interpretation? Some people just interpret things, differently right?” In my response I explained to the individual and his wife who was sitting with him that you may draw several “applications from the text,” but there is really only one correct interpretation. I said,

“Suppose you wrote your wife a letter. When you wrote the letter, you had a specific point in mind (maybe several), but the point is that you are expecting your wife to understand your intent. She may take what you have written and be able to apply it to a variety of circumstances, but a correct interpretation is found in discerning what you had written to her. It wouldn’t be possible for others to read it and say “this is what it means to me” when you meant what you said to her.”

I’m sure that my response was not as polished as I just gave it to you now, but the intent was the same. Both husband and wife said that the explanation given made a lot of sense.

One of the amazing things about Scripture is that there is only one interpretation that can be correctly drawn from it. Sometimes the reasons we have varying interpretations is because people don’t do the necessary labor to draw from the text what is written. Our ignorance of language and events in time can also hinder us. However, there are other times when the correct interpretation will be rejected. The person’s biases prevent them from adopting the viewpoint that God is giving in His Word.

INTRODUCING THE SUBJECT MATTER

In what follows I shall provide a counterargument to an article written by Haden Clark at Help Me Believe, and his understanding of John 6:37. Clark believes that the ability to come to Christ is afforded to all people. Therefore, he sees the “drawing” of God discussed in John 6 as something God is already doing for the entire human race. What he tacitly denies is the concept in Reformed Theology (ironically drawn from passages like John 6) defined as Unconditional Election. Clark rejects the idea that the “drawing” of the Father to the Son is an act of divine election where the Father gives to the Son a particular people that He has chosen to put His love on (into) throughout human history; for all eternity.

In this post I will provide a point-by-point statement and response format for the reader.[i] It is recommended that you read Clark’s post (Read here) before you read my own in order to properly weigh between the two conclusions drawn. I would also recommend (obviously it is not mandatory) that you read through John 6 on your own. At the end of the main section, I will provide the reader with a quick review of the context of John 6 in order to see the flow-of-thought of the gospel writer, and to provide a basis for the conclusions I draw from the text.

“Everyone whom the Father gives” John 6:37

Clark writes,

“I love passages of Scriptures that interpret themselves. Sometimes we will read something ‘difficult,’ or hard to understand, but the Bible itself will provide us with the correct interpretation.” (line 1).

My Response:

It is true that there are some difficult passages in Scripture. They boggle the mind, so to speak, at first glance. But it is also true that if we do a little “leg work” the Bible itself helps us come to the correct interpretation. Often times this is accomplished by comparing Scripture with Scripture. Taking the clearer statements of God to give understanding to the more difficult ones.

However, it is erroneous to assume that the “Bible interprets itself.” The Scriptures are written revelation. They don’t do anything. They are words on a page. The interpretative process is done by people. We interpret. We draw conclusions. And so, while I appreciate the sentiment “Let the Bible speak,” it doesn’t actually speak. God expects His people to draw from the text His intended meaning as we move to correctly interpret it.

Clark writes,

“I cannot tell you how many times I have heard John 6:37 ripped out of context and given a Calvinistic interpretation, while completely ignoring the fact that Jesus himself interprets this verse just a few verses later” (line 3). He then quips, “I don’t know about you, but I’ll take Jesus’ word for it” (line 4).

My Response:

I agree that we should not read our biases into the biblical text. Regardless how strongly one holds to Calvinism (i.e., Reformed Theology), Arminianism (i.e, Remonstrant Theology), or even the strains that bleed off from these two major theological branches. (Just as a side note, Evangelical Christians are either monergistic or synergistic in their theology. Either they believe that Salvation is a sole work of God, or a corporative effort by God and man). Based off of my observations I would say that Clark is a synergist, and in fact leans strongly beyond a semi-pelagian understanding.  That being said on his initial point, we agree, making the text say what your theology does is wrongheaded in the worst possible way. Why? Because it misrepresents God’s intention and maligns His Word.

