We’ve arrived at our final passage that we’ll examine in defense of Calvinism. I promise you it won’t be as long as the last one.
The introduction to the book of Ephesians is one of the most majestic passages in all of the Bible. In the Greek text, verses 3-14 of chapter one are one long, elegant sentence describing the blessings that all three persons of the Trinity shower on the believer.
The verses actually make a very interesting and very unmistakable Trinitarian progression, with verses 3-6 devoted to the role of God the Father (election and adoption), verses 7-12 devoted to the role of God the Son (redemption, forgiveness), and verses 13 and 14 devoted to the role of God the Holy Spirit (sealing us, guaranteeing our inheritance). Each of these sections has a similar phrase to conclude it where God’s grace is praised.
This section is one of those “behind the curtain” moments in the Bible where we are able to get the behind the scenes look at the working of the Godhead in our salvation:
The Predestining Work of the Father
3 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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
This section (verses 3-14) is known as a “Doxology,” meaning an expression of praise to God, and you can see from the outset why this is so. During the entire section Paul discusses the many benefits that we have in Christ, but the focus is not on us or our actions at all, it is continually on praising God for all that he has done.
Where this section becomes immediately relevant to our discussion of Calvinism is with the phrase “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” in verse four.
That word “chose” is one that we have seen before in several places. It was in 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 talking about how God “chose” those who made up the church at Corinth so that there would be no boasting. It is the root word for the word translated “elect” in Romans 8:33 as well as the word translated variously as “election,” “chosen,” and “elect” in Romans 9:11, 11:5, and 11:7, respectively.
Not only did God choose us, but we read in verse 5 that “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.” If you recall, both those words “predestined” and “adoption” were found in Romans 8 and were quite significant.
In both verse four and five, the emphasis is not on what we do, but on what God does. God chooses. God predestines.
Usually, there are two arguments that Arminians will employ to try to argue that this passage doesn’t really teach that God plays the decisive role in determining who gets saved.
The first argument is that God’s election here is determined on the basis of foreseen faith. In other words God uses his exhaustive foreknowledge of future events to see who will eventually believe, and then he chooses them before the foundation of the world.
The second argument is that the election being spoken of here is not individual, but corporate. In other words, instead of choosing individual people to be saved, God choses in general to have a bride for his son, and if you put yourself “in Christ” you become one of the elect chosen before the foundation of the world. So it is your will that is decisive your salvation, God’s will was only decisive for the general plan of salvation.
One thing that you’ll notice immediately is that these are actually competing explanations of how to interpret this passage, it would be extremely odd to find an Arminian who tries to argue both. Most of the time you would expect it to be one or the other.
Despite the fact that they represent two very different approaches, these alternative explanations for this passage share the same three common weaknesses:
- They have no basis in the text
- They contradict other clear passages
- They contradict the text itself
Let’s tackle each of those in turn:
1) They have no basis in the text
The first of these problems is known as eisegesis, or reading something into the text that isn’t actually there. The explanation that relies on God’s foreknowledge is especially guilty here as there isn’t even a foothold to attach that concept to in this passage.
The corporate election explanation at least can make a claim for having a basis in the text, they will say that the repeated use of the phrase “in Christ” indicates that it is up to us to put ourselves in Christ and become part of the elect. This is still eisegesis however, since there is nothing in the text to suggest that being of Christ is of our own doing, and as we will see in a second, that idea contradicts other clear passages of Scripture.
2) They contradict other clear passages
Not only are the alternative explanations nowhere to be found in Ephesians 1, they contradict other passages.
This can be seen in the previous posts in the series where we have seen that God’s will is decisive factor in salvation, but there’s one particular passage that I want to point back to because of how specifically it contradicts the corporate election interpretation.
In the last section I mentioned that the only thing the advocated of the corporate election interpretation have going for them is the repeated phrase “in Christ.” They make the eisegetical assumption that it is our will and our doing and not God’s that results in us being “in Christ.” Not only is that nowhere in the text, it directly contradicts 1 Corinthians 1:30.
You’ll recall that like Ephesians 1, 1 Corinthians 1 is also concerned with God’s involvement in salvation. An amazing connection however, is that both use the same verb to describe God’s involvement (the verb “to choose” or as it could be translated, “to elect”), they both use the same phrase in question here: “in Christ.” Here’s what 1 Corinthians 1:30 has to say regarding that phrase: “And because of him [i.e. God the Father] you are in Christ Jesus.” In other words, God’s will is decisive and not yours in determining if you are in Christ or not.
