I was reading the article in Christianity Today about Al Mohler tonight and saw an advertisement that kept popping up on the right side:
It’s from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. IFCJ was founded by a Rabbi in 1983 who makes roughly $1/2 million a year running the organization.
My interest here is to briefly look at the claims in the ads. The ads are found in Christianity Today, and they obviously work, otherwise IFCJ wouldn’t be wasting their money on Christianity Today ads. That means Christians believe the ads and act upon that belief by supporting the organization financially. But is there anything remotely biblical in these ads?
“Of course there is! Can’t you see all the quotations of Scripture in the ads?” Simply quoting Scripture is not the same thing as truthfully representing Scripture. Satan loves the words of Scripture (Gen 3:1, Matt 4:5, etc) – he just hates them in their proper context and meaning. So do the ads above accurately represent the teaching of the Word of God concerning the modern nation state Israel?
First of all, before we even get to the quoted verses, let’s just step back and look at the organization. It’s purpose is:
“to promote understanding between Jews and Christians and build broad support for Israel and other shared concerns. Our ministry’s vision is that Jews and Christians will reverse their 2,000-year history of discord and replace it with a relationship marked by dialogue, respect and cooperation.”
The purpose is first and foremost to financially support the modern nation state Israel. One of the projects of IFCJ is called Stand for Israel:
Stand for Israel aims to engage people both spiritually and politically on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people by encouraging them to pray for Israel and teaching them to advocate for the Jewish state.
Secondarily it is to promote cooperation and understanding between Jews and Christians. But ask yourself, is one of these common, shared concerns Jesus Christ? No. Jews like Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein (founder) deny that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. They still await their Messiah. Of course, they also deny that Jesus is God. Interestingly, IFCJ has been rejected by many Jewish Rabbis who forbid their people to accept IFCJ funds because it promotes idolatry:
Groups that take money from the fund are flouting the Torah’s prohibition of idolatry, Rabbi Elyashiv said, and they even aid future [Christian] missionary activities and grant them legitimacy…Taking money from this fund is an “unclean” act
So make no mistake, this organization is not an alliance of faith. It is an organization that seeks to establish fellowship between the body of Christ and the antichrist (1 John 2:22). God has warned us of such efforts: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14). And if anyone objects “But they believe in the same God”, please go back and read the 1 John 2 reference. Verse 23 states “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” Meditate upon John 5:30-47 as well, specifically v38;42;46. Jews are as equally idolatrous, rebellious, and damned as the Muslims they hate. We are to have no fellowship with them. Our relationship to them must be as ambassadors of the gospel, ministers of reconciliation.
Who is Israel?
All of these ads prominently proclaim “Israel Needs Your Support“. But we must ask ourselves, who is Israel? Or rather, who does the Bible say is the true Israel?
Romans 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
Romans 2:28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Paul seems to be saying that there is a deeper meaning to the name Israel than simply the nation of Abraham’s physical descendants. Where is he getting this idea from? He clarifies in Galatians 3:
7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham…28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was identified as the physical descendants of Abraham who received the physical promise of the land of Canaan. But now with the fuller revelation of Jesus Christ, Paul is able to explain that the physical promise of land was only a shadow of the true promise made to Abraham: Christ. Therefore, Paul says that Israel, Abraham’s offspring, is actually Jesus Christ and His body. Christians are the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).
Now let’s take a look at the verses these ads quote.
The IFCJ ad quotes this verse apparently because they believe the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 is the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:12. God will “assemble the banished ones of Israel” or as the ad translates it “Gathering the Jewish exiles from the four corners of the earth”. Financial contributions to IFCJ directly support this interpretation of Isaiah 11:12
Is it true that Freedom Flights are provided at no cost to Jews wishing to immigrate to Israel?
The airlines contracted by the Israeli government to provide these flights are commercial businesses that are paid for their services by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the Israeli government. JAFI, in turn, depends on organizations like The Fellowship to cover the cost of these flights, as well as other costs included in the aliyah (immigration) and klitah (resettlement) process. These include the cost of obtaining passports and travel documents, language and job training at absorption centers in Israel, and housing subsidies.
But is that what Isaiah 11:12 is talking about? Go read the whole chapter (please, actually go read it – I’ll wait).
First of all, who is the shoot who will spring from the stem of Jesse (11:1)? The New Testament is abundantly clear it is Jesus Christ (Acts 13:23; Rev 5:5; 22:16; Rom 15:12).
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein cannot claim the modern state of Israel is a fulfillment of Isaiah 11:12 unless he can identify someone in 1948 as the promised shoot of Jesse because verse 11 says that these Jewish exiles will be gathered “on that day” when the shoot springs up from the stem of Jesse.
Eckstein denies 11:1 refers to Jesus, so his interpretation is already wrong – but he can’t even identify any modern leader as the fulfillment of 11:1.
So if the IFCJ ad’s interpretation of 11:12 is wrong, what is the right interpretation? Is it prophesying Christ’s return when He will supposedly re-establish the nation of Israel and rebuild a temple and gather the banished ethnic Jews from around the world? No. Paul makes it clear that Isaiah was prophesying about the body of Christ, about the gospel age, when all of God’s elect, Jew and Gentile, will be gathered from throughout the world (through the proclamation of the gospel, Rom 10) into one body: the Israel of God.
