Monday, September 01, 2008

Ephesians: before the foundation of the world

I've just preached the second sermon in a sporadic (everything is sporadic) series on the first three chapters of Ephesians. Ephesians 1 to 3 can be seen as Paul's discourse on God's Plan of Salvation in Jesus Christ, and the first sermon looked at the fact of God's Plan and the similarities between Paul and God's great statement of his plan in His convenant with Abraham. Last night I embarked on a tackling of the great themes in chapter 1 with an exposition of 1:3-4: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. As Lincoln notes:

such language functions to give believers assurance of God's purposes for them. Its force is that God's choice of them was a free decision not dependent on temporal circumstances but rooted in the depth of his nature. Ephesians, 23

However, this tiny phrase before the foundation of the world leads us into philosophical difficulties with election and choice and, if you know your Church of Scotland history, this has led to some serious problems, some of which continue today. Trying to fit NT teaching into the straightjacket of systematics has not helped us. To try to look at salvation from the point of view of election is to look the wrong way through the telescope; we must deal with things from the perspective of scripture. Enter, Norman Shepherd:

In Ephesians 1, Paul writes from the perspective of observable covenant reality and concludes from the visible faith and sanctity of the Ephesians that they are the elect of God. He addresses them as such and encourages them to think of themselves as elect....Paul is right to address the saints and faithful as elect, and at the same time he is right to warn them against apostasy. Call of Grace, 87-88

Election can only be correctly perceived from the standpoint of observable covenant reality. When we usurp the divine perspective of mystery in God's electing choice as opposed to the clear promises and invitation of God to salvation in his Word (Speculation vs. Revelation), it strikes me that we're not a million miles away from responding to the Serpents claim that if you eat of the fruit...you'll be like God. Allowing Speculation to keep us from believing and acting on God's promises is to respond to the work of Darkness.