There is also agreement with his seemingly sarcastic quip, we should take Jesus at His Word. He is God, the Living Word made flesh (John 1.1-3, 14). Jesus is the correct interpreter of Scripture; we should listen to Him. Not just on those “red letter” portions of our Bible’s (if you have that sort of edition lying around), but all of it. This also means that if we are correctly understanding Jesus, we should never see Him teaching something that is contrary with the rest of Scripture. Any apparent contradictions are a product of our misunderstanding, not His.

Ironically, though Clark does not spend much time “drawing out” what John 6 actually says. He, like Leighton Flowers, leaps around from this passage to that. He points to John 12; 13; 17 before he returns to John 6. That is to say, he seeks to build his case outside of John 6 in order to tell us what John 6 says. Now, I don’t want to appear snarky but if you are going to claim that it is wrong to ignore the context, “to rip” a teaching from where it is given to mean something that aligns with your theology, then you might want to sit in the passage, work through the passage, before jumping to other passages in order to form John 6 after your own thinking.

Clark cites John 6:37-38, 44:

  • “Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never throw out, because I have come down from heaven not that I should do my will, but the will of the one who sent me…No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day” (LEB).

Clark then writes,

“These verses are often interpreted to mean that God infallibly calls some people, as opposed to others, to come to Jesus, and they will be saved. In other words, it is impossible to come to Jesus, that is believe in Jesus (John 6:35), unless you are first infallibly called by God” (line 5).

My response:

I would think, using some basic grammar rules we should be able to see—even in English—the sense of Jesus’ statement here in vv. 37-38, 44? Let’s try it.

In verse 37 we find that Jesus puts emphasis on the Father’s action in history: “Everyone…the Father gives,” Jesus says, “…will come to me.” He does not say “everyone…will come to me;” rather, “everyone whom the Father gives will come to me….” The Father is the subject that is committing an action of giving to the Son. The Son is the direct object, for He receives the action of the Father. The stress of verse 37 is on the Father who gives and the Son who receives.

Then in the second half of verse 37 (i.e., 37b), we see the emphasis being placed on the person who is being given. Jesus says of those the Father gives, “…whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Obviously, if we are sticking with the context of v. 37, we see that only those that the Father gives come to Jesus, and when they come (whoever they might be) Jesus promises to never cast them out (i.e., to do away with them). Why? Because they have become the property of the Son.

“According to whose will?” you ask. Jesus answers that in verse 38. Let’s have a quick look.

Jesus says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” This is a purpose statement or a mission statement, if you will. What is it? To do the “will of him who sent me.” Well, what is the will of Him who sent the Son from heaven? The answer is actually in verses 39-40, but Clark leaves them out. (We will discuss them later).

Perhaps, he didn’t feel it was necessary? Or maybe he thought it would take too much time. I’m not sure what Clark’s reasoning is, but let’s move on to verse 44.

Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

First notice that this is a universal/categorical statement (meaning without exception): “No one…” speaks of all people. Second notice that this is telling you what they CANNOT do. “No one can come to me…”  it is impossible for a person (past, present or future) to come to Christ. Sounds pretty hopeless, doesn’t it. Third notice that Jesus adds a condition, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him….” The only way a person can come to Jesus is if the person in question is “drawn” by the Father. This is a necessary condition that has to be met prior to the person coming to Christ Jesus.

What is interesting is that Jesus ties this to the manner in which He came into the world. How did he get here? The Father sent Him; it was an act of God, a movement of His will (a phrase used about 15 times in John’s gospel).[ii]

Clark writes:

“Usually, there is a strong emphasis on the word “draws” which can be interpreted as ‘drags’. Nobody comes willingly, they must be dragged, effectually called; in other words, caused” (line 6).

My Response:

Why do we nasty Calvinists put emphasis on the word “draw?” Hmmm…probably because that is what is being emphasized in the text. This is an example of grammatical stress since the term helkuo (draw) is the action of the subject.

Clark argues against defining “draw” as “drag,” because of “the obvious and horrible consequences of such a theology” (line 7a). Okay, but is it a theological construct to define a word according to its usage? He also says,

“The text is king. Whatever God’s word says, we shall stick with it, even if we don’t like it” (line 7b).

My Response:

I wonder if Clark feels that way about six-day creation, the Flood of Noah’s day, or any other “difficult” passage that we might entertain? I suppose that would have to be a subject for another day.

