Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him , you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed , you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
Notice the words “just as,” which builds upon the prior clause, and therefore verses 3 & 4 must be considered together, and moreover, what becomes evident is that v.3 is Paul’s central thesis, from which a number of examples are developed. The key point is that God’s blessings are “in Christ,” and not just a few of them, but all of them. Conversely, God is not saying anything whatsoever about alleged secret blessings in Himself, which then allegedly result in blessings in His Son, but instead, the blessings of the Father are all exclusively founded in His Son. Stated another way, the spiritual blessings of God (all of them) are in Christ. But if a person was predestined by the Father to effectually become in Christ (as some sort of preferred sinner), then that would certainly constitute a spiritual blessing, and which then would overthrow Paul’s entire thesis about what is exclusively in Christ, in which all of the Father’s spiritual blessings are “in Christ.” So verse 3 cuts Calvinism off at the knees, by eliminating any basis whatsoever for Calvinistic secret election in the Father.
The problem is that Calvinists see “us,” “chosen” and “before the foundation of the world” in verse 4, and then miss everything else around them. People tend to see what they want to see. That is called Confirmation Bias. In Ephesians chapter 1, Paul’s focus is on the benefits of being a Christian, as he highlights the spiritual blessings of being a Christian. Paul starts by establishing the fact that all of God’s spiritual blessings are exclusive to Christians. Then Paul gives several examples of such spiritual blessings, and which are exclusive to Christians. Verse 4 is then an example of the principle stated in verse 3. Verse 5 is another example of the principle stated in verse 3, and so on.
Verse 3: Every spiritual blessing is exclusive to Christians.
Verse 4: The eternal plan of God is the spiritual blessing of a Christian’s innocence.
Verse 5: The eternal plan of God is the spiritual blessing of a Christian’s adoption.
Verse 7: The eternal plan of God is the spiritual blessing of a Christian’s redemption.
Verse 9: The eternal plan of God is the spiritual blessing of a Christian’s revelation.
Verse 11: The eternal plan of God is the spiritual blessing of a Christian’s inheritance.
Verse 13: The eternal plan of God is the spiritual blessing of a Christian’s indwelling.
The reference to “us” in Christ are believing Christians. (Cross reference with Ephesians 1:19.) This passage is not talking about certain unbelievers having a secret deal with the Father, resulting in them becoming a Christian, but that is what Calvinists read into this passage, because that is what they want to find. People see what they want to see. Instead, this passage is about those who are Christians, and what God’s eternal plans are for Christians.
Every spiritual blessing of the Father in the heavenly places is in Christ, just as Christians are elect in Christ in order to be made holy and blameless before Him, just as Christians have a predestination to adoption as sons in Christ, just as Christians have redemption and forgiveness in Christ. It’s all about what’s in Christ, not about what’s secretly in the Father so that certain individuals can be elect. Election is in Christ. One must be in Christ in order to experience an election for everything that God has in store for the Christian.
Calvinist, James White, writes: “I just also believe the undisputed and unrefuted fact that I come to Christ daily because the Father, on the sole basis of His mercy and grace, gave me to the Son in eternity past.” (Debating Calvinism, p.306, emphasis mine)
So is that a spiritual “blessing” in the Father? That can’t exist if all spiritual blessings are for Christians.
White adds: “In this case, in eternity past God chose to enter into personal relationship with His elect people, even before bringing them into existence.” (Debating Calvinism, p.146, emphasis mine)
Really? I thought it’s all about what’s in Christ? What’s this special blessing in the Father? It seems to conflict with Paul’s thesis about all that which God has reserved in the Beloved, namely in Christ.
White writes: “No, these words are specifically and clearly about the elect, those chosen by God before the foundation of the world.” (Debating Calvinism, p.94, emphasis mine)
This is even more bold, by completely leaving out in Christ.
Calvinism, James White, writes: “One of the most common ways that men have expressed in essence to get around the personal nature of God’s decree of election that is so plainly laid out here in Ephesians 1, is to say that the One who is chosen is Christ. Christ is the chosen One, and God has chosen to save all of those who are in Christ. Well, one could say that Christ is chosen. He was chosen to be the One who bears the sins of God’s people, and it is certainly true to say that God has chosen to save all of those who are in Christ.”
This is the best way to begin any persuasive argument, as (1) it clearly states the opposing view in perfect detail, and (2) without poisoning the well, so that the opponent is not only, not “put off,” prior to the forthcoming presentation of the competing view, but having been “turned on,” the listener is more likely to be receptive to what follows.