Romans 9:23 And He did so to make known (AS)the riches of His glory upon (AT)vessels of mercy, which He (AU)prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us, whom He also (AV)called, (AW)not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25As He says also in Hosea,
“(AX)I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’
AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.'”
26“(AY)AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’
THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF (AZ)THE LIVING GOD.”
The remnant are the elect (both Jew and Gentile) and the salvation spoken of in Isaiah is not physical salvation from physical exile from the physical land of Canaan/Palestine. The salvation spoken of is eternal spiritual salvation from spiritual exile from heaven and slavery to Satan. To claim Isaiah 11:12 was fulfilled in 1948 in the creation of the modern state of Israel is to deny the Gospel. Why are Christians giving this organization money?
Next up is Genesis 12:3
1Now (A)the LORD said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2And (B)I will make you a great nation,
And (C)I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so (D)you shall be a blessing;
3And (E)I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse
(F)And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.“
IFCJ quotes the verse as “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Apparently they believe verse 3 means that we should financially support the modern state of Israel because we, and everyone, will be blessed by them. The modern state of Israel is a blessing to the world, and so we should support it, according to IFCJ.
But what does God say verse 3 means?
In his second sermon in the book of Acts, Peter said:
Acts 3:23 Moses said, ‘(AI)THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. 23‘(AJ)And it will be that every (AK)soul that does not heed that prophet (AL)shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24“And likewise, (AM)all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25“It is you who are (AN)the sons of the prophets and of the (AO)covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘(AP)AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.’ 26“For you (AQ)first, God (AR)raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”
Peter, moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21), explained that the fulfillment of Genesis 12:3 was the gospel of Jesus Christ. All peoples of the earth will be blessed through Abraham because God will raise up His Servant, descended from Abraham, and will send Him to bless all peoples by commanding repentance and offering forgiveness.
Paul made this even more explicit in his letter to the Galatians:
Galatians 3:7 Therefore, be sure that (J)it is those who are of faith who are (K)sons of Abraham.8The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “(L)ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” 9So then (M)those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “(N)CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.”
11Now that (O)no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “(P)THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” 12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “(Q)HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” 13Christ (R)redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “(S)CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON (T)A TREE”– 14in order that (U)in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we (V)would receive (W)the promise of the Spirit through faith.
It could not be any more clear. God said that the blessing of Genesis 12:3 is the gospel and that it is accomplished in Christ Jesus – not in the modern state of Israel. Why is a Christian magazine promoting a Jewish Rabbi’s denial of the gospel?
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Just as we had to ask who Israel is, so now we must as where Jerusalem is. When there was a famine in Jerusalem during the first years of the church, did the Apostles instruct Christians to pray for the earthly city of Jerusalem? No, they were to pray for and financially support the saints (Christians) in Jerusalem. (How many of those who support IFCJ financially stop to consider that the modern state of Israel persecutes Palenstinian saints?!)
Are we to continue to pray for the earthly city of Jerusalem? Again, let us hear the definitive answer from the Word of God:
Galatians 4:21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not (AA)listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, (AB)one by the bondwoman and (AC)one by the free woman. 23But (AD)the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and (AE)the son by the free woman through the promise.24(AF)This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from (AG)Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be (AH)slaves; she is Hagar. 25Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But (AI)the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
27For it is written,
“(AJ)REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR;
BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR;
FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE
THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.”
28And you brethren, (AK)like Isaac, are (AL)children of promise. 29But as at that time (AM)he who was born according to the flesh (AN)persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, (AO)so it is now also.
31So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
God the Holy Spirit explains that there were two Jerusalems: One stemming from the Mosaic Covenant – the earthly city of the earthly descendants of Abraham; the other stemming from the New Covenant – the heavenly city of the spiritual descendants of Abraham. God even goes so far as to explain that the earthly Jerusalem and her people have been “cast out”! To agree with IFCJ’s interpretation of Psalm 122:6 by financially supporting the organization and the modern state of Israel is to deny the explicit teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Revelation 21:1Then I saw(A) a new heaven and a new earth, for(B) the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw(C) the holy city,(D) new Jerusalem,(E) coming down out of heaven from God,(F) prepared(G) as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold,(H) the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will(I) dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c]4(J) He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and(K) death shall be no more,(L) neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5And(M) he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I(N) am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for(O) these words are trustworthy and true.” 6And he said to me,(P) “It is done!(Q) I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.(R) To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7(S) The one who conquers will have this heritage, and(T) I will be his God and(U) he will be my son. 8(V) But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars,(W) their portion will be in(X) the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is(Y) the second death.”
…22And(AQ) I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city(AR) has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for(AS) the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24By its light(AT) will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth(AU) will bring their glory into it, 25and(AV) its gates will never be shut by day—and(AW) there will be no night there. 26They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But(AX) nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s(AY) book of life.
Does that sound like the Jerusalem you hear about in the news today? The Jerusalem we are to pray for is the Jerusalem from above – the kingdom of God.
