This was the first week of the competition of the 1992 Winter Olympics. The most popular event in our household is the figure skating competition, followed closely by downhill skiing and ski jumping. As I watched the men and women during their final competition, I could not help but agonize whenever an athlete fell in the course of their program. In many cases, a single fall almost certainly meant the failure of the entire program being performed. While one might be able to remain in the competition, hopes for a gold medal are usually dashed by a single fall. Think of the years of sacrifice, of disciplined living and grueling practice all swept away by a single failure. It is no wonder that we all groan along with the contestant when a fall spells the end of ones hopes.
If a single failure in a 4 1/2 minute program can overturn years of hoping, planning, and work for an olympic skater, think of the possibilities for failure in a program which covers a time span from eternity past to eternity future, which includes fallen and unfallen celestial beings as well as fallible men. How can the Christian be certain that God’s program will not be overthrown by human failure, and that the promises of God concerning the future are certain? There is but one answer: A plan which is certain must cover every contingency and every detail of which is under the control of a sovereignty of God.
There is just such a plan, Which is certain to be fulfilled because it has been decreed by a sovereign God, who is both all-wise and all-powerful.
“This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:26-27).
Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isaiah 46:3-11).
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. “And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:22-24).
This is the plan which God determined before the foundation of the world.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you (1 Peter 1:18-20).
And it was given to him [the beast] to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain (Revelation 13:7-8).
A concise definition of God’s eternal plan is found in the Westminister Confession of Faith, which reads:
“God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”
Two of Paul’s epistles give considerable attention to the eternal plan of God as it pertains to the salvation of sinners. Each epistle approaches the subject of God’s plan of salvation from a very different perspective. Romans 9-11 explains God’s plan historically, from a temporal perspective. The failure of the Jews to believe in Jesus as their Messiah opened the door to Gentile evangelism. When sufficient Gentiles have been converted, the times of the Gentiles will terminate, and at this time God will turn once again to the nation Israel, to turn all Israel to faith and obedience, and thus to enter into His blessings. In Romans it would appear that at any point in time God blesses either the Jews, or the Gentiles, but not both simultaneously.
Ephesians approaches the plan of God for saving sinful men from a very different perspective. If, in Romans, Paul defends the salvation of the Gentiles prophetically10 and historically, in Ephesians Paul defines the plan of salvation as a mystery, something unknown and unknowable in times past, but now revealed to men through the apostles and prophets, and in particular through Paul. In Ephesians Paul claims to unveil truth concerning God’s plan of salvation which no man had ever grasped before. In Ephesians we venture into uncharted waters, which take us beyond any previous explanation of the plan of God for saving sinners.
Ephesians tends to focus on the plan of God (chapters 1-3) and its implications (chapters 4-6) in terms of what men did not and could not understand. Here, Paul deals with those elements in God’s plan which were a mystery to men. In particular, this mystery has to do with God’s plan to save both Jews and Greeks through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, in such a way as to mold them together into a new organism, the church.
Paul begins His epistle to the Ephesians by summarizing the key elements in the plan of God in verses 3-14, and then he will proceed to further expound on certain details of this plan as the epistle develops.
We will study God’s plan of salvation in verses 3-14 in three segments. The first of these three lessons will concentrate on the sovereignty of God and the plan of salvation. The second on the sacrifice of Christ and the plan of salvation. The third on the sealing of the Holy Spirit and the plan of salvation.
Ephesians 1:3-6 is but a part of a larger piece. In order to grasp God’s plan of salvation as outlined in verses 3-14 we need to zoom in on it from its broader context, so that we understand our text in the light of the message and content of Ephesians as a whole. Ephesians is about the glory of God, as demonstrated in the creation (chapters 4-6) and in the conduct (chapters 4-6) of the church, by means of the working of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In chapters 1-3, Paul informs the reader that the church plays a prominent and climactic role in God’s eternal plan, rather being an afterthought or serving as some kind of historical parenthesis, by means of which God marks time until that time when all Israel will be saved.
The church was not only brought into existence by Jesus Christ, it is His body, by means of which Christ is present, active and visible in this present world. Chapters 4-6 define for the church that conduct which not only pleases God, but which edifies the church, so as to display His wisdom, power and glory to men and celestial beings.
