Are You Sure You Wanna Use That Verse? (Ephesians 2:5-6 – Part 4)

Gratefully, this is my last post on Ephesians 2:5-6 for the foreseeable future. We have been considering this passage in order to make one simple point: These verses are not a proof-text for monergistic regeneration. 

Exegesis first & last

I am keenly aware that since Calvinists hold to their particular form of Total Depravity, monergistic regeneration is a logical necessity if anyone is going to be saved. This doctrine is closely tied to other doctrines in their system as well, which is why focusing on one doctrine and one verse at a time can be difficult for my Calvinist brethren. 

They tend to see individual Scriptures through the lens of systematic theology, and often say something to the effect of “The passage cannot say people are saved by choosing to believe, because other verses teach Total Depravity, and therefore they cannot choose to believe.” If we take the bait and go to those passages to look at the context, and find their exegesis is faulty, we will soon find ourselves looking into the context of verses related to Unconditional Election. This will lead to verses on Divine Sovereignty, Limited Atonement and sooner or later back to Monergism. But it is a difficult task to deal with one verse at a time in context.

When they (speaking in generalizations here, no offense intended) were looking into Reformed Theology they looked at individual passages. But at some point in that process, they accepted the Calvinist interpretation of certain passages. At that point those passages could no longer be harmonized with other passages unless those other passages were also seen in a Calvinistic light. So though objective exegesis was the starting place for most of my Reformed brethren, eventually the lens of systematic theology became more pronounced in their exegesis. Simply put, certain passages must be teaching a particular concept, and certain other passages must not be saying something. Since the Calvinist system has already been deemed the correct interpretation of Scripture as a whole, passages that contradict that system must be reformed (forgive the pun;-).

The prospective Calvinist is free to let the verses take them wherever they lead, but this is not so with the committed Calvinist. This is the temptation for all of us, but with those already committed to a robust theological tradition, it is a stronger temptation. This is why the various doctrines of Calvinism always come up in any debate with a Calvinist. They see every verse through an airtight system. To reword, and thoroughly repurpose, a famous quote by R. C. Sproul, “If there is one single verse in the Bible running around loose, totally free from the ‘Doctrines of Grace,’ then we have no guarantee that a single doctrine in Reformed Theology is true.”

I am also aware that Calvinists point to other passages which they believe teach monergistic regeneration. For the sake of argument, I am willing to accept that maybe those passages do teach such a doctrine. But that is not the goal of this series of posts. I have one simple focus: Ephesians 2:5-6 is not a proof-text for monergistic regeneration. 

Justification, not transformation

In the first post we addressed the fact that Ephesians 2:5-6 are not about regeneration in the sense that the Calvinist teaches. Those verses are not about an internal work of transformation in the believer. They are teaching about the fact that through our relational connection with Jesus Christ we have been accepted by God. I do not believe that anyone makes the argument that Christians are actually seated in heavenly places with Christ after they are “raised with Him.” Instead, it must be admitted that we enter the presence of God in heaven through our representative, Jesus Christ. He has gone into heaven for us. He is there, actually there, advocating on our behalf. We are only there by the means of our representative. So we must admit that this passage is talking about our relational position in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:5-6 are speaking about our acceptance by God in heaven through our perfect Representative and Advocate. It is a verse about positional justification, not experiential sanctification.

NOt monergistic

In the second and third posts I pointed out from the context of Ephesians 2:4-5 and a parallel passage in Colossians 2:11-13 that our transferring from condemnation in sin to acceptance in Christ (i.e. justification) is not done by God unilaterally without any participation from the will of men. But Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches us that the salvation that God has granted us is received through faith. 

Plain English

If one wants to argue, using Greek grammar, that the faith mentioned in Ephesians 2:8-9 is a unilateral gift along with salvation. I hope they will also argue that those who translated the Scriptures for us have done us a great disservice by using the phrases “this is not of yourselves” and “it is the gift of God.” These translations leave the clear impression that there is one gift not two

The English translation can express two different ideas, depending on how we read it: Either, salvation is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Or, salvation through faith is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Salvation is what is in view. “Through faith” is just a modifier for salvation. Which salvation is a gift? Salvation through works or salvation through faith? The answer: The salvation that is received through faith is a gift, it is not of yourselves, you didn’t earn it because it is not of works, but is received through faith!

But we cannot see expressed the following in the English translations: Salvation and faith are not of yourselves, they are the gifts of God. I repeat again, if the translators of holy Scripture have turned plural gifts into a singular gift, they have done us a great disservice. The English speaks of only one gift. It is the gift of a salvation that is not through works, lest any should boast. But it is a salvation through faith so that anyone can obtain it.

