UNDERSTAND GODíS ETERNAL PLAN

 

Week of October 2, 2005

 

Bible Passage:Ephesians 1:1-14.

Biblical Truth: God has an eternal plan to produce a holy people redeemed by Jesus Christ and protected by the Holy Spirit.

 

Verses 3-14 are one long sentence in the original Greek where Paul, when he reflects upon the blessing of God, is overcome with praise for the Triune God. We can make three general observations concerning the Trinitarian content of this passage. First, God the Father is the source or origin of every blessing which we enjoy. He is the subject of almost every main verb in these verses. Turning from the verbs to the nouns, Paul refers in quick succession to Godís love and grace, to his will, his purpose and his plan. Thus the whole paragraph is full of God the Father who has set his love and poured his grace upon us, and who is working out his eternal plan. Secondly, the sphere within which the divine blessing is bestowed and received is the Lord Jesus Christ. In the first fourteen verses, Jesus Christ is mentioned either by name or title no fewer than fifteen times. And the phrase Ďin Christí or Ďin Himí occurs eleven times. Thirdly, there is the Holy Spirit. Although in this paragraph he is mentioned by name only in verses 13 and 14, his activity is assumed throughout. What Paul stresses here is that the blessing God gives us in Christ is spiritual. Every blessing of the Holy Spirit has been given us by the Father if we are in the Son. No blessing has been withheld from us. What is this blessing with which God has blessed us in Christ? In the rest of the paragraph Paul unfolds them.

 

God Chose a People: Ephesians 1:1-6.

 

[1] Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: [2] Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [3] 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, [4] just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love [5] He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, [6] to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (NASU)

 

Saints Ö faithful. The root of both designations is found in Israelís consecration and consequent calling to faithful service [Ex. 19:5-6]. As Israel was brought into the sphere of covenant blessing to obey Godís commands [Lev. 19:2], so the new Israel of God has now been chosen to serve him in holiness of heart and life [cf. 1 Peter 2:9 where Israelís distinctive titles are transferred to the church].

 

In Christ Jesus. It is not too much to say that the whole of Paulís experience and teaching of Christ is summed up in this phrase. The key to its meaning is found in Christ as the Head of the new creation through his redemptive achievement as the second Adam. Thus a corporate relationship is here in view, for our individual salvation in Christ also makes us members of the church which is his body [1:23; 2:15].

 

Blessed be the God and Father. While God blesses us by his deeds of grace (with every spiritual blessing), we can only bless him by our words and thoughts of gratitude and praise. Who has blessed us. The aorist tense points to the time when God called us to faith in Christ, an event which the just as of verse 4 traces back to our election. The idea is that in calling us to Christian faith God blessed us, and that the great deed of blessing which thus took effect in time had its foundation in an eternal election. Every spiritual blessing. The nature of Godís decisive act of blessing is all those blessings that are brought by the Spirit, and that lead to life in the Spirit [13-14; Rom. 8:1-27; Gal. 4:6; 5:22-23]. All these spiritual blessings are so knit together that they all make up but one blessing. In the heavenly places in Christ. Union with Christ has made the believer an inhabitant of two worlds. We are blessed by God because we are in Christ. The blessings have their source in our election in Christ, and they were secured for us by his death; but they become ours in actual possession only in virtue of our vital union with him. Apart from Christ we do not receive or experience this spiritual blessing.

 

Verse 4 presents election as the sole ground of all the blessings promised to believers. It was from the mass of fallen humanity that God chose out for himself a people whom he formed to show forth his praise [Is. 43:21; 1 Peter 2:9-10]. In the divine decree which contemplated the race as ruined by the fall, God thus chose to save some to the praise of his mercy, while leaving the non-elect to suffer the consequences of their sin to the praise of his justice [Rom. 9:17-23]. In Him. It was only in their worthy Redeemer that such a choice of the unworthy could be made. Before the foundation of the world. Our election in Christ was no historical afterthought but the eternal resolve of unfettered sovereignty. The ultimate purpose of our election in Christ was that we should be perfectly holy and without blame before him who is the searcher of every heart. Such spiritual perfection clearly pertains to the heavenly state. But, because Godís decree not only determines the end but also includes the means of attaining that end, he moves and enables the elect to persevere and progress in holiness until what was begun in grace is at last consummated in glory.

