Systematic Contemplations on Paul’s Greeting to Thessalonica

It is an elementary error to squeeze texts so tightly that one word of Scripture may yield 2000 words of exposition. I have read that one preacher in the 19th century preached hundreds of sermons on John 3:16. Such treatment of the text is irresponsible. A passage teaches something and the exegete’s role is to communicate this thing and move on, having demonstrated through grammatical analysis why his conclusion is favorable.

That said, I claim from the outset that this article is mainly a practice in systematics. I do not claim that 1 Thessalonians 1:1 communicates all that I communicate below. I have taken Paul’s greeting seriously as Divinely inspired and therefore believe it to be consistent with the larger corpus of Pauline and Biblical teaching. To those who object, “Paul did not mean to teach with verse 1 all that you communicate here,” I say, “amen.” I say bluntly, again, that this article does not serve to draw up from 1 Thessalonians 1:1 only what is communicated therein, but rather to consider how this simple greeting is consistent with the rest of Divine revelation. Having clarified that my work below is primarily in systematics, any refutation proposing or suggesting otherwise is irrelevant and shall not be seriously considered by the author.

1. A Singular Divide

Θεσσαλονικέων – This word identifies which church Paul is writing to. Paul traversed much ground as a missionary. Before Thessalonica, he ministered in Philippi (Acts 16:11-40) – post-Thessalonica, Berea and Athens (Acts 17:10-34). 

1. “Thessalonica” identifies the locality of this congregation, but fails to communicate their identity. For this, Paul must add “in God.” Ethnic, social, genealogical, etc. distinctions among men are, with Christ’s resurrection, to be considered trivial regarding the kingdom of God. In these latter days, the eternal purpose of God has been revealed (Ephesians 3:4-13): that He divides men once and on the basis of Christ’s merit (Galatians 3:27-29). No condition is considered save the blood of God’s Holy One (Luke 4:34) upon the doorframe of one’s soul (Exodus 12:1-13, 21-23; 1 Peter 1:17-19). Even the Jewish/Gentile divide is proven a false means of identifying God’s kingdom. There are those chosen, purchased, sealed by God and there are those who are not. God divides only once: the receptive from rejecting (John 1:9-13) – the narrow from wide (Matthew 7:13-14) – the sheep from goats (Matthew 25:31-33) – the called from uncalled (1 Corinthians 1:21-24) – the honorable from common (Romans 9:21). 

2. Though this counsel was not manifested with such clarity until these latter days, it is yet present pre-incarnation. To be clear: God has always revealed Himself to be One Who splits humanity on the basis of who they are in reference to Christ (i.e. with no respect to fleshly differentiation). God’s agenda is not determined by what man fancies. Rather, it is determined in reference to Christ. He has installed Christ as preeminent above all things (Col 1:15) and in relation to Him the Divine counel has prescribed and procured its sentiments. God will not bless (2 Corinthians 1:20; Ephesians 1:3-14) or curse (Acts 2:33-35; Philippians 2:9-11) outside of Christ.

All Divine self-revelation is consistent manifestly, but also because God does not lie. Therefore, the N.T. proposition will prove true in the Old Testament – that these pre-Messianic writings reveal God to be no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35). The witness of the prophets is consistent with Christ’s (Hebrews 1:1-2). The foundation to which they contributed was the very same as the apostles – with Christ as their cornerstone, perfect harmony exists between their ancient stones and the apostles’ latter day stones (Ephesians 2:19-22). Consider now this theme of God dividing once among the sons of men.

2.1. Enoch is honored exclusively for having walked with God (i.e. material characteristics did not differentiate him from other men; Genesis 5:21-24). The Deluge (Genesis 6:1-9:29) prefigured the consummation of all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10) by separating men once: the righteous (Noah) from unrighteous (Genesis 6:9-12). Christ (the Ark) alone sanctifies His people from the wrath to come (the flood): there are no further divides among men relevant to how God relates to them. God demonstrated disregard for anthropocentric distinctions with Israel’s Patriarchs, choosing the younger sons of Abraham and Isaac (Romans 9:6-13). Joseph was far from firstborn, and even between his sons Jacob favored the younger (Genesis 48:17-20). Disregard for what man values and regard for what God values is perhaps a theme of holiness itself. Circumcision (Genesis 17:1-8) symbolizes all of this by dividing men once: circumcised from uncircumcised – God’s people from the world. The things considered valuable by men are to be cut away and cast aside, God’s agenda is to be given supreme attention.

2.2. All of this, beloved, only from the first book. Need we continue? God’s supreme delight in the singular divide among men, and persistent disregard for what wicked men esteem worthy of distinguishment, is a Penteteuchial theme, with Moses perhaps as the hallmark case (Exodus 3:1-22) and Leviticus the hallmark piece. The Law divided once: law-keeping from guilty (Deuteronomy 27:1-28:68; cf. Romans 1:18-3:20). 2.3. What of the poetic works? The Psalms and Proverbs work around a theme of dividing men once: righteous from unrighteous. Psalm 1 is the catalyst: “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the wicked will perish” (v.6). The great teacher’s wisdom in sum is to obey God, for He judges by one divide (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) and takes no bribes (Proverbs 11:1). Beyond these genres, need I provide further evidence?

3. The materialistic bribes of social status, ethnic association, genealogy, monetary affluence, etc. cannot tempt Yahweh’s gavel – nor can Zion’s honey be purchased by these. There is but one Divine consideration when blessings or curses are to be given: has this person the righteousness of Christ? If they are God’s people, righteous in the fruit of His Spirit, then yes, they possess His papers. These fruits, beloved, ripen only by Christ’s goodness. Heaven’s tulips only blossom by Christ’s sweet aroma. The Father, then, only divides by Christ.

Therefore, it is of no eternal or eschatological significance that this church is in Thessalonica. But Oh how brightly they are distinguished by residing in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! The contrast is full between inclusion to and exclusion from Christ. Thus we read Θεσσαλονικέων but wait in eager hope for ἐν θεῷ πατρὶ καὶ κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ.