James White continues: “But, that does not change the fact that the object of the verb in Ephesians 1 is personal, that is, ‘God chose us in Christ,’ not God chose Christ, and then we add ourselves to Christ, so that you have this concept (that is very popular of today) of class election: The idea that God has chosen a class of people ‘in Christ’ and that the direct object of His choice is not the individual, but instead to save all those who are in Christ.”
The first problem that I detect is that v.4 seems to be viewed by White as being absent of its direct connection to v.3, as v.4 builds on a particularly interesting point in v.3, which is that God has placed “every” (not some, or most) spiritual blessing in the heavenly places “in Christ,” “just as” [and then what follows in v.4, builds from the point about the location of “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” which of course is in Christ]. So I’m detecting that White is viewing v.4 in isolation from v.3.
White continues: “Almost any system that attempts, in essence, to explain away Ephesians 1, boils down to this assertion: That God has elected NOT an individual (or any one person), but God has elected a plan.”
White makes a tactical mistake here, and which is so prevalent in his arguments, which is that he often attempts to elevate himself, by questioning the motives of his opponents as being shills, who desire nothing more than to “explain away” a given text, and which merely turns people off, namely, the very people that he is trying to persuade. So White would be better off by sticking to the argument, rather than to engage in character assassination.
White continues: “God has chosen TO SAVE. Now, HOW a person gets saved, then, is still left basically up in the air, and it is basically (the normal assertion is): ‘Well, God has chosen to save those who believe in Christ.’ And so, whatever your group teaches you must do to believe in Christ, now becomes the condition upon which that fulfillment you can enter into this CLASS that is elect, but the individuals IN the class are NOT determined by God. Instead, the object of His choosing, and His election, and His determination, and His decree, is a plan, not a people.”
First of all, White’s mention of “how a person gets saved” is specifically addressed by Paul at v.13, and so it is not really “left up in the air” at all. So that was a rather odd point to make, since it is specifically addressed in the immediate context, and v.13 even explains HOW a person enters into the “class” of being in Christ, which is that upon hearing and believing the gospel, they are “sealed” in this class, with the deposit of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, we would do well to ask James White for the specific verse where he claims that God has determined or decreed certain persons to be in Christ? Again, Paul’s primary focus is on everything that is in Christ, namely the eternal purpose of God for Christians (i.e. those in Christ) to be made holy and blameless before Him, and for Christians being predestined to be adopted as sons, according to the kind intention of His will, which again, is lavished upon a specific class of those who are “in the Beloved.” Third (and as already mentioned), the “object” of God’s election in Christ (at v.4) is meant to be one of a series of follow-up points to v.3, but which White doesn’t even seem to consider as relevant to the discussion.
White continues: “So, in essence, it becomes impersonal, in the sense that (while it’s personal in Christ) it is impersonal, in that those who are ‘of the elect’ are not part of the decree; that is left up to man.”
James White claims to be an exegete (and not one to engage in eisegsis), but yet White has imported into the text the phrase “of the elect.” The reason why that I would take issue with that, is because the Calvinist understanding of “the elect” is not those who are chosen in Christ, but those who are elect in the Father, as a hidden people, chosen in the Father, spiritually blessed in the Father, which He decrees “to be” or “to become” in Christ, and which is also foreign to Ephesians 1:4, as Paul is not establishing any elect class in the Father, and unsurprisingly so, since Paul’s principle point is to show that there is NO special blessing in the Father, since “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” is in Christ. So if the blessings are all in Christ, what blessing is left in the Father, for some being “elect in the Father”?
White continues: “So, as we look at the passage, ask yourself: ‘Is this saying that God has chosen to save “us,” or that God has chosen as in a plan?’ and see what comes out of the text.”
God has chosen to save “us” as a qualified choice “in Christ,” following upon the previous point of all that we have, not in the Father, but in Christ, since the Father has exhausted all of His spiritual blessings in the object of Christ, and thus one must be IN Christ in order to get the “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” that He provides.
James White next quotes verses 3 through 11, with brief commentary along the way, and while he highlights the “us” in v.3, he glosses over Paul’s foundational statement about every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places being in Christ, in which the following verses specifically identify the major blessings in the heavenly places: (1) election in Christ for Christians to be holy and blameless, (2) predestination in Christ to adoption, and (3) the decree of redemption in Christ.
