Ah, the book of Ephesians. Perhaps one of my favorite books in scripture. For such a short book in length, it more than makes up for in clear and concise theology. After Paul's standard greeting (v. 1-2) he dives into spiritual blessings for the believer. Here goes:
Eph 1:3-14 (ESV): 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In 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, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In 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, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Paul begins in verse 3 by establishing exactly what he is going to write about to begin the book by saying "who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." The rest of the section is Paul expounding on what these blessings are. There really is not a whole lot to this section in one sense, as it reads quite plainly and straightforward. On the other hand, this section of scripture is one of the most abused and twisted in the entire bible. Why? Because people just don't like what it says because it violates their theology. Paul can't really be saying that! Well, what exactly is Paul saying? Let's take a peek.
The first blessing Paul lists is in verse 4. What is it? I quote: "even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world." I've seen numerous attempts to circumvent the plain meaning of this text, but none of them are sufficient. To put it simply: God chose us before the foundation of the world. He alone chose who would be His sheep. How much more clear does Paul have to be? Where does it says "He chose us because we chose Him?" Does scripture ever say that? Anywhere?
Paul also continues on and gives a reason as to why God chose us. It is this: "that we should be holy and blameless before him." So, where does the holy and blameless before Him come from if not from His choice? Does He choose us to be holy and blameless because He looked through time and saw that we would be and then base His choice on that? No, He chooses us TO BE holy and blameless, not BECAUSE He knows we would be out of our own free will. (which is a big fat lie, see my latest 3 blogs) Peter had the same thing in mind here:
1 Peter 1:1-3 (ESV): 1Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Notice a few things Peter says. First he says that we are elect (v. 1) according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (v. 2), in the sanctification of the Spirit (v. 2), FOR obedience to Jesus Christ (v. 2) and FOR sprinkling with His blood. (v. 2)
You notice that? It says we are elect (chosen) FOR obedience and FOR sprinkling of His blood. If someone is sprinkled with His blood, they are SAVED. Peter is essentially saying we are chosen FOR salvation. Not because we chose first, but because God chose us FOR that.
OK, back to Ephesians. Paul is arguing essentially the same line of thought here. God chose us before the foundation of the world TO BE holy and blameless. Who is holy and blameless but those who are justified? It is impossible to be holy and blameless without being justified. Who are the justified ones but God's elect? (Rom 8:28-33)
On to verse 5. Paul now states: "he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ." Another wonderful spiritual blessing. HE predestined US. We did not predestine ourselves, as we did not exist yet temporally. Yes, God exists outside of time. Yes, we do in fact choose Christ. But why? It is only because God chose us TO those things. Scripture never uses the word 'postdestination.' It's not there, look, I promise. If God simply 'looked through time' and saw that we would choose Him and based it on that, the word 'postdestination' would have to be used. Rather, the word 'predestination' is used. What does it mean? In the Greek, the definition is to 'mark off for one's self beforehand.' What does God predestine us to, per Ephesians 1? Adoption. Adoption is done by the parent, not the child. Adoption makes us a child of God. HE predstined us FOR adoption. Our free will does not accomplish adoption. God does. Now the freewillist would argue 'but that's based on us choosing Him.' No, on the contrary it's not. Paul gives us the benefit of answering this question immediately in verse 5. What is God's predestination based on? Our choice? Nope. Rather, it is "according to the purpose of his will." What's that? According to my will? Uh, how about no, Scott. It's according to God's will, not ours. Where is the free will here? It's simply non-existent.
So, those are the first blessings that Paul rattles off. He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world and He predestined us to adoption as children of God. Both of them according to the purpose of HIS will.
Verse 6 supports this even more when Paul says: "to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved." Let's see here...to the praise of HIS glorious grace, with which HE has blessed US in the Beloved. The Beloved is an obvious reference to Christ in this case.
Verse 7, next blessings. "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace." No free will here either, only sovereign blessings. We have:
a) Redemption through His blood.
b) Forgiveness of our sins.
But why? Paul answers: "according to the riches of HIS grace." So, we have redemption through His blood, which means Christ cashed us in, redeemed us as His own, and we have the forgiveness of sins, which means we are justified. Both of these according to God's grace. That's it. Grace alone.
Verse 8-10 Paul expounds even more praise for the God who redeemed Him and builds on verses 4-7. He says: "which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."