2. The Position and Possessions of the Church

Here we have simply stated the church’s position and possessions: where she rests and what she has – the sphere of her existence and the sum of her equipment.

1. She is ἐν θεῷ πατρὶ καὶ κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ. 1.1. Her origin, sustenance, and future come from God. He made her, keeps her, will glorify her. By the Father’s (θεῷ πατρὶ) ordination and gracious adoption she exists. She needs no liveliness from men: all that the world can give her is dreariness and sluggishness. She has sufficient vitality from God her Father. 1.2. By Christ’s will (κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ) according to the sufficiency of His sacrifice she is ruled. She needs no judgment from men: all that the world can advise her with are fools’ wisdoms. She is sufficiently presided over by Christ her Lord. 1.3. Woe to those men who forget her position in God, who attempt sneaking off with the Father’s handi-work and Christ’s wife.

2. She is greeted by Paul: χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη. First we may ask what grace and peace she could possibly hope for outside of God’s bosom. Second we may notice in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2 Paul makes plain that the grace and peace he desires for the Thessalonians only comes from God. 2.1. Grace is the ultimate request a sinner can make. It is a grace that the church finds herself with her present position in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father graciously chose before the foundations of the earth to place her in Christ. The Son graciously died so as to bring her to God the Father. The grace could be said to be the position she is in. So by “charis humin” Paul means, “May God ever keep you as He now holds you in His palm.” 2.2. Peace is the result of the grace. Because of the grace she receives, the church has ample cause to be at peace. Paul could have in mind the peace that arrives in respect to the Divine and the wicked, where the enmity between God and man is dispersed in the Gospel: Christ bore the Father’s righteous indignation and the Spirit resurrects our unrighteously angery hearts. Yet I favor a Romans 8:28-39 interpretation: Gospel grace is the furtile ground from which Gospel peace grows with fruition.

3. Paul greets a specific people with this verse. He is not speaking in abstract language or of a figurative, corporate body with no identity in the realm of individuality. He speaks to a specific local congregation, knowing them all personally and deeply. He sees each face as he opens this letter. The personal nature of this greeting demands that we recognize the singular application of each point made above. 3.1. The individual believer is in God. 3.1.1. The Christian finds all vitality and meaning in God the Father. He elected and adopted him, keeps him and feeds him, and will one day resurrect him. 3.1.2. The Christian takes all prescriptions from Christ the Lord. His Word is most highly authoritative. His will is superlative in the believer’s life. 3.2. The individual believer is blessed by God. 3.2.1. The Christian is given grace upon grace. According to the Father’s will and Christ’s merit, blessings abound. 3.2.2. Therein, what could possibly shake the believer? What reason has the Christian to lose heart or hope? Peace is his, if he would have it.

A Response to Leighton Flowers on Ephesians 1

This article provides a critique of Leighton Flowers’ treatment of Ephesians 1:3-14 given on March 14, 2015. This is a narrow and specific focus. I am not engaging all of Flowers’ material on the subject.

Point 1: Verses 3-14, Not Just 13-14, Answer the Question

I recognize this specific blog was not intended to be a grammatical commentary. So we cannot call “fowl” when his starting position is philosophical and not exegetical. This is not an error, but it means this examination of the text is framed by whatever Flowers places it in. A more robust approach, I suggest, would begin with the grammar alone and ask questions regarding systematic theology later on. To Flowers’ credit: “Let’s drop any preconceived ideas we have about this text and attempt to answer the question as honestly as we can.”

He continues: “Some focus so much attention on the first 12 verses that they fail to see the last two verses where Paul gives an answer to this vital question; ‘How does one come to be in Him?'” So in Ephesians 1, we are not told how an individual is placed in Christ until verse 13. By merit of this, verses 1-12 can be excluded from the discussion. The answer to the question, “How does one come to be in Christ” must lie somewhere after verse 12. Flowers’ conclusion depends on this point. There are other propositions to engage, but this seems the most fundamental.

The main point of verses 3-14 is that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (v.3). Verses 4-14 are a zoomed-in look at verse 3. Paul says God has blessed us and he proceeds to explain how He has blessed us. No less than eleven times we see the equivalent of “in Christ.” All of these blessings, then, are within the context of Christ. Further, all of these blessing are summed-up in verse 3: “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

Verse 13 states that after we heard the message of truth, we believed and were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise. So after faith comes sealing. Where does Paul submit that God’s purpose is only to provide a plan and not to save specific individuals? Where is the clause teaching that God’s effectual, salvific pursuit of this individual began after his faith? The text suggests that sealing is appropriated by an individual’s faith, but further conclusions seem eisogetical.

“How does one come to be in Christ?” Flowers provides no grammatical evidence for answering this question from verses 13-14 alone. Given this deficiency, and lack of any discussion regarding verses 3-12, I cannot see any reason to accept Flowers’ conclusion: “This passage is not about God predetermining which individuals will be in Christ. It is about God predetermining what will become of those who are in Christ through belief in His truth.”

Point 2: God’s Choice in Verse 4 is of Persons, not a Plan

Flowers links to an article by Ron Hale on SBC Today. In the article, Hale engages with Hobbs on Ephesians 1:4-6 and Flowers seems to consider this capable commentary: “I strongly urge everyone reading these words to consider the exegesis given by Dr. Hershel Hobbs” (an embedded link followed). Here is the substance of Hobbs’ argument, according to Hale (and I believe he is correct): “In teaching this passage, Dr. Herschel Hobbs saw that God sovereignly chose or elected a specific plan of salvation.”

So the object of God’s choice is an “it” – a plan of salvation. The “who” is left to man’s will, ultimately. God marked out the boundaries of salvation and everyone who steps into those boundaries is saved. Hale and Flowers seem satisfied with Hobbs’ conclusion, as if we can build our theology around the single word proorisas regardless of Greek syntax.

