Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ephesians 1:3-6

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love 5He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will-- 6to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.

In v3-14, Paul prays a doxology, filled with theology, in one lengthy sentence in Greek. It’s a life-changing prayer. Calvin says of this prayer, “The lofty terms in which [Paul] extols the grace of God toward the Ephesians, are intended to rouse their hearts to gratitude, to set them all on flame, to fill them even to overflowing with this thought. They who perceive in themselves discoveries of the Divine goodness, so full and absolutely perfect, and who make them the subject of earnest meditation, will never embrace new doctrines, by which the very grace which they feel so powerfully in themselves is thrown into the shade. The design of the apostle, therefore, in asserting the riches of divine grace toward the Ephesians, was to protect them against having their faith shaken by the false apostles, as if their calling were doubtful, or salvation were to be sought in some other way.”

If we pray this prayer – using it as a model – with understanding, we will see ourselves in light of the holy God of the universe. “There is a God, and you are not Him.” The world doesn’t revolve around you; that’s the first thing we learn in understanding this life-altering prayer. It’s never bad to wonder how we live better lives in Christ. Life application is crucial, but it’s secondary to learning what Scripture teaches us about God. As we come to understand this life-changing prayer, we’ll also put God’s glory first in the prioritization of our lives. What about our lives? They’re important. What about facing trials or suffering or rejoicing in blessings? That’s important. What about being a better spouse and parent? What about worship and prayer? These are crucial things; and the Bible speaks to them. But this prayer of Paul teaches that those peripheral concerns are penultimate. God’s glory is ultimate. Finally, praying this prayer of praise with understanding reorients our lives in the sense that we will not only see God as holy and ourselves as sinners falling short of His glory in that light, we will not only see God’s glory as ultimate, but we will also desire, appreciate, and delight in God’s glory in all things. Our purpose will be ever before us. Satan wants to convince us that God is not worth living for, but this prayer keeps us on track. We see God for who He is, the Triune, eternal, and mighty God. We see His glory as His goal. And we come to desire and delight in His glory, living to praise His grace and His amazing love.

This passage is quite difficult to translate into English because of its lengthy interwoven structure, as your numerous footnotes may reveal, but Paul focuses on the Father’s election and predestination in eternity past, the Son’s redemption and forgiveness in the present, and the Spirit’s present application of redemption, which is a guarantee of inheritance and glory in the future. We’ll do our best to work through it bit by bit all the while keeping in mind the entire context, which is a prayer of praise to God for blessings all of the saints – “we” – receive in Christ. We’ll look first at v3-4, in which Paul, according to Ligon Duncan, calls us to seven things: first, to bless God; second, to bless God as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; third, to praise God as the source of every blessing we receive by the Holy Spirit; fourth, to realize that we are recipients of every spiritual blessing; fifth, to realize that every spiritual blessing comes only in Christ; sixth, to understand that God has blessed us in Christ before creation; and seventh, to realize that God chose us so that we would be holy before His face. That’s v3-4. Let’s look.

Paul begins by praising God. He is speaking of God as the highest good. Some consider pleasure to be the highest good. Others consider wealth to be the goal. Paul says that God is the greatest. In Him resides the most blessedness, and we respond to that understanding by living for His glory, worshipping Him with our entire being, all day every day. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with this question and answer: “What is the chief end of man?” “To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Notice that Paul praises the Father specifically for His blessings toward those of us in Christ through Christ (v3). Let those words sink in. In the same statement, Paul uses the phrases “with every spiritual blessing” and “in the heavenly places.” The first phrase makes a radical claim – that Christians already have every spiritual blessing, that is to say, “Through the fullness of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we who have been made alive in and united with Christ by grace through faith possess the very fullness of God and have been possessed by God Himself.” Consider that! The second phrase, which occurs six times in this letter, refers to the complete and full extent of glory and exaltation. Amazingly, we have already been seated there, as in Ephesians 2:6. Paul wants us to see God as Father, and the ideal father is one who blesses. God, our Father, is also the Father of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And it is God His Father, who blesses both Him and us through the Holy Spirit by exalting us in union with Christ by grace through faith – unto His own glory and the glory of His Son.

In v4, Paul first praises God the Father for having chosen us – that is, those in Christ – in Him – that is, “in Christ” – before the creation of the world. In other words, God chose us to be in Christ; He did not foresee those would be in Christ and then choose them (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:9; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Romans 9:16; Revelation 13:8). Humanity did not choose to be in Adam, though we are (1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 5:12-21); neither does any human choose to be in Christ, yet God places us in Him (1 Corinthians 1:27-30). Paul is talking about the doctrine of election as a reason for praising God, whereas election is often something Christians argue about and divide over. That should not be! Why does God bless us? Because He has chosen us! In other words, we can look back at our conversion and praise God, for our conversion – if genuine – can be attributed only to God’s pre-creation election of us to come to faith in Christ. We would not have experienced conversion to faith in Christ had God not chosen us before creation; and furthermore, none that God chose before creation will fail to come to faith in Christ in His time. This is a high doctrine, a teaching that must be carefully explained and not taken lightly. But simply put, we all must praise God that we believe the Gospel. There is no room in Christianity for a faith wrought by a sinner. The faith you have is indeed your faith; but you did not conjure it up. Rather God bestowed it upon you, and your perseverant exercise of that faith in no less by grace than the bestowing of it in the first place. Paul’s point is that Christians are the objects of an eternal choice. What great assurance of salvation and the gracious mercy of God this doctrine of election provides!

