God has revealed the Mystery of His Will to us – Ephesians 1:9-10

ImageIn looking at the early verses of Ephesians chapter 1 we have reached the fifth blessing to believers as mentioned by the apostle Paul—God has revealed the mystery of His will to us. This is the key thought and great theme of Ephesians. We must remember that  in the Bible a mystery is not something mysterious and difficult to understand. Rather, it is a truth that has been locked up in God’s plan for ages until He was ready to reveal it to man. When the time came, He unlocked the truth and opened it up to man. A mystery is a truth revealed by God that had never before been known. (See 1 Corinthians. 2:7 for a list of all the mysteries of the Bible.) The mystery of God’s will can be simply stated: God is to gather together and unify all things in a spirit of peace and harmony—all things, both visible and invisible. All things are to be brought to a peaceful and eternal state under the authority and glorification of Jesus Christ. God is moving history toward that climactic consummation.

Paul’s great thought in Ephesians. 1:9-10 says several things.

1.  God has an eternal purpose and plan for the world, and it is His pleasure to bring it about. He joys and rejoices to bring it about, and what He does is good. It is all good.

2.  There is terrible division throughout the universe. The need for God “to gather all things in heaven and earth” indicates division (cp. Ephesians. 6:12). And the fact that God’s primary concern through all the ages has been to harmonize the divisions shows how devastating and horrible the division really is. The Great Message of Ephesians is “Reconciliation.” Paul deals with the major problem of man—the problem of division, disunity, and disharmony. He deals with the major divisions and dissensions throughout the universe.

a.  Man is seen divided against God (Ephesians. 2:1).

b.  Man is seen divided against man (Ephesians. 2:11).

c.  Christians are seen out of harmony with Christians (Ephesians. 4:1).

d.  Christians are seen out of harmony with God (Ephesians. 5:1).

e.  Family members are seen divided against family members (Ephesians. 5:22).

f.  Slaves (employees) are seen divided against masters (employers) (Ephesians. 6:5).

g.  Man is seen out of harmony with cosmic powers (Ephesians. 2:2; Ephesians. 6:10, 11-12; Ephesians. 3:10, 15; See also Romans 8:18 for man’s division against nature).

This terrible and terrifying division is said to hound and haunt man and to demand his constant attention and struggle. Paul’s answer is one-fold. And it should be noted, his answer is one of the great revelations of Scripture. “[God] having made known unto us the mystery of his will…that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth” (Ephesians. 1:9-10).

Christ is the only answer to division, to disunity, and to disharmony. He is the One who breaks down all barriers; He is the One who reconciles all things.

a.  He reconciles man to God by the blood of the cross (Ephesians. 2:4-13, esp. Ephesians. 2:13).

b.  He reconciles man to man by bringing all men together into one body, His church (Ephesians. 2:13-22).

c.  He reconciles Christians to Christians by the power of the Holy Spirit and by giving individual gifts and functions for each member to perform (Ephesians. 4:1-32).

d.  He reconciles believers to God by the power and fruit of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians. 5:1-21).

e.  He reconciles family members to family members by giving the example of Christ’s love for the church (Ephesians. 5:22-24).

f.  He reconciles slaves (employees) to masters (employers) by putting both on an equal footing before Christ (Ephesians. 5:5-9).

g.  He enables man to overcome the cosmic and spiritual powers and the evil forces of the universe by the armor of God (Ephesians. 6:10-18).

3.  The wonderful revelation is that there is to be a consummation, a climax of history—a fullness of time, a new order—in which all things will be unified and harmonized and brought to a peaceful state under the authority of Jesus Christ. History is in the hands of God. The word Paul uses is dispensation which literally means, “household arrangement.” The idea is that the universe is a house under the management of God. God is handling, planning, arranging, and administering all things toward a climactic consummation for Christ and His followers. In that climactic day all disharmony and division and evil will be subjected and harmonized under Christ. A new and perfect and eternal creation will be established for the Lord and His followers throughout the universe.

