Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ephesians 1:13-14

13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of His glory.

According to Ligon Duncan, one of the paradoxes of the Christian life is that “it is not until God is at the center that we experience true exaltation, for until we become last we are not in the position to be exalted with Jesus Christ; until we are humbled, we cannot be raised. And it is when God is at the center, when God is at the center of life, that we are best off, and our deepest and realest needs are most attended to.” We learn that reality throughout this prayer of praise. Paul has been praising God the Father for all kinds of spiritual blessings in Christ. He’s been using “us” and “we,” speaking primarily of “first-fruits” Christians (“we who were the first to hope in Christ”), including mostly Jewish believers, as the beneficiaries of these blessings. But knowing that the gospel is for all generations of believers, both Jews and Gentiles, Paul switches to “you.” The churches of Asia Minor, including at Ephesus, were a mixed bunch of people, of whom many were new to the faith, compared to the apostles and “first-fruits” Christians. So Paul’s message, first to the Jew and then to the Gentile, is that newer believers (mostly Gentiles) are saved in the same way regarding foreknowledge, predestination (election), and calling, and are now every bit as complete in Christ, thanks to the indwelling Holy Spirit, as “first-fruits” believers (mostly Jews).

Paul will elaborate in Ephesians 2-3. But for now, he is detailing the blessings that are bestowed to every one of God’s chosen people. It’s as if he says, “You were also included in everything that I just said about the blessings of God the moment you heard the gospel and believed it.” Paul is effectively saying that election and predestination have no impact on a person until they hear the gospel, because it is a blessing of God to be able to hear the truth – not only to simply hear it audibly, but also to hear it with understanding (calling). Jesus, in the Parable of The Sower (The Four Soils), makes it clear that not everyone who comes in contact with the word of God really hears it and understands it and embraces it. Paul is saying that his audience, thanks to God’s grace, really heard the gospel. If you stop the sentence after hearing, you’d think that was enough. “You were included when you heard.” But Paul doesn’t start or stop there with “hearing.”

Remember, it’s one long sentence. And Paul is really saying that hoping (from v12) and hearing with understanding (from v13) and believing (from v13) go hand in hand. No one hears with understanding and fails to believe (Hebrews 6:4-12). Thus, Paul says, “Having believed, you were marked with a seal.” The gospel must be heard with understanding and believed to affect its audience. Being “elect” is insignificant until you come to faith; being “predestined” is worthless until you are a believer in Christ. The Holy Spirit’s calling (regeneration) is what unites these critical aspects of the golden chain of salvation. No one can claim the benefits of election and predestination apart from faith in Christ. But once you believed, then election and predestination reveal a truth that is meant to be humbling and glorious. You walked through the doorway – Christ – by hearing and believing the gospel of your salvation, and when you turned around, you saw on the doorpost a sign that said God chose you to walk through that doorway from before creation. That sign, that understanding, gives new meaning to the word “love.” Paul is saying, “You, new believer, Gentile believer, are every bit a child of God as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and even Jesus Himself. God gave you His Spirit to prove it, as a down-payment to guarantee your inheritance.” By placing His seal – the Holy Spirit – on us, or in us, God is claiming ownership of us. No one can tamper with God’s seal; He’ll protect us until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Corinthians 1:21-22, 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

Next, notice that Paul specifies the means of coming to faith as “the word of truth” and “the gospel of your salvation.” Satan wants us to doubt or despise the word of God, and Paul speaks to both of those errors. First the word of God is true; we don’t doubt it. Unbelievers sadly, according to 2 Timothy 3:7, are “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” Second the word of God is unto our salvation; we certainly don’t despise it (Romans 1:16). We rejoice in the gospel as Horatio Spafford did in 1873 when he wrote these lyrics sailing over the spot in the Atlantic where his four daughters had drowned just a week earlier, “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! / My sin, not in part but the whole / Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more / Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

Regeneration and faith meet through the promised Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:16-18), who calls us and is given to us as a deposit, as a seal of guarantee. Calvin notes, “Seals, which among men have the effect of removing doubt, …give validity both to charters and to testaments; anciently, they were the principal means by which the writer of a letter could be known; and, in short, a seal distinguishes what is true and certain, from what is false and spurious.” The Holy Spirit, promised to the Gentiles in the Jewish sacred text – our Old Testament – is like a brand that God places on all of His children, the wheat that grows up with the chaff. The Holy Spirit is a confirmation of the promise of God to bring you to new life, eternal life, a life in the presence of God, saved from His wrath, and a life of inheritance as a co-heir with Christ of all things.