Brief Word Study…

How do we know what “draw” (helkuo) means? The way we define a word is based upon the words usage contextually speaking, and word studies are performed by looking at how the same word is used throughout the Bible. Any given word can have varying senses in which it might be used. Context helps in knowing the sense of the term. And the more a word is used in Scripture the better understanding lexicographers (those who write/compile Hebrew/Greek dictionaries) have defining it.

The reason “drag” is seen as the meaning of draw (helkuo) is because that is how the biblical writers (in particular John) use the term (cf. John 18.10; 21.6, 11; Acts 16.19; 21.30; Jam 2.6). Since we are in John’s gospel let’s look at how he uses this action verb, I will leave it to you to read the other ones mentioned above.

Here are the ways that the gospel of John uses the action verb:

  • “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew [helkuo] it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus)” (John 18.10; ESV).
  • “He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some [fish].’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul [helkuo] it in, because of the quantity of fish” (John 20.6; ESV).
  • “So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled [helkuo] the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn” (John 21.11; ESV).

By looking at these three instances of “draw” used in John’s gospel we find that the meaning is to “drag” or to “pull” or to “haul,” and so depending upon your English translation you will find various synonyms used to describe this act of force being put on an object whether it be a sword or a net or yes, even a person. Outside of John’s gospel the verb is used in a similar manner.

Two other occurrences occur in John’s gospel (6:44 and 12:32). Clark refers to the latter one a little later in his post. I will work through John 12:32 in a future post, but for now a few preliminary things need to be addressed. For Clark denies that the normative use of draw (helkuo) in Scripture is the meaning here in John 6.

Clark writes,

“There is one major problem with this interpretation: it completely ignores Jesus’ interpretation…Jesus himself explains what he meant by these words. We don’t need anyone to tell us, we can just read Jesus’ words” (line 8, 9).

My Response:

Two disagreements emerge here. First, the claim (implied) that Calvinists ignore Jesus interpretation is false. Reformed Christians are trying to understand Jesus’ point as much as the non-Reformed. Second, Clark obviously believes that someone needs to tell others what Jesus meant or why write the post? Singing to the choir? If we didn’t need teachers, then why does Christ appoint them? While I think I get the gist of Clark’s point (i.e., its obvious what Jesus is saying, “just look at his words”), the notion is misguided.

Studying Scripture is work, and as much as people might like the phrase “let the Bible speak,” part of the necessary labor in biblical study is finding out just what in the world Holy Writ is actually saying. Granted there are some things stated very clearly, but I’ve seen people screw them up as well.

Momentary Pause for Explanation

At this point Clark moves to John 6:64-65. He has already shown distaste for the idea (even the possibility) that God would draw some, but not others. In order to eliminate this conclusion, he attempts to argue that Jesus’ words were really just about his disciples, not the crowd that day.

  • “But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, ‘Because of this I said to you that no one can come to me unless it has been granted to him by the Father’” (John 6.64-65; LEB).

Clark writes,

“The important thing to notice here is that when Jesus says he knows that some of ‘you’ do not believe, he is referring to his disciples. Jesus made the original statement in verse 37 in front of a larger crowd, however, he only gave the explanation to his disciples. This is something Jesus commonly does in John’s Gospel” (line 12).

My Response:

I agree that two different audiences are in mind in v.37-38, 44 and that of vv.64-65. How do we know this? By paying attention to the flow-of-thought in the narrative. The transition occurs in John 6:59-60, where it is written: “Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, ‘This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it? (LEB).

Notice that the crowds are not eliminated from the discussion in the sense that they have disappeared. Rather, the focus has now shifted on those who ought to know (and believe in) Jesus; his disciples. The point of John 6:64-65 is that they don’t, and the reason they don’t is because of what Jesus said earlier in his message in Capernaum, and then repeats to them: “No one can unless it has been granted to him by the Father” (emphasis added). To turn around and say that Jesus’ words in John 6:44 don’t really apply to the crowds in general, but the disciples in particular (i.e. “Judas is specifically in mind” line 29) is a peculiar leap in logic. How Clark seeks to justify it is even more bizarre.