Breaking Down the Hostility Between Jew and Gentile
The stated purpose of IFCJ is to break down the 2,000 year wall of hostility between Jews and Christians – and yet the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles was already broken down 2,000 years ago.
Ephesians 2:11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Jesus Christ is the only means of reconciliation. Fellowship is found in Christ alone. If Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein seeks peace with Christians, the only way to accomplish it is through Jesus Christ. Yet Eckstein refuses to repent of his idolatry. He refuses to acknowledge his guilt before God and cast himself upon the mercy of the Messiah. Instead, he promotes a false gospel of earthly hope and eternal torment.
Support of Christian Leaders
In light of this, I urge you to call Christians and Christian leaders who support IFCJ to repentance. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is an incredibly influential voice (who also appeared in my recent post about Mormons – not a good sign for his ability to discern truth from error). Here is what he has to say about IFCJ:
I’m aware of your own efforts to defend righteousness… it’s heartening to know that you and other members of the Jewish community are standing with us [Christians] in striving to defend biblical truths.
Dr. James C. Dobson
Founder and Chairman, Focus on the Family
How can Dr. Dobson applaud Eckstein’s denial of the gospel as “biblical truth”??
Finally, you can see in the ad above a picture of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It is located at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount.
According to the Tanakh, Solomon’s Temple was built atop the Temple Mount in the 10th century BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Second Temple was completed and dedicated in 516 BCE. In around 19 BCE Herod the Great began a massive expansion project on the Temple Mount. He artificially expanded the area which resulted in an enlarged platform. Today’s Western Wall formed part of the retaining perimeter wall of this platform. Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire, along with the rest of Jerusalem, in 70 CE during the First Jewish-Roman War.
The destruction of the temple in AD70 was God’s judgment upon the nation of Israel. We read in Galatians 3 that the Jerusalem below, the son of the slave woman, was to be cast off – and she was. The Mosaic Covenant was a conditional covenant. Israel would remain in the land of Canaan only if they obeyed God’s statutes and ordinances. They did not, and as a result, they were cut off. God spoke of this:
Jeremiah 11:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 3 You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant 4 that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, 5 that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.” Then I answered, “So be it, Lord.”
6 And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. 7 For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. 8 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.”
9 Again the Lord said to me, “A conspiracy exists among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 10 They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers. 11 Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. 12 Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble. 13 For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah, and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to make offerings to Baal.
14 “Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble. 15 What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds? Can even sacrificial flesh avert your doom? Can you then exult? 16 The Lord once called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.’ But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. 17 The Lord of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal.”
Though the earthly Jerusalem was destroyed because of a broken covenant, hope remains because of an unbreakable covenant:
Hebrews 8:1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
8 For he finds fault with them when he says:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
I have posted elsewhere regarding John Piper’s “future” justification. If you read Piper’s writings on the topic, he leans very heavily on the idea that the phrase “according to” means something completely different than the phrase “on the basis of” when it comes to our works and justification. He has to lean heavily, because without such a distinction he is guilty of muddying the gospel.
Here is how he argues in his book The Future of Justification:
Now we are in a better position to comment on Romans 2:13 where Paul says, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” Again, as we saw with verses 6–11, Paul does not say how being a “doer of the law” functions in relation to being justified at the last day. At least the same four possibilities that I mentioned above exist, plus one more: Doing the law could be (1) the basis of justification in a meritorious way; or (2) it could be the basis as Spirit-wrought fruits of faith; or (3) it could be, not the basis, but the evidence and confirmation of faith in another basis, namely, Christ who cancels the debt of all sin; or, extending that last possibility beyond forgiveness, (4) it could also be the evidence and confirmation of faith in Christ as the one in whom not only forgiveness but also divine righteousness is counted as ours. Or (5) Paul could be stating a principle that he affirms but that he believes never comes to pass for sinful people. Thus, John Stott says, “This is a theoretical or hypothetical statement, of course, since no human being has ever fully obeyed the law (cf. 3:20).”
What is not said in verse 13 is that people are justified “by works.” Paul does not use the phrase ej x e[ rgwn (“from works”), which I take to be roughly what is usually meant by the English phrase “on the basis of works,” as opposed to the phrase “according to works” (kata; ta; e[ rga auj tou` ).*** Paul is clear that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Rather, he says, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). Does this mean that the statement “It is . . . the doers of the law who will be justified” (v. 13) only expresses a principle of doing over against hearing so as to remove the objection that the Gentiles don’t have access to “hearing”?
Given the demands of the flow of the argument in Romans 2:6–16 which we saw above, I doubt that we can press this statement very far for the defense of justification by works. Paul makes a statement that in this context functions as a principle (doing, not hearing, will matter at the judgment), rather than a declaration about how that doing relates to justification—let alone whether the doing of Christ may supply what our doing lacks. The verse was not written to carry that much freight. However, the verse does raise the question that must be answered: How does the obedience of the Christian relate to his justification?
