Friday, October 28, 2016

Faith and Our Inclusion in Christ

In the previous post, we looked at Ephesians 1:3-10 and how God chose all humanity in Christ, “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” This is not just the union of all things with each other but, much more than that, the union of all things with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — through Christ, the God-Man. Elsewhere Paul speaks of this as the reconciliation of the world to God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19; Colossians 1:19-20) so that God may be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28) even as “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Having laid out the universal scope of God’s purpose in Christ, Paul now shows how it plays out at a personal level, where he and his readers dwell:
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ* when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14)
“We” refers to Paul and his associates who, as Jews, were among the first to receive the good news of the gospel and then went out to proclaim it to the nations. “You” refers to the believers in Ephesus, who received their message. In both cases, they responded to the good news in faith. Their faith, however, did not make the message true but was how they embraced the truth of it. They were already included in Christ from before the creation of the world and they were already destined for the unity of all things in Christ even before they ever heard the gospel. (*We should note that the words “were included in Christ,” which I have italicized in the quote above, were added by the NIV translators and have no correlation to the words in the Greek text. Paul was not indicating that the faith of the believers at Ephesus was the occasion or cause of their inclusion in Christ.)

We know the beginning of the journey: we were chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world. And we also know the end: the unity of all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. These two are essentially the same thing. As it was in the beginning, so it will be in the end — and is even now in the timelessness of God. Yet there is still a “working out” of God’s purpose that takes place within the time/space reality of our world. Knowing the beginning and end of the journey does not do away with the journey itself, where the unity of all things in Christ plays out in the history of creation.

So the inclusion of all of us beforehand does not make faith unnecessary. Faith is part of how God “works out” his eternal purpose in us. It is by faith that we come to know our inclusion in Christ. This faith is itself a gift from God, as we learn in Ephesians 2:8. It comes to us by the work of the Holy Spirit and through hearing the word of the gospel.

When we believe, Paul says, we are “marked with a seal.” Just as faith does not make the gospel or our inclusion in it any truer than it was in the beginning, but affirms the truth of it, so also the mark with which we are sealed attests that we are truly in Christ. Paul identifies this seal as God himself, the Holy Spirit. This sealing had been very evident in the case of the first believers at Ephesus; when they were baptized in the name of Jesus, “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:5-6).

We — all of us — are chosen in Christ from before creation because God’s purpose has always been to bring all things into unity under Christ. This does not happen apart from faith, apart from turning to God, which inherently happens through Christ and the Holy Spirit, even though they may not always be explicitly recognized as such by the one turning to God. We may certainly expect that the will, pleasure and purpose of Almighty God will be finally successful and fully satisfied, that all in heaven and on earth will be brought together in unity under Christ.

It would appear, then, that all will indeed finally turn to God in faith, whether in this present age or in the age to come. Let us understand, however, that it will not be by coercion, for God is love, and love does not coerce. The love of God does not ever force us violate our wills but, rather, frees us and our wills from our delusions and unnatural desires, so that we may finally and truly be what God created us to be from the beginning.

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