Posted in Biblical Questions

Saved from What to What?

So you’ve heard the gospel proclaimed and in response, you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. Acknowledging before all people that hope is found in no one else, and so you entrust yourself to Him who came, who lived, who died, was raised, and ascended to the Father’s right hand. Now what?

What do you do after you’ve embraced the gospel of Jesus’ kingdom? What do you do then? From where do your marching orders come? How are you to live? How are you to raise a family? How are you to act as an employee? How are you to be a member of a local church? How are you to be a good citizen in the society in which you live?

According to Jesus, as His disciple, you are to observe “all that He has commanded” (Matt 28.19), but what does that mean? Does this limit Christian behavior to the few things recorded in the New Testament that Jesus said? Does it incorporate the things that His apostles, after Him, taught?

What’s new?

This may or may not be where you stopped your investigation. Perhaps you have been taught that Christians are only bound (for the most part) to abide by New Testament teaching. I mean, the Bible does say, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8.13; ESV).1 But in what sense is “new” being used? Has the content of the Old been entirely done away with? Is “new” meant to convey, ofan entirely different origin? Or is “new” meant to be understood as “different from one of the same category that has existed previously?”2

It is the means by which the covenant has been ratified and applied that is new, not the standard by which the covenant is to be honored. The standard of both covenants—what is referred to as Old and New—is holiness. To be an honored member of the covenant between God and man, the person in question must live honorably by reflecting his/her Creator’s mind and action.

A requirement…

Holiness is the requirement. Holiness defined by God our Maker, not mankind the creature; “…without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12.14). For the charge from our Lord is, “… [to] be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5.48). A demand based upon divine writ: “You must be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the other peoples to be mine” (Lev 20.6; NET). And before the critic speaks, yes this applies to all who would be called children of God. As Zechariah prophesied before the birth of our incarnate Lord:

“That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1.75).

What changed…

Therefore what is “new” about the New Covenant is not a “new” standard of living, but the means by which it is ratified and applied:

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once and for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb 9.11-14).

What the living sacrifice of Jesus offered to creation was a perfect redemption. In the past copies of heavenly things (the tabernacle, the mercy seat, the holy places, etc.) were ratified with a temporal offering, but since the crucifixion of Jesus the shadows have passed away:

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9.24-28).

Christ came to bear His people’s sins (cf. Matt 1.21), that is what the writer of Hebrews is pointing out. In defining the New Covenant, we find that a better sacrifice has been offered, a better high priest has been given to intercede on behalf of those who are rightly called children of the Most High. He was able to do this as our representative for at least two reasons: 1) He came from God being the living Word that put on flesh (cf. John 1.1-18)3; 2) He lived a perfectly holy life.

On living…

This brings us full circle to the questions posed at the beginning of this post. If we are saved from our sins. If we have our identity seated in the God-Man Jesus the Christ. How should we live? How should we govern our lives? How should our families be governed? How should our churches be governed? How should our society be governed?

Are we saved from our sin, from our “dead works” (Heb 9.14) to live by some other standard or by His standard? The apostle Paul points out that before Christ redeemed us we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1). But after our redemption we have become God’s “…workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2.10).

Well, what are those “good” works? Is not the goodness of God shown in His holiness? And is it not accurate to say that God’s holiness is a light that shines through the darkness with blinding authority? And to where must we turn to find such holiness, such righteousness, such a light that is able to cut through the darkness of sin that plagues creation, but is now being overcome? Is it not God’s Law-Word?

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa 119.105).

Therefore should we not walk as our Savior walked in this life4; a man who was guided by every intention of God’s heart, careful to do all that He commanded (cf. John 5.19; 10.32; 12.49)?

“I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules” (Psa 119.106).

Preparing to deal with the specifics…

At this point in the dialogue, I imagine that most professing believer’s would acknowledge a great deal of what I’ve said with an “Amen.” But, I have only spoken in a general way. It is easy to get people to agree with you when you speak in generalities, if you leave the specifics or the particulars unspoken. This has been true since the beginning. For if we speak in generalities, then freedom is left to the creature to fill in the specifics or particulars as he/she sees fit. Moses was likeable (Exod 4.29-31) until he declared what must be done (Exod 5.20-21). Many enjoyed the company of Jesus until he got down to the specifics (John 6). Christians of every stripe and color today will agree with many general ideas, concepts or themes of a biblical nature. But the ire of the people grows when you start laying out the black and white areas of life.

No, I’m not speaking about woke, cancel culture of modern day America; although, the content of that subject could be applied here. What I’m referring to is that dirty word called theonomy. When next we meet the specifics and particulars of how we are to live as God’s people, and where it all really applies will be discussed. All I wanted to do in this post was to get you, the reader, thinking about what it means when we say “new” covenant. And, by what standard we are commanded to live by in this day an age. As I said, next time we will begin to look a little closer at the specifics of how we should live. In so doing, we will be starting to shine a light on why theonomy is such a dirty word in many Christian circles.

