By Grace You Have Been Saved
“even as we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved —“
Paul will go on to further explain the final phrase in this verse…”by grace you have been saved. What ought to be said here is that this is one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian church. To deviate from this means to enter into a world of cultic thought if not activity. No, it is not by your works that you are saved; neither is it by your good character, your good intentions, your good name, or your church membership — no, it is by God’s grace and apart from the grace of God, there is no salvation available to mankind.
How often we speak with people and ask, “Why do you think you will go to heaven?,” that an entirely different answer is given. People say things like, “I’m basically a good person” or “My family and I have served God in this church for generations.” The first statement is certainly not so (there is none good but God) but the second may be so; nevertheless, it does not earn you the right to claim heaven. You simply cannot earn God’s favor as your works are all and always tainted by your sin. Your offering of sinful works to God will be no better received than that offering given by Cain, who did so without faith. No, if you are saved, beloved, it is because of God’s grace and his grace alone.
And because it is God’s grace and God’s grace alone that saves, then salvation begins assuredly with God and God alone. You did not choose to be saved; God chose to save you. You may perceive yourself as having “accepted Jesus into your heart,” but if such be true, then it is only because God pummeled the dead rock of your heart into a fleshy substance which he remolded and remade into something living. He did that, not you. It is not about you; it is about what God is doing in you, to you, and with you. It is all about God.
Friends, cease clinging to the notion that you have done something to contribute to your salvation; it is a foolish and un-Biblical idea that only leads to pride (Paul will soon get to that). You were no more born again by your own choice than you were born by your own choice in the first place. Yet, free-will decision theology has run amok with the church. And so I say put that foolish notion off and let the words of the Apostle Paul define your understanding of salvation — it is by grace that you have been saved and it is not of works (not even of one little tiny work!). If there were an avenue for works in even the smallest of discernible ways, then as Paul writes in Romans 11:6, “grace would no longer be grace.” Oh, the arrogance of man when man claims something of God’s as his own.
The Mind’s Desires
“With whom we all also once conducted ourselves in the cravings of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and the mind, and we were children by nature of wrath even as the rest.”
Sometimes there are little nuances in a text that can almost go unnoticed as we read through them and this verse contains one such little gem. When speaking of being children of wrath and being under the power of sin, Paul speaks of us pursuing the “desires of the flesh and of the mind.” As evangelical Christians, most of us are used to hearing the language of the lusts or desires of the flesh as a reference to sin, but in this case, Paul includes the lusts or desires of the mind as well.
By those who reject the doctrines of grace, it is suggested that the will of fallen man is just barely free enough to choose Christ. This is the kind of synergistic teaching that is found in Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, Wesleyanism, and modern Free-Will theologies. And with but one phrase, Paul refutes each and every one of these schools of thought. No, it is not just our flesh that is depraved, but our minds and wills too. We choose wrath and nothing but wrath until there is a gracious regenerative work done upon us by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, as John writes, Jesus did not entrust himself to men in the early days of his ministry because he knew what was in man (John 2:24-25).
You may remember that we discussed how in regeneration, the eyes of our hearts are enlightened (see discussion of Ephesians 1:18). What is important for the Christian is not to be able to discern our own will or what is right according to our own minds (that is the sin of Adam and Eve!) but what is important is that we learn to discern what is the will of God…for it is God’s will that is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).
Without regeneration, our minds will only desire what our flesh desires; one of the changes that takes place in regeneration is that our minds desire what God desires. Indeed, that is often a struggle and we will not ever achieve that perfectly until we are in glory, but it is to be our desire. At the same time, this means that a mark of a believer — and most certainly a mark of a mature believer — is that we love the things of God and desire to think as God would have us think about matters, not as the world would do so. A worldly mind seeks pragmatic ends that achieve the desires of the person; a godly mind desires the glory of God even at great personal cost or sacrifice. How great a contrast is found between these two mind-sets. How great is the chasm between the believer and the unbeliever. And, how sad it is when churches look to the earthly wisdom of those who do not strive to discern the will of God.
Predestination and Human Freedom
“In whom we have received an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of the one who works all things according to the counsel of his will, to the end that we who exist to the praise of his glory — those who first hoped in Christ; in whom you also, in hearing the word of Truth, the Gospel of our Salvation, in which you also believed and were sealed in the Holy Spirit who was promised.”
