Sermon Notes: Ephesians 1:4-6 – To the Praise of His Glorious Grace
These are the notes of a sermon preached by Andy Evans on the morning of the 2 August 2009 at Firwood Church. Click here to stream or download the sermon audio.
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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, 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, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us 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 9 making 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.
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. 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.
1. INTRODUCTION – THE JUSTICE IN HIS CHOOSING
a. He chose us
Last week we considered the profound truth which underpins this glorious sentence (stretching from verse 3 through to verse 14). Moreover, the truth Paul set out for us, and we unpacked, is fundamental with regards to how we think about salvation and the Gospel and effects the way in which we understand God’s interaction with mankind and his dealings in this world.
This profound truth can be summarised as follows:
God, in eternity past, chose some for everlasting life without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in them, or any other thing in the person, as conditions, or causes moving Him to so act.
You would be quite right to challenge me on such a bold unequivocal statement and ask, ‘Where in Scripture do you find evidence of this?’ Evidence for three of the four propositional clauses can be found in Ephesians Chapter 1. Evidence for the fourth can be found elsewhere in Paul’s writings.
i. God, in eternity past, chose some for everlasting life…
In Ephesians Chapter 1, we find that, ‘he’, namely God, ‘chose us… before the foundation of the world’. Verse four continues to explain the outcome of this choosing (and it is this, in part, we shall consider this morning), ‘that we should be… before him’. Here, in one verse of this glorious Chapter we find God choosing those who believe, a people who will be before him and we find that this choosing took place at a particular moment in time, ‘before the foundation of the world’, in other words, in eternity past.
ii. …without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in them, or any other thing in the person, as conditions…
But where do we find evidence for the clause, ‘without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in them, or any other thing in the person, as conditions, or causes moving Him to so act’? It is, in truth, this aspect of the statement which is most controversial. This is the unconditional condition. It is this statement which asserts that God’s choosing, his election, is unconditional. This statement, which summarises the Doctrine of Unconditional Election, thus assert that God chooses a people for himself apart from any good within themselves, whether it be good works, faith or any other action they might undertake.
But where do we find evidence of this in Scripture?
The simple answer is everywhere.
We find evidence of this unconditional election in the Deuteronomy Chapter 7,
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you… (Deuteronomy 7:6-8a)
We find evidence of this in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8)
What is unclear from these passages, however, is how the timing of God’s sovereign choice in eternity past relates to the unconditional element of election. This becomes clear, however, in Romans Chapter 9,
…when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13)
Paul’s point of reference is the Old Testament account of Jacob and Esau, the warring twin brothers who became warring nations. Esau, of course, was the older of the two brothers and, as such, had a rightful claim to the birthright. Scripture recounts how Jacob, the trickster, conned his brother out of the birthright and claimed the inheritance for himself.
Paul recognises that this underhanded dishonesty was the means by which God’s sovereign will was effected. Moreover, Scripture is clear that God makes his sovereign choice before either Jacob or Esau were born so that it might be clear that election, God’s sovereign choice, is unconditional, ‘not because of works but because of him who calls’ (v. 11).
b. OBJECTION #4 – THAT IS SO UNFAIR!
It would be unfair to continue without now addressing a further objection to the Doctrine of Unconditional Election. Last week I considered three objections to the Doctrine of Unconditional Election, but intentionally left this, possibly the BIG objection, to one side.
Many, when faced with such passages of Scripture in which God chooses some, but not all, conclude that the idea God chooses in accordance with his sovereign will and without any precondition, seems arbitrary and unfair.
Paul anticipates and confronts this objection face on,
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:14-16)
And so we ask, ‘How can this be fair’? Or ‘How can we be confident that God’s sovereign choice is just and true?’ The answer to this question will frustrate some. God does not seek to persuade, debate or reason in the face of such opposition; rather he appeals to his own person and character and, with this, his divine prerogative:
I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. (Romans 9:15)
The answer to this (and every objection) is, quite simply, that God is God and you and I are not. It is for him to determine to whom he should show mercy, grace and compassion, which leads me to the second element in Paul’s response.