 

Adoption as sons. Nothing but predestinating love can account for our adoption into the family of God as his sons! This elevation of us by grace to the status and privileges of sonship could be effected only through the redemptive mediation of the One who is the Fatherís Son by nature. To Himself. This phrase discloses the goal of Godís foreordination of us to the standing of sons. It is to bring us to himself, into perfect fellowship with him, into adoring, loving relation to himself as the true end and object of our being. Election and Godís foreordination of us to adoption are not due to any desert in us or anything outside God Himself, but are acts of His own pure goodness, originating only and wholly in the freedom of the kind intention of His will.

 

To the praise of the glory of his grace. Paul so often struggles against the limitations of language as he endeavors to express the unutterable riches of Godís grace. Here he heaps one genitive phrase upon another in order to express the beauty of Godís grace. To shows that the glory of God is the great end in our election, and this consists in our ever increasing recognition (the praise) of the manifested excellence (of the glory) of Godís undeserved bounty towards us (of his grace). Freely bestowed. All the grace of God is lavished upon us in the supreme gift of his Son [Rom. 8:32]. We are beloved of God only in the Beloved. As the title ĎSaviorí regards our Lord from the point of view of men, so Ďthe Belovedí tells us what he is from the point of view of God.

 

God Redeems Sinners: Ephesians 1:7-12.

 

[7] In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace [8] which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight [9] He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him [10] with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him [11] also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, [12] to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. (NASU)

 

The necessary consequence of Godís eternal election is seen in Christís saving work, for those who are chosen by the Father are the very ones who are redeemed by the Son. In Him exclusively ascribes redemption to the unique achievement of Godís beloved Son. Through his blood poignantly recalls the violent and shameful death that Christ willingly endured as the appointed substitute of those who constitute the church, which he loved and came into the world to purchase at the cost of his all. It reminds us of the Lordís Supper and denotes the ratification of a new relation between God and men by a new covenant sacrifice. The primary idea of the Blood is not that of renewing power or moral effect, but that of propitiation: the turning aside of Godís wrath, the removal of guilt and the restoration of broken relations with God. Forgiveness of our trespasses. This linking of forgiveness with the death of Christ proves that the cancellation or remission of the penalty due to sin is based upon his payment of that debt on our behalf. The plural Ďtrespassesí draws attention to the many false steps, or deviations from Godís standard of absolute righteousness, for which we daily stand in need of his forgiving grace. And this forgiveness, or sending away of our sins, we are said to have (present tense) in Christ. Forgiveness is not a blessing complete at any point of time in our human existence, and therefore we are still receiving it. According to the riches of his grace. This is the measure of Godís limitless generosity towards us in Christ. Grace meets us at every turning point in the great statement of the Divine counsel, the guarantee of the forgiveness of sin, the way of salvation. Riches is one of Paulís favorite words. He uses it here to underscore the fact that Godís securement of our free forgiveness was a costly matter. Nothing but the overwhelming munificence of Godís grace can suffice for the price of our forgiveness. That our redemption cost so great a price, the blood of Christ, is the supreme evidence of the riches of the Divine grace. And the measure of what God does for us is nothing less than the limitless wealth of His loving favor.

 

Lavished. Denotes that of furnishing richly so that there is not only enough but much more than is required. The profusion of Godís grace in Christ is next stated to be received by us in the form of all wisdom and prudence. It is because Christ was made unto us wisdom [1 Cor. 1.30] that we have the spiritual understanding to discern and appropriate the divine realities which remain hidden from the unbelieving, and the prudence or practical intelligence to apply that wisdom to all the varying situations of our life. Wisdom is the knowledge which sees into the heart of things, which knows them as they really are. Prudence is the understanding which leads to right action.

