Life + Culture

Breaking Free from the Anti-Gospel of Insecurity

Breaking Free from the Anti-Gospel of Insecurity

It was one of the seven wonders in the ancient world, a must-see attraction, stunningly beautiful and majestic — the Taj Mahal of the first century.

The Roman temple of Diana (or the temple of Artemis, as it was known to the Greeks) stood 425-feet long and 220-feet wide, with a bright white marble roof held in the sky by 127 dazzling white marble columns, each 62-feet high. By comparison, it dwarfed the Parthenon, pictured above (a meager 225 by 100 by 34).

The temple of Artemis functioned as a religious center for animal sacrifices, and it doubled as a political center and as the central credit bank of Asia. With these religious and financial powers in play, it became the unavoidable gravitational center that attracted masses to Ephesus, “the metropolis of Asia.”

A Magnet City

With the power-base of the temple so close, the large city of Ephesus became a magnet. Artemis was the goddess of fertility, magic, and astrology, and her temple made Ephesus into a collecting pool for every form of superstition — attracting magicians, witches, necromancers, and clairvoyants from across the known world.

Added to this, and for reasons I do not understand, the temple grounds also served as a safe place of amnesty and asylum for felons. Any criminal within 200 yards of the temple was free from arrest.

While Ephesus may have been the epicenter of necromancy, exorcism, and magic for all of Asia, it also enticed criminals, politicians, financiers, religious leaders, and artists. With the temple so close, Ephesus became a cultural center, a Louvre of art, a Sweden of asylum, a Mecca of religious pilgrimage, a D.C. of politics, a Wall Street of finance, and a Diagon Alley of magic — and all of this in one metropolis.

Particularly with the lure of magic, Artemis’s temple cast its shadow over the booming city and over its citizen and visitors who were preoccupied by the attempt to daily manipulate the spirit-world through rituals, incantations, and invocations. The constant appetite for superstition fueled commerce and tourism and it kept the city silversmiths wealthy and busy as they tried to keep up with the demand for amulets and shrines.

Magic was a major commodity flowing from Ephesus, and enchantment was one of its main attractions.

The culture of Ephesus cast a spell of insecurity and anxiety over everyone. The person whose worldview is governed by magic must face the daily insecurity of a wallet stretched to manipulate spiritual forces. And a shopping list is not cheap when filled with horoscopes, amulets, potions, magical words, and spells.

As history bears witness, pandering worthless trinkets to the insecure is big business. And it’s a business the gospel will undermine in due time.

Paul in Ephesus

In Ephesus, needy sinners were trapped within this vain, oppressive vortex of this temple that fed deeper and deeper insecurities of life. And it was this need that also attracted the apostle Paul to the city where he labored for three years (a stint recorded in Acts 18:23–21:17).

Paul knew Ephesus well. He knew the people well. He knew the needs well. And — not surprising to anyone who knew the culture — he knew the gospel would spark some epic power encounters.

The stories out of Ephesus are striking.

There’s the seven sons of Sceva, exorcists who attempted to enhance their magical powers by evoking the name of Christ, which ended badly for them (Acts 19:13–16).

And there are the converts who repented of their magic and made a collective bonfire from their exotic library of magic books full of spells (Acts 19:17–20).

And of course, there was the local silversmith union that gathered together, revolted, and stirred up a riot because Paul’s gospel was destroying their temple-driven market for magic trinkets (Acts 19:23–40).

And there’s one of the great paradoxes that played out on the streets of Ephesus. The same gospel that makes trinketeers insecure (Acts 19:27) is the same gospel that gives security to sinners who give up their trinkets and spells for security in Christ (Acts 19:18–20).

The Security of Election

Later, from chains in a prison he could not escape, Paul reflected back on his ministry in Ephesus, a ministry full of memories of wrestling demons and battling beasts.

Paul took up the pen to write his Epistle to the Ephesians, a key city with a small and young church (which Paul paradoxically calls a “holy temple”).

Paul’s letter is his most devoted teaching on spiritual power and spiritual warfare because it was written by an apostle who knew his readers well, and who knew all about the baggage of Ephesian culture, and who knew he was speaking to believers coming out of a background dominated by pagan superstitions, and who yet still lived within their city as salt and light.

And speaking into this context, Paul begins with election (Ephesians 1:3–10).

His language is clear and strong. He labored to ensure these points were not lost on the precious saints who lived inside Ephesus:

  • In Christ we have been elected as Sons of God.
  • In Christ we have been given free access to every spiritual blessing.
  • In Christ our eternal destiny is secured forever, vulnerable to no one.

For Paul, for the Ephesian believers, and for us, the precious doctrine of election is a matter of great earnestness, because it is essential for our security in a cultural marketplace bent on breeding uncertainty and insecurity in our lives.

The Necessity of Election

The Ephesians who continued to live under the shadow of the Artemis temple needed another reminder of God’s electing love in Christ. Scholar Clint Arnold writes,

Those who were accustomed to paying a great deal of money to a local magician for a spell to break a bad horoscope or to thwart the impact of astral spirits on their lives would find Paul’s teaching remarkable and moving. Their fate does not rest with capricious and hostile spirit powers populating the heavenly realms. Their fate and their eternity rest in the hands of the one true God, who has chosen them to be in a relationship with him before the hostile spirit beings even came into existence. Their future is secure and blessed because of their election in Christ and their present dynamic relationship to him. (Ephesians, 83)

These cultural pressures give divine election a daily significance for God’s people.

The Ephesian believers lived in the constant hum and noise of empty promises and empty trinkets, of spells and magic that preached the anti-gospel of perpetual insecurity.

So how do we break the power-plays of those who hold the books of spells? And how do we break the culturally-rooted strongholds that oppress the poor and make wealthy the trinketeers? How are the spells and magic made a sham? On what basis will we relinquish the human ambition to manipulate the spirit world of the gods for our material gain?

How?

The answer can only be found in Christ, in whom we are elect (Ephesians 1:3–10).

Election is not a pet doctrine of Paul, or a disconnected debate for speculation and theological debate.

Every culture has its trinket-driven-security of horoscopes, lottery tickets, luck, and karma. And election in Christ is the life-giving hope that sets us free from our culture of insecurities.


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