***[footnote] Wherever the phrase ej x e[ rgwn is connected to justification in Paul, the point is that justification does not happen this way. Rom. 3:20; 9:11, 32; 11:6; Gal. 2:16; 3:2, 5, 19; Eph. 2:9; Titus 3:5. In Matthew 12:37 and James 2:21, 24–25, justification is said to happen “by your words” (ej k . . . tw` n lov gwn sou) or “by works” (ej x e[ rgwn). Other contextual factors incline me to take Jesus and James to mean not that justification is “based on” our deeds the way our justification is “based on” Christ as our righteousness, but rather that our deeds confirm our faith in Jesus so that he remains the sole basis of our acceptance with God, in the sense that his death alone covers our sins and his righteousness alone provides all the obedience that God requires of us for God to be totally for us—the perfect righteousness implicitly required in the phrase, “God counts righteousness apart from works” (Rom. 4:6). It is likely that Matthew and James are using the word dikaiov w differently than Paul is (just as Matthew and Paul use kalev w differently, Matt. 22:14; Rom. 8:30). So, James and Matthew may also be appropriating the phrase “from works” differently than Paul. While Paul chooses to never employ that phrase in reference either to present justification or future judgment, James and Matthew, without differing from Paul conceptually, employ a phrase that Paul wouldn’t to say something (conceptually) that Paul would. I am not saying that there are distinct and uniform usages of the two phrases ej x e[ rgwn and kata; ta; e[ rga. The latter can carry the sense of “on the basis of” at times, though not always. Therefore, we must draw our conclusions concerning Paul’s understanding of the function of works in relation to justification not merely from the phrases themselves, but from the wider teaching of the apostle as well.
How I See Works Relating to Justification
Let me declare myself clearly here: I believe in the necessity of a trans- formed life of obedience to Jesus by the power of the Spirit through faith as a public evidence and confirmation of faith at the Last Day for all who will finally be saved. In other words, I believe it is actually true, not just hypothetically true, that God “will render to each one accord- ing to his works [ta; e[ rga auj tou` ]: to those who by patience in well- doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Rom. 2:6–7). I take the phrase “according to” (kata; ) in a sense different from “based on.” I think the best way to bring together the various threads of Paul’s teaching on justification by faith apart from works (Rom. 3:28; 4:4–6; 11:6; Eph. 2:8) is to treat the necessity of obedience not as any part of the basis of our justification, but strictly as the evidence and confirmation of our faith in Christ whose blood and righteousness is the sole basis of our justification. How this is the case, while justification is by faith alone apart from any basis in that very obedience, has been one of the main themes of my preaching and writing for the last thirty years.***
***[footnote] See most fully my extended treatment of this issue in The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1995). See also “The Pleasure of God in Personal Obedience and Public Justice,” in John Piper, The Pleasures of God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2000, orig. 1991), 233–257; “Fighting for Joy Like a Justified Sinner,” in When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 71–94; What Jesus Demands from the World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), especially 174–180, 242–248; “Letter to a Friend Concerning the So-Called Lordship Salvation,” http://www.desiringGod.org/ResourceLibrary/ Articles/ByDate/1990/1496_Letter_to_a_Friend_Concerning_the_SoCalled_Lordship_Salvation/
So you can see what a lynchpin Piper’s interpretation of “according to” is. You can access the PDF from the link above to read more on pp 116-120.
However, Piper’s interpretation of the phrase “according to” does not stand the test, and as a result, his view of the final judgment has serious problems.
Richard Gaffin tries to argue, on the basis of the grammar involved in a similar Pauline statement, that works are not the ground of judgment: “It is not for nothing, I take it, and not to be dismissed as an overly fine exegesis to observe, that in Romans 2:6 Paul writes, ‘according (kata) to works,’ not ‘on account of (dia),’ expressing the ground, nor ‘by (ek) works,’ expressing the instrument” (By Faith, Not By Sithgt [Carlisle: Paternoster, 2006], 98-99; similarly, Venema, Gospel, 266). Though Gaffin’s comment concerns Paul’s statement in Romans 2:6, at the same time we find the same prepositional combination with the accusative in John’s statement in Revelation 20:12e, the only difference being in the use of the singular and plural pronouns (cf. Rom 2:6). Gaffin argues this point because he wants to preserve sola fide in the judgment of the works of the believer. Relying upon the analysis of Ridderbos and Murray, Gaffin’s finer point is that the judgment kata works is “in accordance with” the works, and such works are synecdochical for faith in Christ (see Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard de Witt [1975; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 178-81; Murray, Romans, 78-79).
Yet can such a fine distinction be supported by the grammar alone? The use of “dia” with the accusative means “because of, on account of,” and the use of “kata” with the accusative means “in accordance with, corresponding to” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 368-69, 376-77). One must ask, what difference exists between the two? In fact, when we delve more deeply into the significance of “kata” with the accusative, we find that “often the noun that follows kata specifies the criterion, standard, or norm in the light of which a statement is made or is true, an action is performed, or a judgment is passed. The prep. will mean ‘according to’, ‘in conformity with’, ‘corresponding to.’ This use is common in reference to the precise and impartial standard of judgment that will be applied at the great Assize (Matt. 16:27; Rom 2:6; 1 Cor 3:8; 2 Tim. 4:14; 1 Peter 1:17; Rev 2:23)” (Murray J. Harris, “Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament,” in NIDNTT, 3:1200). Pace Gaffin and Venema, their argument apparently fails to account for judgment kata works for the wicked. This point seems to be borne out by Paul’s own use of kata, as he says, “He will render each one according to [kata] his works” (Rom. 2:6), but this rendering kata works is for both the righteous (v. 7) and the wicked (v. 8). According to Gaffin’s interpretation, are the wicked judged according to their works, but are they not the ground of their condemnation (see 2 Cor. 11:15)? Again, note how Paul uses kata: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due [to de ergazomeno ho misthos ou logizetai kata charin alla kata opheilema]” (Rom 4:4; see also Brian Vickers, Jesus Blood and Righteousness [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006] 95; Yinger, Paul, 21-26, 89-90, 135-136, 175, 182, 186). Judgment therefore is indeed kata (in accordance with, or on the basis of) works – the evil works of the unbeliever and the good works, or righteousness, of Christ.
“Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine” p. 315
I have been thrust into a study of the final judgment. It started when I read a post over at Bring the Books: If You Are Late to the Discussion. It is a summary, taken from Christianity Today, of John Piper and N.T. Wright’s views of justification. My study began when I commented that, given Piper’s view, he was the exact wrong person to be defending justification against Wright – and my comment was met with strong criticism. Here is Piper’s view:
Piper: Present justification is based on the substitutionary work of Christ alone, enjoyed in union with him through faith alone. Future justification is the open confirmation and declaration that in Christ Jesus we are perfectly blameless before God. This final judgment accords with our works. That is, the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives will be brought forward as the evidence and confirmation of true faith and union with Christ. Without that validating transformation, there will be no future salvation.
I do not believe Piper’s view is biblical. There is no “future” justification in addition to “present” justification. They are the same. In the words of Robert Reymond: “Justification possesses an eschatological dimension, for it amounts to the divine verdict of the Eschaton being brought forward into the present time and rendered here and now concerning the believing sinner.” (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p743).
Piper cannot consistently believe the above statement and also believe that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1) because he believes our salvation must await validation, determined by our works, on the last day.
Another consequence of Piper’s view is that he must deny justification by faith alone. I understand that he does not believe he denies it and in fact has written a whole book on it, and I thank God for that, but that just means he is inconsistent. Given that “present” justification is different from “future” justification, we can say that “present” justification does not matter because it does not determine who is going to heaven to spend eternity in paradise with God and who is going to hell to burn forever. “Future” justification is what determines our fate, and thus, “future” justification is what matters.
That being said, Piper does not believe that faith alone determines our “future” justification (keep in mind there is actually no difference between “future” and “present” justification). He believes that both our faith and our works determine our “future” justification. Granted, he does not view them equally – he believes in a sort of chain where our works connect us to saving faith which then connects us to Christ’s righteousness. But that means that it is not faith alone that unites us with Christ. Both our faith and our works play a determining role. Thus both our faith and our works are the instrumental causes of our justification.
You may say that’s unfair, that my logic must be wrong, that there’s no way Piper believes that. Well, let me offer some biblical support for Piper’s view. James says: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). Clear enough, and if there’s any chance I have any Roman Catholics reading this, I’m sure you’re shouting “I told you so” from the rooftop.
But Brandon, you may object, James is not talking about the same thing as Paul. James is talking about our justification before men, about evidence that we look at to estimate if someone is justified. We can’t look into someone else’s heart to see if their faith is genuine. To us, faith is invisible, so we must look at the fruit of faith. I agree! But Piper does not. Piper does not believe James is talking about how we view each other here and now. No, Piper believes James is talking about the final judgment:
Several times Paul listed certain kinds of deeds and said, “those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In other words, when these deeds are exposed at the judgment as a person’s way of life, they will be the evidence that their faith is dead and he will not be saved. As James said, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). That is what will be shown at the judgment. (Future Grace, p366, emphasis added)
He also says:
How then can I say that the judgment of believers will not only be the public declaration of our differing rewards in the kingdom of God, according to our deeds, but will also be the public declaration of our salvation – our entering the kingdom – according to our deeds? The answer is that our deeds will be the public evidence brought forth in Christ’s courtroom to demonstrate that our faith is real. And our deeds will be the public evidence brought fourth to demonstrate the varying measures of our obedience of faith. In other words, salvation is by grace through faith, and rewards are by grace through faith, but the evidence of invisible faith in the judgment hall of Christ will be a transformed life. (Future Grace, p364)
So Piper necessarily denies justification by faith alone, as James makes very, very plain. Yet Paul disagrees: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
If you disagree with the conclusion, I would honestly love to hear why, because I cannot come to any other conclusion. (If you do comment, please do not simply list quotes of Piper affirming “present” justification through faith alone – please actually demonstrate how the points above do not lead to the necessary conclusion).
R.S. Clark recently taught on the invalidity of a “two-stage justification.” Expostion of the Nine Points (pt 9)-A Two Stage Justification?
I asked him how his teaching relates to Piper:
As to Piper, he’s just flat wrong and he needs to repudiate this teaching. It’s contrary to the Reformation, to the Reformed confessions, and to the gospel.