ENDNOTES:

1All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2Def. 5, Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus, 2008, desktop edition.

3That Jesus was no mere creature is evident in these 18 verses alone. In the opening of John’s gospel we find that Jesus is identified as God, being present with God in the beginning (vv. 1-2). This means that He was with God the Father as a separate person, but He shared the quality/essence of Godhood. He is revealed as the Creator distinct from the creature (v. 3). He is identified as the author of life and the source of light that overpowers all dark forces (v. 4). He is the source and hope of mankind’s salvation (vv. 9-13). He put on flesh to represent us and to reveal the unseen Father who is in heaven through grace and truth (vv. 14-18). Thus, He alone is worthy to be called “My Lord, my God” (John 20.28).

4“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1John 1.6-7).

“By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1John 2.6; italics added).

Posted in Uncategorized

Preaching Christ Crucified Means Preaching Him in All Areas of Life

What does it mean to preach Christ crucified? The apostle Paul tells his Corinthian audience he was determined to do nothing else (1Cor 2.2). As pastor and agitator of the masses Doug Wilson points out, Paul wasn’t talking about a truncated gospel of fundamentalist proportions. To preach the gospel requires more than a 3×5 index card, it requires the sweat and tears of the whole counsel of God (Acts 20.18-27).

Why? Well I’ll let ole Dougy explain that one. And as he does in your reading don’t hesitate to thank the Lord for giving us wisdom through sages such as these. Godly men unashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God (Rom 1.16).

The unbelieving world sins in everything it touches, and so the unbelieving world needs a Savior who can save and sanctify everything they touch. This would include banking, and war, and marketing, and sex, and child rearing, and recycling, and traffic control, and anything else that men might do. We have even figured out how to rebel against Heaven in how we use pronouns. That shows a certain measure of diligence.

—Doug Wilson , Getting Evangelicals Saved

Click the title. Read the article. God Bless!!

Posted in Musings

Confusion Over the Word Way

Living in southeastern Ohio if I want to head towards Cleveland, which is to the north, there are several ways in which I might get there. For instance, my mode of transportation I might choose to drive my car or our family SUV. I could head to the local bus station and buy a ticket to catch a ride to Cleveland. Or, if I was needing life flighted to the Mayo Clinic because I was involved in a tragic accident I would be transported by helicopter. Flying a plane I suppose would be possible, but first I would have to get to Columbus, which is northwest of my position, and the I might have to fly to Chicago’s O’Hare International airport (ORD) first before heading off towards Cleveland, since a direct flight from Columbus to Cleveland probably isn’t available (maybe it is, but I don’t know). The point is there are several options when it comes to the way in which I will travel to get there.

Say that I just chose to drive there…what then? Well, I still have quite a bit of options. I could look for the most direct route north which would have me driving on mainly state routes—possibly even township roads—and thus through a variety of small towns. If I wanted the more scenic route and I was just going for a leisurely trip, then that might be okay. Another option would be for me to hit the interstate system. If I drove to Columbus first (remember its still going north at a slightly westward angle), then I would eventually jump on I-71 towards Cleveland. If I drove towards Cambridge, Ohio (north east of my location and closer), then I could eventually jump on I-77 towards Cleveland. The point being that there are several roads and/or byways that I might choose to get to Cleveland, Ohio.

To put that into perspective I could rightly say, “there are many ways that lead to Cleveland, Ohio. It doesn’t really matter which route I take to get there. As long as I am heading north with that location in mind, then I will eventually find my way there.  

Confusion of the Masses…

What I often hear from people that I come into contact with is that there are many ways to get to heaven—to get to God. It doesn’t really matter which way I take to get there (i.e., what religion). As long as I am heading in the general direction (presumably north) sincerely in my mind, then I will eventually find my way there. In short, all ways eventually lead to eternal bliss.

Ravi Zacharias offers some sobering thoughts to this popular, though falsely held, assumption:

“Anyone who claims that all religions are the same betrays not only an ignorance of all religions but also a caricatured view of even the best-known ones. Every religion at its core is exclusive…And no religion denies its core beliefs.”[i]

In terms of religion, there is great confusion over the word “way.” Just as every religion is decidedly different at base in regards to their core tenets, they all teach different ways to get to their perceived notion of god and eternal bliss. Contrary to the commonly held, but rarely investigated, opinion in our pop-culture all religions (i.e., all ways) are not equal.

Something all other Religions share…

I won’t take up much of your time explaining all the variances that exist within the truth claims of all other religious systems. And yes, before you say it isn’t, atheism is a religious system.[ii] It may not be a unified system with its own set of scriptures, or share various divisions within its participants like denominations/sects, nor will you find a roll call listing all members of their faith, but it does share one unifying thread with all other religious thought. “Well, what is it?” you ask. That the individual in question is capable of making themselves better.