In chapter 1, Paul lays out God’s plan of salvation, beginning with His choice of those He would bless in eternity past, and concluding with the summing up of all things in Christ in the future (1:3-14). This is the Christian’s source of faith, hope, and love, and the basis for His worship and adoration of God. If chapter 1 describes salvation from God’s eternal and celestial perspective, chapter 2 describes salvation from man’s perspective, describing his hopeless condition as a Gentile sinner who hates God and who is under the control of Satan (verses 1-3), but who is brought into communion with God (verses 4-10) and with Jewish believers through the reconciliation which God accomplished in Jesus Christ. In chapter 3, Paul speaks of his own ministry as the privilege of explaining how this consummation of all things in Christ, which remained a mystery in past ages was now his privilege to reveal to the church, to the glory of God.
After the initial greeting in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 1, verses 3-14 serve as Paul’s preliminary statement. Here, Paul lays the foundation for the entire epistle by summing up, in one long sentence,11 one which would probably have been rejected by Paul’s grammar teacher, but which serves to spell out in one breath the eternal plan of God by which He would save men and bring glory to Himself. In this study, we will consider only verses 3-6a. In our next lesson, we will focus on verses 6b-9. The following lesson will deal with verses 10-14. Let us begin our study by making a few general observations concerning this eternal plan as summarized in verses 3-14.
(1) Verses 3-14 are one sentence, one literary unit. Can you imagine what a grammar teacher would have done with this sentence? But there is a purpose, and that is to illustrate the way in which God’s plan is complete, with no weak or missing links in it.
(2) Verses 3-14 are a summation of the spiritual blessings which are the possession of every true believer.
(3) Verses 3-14 are introduced and presented as the basis for our worship and praise of God.
(4) Verses 3-14 are God-centered, describing the blessings of salvation from the standpoint of God’s pleasure, His purposes, His provisions, and His glorification. There is little emphasis in these verses on human responsibility.12 These verses set down the basis, the motivation, the divine provisions, and the necessity for godly living on the part of the saints. Salvation from man’s perspective will be described in chapter 2.
(5) Verses 3-14 describe the plans and purposes of a sovereign God, established in eternity past, and being worked out to the minutest detail in the present age, and in the future.
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:10c-11).
In general, verses 3-6a focus on God’s eternal decree, determined before the foundation of the world. Verses 6b-9 describe the blessings God has accomplished in Christ to this point in time. Verses 10-14 focus on those yet-future aspects of God’s plan, which are yet to be fulfilled.
(6) Verses 3-14 describe the blessings of God as the work of the trinity. God’s plans and purposes encompass the work of the Father (3-6a), the Son (6b-13a), and the Holy Spirit (13b-14).
(7) Verses 3-14 describe the eternal plan of God in such a way as to portray that plan as reaching its culmination in the person and work of Christ.
(8) Verses 3-14 speak of God’s plan not only as the outworking of His good pleasure by achieving the demonstration of His glory, but also as the outworking of God’s kind intentions toward unworthy sinners in saving them by grace. God’s purposes and God’s glory are not at cross purposes with the good which He has determined to do for those whom He has chosen. God glorifies Himself as He brings about the good of His chosen ones.13
(9) Verses 3-14 direct our attention to the ultimate cause and the ultimate goal of our salvation. We should be very careful to avoid the conclusion that since God first chose us, we have no choice pertaining to salvation. Likewise, we must not conclude that because God’s ultimate goal is the demonstration of His glory, His plan is not also for our good. If we are careful to distinguish between ultimate causes and goals and those which are more immediate, we will avoid many harmful extremes.
(10) Verses 3-14 describe God as the source, the sustainer, and the recipient of all things.
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory, forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
In the Book of James, we are warned not to accuse God of being the source of our temptations and sin (James 1:13-15). God is, however, the source of every blessing:
Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures (James 1:17-18).
In churches across our land and around the world, Christians sing:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
We also sing (as I remember the words):
Come Thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy praise
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of highest praise.
The theology of these songs of praise certainly agrees with Paul’s teaching, and that of the rest of the apostles. In Ephesians 1:3 Paul not only praises God for His bountiful blessings, but he calls for us to join with him. In the broadest sense, every blessing comes from God, including our material blessings (see Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17; 17:24-28). But in our text, Paul draws attention only to the “spiritual” blessings, every one of which originates with God and many of which await us in the “heavenly places.” Our blessings are “in the heavenlies” because our Lord, the source of all blessings, dwells there, and this is where we will experience them to the full (see Ephesians 2:6; Hebrews 11:13-16; 1 Peter 1:4).