Our salvation depends wholly and solely on the mercy of God and his glorious grace.
Take a moment to reflect upon the truth of this and it to permeate to the very depths of your soul,
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Colossians 1:21-22)
And, from Ephesians,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5)
It is not that we were merely neutral and disinterested in our unbelief; rather we were in enmity towards God and in hostility towards the things of God. It was while we were still sinners that he stepped in and poured out grace and mercy.
The truth of who we were brings balance to our thinking. It is not that some remote, fickle God randomly chooses to save some and smite others without cause. Rather, at the heart of the Gospel stands the truth that a merciful and gracious God chooses to save radically depraved rebels from a fate they most fully deserve. Ultimately, those who are condemned get what they deserve and those of us who are saved do not get what we deserve.
All deserve judgement, wrath and hell and yet God, in mercy and compassion, chooses to fix his affection on some.
This is why the unconditional nature of election should give us great cause to celebrate and worship. Praise God that his calling is unconditional. Praise God that his choosing does not depend on good works, faith or anything within us. Praise God that his election is unconditional, born from the abundance of his great love, ‘In love he predestined us for adoption’ (Ephesian 2:4-5).
A failure to appreciate the horror of sin will result in an inability to grasp the wonder of grace. A failure to grasp the depths of our own depravity will cause us to question the judgement and purposes of God; we will see hell as an overreaction and we will see heaven as an entitlement.
May this never be so.
2. THE PURPOSE OF ELECTION
We are finite, limited and radically depraved creatures incapable of knowing God or his will outside of his own self-disclosure in his Word and without the enablement of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). Apart from this, such spiritual matters are sheer foolishness.
Such difficult and weighty matters should then drive us to him and cause us to meditate on his Word and I pray, as we do so, that he would melt away all resistance with the blindingly light of his glorious truth.
Last week we began to unpack this truth and found that God’s electing call is specific, he foreknew us (Romans 8:29). Furthermore, his call is intentional, he chose us in accordance with ‘the purpose of his will’ (Ephesians 1:5) and, as we have just considered, his call is motivated by a Father’s love (Ephesians 1:5).
In addition to all of this, however, his election is purposeful,
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4-6)
a. Holy and Blameless
Paul sets out the first of God’s purpose in electing a people for his own possession, he chose us ‘that we should be holy and blameless before him’.
This is monumentally important.
i. Be Holy
The word ‘holy’ in both the Old and New Testament literally means to be set apart. Furthermore, Scripture describes God as ‘holy’ on literally hundreds of occasions, for example,
Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! (Isaiah 6:3)
And, in the New Testament,
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come! (Revelation 4:8)
We understand then that God is holy because he is quite unlike anyone or anything else in existence. He is set apart. He is other.
But more that this, the word ‘holy’ also acts as a moral category. When we say that God is holy we also mean that his character and his actions are other and quite apart from anyone or anything else in existence.
Simply speaking, God is holy and perfect in both essence and action. This is why John is able to write so emphatically,
God is light and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5)
And there is, of course, a practical application in all of this. If we want to understand what it means to be holy and we want to understand what true holiness looks like, we look to God.
God is the standard.
Let me say this again, but this time addressed personally to you and to me. God is the standard of true holiness. We do not rely upon anything else in this world in order to determine what is right, good, just and true. We do not rely upon this world to show us what holiness looks like, we look to him. Consequently, our values, opinions and judgement-calls are subordinate to his truth, his standard and his holiness. We do not set our standard in accordance with parents, relatives or friends. Nor do we look to cultural standards or norms.
[For] it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:16)
This then is the link back into Ephesians Chapter 1 where Paul writes that God chose us ‘that we should be holy’.
ii. Be Blameless
In order to understand what Paul intends by the word ‘blameless’, we must first look to the Old Testament.
