The Privilege of the Mystery
in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. (3:12–13)
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ we can freely come to God and share in all of heaven’s unfathomable riches. In Judaism only the high priest could enter the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, and that but briefly once a year on the Day of Atonement. For anyone else to come into God’s presence meant instant death. But now, Paul says, every person who comes to Christ in faith can come before God at any time and with boldness and confident access. That is the privilege within the mystery of the church. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15–16).
We are not to be flippant or irreverent but are to come to the Lord with an honest, open heart—in freedom of speech and freedom of spirit. Confident access is trust that knows no fear of rejection, because we belong to Him (cf. 1 Tim. 3:13).
In light of such great privilege, Paul says, I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. In and through every circumstance of His children, God works His goodness, blessing, and glory. Apparently many believers grieved over Paul’s extended years of imprisonment and over the almost continual suffering he endured because of his ministry. But “I consider that the sufferings of this present time,” he explained to the Roman believers, “are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). And Paul’s suffering turned out for the honor rather than the disgrace of those to whom he ministered (cf. Phil. 1:12).
12 Though the connection to v. 11 is not obvious, perhaps Paul here explains the consequences of this divine purpose. Not merely expressing a future promise, the verb echomen (lit., “have”; GK 2400) occurs in the present tense and stipulates believers’ present, ongoing possession of two benefits—parrēsia (NIV, “freedom”; GK 4244) and prosagōgē (NIV, “approach”; GK 4643)—with confidence. The first outcome, parrēsia, has several possible senses: frank speech; openness to the public; or boldness, confidence, courage. (This third option is most likely here and in 6:19; cf. BDAG, 781.) Christians now possess a bold sense of courage in their relationship with God. They no longer cower in fear, nor are they any longer demoralized by their shameful pasts. Second, prosagōgē signifies “access.” (Recall Paul’s use of this word in 2:18.) Along with many commentators, we probably ought to see these two nouns—“boldness” and “access”—governed as they are by one article, as a hendiadys, meaning “bold access” or “access to God in boldness” (NRSV). “Access” has a prepositional phrase modifying it—“with confidence.” This reduces to “confident access” to God (the word for “confidence,” pepoithēsei, GK 4301, is a synonym of parrēsia). All told, Paul seems to say that in Christ believers possess the ability to enter God’s presence in a bold and confident way (NIV, “with freedom and confidence”). Not even hostile powers, as formidable as they are, can deny believers access to God.
How has this remarkable state of affairs come about? Paul answers with two prepositional phrases. In Greek the verse begins with “in him” and ends with “through faith [in or of] him.” First, as we’ve come to expect in Ephesians, only by incorporation into Christ do people possess this confident access. Faith is the second key (recall 1:13; 2:8). But it is literally the “faith of him.” The genitival case “of him” puts us in a familiar dilemma. If an objective genitive, then believers have confident access to God through their faith in Christ (the option adopted by the NIV, NRSV, and the majority of interpreters). By placing their trust in Christ as the object of their faith, they have obtained salvation in Christ. Alternatively, if the use is possessive or subjective (“his faithfulness”), then believers enjoy this access to God through Christ’s faithfulness to his calling and to his task to redeem. The KJV retains the unmarked original Greek—“the faith of him”—opting for neither alternative. Paul often uses faith in Ephesians with no object stated (2:8; 3:17; 6:16, 23), where believers clearly place faith or trust in God or Christ. Christ is often the object of faith in Ephesians (though admittedly Paul expresses it more clearly using the prepositional phrase “faith in the Lord Jesus” in 1:15; cf. Col 1:4). I slightly prefer the first option: we have access through our faith in Christ, though the alternative, Christ’s faithfulness, also has much to commend.
3:12 / Lest the readers conclude that the God who worked out this eternal plan is somehow removed from the everyday affairs of mankind, the apostle turns to a practical concern and reminds them that their union with Christ grants them the privilege of communicating with God (in him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence). The words in Greek are “boldness” (parrēsia), “access” (prosagōgē), and confidence (pepoithēsis). Parrēsia is used in the nt in the context of speaking, such as boldness in proclaiming the gospel (Acts 4:31; Eph. 6:20; Phil. 1:20) and confidence in approaching God (Heb. 4:16; 10:19).
Christians have that boldness in approaching God because their faith and union with Christ have given them confidence. In Christ, all barriers have been removed that would keep the believer from approaching God openly and confidently. Christ has revealed the Father as one who has forgiven his children and who loves them. B. F. Westcott aptly comments that “the right of address and the right of access are coupled together as parts of the right of personal communion with God” (p. 49).