Up to this point I have not presented you with my understanding of the 5 points of Calvinism. The reason I have yet to do so is because I wanted to demonstrate that I desire to follow the teaching of the Bible. I like John Calvin – he was a brilliant guy who spent a lot of time in the Bible (as is evidenced by his 22 volume (!) commentary on the entire Bible); and I’ll agree with him insofar as his teaching lines up with my understanding of Scripture. That being said, I think that the teachings of this passage can be systematized into the 5 points of Calvinism (well, actually, I only see this passage as demonstrating 4 of those points, so we’ll leave the 5th alone).
The 5 points of Calvinism form the acronym TULIP (my favorite flower!).
We can summarize Ephesians 2:1-3 by saying that all people are born with an evil and corrupt nature which causes them to hate God and love sin. This is the first point of Calvinism “T,” Total Depravity.
Ephesians 1:5 says that God has “predestined us for adoption in Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Ephesians 2:4 says that God made us alive in Christ “because of the great love with which he loved us,” and this He did while we were “dead in our trespasses” and following Satan. From that, I gather that God saved us because He wanted to, not because of anything we have done. He did not save us based on His foreseeing our faith in Him; His choosing of us caused us to have faith in Him. This is the “U,” which stands for Unconditional Election.
In the 5 points of Calvinism “L” stands for Limited Atonement, which means that Jesus’ death is sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world; but even more than that, that His death effectively purchased the salvation of those who God had chosen to save. I don’t see this passage teaching this (okay, well, I might, I’m not sure yet, I’m still thinking through the implications of the word “with” in 2:5 and its relation to 1:15-22. But that could take a while!), and so I’m not going to argue for the truth of this point, since the verses we looked at don’t explicitly mention this.
[Also, as somewhat of a tangent, the term “limited” really turns me off. Furthermore, it is important to note that you are always in some way going to be “limiting” the extent of Jesus’ atonement. Arminians will generally say that Jesus died for everyone, but that His death did not effectively save anyone (and thus His atonement is “limited” in the sense that it does not effectively save anyone). Calvinists will generally say that Jesus died for everyone and that His death effectively saved those whom God wanted to save (and thus, His atonement is “limited” in that it does not effectively save everyone). For more on this point of Calvinism, John Piper has a lecture that was really helpful in explaining both sides of the issue, you can watch, read or listen to that lecture here: http://bit.ly/4UYhaP.]
Ephesians 1:5 says that God “predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ,” that He determined our destiny before we existed (that’s what the word “predestined” means) and God always accomplishes His will (see Job 42:2; Psalm 33:8-11, 115:3, and 135:6; Daniel 4:34-35…) so, if God wants to save someone, He can and will overcome that persons resistance (because we frequently resist God’s work, see Acts 7:51). From that I gather that, when He wants it to be, God’s grace is irresistible, that’s what the “I” stands for, Irresistible Grace.
Ephesians 1:13-14 says that we have been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” and that the Holy Spirit is the “guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” Ephesians 2:4-7 says that God “made us alive together with Christ… and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places,” note that Paul talks about our being seated with Christ in the heavenly places in the past tense, as if it had already happened. I believe Paul does that because he is sure that God will keep us saved. Furthermore, in this passage, the whole purpose of God making us alive together with Christ is so that “in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine). God always accomplishes his purposes (see references in the first sentence of the paragraph on Ephesians 1:5). In view of this, I believe that once God has saved someone, God will make sure that that person will not fall away from Christ (in the ultimate sense, they may fall away for a time, but God will then bring them back). We are responsible for continuing to trust in Christ’s death to make us right with God and God will ensure that we continue in our faith. This is what the “P” stands for, Perseverance of the Saints (or Preservation of the Saints).