Momentary Pause for Explanation

We are now about to leave John 6 in order to explain the meaning of John 6? If it sounds a bit confusing, I will admit that I was confused at first as well. Clark is trying to decipher why Jesus would tell the crowds what he did in John 6:44, and why he said what he did to his disciples in John 6:65. He thinks he has found his answer in the repeated statement “…[his] hour had not yet come” (2:4; 7:6; 7:30; 8:20)”  (line 15). Clark cites John 12:23, 13:31, and 17:1-5 as his grounds of justification.

Let it be sufficed to say that Jesus did come for a specific purpose into this world to tabernacle amongst us (John 1.14). He came to “save His people from their sins” (Matt 1.21), by laying “down his life for the sheep” (John 10.11). The question Clark is seeking to answer is “who?” I know he is looking for the “why?” by appealing to these other texts, but Jesus in John 6 is talking about the “who” and He says the “why?” is determined by His Father in heaven, not man on this earth.

If that is confusing, let me be a bit clearer. John 6 by itself is easily enough understood if you take the time observing the text. The difficulty comes to submitting to the conclusion it offers. Jesus is clear that it is impossible for anyone to come to Him unless the Father who gives, is drawing the one(s) given to the Son.

Clark assuming the opposite writes,

“For a temporary period of time, people were prevented from ‘coming to Jesus’ so as to fulfill the purpose of Jesus coming into the world: Jesus getting to the cross and dying for the world’s sins” (line 28; also see 34).

My response:

Where in the text of John 6, or the rest of John’s gospel, are we specifically told that this prevention of coming (being drawn) to Christ is “for a temporary period of time?” If the biblical text does not say it, then on what grounds can the claim be made? Wouldn’t this be an example of reading into the text what one desires it to say? Furthermore, how would people coming to Jesus in belief during his ministry hinder him from fulfilling his purpose upon the cross? Again, where in the Bible may we turn to find this teaching?

Clark’s conclusion:

“There is no indication from the text [John 6] that Jesus is teaching unconditional election, or effectual calling” (line 30). Claiming that “…there is a better option. One that is derived from the text itself and not a predetermined soteriological system…[Namely,] God is not drawing a select few to himself. He is drawing the whole world. He is drawing the whole world. He desires all to be saved, and we can take the Gospel around the world, to every individual, knowing that every individual is being drawn to the Son…or granted permission, to come to Him” (lines 33, 35).

My Response:

I disagree. Jesus has said to the effect that it is impossible for a person to come to Him unless the Father draws them. This is evidence of them having been gifts from God the Father given to God the Son. In both John 6:44 and 6:65 we have clear statements of the reason why people are drawn to the Son, by the agency and power of the Father giving them to the Son. From a Trinitarian understanding we must not downplay the Holy Spirit’s role in this, but Jesus has already informed us in his teaching to Nicodemus. For every true believer is “born-from-above,” and this an act of the Spirit’s effectual power (cf. John 3.3-8; also 6.63).

Moreover, Jesus does not say that the Father “draws” the whole world to Him in John 6. Nor does it state His desire to save “all” people. Nor does the term “draw” ever mean “granted permission” as if mankind as a sinner wants to come to Christ, but can’t do so until God “lets them.” Which seems to be the way that Clark is implying. Again, the text does not say that.

Finally, I would add that Clark’s assumption that the Calvinist is alone in being driven by theological biases is not accurate. For so is Mr. Clark. And this is true of all who read Scripture. D. A. Carson offers some sound advice on this point that we would all do well in abiding by,

“But if we sometimes read our own theology into the text, the solution is not to retreat to an attempted neutrality, to try to make one’s mind a tabula rasa so we may listen to the text without bias. It cannot be done, and it is a fallacy to think it can be. We must rather discern what our prejudices are and make allowances for them….”[iii] (Italics added).

