The Will and Glory of God in Salvation

Making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland

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The Will and Glory of God in Salvation

Gideon, my nearly two year old son, has learnt several new tricks.

Even though he cannot yet talk (beyond shouting out random single syllable words, ‘duck’ as he points at the TV, ‘wack’ as he waves his arms madly and ‘clock’ as he points unnervingly to my eye), he has picked up a number of uncanny impressions.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for the geeks among us), all these impressions are Star Wars orientated.

Although, living in Manchester in 2009, this serves no useful purpose, in the right environment this skill could be used to great benefit.

Were I to wheel him out at a Star Wars convention, for instance, his Yoda, Darth Vader and R2D2 impressions would, no doubt, draw a crowd. And I am convinced, as his father, I would be in the position to bask in the reflected adulation of the aforementioned crowd.

Any parent knows that this is a natural result of any parent/child relationship. Little Charlie throws a fit in the middle of the restaurant and we face acute embarrassment. This is a strange thing, little Charlie is the one with the spoon wedged up his nose bawling his eyes out, but it is Mummy and Daddy who face the embarrassment.

Similarly, little Charlie grows up and storms his A-Levels and maybe goes on to study medicine. Now Mummy and Daddy are walking a little taller, smile a little brighter and shoulders a little lighter…

Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians with his typical formula,

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (Ephesians 1:1)

‘By the will of God…’

There is backstory to this that adds force to Paul’s assertion.

We find the first mention of the Apostle Paul in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. Luke recounts the death of Stephen, an evangelist and deacon in the early church who was stoned to death for openly proclaiming the gospel. Luke tells us that, as the crowd crushed this godly man to death, Paul was stood watching the coats of those who did the killing and that he stood there approving of Stephen’s execution (Acts 7:56-8:1).

We then read that this murder sparks off an explosion of violence against Christians and that Paul was actively and savagely involved and set on the destruction of Church and the persecution of believers.

Unsurprisingly the church scattered and fled Jerusalem. Luke tells us that Paul then sought permission to hunt down believers as they fled underground.

But then something strange, marvellous and shocking takes place. As Paul is travelling to Damascus to execute his plan and round up believers, a bright light explodes out of nowhere and Paul is knocked to the ground, the voice of Jesus resounding, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ (Acts 9:4).

Something miraculous, astounding and shocking occurred on that road to Damascus. Christian-killer, became Christ-proclaimer, Christ-hater became Christ-servant. John Calvin, the great Reformer, writes of the outrageousness of this event,

For which it was the more incredible that he could be so suddenly tamed. And whereas such a cruel wolf was not only turned into a sheep, but did also put on the nature of a shepherd, the wonderful hand of God did show itself therein manifestly.[1]

We return then to Paul’s assertion that he is an apostle, and moreover, a believer in Christ, ‘by the will of God’ and this then becomes the answer to anyone who might challenge his authority.

The first century church might ask, ‘Why should we listen to anything Paul has to say?’ Because Paul is appointed an apostle, ‘by the will of God’. We might ask why we should submit to the authority of a first century Jew removed thousands of years from our own culture and experience? Paul replies, through the ages, that he is appointed an apostle, a messenger of God, by the will of God.

For this reason, we submit to apostolic authority as communicated through the Holy Scriptures. When Peter, John, Paul and the others write, they are writing commands from the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37).

And because of this divine calling and heavenly appointment God receives the glory for Paul’s salvation, ministry and fruitfulness. Paul recognises and returns to this truth again and again,

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16)

Paul is a walking example of the grace, mercy and loving kindness of the God and, as people see him and all he is in Christ, the effectiveness of the gospel is clearly seen and Christ is glorified.

Paul will continue, in Chapter 1, to set out God’s glorious plan for salvation and we find that the purpose of our rescue and the end of our obedience is the glory of God; we too are saved ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’ (Ephesians 1:8).

He is our Father and we are his children. We are saved and called to serve in accordance with the will of God. All of this, you and I, our rescue in Christ Jesus, our ministries and our acts of service are all purposed and intended to bring him maximum glory.

I pray that we would see him and all we are in him that we may be ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’.

[1] John Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005), p. 367