Monday, September 19, 2011

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 39: “For the Perfecting of the Saints” Ephesians

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 39: “For the Perfecting of the Saints”

The tenth book of the New Testament is generally considered to not have been written by Paul, but perhaps by one of his followers.  While tradition has it written by Paul around 62 AD, while imprisoned at Rome, most scholars believe it was written after 80 AD.   The earliest manuscripts suggest it was written to “the saints”, rather than to the Ephesians.  The author does not seem to know the people of Ephesus very well (Eph 1:15-16), which Paul would know intimately, given he spent several years there in his missionary efforts.  In fact, Marcion, a later Gnostic Christian leader, believed the letter was instead sent to the Laodiceans, given the content of the letter.

Two key themes are that the Church members should get along, be unified in the work of Christ, and that the body of Christ (the Church) should be kept pure.  Such concepts suggest that Paul’s letter is primarily focused on behavior rather than doctrine.  

Grace not Works
Ephesians 1-2

The epistle begins by telling us that we are “predestined” to be adopted children of God, having been chosen of God from “before the foundation of the world.”  In this sense, Paul is explaining that even before birth, Christ chose to save the world, adopting all as his own if they will but “be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph 1:4-5).  This fits in well with the LDS concept of fore-ordination.  We believe that before this mortal existence, we dwelt with God.  Satan and many angels rebelled against God and were cast out as devils.  Those who were not cast out, were then prepared to come to mortal life, in order to develop faith and faithfulness in Christ.  Those who are born upon the earth are “predestined” to come here and freely partake of the atonement of Christ.

Sin brings spiritual death.  We are no longer in the presence of God, even symbolically.  We are no longer holy.  But Jesus spiritually brings us back to life through grace (Eph 2:4-6).  

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).

Paul is speaking on two levels here.  First, the works required by the Law of Moses will not save us.  We can sacrifice animals all day long, be circumcised, and follow all the 613 points of the Mosaic law, and still not be resurrected nor brought back into God’s presence.

Instead, we are saved solely by the atonement of Christ.  Through our faith in Christ prior to this existence, we accepted him as Savior.  For this past faith, all those born into mortality will resurrect.  We are saved from physical death.  Through our faith in Christ in this life, we are saved from spiritual death and hell.  

It is a simple faith and repentance that is required to escape spiritual death and hell.  When Jesus was on the cross, he promised the repentant thief “To day thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  Paradise is a portion of the Spirit World, where the dead await the resurrection.  The thief would not have to suffer in Spirit Prison/hell for sins, because he already believed and repented of them (1 Peter 3:18-22, 2 Corinthians 12:1-4).

In the Book of Mormon, the rebellious Alma had a near death experience, in which he noted the intense suffering he went through in hell:  

“Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments....
And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:11-20).

There was no cause for him to pay for his sins.  Christ had already done so.  The only requirement was to believe and repent.  Once his repentance was complete, he was rescued.  

So it is with us in this life.  We have sinned and fallen from grace.  We return to grace, or life in Christ by believing on him, exercising faith, and repenting.  In the previous lesson on Romans, I discussed justification in regards to this process of salvation by grace.  We are made guiltless or without sin. We are reconciled with God through Christ (Eph 2:16).

From Sinner to Saint
Ephesians 2

With the discussion on justification, or to be made guiltless through Christ’s grace, Paul moves on to making us Saints.

“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph 2:18-22).
Once we are justified in Christ’s blood through faith in Christ and repentance, we are ready to join the Saints through baptism of water and the Spirit.  The Holy Ghost moves upon us, making a mighty change in us, causing us to “no more have disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:1-4).  As we grow spiritually, line upon line, from one level of grace to the next level of grace, receiving “grace for grace” even as Jesus did in his mortal life (D&C 93:11-14).

As the Spirit changes us, we keep the great commandments without fear nor pressure. We desire spiritual things, and to be like Christ.  We seek to be as the Saints, or righteous members of the body of Christ, his Church.  As “fellow citizens of the household of God”, we embrace the foundation Christ has built for us: “apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”

So, as we establish ourselves on Christ’s atonement and the teachings of both dead and living oracles of God, we grow in grace and righteousness.  We become sanctified and righteous, symbolically becoming “an holy  temple in the Lord.”

As we truly become as Christ is, a place where the Holy Spirit may reside, barriers break down between the Saints.  In the world, we see contention, arguments, hatred, spite, and enmity among families, peoples and nations.  Jews and Gentiles were often divided in Paul’s day.  But with the covenant of Christ, they were now one house of God.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, we learn:
“the establishment of a community of salvation welcoming within its fold both Jews and Gentiles without distinction, the Death of Christ having broken down the middle wall of partition, i.e. the Law, and both sections of the human race having thus been reconciled to God so as thenceforth to form but one body, one house, one temple, of which the apostles and Christian prophets are the foundation and Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 1:16-2:20)”

Not only does Christ break down the partitions of the Law of Moses, but every other wall that separates mankind. For example, in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, a giant gulf separated the two dead men.  In Luke 16, we find that Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham (Paradise), while the rich man suffered in hell (Spirit Prison). With the resurrection and atonement, Jesus bridged that gulf, so that even the rich man can have a chance to believe and repent of his sins (1 Peter 4:6, 3:18-22).  As people believe in Christ and are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, they are no more strangers, but family.  

