Ephesians 1 Is Not For Us?

I hate surprise arguments, especially the ones that make no sense at all. I confess, the argument the Arminian made to me in my last debate so caught me off guard and surprised me that I was almost speechless. Given Proverbs about not answering a fool lest he think himself wise, I probably should have remained speechless.

The man’s claim? After attacking me about my Calvinistic views on predestination and my response to read Ephesians 1, he said that Ephesians 1 wasn’t written for us, just the original audience.

Like I said, I was dumbfounded. You could make that claim about every book in the Bible and then just punt the faith all together. If the Bible is only written to those in the original audience, then he is either requiring God to provide new revelation today, or there is no hope of salvation.

Now, I’m sure the man would not say that. I’m sure he thinks he is wise enough to tell which books of the Bible are written to us, and which books are not. The problem with this is that the moment he starts determining which books are for us and which are not is the moment that he places himself above Scripture. Instead of submitting to what Ephesians 1 is saying, he had determined it is not for us. This is no different than what liberal theologians have done when they determine that the resurrection is not true.

This really is just neo-orthodoxy with a new twist. Those who are neo-orthodox believe that the Bible isn’t God’s word until it becomes God’s word to us. Again, the problem with this view is that it places us above the Bible in terms of authority.

This is not how the writers of the Bible treat the Bible. As Paul writes: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Paul wants us to know that all of Scripture is written to us and is to be used for our spiritual well-being. This is the same man that preached the full counsel of God to the Ephesians themselves (Acts 20). He held nothing back, because it all applied to them, and to us.

When Paul writes his letter to the Ephesians, he never intended it just to remain with Ephesus and the church there. It was intended to be circulated among the churches because what was true for the Ephesians in the letter was true for every believer, both near and far, and those not yet born. This is what happened as well. The churches in Asia Minor circulated the letters as they received them and copied them. If the truths were just for the original audiences, I’m sure Paul would have said so.

The reason why the man probably made the argument is because he knows the text definitely speaks of predestination. Arminians cannot get around this truth. Paul is clearly speaking of things that were determined before the foundations of the world were laid. They know it says this. I’ve also heard them say that it was not individuals that Paul was writing to, but the collective whole. Yes, but the church is made up of individuals and the truth Paul is writing about applies to individuals as well as the broader elect.

Arminians must give some excuse for what the text says other than accepting it for what the text… says. There is probably something deeper in this man that prevents him from accepting what it says. There usually is. Sometimes, these

I think the sad aspect of the entire ordeal is that the man was willing to punt great spiritual truths for his theological position. If predestination were not true, the Bible would never speak of it. But it does speak of it and it brings the believer comfort and joy knowing that God had us in mind before He even brought creation into existence. We are not just Christians by happenstance but Christians because of His sovereign will and plan. It’s sad that men like the Arminians miss this in attacking such a sound doctrine and the word of God itself.

For those of you who are interested in Ephesian 1, here are verse 3-14, which is the subject of the man’s comments:

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[a] for adoption 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. 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[b] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ10 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.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[c] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,[d] to the praise of his glory.

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6 thoughts on “Ephesians 1 Is Not For Us?

  1. I can’t speak for any particular Arminian, but I was one for most of my life, and I can say that most would not stoop to the level of rejecting parts or Scripture and most wouldn’t deny that predestination of some form is taught there, since it is pretty plain. (The Catholic Church affirms predestination even more strongly than that, fwiw.) Yes, predestination is true; but the dogmatic, Calvinistic understanding of predestination is not the only understanding by which it can be true, and in fact it presents major problems. These problems, which Arminianism was originally posited to reject, are not the idea of predestination itself, which again is quite clear, but its finer contours, which on the whole are not supported by Scripture: specifically what is termed “double predestination,” the proposition that God not only predestined the elect to be saved, but also actively predestined the reprobate to be damned; the idea of “limited atonement,” that Christ only died for the elect and the efficacy of His sacrifice is limited to them, is also a major problem.

    The problem with Calvinism all in all, I would say, is that its major premises absolutely demand these ends, ultimately ending in a denial of free will, and a monstrous God who both ordains and causes evil, who damns His own Creation for the evils He Himself ordained, and most seriously, who contradicts the very central message of Scripture and the Gospel, God’s boundless and universal love for all humanity, to which we all are called. If God created some men with no other purpose or possibility but to be damned, whom He did not even love enough to include in “the world” for which Christ died (cf. John 3:16, 1 John 2:2), then why should we love them, either? The poor, the hungry, the naked, the suffering, the prisoner, those most in need of God’s mercy and grace, those whom Scripture tells us Jesus loves more than anyone, are precisely the ones who, exhibiting no visible signs of His election and grace in their lives, are so easily presumed to be “hoi polloi,” the ones on the bottom of God’s boot, whom God clearly doesn’t care for and neither should we — or so is the logical end of these suppositions. It is the very negation of the Gospel.

    My recent posts on my brush with Calvinism are apropos.

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    1. Hi Joseph,
      No, we don’t believe in double predestination. Our confessions says that God simply leaves those who are not elect to themselves and does not act to save them as He does the elect.

      Everyone believes in “limited atonement” or you are a universalists. We prefer the term definite atonement or particular redemption. Christ died for the church, as it says in Ephesians 5.