 

A mystery is a divine secret which, though proclaimed to all, is understood only by those whom the Spirit of God enlightens. Thus Godís plan of salvation, once the secret of his unfathomable will, is now being revealed to all included within its scope. For it is through the worldwide preaching of the gospel that this mystery is made known to the elect who are given ears to hear and hearts to receive it. It was Godís special delight to reveal the secret of his love to the sons of men. It was a love which embraced them in the Beloved. The Fatherís purpose was in the Son, inasmuch as it was to take effect through the Son, incarnate, sacrificed, and glorified; and further, as it concerned a church which was to be incorporated into Christ.

 

Administration primarily refers to house-management and the meaning here is that God has entrusted Christ with the administration of that purpose which is the good pleasure of his will. Just as a great landowner appoints a manager to put into execution his plans for the estate, so the Father has given Christ full authority to administer and bring to completion the entire plan of salvation. The fullness of the times points forward to this age of consummation. Paul now explains that the object which God had in view was the summing up of all things in Christ. This is one of several verses in Ephesians and Colossians in which the apostle sets forth the cosmic significance of Christís person and work [20-22; Col. 1.15-20]. It would seem that Paul has two headships in mind: Christís sovereign headship of the cosmos, and his redemptive headship of the church. The passage does not teach the universal salvation of all men; it states that God will sum up the whole creation under Christ through whom all things shall find their true coherence and unity. Thus the apostleís reference is to the entire harmony of the universe, which shall no longer contain alien and discordant elements, but of which all the parts shall find their center and bond of union in Christ. Sin and death, sorrow and failure and suffering, shall cease. There shall be a new heaven and a new earth.

 

It was in fulfillment of Godís eternal design that in Christ we were actually made a heritage, or taken for Godís inheritance. This translation is better than we have obtained an inheritance, because it is more consistent with the context which speaks of Godís own possession [14] and his inheritance in the saints [18]. Since believers may never ascribe their privileged position to the power of their own choice, Paul again states that Godís foreordination was the cause of this saving change. Thus the calling out to faith in Christ of Godís heritage takes place according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his will. In Godís execution of his great plan of salvation nothing is left to chance, and nothing is contingent upon the will of the creature, because nothing is exempted from his sovereign control. For God works (his energy is dynamically operative in) all things, not arbitrarily but intelligently, in order to fulfil what he had determined to accomplish in the eternal counsel of his grace.

 

God Secures Believers: Ephesians 1:13-14.

 

[13] In Him, you also after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation Ė having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, [14] who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of Godís own possession, to the praise of His glory. (NASU)

 

The main thought of the verse is: in Him (Christ) you (Ephesians) also (in common with all other Christians) Ö were sealed. The connection is difficult because the construction is broken by the apostleís characteristic insistence upon the necessity of faith. His teaching is that the believing and the sealing always go together. As there is no sealing without believing, so there is no believing without sealing. Hence this is not an experience reserved for a favored few; it is the birthright of all believers! The message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Objectively, this message is Ďthe wordí that has the truth for its essential content [Col. 1.5]; and subjectively, it became Ďthe gospelí of good news of their salvation when they believed it for themselves [Rom. 1.16]. The two verbs (believed and sealed) must be seen as the two sides of the same event: in the moment when they believed, they were also sealed. Hence the sealing is not represented as a process, but as a definite act which was at once complete. Moreover, the further use of in Him indicates the impossibility of separating the experience of being Ďin Christí from the sealing which is common to all believers. In the ancient world visible seals were used to attest as genuine, to mark ownership, and to keep secure. But as this seal cannot be seen, its presence may be known only by its characteristic effects. It is clear that what is in view here is not the extraordinary or miraculous gifts of the Spirit, but that bestowal of the Spirit in which all believers shared, which was the subject of the great Old Testament prophecies and of which a new heart, a new spirit, was to be the result.

