Monday, July 20, 2015

PAUL'S MOST ASTOUNDING SENTENCE (PART 3)

(Please first read parts 1 and 2. To see them, scroll down or click on the titles on the right side of the web page)

A Spiritual Mountaintop Experience

In yet another letter that Paul wrote, this one to the church in Corinth, the apostle tells about a glimpse he had of spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. As a way of speaking modestly, he speaks in the third person, as if this were an experience of someone else. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that this was Paul’s own vision: 

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago – whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows – such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows – was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4 NAS) 

Whatever all was entailed in this experience, it was,
for Paul, a glimpse of something other than this present physical life that we experience every day. It was something beyond this present existence. Thus, when he wrote to the Ephesians about spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ, he was speaking from more than the theoretical. For Paul, it was also experiential. He himself confessed that he did not know how it all had happened, or even if it was in his physical body or not, but he had been transported to a spiritual summit and is telling us a little bit of how the view was from up there.

Another Christian, in a similar situation and given this experience and special revelation from God, might claim that he possessed a privileged spiritual position for themselves because of it. Indeed, Paul recognized that this was an experience that few men would have. It is not that he discounted the importance of this revelation, but one of the reasons that he spoke about this experience in the third person was so that he would not become proud because of it.

If we wish to learn something from the perspective that Paul gives us, then we must be prepared for some exhausting climbs. As we continue in the letter to the Ephesians, we find that we are about to begin one.
 
A Choice that was Made in Eternity Past 

            Here is how Paul continues as he writes to the church in Ephesus:

… Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should 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. (Ephesians 1:4-5a NAS)  

We have been likening our study of these first verses of Ephesians as climbing a mountain in order to obtain the perspective from the summit. It is only from the summit that we are able to see clearly the lay of the land. Things that seem confusing and even contradictory when we see them at ground level become more evident when viewed from above.

Here, in the verses I just quoted, the apostle introduces us to some concepts that, as we view them from ground level, we cannot understand. So impossible for us to comprehend these things now, that many people reject them completely. Predestination is one of those concepts. In whatever way that you, yourself, may look at the teaching of predestination, we at least owe it to ourselves and to Paul to try to see and to understand what he meant when he said that believers have been predestined to adoption.

First of all, Paul says that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. I am afraid that this is something that is completely beyond our comprehension. The first thing that we may think about is our own existence as individuals. As far as our understanding is concerned, we did not come into existence as persons until we were conceived in the womb of our mother.
 
But Paul is telling us something different here. He is saying that our conception in our mother’s womb, at least in some ways, was not our beginning. Our own conception, of course, happened long after the foundation of the world. Yet Paul tells us that we were chosen before the earth was established.

As we think of the mind of God, we are not at all sure what all of this means to us. Certainly, it should not surprise us that in eternity past, God already knew of our eventual existence. We may not be able to explain how he could have this vast knowledge, but if we accept that he is God, then we also recognize that he in infinite in existence and knowledge. Thus, even if we do not understand how God could know us before we existed, at least it should not be difficult for us to accept this truth.

But that which troubles some people is not the fact that God knew of our existence from eternity past. Rather, it is the fact that Paul says that from that time, God chose us and predestined us for adoption. To some this seems unacceptable, since it is thought that if God did the choosing and if it was predetermined who would be adopted into the family of God, then all human choice is taken out of the matter.

We can see now, why this first ridge in our climb up the
mountain is a difficult one. It will require of us much discipline and an inward assurance that it will be worth the effort.
 
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I will put up the next part in two or three days. In it, we will begin to try and gain some of Paul's perspective on the subject of predestination

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