Are You Sure You Wanna Use that Verse? (Eph. 2:5-6 – Part 1)

They Beleive What?

The condition of the lost sinner is termed “total depravity” by Calvinists; not merely moral depravity, but total constitutional depravity; not merely unwillingness to repent and believe, but inability to repent and believe. The work of grace which they say is required is called “monergistic regeneration.” Monergistic means that this work is done unilaterally by God. God does not wait for the sinner to meet any conditions before transforming him, but God does it unilaterally whenever and to whomever he chooses. And regeneration is an old theological word meaning rebirth, or as moderns usually say, “born again.” So, the conclusion is that because sinners are incapable of repenting of sin and trusting in Christ, God unilaterally causes them to be born again. Only after He does this can the sinner genuinely repent and trust in Christ. 

In the next few posts we want to look at the go-to proof-text that Calvinists often cite as biblical evidence of monergistic regeneration. Hopefully we will see very clearly that this is probably not a passage the honest Calvinist will want to use again in the future since it fails on at least 3 major points to confirm their doctrine. The passage we will be considering is found in Ephesians 2:5-6:

5 …even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…

So, this Proves what?

So how do these verses prove their case? 

#1 In 2:5-6 the Scripture says that Paul and the Ephesian believers had been raised together with Christ. Now, since Paul and the Ephesian believers were still on earth at the time, and not physically seated in heavenly places with Christ, you might be tempted to imagine that the passage is speaking about our position in Christ, not an internal transformation within us. But you would be wrong according to our Calvinst brethren. In their view Ephesians 2:5-6 is speaking about an internal transformation worked unilaterally in the sinner by God.

#2 Verse 5 tells us that these people were made alive together with Christ while they were dead. The passage doesn’t speak of repentance, faith or any other thing being done by the sinner, it just states that these souls were spiritually dead and then raised up. For the Calvinist this is proof positive that regeneration is monergistic (i.e. done unilaterally by God without the participation of the sinner). The individuals met no conditions, except the condition of being dead.

Condemned by God

In this post we will address the first point mentioned above. To do this we will have to look at the whole passage, Ephesians 2:1-10 and refer back to sections of chapter 1.

Ephesians 2:1-3

1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 

Verse 1 repeats in a shorter form what we read in verses 5-6, namely that God has made alive those who were dead in sins. Verses 2-3 tell us what kind of people the Ephesians were before their conversion to Christ. They were sinful and rebellious people. Paul includes himself and his companions under that description. And he closes by saying they were the kind of people that God’s wrath is reserved for, sinful rebels. 

So they were rebels against God. But it is more than that. Going back to verse 1 we once again point out that Paul said they were “dead in sin.” I agree with my Calvinist brethren that “dead” here means spiritually dead towards God. That is, they were relationally cut off from God. Just as the father of the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable said that his son had been “dead” but was now alive. But not only were they at enmity with God, God was at enmity with them; they were under His wrath. They were considered “dead” by God. They were “dead in sin.” 

These verses are not merely telling us that the Ephesians and Paul were bad people who were rebellious towards God, and hostile to Christ. Paul here is telling us of their greater problem, God reckoned them dead, dead in sin. He identified them with their sin and so they were under His wrath. Paul is trying to emphasize that the Ephesians were condemned by God before God gave them grace. 

The phrase “dead in sin” is not primarily pointing to their experience. The passage does point out their behavior as those who lived for sin, but that is not the point of Paul’s argument. His point is, “Since you were so rebellious against God, He did not recognize you as His own; you were uncircumcised in heart and flesh. You were outsiders, rejected by God, condemned by God, under the just wrath of God. You were reckoned as dead by God because of your sins.” Being “dead in sin,” means that they were under God’s wrath because of their sin. It is not referring to any ability or inability they had to respond to God. That is not the topic under discussion. The issue is, how did God view them in their sin; not, were they capable of repentance and faith. We must understand the argument Paul is making, not read our systematic theology into it.