4.  Jesus Christ is God’s appointed Head over the new creation and new order. He is God’s Head over the church, which is God’s new creation in the present world and order of things (Ephesians. 1:22-23). And He is to be God’s Head over the new creation in the future world and order of things (James 1:18).

5.  The church is the Lord’s instrument of reconciliation and peace, His representative body upon the earth. As the instrument of the Lord, the church is to do two things.

a.  The church is to take Christ and His message of reconciliation and peace to the world. Through “His body, the church,” all division and disorder among men are to be condemned, and His message of harmony and peace is to be proclaimed.

b.  The church is to practice reconciliation upon the earth. “In the church” all laws, barriers, and divisions are to be done away with. They are to be nonexistent. The church is to be a speck, an embryo of heaven upon the earth.

As Paul stated to the Corinthians; “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians. 5:19-21).

God has Redeemed us and forgiven our sins (Ephesians 1:7)

God has Redeemed usGod has redeemed us and forgiven our sins. The word “redemption” is one of the great words of the Bible. It conveys the idea of deliverance or setting a man free by paying a ransom. For example, a prisoner of war or a kidnapped person is ransomed or redeemed; or a convicted criminal is freed from the penalty of death. In every case the man is powerless to free himself. He cannot pay the penalty demanded to liberate himself from his situation or bondage.

Note several significant facts.
1.  Man has been captivated or kidnapped by several forces.

a.  The force of sin. All men sin and cannot help but sin. Man is sold under sin. Sin has captivated him (Romans 3:23; Romans 7:14).

b.  The force of corruption and death. The whole creation is corrupt (Romans 8:21). Everything wastes away; it deteriorates, decays, ages, and eventually dies. Corruption and death have captivated man.

c.  The force of Satan. All unbelievers are under the power and influence of Satan. He has blinded their minds to the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). He works in the children of disobedience (Ephesians. 2:2). They are captivated by him (1 John 5:19).

2.  Three key ideas are included in the concept of redemption.

a.  Man needs to be liberated, delivered, and set free.

b.  Man is unable to liberate himself. He has no energy, no power, no ability to free himself.

c.  God has redeemed man by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. God Himself has paid the ransom for man’s release—the ransom of a life for a life. God gave His own Son so that man might be set free. Man has been redeemed through the blood of Jesus Christ. This is extremely important to note: when a man truly calls upon the Lord to save him, God buys him right out of the marketplace of this corruptible life (Romans 10:13). God redeems him once for all, purchases and removes him from further sale. He is redeemed eternally.

3.  God redeems man because of the riches of His grace. He loves man with an unbelievable love—a love so great that it spurs Him to do whatever is necessary to save man.

On the other hand the word “forgiveness” means to send off, to send away, to release, to let go. The word for “sin” means transgression, trespass, a falling by the way, or deviating from the way. All men…

•  have transgressed the law of God.

•  have deviated from God.

•  have fallen from the way of God.

Therefore, all men stand guilty of having broken the law of God, and the penalty for breaking the law is death. However, the blood of Jesus Christ brings forgiveness to men. How? Jesus Christ died for man. He took the penalty of sins and bore the punishment Himself.

Christ was able to do this because He was the Perfect and Ideal Man, and as the Ideal Man, He could stand for and represent all men. When He died, He died as the Ideal Man, as the Representative for all men. Any person who really believes that Jesus Christ died for him is forgiven his sins. God takes his faith and counts it as the death of Jesus Christ. God sees the man as being in Jesus Christ, as being in the death of Jesus Christ. God counts the death of Jesus Christ for the death of the man. Therefore, the guilt and penalty for breaking God’s laws are completely removed. The man’s sins and guilt are sent away or washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ, this is at the very heart of the gospel.

“Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).

“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:38).

“To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me [Christ Jesus]” (Acts 26:18).

“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians. 1:7).