In verses 4-6 Paul identifies the first two of the many blessings which God has poured out upon His children.14 These are the blessings which theologians refer to as “election” (chose, verse 4) and “predestination” (verses 5, 11). To some Christians, these doctrines are a cause for protest, rather than praise. For Paul, they are blessings for which God should be praised. At the conclusion of this study we will seek to show why praise, and not protest, is the appropriate response. For now, let us set out to define these two terms, and then to demonstrate and illustrate them in the Bible.
… 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 to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved … also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:4-5, 11, emphasis mine).
Election15 and predestination are very similar concepts, so much so that the terms can be used almost interchangeably. There is a difference in the emphasis of the two terms, however. Divine election refers to God’s selection in eternity past of those whom He will in time save by His grace through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. This choice, made long before we were even born, is independent of any works or merit on our part. Predestination, as the term itself suggests, is the divine decision as to the form which those blessings will take. Predestination tends to focus more on God’s plan and on the outcome which He has predetermined.
Let me try to illustrate the difference between election and predestination. I want to enrich the lives of some of the young people in my city, and so I decide to provide scholarships for 5 young men and 5 young women. When I choose the ten recipients of the scholarships, this is election. When I set up scholarships at 10 different universities, I plan each program for the particular person I have chosen. This is predestination. In election God chooses the person; in predestination God establishes the program for the person.
In our text, Paul makes no effort to define election and predestination, nor does he seek to defend these doctrines. He assumes that his readers are not only aware of these truths, but are convinced of them. All he needs to do is to remind his readers of them.
Let us be absolutely clear in our minds that the Bible does indeed teach which Paul assumes here. Consider these texts concerning the sovereignty of God, election, and predestination. As you do, ask yourself this question: Who is the ultimate initiator of salvation, God or man?
He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:11-13).
“But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:36-40)
“No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).
And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.” As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore. Jesus said therefore to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. “And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:65-69).
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you” (John 15:16).
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. “For thus the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, That You should bring salvation to the end of the earth.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:46-48).
And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14).
While certain points of theology may be discussed and disputed, it is virtually impossible to ignore clear and consistent testimony of Scripture. God is the author and the finisher of our faith:
Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
The debate among Christians is not over the fact that we were chosen, but when and why we were chosen. The Scriptures teach that God chose us in eternity past, apart from any merit of our own, and that in time He calls, justifies and glorifies all whom He has chosen. Some Christians readily acknowledge that we were chosen, but that this choice was not specific, and that such a choice was based upon God’s foreknowledge that we would, in time, choose to trust in the Lord Jesus. They would turn our attention to this text in Romans:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren (Romans 8:29).
They maintain from this text that in eternity past God chose the elect on the basis of His foreknowledge of those who would, in time, believe in Christ. This is a position that cannot be supported from Scripture. Let me suggest some of the major flaws in this position.
(1) The term “foreknow” does not mean just to “know in advance,” but can also mean “to choose beforehand.” Only the context of the passage can determine which sense the term is meant to convey. Consider, however, that in the Scriptures the expression “to know” is used with the meaning, “to choose.”
And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? “For I have chosen [literally “known”] him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Genesis 18:17-19).
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5, emphasis mine).
In Romans 8:29 Paul tells us that those whom God “foreknew” He also predestined to become conformed to the image of Christ. In what sense did Paul want us to understand the term “foreknew”? The same expression is used again in Romans 11:
I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people, whom He foreknew … (Romans 11:1-2a, emphasis mine).
The question that has been raised concerning the certainty and security of Israel’s future blessings. In part, Paul’s response to the question is that God would not and will not forsake His people, whom He foreknew. If God only knew about the nation Israel, there would be nothing here which would make this people distinct from all other nations (God knows about them, too). Paul’s answer is that Israel’s future blessings are secure because God chose her, not because Israel chose God.
Peter uses the term “foreknow” in precisely the same way, in speaking of the Father’s choice of the Son to die for the sins of lost men:
And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these 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, emphasis mine).
(2) The Scriptures teach that men can do nothing to merit God’s favor, and thus God’s choice was made in eternity past, apart from any consideration of our works.
And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER” (Romans 9:10-12).
(3) If God were to have looked down the corridors of time, to see all those who were to choose Him, He would see no one.
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD (Romans 3:9-11).
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
18 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-24).
The ultimate choice of those who will be blessed with eternal salvation is God’s choice. This does not mean that men have no choice. The Scriptures call upon all men to repent and to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. All who believe are promised eternal life.
18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. 19 “If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; 20 “But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.” Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken (Isaiah 1:18-20).
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16-18).
37 “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out (John 6:37).
11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; 13 for “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:11-13 ).
When the Scriptures speak of those who are lost and who will spend eternity in torment, away from God’s presence, they speak of hell as the consequence of man’s choice:
21 Therefore the LORD heard and was full of wrath, And a fire was kindled against Jacob, And anger also mounted against Israel; 22 Because they did not believe in God, And did not trust in His salvation (Psalm 78:21-22).
11 And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
5 Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe (Jude 5).
Hell is not only the place of torment which sinners deserve, it is also the place which sinners choose by their rejection of God’s Word and especially of His Son.
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them (Romans 1:28-32).
5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to every man according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation (Romans 2:5-8).
In Romans chapter 8, the goal of election and predestination is that we might “become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Romans 8:29b). In Ephesians chapter 1 Paul writes that God chose us “that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:4).
In eternity past, God chose those whom He would make “holy” and “blameless.” This goal is God’s will pertaining to the Christian’s character. It assumes that even before the creation of the world, men would become sinful, and thus unholy and condemned. God purposed, in eternity past, to reverse the effects of the fall of man, even before that fall had occurred.
The fact that those whom He chose would become holy and blameless before Him is significant. In Old Testament times, unholy men could not approach God, but only stand at a distance. There was always a physical separation between sinful men and a holy God. Being made holy and blameless makes it possible for us to dwell in His presence, because our sins and uncleanness have been removed.
It should also be noted that while believers in Christ have been declared righteous through the saving work of Jesus Christ, their full and final perfection comes when we are transformed and taken into His presence (see Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:10; 1 John 3:1-3).
In verse 5, Paul tells us that we have been predestined “to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” Paul is not speaking of the forgiveness of our sins, for that is what being made holy and blameless (verse 4) is all about. It would be wrong to think of sonship as belonging to Israelites and adoption as sons being the means by which Gentiles become sons of God. Believing Israelites, too, were adopted as sons, just as are the Gentile believers:
3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises (Romans 9:3-4).
The “adoption as sons” of which Paul speaks refers to the transformation of our earthly bodies, and our reigning with Christ over all creation:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:18-23).
Sonship is a position of power and authority, whereby one reigns and rules on God’s behalf:
7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. 8 ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. 9 ‘Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware’” (Psalm 2:7-9)
10 “I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly, 11 even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. 12 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 “And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever”’” (2 Samuel 7:10-16).
Satan failed his sonship (compare Job 1:6), and through His devious efforts, Adam and Eve failed, followed by Israel as a nation, and Israel’s kings. Jesus came as the “Son of God” to reign over God’s creation (see Matthew 2:15; 3:17; 4:3ff.). In Christ, we all become the “sons of God” and thus have a share in this reign.
The immediate goal of divine election and predestination is the salvation and sanctification of lost sinners. The ultimate goal of election and predestination is the public demonstration of God’s glory and grace, resulting in praise to Him. Paul begins in verse 3 with an expression of praise to God. Three times in verses 3-14 Paul speaks of the “praise of His glory” (verses 5, 12, 14).
Here, then, is the ultimate goal of God in choosing us for salvation—the praise of the glory of His grace.16 Why, then, is the subject of divine election a cause of consternation? Why do some individuals want to protest, rather than to praise God for divine election?
This week, we have observed Valentine’s Day, a time when sweethearts savor and celebrate their love for each other. Probably the most romantic valentine story I ever heard was one which was published a number of years ago in Reader’s Digest.17
A happily married young woman was driving home when she became involved in a terrible collision. Her body sustained multiple injuries, but the greatest damage was to her head and face. She survived the crash, but the sight of her disfigured body was so horrifying, her husband never returned to the hospital after his first visit. Instead, he divorced her and remarried.
The injured woman came under the care of a devoted and talented plastic surgeon. In spite of the fact that she had no money, seemed hopeless doomed to live out her life hideously disfigured, the doctor would not give up. Using bone and flesh from other parts of her body, he literally fashioned a new face, creating, among other things, a nose and lips. She was emotionally and spiritually impacted by this tragedy, and so the doctor saw her frequently, encouraging her about the progress she had already made, and assuring her that yet more improvement might come, though over much time and many surgeries. The doctor married this patient, and persisted to refashion her face until she was able to resume a normal life, her ugly, distorted face replaced by one which was truly attractive.
The story of this doctor’s love is one which ranks high in the annals of human love. It is a wonderfully romantic story. Does anyone protest because this doctor chose to love this unattractive woman? Does anyone object to the fact that the husband first chooses the woman he wishes to be his wife, and later the woman chooses whether or not she will marry him? Why is the doctor’s “(s)election” of this woman to be his bride different from God’s choice of those whom He will bless with salvation?