The other part of the “predestining” that needs to be fleshed out is the human part. One of the common challenges that people raise against the Biblical notion of predestination has to do with where there is room for the human will and responsibility. If God predestines all things, can it be said that we ever really make a choice of one thing over another? And, if God predestines all things, how can we be held accountable for that which we do?
These are matters that have brought debate within the Christian community across the centuries. In today’s world, it is at the heart not only of the debate between Calvinists and Arminians but extremes on both ends lead to heresy — namely hyper-calvinism on one side and open-theism on the other. Thus, it is worth picking at this question a little bit here.
To begin with, the “all” of “all things” is presented in the absolute. It is true that in some places in scripture, the “all” refers to “all kinds of things” or to “all kinds of people,” but context determines the reading of the word. In this case, there is nothing in the text to suggest anything but the most comprehensive use of the term πᾶς (pas)…or “all.” This is not a reference to God predestining this but not that; it is a reference to God predestining this and that — both the greatest things and the smallest things and all things in between.
It must also be said that the Bible affirms both that God is sovereign and that we are responsible for our actions. If we loose God’s sovereignty in our theology as does Open-theism, then we enter heresy. If we loose human responsibility in our theology as do the Hyper-calvinists, then again, we enter heresy. What the Bible affirms, we too must affirm.
So, how do we balance these two doctrines in a way that keeps our views consistent with that of Scripture? To begin with, we affirm the language we find here in Ephesians 1:11 — that God has predestined all things that come to pass according to the counsel of His will. From the birth and death of a sparrow to the birth and death of the Messiah, God is sovereign over all of these matters. Second, while our will is not free in the libertarian sense, we do make real choices every day of our lives. When I woke up this morning, I decided what I would wear and I decided what I would have for breakfast (amongst other things). These were genuine decisions where I had the option to do other than what I did. Yet, God is the one responsible for creating me and for forming my psyche as a Christian man. And thus, the decisions that I make are perfectly consistent not only with my character but with God’s eternal predestining design.
Does that mean that God has ordained my sin? In a sense, yes. Because we are fallen, we have inherited a sin-nature from our first parents, Adam and Eve. This sin nature means that I am bent toward sin. It is my natural default. Think about that toy car with a bent wheel axle. No matter how you push it, the car will drift to the side and not go in a straight line. Such is the case with humans, except that our bend is far worse and far more encompassing than a bent axle.
And so, God does permit our sin. At the same time, He also permits that sin for a purpose — most commonly for the glory of God and to draw us back to himself in repentance. In other words, sometimes we need to see and experience our own depravity before we will take that depravity seriously. Also, we will never understand grace until we really understand just how undeserving we are of it. Yet, not only are there no surprises when it comes to God and our sin, but it can be said that God is sovereign over our sin as well and further, that God uses our sin in a sinless way to do His will. Somewhere that is going to cause our brain to melt just a little bit, but as this is what the Bible affirms, this is what we too must affirm if we are to remain orthodox in our thinking.
Predestination and Man’s Distorted View of Freedom
“Predestining us for adoption through Jesus Christ into Him, according to the pleasure of His will,”
Predestination is one of those words that often causes people to recoil. The funny thing is that the Bible uses the term six times in the New Testament, so somewhere along the way, people need to wrestle through the word, what it means, and how it relates to God and mankind. The Greek word in question is προορίζω (proorizo), which very literally means, “to decide upon something beforehand.”
One might contest that you and I also decide to do things beforehand. We plan out road trips and vacations weeks or months in advance, deciding that on such and such a day we will go to this place or eat dinner at that restaurant. Yet, we already know from the context of this passage that the choosing, or electing, work of God is something that took place before the foundation of the earth. Thus, the context of this deciding also must be understood as a pre-creation decision. So, before anyone existed, before anyone could do anything good or bad, before the Fall of Adam took place, God had decided to adopt his chosen elect through Jesus Christ and His work.
Some have suggested that perhaps this pre-deciding is something that took place on the basis of God’s foreknowledge. Given that God knew all things that would or could happen (in philosophical terms, that is what we call God’s knowledge of all “eventualities”), they suggest that God, on the basis of that knowledge, just chose those who would eventually choose him. The nature of God that such a response presents is as unsatisfying as it is unBiblical. It presents God as responding to our actions like a human would respond to the actions of others and it strips God of any claim of sovereignty over history, let alone, over human salvation. He merely knows the things we will do and responds accordingly. It is only the illusion of sovereignty that such a view attributes to God. If you or I could somehow look into the future and discover who won the World Series, would that knowledge imply that we had any control over the victor of those games? No, it would not.