 

Adopted as Children – Ephesians 1:5-6.

Adopted as ChildrenAfter revealing to the Ephesian believers the fact that God had chosen them the apostle tells them also that God has adopted believers as children. How unbelievable—what a glorious privilege to be adopted as a child of God! And note:

⇒  It was predestinated, that is, foreordained.

⇒  It was the pleasure of God to adopt us—the good pleasure of His will. And it  was His purpose to adopt us, and His purpose and His pleasure and His will were all good.

This is most striking when we consider how sinful and depraved we are and how much we have cursed, rebelled, and rejected God. The fact that God wills and finds pleasure in adopting us and that He counts it as good is too much to believe. Yet, it is exactly what He says. 

The word “predestination” means to destine or appoint before, to foreordain, to predetermine. The basic Greek word means to mark off or to set off the boundaries of something. The idea is a glorious picture of what God is doing for the believer. The boundary is marked and set off for the believer: the boundary of being adopted as a child of God. The believer shall be adopted, made just like Christ and conformed to His very likeness and image. Nothing can stop God’s purpose for the believer. It is predestinated, set and marked off. The believer may struggle and suffer through the sin and shame of this world; he may even stumble and fall or become discouraged and down-hearted. But if he is a genuine child of God, he will not be defeated, not totally. He will soon arise from his fall and begin to follow Christ again. He is predestinated to be a brother of Christ, to worship and serve Christ throughout all eternity. And Christ will not be disappointed. God loves His Son too much to allow Him to be disappointed by losing a single brother. Jesus Christ will have His joy fulfilled; He will see every brother of His adopted and conformed perfectly to His image. He will have the worship and service of every person chosen to be His by God the Father. The believer’s eternal destiny, that of being an adopted brother to the Lord Jesus Christ, is determined. The believer can rest assured of this glorious truth. God has predestinated him to be delivered from the suffering and struggling of this sinful world.

 The word “adoption” means to place as a son.  Adoption is by Jesus Christ and by Him alone. God accepts us because we believe and trust His Son Jesus Christ. He tells us plainly that He wants His Son to have many brothers and sisters who will love, worship, and serve Him both now and forever. Therefore, when a person wants to live for Jesus Christ—wants to live for Him so much that he entrusts all he is and has to Christ—God takes that person’s trust and adopts him, makes him a brother or sister to Jesus Christ.   God’s purpose in adoption is that we might live forever—live to the praise of the glory of His grace.
“That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7)

 

Chosen to be Holy and Blameless.

ImageGod has chosen us to be holy and blameless. This is a wonderful verse. Just imagine! God determined before the world was ever created that He would have a people…

•  who would be “in Him,” that is, in His Son, Jesus Christ.

•  who would be “holy and without blame.”

•  who would live “before Him in love”—forever and ever.

This means a most wonderful thing; God wants us to be with Him. God does not want us separated from Him, gripped by sin and shame, sorrow and pain, death and hell. God wants us to live forever and ever with Him. In fact, note that God has determined that some will live with Him and Christ. He has “chosen us”—chosen believers—to live with Him. No amount of rebellion and rejection, cursing and denial of Him will stop His purpose and plan. God will have a people who will live with Him, and He will continue to choose us until He has the number He has purposed.

Now, note the great blessing of God: that we should be holy and without blame before Him.

1.  The word “holy” means to be set apart and consecrated to God. It is the same word that is used for “saint” in Ephesians 1:1.

2.   The word “blameless” means to be free from sin, dirt, and filth; to be above reproach and without blemish; to be without fault and defilement.

Simply stated, the great blessing of God is perfection; God has chosen the believer to be perfect. But note: the believer’s perfection is in Christ and in Christ alone. No man—not even a believer—can live a perfect and sinless life. No man is righteous or ever will be. Jesus Christ is the only Person who has ever lived a sinless and perfect life; therefore, He is the only Person who has the right to live with God. Our only hope of ever living with God is to believe in Jesus Christ—believe so much that God will take our faith and count it as the righteousness of Christ. This is the glorious gospel: God loves us so much that He has accepted us in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He has taken our faith in Christ and counted it as the righteousness of Christ. Therefore, we are acceptable to God because we trust in Christ and in His righteousness—accepted as being perfect in the perfection of Jesus Christ.