Firstproorisas is taken from verse 5 where God determines the specific end designed for hemas (us). If Hale had quoted Hobbs’ exegesis in relevance, we would be reading comments on verse 4: kathos exelexato hemas en auto pro kataboles kosmou einai hemas hagious kai amomous katenopion autou en agape. Hale (and perhaps Flowers) don’t seem to catch this, because Hale actually cites the verb proorisas (trans. predestined) as being in verse 4, rather than verse 5.

Second, the direct object of the most relevant sentence to this discussion (v.4) is hemas (us). “He chose,” Paul says, and one may rightly ask, “What? Who? What is the object of God’s choice?” The answer: “He chose us.” The object of God’s selection is personal. It is of persons. These articles provide no engagement with this grammatical fact.

Conclusion: We Need to Look at the Grammar

I found two other links in Leighton Flowers’ article: this short video and this podcast. I have listened to both and see no points going beyond what I have already addressed. Flowers seems sincere and firmly convinced of his position, but what objective evidence does he provide for his conclusion? I cannot see any grammatical argumentation that directs us to accept his conclusion.

If the Bible is our highest authority, our most fundamental question should be, “What does the text say?” Flowers clearly agrees, but his exegetical methods do not reflect his convictions regarding the nature of Scripture. If they did, his question “How does one come to be in Christ?” would have addressed: 1) verses 3-14, not just verses 13-14, and 2) “He chose us” in verse 4.

I understand that Leighton Flowers has produced several other works on Ephesians 1. I will be reading and reviewing this in the future.

Exegetical Thoughts from Romans 8:28

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Exegetical Notes

A Textual Variant
It is not clear whether “God” is explicitly the subject of this sentence. MSS evidence points to no definitive answer, but the debate has no implication for what theological principle we draw from the text. The Divine hand obviously works upon panta (all things) in some way. This conclusion is consistent with Pauline theology (ex. Eph 1:11) and kata prothesin (according to His purpose) in the following phrase.


de
Verse 28 is built under oidamen (we know). de (and) continues Paul’s thought-flow from verses 26-27 (ultimately from v.9) yet allows us to acknowledge development in what he is teaching. First, verse 28 could be an elaboration of kata theon in verse 27, which would pack verses 28-39 well together under that theme. Second, verse 28 could point further back to vers3 23, “…we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons.” So verse 28 would be another coping mechanism we have for the “already-and-not-yet” nature of salvation.

I favor the first option, as it seems to most naturally develop the text.


Everything Proves Beneficial
panta sunergei eis agathon (all things work together for good), as suggested above, does not need ho theos to give the Christian hope. Paul essentially says that everything in the Christian’s life proves beneficial. There is no such thing as “wasted experience.” An important discussion is whether it is in spight of all things or through all things that the Christian is benefitted.

First, “in spight” might be favored by the absence of ho theos (God). Paul is not saying that everything in the Christian experience actually results in good. Rather, there is good at the end of all things. Thinking back to verse 23, this would be the redemption of our body. So the comforting knowledge (oidamen) the Christian maintains in every circumstance is that, in the end, there is a resurrection to forever separate him from sin and its effects.

Second, “through” might be favored by the presence of ho theos. Paul is not merely pointing to the end result of the Christian life. Rather, all things actually proves beneficial to the Christian. This is not to say that all things are intrinsically good. All things, therefore, contribute to the Christian’s good. The comforting knowledge (oidamen) the Christian maintains in every circumstance is that, in the present, every experience has meaning. “Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face” (Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”).

I favor the second option, but both options seem orthodox and compatible with the text.


Recipients of Good
The NASB reads, “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” No serious exegete proposes that these describe two different groups. The two clauses serve adjectival purposes for the same group: Christians. God’s people 1) love Him, 2) are called by Him.


Segue
I suggest that the placement of each clause demonstrates where Paul’s thought flow is going. tois agaposi ton theon (to those who love God) comes at the beginning of the verse and tois kata prothesin kletois ousin (to those who are called according to His purpose) comes at the end. This could be coincidence. Yet I suggest that tois agaposi ton theon could have sufficed as a description of the recipients of eis agathon (for good). Paul adds the last phrase to segue into what God’s prothesin (purpose) is (vv.29-30).

If this is correct, verses 29-30 not only explain prothesin but also support oidamen. “We know that everything proves beneficial to us because of verses 29-30.” If verses 29-30 do not function in this manner, the Christian peace of verse 28 (and later vv.31-39) would have no foundation or explanation.


Concluding Thoughts

My ultimate conclusion from this verse is that I, as a Christian, have ample reason to believe that my entire earthly experience is, by the grace of God, benefitting me. Below I have provided eight more specific conclusions.

  1. MSS variations result in no theological variations here.
  2. God’s ordination of all things is not explicit here (even with the inclusion of ho theos), though this verse certainly allows for it.
  3. The sovereignty of God is a perfectly relevant doctrine for the church today.
  4. No experience leaves a Christian hopeless.
  5. All experiences have meaning to the Christian. Behind every rugged trial is the tender hand of God.
  6. Salvific relationship is never one-sided. God loves His people and His people love Him.
  7. Peace in unpeaceful times is never unwarranted.
  8. It is a godly thing to live without anxiety or despair.

Six Reflections on 1 Corinthians: Verses That Most Deeply Developed My Theology

I recently completed a study of 1 Corinthians in my daily Bible reading. I would like to share six ways in which my theology was bolstered and corrected by the text.

My Faith Depends on God’s Call (1:22-24)

My understanding of God’s salvific call was strengthened. “Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom” (1:22). “Greeks” encompasses the entire Gentile world. In contrast to what unbelievers want, we preach Christ crucified (v.23a). Christ is a stumbling block to Jews – as if the crucified carpenter from Nazareth was actually God? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). Christ is also foolishness to Greeks – to suggest that a Jewish man’s crucifixion has any relevance to my life? The gospel proves to be the supreme universally unaccepted message. Who are the ones that actually respond positively? “But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24). God’s calling for salvation does not simply search for a difference, it makes a difference.