He continues: "which HE lavished upon us." Then: "making known to us the mystery of his will." Then again: "according to His purpose."
The tricky part of verse 10 is when Paul states: "to unite all things in him." We know that it cannot be saying that all are in Christ, because that would mean universal salvation. Therefore, some Greek is in order. The Greek word used here for 'to unite' is:
(346) To Unite (anakephalaiomai not from kephale = head but from kephalaion = summary, or sum total) Literally, this word used here means to 'sum up.'
The idea being conveyed is that all things will be brought into meaningful relationship with Christ. At the end of the age, everything will be seen to 'sum up' to Christ. Presently there is sin, frustration, and curse. but this won't always be the case. Right now, things don't 'sum up' properly. But when Christ returns, that will all change. In this way, we recognize the preeminence of Christ and that Christ's mission is much more than just the salvation of His sheep. Creation itself will be restored to its original harmonious order upon the return of Christ. (Romans 8:18-21) Hence, we get the phrase "to unite all things to Him." Or to "sum up all things in Christ." Everything in the universe, known and unknown, will be totally subjected to Christ.
Paul is saying that God has made known to us this plan of God to sum up all things in Christ at the fullness of time, which is accomplished at the return of Christ, and He has made it known to us solely by His will. Paul calls it a 'mystery' because this was something that God had not revealed until Christ.
Paul continues into verse 11, where it says: "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." He moves right on to another blessing. We have an inheritance. What is this inheritance? We have been appointed as heirs according to the promise. The promise is eternal life through Christ alone. Paul talks about the same thing in Galatians 3:29, saying: And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
The inheritance, however, is because we have been "predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will." We are heirs according to the promise for the sole reason that God has predestined us according to the counsel of His will. Not only that, but He works all things according to the council of His will Paul says. The Greek word for 'works' here is 'energeo.' It means quite simply 'to work effectively to cause something to happen.' What a mighty God we serve!
Verses 4-11 give us a pretty nice list of blessings.
1. He chose us before the foundation of the world
2. To be holy and blameless before Him
3. He predestined us to adoption as children of God
These are all: according to the purpose of His will, for the praise of His glorious grace, which He has blessed us in the Beloved.
4. Redemption through His blood
5. Forgiveness of sins
These are: according to the riches of his grace, which He lavished upon us.
6. Made known to us the mystery of His will
7. To reconcile all things to Christ
According to His purpose
8. Predestined to obtain an inheritance
According to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the council of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.
Finally, Paul wraps up the section by balancing verse 4-12, all about absolute divine sovereignty, with verses 13-14, which relate to human responsibility. It is important to note that human responsibility and indeed, the ability to make choices, does not imply free will, but rather, free agency. Paul goes on: "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, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."
Paul has already explained above that the ones who DO what he speaks of in verses 12-14 are the ones whom God has chosen before the foundations of the world, predestined to adoption, and graciously given redemption and forgiveness. Nevertheless, there is real choice involved. From our perspective, we are saved by responding to the Gospel message. The Gospel message is good news. In and of itself it does not save anyone. It is the means that God has ordained for us to share the good news about Him, but not the cause of a person's salvation. Neither is the cause our free will. The cause is God's grace, manifested to us by regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Why do we respond positively to the Gospel message? Simply put, because the Holy Spirit has enabled us to do so. No one would ever respond to it without the effectual drawing of the Spirit, nor is anyone able to respond to it. It calls for a complete denial of self. There is nothing we can do to earn or merit salvation. Even the free choice for Christ that we DO make is a result of God's sovereign predestination and regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Even here Paul finishes by saying once again that this is 'to the praise of His glory.' So, for us, we proclaim the good news always and to everybody. God's election and predestination are hidden to us. They are part of God's mysterious decretive will. Only God knows the identity of His elect. On the other hand, Jesus Christ, praise be, is not hidden to us. Therefore, we preach the good news of Christ to everyone everywhere, trusting that God is able to and indeed will save a great multitude that no man can number. He does this completely according to His sovereign will and not according to ours. Does human responsibility negate the absolute sovereignty of God or vice versa? Absolutely not. Both are equally true, but one thing is completely sure: When a sinner comes to Christ, God alone is to be given credit for that, completely. Not the free will of the person. That, my friends, is humanistic fleshly doctrine at its finest and strips a sovereign God of the glory He said He would not share with anyone.