I have spent much time on the idea of the eternal decrees of God and how God’s actions in eternity relate to human action in time. In today’s post, I intend to focus on what Scripture has to show us about the believer’s coming to faith in Christ...that there is a real passage of time in which, as we come to faith, God changes His relationship toward us (from one of wrath to one of love). I’ve already done some exegetical work in Hebrews 11:6, showing that the Lord “becomes a rewarder” to those who seek Him (the word used is “ginomai,” meaning “to become”). To start off the post, I’d like to quote the words of Scripture itself:
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2) in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3) among whom we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4) But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5) even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6)and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7) that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-7, NKJV).
These first seven verses of Ephesians chapter 2 concern what philosophers call “tensed facts.” William Lane Craig defines the term:
“Second, we need to define what we mean by a ‘tensed fact.’ We are all familiar with tense as it plays a role in language. THE FUNCTION OF TENSE IS TO LOCATE SOMETHING IN RELATION TO THE PRESENT. Although most of our ordinary language is tensed, there are occasions on which we employ sentences that are grammatically in the present tense to express what are really tenseless truths. For example, we say such things as ‘Lady MacBeth commits suicide in act V, scene V,’ ‘The glass breaks easily,’ ‘The area of a circle is ∏r^2,’ ‘Centaurs have the body of a horse and the torso of a man,’ and ‘The 1996 presidential election is earlier than the 2004 presidential election.’...the information conveyed by a tensed sentence concerns not just tenseless facts [facts without respect to time, definition mine] but tensed facts as well, facts about how far from the present something is. Thus what is a fact at one moment may not be a fact at another moment. It is now a fact that I am writing this sentence; in a moment it will no longer be a fact. Thus the body of tensed facts is constantly changing” (William Lane Craig, “Timelessness & Omnitemporality,” from “God & Time: Four Views” by Gregory E. Ganssle, ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, pages 145-146).
Tensed facts show us facts (truths about everyday life) that are “tensed”---that is, contain a tense (whether past, present, or future). For example, the sentence “I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior” indicates that my salvation occurred in the past (notice the word “accepted,” which is in the past tense). If I say, “I will eat lunch,” then I am implying that the action (lunch) is of future occurrence (notice the verb “will eat”). Tensed facts not only show us truths, but give us the time such truths will occur in relation to where we are now. The present is the reference point for tensed facts---without it, we would not know how to relate to such information...for we would not know what day or time (or have a concept of time) in which we could act upon the information we have been given.
Using this definition of tensed facts, let’s now approach Ephesians 2. Does Ephesians 2 itself contain tensed facts? The answer is yes. Let’s start with verse 2. The verb for “you walked” is “periepatesate,” coming from two Greek words, “peri” (around) and “pateo” (to walk). The verb itself is also in the aorist tense, implying past action. Many verbs will occur in passages related to past time in the aorist tense. A.T. Robertson explains the aorist tense:
“The Greek in truth is ‘an aorist-loving language’ (Broadus)...In the koine the aorist is even more frequent than in the classic Greek...it is true that in THE EXPRESSION OF PAST TIME IN THE INDICATIVE...the aorist is the tense used as a matter of course, unless there was special reason for using some other tense” (A.T. Robertson, “A Grammer of the Greek New Testament In The Light of Historical Research, Fourth Edition.” Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934, page 831).
The aorist’s basic use as a tense is to demonstrate a past action (that something happened in the past). This is what Ephesians 2 will show us---that, according to the present time (in which the Ephesians are saved), there was a time before (in the past) when they were not saved. And all the verbs will appear in the past tense.
The second verb in verse 2, “working,” is the verb “energountos,” which is a present participle (verb + the letters “ing”). The Greek word before “energountos” in the Greek text is “nun,” which means “now.” So the rulers of the powers of the air, that which “is now working” in the sons of disobedience. The verb “working” and the adverb “nun” (now) contrasts the sons of light (i.e., Ephesian believers) with the world (sons of disobedience) and the fact that the Ephesians (in the past) did what the world (sons of wrath) are “now” doing.
In verse 3, “we conducted ourselves” is the Greek verb “anastrephemen,” which is the aorist form of “anastrepho” (meaning “to turn back” or “to live” or “to conduct oneself”). Once again, the aorist tense tells us that the Ephesians, in reference to the present, dealt with sin in the past.
Verse 5 presents us with the verb “made us alive,” which in the Greek is the word “sunezopoiesen.” The verb itself is a compound verb, consisting of the words “sun” (with) and “zoe” (life) and “poieo” (to make). We are not just made alive in Christ, we are “made to live with Christ.” The verb, once again, is aorist, indicating past tense. The Ephesians, in other words, are currently “in Christ”---but at one point in the past, they experienced their first moment of conversion (they were saved in the past, and they are now “being saved”).
I cover the Greek grammar here to show you that the very words of Scripture point to tensed facts (that is, that the Ephesians “once walked” in sin, but “have been made alive” with Christ). The question I leave you with is, “If these words are truly sincere, then what about unconditional election?” As I’ve stated before, to affirm an “unconditional” election is to affirm that certain individuals are chosen by God prior to time (“time” being a condition, so “unconditional” means “without time”, signaling eternity). If individuals are saved from eternity, then how is it that they could actually have walked in darkness and been “dead in trespasses in sins” (Eph. 2:1)? How then, could the Ephesians have been “made alive in Christ” if they were saved from eternity? Once again, let me state that I am not arguing against eternal decrees; what I am arguing against is the idea that certain individuals were decreed as saved “without regard to time itself.” If God actualized the world in history, as John Piper says, and time itself was created along with the world, then why would God have already determined who would and would not accept Him?
If there is real relationship between God and man with regard to time, then to affirm God chose certain individuals outside of time is to affirm a logical impossibility. As I’ve stated before, those who hold to unconditional election affirm that the decree of election comes logically PRIOR to the decree to send Christ; what does this mean? That God elects sinners, not believers...by so stating, Calvinists (and Molinists) stipulate that God was more concerned with their election than dealing with sin. So, again, I ask, how could the Ephesians have ever been “dead in trespasses and sins”? I’ll continue with the series in my next post.