A Test for Apostleship (4:9-13)

Some groups who profess to be Christian actually claim to have apostles in their churches. The traditional Christian understanding has been that the apostles died in the first century and no more have since been given to the church. I believe that 1 Corinthians 4:9 could be one test of apostleship: “For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” If a man claims to be an apostle yet lives a life of relative ease in this world, we can point to this passage as proof that the profession is false. Is he both hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, roughly treated, and homeless (v.11)? Does he toil physically, bless when reviled, endure when persecuted, conciliate when slandered (v.12-13a)? Is he scum in the eyes of the world, the dregs of all things (v.13b)? If not, he is an imposter.

Church Discipline is Vital (5:1-13)

A man in the Corinthian church was engaged in sexual immorality with his father’s wife (5:1). Paul’s bottom-line instruction was to “remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (v.13). His reason, however, was not for judgment (as Paul wrote in Romans 14:10-13, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God…therefore let us not judge one another anymore”) but salvation. First, releasing the unrepentant man would encourage him towards repentance and thus life: “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:5). Second, releasing the unrepentant man would keep the congregation safe from unrepentant habits: “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened” (v.7). Third, drawing from John 15:1-9, a healthy, obedient local church most clearly glorifies God in its holiness.

Marriage Principles in Persecution (7:25-38)

This passage further developed my theology of marriage. I understand “in view of the present distress” (v.26) as referring to a time of hardship and persecution in the church. In such a time, “it is good for a man to remain as he is” (cf. v.32-35). Paul leaves marriage in persecution ultimately in the hands of an individual’s conscience (ex. vv.36-38) but encourages us against it. This context is important to understand. It means that Paul is not setting singleness as a universal ideal above marriage. The joining of man and woman should still be the normative goal of every individual (i.e. only to be unpursued if celibacy is clearly gifted [v.7]).

Vocational Ministers Should Be Paid (9:14)

Asking for a salary in vocational ministry can be uncomfortable. Is it appropriate for a pastor to speak frankly with a congregation about his salary? Paul clears the minister’s conscience: “The Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (9:14). A shepherd’s salary is mirrored by Israel’s payment to the Levites for their service (v.13). “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?” (v.7). Paul clearly did not preach the gospel for money (vv.17-18), but he likewise did not advocate that the church be built wholly on lay-ministers.

Communion is a Sign of Grace (10:1-5; 11:26-27)

The Israelites ate and drank from the blessings of God in the wilderness (10:1-4), but “with most of them God was not well-pleased” (v.5). Though they partook in signs of God’s grace, they craved evil things and sought idols (vv.6-7). Clearly, we cannot mistake signs of grace with grace itself (cf. Rom 9:1-5). Paul applies this broader principle to the Communion table. When we take the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor 11:26). The Lord’s Supper cannot be a means of grace, because some who partake in it remain guilty (v.27). God’s grace remains the ultimate ground for salvation, and within that, faith for justification. Our time together with the bread and wine (vv.23-26) should be a reminder of the gospel promise extended to us all, yet it should not be taken as a means by which we are saved.

Defining Sanctification in Light of Romans 8:29-30

Romans 8:29-30 is famously dubbed “The Golden Chain of Redemption.” Five complete, Divine actions drive the passage: foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified. This overview of God’s work in salvation is referred to as monergistic (meaning “with one energy”) because God alone accomplishes it all.

One striking detail is that Paul seems to skip sanctification. Shouldn’t it be, “justified, sanctified, glorified”? One explanation might be that sanctification is not a monergistic work and so would not be appropriate for Paul’s point in Romans 8:29-30 (i.e. to explain how God works good in believers’ lives [v.28] and that if God is for us no one can be against us [v.31]). Yet this explanation does not seem appropriate. For Paul’s argument to work, the entire work of salvation must be monergistic. Leaving out one facet that doesn’t support his theology would at best be dishonest, at worst an upheaval of Paul’s apostolic integrity.

I suggest that Paul excludes sanctification because it does not ontologically progress the saint in salvation. In the remainder of this article I will defend and detail this proposition. First, we need to understand “predestined” in 8:29. Second, we need to understand the three terms introduced in verse 30: called, justified, glorified. Third, after this analysis is complete, a definition of sanctification can be arrived upon.

Chosen to Be Conformed

Foreknew” does not communicate that God based His election on foreseen faith. This foreknowledge is relational and is actually the doctrine of Unconditional Election itself (I’m not going to defend this here, but feel free to ask me questions in the comment section below).

Predestined” needs further explanation – unto what did God destine His elect to? “…predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Conformity to Christ’s image is the end unto which God has determined His elect. “Predestined” is not the act of God conforming us but the decision of God to conform us.

What is “the image of His Son”? Some suggest that it refers strictly to bodily resurrection (ex. see Paul Sloan, around minute 20). I consider this focus to be too narrow because of Paul’s emphasis on a present yet future salvation (Romans 8:12-25) – the “already and not-yet.” “Firstborn” refers to something being preeminent or exalted. Paul is literally saying, “so that Jesus would be the exalted elder brother of many” – or perhaps, “so that Jesus would be glorified among many.”

That being said, conformity to Christ’s image seems to only be possible through resurrection. “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Col 1:18). “Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor 15:49). This seems to be what Paul speaks of in Romans 8:23, “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” This redemption of the body is our resurrection, which Paul refers to as our adoption.

Yet this is intriguing, because Paul earlier wrote, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (v.15-16). So which is it? Are we presently adopted as sons, or do we await a future adoption? The text appears forcing us to answer, “both” – but not in a mysterious sense. I suggest that Paul is actually referring to two resurrections: one of the spirit, one of the body. This would make sense of the “already and not-yet” theology found in Romans 8.

There is first a spiritual resurrection: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgression, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:1, 4-6). There is second a physical resurrection: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, be the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to himself” (Phil 3:21).

Because each resurrection is of the same man and unto the same end (conformity to Christ), we should see this as one resurrection with two facets. 1 Peter 1:3-4 may support this: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” Christ’s physical resurrection in some sense secured for us a birth which we presently experience yet will one day receive in full.