Closing Remarks:

The fact is that Clark’s governing assumptions regarding “freewill,” and the “good-naturedness” of mankind leads him to conclude that if God does not draw all equally, then He is somehow defunct in regards to love or kindness or goodness. And yes, I will grant that my overarching assumption is quite the opposite. I believe that man has a form of free-agency, but due to a corrupt nature pursues that which is not in accordance with God’s Holy standards. Therefore, it is necessary for God to “draw” a person, lest the person be left in his/her rebellion against their Maker. Refusing and not capable of doing the good that God requires; which includes trusting in the work of Christ while confessing one’s sinful, broken estate.

John 6, despite Clark’s claim, offers wonderful proof of the saving activity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father has chosen to call a certain people to be given to His beloved Son as an eternal possession (John 6.37-38). He effectually draws them to Christ (John 6.44), and by the power of the Spirit grants them life (John 6.63). They are those who hear the word of God and listen (obey) His voice, demonstrated in their undying faith in the Son. Salvation is about the Glory of God, and not the glory of man. We share in this glory through adoption, but it is not our right unless it has been granted from above.


Appendix

John 6 in Context[iv]

What we see in John 6 is two high points in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. The first high point is the extent of his popularity as exhibited in the beginning of the chapter. The second (you might prefer to call it a low point) is the great number of those who followed Christ ceasing from doing so.

John 6:1-15

This historical episode gives us the glimpse of the greatness of the Son of God. Multitudes were drawn to Him and pursued Him at great distance. Using the opportunity to point the people to the truth of who He is, Jesus took a small boys lunch made up of two barley loaves and three small fish and fed 5,000 men (possibly over 10,000 if we include women and children). Having blessed what God had provided, he broke it and fed all who were hungry. When the meal was finished, twelve large baskets were filled to the top. The people in their excitement sought to make Him king—if by force—but Jesus, knowing men’s hearts withdrew to pray.

John 6:16-21

Having sent the disciples away earlier in the day, after finishing His prayer the Lord made His way to His disciples. They had got in a boat heading towards Capernaum. Jesus walks across the water, tells his disciples “It is I. Do not be afraid” (John 6.20; NET). And “immediately the boat came to the land where they had been heading” (John 6.21). This particular evidence was given to His disciples.

John 6:22-52

The next day the people they had left behind realized that the Lord was gone (John 6.22). “And seeing boats from Tiberias…they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus” (John 6.22b-23). One might say that they were being “drawn” to the Lord. They desired to see Him, and did not hesitate to make the journey to Him. However, when they find Jesus, he says to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted” (John 6.26). In other words, their reason for following Him was not in faith but looking for earthly blessing. Thus, Jesus’ response: “Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life—the food which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has put his seal of approval on him” (John 6.27).

(Side Note: The similarities between this episode and the one in John 4 with Jesus and the Samaritan woman are very interesting. There he offered her water to drink. Here, Jesus offers the crowds food from heaven. Both were promises of eternal life to the believer.)

The crowd asked how they might receive this blessing (John 6.28), but when Jesus told them “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent” (John 6.29), they balked. They demanded a sign to prove that Jesus was who He said He was (John 6.30). They offered a justification from their history—Moses and the manna (John 6.31). Which is interesting because familiarity with that period shows that many of those people were stiff-necked and did not believe (have faith in) the Lord God.

Not much has changed, since when Jesus tells them “the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.33, 35). But these people who had followed after Him did not believe as proved by these damning words, “But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe” (John 6.36).

That is to say, they saw the signs that Jesus had done in their presence, they heard the gospel come from His lips, but seeing the truth with their eyes, and hearing the truth with their ears, they still failed to believe. And this is where Jesus says the very things that explain that reality of unbelief amongst the people that Mr. Clark has spent his time trying to deny and to get others to do the same thing.

“…you have seen me and still do not believe. Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. Now this is the will of the one who sent me—that I should not lose one person of everyone he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day” (John 6.37-39; italics added).

**To the Observant Reader, please note the following.  

Earlier I mentioned that Clark left off verse 39 from his explanation, but adding it along with what follows helps the reader better understand the intent of the gospel.

Jesus not only says that whoever the Father gives will come to me, but that such a person He will never send away, because He was sent to do the Father’s will. Which is what exactly? First to never send away the one the Father gives to the Son (v. 37). Second, to not lose one single person the Father has given him, but to raise each and every one up on the last day (v.39). Third, it “is the will of my Father—for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.40; italics added). Meaning every single person that the Father draws to the Son will be granted eternal life, for they will believe in Him.