White states: “…God grants it to US, grace from eternity itself, which is a mind-boggling thought.”
Why is it “mind-boggling” that 1, of the whole set of “every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places,” should be granted to Christians in Christ? The simple answer is that White sees this “grace” as a special blessing from the Father, even though “every” one of the Father’s spiritual blessings (in the heavenly places), are set exclusively in Christ, instead. The fundamental flaw of James White is that he is getting away from Paul’s central thesis. James White does not seem to grasp the concept in v.3.
White states: “PLANS are not holy and blameless; PEOPLE are holy and blameless.”
The eternal purpose (PLAN) of God in Christ is that Christians (PEOPLE) would stand holy and blameless before Him. So this is about both a plan and a people. The plan is for what God has chosen to do in Christ (recall v.3), and how that plan impacts those in Christ (see v.4).
The basis for a Christian’s election to holiness (in verse 4) is based upon the fact that being in Christ is the sole source of all of heaven’s blessings (in verse 3).
John Calvin writes: “Paul testifies indeed that we were chosen before the foundation of the world; but, he adds, in Christ (Eph 1:4). Let no one then seek confidence in his election elsewhere, unless he wish to obliterate his name from the book of life in which it is written.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.126, emphasis mine)
But John Calvin does seek confidence elsewhere, other than from simply in being in Christ, since he derives his ultimate confidence in being among a group of those who are allegedly elect in the Father:
Calvin adds: “As if God were not said to have purposed His good pleasure in Himself alone, because finding no cause in us He made Himself the cause of our being saved! As if it was in vain that Paul repeats five times that our salvation is wholly the effect of that decree and purpose and good pleasure! As if he declared without any purpose that we were blessed in Christ because we were elect!” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.140, emphasis mine)
John Calvin doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that there is no heavenly blessing, by which he could be among a secretly blessed group, in the Father, since all of the Father’s blessings are deferred in Christ.
Non-Calvinist, James McCarthy, states: “…frankly, God doesn’t love you strictly because of yourself; He loves you because of His Son. Didn’t the Lord Jesus teach that...what did He say? The Father loves you why? Because you have loved Me. I mean, ‘but God, don’t You just love me?’ And He goes, ‘No, I actually don’t.’” [2:25-2:50]
Calvinist, James White, states: “I’m trying to figure out where that reference was. The Father has loved you because you have loved Me? …I couldn’t find that one. I would like to know what text is being paraphrased at that point, because that would make the Father’s love of us, dependent upon something we’re doing, and I think something was misstated there. I’m not sure.” [2:50-3:17]
Here is the text involved:
John 16:26-27: “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.”
It almost seems that James White is disagreeing with Jesus.
I can’t say that I fully agree with McCarthy’s quote, because although he is quoting/paraphrasing a verse about God’s love, based upon the positive fact that the disciples had loved Jesus, McCarthy should be careful not to mistakenly infer something entirely different, which is the negative that God only loves us because we love His Son, since (1) God didn’t say that, and (2) God’s love is genuinely shown towards the world, through the mercy expressed at John 3:16. I think that the real issue is that God has a special love for Christians, though which doesn’t negate His love for the world, whom He had given His Son Jesus. I think that the point here is that man’s loving relationship with His Son not only vindicates and justifies the Father’s cost of having sent His Son in the first place, but is also the desired outcome for every lost soul. However, what really caught my attention was James White’s response, and I don’t mean his unfamiliarity with the John 16:26-27 text, but his comment on it. That’s what I thought was really eye-opening. James White almost seems to be in disagreement with Jesus.
Calvinist, James White, writes: “…I start with the fact that the Bible presents a God of purpose, and I believe that God had the purpose of electing a particular people in Christ Jesus unto salvation, from the very start, that it’s not a back-up plan. It’s not that ‘well that didn’t work out too well, let’s try it this way.’” [7:33-7:55]
(1) By saying that God is a God of purpose, this is White’s basis to then assert Determinism, so that everything which exists, exists because God has a purpose for it, and if God has a purpose for it, then He had a purpose in bringing it to pass, so that even what is permitted, He decreed to permit it, though which is not real permission, since it is not permitting what a third party may or may not do, but permitting what only what has a divine purpose, and which takes us right back to Hard Determinism. So James White begins his theological perspective with Determinism, and then Confirmation Bias is what causes James White to see only what he wants to see in Scripture.