Others have suggested that as God is outside of time, he looks on all time and space simultaneously and similarly elects those who come to faith. While it is true that God is outside of time, this view presents the time and space continuum, as it were, as something that exists in its own right and is thus eternal as God is eternal. That would ultimately be a view propounded by gnostics over the years and is entirely unbiblical once again. The creation owes its very existence to God (Colossians 1:16), so how could it ever be said that it is co-eternal with God? Some would grant the error of Gnosticism, but would say that once God created all things, he took a step back as a passive observer, allowing the creation to run along on its own. This would be the error of Deism and is in contradiction to the very next verse which I cited just above, for Colossians 1:17 speaks of Christ holding all things together — actively engaging in the maintenance of the creation, not passively watching to see what it is that we will do.
Not only is such an idea contrary to the plain reading of Scripture, who would wish to worship such a God, if he could ever truly claim the title of being God at all? Here, he is portrayed as an all-knowing God, but one who is impotent to do anything or ordain anything in history. He is a slave, as it were, to what he knows to take place. In some senses, it makes God subservient to creation and not the Author, Keeper, and Lord of it. Woe to those who present God in ways that are so contrary to the way that God presents himself in Scripture and woe to those who settle for such a lowly God to worship.
Instead, the Scriptures present God as a God who knows all things because he has predestined and preordained all things to take place. The Scriptures present a God who is indeed not bound by time and space, but who has created it for His purposes and who governs it through his works and providence. The Scriptures presents us with a God who is absolutely and unapologetically sovereign over all things that take place, both great and small and who is surprised by nothing not simply because he has perfect foresight, but because he has ordained all things that come to pass (Ephesians 1:11). While many feel uncomfortable with such a depiction of God, that it constrains their free will, they need to recognize that this is the way God has presented himself and the wills that they so celebrate are bent and warped and twisted by sin, constraining them not just to bad behavior but to bad thoughts about their creator. While God may indeed conform our wills to His, his doing so is not a matter of constraint in a negative way, it is a matter of helping us conform to what is True and good for us in the first place.
Think about it in this manner — it is in heaven that we will be most free, yet we will be unable to sin in heaven and we will only be able to do what is right and good and pleasing to God. So where is your glorious human “free will” in that context? I present to you that what most people champion as a “free will” is nothing short of a will in bondage to sin. A truly free will is not one that can make any choice in any situation, but one that makes a choice in conformity to God’s will in all situations.
Making God’s Desires Our Own
“And, if I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful work for me, but which I will choose, I do not know.”
Here is the simple message of the Christ-focused life. God gives us work to do; we must do so to His glory and by reflecting the fruit of the Spirit. How often we live lives that are marked by distraction. How often we live our lives focused on ourselves, our reputations, our goals, and our own ends, not on the glory of God. How different our lives would look, would they not, if we to embrace and pursue Christ instead of self.
The idea of “choosing” in the Greek is rooted in the notion of that which is more desirable for our lives. In a world where different schools of theology debate the nature of human free-will, people sometimes excitedly declare, from a passage like this, “Look! The Apostle Paul is affirming his absolute freedom of will when he speaks of choosing one over the other.” As a Calvinist, my response is to say, “Look at the text.” Paul is speaking about life and death — yet, scripture also teaches that God numbers our days (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16), surely Paul understands that there is nothing that he can do to even add an hour to his life (Matthew 6:27). So how is it that we are to understand the “choosing”?
To begin with, though God is sovereign, we are not unthinking robots. We make real decisions in a way that is relatively free…at least free in the sense that our decisions are consistent with our character. Note, God’s freedom is constrained by his character as well (he cannot lie, sin, cease to be God, etc…), so this notion of our freedom constrained by character should not throw us much.
So, by Paul’s character, what is it that he will choose? What will be most desirable for him? We have just spent verse after verse seeing the intensity of Paul’s focus on the glory of God. What Paul wants, what he desires more than anything, is exactly what God wants for him. And this Paul does not yet know. Will he soon die or will he live? He will speculate some in the verses that follow, but above all else, he wants his desires to be aligned perfectly with the desires of God himself. Everything else is secondary.