**Not only are those whom the Father given sent to the Son, but they are kept by the Son and raised up on the last day; everyone receiving eternal life with Him.

But…

Many of these people did not believe in Jesus before He said this (John 6.36), and they most certainly did not believe in Him afterwards. Even though they followed him across the Sea of Galilee. For when they heard Jesus’ truthful testimony, they “…began complaining about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they reasoned amongst themselves, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, who father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’” (John 6.41-42).

Jesus tells them to stop complaining about him (John 6.43), and then He tells them the reason they do not believe: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6.44: NET). He then adds that “Everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me” (John 6.45). But who hears and learns from God? Again, looking back to what has come before we are able to discern that it is limited to the ones that the Father draws, giving to the Son. Only that type of individual “believes [having] eternal life” (John 6.47).

But the Jews to whom Jesus spoke did not hear or listen to God, they did not believe in the one sent from the Father, and this is proved by their failure to comprehend His message as they argued amongst themselves against Him (John 6.52).

John 6:53-71

After his lengthy teaching on His flesh being bread and His blood being wine, which is just a metaphoric way of saying that in Him is that which is necessary to receive and sustain life eternally, we find that it was not just the crowds that complained against Him, refusing to believe, but many of His own disciples.

Those who had followed Christ for some time joined in with the other grumblers and complainers. Saying, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?” (John 6.60). Some assume that the difficulty lies in the metaphor, and this is certainly part of it. But the heart of the matter is much deeper. I would imagine it is more akin to John the Baptist’s warning during his ministry: “…Don’t begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones!’” (Luke 3.8). In other words, what saved them was nothing but God alone, “…not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man…” (John 1.13).

Jesus says to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6.61b-64a; italics added).

Notice that Jesus is not merely speaking about Judas Iscariot here, although in just a few verses He does call him a devil (John 6.70). Interestingly enough what caused the disciples unbelief is the same thing that caused many in the crowd at Capernaum not to believe: “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come” (John 6.65). The phrase “Because of this…” can also be translated as “This is why…” (ESV; HCSB); or, “Therefore said I unto you…” (KJV); or, “For this reason…” (NASB). Therefore, according to Jesus the reason they do not believe—either the crowd or his disciples—is because the Father had not drawn them, and this was evidenced by their inability to accept the Lord’s teaching. And this further proof that they were not included in the number that “heard” or “learned” from the Father (John 6.45). For if they were, they of the Father, then they would believe in the Son (cf. John 6.57).

But when “…[Jesus’ disciples] quit following him and did not accompany him any longer” (John 6.66), they proved the point He had been making all along. Which started at the beginning of his teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6.25-52).

Again, if we take John 6:37-38, 44 in context we find that Jesus does in fact teach an effectual calling by God the Father in giving to the Son those Christ is intended to raise up on the last day. To get the correct interpretation outside of John 6 like Clark attempts is unnecessary. Moreover, when we look at the John 12:32-33 and 17:1-5 in their context there is nothing in them that subverts this meaning. Instead the opposite happens. These passages in fact complement the understanding given above.

In future posts, I will take the time to work through them. Until then may the peace of Christ be upon you, and if you do not know it…may you come to know it.


ENDNOTES:

[i] I have chosen to indicate where in Clark’s writing I am citing with the phrase “line ‘x’” throughout this post. Since, English grammar normally requires a paragraph to be 3-4 sentences and Clark often finishes a thought in only two, I thought it more appropriate to label each segmented thought this way. Hopefully this aids the reader in identifying where Mr. Clark is being quoted from. I have kept the Scripture texts he cited with the “line” mentioned. So, for example “line 4” would include his citations of John 6:37-38, 44.

[ii] See: John 5.23, 36; 6.44, 57; 8.16, 18, 26, 42; 10.36, 12.49; 14.24; 17.21; 17.25; 20.21. The Father sending the Son is an act of giving on the Father’s behalf (cf. John 3.16).

