by Phil Johnson
(This is the continuation of a series begun here.)
et's go back to the passage we began this series with: Ephesians 2:1-3. This time I'll add (in bold italics) two words from verse 4. Those two words mark the pivotal statement of the chapter:
You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God . . .
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached one of his most famous sermons on those two words"But God." That simple conjunction marks the apostle Paul's transition from the problem of human depravity to its solution. The only possible solution, Paul says, is the sovereign application of saving grace to the sinner. Are you looking for an explicit statement of Calvinistic doctrine in the Pauline epistles? Here is one of many, and it's a classic. Notice: Paul's whole argument in bringing up the doctrine of human depravity in this context was to make the point that our fallenness leaves us utterly at the mercy of God for salvation. Our utter inabilitywhich Paul has just described as a state of spiritual deathunderscores the absolute necessity of God's sovereignty in salvation. Because we are so thoroughly fallen and spiritually incapacitated, our salvation must be God's work, and God's work alone.
This truth does not come out of nowhere. Paul already established the truth of divine sovereignty in chapter 1, where he reminded the Ephesians that God chose them (4), predestined them (5), guaranteed their adoption (5), bestowed on them His grace (6), redeemed them (7), forgave them (7), lavished riches of grace on them (8), made known to them His will (9), obtained an inheritance for them (11), guaranteed that they would glorify Him (11-12), saved them (13), and sealed them with the Spirit (13-14). All those same truths are true of every believer. In short, God "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (3). All of this is the work of His sovereign grace, performed not because of any good in us, but simply "according to the kind intention of His will" (5, 9) and "according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" (11).
There's not a hint of Arminianism in that. There's not a whisper of stress on human free will. Paul is expressly teaching that all of salvation is God's work and He is absolutely sovereign in the process. In fact, Ephesians 2 begins with the passage quoted in red type in the block paragraph above, stressing the utter inability of spiritually-dead sinners, and then it culminates with Paul's statement in verse 10 that even the good works done by believers were prepared by God beforehand! How could Paul have been any more clear or emphatic about the truth of God's sovereignty in our salvation?
In fact, this is the central message of Ephesians 2: salvation is entirely God's work. We're not to think redemption hinges on any work, motion, activity, or free-will choice on the part of the sinner. Verses 8-9 therefore constitute a succinct thesis statement for the whole chapter: "By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, [so] that no one [can] boast" (8-9).
"But God!"and here we see the only possible cure for human depravity, the grace of a loving God:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.