(2) By saying that God had elected a “particular people in Christ Jesus unto salvation” is essentially the Arminian “Corporate Election” model, since it reflects God’s plan for Christians, though Calvinism is instead about God’s plans for certain preferred sinners becoming Christians. Also, the assertion of how Arminianism is an alleged “back up plan” is left unclear, as White does not develop that point. Certainly, Arminians affirm that it was God’s plan from the start to elect a particular people in Christ Jesus unto salvation. For Calvinist Election, however, God elects a particular people in Himself, and then elects them “to become” in Christ Jesus. That’s what’s really going on.
McCarthy: “The Father has chosen us in Him, not apart from Him. The Father can’t choose us apart from Him, because there is no salvation apart from Him, is there?” [10:20-10:30]
Exactly, and which is why there is no basis for Calvinist election. In other words, McCarthy is tying election & salvation together in Christ, for Christians, and rejecting that the Father would ground it in Himself, and then make election as the grounds for effectually calling/drawing preferred elect sinners to become in Christ. (Calvinists will often piously say that they are so unworthy for such a special election, and the irony is that they are 100% correct, and more correct than they realize, since they are unworthy and which is why they are not secretly elect for spiritual blessings. Only in Christ are we worthy of spiritual blessings because in Christ, we are tied and wedded to the One who is worthy, which is the driving point behind of principle of Identification.
James White: “Now again, let’s remember, basically what’s going on here is an attempt, as I see it, to shift the emphasis of the text away from the fact that you have the direct object of the choosing being personal. …Remember Ephesians 1:4, ‘…just as He us in Him; the direct object of the choosing is us, and that’s personal. I don’t believe there’s any way in Ephesians 1 to make it impersonal, because predestination is unto what? Sonship. And what do you have then…who is the ‘we’ who has been chosen, and predestined? The ‘we’ then in verse 7, ‘we’ have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. Now there are people who just want to make this, ‘Well, all it’s just talking about is this group, and God has predestined that there would be this group, that will be in Christ.’ It’s up to you who is in it. He doesn’t choose; it’s an impersonal thing. It’s just a group. It could be a small group, big group; God’s not really in charge of that. He does the best He can, to get as many people in there as possible. But no one really knows. Technically, He could have had just a few. And, once you get in the group, that He predestinates that if you’re are in the group, then you’re going to be adopted. And then once you’re in the group, you can say that you have forgiveness of sins, and things like that, but you see it’s all meant to de-personalize the knowledge of God in eternity past, and de-personalize the choice that He made. He chose a group; He didn’t choose you.” [10:36-12:41]
(1) In other words, if God chooses to save believers, then that to White is “impersonal,” and the only way to make it personal, is by God choosing who He will make into believers, so that God gets to save the preferred elect sinners that He most desires to save. To White, for God to simply desire that believers become saved, is just too impersonal, as that could just be anyone, as if God really desired to save any person, when yet He created Hell for most of them, and had a “purpose” in doing so. The problem is that Calvinists don’t always follow their own logic to its natural conclusions, and those who do, are called High Calvinists, and then other Calvinists will lecture them, when yet they are really only being consistent Calvinists. Most Calvinists simply hide behind the concept of mystery. These Calvinists don’t have the answers, don’t explore the answers and leave it to divine mystery to resolve. And then when an Arminian comes along to point out the obvious conclusions, such as Calvinism making God into the Author of Sin, then Calvinists get all bent out of shape, and defer to illogical first and second causes and then, like John Calvin, simply plead mystery and “instructed ignorance.”
(2) James White begs to know who the “us” is, which is actually answered in verse 19: “…the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe,” and it’s not the “us” who are the Father’s secret elect, which is what Calvinism must require. When Calvinists emphasize the word “us,” challenge them to define its meaning from the actual text, rather than theological pre-commitment. The “us” are clearly believers, and which implies Christians, and so salvation and God’s blessings are for Christians, but to a Calvinist who wants to think of themselves as having been “hand-picked” above their neighbor will simply see this as too impersonal for their liking. Calvinism naturally causes people to think of themselves as being better than their neighbors, as in: I’m a Christian because God wanted me to be saved, and made it so, irresistibly, and for those who are not Christians, well then it’s because God did not want for you to become a Christian, and thus had a purpose in you going to Hell. This is how Calvinism plays on the human weakness of pride. Calvinism claims that it is humbling to be created as better than their neighbors, but it’s really just ugly pride, sort of like the Pharisee thanking God that He didn’t make him like his neighbor over there, the tax-gatherer. (Luke 18:13)
(3) James White makes the cardinal error of starting out with Ephesians 1:4, while somehow missing the relevance of the first two words, “just as,” which obviously indicates something relevant in the prior statement. In other words, verse 4 is based upon the essential fact stated in verse 3, which is the Father’s declaration of having deferred “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” In other words, this is the FACT (v.3) and here are the EXAMPLES (vv.4-14). Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places is in Christ, “just as” the spiritual blessing of “us who believe” [i.e. Christians] is an eternal election to stand before God as holy and blameless before Him, just as the spiritual blessing of “us who believe” [i.e. Christians] is an eternal predestination to adoption as sons, just as the spiritual blessing of “us who believe” [i.e. Christians] is redemption through Christ’s blood, just as the spiritual blessing of “us who believe” [i.e. Christians] is the revelation of divine mysteries, just as the spiritual blessing of “us who believe” [i.e. Christians] is an inheritance, just as the spiritual blessing of “us who believe” [i.e. Christians] is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
(4) James White pins his argument on election being “personal,” insomuch that God chooses the specific persons that He will effectually call/draw to become in Christ. However, wouldn’t that be a “spiritual blessing” for the individual? And yet, Paul says in v.3 that the Father has deferred “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” So Paul has effectually undercut any foundation for James White’s Patricentric assertion.
(5) Arminians affirm that salvation is “in the Father” and “in the Son” through the principle of Mutual Inclusion, as per 1st John 2:24: “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” However, the Calvinist’s Corporate Election model in the Father by Unconditional Election [i.e. James White’s “personal” election], establishes one personally as the Father’s secret elect, whom on that account, are elected to receive an effectual call/draw “to become” in Christ. Clearly, then, Calvinist election is Patricentric, whereas the Arminian model is truly Christocentric, because it denies and rejects that anyone is elect apart from being in Christ, as a believer, and which is what Arminius had also stated, when he affirmed that God regards no one in Christ, except through faith in Christ.
(6) James White raises the issue of the plural form of “you,” which I’m not going to get into, because it’s irrelevant to anything stated above.
At 21:20, John Piper reads from Ephesians 1:3-5. He takes notes on the text, but makes no mention of the key point in v.3. Amazingly, the first thing that Piper says is, “Before the foundation of the world, He chose us.” Unbelievable. This is what happens when people become Calvinists. The glasses go on, and they literally can’t see the text, and only see what Calvinism requires. So, no, God didn’t just choose us. God chose us (i.e. “us who believe” as per v.19) in Christ before the foundation of the world for holiness, as a factor of every blessing being in Christ, whereas Piper is implying that he had a special deal going with God the Father as an elect person. That’s simply not what the text is saying, and the problem with Calvinism is that they derive their standing with God based upon a secret deal with the Father, and not based upon their standing with Christ. Whether it’s Romans 8 or Ephesians 1, these are statements for Christians, and he doesn’t seem to get that point. All of these are promises for Christians, where all of the blessings are located. Nowhere is any of this about secretly elect people with the Father.
Another way to say it is this: Since every one of the Father’s spiritual blessings are deferred in Christ, then (x) is one such blessing in Christ, (y) is another and (z) is another, in which (x) is the blessing of the Christian’s election to holiness, (y) is the blessing of a Christian’s predestination to sonship, and (z) is the blessing of a Christian’s redemption through Christ’s blood. It’s important for Arminians to help Calvinists see that our blessings come from being in Christ, and not from a secret deal with the Father.
Calvinists, however, don’t view their blessings as originating from being in Christ, but rather, stemming from a special Easter basket from the Father, as His secret elect, so that they can come to Christ, become in Christ, to be in Christ and be given to Christ. That’s the problem with Calvinism, as it naturally identifies the source of all of its blessings as being in the Father, and yet the Father offers no such Easter basket. The Father’s Easter basket is only in Christ, and in Christ, it is loaded with one blessing after another. Calvinism ultimately attempts to circumvent Christ.
Calvinist, James White, writes: “God elects a specific people unto Himself without reference to anything they do. This means the basis of God’s choice of the elect is solely within Himself: His grace, His mercy, His will.” (The Potter’s Freedom, p.39, emphasis mine)
That is the Patricentric nature of Calvinism. Whereas Paul speaks of the deferred blessings in Christ, Calvinism testifies of the hidden blessings is in the Father, even though every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places is in Christ, exclusively.