Pass through any Christian congregation that is filled with the Spirit and you will find a united people with compassion, love and kindness.  Glance at the world we live in today, and you will find discord, contention, hatred, war, violence, and sin.  Whether in politics, in many religions, sports, etc, there is a continual strife.

Among the first things the resurrected Christ taught the Nephites was:
“And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.
And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:27-30).

The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one in all attributes. The only difference in them is they are separate persons or personages. Such is the example we are given from the Godhead.  We must be united in faith, hope and charity in Christ.  That our sainthood and holiness must be founded upon apostles and prophets, with Christ as the chief cornerstone, makes perfect sense.  To the faithful Latter-day Saints, the Lord stated:

“he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;  And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:36-38).

On the other hand, Satan thrives on contention.  His is a house divided, whereon he can master all within the house by keeping them at odds with one another.  We must seek to be united, as Paul and Jesus taught, or we cannot be of the household of God and dwell as saints with Christ.

Paul as the least of the saints
Ephesians 3

Paul then describes his role in this wonderful plan of salvation, unity and reconciliation.  His responsibility is to bring the gospel and  the mysteries of godliness to the Gentiles.  What once was the sole domain of the Jews would now go forth throughout the world!  The Gentiles would become joint-heirs with the Jews of all that God wished to give mankind.

Paul’s greatest hope was:

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph 3:17-19).

Only as a Saint, one who is justified in Christ (made guiltless) and sanctified in the Spirit (made holy) can know of Christ’s love and to receive “all that the Father hath.”

How to be ONE
Ephesians 4

For the Saints to truly be Saints mean there must be one way of doing things. There really is only “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5).  Yet, while not everyone is ready just now to be a saint and have a fullness of God’s blessings, they can still receive grace.  “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph 4:7).  We see that levels of grace are given to those who seek, according to the level they are ready and willing to receive.  Again, we move from “grace to grace” receiving “grace for grace” (D&C 93) as we become more and more sanctified and perfected in Christ, even until we receive a fullness.  

As Alma noted:
“the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true” (Alma 29:8).

Becoming a saint, becoming one, is a process.  It does not occur the moment we believe, the moment we are baptized, nor the moment the Spirit first touches our hearts with pure testimony.  And God has provided helps to guide us in the process of becoming one.

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:11-15).

Not only is the Spirit given to us to guide us along, but men called from God are sent to assist us.  There are many  evangelists, pastors and teachers in the world that help much of mankind to live better lives, guiding them according to the knowledge they have received.  The more grounded they are in the Bible and the whisperings of the Spirit, the more they can help their flocks become unified in Christ.  

Interestingly, the first two noted by Paul, namely apostles and prophets, are in a class of their own. Anciently, God “only revealed his secrets through his servants, the prophets” (Amos 3:7).  Moses, Isaiah, and other prophets foresaw the coming of Christ, and prepared the hearts of the people in their day.  The prophet John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord’s mortal ministry, which began with his own baptism.  Paul believed the prophecies of Agabus, the prophet. John the Revelator saw in vision that the events of Armageddon in the last days will include two prophets in Jerusalem.  And in the midst of all this, the Lord called twelve special prophets, named “apostles.”  These would be special witnesses of the resurrected Lord.  Paul would also be such a special witness, having seen the Lord Jesus in vision.  His witness would be retold several times by him in the scriptures, and countless other times by those who read his account and believe.

Today, the Lord has again called forth apostles and prophets to join their voices with the ancient ones.  Through Joseph Smith, the Lord restored the priesthood callings of apostle and prophet. Today, we enjoy the blessings of listening to modern prophets and apostles.  They are special witnesses of the resurrected Christ, inviting us to repent and believe, inviting us to become united as saints of God.

Their voice is given us to enhance and add greater things of God to the voice of the wonderful pastors, priests, and teachers that preach faith in Christ throughout the world.  The teachings of modern prophets and apostles include the teachings of the temple, wherein we learn the mysteries of godliness, and the highest form of unity.  

If Paul was the actual author of Ephesians, then the Jerusalem temple still stood.  If not, then the temple had been destroyed for at least a decade or more.  Either way, the author would have known the workings of the temple.  He would have understood the importance of using it as a symbol for those seeking to be saints.  Symbolically or literally, the temple must be founded on Christ as the cornerstone, with apostles and prophets as foundation.  In this way, the people know how to follow Christ in unity.  There are no major variations of doctrine that can twist and toss members around in vain contentions.  We will not all come to a full “unity of faith” until we all repent and embrace the living prophets and apostles of Christ.  That probably will not occur until His 2nd Coming.

In the meantime, those LDS saints who enter the modern temples of God, learn that it really is the “House of God” and a place where “the Spirit of God like a fire is burning.”  In the process of receiving sacred rites for oneself or vicariously for one’s ancestors, we find a oneness.  Individuals are united across the ages into eternal families.  The dead in the Spirit World, who never had the chance to hear of Christ’s grace in mortality, are given the chance to accept a baptism done on their behalf.  Passing through rooms that represent the gloom and contention of earth life, we symbolically rise to higher levels of grace and glory, until we are taken into the Celestial Room and enjoy fellowship with God and Christ in the perfect union of oneness.


Ephesians - wikipedia:

Ephesians - New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:

Ephesians -  Early Christian Writings:

“The Spirit of God”, LDS hymn #2:

No comments: