The Glory of God in Salvation
THE GLORY OF GOD IN SALVATION
So with us, we can come into the orbit of the gospel but be unmotivated by God’s glory, from what we are reading in or hearing from the word.
by Dr. Eryl Davies[Dr. Eryl Davies, the principal of the Bryntirion Evangelical College of Wales, Bridgend, gave the four morning addresses at the Evangelical Movement of Wales Conference in Aberystwyth 2002 in the Great Hall on "The Glory of God in Salvation". The four addresses were anchored in Ephesians 1:3 to 2:10.]
I have chosen this passage because there is an urgent need for us to focus on God, his grace and power. For example, some people find it hard to use their cameras properly and focus on people. They cut heads off their friends in their photographs, or the result is often blurred. Many Christians in the professing church focus on personalities, or fashions in evangelism, or new styles in worship or new religious views instead of God himself. In Ephesians we find the focus is on God.
Those of you who are already focused on the glory of God ought to be encouraged and keep up that vision. A friend of mine was given an oil painting and we both looked at it and I was captivated by it, while my colleague had a bland expression on his face. "I don’t like it," he told me later. It was the painting of a vase filled with unusual flowers. There was a wall, and window in the background, and I tried to persuade him of its merits but to no avail. The next day I continued to put the picture in its best light before him, and he began to like it more, so that by today it is one of his treasured possessions. So with us, we can come into the orbit of the gospel but be unmotivated by God’s glory, from what we are reading in or hearing from the word. We are the same afterwards as before. Verses 3-14 in Ephesians chapter one form one long sentence. Today short sentences are encouraged to budding authors by publishers. But in this chapter there are over 200 words in this one sentence. Paul cannot contain himself in what he says about God’s glory. It is a form of a prayer of praise that he uses.
I am making three assumptions, that Paul wrote this letter, that it was intended initially for the church at Ephesus but perhaps also as a circular also, and that it was written about 62 AD. Verses 3-14 are the whole key and fixed point to the letter. All the important themes are here packed tightly into this passage. In this first message I want to speak about the glory of God the Father.
1. THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER (vv.3-6).
The apostle begins by praising God – "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." He appointed his only Son to be the Mediator. It was planned in eternity that he should die for the elect and consummate his purpose for the new humanity. The elect were gifted to the Son, and work of the Holy Spirit was applying that salvation to them. The Father has chosen us, and spared not his Son that we might be spared. He has adopted us and revealed his will to us – blessed be the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
GOD HAS BLESSED US
God himself is to be blessed because he, the eternal holy God has blessed us in a number of ways. First in making every spiritual blessing ours. They are spiritual in that they come from heaven to us. When people major on worldly prosperity as the chief blessing in the gospel they distort the gospel. The blessings as such are election (v.4), predestination (v.5), being shown divine favour (v.6), forgiveness of sins and cosmic restoration, and the sealing of the Spirit. – these blessings which all need we have been freely given. They are priceless blessings.
THE BLESSINGS ARE IN THE HEAVENLIES
Secondly, that these blessings are in the heavenlies – a phrase that occurs five times. The Lord Jesus raised from the dead is seated at the right hand of God, and there he has the highest power and authority possible. Jesus is Lord and King. We too enjoy that high place of dominion with him (2:6) and in the next chapter we are told that angels and principalities will admire what God has done in Christ. So in this world we share in the victory of Christ.
THE BLESSINGS COME IN UNION WITH CHRIST
Thirdly, we have these blessings in union with Christ. The phrase ‘in Christ’ occurs many times in the chapter. In the 80s Premier Gorbachev wanted to see the end of the Cold War and he pictured all humanity standing on the edge of a precipice and tied together by a strong rope. If people fall into the ravine they will drag all the rest down. There is a national solidarity of mankind under the threat of nuclear warfare. God deals with the entire human race through Adam or through Christ the last Adam. All mankind sinned in Adam and we are a ruined race. Sin entered the world by one man and death through him. That is our natural plight: we are by nature the children of wrath. God has blessed us in Christ, and his history becomes ours. Our sins were reckoned to him and his righteousness was imputed to us. We are in Christ and only in union with Christ are we blessed.