The word ‘blameless’ is most commonly used in the Old Testament in respect of sacrifice and the requirements for sacrificial animals. Before an animal was sacrificed to the Lord the priest would examine it to make sure that it was spotless, perfect and without flaw (Leviticus 1:3). It was not acceptable to sacrifice the scrawniest and scraggiest looking animal just to minimise the cost to yourself.
The requirement for sacrifice was so high for two reasons. Firstly, the flawless animal reflected the flawless character of God. Secondly, the sacrifice was supposed to cost something. Sacrifice on the cheap is no sacrifice.
Both the Law and the sacrificial system, of course, point towards Jesus,
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! (John 1:29)
Jesus is the Lamb of God and, as such, Jesus is blameless, without sin and without blemish or spot,
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:17-21, see also Hebrews 4:15 and 2 Corinthians 5:21).
And Paul writes, ‘he chose us that we should be holy and blameless’.
This is purposeful election. We were chosen to be holy and blameless. And this should inspire holy fear and great care with regards to our conduct for those of us who believe.
iii. Living in the Now
We were chosen that ‘we should be holy and blameless’. We must ask, then, what Paul intends by the word, ‘be’.
The ambiguity in the construction of this phrase in the original Greek is captured by the word ‘be’. Consequently, this phrase could refer to a present or future state. In other words, is the outcome of the choosing that we be holy and blameless now or at some future point in time?
The answer, I think, is both.
If you are a believer, chosen by God and born again, you are called to be holy and blameless now. This is stressed repeatedly throughout the New Testament,
[For] it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:16)
The holy ones (and if you are a Christian this is what you are) are called to live holy lives. We are called to be different, set apart, in the way that we live, handle relationships, earn and spend our money and treat one another. We are called to live in the world, but to live differently from those around us.
The question which follows from this is whether this holy and blameless living is one of the ‘every spiritual blessings’ described in verse 3 or a consequence (or more properly, our response) to such blessing? I think it is impossible to conclude anything other than this holiness is enabled by God under the subheading of ‘every spiritual blessing’ and it is here that we must exercise great care.
There is evidence throughout the Scriptures that our progressive sanctification is enabled by God, consider,
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3)
There is, however, a danger in such thinking.
Some of us tend to emphasise the truth that Christ imputes his righteousness to us and that our progressive sanctification is enabled by God. Both of these things are true. The problem arises when we use these two truths to excuse passive, lazy and ungodly living. There is a tendency within some areas of Evangelicalism to focus upon the receiving and abandon the pursuit of holy living and exertion in self-discipline.
This is utterly unbiblical.
Scripture repeatedly urges believers to pursue Christ; we are to run the race (1 Corinthians 9:24 and Hebrews 12:1-2) and to train ourselves in godliness, Paul disciplines his body (1 Corinthians 9:27). Similarly there are exhortations to work hard, Paul admits to working harder than any of the Apostles (1 Corinthians 15:10) and urges believers to kill sinful inclinations stone dead (Romans 8:13). It is not that we earn or secure our salvation through such actions, rather this is the natural response of a heart overwhelmed by the sheer mercy of God in salvation. It is that natural outworking of a saved soul astonished that he would choose me.
This is why I am greatly concerned when I see those who profess to be Christians and yet their backsides are melded to their leather couch, TV perpetually on and their bible still in the cellophane wrapper.
This is why I am greatly concerned when I see men and women who profess to bear the name of Christ and yet pander to sin and seem utterly disinterested in the study of his Word and the things of God.
My concern is not just that they are lazy (and they most certainly are), my concern is for their salvation. How can it be that they have received such mercy and yet refuse to serve, refuse to love and refuse to meet regularly with their brothers and sisters? How can it be that they have received such grace and yet continue to tolerate, pander and even revel in sin?
My concern is for their very soul.