The Holy Spirit is in you – if you trust Christ with genuine saving faith. He is your guarantee. If you don’t have Him – if He doesn’t have you (we are “God’s possession;” see Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 Peter 2:8-10) – there’s no guarantee of salvation or inheritance. To realize that we belong to God, that we are God’s special possession, ought to change the way that we approach life. Calvin says, “The true conviction which believers have of the word of God, of their own salvation, and of religion in general, does not spring from the judgment of the flesh, or from human and philosophical arguments, but from the sealing of the Spirit, who imparts to their consciences such certainty as to remove all doubt. The foundation of faith would be frail and unsteady, if it rested on human wisdom; and therefore, as preaching is the instrument of faith, so the Holy Spirit makes preaching efficacious.” When we thank God for His blessings toward us, the gift of the Holy Spirit ought to top the list; He is the deposit of glory as we wait for the redemption spoken of earlier – to the praise of the glory of God.

Calvin concludes, “The glory of God may sometimes be concealed, or imperfectly exhibited. But in the Ephesians God had given proofs of His goodness, that His glory might be celebrated and openly proclaimed… The frequent mention of the glory of God ought not to be regarded as superfluous, for what is infinite cannot be too strongly expressed. This is particularly true in commendations of the Divine mercy, for which every godly person will always feel himself unable to find adequate language. He will be more ready to utter, than other men will be to hear, the expression of praise; for the eloquence both of men and angels, after being strained to the utmost, falls immeasurably below the vastness of this subject. We may likewise observe, that there is not a more effectual method of shutting the mouths of wicked men, than by showing that our views tend to illustrate, and theirs to obscure, the glory of God.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ephesians 1:11-12

11In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory.

Remember we’re still in the midst of this single sentence of praise from Paul, but here he gets repetitive. Perhaps he’s summarizing, but he’s still in the same sentence. Paul again states our having been chosen as heirs, our having been predestined just as God had planned in eternity-past. And again Paul states that the reason for God’s pre-creation electing and predestining us – to praise His glory. There’s a blessing (we are God’s possession of inheritance), the method of receiving the blessing (we are chosen, having been predestined by God), and the reason for being granted the blessing (to the praise of God’s glory). In every blessing of God, there is both delight and duty. We take joy in the blessing, but we are obligated to use it wisely. To whom much is given, much is required; those who have been forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47).

V11 begins with, “In Him.” Paul will never allow his readers to forget that the promises of God find their “yes” in Christ alone. Paul talks about election and predestination, but those high doctrinal truths do not exclude faith in Christ. Faith is essential to Christianity. Not only have we obtained the other things that Paul has mentioned thus far – every spiritual blessing, everlasting love, adoption, predestined unto holiness, but we have also obtained, or become, an inheritance. Translators and commentators struggle with Paul’s language and order here. There’s no doubt that “we” were chosen by God; there’s no doubt that we are God’s possession; there’s no doubt that we receive an inheritance; and there’s no doubt that we have been made God’s inheritance. All of that is conveyed in Paul’s language, though there is some confusion as far as best recording it in English – keep in mind that v3-14 is one lengthy sentence for Paul. David Wells sums up Paul’s thought here, “It is the inextinguishable knowledge of being owned by the transcendent God that forms our character, and His ownership challenges every other contender, so that we know that we belong to God, and that changes everything.” There’s delight and duty in this blessing.

Next, we see the method of becoming, or obtaining, this blessing. How did you become the inheritance of God? By God’s will; God chose you. You didn’t become the inheritance of God by chance or by your own choice; you became the inheritance of God by His choice, His will (John 1:12-13). Some argue that His unconditioned choice must be arbitrary and thus, unjust. But there is no injustice with God (Romans 9:6-24). Note the importance of v11b. Paul says that God works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will. Calvin says, “The circumlocution employed in describing the Supreme Being deserves attention. [Paul] speaks of Him as the sole agent, and as doing everything according to His own will, so as to leave nothing to be done by man. In no respect, therefore, are men admitted to share in this praise, as if they brought anything of their own. God looks at nothing out of Himself to move Him to elect them, for the counsel of His own will is the only and actual cause of their election. This may enable us to refute the error, or rather the madness, of those who, whenever they are unable to discover the reason of God’s works, exclaim loudly against His design.” Do you find fault with any of chapter 3 of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646):

  • “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”
  • “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”
  • “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.”
  • “These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.”
  • “Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace.”
  • “As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.”
  • “The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praised of His glorious justice.”
  • “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel.”
Paul has revealed the blessing, the method of obtaining, or becoming, the blessing, and now, as v12 declares, he shows the reason for having been granted the blessing. God ordains everything ultimately for His own glory – specifically that we, who were the first to hope in Christ (Jews), might praise His goodness. Could it be that the Jews will praise God for in-grafting Gentiles into His body? Paul will elaborate in Ephesians 2:11-22 and Ephesians 3:2-6. See also Romans 9-11.

Vincent Cheung paraphrases: “The mystery of His will is that He will sum up all things under Christ. When it comes to His people, He has predestined some of us Jews to first believe in Christ, but He has predestined some of you Gentiles to also believe in Christ and be saved. By giving us faith in the same gospel, God has placed you Gentile believers ‘in Christ’ in the same way that He has for us Jewish believers.” You may be familiar with this prayer of praise: “Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and evermore shall be, world without end. Amen!” Revelation 5:13 says, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” Why are we saved? It is good in God’s sight.