The Death of Thomas Bilney – Martyr of the Reformation

220px-Thomas_BilneyEach year in early September the Protestant Alliance organise a Memorial Service for Protestant Martyrs of Norwich, there were ten of them in total, all burned at the stake in the Lollard’s Pit off Riverside Road, Norwich, the site had been excavated as a chalkworks and that the time was owned by the Bishop of Norwich, a memorial marks the place of execution today. The best known of the Norwich Martyrs was Thomas Bilney who was ordained in 1519 by the Bishop of Ely to the title of St Bartholomew’s Priory, Smithfield. The following is an account of the execution as detailed by J.H. Merle d’Aubigné.

The Death of Thomas Bilney
Martyr of the Reformation
Burnt at the Stake at the Lollard’s Pit, Norwich
Saturday 19th August 1531.

by J. H. Merle d’Aubigné

[Thomas Bilney, ‘whose conversion had begun the Reformation in England’ was, in God’s hands, the instrument of Hugh Latimer’s conversion. The story of his life ‘in strength and weakness’, leading to his martyrdom in 1531, is eloquently recorded in The Reformation of England, volumes 1 and 2 by J. H. Merle d’Aubigné. These volumes trace the history of the Reformation from its earliest origins to the end of the reign of Henry VIII. Written in a lively evangelical spirit, they are both instructive and heart-warming. The following extract comes from volume 2.]

A few of Bilney’s friends went to Norwich to bid him farewell: among them was Matthew Parker, later archbishop of Canterbury. It was in the evening, and Bilney was taking his last meal. On the table stood some frugal fare [ale brew], and on his countenance beamed the joy that filled his soul. ‘I am surprised’, said one of his friends, ‘that you can eat so cheerfully’. — ‘I only follow the example of the husbandmen of the country’, answered Bilney, ‘who having a ruinous house to dwell in, yet bestow cost so long as they may hold it up and so do I now with this ruinous house of my body’. With these words he rose from the table, and sat down near his friends, one of whom said to him, ‘To-morrow the fire will make you feel its devouring fierceness, but the comfort of God’s Holy Spirit will cool it for your everlasting refreshing.’

Bilney, appearing to reflect upon what had been said, stretched out his hand towards the lamp that was burning on the table and placed his finger in the flame. ‘What are you doing ?’ they exclaimed. — ‘Nothing’, he replied; ‘I am only trying my flesh; to-morrow God’s rods shall burn my whole body in the fire.’ And still keeping his finger in the flame, as if he were making a curious experiment, he continued: ‘I feel that fire by God’s ordinance is naturally hot; but yet I am persuaded, by God’s Holy Word and the experience of the martyrs, that when the flames consume me, I shall not feel them. Howsoever this stubble of my body shall be wasted by it, a pain for the time is followed by joy unspeakable.’ He then withdrew his finger, the first joint of which was burnt. He added, ‘When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned.’ These words remained imprinted on the hearts of some who heard them, until the day of their death, says a chronicler.

Beyond the city gate—that known as the Bishop’s gate—was a low valley, called the Lollards’ Pit: it was surrounded by rising ground, forming a sort of amphitheatre. On Saturday, the 19th of August, a body of javelin-men came to fetch Bilney, who met them at the prison gate. One of his friends approaching and exhorting him to be firm, Bilney replied: ‘When the sailor goes on board his ship and launches out into the stormy sea, he is tossed to and fro by the waves; but the hope of reaching a peaceful haven makes him bear the danger. My voyage is beginning, but whatever storms I shall feel, my ship will soon reach the port.’

