Thursday, September 25, 2008


I’ve been thinking about the alleged free will of believers. The conquered.

Look at Ephesians: “Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men’” (Ephesians 4:8). The idea of leading “captive a host of captives” is found in at least two other places in Paul’s letters:

“For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men” (1 Corinthians 4:9).

“But thanks be to God, Who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

This is victory parade language. When a king’s army conquered a land, he would lead a parade of mighty triumphant warriors, displaying both the spoils of the defeated nation and the humbled leadership of the fallen country. We see hints of this in Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s conquering of Judah in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:6,7,11,13-21).

When Paul describes himself, his associates, and the whole church as being led in victory by Christ, we aren’t fellow victors. This is Christ’s victory over us! Remember, we were God’s “enemies” (Romans 5:10) and “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach…” (Colossians 1:21,22). In His “fleshly body” (1:22) Jesus has made us into “the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:4,12,16). Being led, chained and humbled, in this victory parade, we proclaim the Conqueror and give Him glory. This adds a depth to Paul’s self-identification as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus” (3:1), “the prisoner of the Lord” (3:1), and “an ambassador in chains” (6:20). This is the “calling” of the saints (4:1-4, which uses the verb “call” 4 times!). The captured lose their identity in the Capturer. They become a footnote on His list of accomplishments and property.

Notice that there are seven dimensions to unity (seven being the Hebrew number of completion, wholeness – as in the days of creation): (1) “body,” (2) “Spirit,” (3) “hope of your calling,” (4) “Lord,” (5) “faith,” (6) “baptism,” (7) “God and Father of all Who is over all and through all and in all.” Before this seven Paul speaks of “the unity of the Spirit” (4:3), and Paul speaks of one of the purposes of the gifts of Christ to the body is “the unity of the faith" (4:13). “The unity of the Spirit” speaks of the church being sealed together in Him (Ephesians 1:13; 2:22; 4:30). It is “one Spirit,” not many. “The faith” Paul speaks of here isn’t the abstract idea of faith (as found in Hebrews 11:1), but the concrete idea of faith – “the faith” as a collection of beliefs found only in the Word of God (Acts 6:7; 16:4,5; Philippians 1:27; 1 Timothy 3:9; 4:1,6; 2 Timothy 1:13; 3:8; Titus 1:13; Jude 3). Remember Jesus’ words in Samaria: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Spirit and truth. Spirit and the faith. The two witnesses in our lives that never contradict each other. We are made on in a unity of the Spirit and a unity of the faith.

“He gave gifts to men” (4:8). Why? So they would cease to be men of “trickery” (4:14) and would become “a mature man” (4:13). From plural to singular.

What are the gifts? The gifts are given to us individually: “…to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7). These gifts, given individually, are given to move us from individuality to unity: “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (4:11-13).

“The fullness of Christ” (4:13) comes only through Christ, Whose purpose is to “fill all things” (4:10). He got this purpose from His Father, “Who is over all and through all and in all” (4:6). This is Jesus’ passion – to imitate the Father in all things, to give Him glory in all things.

The motivation of this is love.
(1) In love He purposed us to be sons and daughters: 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” (Ephesians 1:4-6).
(2) Why did He choose us? Like Yahweh’s sovereign choosing of Israel, it wasn’t for any quality in Israel, but in love He chosen to love them (Deuteronomy 7:7,8): “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, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7). Notice that He’s “seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” the same heavenly places to which Christ ascends in 4:8,9.
(3) It is an absolutely sacrificial love – sacrifice for enemies, rebels, those “dead in transgressions” (2:1): “…Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

This should be mirrored in our lives together:
(1) We should have a universal love for all saints: “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:15-17).
(2) God’s love should be the foundation and substance of our lives: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).
God’s love should mark our interaction even in disagreement: “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
(3) God’s love should motivate our speaking of His truth and should guide our movement toward unity in Him: “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:14-16).
(4) Our actions and ways should be perfectly guided by His love (not our sin-accepting idea of love, but His love): “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1,2).
(5) God’s love should guide even our marriage relationships (for Christians marriage doesn’t exist for the pleasure of individuals, but for the proclamation of the gospel, which is all-satisfying to a true believer): “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body” (Ephesians 5:25-30).
(6) God’s love should be absolutely present in our relationships with each other and with God – equally! “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love” (Ephesians 6:23,24).