[iii] D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 129. It should be noted that Carson does warn the biblical student from “…reading one’s personal theology into the text” (128). His point is being aware of them so that we can step back from the text during our learning process and ask key question of our view: Is my teaching on this area wrong, do I then need to be corrected? Am I being hindered from accepting what the text says because of personal bias, refusing to submit to what is written, and therefore need to be rebuked on this or that point? Ignoring our presuppositions is not fruitful, but being aware of them and then weighing them in the light of Scripture is necessary and good.

[iv] All Scripture in this section is of the New English Translation (NET), unless otherwise noted.

Image by <a href=”http://Image by Josep Monter Martinez from Pixabay“>Josep Monter Martinez

Posted in Salvation

Salvation Roughly Defined, Stated and Explained as a Work of God

Roughly Defined…

Salvation…what sort of mental images does that word bring to bear? We Christians pride ourselves on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of salvation, but what is meant by that one word? What are we being saved from? Why do we believe others need saving?

These questions and many more are vitally important to the Christian faith and message. The term salvation is theologically rich in biblically defined categories. It speaks of atonement, deliverance, redemption, being ransomed, being redeemed, being adopted, etc.

Why do I need atoned for—i.e. what needs covering? What am I being delivered from—i.e. what am I being set free from? From who or what am I being ransomed—i.e. what price needed paid for my life? What am I being redeemed from—i.e. where am I taken from and given to? Why do I need to be adopted—i.e. why was I fatherless/who has become my father? Etc., etc. etc.

Now I do not have a long time to help you become acquainted with seeing the importance of these subjects, nor the implications that are specifically tied to them, but when Christians speak of salvation through/in Jesus Christ these categories (and more) are all simultaneously being assumed/conveyed.

Roughly Stated…

Ultimately, salvation speaks of deliverance. When a person is saved, they are delivered from slavery to sin, having had their sins covered, for the ransom price has been paid (life-for-life) in order to redeem them from their dead status as orphans alienated from the Life of God. Salvation is not a singular work of Jesus, but the triune effort of the one God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

This is how that predetermined plan was carried out in history (it was predetermined, because it was something God decided before the beginning of creation; cf. Eph 1.4):

  1. The Father sent the Son into the world to die for those whom He was giving to the Son…He continually draws those individuals in history to Jesus.
  2. The Son, in perfect obedience to the Father in the power of the Spirit—willingly laid down His life for the people He came to save by becoming a substitute for them, paying the just punishment for their sin on the cross. His resurrection being a sign/a promise that He would do for His own what He did for himself—life after physical death; eternally.
  3. The Spirit is sent by Father and Son to glorify the Son by regenerating those for whom the Son died. Whoever the Father draws to the Son, whoever the Father and Son reveal the truth to—this work is done by the power of the Holy Spirit. He gives life, where life did not formerly exist. He grants to those chosen by God an inheritance as children of the Most High through the new-birth.[i]

Roughly Explained…

For the most part, Christians will find agreement with these biblical truths.   The gospel of God is that He provided life everlasting for those who were counted as His enemies. Unless one believes with their heart, and confesses with the mouth they will not be saved (Rom 10.10). Believe what? That Jesus is the Christ whom God raised from the grave. Confess what? That Jesus is Lord over all (cf. Rom 10.9; for both q/a).

  • “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame’” (Rom 10.11; cf. Jer 17.7; Isa 28.16).[ii]

Jesus as the Christ has been identified as Lord and Savior, there is salvation in no other name (cf. Acts 4.12; Psa 79.9).  He is not a new god, nor the god of the New Testament alone, but he is Yahweh in the flesh (cf. Heb 1.3). There are several indicators of this reality given in the New Covenant which necessarily find their root in the Old Covenant. To some this is a confusing reality, but the confusion is not because the Scriptures are unclear. The confusion stems from either accidental or willful ignorance of what all the Bible teaches. Jesus is Lord and Savior, He is God in the flesh, and salvation is found in no one else:

  • “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior” (Isa 43.11).

And yet we read,

  • “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12.37-38).