Christians work harder than any other person alive. We work motivated by love and enthused in prayer. We work towards the furtherance of the gospel, and, in doing so, we understand that all of this is enable by the sheer grace and power of the God who loved us and chose us that we might be ‘holy and blameless before him’,
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
iv. Looking to the then
All of this is true; however, Paul has more that just the now in view,
…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him… (Ephesians 1:4)
We are called to value and pursue holiness now, but we live in anticipation of that Day when Christ will return for those who are his and we will be perfected. On that Day he will present us to himself as a beautifully adorned bride without spot or blemish,
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
We can be sure that he will return and, in the same way we can be confident that on that day we will be like him as he will transform us to be like him. Our glorification is assured because of all that he achieved on the cross and because of the sovereign will of God, who willed it all before the foundation of the world,
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
Paul understands that because our salvation is predestined (and, therefore, certain), we can be confident that we too are justified and that we will be glorified. So much so that he speaks of our glorification in the present tense. Our glorification is as sure as our predestination and justification. This should give us great confidence and assurance.
And, in all of this, God ‘predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers’. This leads me to my next point.
God purposed our salvation, predicated upon his sovereign election, that we might be ‘holy and blameless before him’, but, more than this, that we might become his children,
…In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:4-5)
In order for us to grasp the majesty and wonder of this truth we must first understand who we were before he rescued us,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Consider this: we too, like them, were sons of disobedience. We too followed the course of the world. We too were disciples of Satan, the prince of the power of the air. Moreover, because of our disobedience and rebellion, we were children of wrath; men and women under the just and righteous condemnation of a holy God.
Through Christ, however, and because of God’s great love for us through which he predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son, we were brought alive and supernaturally incorporated into the family of God. Once we were children of Satan, now we are sons and daughters of God. Once we were children of wrath, now we are his children whom he has richly blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
This should cause us to be overwhelmed with the glory of his mercy and grace. This should cause us to worship. This magnifies his name and causes his great fame to resound everywhere and at all times. And it is this which points us to the purpose of it all.
3. CONCLUSION – TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORIOUS GRACE
…In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 2:4-6)
The ultimate purpose of God’s great plan for salvation is that he should receive maximum praise.
It is important that we understand and embrace this truth.
As we considered last week, God is foremost in his own affections. This must be so or God becomes less than God. If God is the most worthy, most beautiful, most glorious being in existence, how could he love anything or anyone more than himself? It simply cannot be so.
As God is foremost in his own affections, his priority must be his own glory and fame. Salvation is, therefore, purposed to bring him maximum glory and fame. Let us make this personal, your salvation and my salvation is, first and foremost, for his glory and his fame.
But God intends his glory to be made manifest in a very specific way. He intends for us to be ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’. When God designs his plan for salvation his intention is to magnify a specific aspect of his character and for this to become the focus of his praise. He intends praise to focus upon his grace.
This realisation should change everything. This understanding should move us towards a deep appreciation and wonder of election and God’s purposes in the crucifixion of his Beloved Son. God is at work magnifying his grace. God is at work accentuating, elevating and displaying the gloriousness of his grace.
We look then to God’s purposes in unconditionally choosing a people for his own possession and we wonder how this could possibly be? How could the God of the universe choose wretched, God-despising sinners and rescue us despite ourselves? The answer, quite simply, is that God richly lavishes his grace that he might display the extravagant riches of his grace.
And we look to the cross, the slaughtered King, the suffering Messiah, our crucified God, and we ask, ‘How can this be?’ The answer is that God is displaying the glory of his grace for all the world to behold and wonder.
God’s glorious grace is displayed so clearly, most clearly, in his Son,
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. […] And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14, 16-18)
Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the Glory of God and displays his grace and his truth. And the moment we see this grace most clearly displayed is upon the cross. The cross is the apex of the Father’s self-disclosure of the glorious extravagance of his grace.
Come and see, all you people of the world, the crucified King and marvel at his glorious grace.
All this leads us to worship and our praise is directed toward a specific person, Christ Jesus, and our thanksgiving towards a specific event, the cross. And this will be the theme throughout eternity. We will praise him for the cross and we will glory in his glorious grace for all of time.
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)
 Paraphrase from the Westminster Confession of Faith, III.v