What a remarkable model for us to follow. How different our culture would be if Christians were committed to God above all else. In a world where pluralism has crept into many people’s theology, how different our churches would be if everyone would be as committed to the scriptures and their authority in life as the Apostle Paul presents himself. Jesus said that if you love me you will obey me (John 14:15)…that means not only obeying the commandments that we like, feel comfortable with, or are acceptable in the community around us, but all. That means embracing not only the parts of scripture that you appreciate or happen to agree with, but all of the scriptures as one unified book of God. As Paul will later write, they are “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Let us throw to the wind our hinderances and pursue Christ. May we love him in every sense of the term and serve him. And may our desires for our life be found to be in tune with God’s desires for us…not just in some things, but in all areas of life and thought.
“Take my life and let it be,
Consecrated, Lord to thee,
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.
Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall by thy Royal Throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store,
Take myself and I will be,
Ever, Only, All for Thee.”
The natural outworking of the Doctrine of God’s Decrees when applied to salvation is the language of predestination, of which election is a subset. Regardless of how you understand predestination to be worked out in history, the term (and terms surrounding predestination) need to be dealt with because they are employed within scripture. With this in mind, various views on the nature of predestination have been put forth including that of God’s foreordination of some to glory and some to reprobation (Calvinistic), God’s predestination based on divine foresight (classic Wesleyan), and God’s predestination of Christ as the only elect one and believers finding their election in him (modern Wesleyan).
To better frame out this discussion, the first question that needs to be raised is whether God is active or passive in his predestination. The Calvinist will typically hold that God’s predestination of believers to glory is active while his predestination of unbelievers to reprobation is a passive activity—that of literally choosing not to act in the life of some. The Wesleyans will hold that God’s predestination of both believers and unbelievers is passive, the final decision in terms of salvation being left in the hands of the individual who chooses either to believe or to reject the things of God.
The second question that is addressed is the question of who forms the object of predestination. The Calvinist will hold that all men, both good and evil, are the object of God’s predestinating work. The Wesleyan will either argue that men ultimately choose to become the object of the predestinating work (as the work is passive) or that Christ is the only object of God’s predestinating work. It is worth noting that these theologies typically apply the language of predestination to angels as well as to humans, thus it is God who predestinated Satan and his minions to fall or that it is Satan and his minions who chose to fall on their own free and un-influenced will.
The third question that must be addressed is that of the specific language of the New Testament surrounding predestination. There are several terms that feed our understanding of God’s decretive work when it comes to predestination.
- proori/zw (proorizo): This term that we typically translate as “predestine” is constructed from two root words: pro (pro), for “beforehand” and oJri/zw (horizo)—“to define, appoint, or set a limit to.” Thus, when the terms are combined, this refers to something that is predetermined or decided upon ahead of time. Thus, two ideas must be accounted for in interpreting this word. First is that this word carries with it the idea of willful determination. God determined to do something (scripture context and theology will determine what that something may be); there is an intentionality that is contained by this word. Second, this willful act is an act that takes place before said events are realized, arguably, based on passages like Ephesians 1:4-5, said willful act takes place before the act of creation.
- proginw/skw (proginosko): Again, this term can be broken down into two constituent parts: pro (pro) and ginw/skw (ginosko), which means, “to know.” Thus, this term refers to God’s knowing beforehand things and events. There are two ways in which this “foreknowing” has been understood. The Calvinists have consistently argued that God’s foreknowing is due to his foreordaining (God knows the end of the story because he wrote the book). The Wesleyans have typically held that God, being outside of time and not bound by the linear time-stream as we are, equally sees past, present, and future, viewing the entire timeline of history from his divine vantage point (God knows the end of the story because he read the story beforehand).
The Wesleyan view ties proginw/skw (proginosko) with proora/w (proorao), or “foresight.” Thus God knows because he sees. Yet, the Calvinist points out the theological connection between ginw/skw (ginosko) and the Hebrew term [d:y” (yada), “to know.” The Hebrew concept of knowledge is relational, thus, when Adam “knew” his wife, she became pregnant. The Calvinist would thus argue that it is impossible to have a relationship with something that is simply seen in time, but that the word demands the idea of God setting his affections on those he “foreknew” ahead of time.
