“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
For those of us that have come into regular contact with Calvinism we have often heard the following argument: “The Bible clearly teaches that people are regenerated by the Spirit and raised up with Christ before we came to faith in Christ. Faith is not the condition for the regeneration of the Spirit, but is the result of it. Ephesians chapter 2 teaches that we were saved by grace, not by anything we do, including believing. It also reveals that faith is the gift of God, so that no one can boast that they saved themselves.”
This perspective is called “monergism.” The idea is that God gives people the new birth by the Holy Spirit before a person believes in Christ. In the Calvinist system God unconditionally and unilaterally chose who would believe in Jesus and be saved before the world began. It further states that Man is so corrupted by sin, that unless one is first born again by God’s Spirit he could never choose to believe. I have already pointed out the unbiblical nature of Calvinism’s view of spiritual death and the role of faith in salvation in two previous posts. In this post I want to focus on how Calvinism abuses Ephesians chapter 2 and tries to mold it into its error.
“even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,”
In the mind of many Calvinists these two verses make the denial of monergism completely unimaginable. For these individuals the phrase, “By grace you have been saved,” clearly means, “God saved you, and you didn’t play any role at all. If he saved you because you chose to believe, then salvation wouldn’t be by grace, but by the free will of men.” The error of this reasoning has already been covered in the post The Divine Proposal. My goal here is not to argue against the rationale of monergism, I simply want to state that these verses don’t teach monergism. And to say that they do is a great abuse of this passage of scripture.
A simple and honest reading of Ephesians 2:1-7 will make it clear to anyone without a theological agenda that Paul is not discussing the order of salvation (i.e. which comes first in salvation, faith or regeneration?). Paul is trying to teach that we are saved by God’s grace; and that by that grace we are no longer alienated from God because of our sin, but instead, in Christ we are highly favored and blessed by God.
If we only had these verses with which to draw our conclusion about the order of salvation we wouldn’t be able to make a definitive conclusion either way. These verses can lend themselves well to either the Calvinist view or the biblical view. One could say that faith came after being raised up with Christ, or before. Both could be read into this passage simply because the passage does not say one way or the other. Because of this Calvinists will quickly jump to other verses that have a completely different context to prove their assumption; and those who hold the biblical view usually do the same. But God has settled the issue more conclusively. He has given us a nearly identical passage of scripture, using much of the same language and reasoning, to help clarify what Paul has in his mind concerning the order of salvation as it relates to being raised from death in sin to life in Christ.
The letter to the Colossians is of a very similar nature to that written to the Ephesians. One need only read the two letters to see the similarities. Thankfully Colossians 2:12-13 is very comparable to Ephesians 2:5-6. If one will not see the similarities, I cannot make him see them, nor will I try. But for those that are willing, I will present the verses and a few thoughts about them.
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him [Christ], having forgiven us all our trespasses…”
If we start in verse 13 we see that the Colossians (like all men) were “dead in their trespasses” (i.e. sins). This is same situation Paul referred to in Ephesians 2:5. The Colossians were also “made alive in Christ” just as the Ephesians were (Col. 2:13, Eph. 2:5). The context and even the wording is the same. So we have to ask, does Colossians give us any insight into the order of salvation that Ephesians 2:1-7 fails to mention?
“Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
This verse makes it clear when the “made alive with Christ” and “raised up with him” of Ephesians 2:5-6 takes place. The Colossians, Ephesians and all believers are “made alive with Christ” and raised up with him” after they are “buried with him in baptism.” The Apostles did not have the practice that the modern church does. They didn’t wait months or years before baptizing believers; instead they baptized people immediately after they repented and believed in Christ. A survey of the book of Acts will make this abundantly clear.
Not only does Colossians 2:12 make it clear that Paul considered one raised up with Christ after baptism, but It also tells us by what, and through what, we were raised up with Christ. They were raised up by the mighty power of God, through faith in that power. God’s mighty power brings about the spiritual resurrection and exaltation of those who are dead in sin. The grace of God was there for all men long before they believe, but it is only experienced by those who believe. They are exalted with Christ “by grace through faith.” So according to Colossians 2:12 the one who is dead in sin believes in Christ, and then, through that faith, the power of God raises them up with Christ and makes them alive during their identification with Christ in baptism.
Another passage bears testimony that this is the order that Paul has in his mind.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Colossians 2:12-13 make it abundantly clear that in Paul’s mind faith comes before being “made alive with Christ” by grace. In fact, in the apostolic way of thinking, even baptism in water came before experiencing the full life in Christ. And I can’t imagine anyone arguing that the Apostles baptized people before they believed in the Gospel.
Some might argue, “Aha, so you are saying that one has to be baptized in water to experience new life in Christ?!” I will not attempt to answer for such a teaching. I will simply refer them to the scriptures I have quoted and let them know that their question should be directed to Paul, and not me.
To be continued…