Ours is a culture that does not seem to understand the basics of critical thinking. Anytime we are confronted with a problem or a conflict, the first question is always how are we going to solve this problem? But before we can even begin to discuss various ways of execution, we must first take a step back and ask ourselves, what is the intended goal? Without knowing and defining the desired outcome we may not even be able to agree on the problem, much less the appropriate solution. We see this played out in the church all the time. Before we can agree on the problem that faces humanity, we must first understand the ultimate goal for which we were created.
The Westminster Catechism rightly has as its first question: What is the chief end of man? The 17th century divines knew that if we fail to understand our purpose and goal, we will never understand the problem nor its solution. In the introduction to his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tackles the problem, solution, and goal of humanity.
“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,” (Eph. 1:3)
This verse functions as the thesis statement for Paul’s letter to the churches in and around Ephesus. The letter as a whole is designed to encourage and exhort believers by reminding them of the position they already hold before God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. As redeemed sons and daughters of the King, we have already been given every spiritual blessing we will ever need or imagine because we have already been made joint heirs with Christ. For the Christian, we must not live our lives like a man who locks himself in a fully stocked pantry and then asks God for food. Absolutely everything that we will ever need to live our lives in obedience to God has already been given to us in Christ.
What follows is an explanation of what we have been given, how we’ve been given it, and why God has graciously given all that we need. By explaining our redemption by the work of the God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Paul relays the ultimate purpose and goal of our redemption.
The Father’s Selection (vv. 4-6)
“just as 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.”
Nothing will divide believers more quickly than a discussion on the doctrine of election. This would be laughable if it were not so serious. The saddest part of this reality is not that many believers refuse to submit themselves to the scriptures, but that in doing so they fail to understand the ultimate purpose of their own salvation.
What did God do? (v. 4) – The text is crystal clear. God the Father chose or selected (ἐκλέγομαι) us from before the foundations of the world. Before man was made from the dust and God breathed into him the breath of life, before He created the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the creeping things that crawl upon the earth, before He separated the heavens and the earth, even before He created light and separated the light from the darkness; God chose us who believe that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love.
There is some debate about where to place this phrase “in love.” Some translations (like the NASB and ESV) place a full stop before this phrase and thus force the reader to make this a motivation for God’s predestination in v. 5. But it is best to take this phrase in v. 4. The sense then is this: God chose His people for the purpose that they be marked by holiness and blamelessness, coupled with love. Outward blamelessness without the inward motivation of love is not blameless. Love without outward obedience is not love. God chose His people so that they would be like Him in every respect, inside and out. But in order for God to make us like Himself, we must first belong to Him.
How did God do it? (v. 5) – Paul’s view of adoption follows the Roman custom and law. The Roman father is the supreme authority over his household. He literally holds the power of life and death over each member of his family. In order for a father to adopt, there must first be a formal and legal severance of the son’s position under his birth father. This can be accomplished by the death of the birth father or his denunciation of his fatherly prerogatives. Only then can the new father legally make this new son his own and take him under his sovereign care.
This is the picture set before us. From before the foundations of the world, God the Father chose and predestined (the word means exactly what you think it means) us to be adopted as His sons and daughters. We are no longer children of wrath (2:3) under Satan’s cruel domain. We legally and fully belong to Him and answer to no one but Him. This adoption was made possible through the atoning work of Jesus Christ and was conducted in perfect harmony with the Father’s kind and generous will.
Why did God do it? (v. 6) – Here we have the ultimate goal, purpose, and reason why God chose us, predestined us, and adopted us into His family: to the praise of the glory of His grace. Our salvation from God’s wrath, our justification by which we stand before Him declared to be righteous, and our adoption as His sons and daughters has but one single ultimate goal: to bring Him glory!
To deny the doctrine of election or predestination is quite literally to rob God of the glory that He is due. We defend this doctrine to our dying breath, not because we have a compulsion to be right, but because this doctrine fixes our gaze exclusively on God. It is He who selected us before there were physical people to select from. It is He who predestined and orchestrated our lives to come into contact with the gospel message of salvation. And it is He took the leading and only role in making us His very own sons and daughters. All the glory is His.
The Son’s Sacrifice (vv. 7-12)
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight, He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 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 upon the earth. 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, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.”
The Father is not alone in this work of redemption nor is He alone in achieving the goal of His glory. Here we see the second person of the Godhead at work, God the Son.
What did Christ accomplish? (v. 7) – The “Beloved” in v. 6 refers to Jesus Christ and it is to this same Beloved in whom we have redemption. The very word redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) indicates some sort of payment. After last week we know that Christ’s death was a propitiation (Rom. 3:25) or an appeasing sacrifice by which God’s wrath was satisfied. Because Christ accomplished redemption for those whom God chose and predestined, there is now forgiveness for our trespasses (our willful disobedience) in accordance to the riches of His grace.
That phrase requires some meditation. Our forgiveness does not come out of (ἐκ) the riches of God’s grace but is according to (κατὰ) the riches of His grace. The difference is that of a billionaire giving a gift out of his billions of dollars (a gift worth hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of dollars) as opposed to a gift that is in accordance with his billions. The illustration brakes down only because money is finite, and God’s grace is infinite. The grace that God has shown us (and still shows us) in Christ is infinite and unmeasurable and is in keeping with His abundant, matchless, abounding grace.