Our resurrection is often called “birth” and thus appropriates the Biblical term of “adoption” and “child of God.” In the complete work of resurrection, we are reborn into Christ’s image. Regeneration would be the spiritual birth, where our hearts are conformed. Resurrection would be the physical birth, where our bodies are conformed. Considering these things, continue with me through Romans 8:29-30.

Judicial and Ontological Conformity

Paul introduces the final three Divine actions in verse 30. The calling pursues and accomplishes God’s purpose without fail (cf. 8:28; 31-39; 9:6-13), so it is effectual rather than invitational. This would be regeneration – the effectual work of God whereby a sinner is spiritually resurrected, given a heart that loves and clings to Christ (Ezek 36:26-27; 1 Jn 5:1). Justification, as Paul so laboriously detailed prior to this, is the Divine declaration that an individual is not guilty. The final action “glorified” must be referring to our physical resurrection and acquisition of heavenly bodies (cf. Rom 8:21). These three actions are distinct from the previous two (foreknew and predestined) because they involve God’s interaction with us in time. While election and predestination occurred prior to our birth, calling, justification and glorification are accomplished after we begin to exist.

I consider it appropriate to view the first two actions as God’s purposing and the final three actions as God’s accomplishing. If this is correct, then calling, justification and glorification comprise God’s work of conforming us into Christ’s image (i.e. what He predestined the foreknown unto). Calling and glorification refer to ontological conformity; justification refers to judicial conformity.

The judicial conformity provides the basis upon which God ontologically conforms us. God never changes and so always deals with men by a consistent standard. This standard has not and will not be broken, even for the purpose of conforming someone into Christ’s image. It is upon the basis of Christ’s obedience and death that God is then able to be just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:26). It is common to say, “I am justified, therefore righteous,” but this statement is false. Justification does not make us righteous, it declares us righteous. We are given Christ’s unblemished record – thus, judicially conformed to His image.

The ontological conformity is the transformation of our being. This is the act in which God literally makes us righteous. Our calling is first, glorification is second. In terms synonymous with the purpose of this article: our spiritual resurrection is first, physical resurrection is second. We are first made inwardly like Christ, second made outwardly like Christ.

So What is Sanctification?

In light of these things, how might we define sanctification? It is not a creative work of God whereby an individual is made into Christ’s likeness. This creative work occurs in regeneration and resurrection. However, sanctification clearly depends on God’s work within us (Jn 15:1-9; Phil 2:12-13). As God works within us, these two passages clearly state that we must work-out this Divine grace. Sanctification is synergistic because both our energy and God’s energy are necessary. “But doesn’t that mean salvation is by works?” No, because sanctification is not a creative conformity to Christ’s image.

Regeneration and resurrection completely conform us to Christ’s image. Absolutely no work is needed on our part in order to bring these two things about. Sanctification must by nature be a different kind of work than foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. In sanctification, what is already conformed to Christ’s image? Our heart. What has yet to be conformed? Our body.

Sanctification, I propose, is the progressive discipline of the flesh to conform to the affections of one’s regenerate heart. The energy to accomplish such discipline is only found in God, but the action of discipline is done by the individual. Further, the monergistic work of salvation (Rom 8:29-30) in no way hinges upon the amount of sanctification one experiences. Conformity to Christ’s image is accomplished in the resurrection of the spirit and body. Consider these texts that seem to support my proposition:

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. – Hebrews 5:14

But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:27

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. – Galatians 5:24-25

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. – Ephesians 4:1

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and wo work for His good pleasure. – Philippians 2:12-13

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

This understanding of sanctification is congruent with the semantic use of the word. “Sanctify” means “to make holy,” or “to set apart.” Israel was commanded to sanctify itself from the world and to God. The sanctification clearly occurs only as far as an individual is obedient: “You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. You shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Lev 20:7-8). So here we see the synergistic work of sanctification. The Israelites were responsible to be holy – but God had already done a work to make them holy. God monergistically separated them from the world and to Him, then He told them to live in that separation. New Testament believers have the same responsibility. Our sanctification is essentially our work of setting ourselves aside for God – and this work is only possible by the power of God (again: Jn 15:1-9; Phil 2:12-13).


So why is sanctification excluded from Romans 8:29-30? Because it is not a creative, salvific act of God whereby we are made into Christ’s image. Sanctification is rather the synergistic, progressive discipline of our body, whereby it is conformed to righteousness while we await a physical resurrection.

I Love the Church, Because Christ Loves Me

The text I am commenting on is quite lengthy – John 13:1-17. This being the case, I will make the commentary brief and divide it into three sections. Following the commentary, I will suggest one main implication from the text.

Christ Humbles Himself in Service (vv.1-5)

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. (John 13:1-5)

John shows three things that were on Christ’s mind when He stooped down with a bowl of water. First, He knew that His hour had come. In the waning hours before Judas’ betrayal, Christ was fully aware that He was about to die. Second, He knew that the Father had given all things into his hands. This refers to His exaltation as Lord (cf. Phil 2:5-11). He was fully aware that everything is His to do with as He desires. Third, He knew that He had come forth from God and was going back to God. This is His Messianic identity. Christ was fully conscious that He is the Messiah, sent by God’s will to be a propitiation for His people. With these three things on His mind, Jesus stoops down to wash the disciples’ feet.

Christ Cleanses Us of Sin (vv.6-11)

So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” (John 13:6-11)

Peter was thinking what you probably are: “Lord, do You wash my feet?” The roles seem a bit reversed. Jesus’ foot-washing was a shadow of the cross. He would cleanse us of sin and win for us righteous robes. This washing is necessary to have a part with Christ. Notice how quickly Peter’s disposition changes when He realizes this. When Peter thought that Christ was serving him as a slave, he immediately objected. Are we not His slaves? However, when Peter realized that Christ was serving him as a Redeemer, he immediately pleaded for it. To be with Christ, Peter was willing to let go of pride and allow Christ to serve Him. We too must be humble before the cross.