  • (Clarification: This “unifying thread” as I call it is in principle, not in practice. Practice would be the very different ways that each religious system teaches the right “way” to make oneself better. Principle speaks of a supposed ability on the part of the practitioner—i.e., “I’m able to do it!” Something all other religions teach.)

Doesn’t matter the brand name of the religion—and yes, we are including those who deny sharing in any brand (atheism/agnosticism/secular humanism)—all other religious beliefs are unified on this one core teaching. Salvation is possible by the one who wills to do better. And yes, this would include what some “ways” merely call enlightenment; for to be enlightened is to be elevated to a status that is above what you formerly possessed.

What offers division…

Oddly enough this core teaching of all other religious systems (i.e., ways) is what offers positive proof that separates it from the Christian way. Christianity teaches that the individual is not good enough. In fact, the Holy Scriptures (Gen-Rev) of the Christian faith teach that there is “no one good” (Psa 14.1-3; 53.1-3; 3.10). Nothing good can come from that which is corrupted to the very soul of its makeup (Job 15.14; 25.4), and so all of mankind (male and female) falls short of the glory of God (Rom 3.23).

The understanding, at this point, offer the following lamentation:

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7.24).

And lest you think that this is just the mere twisting of the former Pharisee from Tarsus, the Jew known as Paul the apostle Jesus Christ, then I would merely turn you to what God said in times long before Paul existed:

“I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right. ‘Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and Savior; there is none besides me. ‘Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’” (Isa 45.19b-23).

Why do the nations (the people in this world) need a savior? From what do they need to be delivered? Sin which is unrighteousness. Righteousness (right living or living the right way) comes from God the Creator and no other. He is mighty to save so says the Lord of Hosts through the prophet Isaiah. And He who saves also promises…

“I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior…there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isa 43.11, 13; italics mine).

What Christianity teaches…

So, the Christian faith says that man is not capable of saving himself, he (or she) is not good enough to do it. For man it is impossible, but for God it is possible (Luke 18.27). And how does God propose to do this? By sending forth His one and only Son (unique, none like Him) Jesus as a sacrifice, a substituting atonement what Scripture calls a propitiation[iii] for the sins of His people:

“Therefore he [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2.17; cf. Rom 3.25)

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1John 4.10; cf. Matt 1.21).

And thus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12.2) rightly says of Himself:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).

Jesus makes a universal categorical truth claim that is saturated in exclusivity. He says that the only way to God and eternal bliss (what we might call heaven, but which means dwelling with God) is through Him. One way, not many ways. One gate, not many gates. One passage, not many passages.

Offering some needed clarity…

Unlike a journey to Cleveland from southeastern Ohio, there are not many options north…there is only ONE. The journey starts and ends with Jesus the Christ. Any other route leads to separation from God. It is the wrong way.

The Christian faith teaches that in Christ is life, because He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He gave His life so that we might live. And the promise is that those that hear His voice and follow Him, not only will He save them, but none will ever be able to be removed from His hand (i.e., power) for He and the Father are one (John 10.27-30; cf. John 5.18). And to Him we are told that every knee shall bow and confess is Lord over all (Phil 2.10-11; Rev 4.10; 5.13-14). Jesus is the only way.

Unfortunately, the Christian faith is often so watered down as to not offend the rest of the world that this core teaching is seldom pushed to the forefront. Some of this is due to a corrupting of pelagian thought (that man is good enough to do what is right), but that is a subject for another day. Today I just wanted to offer some clarity to the word “way.”


ENDNOTES:

[i] Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000), 7.

[ii] Atheism and its sister agnosticism are sometimes difficult to speak about in a general fashion because those that share the same core beliefs often want to highlight their vast differences. And yes, they do have differences. However, there are some core beliefs that unify them, and they do hold tenaciously (dogmatically?) to those teachings. Like? There is no god…or there might be no god…you’ll have to prove to me there is a god…even though I doubt I will accept your proof for god’s existence. There is no heaven or hell…and yet life is what you make it…either heavenly or hellish. There are no ethical norms that govern the affairs of people…and yet, goodness and not harming others is the chief among all ethical standards. There are not overarching beliefs that people must believe in… “don’t shove your teachings down my throat” … “you Christians need to stop teaching your beliefs.” Life has happened by accidental chaos…we must be logical and rational in our thinking (which is the opposite of chaos). Etc.

[iii] The term propitiation speaks of the all-encompassing satisfaction that Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice fulfilled for the sins of His people (cf. Isa 53). In technical terms the word means, “the turning away of wrath by an offering…While God’s wrath is not mentioned as frequently in the NT as in the OT, it is there. Man’s sin receives its due reward, not because of some impersonal retribution, but because God’s wrath is directed against it (Rom 1:18, 24, 26, 28) …The consistent Bible view is that the sin of man has incurred the wrath of God. That wrath is averted only by Christ’s atoning offering. From this standpoint his saving work is properly called propitiation.” L. L. Morris, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd edition, Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 962, “propitiation,” s.v.

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