UNDERSTANDING GOD’S ETERNAL PURPOSES, 1

The Divine Purpose, Ephesians 1:1—6

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.  Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.”  (Acts 20:24—25)

Those were among the last words spoken by Paul in person to elders from the Ephesian church.  He was aware that he may never again visit them.  While in Jerusalem, the Apostle faced much opposition and was eventually sent to Rome as a prisoner.  From his prison cell, Paul wrote a number of letters, which we call “The Prison Epistles,” and his joyful, victorious letter to the Ephesians was his first.

This wonderful letter is all about the Church; the Church that was birthed in the mind of God, founded and headed by Jesus Christ.  The positive nature of this letter belies the reality that it was written from a prison cell.  Clearly, Paul loved the Church of Jesus Christ, and he writes about it in the most glowing terms.

As is the case with many of Paul’s letters, the first part of Ephesians is doctrinal and the second part is practical.  In this case, heavy doses of praise and thanksgiving are used in a discussion of God’s sovereign choice.

1.  Election, verse 4

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

This verse is not a cold theological fact, rather when we read it in conjunction with verse three; it becomes the basis for praise.

Praise 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.

We have been blessed, and we praise Him because we have first been blessed.  Our praise of God is motivated by His generous disposition toward us.   In referring to “the heavenly realms,” Paul is thinking of the spiritual realm, not the physical realm.  To be sure, God blesses His children materially, but this not what Paul has in mind.  Taylor observed:

The designation “in heavenly places” is not a misnomer because the inner life of the man in Christ has been invaded by the power of Heaven.  He posses eternal life and he is in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Thus in spirit he is lifted above the earthly, the worldly, and the temporal.  Temporally, the Christian is in the world, but not of the world.

“Every spiritual blessing” can be traced back to its ultimate source in the eternal purpose of God.  The blessings that flow to God’s people do not come by chance; they are the direct result of the purposes which were established in the mind and heart of God before the creation of the world.  Another way to look at this is to recognize that salvation is not an afterthought, but quite the opposite:  it is the fulfillment of God’s will, established in eternity.

Election is a basic Biblical doctrine which teaches simply that Christians were selected in Christ before the work of Creation.  Jesus Himself said as much in John 15:16—

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

All Paul is stating, and all that Jesus stated, is that the choice of God is eternal, and that the purpose of those so chosen is to live a holy life.  The choice of God is not arbitrary, so that some are chosen to be saved and other not without regard to the disposition of the individual.  Salvation is offered to every human being (John 3:16; Romans 10:13).  The “elect” are composed by those who have accepted the conditions of God’s call.

Being part of “the chosen” or “the elect” carries with it a moral responsibility expressed in both positive and negative terms.  The chosen are “to be holy.”  This means being set apart for God in order to reflect His holiness.  While Christians are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, that is imputed righteousness, we are expected to exhibit actual righteousness in our daily lives.  We are also to be “blameless.”  This does not mean sinless.  The one in Christ can be without blemish before God because God sees into his heart.  Though a sinner by nature, if we walk in faith and walk in forgiveness, then we will be blameless in God’s sight.

2.  Adoption, verses 5, 6

In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…

Predestination is one of the most marvelous doctrines in the Bible.  The TNIV and many other modern translations take the last two words of verse 4, “in love,” and make them the first two words of verse 5.  This seems to fit the context; God chooses us, and then with love for us as His motivating factor, predestines us for adoption.  It is because of God’s love that the chosen have been predestined to become the “sons” of God.  Why does Paul speak of “sons” only and not daughters?  It is because of Roman law, something his first century readers would have known.  Under Roman law, an adopted son enjoyed the same status and privileges as a natural born son.  Christ is God’s natural born son.  Believers are God’s sons by a legal declaration and, by God’s incredible grace, are co-heirs with Him:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  (Romans 8:17)

Election and predestination result in our adoption.  The truly stunning fact in our adoption is that it was done according to God’s will, not due to any merit we may possess. God wanted us to become His sons.   His adoption of us was completely His idea, influenced in no way by any other factors.

3.  God’s supreme purpose, verse 6

…to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

All this is for the glory of God.  Our election and predestination to become the sons of God through adoption finds its ultimate purpose expressed in verse 6.  The immediate result of our sonship is holiness manifested in our lives, but the end-goal is that God may be glorified.

In a general sense, the entire life of the redeemed individual is to praise God,

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

But specifically, when God adopts another son, there is an eruption of praise and adoration in both heaven and on earth.  When God’s grace is manifested, heaven rejoices and so does man, as far as he is able to discern it.

The standard theological definition of “grace” is “the unmerited favor of God.”  Paul qualifies his statement of God grace by adding a most important phrase:

…which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Paul is saying that God has treated us graciously in Jesus Christ, the One He loves, or as the KJV reads, “in the Beloved.”   This is a powerful thought.  Whenever God blesses us, He does so unreservedly and gladly.  He does this, not because of our need or our merit, but because Christ, by means of His death, has earned every single spiritual blessing for us.  Since the Father loves the Son, and would withhold nothing from Him, it follows that if we are in Christ, then the Father would grant us whatever we need or ask.   Romans 8:32 suggests that God gave His Son for this very purpose:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

There is no way any human being can know God’s redeeming grace outside of Jesus Christ.

Understanding God’s Eternal Purposes

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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