For Further Reading:
- Mark Seifrid: Piper Nearly Tridentine on Justification
- John Gill: The Necessity of Good Work Unto Salvation Considered
- J.V. Fesko: Paul on Justification and the Final Judgment
- Rick Phillips: Five Arguments Against a Future Justification According to Works
- Rick Phillips: Judgment of Believers in the Westminster Standards
- John Robbins: Pied Piper
I saw the following status update on facebook today:
Cheers to all my friends who have officially begun their 33-day spiritual preparation for Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary in August! I began yesterday myself! †Ad Jesum per Mariam†
I asked him to explain what this was, and he pointed me to an essay explaining the practice. http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=48156972164 The essay begins:
Total Consecration of oneself to Jesus through the Blessed Virgin Mary is quite simply the greatest devotion there is. It is a total self-giving of ones will to Jesus through His Mother Mary. The idea is that your will is no longer your own but that of Mary and her’s, of course, is totally united with the will of God… No one should ever do one of these consecrations without proper preparation and prayer. There is nothing worse than someone who promises themselves to Mary only for them to neglect and abandon Her.
So we see that Mary’s will is the will of God. The author then quotes Roman Catholic “Saints” in support of this:
“The most perfect and most profitable of all devotions to the Blessed Virgin consists in consecrating ourselves entirely to her, and to Jesus through her, as their slaves. It involves consecrating to her completely and for all eternity our body and soul, our possessions both spiritual and material, the atoning value and the merits of our good actions and our right to dispose of them. In short, it involves the offering of all we have acquired in the past, all we actually possess at the moment, and all we will acquire in the future.”
“This devotion consists in surrendering oneself in the manner of a slave to Mary, and to Jesus through her, and then performing all our actions with Mary, in Mary, through Mary, and for Mary.”
“As all perfection consists in our being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus it naturally follows that the most perfect of all devotions is that which conforms, unites, and consecrates us most completely to Jesus. Now of all God’s creatures Mary is the most conformed to Jesus. It therefore follows that, of all devotions, devotion to her makes for the most effective consecration and conformity to him. The more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus. That is why perfect consecration to Jesus is but a perfect and complete consecration of oneself to the Blessed Virgin, which is the devotion I teach; or in other words, it is the perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy baptism.”
–Saint Louis Marie de Montfort
He then quotes Popes commending this practice:
“This is the best and most acceptable form of devotion to our Blessed Lady.”
-Blessed Pope Pius IX
“Reading this book was a deceive turning point in my life. This perfect devotion is indispensable to anyone who means to give himself without reserve to Christ and to the work of redemption.”
-Pope John Paul II
He then concludes:
The Necessity of devotion to Our Lady in Attaining Salvation
“All the Elect obtain eternal salvation through the means of Mary.”
-Saint Ildephonsus, Bishop, d. 667 AD
“With reason did the Most Holy Virgin predict that all generations would call her blessed, for all the Elect obtain eternal salvation through the means of Mary.
-Saint Ildephonsus, Bishop, d. 667 AD
“Without the Blessed Virgin, a person travels along the road to damnation.”
-Saint Ildephonsus, Bishop, d. 667 AD
“No one will ever be the servant of the Son without serving the Mother.”
-Saint Ildephonsus, Bishop, d. 667 AD
“Devotion to you, O Blessed Virgin, is a means of salvation which God gives to those whom he wishes to save.”
-Saint John Damascene, Father and Doctor of the Church, 676-787 AD
”There is no one, O Most Holy Mary, who can know God except through thee; no one who can be saved or redeemed but through thee, O Mother of God; no one who can be delivered from dangers but through thee, O Virgin Mother; no one who obtains mercy but through thee, O Filled-With-All-Grace!”
-Saint Germanus of Constantinople, Patriarch of Constantinople, d. 733 AD
I had no idea Mary worship was this serious and I have no idea how any person can believe anything written above if they have ever read the New Testament.
1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
Hebrews 4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Romans 3:10 “None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Mary was a wicked sinner who was saved by the blood of the spotless lamb! Apart from the blood of Christ, God would have damned her for eternity. Woe to the man who puts his faith in her!
This post was originally an email that I wrote last October. I hope that people who read it have had time to consider it. If so, I would really enjoy hearing your thoughts on it now. (I recommend listening to the 20 minute sermon again).
I recently listened to Mike Erre’s podcast of Ephesians 1 “Adoption into Freedom.”
There were a few things I heard that I felt like sharing with you. I’d love to know your thoughts. I wanted to write this email because I felt like a lot was left out of the sermon and because I feel like people may be misled by some of Mike’s comments. He implied that Ephesians has nothing to do with predestination because people in Ephesus wouldn’t have been debating Calvinism, they would have been crying. I feel that such an off the cuff remark unjustly dismisses the deep implications of Ephesians 1.
The Blessings of Redemption
1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
**A side note: the Hellenistic culture Mike rightly condemns is alive and well as he points out. The culture he described, the culture that practices infanticide, is the culture that millions of Americans flocked to cheer on in the recent film “300”. The theaters that Mike said were created to seduce the people into Hellenism are not unlike the cineplexes we visit weekly. Amanda also reminded me that infanticide is not something from history books. It is alive and well in America. When her sister was pregnant, they did a test to see if there would be any deformities or problems with the child… after the test results they asked her if she wanted to have an abortion. This is common practice.