 

Paul enlarges on the theme of the believerís assurance of final salvation, already implied in the concept of sealing, by stating that the Holy Spirit is also an earnest of our inheritance. This is the deposit that is given as the guarantee that the full amount will be paid later. It is not simply a pledge but the first installment. So the gift of the Holy Spirit is the beginning of salvation, the first installment of the Christianís future inheritance. Thus we must recognize in the gift of the Spirit the indisputable proof of Godís determination to honor all the obligations he has assumed towards us under the covenant of grace [Phil. 1.6]. Yet it would be a grave mistake to conceive of this gift in any static sense, for our present realization of future glory admits of spiritual increase in this world. Paulís language in this passage clearly shows that he is thinking of the church as the new Israel, for he applies to Gentiles the very terms Ė promise, inheritance, possession Ė which were used to describe Israelís peculiar privileges. Now it is by our possession of the Spirit that we are already marked out as Godís own possession. And this means that it is only by receiving the Spirit, who is the very essence of the new covenant [Gal. 3.14], that a person is made a member of the new Israel and participates in the blessings of the new age. To the praise of His glory. Since God is God he could set no higher object before himself than the complete manifestation of his own glory. Thus the fulfillment of his purpose of grace in the salvation of the elect shall eternally redound to the praise of his glory, which is the great end of all creation [Rev. 4.11; 5.9-14].

 

The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, chapter 3.

5††††††††† Those of mankind that are predestinated to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to this eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto.

6††††††††† As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so he hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto; wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation; neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

7††††††††† The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.

 

I thought it would be helpful to include these three paragraphs from the 1689 Confession. Three important points to draw your attention to: first, our election is only in Christ and is a result of Godís free grace and love. There is nothing in us that causes God to elect us (paragraph 5). Second, Godís decree of election is not apart from the means of salvation (calling, justification, adoption, sanctification) whereby the elect are brought to salvation. Godís election only makes it certain that the elect will eventually hear the effectual call of the gospel, be regenerated, believe and repent, be justified, adopted, sanctified and glorified. Therefore it is essential that the gospel be faithfully preached because this is Godís ordained means of bringing His elect to salvation (paragraph 6). Third, the correct handling of this profound doctrine will result in ďpraise, reverence and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospelĒ (paragraph 7). This is the test we can use to determine not only if we are correctly teaching the doctrine of predestination. But also this test determines if we understand this doctrine correctly. If our understanding of this doctrine does not produce within us praise to God and humility and diligence in obedience then we have misunderstood the doctrine of predestination.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† There are so many deep and beautiful doctrinal truths in this passage that it is impossible to cover them, in any depth, in just one lesson. Let me suggest the following as one method of summarizing the teaching of the passage in such a way that it brings out the profound grace of God in these verses.

 

††††††††††† List all the things that the Father has done for us ďinĒ or ďthroughĒ Christ.

††††††††††† List the actions attributed to the Holy Spirit.

††††††††††† List the four ďaccording toĒ phrases that represent the motivation for Godís actions.

††††††††††† List what Godís ultimate purpose is for his actions (see verses 6, 12, 14).

††††††††††† Now list what Paul says the believerís responsibilities are in this passage.

††††††††††† Discuss the observations and applications we can make from these lists.

 

2.†††††††† Discuss the importance of the phrase ďto the praise of the glory of His grace (v.6) for our worship of God and our obedience to God.

 

3.†††††††† In what way is verse 10 the key verse for understanding the mystery of Godís will?

 

4.†††††††† Why does the Confession say that the doctrine of predestination will produce diligence in our obedience and service to God (see 2 Peter 1:10)?

 

 

References:

The Epistle to the Ephesians, John Calvin.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.

Ephesians, Geoffrey B. Wilson, Banner of Truth Trust.