Given mercy

Ephesians 2:4-7

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

If what I said about verse 1-3 is true, what would we expect to hear next? You would expect to hear about mercy, and so we do. Verse 4 begins, “but God who is rich in mercy!” God loves His enemies. He does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. God is gracious, compassionate and merciful. He offers peace to His enemies. 

Though the Ephesians, and all of us, were “dead in sin,” under God’s wrath, He makes us “alive in Christ.” God justifies us in Christ. He changes us from those who are under His wrath to those who are under His blessing! He “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). Our position changes from being dead in Adam, to being alive in Christ. My brethren who hold the doctrine of federal headship should be able to comprehend this concept with ease. We were counted as dead in Adam, under the law, stained with sin, but now in Christ Jesus, we are made alive to God, set free from the law, sin and death. God had mercy on us in Jesus Christ. 

Worked In Christ, For us

Let’s look at, Ephesians 1:18-20:

18 …the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places… 

In this passage we read about divine power, how does this relate to us being made alive with Christ? We read about “His power toward us who believe.” Is this power something that the passage says is worked in us, or something worked for us, (i.e. on our behalf)? Verse 20 tells us that this great and exceeding power was worked in Christ, when God raised Him from the dead and seated Him at the highest place! This is power indeed! So how can it be said to be “His power toward us”? Because it was done on our behalf. Jesus suffered and died for us, but He also rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God for us. There He is seated to ever make intercession for us. He has gone into the holy place on our behalf! The power that was worked in Christ’s resurrection and exaltation was for us, as the head of the New Man! If you look in Ephesians 1-4 you will not find it difficult to see this truth everywhere displayed. Colossians also speaks clearly of these things:

Colossians 3:1-4

1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. 

Justified in Christ

Paul closes the passage with one of the great passages on being justified by grace, not through the works of the law. 

Ephesians 2:8-9

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

It was not because we were good that we were reconciled to God and given every spiritual blessing in Christ. It was the mercy of God that transferred us from being dead in sin to being alive in Jesus Christ. We were under God’s just wrath because of our rebellion. And there were no good works that we could do to earn God’s favor. But God, who is rich in mercy, sent His Son as a sacrifice to wash away our sins. But not only did He send Him as an atoning sacrifice, but also as our representative. He died for us, but He also rose for us and was seated at the right hand of God for us. This mighty power was displayed in Jesus Christ. And it was directed towards us, for our benefit.

Jesus died, condemned for our sin. He who knew no sin, became sin for us. That is, He was reckoned a sinner for us. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him. But the reverse is gloriously true as well. He was counted as a sinner though He is righteous. And we are reckoned as righteous, because we are identified with Him. We were condemned to death, under wrath, and Christ died for us. Then while we were yet dead, God reckoned us alive in Jesus Christ and through Him poured out His grace and mercy towards us. Calling us not, reconciled sinners, but His dear children.

Ephesians 2:1-10 is not talking about an experiential regeneration that transforms us internally, but a positional regeneration (rebirth) that changes our standing with God. The common biblical phrase for this is justification. We are justified in Christ. God no longer looks at us in our sins but in His dear Son. We who were dead in our sins, God, by His great mercy, has made us alive with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly places. 

Transferred first, then transformed

Now, let me be clear. Though this passage is specifically speaking about our positional standing before God (i.e. justification in Christ), that does not mean it is completely unrelated to receiving a renewed heart by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, we can see hints at this connection in verse 10. We were justified by grace, but we were justified for good works. We were justified by being identified with Christ through faith. But, because of our new standing in Christ, we are qualified to receive the Holy Spirit. We can see this connection in the following verses:

Galatians 3:26 

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 

Galatians 4:6

6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

Having mentioned that nuance, this in no way changes our conclusion. Ephesians 2:5-6 is not speaking about an internal change worked in the heart of the believer. It is focused on the positional change that is experienced in Christ, from condemnation to acceptance. This passage does not teach monergistic regeneration, it teaches justification by grace through faith.

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