How did Christ accomplish it? (vv. 8-10) – These verses help to explain the opening thesis statement in v. 3 in regard to every spiritual blessing. The “which” in v. 8 points back to God’s abounding grace in v. 7. It is this grace which God lavished or heaped upon us. The next phrase qualifies this grace and gives it definition. God’s grace is evident in believers as He has given them every kind of wisdom and insight. The two terms used here (σοφία and φρόνησις) are very similar terms. In fact, both of them could be translated as “wisdom.” The idea of wisdom is much more than intellectual knowledge, but knowledge put into practice. In general, it is best to take wisdom (σοφία) as describing theoretical wisdom, knowledge, and skill while insight (φρόνησις) describes more practical wisdom, knowledge, and skill. Or to put it more simply (perhaps too simply), God’s grace has transformed the way believers think and act. He has given us the ability to reason and function skillfully. The argument continues in the following verses.
The mystery refers to the redemption made in Christ. Paul calls it a “mystery” not because God’s redemption was unknown to man, but because it was not specifically clear how this redemption was to be made. The Scriptures were very clear that sin requires death and yet God would redeem. Israel was very familiar with the concept of substitutionary atonement (one life in place of another). Yet not until Jesus Christ became incarnate and gave His life as a ransom for many did we know the specific individual in whom we must trust.
God the Father purposed Christ to not only die for our redemption, but also to be the head and sovereign over all creation. At the end of the age all things, things in heaven and things upon the earth, will be under the administration of Jesus Christ. Christ is the agent of redemption and restoration through whom God’s grace is given to those whom He predestined and chose before the foundations of the earth were laid.
What did we obtain through Christ’s accomplishment? (v. 11) – It is because of Christ’s work according to the Father’s purpose that we have an inheritance. As God’s adopted sons and daughters, we will be joint heirs with His only begotten Son. This inheritance is not yet ours to hold, but it is surer and more certain than any will and testament given among men. Why would God do this? Why would Christ give His life for ours? The next verse provides the answer.
Why did God redeem us through Christ? (v. 12) – To the praise of His glory. For a second time we read these words and for a second time we read the purpose of our redemption. Any sort of benefit that we receive is only a bi-product. The fact that we will escape God’s wrath and eternal torment in hell’s fires is not the reason Christ redeemed us. The primary objective is the glory of God. The Father’s will and purpose is unmovable. Christ’s atonement is the only acceptable sacrifice. For God alone through Christ alone to redeem unredeemable sinners like you and me showers God with the glory He alone is due. We must not rob Him of this glory, but humbly bow our knees and prostrate ourselves before Him.
There is much debate regarding what Christ did on the cross and for whom His atonement is attributed. But when we understand why Christ appeased the wrath of God there is not much of a debate left. Our thinking must align with God’s thinking and God is consumed with and motivated by His own glory. Perhaps we should align ourselves with Him.
The Holy Spirit’s Security (vv. 13-14)
“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation — having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”
If you have not yet noticed, this text is thoroughly trinitarian. We have seen the work of God the Father and God the Son. Now Paul expounds upon the work of God the Holy Spirit. These verses describe the utter certainty and security believers have in Christ.
What did the Holy Spirit accomplish? (v. 13) – The gospel message is here called the word of truth because the gospel contains truth (a genitive of content). It is the word which is truth. The Ephesian believers were sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit of promise at the moment that they heard and believed this truth.
A seal is used for a variety of purposes, but here the idea is that of ownership. God the Holy Spirit marks us as property of God in Christ. He has written His name upon us because we are His property. The Holy Spirit, who is our helper and who lives within us, has thus sealed us. We are secure through the ministry of God the Holy Spirit.
What does this accomplishment provide? (v. 14a) – This verse is beyond beautiful. The word pledge (ἀρραβών) here indicates a down payment or a first installment of more to come. We do not yet experience or possess the fullness of our transformation. Yet God has given us the Holy Spirit as a down payment. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit promises that more is coming. As a bride-to-be is given a ring which promises matrimony, God has given His bride the seal of the Holy Spirit.
Why did God secure us through the Holy Spirit? (v. 14b) – To the praise of His glory. We must never tire of reading these words. Three times we have read God’s purpose of our redemption. The Father has selected and predestined us to belong to Him. The Son redeemed us so that the Father might adopt us and thus allow us to belong to Him. The Spirit seals and secures us in this transaction so that none of those who belong to the Father will be lost. And all of this is done to the praise of His glory! We stand justified before the Father as defined by Scripture alone, through means of faith alone, because of God’s grace alone, by the agency of Jesus Christ alone, but for the purpose of bringing God the glory He alone deserves!
The Westminster shorter catechism provides the answer for this opening and foundational question. What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. In every situation or circumstance regarding theology, doctrine, and practice, this is where we must begin. Does our theology glorify God or man? Does our doctrine glorify God or man? Does our practice glorify God or man? So many heresies and wrong-headed thinking would immediately become evident if we were to use this paradigm. Without fail, our thinking and actions would be laid bare if we first asked ourselves that very question.
The church at large has completely lost focus of her only purpose. We have confused the what and the how with the why. We refuse to make excuse for sin because God has demanded holiness and we seek His glory. We refuse to bow to our culture because we bow only to God and give Him alone the glory. We reject the thought of human achievement or free will as being involved in our salvation because God alone must receive the glory in our redemption. We abhor heresy because it misrepresents our good and glorious God. Our objective is only and ever to glorify God. It is for this purpose He has redeemed us. Let us never lose sight of this glorious truth! May His bride be a helper and not a stumbling block. Soli Deo Gloria!