Before I say anything about what Mike taught I want to say that nothing I say should be interpreted against Mike personally. My issue is strictly with what was taught.
One important issue that I want to address is how we are to interpret and understand Ephesians, and for that case, all of Scripture. Mike spends quite some time describing what he believes the culture of Ephesus was like at the time of the writing of the epistle. Mike’s speculations may or may not be correct, but it is important to realize that they are speculations not arrived at from Scripture. They rely on fallible men and women conducting historical studies. This does not mean they are necessarily wrong, it simply means that they are fallible.
I don’t think it is wrong to consider the context of a particular book in Scripture, in fact I think it is very necessary. However, the question is whether or not such context should be the primary means of understanding Scripture. Mike says we are to understand Ephesians 1 in light of Hellenism. Is there another alternative?
The best means of understanding something that has been written is to ask the author (prayer). Then we should consider what else the author has written on the subject. Certainly after this is done we can also study the historical context of the author’s writings, but the best means of understanding what an author is saying is to let him explain. The Bible was written by the Holy Spirit. Yes it was written by various men inspired by the Holy Spirit, and yes they wrote using the context of their particular culture, but the source of the revelation they communicated was the Holy Spirit.
The best way of understanding the adoption Paul talks about in Ephesians 1 is to consider if the Holy Spirit has discussed the issue of adoption at any other point in His writings. After this is done we may consider what insights the historical context may provide. Mike did not do this. He offered no other passages on adoption to help explain Ephesians 1. Instead, he painted a picture of what historians have said Ephesus was like at the time and said this is how we must understand adoption.
An important question to ask is: Is the Bible sufficient?
Do we need anything outside of the Bible to understand what the Bible is teaching us? I agree that historical context may provide us with helpful information. However, is it true that in order to understand what the Bible says in any particular passage, we have to resort to historical studies outside of the Bible? Is it possible to understand what adoption means without knowing the historical context of Ephesus? Must we rely on sources outside of the Bible to understand Paul’s point? Must we rely on sources outside of the Bible to understand what God is communicating to us – or has He provided us with revelation that is sufficient?
2 Timothy 3:15-17
the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
In his second sermon on Ephesians, Mike explains that there is disagreement about the historical background. He decides to believe what is right based on how many people agree with a particular stance. Is this the best we can do? Is the only way to understand the Bible to choose an historian’s research based on what is most probably correct and then form our theology around that? Or do we have something much more certain?
I also take issue with the way Mike characterizes Paul’s writing. He says Paul went “berserk” and we should imagine Paul pacing around, rambling, because its “just a series of clauses thrown together” that his scribes scribbled down. “He’s just searching for language exalted enough to describe what it is Jesus had done” “Paul keeps searching for words big enough.” This is not what Paul is doing. “Blessed” “heavenly” “predestined” “adoption” “unblemished” “glory” “grace” “redemption” “forgiveness” are not “big” “exalted” words that Paul had to settle with. Paul carefully chose these words because they each have a specific meaning and together they communicate exactly what God wants to communicate to us so that we understand exactly how He is working in our lives.
Consider this statement from Mike:
“Don’t let the word predestined spin you out. First of all, Paul was worshiping, he’s not giving us theological, like, treatises. But secondly, nobody in the 1st century would have had a heated debate whether or not God was a Calvinist. You know what they would have been doing? They would have been weeping.”
Consider the implications of what Mike is saying. He says we should ignore specific words that Paul wrote because Paul was not trying to teach theology, he was worshipping, he was rambling and the words that came out don’t mean anything other than that they are “exalted” “big” words. Can we say the same thing about the word “forgiveness”? Or does the word forgiveness actually mean something? (Also, is he saying that teaching clear doctrine is not worship?) Mike also implies that Paul is only allowed to teach about what is currently under debate. Does God not have the freedom to teach what He wants about Himself to His people?
Other Relevant Passages on Adoption:
Romans 8: 29For those whom He)foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Galatians 3:3 In the same way we also, when we were children, [we] were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now
Romans 8:12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Not everyone is a child of God, not everyone is adopted
Ephesians 5:5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
John 8:41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
If we seek to understand the adoption that Paul is talking about by comparing it with other passages using the same language, we will have a much better chance of understanding what he is saying.
The last two passages are just a couple of the numerous passages in the Bible that present a contrast between children of the devil and children of God. We were all once children of the devil, under the just wrath of God for our disobedience.
Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 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. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved
We should seek to understand adoption, first and foremost, the way that the bible understands adoption. It is clear through these verses that the bible presents adoption as
1) an act that is possible only because of Christ’s work (he is the first born among His brethren)
2) something not everyone receives
3) bringing us out of darkness into light, out of the wrath of God into His grace
4) a matter concerning sin and righteousness (understood in the context of a fallen human race unable and unwilling to obey the law of God)
How the Ephesians in their Hellenistic culture viewed adoption may provide some interesting insight, but if we allow our understanding of the Bible to be shaped by what we think the Ephesians were thinking, rather than what the Bible explains, then we are truly missing the point.
A theme in Mike’s teaching was that “blameless” in verse 4 can be interpreted as “unblemished” as well. He said we are to understand this in contrast to the deformed, blemished infants who were thrown away. Thus we must understand all of this talk of God’s love and adoption as God overlooking our defects (mostly physical) and bringing us into his family despite our blemishes because in God’s eyes we are acceptable.
