This is the continuation of my last post. We are still addressing the Calvinist argument that Ephesians 2:5-6 teaches monergistic regeneration because the text does not show any action on the part of man. In the last post we brought our first witness against this argument, namely the immediate context. In verse 5 it includes the phrase “by grace you have been saved.” We noted that Paul expands on this phrase in verses 8. In those verses he teaches that we are saved (i.e. justified) through faith. The grace of God saves us, and we receive that grace through believing. The fact that the same phrase is used in verse 5 and verse 8 shows us that the same topic is being taught in both verses.
But we have another witnesses against the monergistic reading of Ephesians 2:5-6. So without further ado, let’s put our second witness on the stand.
Witness #2 – Colossians 2:11-13
The context of Paul’s letter to the Colossians is very similar to his letter to the Ephesians. There are some slight differences, but the topics he covers are basically the same. What is pertinent for us is the parallel passage to Ephesians 2:5-6 found in Colossians 2:11-13.
11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
Verse 11 speaks about a circumcision made without hands. This circumcision of Christ is not the same thing as the New Covenant promise of a new heart with a desire to obey God’s law (Deut 30:6, Jer 31:31-34, Ez 36:26-27). The receiving of the Holy Spirit and the new heart comes after justification. The Biblical teaching is: first be cleansed, then renewed; first be justified, then transformed. As we mentioned in the first post in this series, we must first be made right with God positionally (justification) so that God can pour out His Spirit on us with sanctifying grace.
But Paul’s mind in this verse is focused on the “unclean” Gentiles being made clean in God’s sight so that they can enter the presence of God (Eph. 2:11-13, 2:18). Or more precisely, so that God’s presence can enter them in the Person of the Holy Spirit! They must be made clean, not so they can enter the temple of God, but so they can become the temple of God (Eph. 2:19-22)!
Colossians 2:11 does not speak about physical circumcision, but “putting off the body of sin.” Paul is speaking to Gentiles and telling them that they need something more than removing one unclean part of their body, they need to remove the entire “body of sin.” Or, using another phrase of Paul, the “old man” needs to be removed. That old humanity that was dead in sin, condemned by God, needs to be separated from men before they can be acceptable to God. He is telling them that in Christ they are no longer unclean, but their sins have been removed from them as far as east is from the west.
12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses…
Verse 13 shows us that the circumcision of Christ in verse 11 is the same thing that was discussed in Ephesians 2:5-6. Those who were “dead in trespasses” God has “made alive together with Him” (i.e. Christ). After the phrase, “dead in trespasses,” he adds, “and the uncircumcision of your flesh.” This tells us that in “the circumcision of Christ” the “body of sins” that is “put off” is the condemnation we were under in our sin. Simply put, God has put away our sins in Jesus Christ, He has removed our sins from us, we are no longer condemned. We were condemned in our sin and uncleanness, but God has changed our status; now we are alive in Christ. This is what the circumcision of Christ means, and this is what being dead in sin and then made alive in Christ means. They are synonymous. It is speaking about positional justification, not experiential transformation.
But in verse 12 we learn something key which helps confirm that Ephesians 2:5-6 is not teaching monergistic regeneration. When did this circumcision of Christ happen? The old man, the body of sins, was put to death when we were buried with Christ in baptism. And when were we raised with Christ? Verse 12 continues, “in which you also were raised with Him.” “In which” refers back to baptism in the previous phrase. So we were circumcised in Christ in baptism and we were made alive in Christ in baptism.
Ephesians 2:5-6 is only quoted as a proof-text for monergistic regeneration when the immediate context and this parallel passage are completely ignored. If a Calvinist admits that the issue being discussed in Colossians 2:11-13 and Ephesians 2:5-6 is the same issue, and yet continues to use Ephesians 2:5-6 (dead in sins, made alive in Christ) as a proof-text for monergistic regeneration, they are a dishonest person, and should repent. If they honestly cannot see the connection between the passages, then they might be honest, but in my opinion, they are not looking at the passage objectively, but are conforming these passages to their theological tradition.
Colossians 2:11-13 teaches that people who are dead in their sins are made alive with Christ when, in faith, they come to the waters of baptism. Ephesians 2:8 told us that this grace of positional rebirth is received through faith. Colossians 2:12 gives us more information. It teaches us that through faith in the resurrection of Christ and the mighty power that God used in raising Him from the dead, a person comes to the waters of baptism (Eph 1:19-20). Those who are dead in sins are buried with Christ in baptism and are made alive in Christ. Their position changes from condemned, to accepted. This happens by grace, because of the atonement of Christ, through faith and in baptism.
Quick note for the curious and/or confused:
- I do not believe these verses teach that people who have not been baptized cannot be justified
- I do not believe that these verses teach that we are reconciled to God by works
- I do not believe these passages teach the Roman doctrine of baptismal regeneration
- I do believe these passages destroy the Roman/Protestant doctrine of infant baptism
- I do believe the common practice of people praying the “sinner’s prayer” at conversion is unbiblical and should be replaced with the biblical practice of water baptism
Other than the quick comments I listed above, this can of worms will have to wait for another series of posts in the future. For now we must stick to the issue at hand, namely, the passage found in Ephesians 2:5-6 does not teach that God unilaterally makes those who are dead in sin alive in Christ. Ephesians 2:8 (the immediate context) teaches that a person is delivered from condemnation and transferred positionally into Christ through faith. And Colossians 2:11-13, a parallel passage with the one in Ephesians 2, makes this unequivocally clear. It adds even more context to the passage under consideration.
I have one more point to make about why Ephesians 2:5-6 cannot be used as a proof-text for monergistic regeneration. We will look at that in the next post.
For those of you that cannot shake off the ramifications of what Colossians 2:12 is teaching and are interested in exploring the subject more, I will end this post with some Scripture passages to mull over. I encourage you not to dismiss these passages lightly with the traditional arguments that come to mind. Deal with the passages in context, and then work through the ramifications one by one. Hopefully I will get to a study on this issue soon so that we can wrestle through the topic together. If you are interested in such a study, please add a comment below expressing such an interest. That will let me know that I need to make it a priority.
16 “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. – Mark 16:16 NKJV
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. – John 3:5 NKJV
38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. – Acts 2:38 NKJV
16 ‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’ – Acts 22:16 NKJV
3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:3-4 NKJV
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. – Galatians 3:26-27 NKJV
5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, – Titus 3:5 NKJV
21 There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, – 1 Peter 3:21 NKJV