Bilney passed through the streets of Norwich in the midst of a dense crowd: his demeanour was grave, his features calm. His head had been shaved, and he wore a layman’s gown. Dr Warner, one of his friends, accompanied him; another distributed alms all along the route. The procession descended into the Lollards’ Pit, while the spectators covered the surrounding slopes. On arriving at the place of punishment, Bilney fell on his knees and prayed, and then rising up, warmly embraced the stake and kissed it. Turning his eyes towards heaven, he next repeated the Apostles’ Creed, and when he confessed the incarnation and crucifixion of the Saviour his emotion was such that even the spectators were moved. Recovering himself, he took off his gown, and ascended the pile, reciting the hundred and forty-third psalm. Thrice he repeated the second verse: ‘Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.’ And then he added: ‘I stretch forth my hands unto thee; my soul thirsteth after thee.’

Turning towards the officers, he said: ‘Are you ready ?’ — ‘Yes’, was their reply. Bilney placed himself against the post, and held up the chain which bound him to it. His friend Warner, with eyes filled with tears, took a last farewell. Bilney smiled kindly at him and said: ‘Doctor, pasce gregem tuum [feed your flock], that when the Lord cometh He may find you so doing.’ Several monks who had given evidence against him, perceiving the emotion of the spectators, began to tremble, and whispered to the martyr: ‘These people will believe that we are the cause of your death, and will withhold their alms.’ Upon which Bilney said to them: ‘Good folks, be not angry against these men for my sake; as though they be the authors of my death, it is not they.’ He knew that his death proceeded from the will of God. The torch was applied to the pile: the fire smouldered for a few minutes, and then suddenly burning up fiercely, the martyr was heard to utter the name of Jesus several times, and sometimes the word ‘Credo’ [‘I believe’]. A strong wind which blew the flames on one side prolonged his agony; thrice they seemed to retire from him, and thrice they returned, until at length, the whole pile being kindled, he expired.

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The Protestant Martyrs of Norwich

A booklet entitled “The Protestant Martyrs of Norwich” compiled by Charles Scott-Pearson has been published by, and is available from The Protestant Alliance, 77 Ampthill Road, Flitwick, Bedford MK45 2TT. The author of this booklet has researched all the details of all ten of the Protestant Martyrs who died at Lollard’s Pit, Norwich. Full contact details for the Alliance can be found on their web site

www.protestant-alliance.org

IS ARMINIANISM A DIFFERENT GOSPEL?

The seriousness and extent of Arminian thinking can be a point of contention at times. It is not unheard of that in Reformed circles critical comments about Arminianism are met with blank stares, a degree of indifference, or even a degree of hostility. The hostility may arise as it is felt that the criticism is unjust, extreme, inaccurate, or, even if it is correct, unnecessary as despite the differences those holding to Arminian theology are still Christians.

In recent reading I came across some remarks concerning Arminianism which showed both the seriousness and extent of Arminian thinking and how it is incompatible with the Reformed faith which, after all, is the Scriptural faith. In essence, in Arminianism we have a different gospel (see 2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6-8), a gospel which denies salvation is the complete gift of the sovereign God who graciously justifies sinners through faith alone.

Just to refresh your memory, Arminian thinking, so soundly renounced in the Canons of Dort, denies God’s sovereign eternal election unto salvation. While affirming God’s grace, Arminianism claims that God merely offers salvation and it is up to man who decides to accept or reject the gospel. One author summed up Arminian thinking as follows,”….God was made dependent on free-will-equipped-men for whom He politely had to wait, looking to see whether the man would be so kind as to believe”(1).