I do not believe this is correct. We are not acceptable in God’s eyes. Paul is not referring to the physical deformities of the abandoned children in Ephesus, he is referring to our blemished, stained, sinful condition. The NETbible is a great translation that includes extensive footnotes about different possible translations. It says this about blameless/unblemished:
The Greek word translated unblemished (ἀμώμους, amwmous) is often used of an acceptable paschal lamb. Christ, as our paschal lamb, is also said to be unblemished (Heb 9:14; 1 Pet 1:19). Since believers are in Christ, God views them positionally and will make them ultimately without blemish as well (Jude 24; Eph 5:27; Col 1:22).
Christ is acceptable in God’s eyes and His perfect righteousness is counted on our behalf. In judgment, God looks at us through Christ’s atoning blood. No mention of Jesus in this regard was made in the sermon, leading hearers to believe God simply ignores our sin (or rather, physical deformities in the world’s eyes – as Mike emphasized instead of sin) and loves us for who we are.
The language of v4 is a little confusing “He chose us in Him”. The NET bible makes the translation clearer: “For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished”
Mike also makes the analogy of “a God who goes up to a hill to pick those who, in the world’s eyes aren’t fit, aren’t acceptable, and He rears them and adopts them into His family.” Again, this communicates the idea that in God’s eyes we are acceptable and fit to be His children. This is not true. The verses above, specifically Ephesians 2 describes us as children of wrath. The only way we can be viewed as acceptable is by being made alive together with Christ (v5) so that God looks upon Christ’s righteousness, not ours. We are born sons of the devil. We are unacceptable in God’s eyes. God goes so far as to say our righteous deeds are filthy garments:
We are all like one who is unclean,
all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight.
We all wither like a leaf;
our sins carry us away like the wind.
Again, Christ alone is righteous and we may only be called sons of God because He perfectly fulfilled the law and became the first born among many brethren.
Mike then seems to change the analogy. First He talks of a sovereign Father choosing His children. Then He implies that the Father is simply pursuing His children, not choosing them. He says God’s not like the traffic cop waiting to catch you, He’s chasing after you. He then says we are chosen in passionate pursuit. This analogy no longer fits with what he said the verse is talking about – God choosing His children like a father chooses his children out of a dump of defects. Mike says “left up on the hill, we can’t save ourselves. It’s about the God who comes after us.” Here he tries to combine the analogies, but it just doesn’t work unless we are to assume that by pursuit, Mike means pursuit and accomplishment of pursuit. A man in pursuit of a dying baby cannot save the baby unless he actually picks him up and calls him his own. It does no good for the man to stand at the bottom of the mountain of babies and call out to it. The dying baby cannot respond, it cannot raise itself up and climb into the waiting arms of the father. Our situation is even worse. We are not dying babies, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Not only does God have to climb up the mountain and choose us, pick us up, He also has to give us life to bring us back from the dead. There is nothing the baby does in any of this, it simply receives the gift of life and adoption.
In this context, I would urge you to ask yourself which of the following you believe to be true:
1) You exercised saving faith and then you were born again
2) You were born again and then you exercised saving faith
To keep with our analogy: did the baby get up, crawl down the pile and jump into the father’s arms? Or did the father climb up the hill, give the dead baby a new heart, pick up the baby and then see the baby hug him in response to this love that has already saved him?
Salvation is of the Lord. It is not our doing, it is the work of God. This is what Calvinism teaches. This is what Ephesians and the rest of the Bible is talking about. To dismiss Ephesians 1 as having nothing to do with Calvinism is to keep you from understanding the deep reality of God’s sovereign work of salvation in your life. As the verse says, God predestined you to be adopted as His children. It is not something you did. You are not a child of God because you believe in Him, you believe in Him because you are a child of God.
If God is simply pursuing you, waiting for you to respond, then you will never be saved. We were all dead in our trespasses and sins, enslaved to the devil, unable and unwilling to turn to Christ. God must lift you up and give you new life in order for you to “choose” Him. This is Calvinism. Ask yourself what it means to be chosen by God before the foundations of the world. Go back and study this 1st chapter of Ephesians and then study the 2nd chapter and then ask yourself if you think the letter Paul wrote has anything to do with God’s sovereignty or if it’s just about people crying.
I hope I do not sound overly harsh. I hope I did not offend anyone by challenging your pastor’s teaching. I hope that you will consider this alternative view of Ephesians 1 and I really hope that you will write me back and let me know what you think. However, if you want to simply dismiss this email as an irrelevant disagreement, if you think it’s pointless, if you think it has no affect on your relationship with Christ, then I would like to know why you waste time going to church every week to hear someone teach you about the Bible.
If you’re interested in hearing other sermons on Ephesians 1, I recommend:
“Predestined for Adoption to the Praise of His Glory”
“God Has Chosen Us In Him Before the Foundations of the Earth”
“Chosen By the Father” + “Predestined for Adoption”
Mike says these verses are not about Calvinism. I urge you to compare John Calvin’s sermon on Ephesians 1:3-4 and decide who does a better job of explaining what the text says: