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In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the apostle picks up where he left off in the doctrinal half of the book of Romans. In Romans 1-8 he expounds on the truth concerning the right standing of a sinner who, through baptism, has died and has risen again to newness of life (Romans 6:4). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul builds on that foundation, telling us that the believer is now seated with Christ in his throne.
Being delivered from the bondage of sin (Romans 7:23-25), what should then be our course of daily living? How does our new position in Christ change our way of life? Romans 8:16, 17 tells us that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” He also tells us that all of creation expresses an “anxious longing” (Romans 8:19) to experience the same glory that is currently seen in the believers. Christ and the believers are the first fruits of the harvest, giving hope to creation itself as a whole.
Paul concludes in Romans 8:36, 37 that we are more than conquerors, even when we are beaten down and slaughtered like sheep.
But then Paul turns to a new topic, expounding on the lost Israelites. We have to look at Ephesians to see Paul’s continuation of Romans 1-8. The eighth chapter of Romans lays the doctrinal foundations for his letter to the Ephesians.
Likewise, in Romans 16:25, 26, Paul mentions the “the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past but is now manifested.” Those mysteries (secrets) were set forth throughout the Old Testament but were little understood prior to the death and resurrection of Christ. For instance, the principle of sacrifice was well known and set forth in Leviticus, but the people were unaware that a suffering Messiah was to come as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
Under the Old Covenant, men thought that their salvation depended upon the will of man—that is, the fulfillment of man’s vow to God, as seen in Exodus 19:8. Salvation seemed to be conditional upon man's works. From our perspective today, if we understand the New Covenant, we see that our salvation is based on the Abrahamic covenant, not the Mosaic covenant. In other words, it is based on the promise of God, not the promise of men.
The promise to Abraham was well known throughout the Old Testament, but yet it remained a mystery in plain sight. Paul unfolds that mystery in Romans 1-8 and expounds upon it further in Ephesians 1:9, calling it “the mystery of HIS will.” This is why Paul started his letter with the fact that God “chose us” and “predestined us to adoption as sons” (Ephesians 1:4, 5).
Under the Old Covenant, we chose God; under the New Covenant God chose us. This is the core of the mystery that Paul unfolds for us in Ephesians. Everything else is a corollary to this basic revelation of the sovereignty of God. If we grasp this mystery, then we will be able to comprehend the rest of the secrets that most men have not understood since the beginning.
Unfortunately, the Church as a whole has had difficulty understanding this mystery, because they view the New Covenant as a function of man’s will. They tend to think that their salvation is based on their own will, their own decision to follow Christ, rather than seeing that their own will is a response to God’s will and His predestination. So they think that the New Covenant is where the Holy Spirit helps us to fulfill our Old Covenant promise (or vow) to God. They do not seem to realize that the Israelites at Mount Sinai believed that as well. They too vowed obedience by their own will and then prayed that God would assist them to fulfill their promise.
The Old Covenant saves no one, because it is based on the will of man. The New Covenant saves the entire creation, though not at the same time, because God is the One who made the promise and is responsible to keep His word. John 1:13 clearly says that our right to become children of God is “not of blood(line), nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
For this reason, Paul could speak in Romans 8:21 of the entire creation looking forward to the manifestation of the sons of God. Then the apostle confirms this in Ephesians 1:22, showing how all of creation will be subject to Christ in the end.
If salvation is left to the will of man, it could not help but fail, for by the Old Covenant God does not judge men by their good intentions but by their actual obedience which they promised Him. If salvation is based on the will of God, it cannot fail to save the entire creation in spite of the opposition of man’s will. We either believe this or not. We either have Abrahamic faith in God’s ability to keep His promise (Romans 4:21, 22), or we have faith that the Holy Spirit will help us to keep our promise to God.
The mystery of God has largely remained a mystery in the church throughout the Pentecostal Age. Though Paul expounded on this mystery, making it far clearer than in previous centuries, men have stubbornly refused to believe that God is sovereign. They have continued to place their faith in their own will, rather than in the will of God.
A strange blindness has settled on the church as a whole. It is a blindness where they think the New Covenant is just a revised Old Covenant vow. It is a blindness where they give lip service to God’s sovereignty yet make man the author of his own destiny and the destiny of creation. All sorts of mischief has come of this.