- ejkle/gomai (eklegomai): This is the verb that we translate as “to elect” or “to choose,” noting that this verb implies a certain degree of intentionality. This idea is also communicated through two nouns: ejklekto/ß (eklektos)—“chosen one” or “elect”—and ejklogh/ (ekloge)—“a choice” or “an election.” This is a term with which we will deal in more detail in our unit on Soteriology, but it is an important part of the understanding of predestination in terms of God’s decretive work. For our purposes here, though, it is important simply to understand the idea of election as being something that is a result of God’s intentional choice, regardless of the means by which you understand that choice being made (foresight or foreordination) or of your understanding of the object(s) of God’s electing work (Christ alone or all believers).
There is a fourth question that must be addressed, and this question, though it is one that tends to be more subjective than objective, is one that carries with it more pastoral connotations, and thus, in the eyes of many, is likely the most important question to address. This question is, “Is the idea of God predestinating fair?” Certainly, one may dismiss this concern by quoting, “Who are you, O Man, to answer back to God?” And, indeed, it is important to be reminded that we are the ones who must answer to God and he does not answer to man or seek man’s counsel. We were not the ones who set the world into place nor do we even know what tomorrow will bring. God is sovereign and man is not. As the German composer, Samuel Radigast, wrote: “Whatever my God ordains is right…”
At the same time, as we discussed before, God is not capricious and he is not unjust. All God does, he does in perfect harmony and accordance with his will. Thus, the question is raised once again, how do we understand the idea of predestination in terms of the “rightness” or “fairness” of the act that is consistent with the goodness of God’s character? The answer that we must give falls under a right understanding of our fallen, sinful estate. While we will discuss sin further when we discuss Anthropology, let it suffice to say that as a result of Adam’s fall, what every man, woman, and child deserves is the judgment of God—that is what we have earned. Thus, in terms of “fairness,” what is fair is that all mankind would face eternal judgment. In turn, the redemption that is seen in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ must be seen as the greatest of mercies delivered to an undeserving people. Regardless of your particular view on the object or means of election, a right view of our sinful states places into its proper context the marvelous, gracious, and wonderful work of our Lord on the cross. It can be said that the more seriously you take sin and its effects, the more you will appreciate the mercy of the cross.
One final note in terms of the language of predestination, in particular with respect to the Decrees of God: while there are many and varying views on how one explains the theology and theological ramifications of predestination, one must not ignore the concepts because they are scriptural concepts. One must deal honestly with the language of texts like Acts 4:28 and others, and while one’s theology may make less or more of them, one must make something of such passages in order to be faithful to scripture.
Ordinarily, this approach is rather backwards. Normally, when doing exegetical work, one should examine the words and their meanings, working from what the text literally states within its context and then deriving an interpretation from that point. Yet, in discussions as theologically charged as this discussion can be, it is worth noting that one’s theological presuppositions will often color one’s understanding of the context within which particular words may be found. If one is aware of one’s own presuppositions as they approach a text like this, it is my belief that one will be more inclined to recognize the effect that said presupposition is having on interpretation, hopefully using more discernment as the words are defined and understood.
Note that one must not be too hasty in assuming that a word can be defined accurately by combining the definitions of its constituent parts. Just as the English word “hot-dog” does not refer to a cute, fuzzy pet on a summer-time afternoon, such is often the same with Greek terms. At the same time, just as in English, many compound words do carry with them the combined meanings of their parts, and thus is the case with proori/zw.
Typically, when we speak of the Decrees of God, we speak of them as having taken place prior to his creative work.
Matthew 22:14; Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:22; Romans 8:33; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 5:21; 1 Peter 2:4; 2 John 1; Revelation 17:14.
It is important to note that a related debate in terms of predestination is that of single/double predestination. Some would argue that God actively elects some to salvation and passively permits unbelievers to condemn themselves to damnation. Others would argue that God actively elects some to life and elects others to condemnation. That debate is outside of the scope of this discussion, though it deserves to be referenced in this context.
Note that this question is often rephrased to say, “Is it just?” or “Is it consistent with my understanding of God’s character?”, but ultimately, if you read between the lines, the question that is being asked is whether or not God is being arbitrary and partial, which flies in the face of most of our understandings of “fairness.”
Romans 9:20—Here Paul is citing Elihu’s rebuke of Job (Job 33:13) and Isaiah’s illustration of a clay pot in the master’s hands (Isaiah 29:16).
Also note that predestination, even in a strict Calvinistic sense, is different from philosophical determinism. God did not make automatons of mankind and though we make choices that are set within God’s will, these choices are not coerced in a negative sort of way. This will be discussed further in our discussion of Anthropology.