Christ Commissions Us to Serve (vv.12-17)

So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

The immediate cleansing is with a bowl and towel. The foreshadowed cleansing is with the cross. Both scenes are applicable here, as Christ commissions us to serve in light of His service. Our response to Christ’s service is: “You also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” Christ’s death was more than an example, but it was not less. While I cannot redeem people from sin and death, I can certainly mirror the sacrificial love of Christ and serve them.

Implication

First, recognize who Christ commands us to serve: the church. John 13 is a Great Commission in its own right because it calls for the highest level of service among members of Christ’s body. Second, recognize how Christ commands us to serve: as He served us. The standard for inner-church love is not how well we are treated but how graciously Christ treated us.

Third, recognize why Christ commands us to serve: the cross. This is the great implication that I take from this passage. Why do I serve my brethren? If I am wronged or mistreated by someone in the church, what is my motivation to forgive them? I think this principle slides naturally from the text: we serve one another not to receive something, but because we have received something. The basis for inner-church service is not “Hey, I’ll get something from that” but rather “Christ gave me redemption on the cross.”

So here I come to the second reason why I love the church (you can read my first reason here) and specifically my local church. I love my local congregation because Christ loves me. What determines how I treat these brothers and sisters of mine is not how well they treat me but rather how well Christ has treated me. The cross is my motivation. Whether it is cleaning up after Potluck, watching kids in the nursery, leading worship, or forgiving injustice – all of my love for the church is motivated by the Savior of the church. It is from a joy in Christ my Savior that I love the fellow Christians I am in covenant with.

I am under covenant to serve my local church. This covenant is not bound by the deeds and decisions of my brothers and sisters. Rather, it is sealed by the blood of Christ. When His blood loses merit, I shall be released from my covenant. Until then, I love the church.

I Love the Church, Because Christ Loves the Church

 

I don’t have much to say in this article except what God spoke through the Apostle Paul. So I’ll just dive into the text.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. (Eph 5:25-30)

Commentary

Paul commands husbands to mirror their marital love after Christ’s. Christ’s love for His bride (the Church) is essentially securing her redemption. He gave Himself up for her, dying as a propitiation for her sins. The purpose of this death was her sanctification, that she would be set-apart and made holy. Question: from what and to what? I suggest that Christ’s death cleansed her of sin. She is separated from the kingdom of Satan, death, depravity and carried to the kingdom of Christ, life, righteousness.

He presents her in all her glory. That glory is only hers because He has given it to her. He won for her the worth she manifests. No only this, but He presents her as well – to Himself. He secured for Himself a bride. The glory she boasts is without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. As a bed-sheet without the smallest fold or furrow, she exists in perfection. Her perfect existence is wholly created by Christ. All her glory is given by Him, to the extent that the ungodly characteristics of her previous existence are not even recognizable. In contrast to her past depravity, she is presented holy and blameless. The church is Christ’s body and so He nourishes and cherishes it – so too should husbands nourish and cherish their wives.

Implication

What a great love this is. How might it be measured? Where is the rod with which I can mark the extent of God’s love for His people? Surely it has no scope. If Christ’s merit has no end then His love for the church has no end, because He gave Himself up for her. In response to this love, I am called to love my wife the same way: unconditionally and endlessly. “Christ loves the church, so I love my wife.”

After this immediate point of marital relation, I am driven to a second implication: “Christ loves the church, so I love the church.” My Lord and Savior thought that God’s people were worth living and dying for. If the church ranks so high in Christ’s estimation, how can I think it any less valuable? My love for all believers individually and corporately is based on Christ’s death on the cross. I do not love the church because they can give me something, I love the church because Christ loves them.

This should be stated in more practical terms, I think: “I love my local church because Christ loves my local church.” I love those believers I weekly gather with because Christ loved them. The basis for my fellowship is the intention of Christ’s blood. If ever I am to doubt whether or not I should love my local congregation, a more firm thought should be: “Christ loves them.”

I am under covenant to nourish and cherish my local church. This covenant is not bound by the deeds and decisions of my brothers and sisters. Rather, this covenant is sealed by the blood of Christ. When His blood loses merit, I shall be released from my covenant. Until then, I love the church.

Seven Glimpses of Unconditional Election

I would like to point out seven things about unconditional election that we see in Ephesians 1:4-6. I will include the text below (and verse 3 for context).

(3) Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
(4) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love
(5) He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
(6) to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

In verses 4-6, I believe we are given the following seven glimpses of Unconditional Election: the event, the object, the sphere, the moment, the purpose, the basis, the end. This article is not meant to complicate matters – I simply want to provide a simple, clear explanation of what God wrote through Paul in Ephesians 1:4-6.

The Event of Election

He chose,” Paul writes (exelexato). First, notice who chooses. God is the selector: He actively chooses. The text does not seem to leave room for passivity or indifference on God’s part, in relation to this selection. Second, notice two things about the choice. It is already accomplished (Greek tense is aorist) and on behalf of God (Greek voice is middle). This verb literally means to “pick out.” We could translate it as: “God picked out for Himself.”

The Object of Election

God chose the saints. First, notice a numerical characteristic. The object of election is actually plural – the objects. “Us” should be identified as “the saints” of verse 1, now including Paul. The plural pronoun seems to intend we see multiple cases of election. That is: God chose every saint. The verb is singular because God alone accomplishes it, and the pronoun is plural because He chose multiple individuals. Second, notice a personal characteristic. The objects of election are clearly humans. The text does not say He chose Christ or a plan: He chose people. This choice, then, is of a personal nature.

The Sphere of Election

In Him” (en auto) articulates the close personal association that the saints have with Christ in election. The saints were chosen within the sphere of Christ. Jesus is the context in which they were selected. God did not arbitrarily elect individuals: He chose them in reference to Jesus Christ. It may be helpful to ask, “In what sense are we elected in the context of Christ?” I suggest that the saints were elected in reference to Christ’s obedient life and death on earth. He had not yet been incarnated but God had covenanted with Himself to accomplish redemption. Likewise, the saints had not yet been created but God chose them in light of Christ’s obedience. This grace of election was “freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (v.6). Contemplating the sphere of election reminds us that not even God’s predestination is done outside of the cross of Christ.