The apostle John explains to his reader that though Jesus had performed many signs (gave much evidence) that He was in fact Lord and Savior, the people who witnessed such things “still did not believe” (v. 37).  John says that this was to fulfill what was written by the prophet Isaiah. The reference to “arm of the Lord” ought to catch our attention, for that is an expression of speech that speaks of the “power of God” (cf. Rom 1.16; 1Cor 1.18; 1Thess 1.5).

The Lord’s apostle continues explaining to his readers an important point that is often overlooked by many well-intentioned Christians:

  • “Therefore, they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12.39-41).

First, notice that in applying Isaiah’s prophecy John gives the reason for the unbelief. Since the arm of the Lord had evidently not been revealed to those whom Jesus performed the signs to—i.e. God’s power had not been granted to them who witnessed such things—belief was impossible.

I will say that again just in case you have something blocking your field of vision. Maybe you glazed over the text too quickly, or the phone rang, or you started dozing because I’m a bit boring.  The apostle John says the people who were witnesses of Jesus ministry failed to believe, because “they could not.” In other words, they did not have the ability. Not my words, but the beloved disciple’s.

Second, he emphasizes what he said in verse 38. Evidently, “the arm of the Lord [had not] been revealed” since the people failed to believe in Jesus. John reiterates this point in verse 40 by stating that this was a fulfillment of what God had spoken through Isaiah formerly: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart…” (John 12.40a).

Where have we seen such language before? I mean besides Isaiah? Did we not see this during Moses ministry as well? How many times are we told that Pharaoh could not believe because the Lord had hardened his heart?  Some squirm at such statements, but if we read through Exodus, we see that at the beginning of Moses ministry in Egypt God promised that Pharaoh would not listen (despite all of the evidences), because the Lord hardened his heart (cf. Exod 4.21; Rom 9.17).

The “he” that John refers to is God. He is the one that refused to allow those people to believe. Their eyes remain blind and their hearts hard, lest they “understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them” (John 12.40b). Oh, but Jesus would never do such a thing. He’s too loving, too kind. He most certainly is, but He does make distinctions between those who are His and those who are not.

“Where does He do this?” you ask. He does this several times throughout His earthly ministry, but I will give you one example to prove my point:

  • “All things have been given to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him” (Luke 10.22; NET).

Back to John 12:41 for just a moment.

Jesus reserves the right to show mercy on whom He will show mercy. He does not owe “mercy” to anyone, nor is He required to pour out on everyone the grace to believe. John explains to his readers that when Isaiah spoke the things that he did (cf. Isa 6 for context), it was Jesus and His glory that he saw seated on the throne in heaven. Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh, and Jesus is responsible for the giving or not giving of the ability to believe. He reserves the right to grant salvation to whomever He pleases.

Closing Remarks…

You may wonder, “Why are you discussing such things now? Are you one of those ‘cage-staged Calvinists?’”  Uhm…no, I’m not.

What I find is that non-Calvinists are often highly offended of what Reformed theology holds to be true, as a result from studying/exegeting Scripture. In fact, if you were to look in to the history of the T.U.L.I.P. for which Calvinism is most popularly identified with, you will find that we did not pick the fight; rather, the Remonstrant’s did. The followers of Jacob Arminius picked the fight and lost at the Synod of Dort. The fight continues to this day because Arminian’s of all stripes (including Traditionalists, though they deny that affiliation) are so irritated by Reformed soteriology.

While, I believe my Arminian brothers are in fact brothers in the Lord[iii], I also have no problem answering their criticisms. One day those intermural debates will be unnecessary, but while we remain in the flesh wrestling with the biblical text and its meaning is of utmost importance to those in the faith. So, I think in the posts to come I will deal with some of the major points of contention as I understand them. Leaving open an opportunity for dialogue.

Next up: A Brief Discussion on what it means to “receive” something…?

ENDNOTES:

[i] These three points are not meant to be exhaustive in describing the work of the Trinity on the subject of salvation. This is a rough overview, as was the brief definition of salvation. More could be added and has been added by those much wiser than myself.

[ii] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[iii] Unfortunately, while I have maintained this position since moving into Reformed theology, there have been many that have ostracized me for my convictions. Rather than hearing an explanation, they prefer to accept various false characterizations and epithets that have been popularly proposed against Reformed thought.

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.