So often this doctrine is explained that God gets a vote, Satan gets a vote, and you cast the deciding ballot – that’s election. That’s wrong; it’s never taught anywhere in the Bible. But, even if it were right, it’s not what Paul is talking about here. He’s not talking about an election, a choice that you make; he’s talking about an election that God makes – a choice that God makes from before the foundation of the world, so it can’t be based on anything that you have done. Paul does not explain why God chose “us” and not others, but more importantly, he does disclose the immediate, though not the chief, purpose of God’s choice – that we who are chosen would be “holy and blameless in His sight [in love].” The order here is vital (Romans 8:29-30). God does not choose us because we are holy; He chooses us in order that we would be holy. We are blessed by God to be holy; we do not pursue holiness in order to be blessed by God. We are chosen to, towards, unto holiness, not chosen because of our holiness, and that difference makes all the difference in the world. If your pursuit of holiness in the Christian life is to get God to love you, to be assured of God’s love for you, then you’ll never proceed far in the pursuit of holiness or in the security and assurance of the Christian life. However, realizing that God has not chosen you because of your holiness but because of His love in Jesus Christ, if your pursuit of godliness is based on the realization that God has made you for holiness and that He delights in His glory displayed in your holiness, it will make all the difference in the world when it comes to security and assurance in the Christian life.

From Paul’s language, we can say that God’s choice was out of love. Being one long sentence, it’s hard to tell what Paul intends to modify with his clauses. “In love” could go with either or both the preceding or subsequent thought; the later thought seems more likely, given the language of Ephesians 2:1-5. His loving choice was so that we would be sanctified – set apart, holy and made pure, or blameless. Since God’s choice was made before creation, we conclude that His foreknowledge was complete, for there would be no need to choose some to be holy and blameless apart from the fall of mankind. We can also proceed from this understanding that God mysteriously purposed the fall of man (v11) unto His desired end – the praise of His glory (v12, v14). Calvin points out three causes for our salvation from v3-6: “The efficient cause is the good pleasure of the will of God, the material cause is Jesus Christ, and the final cause is the praise of the glory of His grace.”

In v5, Paul elaborates on the praise of God for His electing grace (v6) by saying that, in love, “we” – “us saints” – were predestined by the Father “to be adopted as sons.” Paul doesn’t write, “as sons and daughters,” because in that culture, only adopted sons were treated as sons; adopted daughters really were more like slaves. They had no rights. But adopted sons would be full heirs. And so Paul says that whether you’re a son or a daughter in Christ, you’re predestined “to be adopted as sons.” Through Jesus Christ, the natural Son, you’re a full heir with all His privileges. There is no contradiction between predestination and the exercise of faith. And once again, there would be no need for this adoption apart from the fall; thus the pre-creation election and predestination of God applied to certain individuals must be explained in light of God’s overarching, albeit sometimes mysterious (v9), good desire. And, wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what Paul says – that God’s predestining the saints to be adopted as sons through faith in Jesus is indeed according to His “pleasure and will.” Again, Paul does not explain why God predestined “us” to be adopted and not others, but more importantly, he does reveal God’s chief reason for predestination – to exalt His glorious grace. We saw that holiness was the immediate purpose of election; and now we learn that God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of predestination.

Calvin offers an analogy: “The design of building is, that there should be a house. This is the immediate design, but the convenience of dwelling in it is the ultimate design… The glory of God is the highest end, to which our sanctification is subordinate.” Vincent Cheung says, “The doctrine of predestination is indeed controversial, not because Scripture is unclear or that there are good arguments on all sides, but it is controversial chiefly because sinful man, taught by Satan, demands salvation from God and yet refuses to give him all the glory. Instead, he reserves a determinative role for himself, asserting that God makes salvation at best possible, but actual for no one until the person permits God to save him.”

In v6, on which Paul will expound in Ephesians 2:1-10, we learn more about God’s pleasure and will. God pleasure is the praise of His glorious grace. God’s unchanging eternal will, pre-creation throughout eternity, is that His glorious grace would be praised. How amazing! Paul adds to that rather abstract thought an even more amazing concrete reality: God has given “us” His glorious grace “in the One He loves” – Jesus Christ. God’s grace is freely given though expensively bought. In paying the penalty for sin, Jesus did not get the Father to love you; rather, His paying the penalty for sin was because the Father loves you. The doctrine of predestination helps us understand that and praise God for that. We don’t just marvel at the eternal plan and purpose and pleasure and will of God; we experience His grace and praise Him for it. Of course, no praising of grace, and no grace of measure, would exist apart from purposed sin and forgiveness and predestined grace and redemption. And so that’s what Paul turns to next.

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