The Moment of Election

God completed this action “before the foundation of the world.” This is the temporal nature of election. God’s choice to save certain individuals does not develop over time. He does not start or finish this blessing as history progresses. Rather, He accomplished it prior to Genesis 1:1. Before the act of creation – even before time – He began the work of redemption. Geerhardus Vos said, “The best proof that He will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.”

The Purpose of Election

These certain individuals were differentiated from the mass of wicked humanity for a particular reason: “that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” We could dive into Paul’s particular word-choices, but for the function of this article we may simply call this “salvation.” So: God chose these individuals that they would be saved. This is when the saints are given an eschatology. Verse 5 gives further details: “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” (emphasis mine). We may rightly say that this election is unto redemption.

The Basis of Election

Continuing in verse 5, we read that “He predestined us…according to the kind intention of His will.” The dependent factor in election was not anything within those chosen. God’s intention and will alone determined every facet of election. Words like unconditional should therefore be attributed to God’s selection of certain sinners to salvation. This warrants great comfort to those believing in Christ. We know that God’s choice to save is never hanging on works that we do.

The End of Election

While verses 4-5 give us a purpose of election, verse 6 communicates the great end of election: “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” God’s glory is the ultimate purpose which even our salvation serves. Not only this, but considering the previous six facets of election, it is literally impossible for an individual to take credit for election. We have not pride to glean from this doctrine.


A Brief Confession

In light of Ephesians 1:4-6, I would like to provide a brief confession of Unconditional Election. I pray this article has been helpful to you.

Before He created the world, the Triune God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – covenanted to accomplish the work of redemption. In reference to Christ’s obedient life and death, God chose certain individuals to experience this redemption in order that He would be glorified through such a demonstration of His rich grace.

A Doxology of Romans 9

The God of Romans 9 is radically different than many people may be comfortable with. While most professing Christians exalt God as an anthropocentric Deity Who seeks man’s benefit above all else, Paul firmly presents Him as a God-centered God Who seeks His glory above all else. These things can be hard to accept. When I first began to see Scripture’s clear testimony concerning the nature of God, I wondered, “What does it look like to worship a God like this?” What does poetry praising the God of Unconditional Election read like? How do I praise God in light of His sovereignty over all things?

To the delight of my easily frustrated mind, God’s sovereignty in salvation is one of the most natural truths to praise Him for. I would like to share ten hymns that I’ve found helpful in drawing doxology from the theology of Romans 9. If you click on any title below, your computer device should be taken to an audio recording of the respective song.

I. Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right

Samuel Rodigast

Whate’er my God ordains is right // His holy will abideth
I will be still whate’er He doth // And follow where He guideth
He is my God, though dark my road // He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him, I leave it all // He holds me that I shall not fall

Whate’er my God ordains is right // He never will deceive me
He leads me by the proper path // I know He will not leave me
I take, content, what He hath sent // His hand can turn my griefs away
And patiently I wait His day // His hand can turn my griefs away

Whate’er my God ordains is right // Though now this cup I’m drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart // I take it all unshrinking
My God is true each morn anew // Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart
And pain and sorrow shall depart // Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart

Whate’er my God ordains is right // Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine // Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’s care is ‘round me there // He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him, I leave it all // He holds me that I shall not fall

II. Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Thomas O. Chisholm

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou has been, Thou forever wilt be

Summer and winter, and spring-time and harvest
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own ear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me

III. God Moves in a Mysterious Way

William Cowper

God moves in a mysterious way // His wonders to perform
He plants His footsteps in the sea // And rides upon the storm

Deep in unfathomable mines // Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs // And works His sov’reign will

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take // The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break // In blessings on your head!

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense // But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence // He hides a smiling face!

His purposes will ripen fast // Unfolding ev’ry hour
The bud may have a bitter taste // But sweet will be the flow’r!

Blind unbelief is sure to err // And scan His work in vain
God is His own interpreter // And He will make it plain!

IV. Our Sovereign God

Tom Pennington

Our Sov’reign God by His own word // Sustains this world and reigns as Lord
No angel, demon, sinful man // Can change His course, restrain His hand
O sov’reign God, we praise Your pow’r // Your wisdom, goodness we adore!
We bow our hearts before Your throne // Help us, O Lord, to trust You more!

When the fullness of the time had come // God sent His own beloved Son
To keep God’s aw, live in our place // To bear our sin, guilt and disgrace
Dead in our sin, estranged from God // We fled as rebels from His love
In sov’reign grace He made us sons // And saved us from the wrath to come

Before our birth He planned our days // Laid out our course, ordained our ways
The moments of our lives He weaves // So all the glory He receives
To those He loved before all time // To all He called, in grace renewed
He cannot lie; His Word is true // He makes all things to work for good!

He has written hist’ry’s final page // His Son’s return will end this age
The Lamb will come in glorious might // Take back His world and end its night
How deep the wisdom of our God // Unknown, unfathomed are His ways!
None counsels Him or knows His mind // We bow before Him all our days.

V. All Creatures of Our God and King

Francis of Assisi; paraphrased, William H. Draper; Thomas Ken

All creatures of our God and King // Lift up your voice and with us sing
Allelulia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam // Thou silver moon with softer gleam
O praise him! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong // Ye clouds that sail in heav’n along
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice // Ye lights of evening, find a voice
O praise Him! Alleluia!

And all ye men of tender heart // Forgiving others, take your part
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear // Praise God and on Him cast your care
O praise Him! Alleluia!

Let all things their Creator bless // And worship Him in humbleness
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son // And praise the Spirit, three in One
O praise Him! Alleluia!

VI. I Sing the Mighty Power of God

Isaac Watts

I sing the mighty power of God // That made the mountains rise
That spread the flowing seas abroad // And built the lofty skies
I sing the wisdom that ordained // The sun to rule the day
The moon shines full at His command // And all the stars obey

I sing the goodness of the Lord // That filled the earth with food
He formed the creatures with His Word // And then pronounced them good
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed // Where’er I turn my eye
If I survey the ground I tread // Or gaze upon the sky!