3) They contradict the text itself
If either the foreknowledge interpretation or the corporate election interpretation were true, we would expect that if Paul gave us an explanation of why God chooses or predestines people, he would mention either foreknowledge or corporate election.
In other words, he might say something like: “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to his perfect foreknowledge of our faith.”
Or maybe: “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to our decision to be found in Christ.”
Not only does that not happen, but Paul gives us a completely contradictory reason to either of those interpretations: “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace…”
The basis for God’s electing and predestining work is not his foreknowledge of our future faith. It is not dependent on some action on our part such as putting ourselves “in Christ.” The basis for God’s electing and pretesting work is the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace. Again, very explicitly, God’s will is decisive.
The Redemptive and Forgiving Work of the Son
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
The Trinitarian progression moves on to the work of the son in verses 7-12. In the first paragraph the work of Christ in redeeming us and forgiving us is outlined, as is a major theme of the book, the uniting all things in Christ.
The second paragraph is where we again encounter that word “predestined.” Very similar to what we have seen in the last section, the basis for the predestination is given, and that basis is the purpose and will of God.
It actually ends up being an extremely strong statement of the sovereignty of God, namely that he “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” You could object here that maybe this is hyperbole or that “all things” doesn’t literally mean every single thing that happens, but neither of those seem to fit with the purpose of the statement. The statement about being predestined is there to give us confidence that we will acquire possession of the inheritance mentioned. To support this Paul says that we were predestined by the one “who works all things after the counsel of his will.” In other words, it’s intended to be a strong statement that God indeed is in control of everything and so his predestining acts will come to pass.
The Sealing and Guaranteeing Work of the Spirit
13 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, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Here we finally have mention of our faith, after a tremendous amount of emphasis has been placed on the sovereign will of God. Our faith is introduced merely to give a context for the timing of the sealing of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, the moment of belief is indeed a significant moment, but it isn’t the answer to the question of who has the decisive role in salvation.
I’ve said before in this series that assurance of salvation and the perseverance of the saints are Trinitarian efforts. Here we see the role of the Spirit, sealing us for the day of redemption and acting as a guarantee for the inheritance that had been mentioned in the previous section.
Like the sections that came before it, this section makes it clear that the work of the Spirit is “to the praise of his glory.”
Dead in Sin/Alive In Christ
Before we move on to the passages that the Arminians use to support their position, I wanted to briefly make a few observations about the next chapter in Ephesians. Here’s the text:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 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. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them
The first thing that I want to point out is that this passage starts out by indicating that before we became Christians, we were dead in our sin. Now that obviously works perfectly well with the doctrine of Total Depravity, but in fairness, it can work in the Arminian scheme too.
What doesn’t work so well with the Arminian scheme is where it says in verse five that God “made us alive together with Christ.” The Arminians certainly believe that, but here that is something that God did that brought believers and only believers out of spiritual deadness. In the Arminian scheme everyone was dead in sin, and then God’s prevenient grace enabled all to respond in faith, and then some responded and got raised to new life in Christ. That’s two extra steps that this passage doesn’t include.
Here you are dead, and God unilaterally raises his people up by Grace.
Now for sure, faith get’s mentioned in verse eight (prevenient grace unfortunately does not), but we need to look at that a bit more closely.
Verse eight says we have been saved by grace through faith. So far so good. Where it gets interesting is where it says “and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” What is not our own doing but is the gift of God? The grace, the act of being saved, or the faith? Or all of it?
The most natural reading is that all of it is the gift of God. In Greek the the word “grace” is a feminine singular noun, the word “saved” is a masculine participle, and the word faith is a feminine singular noun. Paul chooses a neuter pronoun, which is perfect for neatly wrapping up the whole phrase.
This is especially likely because Paul frequently refers to faith as a gift (Philippians 1:29, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Romans 12:3).
The last thing that I want to mention is verse ten where it says that we are his workmanship and that we are created for good works. It’s incredibly important to see that God is alive and active through the life of a believer. When we say that a believer must persevere to the end to be saved, we don’t mean that his perseverance is dependent on his own efforts. God is at work sanctifying the believer and conforming them to the image of Christ.
That’s all for the four major passages in support of Calvinism. Next time we’ll start working through the most common passages used in support of Arminianism. Make sure you subscribe to the series below to get notified when the new post is up.
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