The Second in a Series of Sermons on Ephesians
If you want to draw a blank stare from someone, tell them that you are a Calvinist. Those who actually know what the word means are often taken aback by the realization that there are still people around who believe such things. In evangelical circles, the term “Calvinist” provokes several common reactions. A). You believe in predestination, so you must hold to some sort of fatalism. B). Because you believe in predestination, you cannot possibly engage in evangelism or effective prayer. C). Because you’ve aligned yourself with of one of history’s most notorious spoilsports, John Calvin, it must be your life’s mission to make sure that no one enjoys themselves. All of these are gross misconceptions, but they arise so often because Calvinism seems so completely out of step with contemporary ways of thinking and doing. But there are reasons why many Christians still identify ourselves as “Calvinists.” One reason is found in our text, Ephesians 1:3-14, where it is the Apostle Paul, who sets forth with great power and clarity those very same doctrines most often associated with Calvinism, namely predestination and particular redemption (or as it is commonly known–limited atonement).
We are resuming our series on Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. In our first sermon, I set forth a basic case for Pauline authorship of this letter, and identified some of the circumstances under which Paul wrote this epistle while he was imprisoned in Rome at some point early in the 60's of the first century. We saw how the Book of Ephesians was likely a circular letter which eventually became associated with the church in Ephesus. The letter has an impersonal tone to it–a bit odd since Paul had been in Ephesus for several years and no doubt knew many people in the church. This indicates that this letter was probably sent to more than one congregation. Furthermore, Ephesians does not address any specific doctrinal controversy, as is typical of most of the letters we know to have come from Paul, but its themes and content are the “quintessence of Paulinism.” This is quite evident in our passage this morning, where Paul takes us from eternity past, to the doing and dying of Jesus, to that time when each one of us comes to faith in Jesus Christ, and then to the resurrection of our bodies at the end of age. Paul lays all of this out in panoramic form to show us that from beginning to our end, our salvation is the work of a gracious God in the lives of those whom he has chosen to save because he is a gracious God who saves sinners.
Nothing upsets Americans more than to be told “no”–that they cannot do something. In this section of Ephesians, Paul tells us “no”–we cannot save ourselves. This is why people hate Calvinism. This is why people will always hate Calvinism. This kind of a gripe has little to do with Calvin, but with the apostle Paul. In fact, Paul will make it crystal clear that it is God who saves us when we could do nothing to save ourselves. God does this by choosing a vast multitude to be saved before time begins, by sending Christ to die at just the right time for those whom the Father has chosen, and then by calling all those whom the Father has chosen, and for whom the son has died, to faith in Jesus, through the means of the preaching of the gospel, people who are now indwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption. In these opening verses of Ephesians, we are not only given a “big picture” of God’s purposes in saving sinners (the box top of the puzzle, if you will), but we are also given the means as to how those sinners will be saved–the preaching of the gospel.
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