In 4:8 Paul is quoting from the Psaltery:
“The Lord gives the command; the women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host: ‘Kings of armies flee, they flee, and she who remains at home will divide the spoil!’ When you lie down among the sheepfolds, you are like the wings of a dove covered with silver, and its pinions with glistening gold. When the Almighty scattered the kings there, it was snowing in Zalmon. A mountain of God is the mountain of Bashan; a mountain of many peaks is the mountain of Bashan. Why do you look with envy, O mountains with many peaks, at the mountain which God has desired for His abode? Surely the LORD will dwell there forever. The chariots of God are myriads, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them as at Sinai, in holiness. You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, even among the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there. Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation. Selah” (Psalm 68:11-19).

Whereas Psalm 68:18 praises God for receiving gifts from men, Ephesians 4:8 gives glory to Christ for giving gifts to men. Is there a conflict? No. We were “rebellious” and now give God all that we are. He also gives to us the grace necessary not only for us to be saved, but the grace that allows us to do the works of God: “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, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Belonging to God in Christ, doing the works God created for us, being united into a God-glorifying, all-satisfying fullness of unity in His church. Not bad for a bunch of worthless prisoners.

What about 4:9? Does "the lower parts of the earth" have to mean a descent into hell by Christ?

The Apostles’ Creed says, “descendit ad inferna,” or “He descended into Hell.” Where does the Bible say this?

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who were once disobedient, when the patience of the God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water” (1 Peter 3:18-20). It doesn’t say that He made proclamation to those spirits while they were in prison; it says He made proclamation to souls now in prison. Peter calls Noah a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). The Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:19 – another name for the Holy Spirit) empowered Noah in those days to proclaim condemnation and salvation (Hebrews 11:7).

“In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him Who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God” (1 Peter 4:4-6). Keep in mind that it does not say the gospel was preached to them while they were dead, but that those who are dead have heard the gospel. Big difference. Everybody’s heard, and all are without excuse.

Some people will also cite Ephesians 4:9, but “lower parts of the earth” doesn’t mean a cave or hell or subterranean area. It’s a phrase used by Paul to describe how great the distance is from the glories of heaven to the dust of the earth: the “lowly earth” would be a better translation.

“…I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:18). Jesus didn’t have to go to Hell to get the keys, because the enemy himself never had the keys. It’s a place created for punishment of the devil and his angels; he is not lord there (2 Peter 2:4). “The last enemy to be abolished is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). “…our Savior Jesus Christ, Who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

Why is crazy bearded preacher maniac so opposed to Jesus going to Hell? There’s another scene that captures my attention even more…

Jesus, on the cross, receives the full wrath of God. No need for a descent into Hell. After receiving the wrath of God for our sin (just as boundless and unimaginable as His love for His Son), Jesus commits His Spirit to God (Luke 23:46). What happens after that? Does the Father throw His Spirit into Hell? We have a Scripture that tells us what happens to His Spirit.

The cross is where the work of salvation and atonement occurred; not Hell. “It is finished” (John 19:30) occurred on the cross, not in Hell. There was no need for Him to descend.

“For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13,14). After the cross, Jesus’ Spirit made appearance before the throne of God and offered the blood of Christ for our sins, a sacrifice the Father was more than willing to accept, since it came from His Beloved Son (the only One in the universe God is pleased with).

Just because the Catholic Church has taught Jesus descended into Hell doesn’t make it so. But what do I know? I’m just a little desert rat trying his best to hide in Christ.

1 comment:

XtnYoda said...

Free will...a wonderful segue into those who hold to the myth. As you wonderfully report, it is a myth of disastrous proportions.

I was sharing recently of the meaning of "redeemed." Bought by the blood, with emphasis on "bought" "property" and Jesus is the owner. Then had fun singing for the folks, with that understanding, "Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it..." Laughing I reminded them we are actually singing, "I've been bought by the blood of Jesus, I'm his possession and I'm his slave to do with me as He pleases...and have me do whatever He pleases!"

I actually think they heard me?

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