If my Calvinist brethren cannot accept my understanding of the English grammar due to their understanding of the Greek manuscript, I hope they will at least understand why those of us who are laymen are stuck with the English. They might argue that we should learn Greek, and maybe so. There is an old joke that might make just that point. It goes:

What do you call a person who speaks 3 languages? Trilingual

What do you call a person who speaks 2 languages? Bilingual

What do you call a person who speaks 1 language? American 😉

Made alive in baptism

And for those who still argue that faith is not a condition for the salvation that is mentioned in Ephesians 2:5-6, they will need to explain why in Colossians 2:11-13 we are said to be “made alive” with Christ in a faith filled baptism. I do not see how they can escape the force of that argument without completely denying the similar wording, context and meaning of the passages in Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2. But, alas, it is hard to give up a proof-text that has been, and is used, by many godly men. But we must follow the plain teaching of Scripture, not the traditions of men, even the traditions of good men. 

the final argument (for now)

I have only one more argument to make against the use of Ephesians 2:5-6 as a proof-text for monergistic regeneration. In Reformed Theology there is a belief that everyone who has ever truly repented and believed unto salvation from the beginning of time was monergistically regenerated. Since, in their view, no one is able to repent and believe until they are regenerated (i.e. internally transformed into a new creature with new desires, born again), Calvinists believe that every follower of God, even in the Old Testament was monergistically regenerated. And for the sake of argument, I will grant that maybe this is taught somewhere in the Bible, though I have not yet noticed that passage. Nevertheless, this leads to a great problem for those who wish to use Ephesians 2:5-6 as a proof-text for monergistic regeneration. 

Not raised with Christ before christ was raised

Before Jesus Christ was risen to the right-hand of God and presented His perfect sacrifice to the Father on our behalf, a person could not be “made alive with Jesus Christ.” Note, I am not saying the person could not be made alive in one sense or another, I am saying they could not be made alive “with Christ” who was not yet crucified, much less risen to represent us. 

justified because of christ, yes

Now, one might say, “But in the Old Testament men looked forward to the grace they would receive in Christ.” I completely agree. I will go a step further. I believe everyone in history who has ever been justified before God has been justified because of the death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ. And though they were not aware of how God was going to justify them, they trusted God which led to their justification. Though it had not historically happened, God counted it as so. I believer the following verses teach just that:

25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:25-26 NKJV

renewal is a new covenant promise

But here’s the rub. Calvinists do not teach that those who are “dead in sin” being “made alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5-6) is speaking about justification through faith. They believe that those verses are speaking about an internal and experiential transformation within the human heart. So when they say that people in the Old Testament were “raised with Christ” they are not speaking of a change of status from dead to living in God’s eyes. They believe that God, by His Holy Spirit, comes to dwell in the heart and renew it. This could not have happened to the saints under the Old Covenant because it is explicitly a New Covenant promise!

To make this brief, I will leave you with a few passages and quick notes:

Deuteronomy 30:1-10 gives instructions to the future generation of Israelites who would find themselves in exile due to their sins. They are promised that when in exile, if they turn back to God and obey His law, God will deliver them from exile and bring them back to the land. He promises that when they meet that condition, He will give them many great blessings. The primary promise He gives them is found in verse 6:

6 “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 

Please note the context. This is not an unconditional promise, but a conditional promise. Also note that it was not for the time of the Old Covenant, as though we could apply it to Abel, Noah, Abraham or Moses. It was a promise for those that would come back from exile after repentance. The later prophets picked on this promise and reiterated it.

31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– 32 “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. – Jeremiah 31:31-33 NKJV

Note well, this is not how God dealt with the Old Covenant believers. This is a new thing! This is a transformative change in the heart of Christians that causes them to do what the Old Covenant believers could not.

26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. – Ezekiel 36:26-27 NKJV

Here Ezekiel makes it clear how a person is going to receive a new, circumcised and regenerate spirit. It will happen by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!

38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) – John 7:38-39 KJV

When will people receive new life from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? After Jesus Christ is glorified to the right hand of God; not before!

32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. – Acts 2:32-33 KJV

This is when people received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit Jesus promised. This is when the stony heart was removed. This is when the New Covenant promise of writing the Law of God on our hearts began. This is when people received divine circumcision!

One more Scripture to tie it all together:

37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. – Acts 2:37-38 KJV

What happens here? People are invited into the New Covenant! They are commanded to repent as Moses told the people in Deuteronomy 30:2. Then they are told to be baptized into Christ. What does it mean “into Christ”? It means they were to believe what they were just told, that Jesus Christ is risen to the right hand of God by the working of divine power (Col 2:12)! Through this faith, in the waters of baptism, they who are dead in sin are made alive in Christ, forgiven of sin and justified (Col 2:13, Ephesians 2:5-6). And once they are cleansed they are ready to receive the New Covenant promise of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit by which they will be given a new heart devoted to obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ (Deut 30:6, Ez 36:26-27)!

conclusion

Stop using Ephesians 2:5-6 as a proof-text for monergistic regeneration.

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