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.