At the heart of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism lay the insurmountable chasm between God’s sovereign election versus human self-determination.
Calvinism: According to traditional Protestant/Reformed understanding, God “chose” us purely out of His grace alone, predestining the chosen for salvation and then putting in them both ability to chose salvation the irresistible desire to come to Him. The bottom line is that salvation of the individual is God’s choice, depended solely on His sovereign grace, unmerited by anything we do; Christians obtain saving faith as a result of God’s special, electing grace which He gave as a gift to His elect.
Arminianism: On the other side, most Evangelical and nearly all Charistmatic/Pentecostal churches teach the we are not God’s “elect” (as the Bible refers to believers) but rather we are ultimately His electors, with God having “looked down the corridors of time” (as it’s often phrased) and having allegedly chosen us precisely because He knew we’d choose Him. The bottom line is that salvation of the individual is the individual’s sole choice, which then merits God’s response; Christians obtain saving faith by exercising the (“provenient”) grace with which they were born.
Ephesians 1:3-14 clearly favors one of these teachings. Which one?
Years ago I was challenged to examine the Reformed understanding. I was quickly overwhelmed with how the whole of Scripture stacked against the Evangelical “free will” belief. The Arminian side has verses (or just as often, fragments of verses), whereas the Reformed scholars has vast swaths of Scripture in their favor. Ephesians 1:3-14 is such a block of powerful Scripture that, because of its un-dissectible, integral construction, can be neither ignored or explained away–perfect integral logic.
But if individual salvation rested chiefly upon our choice and God’s subordinate response, if our choice merited our salvation and if the inheritance we have in salvation hinged upon a gift we ultimately chose for ourselves, then how would Ephesians 1:3-14 read? If we replaced God’s action in Ephesians 1:3-14 with our own actions, God’s sovereign election with our free will choice, then how would Ephesians 1:3-14 have been constructed?
Below, on the left, is Ephesians 1:3-14 with God, His actions and the results highlighted in red and unchanged from the ESV. On the rights is a version with those exact same passages, but replacing God’s choice with man’s choice, replacing God as the actor with man as the actor and at attendant results thereof.
The intellectually honest Arminian, though frustrated at the exercise, will find little over which to disagree given the foundational (and very Arminian) changes in verses 4 and 5.
|Ephesians 1:3-14 (ESV)||Ephesians 1:3-14 (Free Will Version)|
|3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,||3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,|
|4even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.||4even as We chose ourselves in Him, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.|
|In love 5He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, 6to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He blessed us in the Beloved.||In free will 5We destined ourselves for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of Our will, 6to the praise of Our glorious free will, with which We blessed ourselves in the Beloved.|
|7In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, 8which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.||7In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the results of our choice, 8which We lavished upon ourselves, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to him the mystery of Our will, according to Our choice, which We set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.|
|11In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.||11In Him we have chosen a reward, having been predestined according to the will of We who choose all things according to the counsel of Our will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of Our glory.|
|13In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.||13In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were offered the promised Holy Spirit, 14who represents the possibility of our reward until we finally earn it, to the praise of Our glory.|