There’s not a plant of flower below // But makes Thy glories known
And clouds arise and tempests blow // By order from Thy throne
While all that borrows life from Thee // Is ever in Thy care
And ev’rywhere that man can be // Thou, God, art present there

VII. O Father, You Are Sovereign

Margaret Clarkson

O father, you are sov’reign // In all the worlds You made
Your mighty word was spoken // And light and life obeyed

Your voice commands the seasons // And bounds the ocean’s shore
Sets stars within their courses // And stills the tempest’s roar

O Father, You are sov’reign // In all affairs of man
No pow’rs of death or darkness // Can thwart Your perfect plan

All chance and change transcending // Supreme in time and space
You hold Your trusting children // Secure in Your embrace

O Father, You are sov’reign // We see You dimly now
But soon before Your triumph // Earth’s ev’ry knee shall bow

With this glad hope before us // Our faith springs up anew
Our sov’reign Lord and Savior // We trust and worship You!

VIII. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

Joachim Neander; tr. Catherine Winkworth

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear // Now to His temple draw near
Praise Him in glad adoration!

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wonderously reigneth
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen // How thy desires e’er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Praise to the lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee
Ponder anew // What the Almighty can do
If with His love He befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him
Let the Amen // Sound from His people again
Gladly forever adore Him!

IX. When This Passing World is Done

Robert Murray McCheyne

When this passing world is done // When has sunk yon glaring sun
When we stand with Christ in glory // Looking o’er life’s finished story
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe

When I hear the wicked call // On the rocks and hills to fall
When I see them start to shrink // On the fiery deluge brink
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe

When I stand before the throne // Dressed in beauty not my own
When I see thee as thou art // Love thee with unsinning heart
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe

When the praise of heav’n I hear // Loud as thunders to the ear
Loud as many waters’ noise // Sweet as harp’s melodious voice
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe

Chosen not for good in me // Wakened up from wrath to flee
Hidden in the Savior’s side // By the spirit sanctified
Teach me, Lord, on earth to show
By my love, how much I owe

X. My Lord, I Did Not Choose You

Joseph Conder

My Lord, I did not choose You // For that could never be
My heart would still refuse You // Had You not chosen me
You took the sin that stained me // You cleansed me made me new
Of old You have ordained me // That I should live in You.

Unless Your grace had called me // And taught my op-ning mind
The world would have enthralled me // To heav’nly glories blind
My heart knows none above You // For Your rich grace I thirst
I know that if I love You // You must have loved me first.

Five Reflections on Ephesians: Verses That Most Deeply Developed My Theology

The past six months, my Sunday School class has walked through Ephesians. I would like to share the five portions that have influenced me the most during this study. I pray that they likewise stir your affections for Christ.

My whole salvation experience is in reference to Christ (1:3).

Ephesians opens with a wonderful articulation of how God has blessed the saints. He elected (v.4), predestined (v.5), redeemed (v.7), awakens (v.9), and seals (v.13) every saint. Yet the most striking characteristic of vv.3-14 is that eleven times Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” (or an equivalent construction, ex. “in Him”). In fact, not one blessing a saint enjoys is outside the context of Christ. Everything God does for His people is in reference to His Son. I have seen here that my whole salvation experience (not just justification) is in reference to Christ.

Routine reflection on pre-conversion depravity is appropriate (2:12).

In light of God’s eternal purpose of salvation (1:1-23) and its application to us in time (2:1-10), there is a contrast in every believer’s life: pre-conversion and post-conversion. Every saint can sing with Newton, “I once was lost but now I’m found,” (emphasis mine). We may be inclined to think that after experiencing God’s grace it is sinful to ponder our lives before such grace, but Paul suggests just the opposite. We are to bear in mind our days of hopelessness apart from Christ, in order that the gospel be made precious to us and self-righteousness be driven out. I have seen here that a regular reflection on my pre-conversion depravity is appropriate and healthy.

History serves the gospel (3:6).

It is common opinion that the good news of Christ has been God’s response to the Fall of Adam. In this construction, the gospel serves history in that Christ crucified was a redirection God made in light of previous events. However, Ephesians asserts in nearly every chapter that Christ crucified was actually God’s purpose all along: that pre-creation He chose to save certain individuals in Christ (1:4), and that as history has progressed nothing has changed (3:6). The gospel is not God’s reaction to the Fall. Rather, God’s intention in history has always been Christ crucified, such that every event of earth has been sovereignly fitted to contribute to His glorious end. I have seen here that history serves God’s glory in the gospel.

The church is organic but not self-sustaining (4:16).

Communion in a local congregation is usually considered optional or “for fellowship sake” at best. Ephesians does not allow us to reasonably believe such things. Christ’s bride-to-be is invisibly united by His work (4:4-6) and must manifest this visibly (4:1-3). The body of Christ grows just as a body (4:16). As individual members exercise their spiritual gifts in sanctification, the corporate body is then further sanctified: corporate sanctification follows from individual sanctification. While this ‘organic’ growth of the corporate body is truly remarkable, Paul does not allow us to believe that the church is self-sufficient. The energy by which the body grows is clearly given by Christ: “Christ, from whom the whole body…causes the growth of the body,” (v.16). I have seen here that the church is organic but by no means self-sustaining.

Perseverance requires prayerfully lifting all things to God (6:18).

The believer’s earthly life is spent in the context of a world drenched in sin and depravity. How might one stand firm against those forces that oppose God so violently? Clearly, by depending upon the arm of God. The first six portions of armor are commonly reflected upon (6:10-17), but we must not neglect the seventh: prayer (v.18). Prayer is from a human perspective effective: a means ordained by God to accomplish His purposes in history. Prayer is also a grand sanctifier of our hearts, as it keeps our will in proper reference to God’s sovereign, perfect will (ex. Christ in the garden, Matt. 26). I have seen here that I should not expect to stand firm in any struggle that I do not lift to God in prayer.