      We believe in free will, people only choose what they desire. The non elect never choose Christ because they never desire him. But they are free to do so, they just don’t have the ability to do so.

      “Monster God” is a straw man. We see God as very gracious and loving in that He saves some, instead of giving us all what we richly deserve. BTW, John 3:16 does not say that Jesus died for the world. That is your interpretation, but the verse says God loved the world. In the first world context, that was monumental because John was showing the gospel to go forth to the Gentiles. That is why the verse is there, to show the Jews that Jesus did not die for them alone. If Christ died for the world, then everyone would be saved. But He died for the church, as Ephesians 5 says specifically.

      Ok, that is enough for now. Try to keep your reply to the topics at hand.

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      1. Thanks for the irenic reply, Pastor Tim. I felt a little bad after mine — I tend to get carried away with my own rhetoric.

        I admit I’m out if my theological depth. And I don’t really care to debate you about it, and I know you don’t either. I guess not all Calvinist belief is the same; but I thought a belief in the absolute sovereignty of God (i.e. God ordains every event) was one of Calvinism’s hallmarks. And if that is the case, how do you square that with a belief in free will? Is it really free will if man doesn’t have the freedom to choose a different path?

        The problem with double predestination is that it’s almost unavoidable. If the elect only desire God and can only choose Him because God called them with His efficacious grace, then it follows that the reprobate (or non-elect) never desire God because He didn’t call them, because He didn’t choose them before the world began. If salvation is such that the elect cannot resist His efficacious grace (i.e they do not have the free will to resist salvation), and the non-elect cannot call on God (and do not want to) because they never receive that grace, then in the end, the only people who will be saved are the ones God predestined without foreknowledge, and the only ones who will be damned are the ones whom God didn’t predestine. The act of not choosing them is effectively a sentence of damnation, since neither the elect nor the non-elect have any other choice.

        An “unlimited” atonement only results in universalism if you embrace efficacious (or irresistible) grace, and reject free will (i.e. man cannot reject grace). If the atonement were unlimited and His grace could not fail to save, then yes, all would be saved. But if the atonement were unlimited and God gave man the choice of accepting or refusing His grace, then His blood would not have been “wasted” — but it would be the hand reached out to save that the sinner would not accept. That would only contradict predestination if you believe that election was without foreknowledge.

        On John 3:16: it don’t say Jesus died for the whole world; it said that God so loved the world. Do you aim to exclude some people from that love? 1 John 2:2 says that “He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only [i.e. Christians, the elect] but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 Timothy 4:10 tells us that “God … is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (i.e. he is also Savior for those who do not believe), and in 1 Tim 2:4 we see that “God … desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (implying that all people have the possibility of being saved; if the Calvinist argument were true, anyone God whom desires to be saved would be saved, He having predestined them and called them; otherwise He didn’t really desire them).

        This is again longer than I meant it to be. I just wanted to answer your points there.

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  2. “I guess not all Calvinist belief is the same; but I thought a belief in the absolute sovereignty of God (i.e. God ordains every event) was one of Calvinism’s hallmarks. And if that is the case, how do you square that with a belief in free will? Is it really free will if man doesn’t have the freedom to choose a different path?”

    We do believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. We admit this causes problems with the free will that man has, and I admit that I’m not a fan of free will as it is defined. Paul talks about us being in bondage to sin, more than free in anything. Quite frankly, I don’t see free will anywhere in Scripture. I see God’s will declared in John 1:12-13, and it seems to indicate that those who are the children of God, are so because of God’s will, not their free will.

    We admit that this is a mystery because we don’t believe that God violates the will of those who are non elect or elect. Again, we all choose what we desire. It is just that the elect have the ability to choose Christ, because their desire has been changed, and the non-elect don’t, because they don’t have the ability or desire.

    God decrees all these things from before the foundation of the world. So yes, we believe in the sovereignty of God.

    The question of predestination is best understood by what mankind deserves. God would have been fully just in sending all to hell because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We spit in His holy, righteous face. But… out of His grace, He chose to save some. Is that fair? Not at all, and I’m grateful because I know I don’t deserve heaven, Christ or forgiveness. But I’m eternally grateful.

    This is the rub with many Arminians, their pride gets in the way and they want to be sovereign instead of letting God be God.

    This was the problem the man had above. He wanted to say who was and was not saved, etc. He didn’t want Scripture to say what it said, but wanted to be the determining factor.

    That is the rub for all of us. Are we going to let Scripture say what Scripture says, or put our own twist on it?

    One more: John 3:16. God excludes His love from some. Just look at Judas Iscariot? Look at Paul’s missionary journeys. God redirected his footsteps away from certain areas. God choose the Jews, and not the nations. You are applying God’s love, covenantal love, to everyone. It is not applied to everyone. Even John 3:16 excludes that because it implies, along with the rest of John 3, that those who don’t believe are condemned already.

    Again, the way you interpret love is a 20th century implication. There is no “unconditional love” from God. His love is very conditional upon us being either in Christ or not. Those who are outside of Christ are already condemned (John 3:18). So you cannot take the universal notion of God’s love because the context of John 3 doesn’t allow for it.

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  3. Wow, if one has to tamper with one’s bibliology to avoid the force of Ephesians 1 and it’s implication of Sovereign grace, I think it speaks more about that person’s theological approach as a whole

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