The difference between this doctor and God, and between praise and protest can be summed up in one word—grace. The doctor was not put off by this woman’s outward appearance. He chose her because of something inside her, so deeper quality of character. When God chose us, it was not because of anything which He saw in us, that drew Him to us. God does not find the basis or motivation for election deep within us; He finds it within Himself. It is because of His mercy, compassion and grace that God has chosen us. In the choice of those whom He will save, God brings about the good of His elect and the demonstration of His own glory at the same time.
Being chosen of God is no reason for pride or boasting. It is only the occasion for humility and gratitude. Because divine election gives us no ground for boasting, fallen men find it distasteful. This text in Ephesians tells us that divine election should be the basis for our praise. Let me conclude by suggesting some of the ways that divine election is a blessing indeed, and a cause for praising God.
(1) God is sovereign, in control of all history. God not only established His plan for creation before the world came into existence, He revealed His plan in the Bible. As we look back, we can see that God has fulfilled His plan and His promises, just as He planned it. History testifies to the sovereignty of God. If God is in control of history, He is also in control of my life. If the God who is all-knowing and all-powerful is also the God who chose to love me, and to prepare me for an eternity in His presence, then there is nothing which can separate me from His love.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).
(2) If God is the initiator, the author of my faith, then He can be trusted to finish what He has started.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
(3) If God’s plan and purpose is to demonstrate His glory, then we can be assured of His faithfulness to fulfill His plan and promises. This was the only appeal which Moses could make to God in Exodus chapter 32. Moses had gone up on the holy mountain, to receive the Lord’s commandments. The people sinned by making and worshiping a golden idol. There was no excuse for Israel’s sin. Moses had no basis for appealing to God, other than that God’s glory was at stake. God had promised to bring this people into the land of Canaan. God had brought them out of Egypt. For the sake of His glory, He must finish what He started:
9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” 11 Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why doth Thine anger burn against Thy people whom Thou hast brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 “Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Thy burning anger and change Thy mind about doing harm to Thy people. 13 “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants to whom Thou didst swear by Thyself, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:9-13).
(4) Divine election is the only means by which God could manifest His grace and bestow His blessings on sinful men.
6 The LORD performs righteous deeds, And judgments for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel. 8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. 9 He will not always strive with us; Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. 14 For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:6-14).
If we would have God deal with us according to our deeds, we would all be damned, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The only way that God can bless us is by grace, and this grace cannot be based on any human merit. How, then, would we have God to choose those whom He would save if it were not by His sovereign election? This is precisely the point Paul makes in Romans 9:10-12. God chose Jacob over Esau, not because of any merit on Jacob’s part, but because His choice was not to be determined by any human influence. Did Israel’s tradition pass the blessing on to the first-born, God was not thus bound. Do we think that God saves only the worthy? God chooses the weak and foolish things of this world, in order to bring glory to Himself.
Jonah, the prophet of old, was hopping mad at God for purposing to save those he considered unworthy. In the final analysis, as Jonah chapter 4 reveals, Jonah protested against God because of His grace. Who is it that despises grace? Only the self-righteous do. Jonah believed that Israel’s blessings were do to Israel’s merits. He despised grace as “divine charity,” charity which he believed he did not need. If the Book of Jonah teaches us anything it is that God was indeed gracious to Jonah.
Grace is unmerited favor, for which the humble and needy rejoice. Grace is “divine charity” which the self-righteous abhor. I ask you as we come to the conclusion of this message, my friend, does the grace of God turn your heart to praise or to protest? The difference is that of being joyful for having received grace, or the bitter rationale for having rejected it.
The grace of God has been poured out freely in Jesus Christ, for all who will receive it. I trust that you will receive it today.
5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7).
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved, 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:4-10).
10 That is to say that in Romans 9-11 Paul uses copious references to the Old Testament prophecies to show that the salvation of the Gentiles fulfills prophecy. The salvation of the Gentiles was to be expected, because the Old Testament Scriptures foretold it.
14 I understand the “just as” at the beginning of verse 4 in the NASB to be something like a colon at the end of verse 3. The blessings which Paul speaks of generally in verse 3, he begins to enumerate in verse 4.
15 Several terms are used interchangeably to refer to divine election . Election is the term often used by theologians. Paul uses the term “chose” in our text (Ephesians 1:4) and “foreknow” in Romans 8:29.