Though the Reformers of the early 16th Century did not have to contend with Arminianism as such, since Arminianism arose late in the 16th century and early in the 17th century, they did have to contend with its theological cousin, Semi-Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism teaches that man is spiritually sick. As such he does need the help of God’s grace in order to get better. However, it is up to man to take the spiritual medicine which God offers. God must have man’s co-operation. In theological terms this was called “synergism”. You can see the similarity to the Arminian position. The Reformers responded to this by stressing the sovereign grace of God, as heard in the cry “Sola gratia”. God calls those dead in sin to new life (see Eph. 2:1-10). The Reformers stressed the helplessness of man in sin and the sovereignty of God in grace. This was a point of unity between the Reformers despite differences about other issues. (2) In the Book “The Bondage of the Will” this was the point that Luther argued with Erasmus.

We should note then that Arminianism is a reincarnation of Semi-Pelagianism with its emphasis on man’s freedom. This explains why the churches acted so resolutely with respect to Arminianism. They saw it as a serious threat to the gospel and condemned it “as being in principle a return to Rome (because in effect it turned faith into ameritorious work) and a betrayal of the Reformation (because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the Reformer’s thought). Arminianism was,indeed, in Reformed eyes a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favour of New Testament Judaism; for to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as unchristian and anti-Christian as the other.”(3)

The Reformed faith thus teaches the helplessness of man in salvation. Arminianism, in typical Semi-Pelagian style, teaches self-help religion. It is sovereign God versus sovereign man. It is indeed the different gospel which Paul warned about. It is appealing because it extols the dignity of man. It is a lie because man is dead in sin, totally helpless.

While the aforementioned points show the seriousness of the Arminian teaching and how it stands in contrast to true Reformation theology, to what extent is it found today? One author stated that”Arminianism … has had American evangelicalism in a stranglehold since the days of Charles Finney.”(4) Charles Finney (1792-1875) was a revivalist preacher who was very influential with his revival techniques. Another author states that 86 percent of American evangelicals hold to the Arminian position as comes out in their agreement with the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” (5)This comes out very clearly in the writings of the well known Billy Graham who has even written a religious self-help manual titled “How To be Born Again” in which the various steps to salvation are clearly spelled out..(6)

The apostle Paul fought with great vigour against the”different gospel”. In that gospel they will speak of Christ and use words like grace, election, faith, regeneration, etc. Yet, it is not the gospel of sovereign grace received through faith but of grace received on the ground of one’s faith. The earlier mentioned reference linking Rome and Arminianism is worth drawing to your attention again.Actually,there is a common denominator in all false religion in that it ascribes ability and free will to man by which he can effect his own salvation if he so wishes. It displays the arrogance of sinful man,even more so when he dresses lies with words of the gospel. That makes the enemy all the more difficult to detect as he works in his subtle way. We can all the more understand Paul’s warning about Satan disguising himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

Personally I don’t enjoy having to harp on the point of the Arminian danger. I fear, however, that it is necessary because it is not realized how serious and extensive a threat it is. The true church glories in the gospel of sovereign grace where God rescues dead sinners and grants them the righteousness of Christ through faith. Let me conclude quoting in full Paul’s words in Gal. 1:6-9,

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed”.

1. K. Schilder, Extra-Scriptural Binding – A New Danger (In American Secession Theologians on Covenant and Baptism & Extra-Scriptural Binding). (Neerlandia: Inheritance Publications, 1996. p. 131.)

2. J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, “Historical and Theological Introduction,” in Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (Cambridge: James Clarke/Westwood, N.J.:Revell,1957, pp. 57-58)

3. Ibid. p. 59

4. R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997) p.180

5. M. Horton, In the Face of God. (Word Publishing, 1996) AppendixCURE (Christians United for Reformation).

6. To give just two examples, Graham writes “The context of John 3 teaches that the new birth is something that God does for man when man is willing to yield to God”, and “He gives the Holy Spirit to draw you to the cross, but even after all this, it is your decision whether to accept God’s free pardon or to continue in your lost condition.” (B. Graham, How To Be Born Again. Originally published 1977. Quoted from the 1989 edition by Word Publishers, pages 150, 162)

(This article was penned by Rev. E. Kampen and downloaded from Spindle Works.com)