Christmas Evans has a powerful sermon on the parable of the shepherd searching for one sheep. The Lord Jesus in heaven is described in heaven as receiving the sheep on his shoulders from his Father. Then in incarnation the God-man is pictured in Bethlehem’s stable. Where are the sheep? On his shoulders still. At his baptism the Father speaks of the beloved Son. Where are the sheep? They are on his shoulders. In his temptations, miracles, debates, and travels – the sheep are still on his shoulders. In Gethsemane as he lies in agony in the garden, the sheep are on his shoulders. As he dies on Golgotha where are the sheep? On his shoulders as the Father lifts his rod and smites him. Even after he rises from the dead the sheep are on his shoulders and from heaven he rules over them and protects them. Christ’s history is made ours and becomes real in our own experience.
THE ELECT OF GOD
Who chooses the elect? From verse 3 we see that it is God the Father, but he chose us in Christ. Other verses emphasise the same truth – the God who chooses us predestinates us (v.5). The decision belongs to God (vv. 9-11). This purpose is part of God’s plan, that one comprehensive plan for the whole world embracing the destination of men and angels. Central to it is God’s choice of the elect. It is God who elects. Is it fair? Does every person have a right to be saved? Nonsense. No one has that right. Our only deserving is to be punished justly. We are sinners and we merit death. The Bible describes God as the potter and he can make one object to honour and another to dishonour. He has this absolute right. He has the right to show mercy on whom he will have mercy. Election is sovereign and utterly unconditional.
When I was 14 I was anxiously waiting for the headmaster to announce the school soccer team for that year. I was hoping that my name would be included. We had had lot of games, practice sessions and trials and we waited with baited breath for the team announcement. When the head master read out the names mine was on the list. I got there on merit, but no one is chosen by God in terms of their merit. It is unconditional election. There was nothing that attracted us to God. But God in his own good pleasure decided to love his people. When did God decide to love them? Before the foundation of the earth, in other words, before other Christians prayed for you, before you heard, before you were born, before Calvin was born, before Christ died, before Adam breathed his first breath. Think back into eternity when the Father determined to saved the elect and send the Son to die and the Spirit to come and make favoured sinners alive. It was all before the foundation of the earth.
How did he choose us? In Christ. All that heaven has is in the hands of Christ the Redeemer. The government will say that money is available through certain appointed funded bodies. So too it is in Christ that the treasures of heaven are mediated. In Christ we are united and elected to eternal salvation. Apart form Christ there is no election.
To what end has God elected us? That we should be holy before him in love (v.4). This is a purpose clause – "in order that . . ." Our contemporaries suggest that God loved us that we should feel good, or fulfilled, or be prosperous, or have inner healing. The answer here is that God has done it to separate us from sin and make us holy. God’s purpose is that we should be holy and without blame before him. As we are to stand before him God’s purpose is that we be without blame before him in love. Our desire to be godly and Christ-like arises out of our love for him. I turn from sin because I love him. Christians love God with all their heart. We delight in God’s love and we long to be in his presence.
Am I one of the elect? you ask. How can I know it? The major evidence is that you want to keep his commandments. The evidence of election is a holy God-pleasing life, and being in love with him your supreme desire is to please him. That is God’s goal in election. The words ‘in order that we should be holy and without blame before him in love’ should be underlined and we should grip them and make this our aim in life. I fear that we have double standards in our lives and also in our churches. The world is waiting to see holy men and women in our churches. Write these words on your TV set as you make choice of what your home will see. Young people, as you choose a video to watch put these words over them, and also over your computer if you are tempted to ‘surf the web’.
I watched the council lorries this morning driving along the promenade at 6 am taking away the filth and rubbish, so busy were the men with such rubbish to pick up. We too have a lot we need clearing out of our lives. Fill those black bags with the filth of your life and clean out your hearts. Put these words in your homes as you talk to your relatives in your daily routines. Put these words in your churches to give expression to your war on sin.
Another blessing noted by the apostle is predestination (v.5). I knew an old preacher here in Aberystwyth who loved the word because it expresses such a glorious truth. It was another facet of election. God determined beforehand as he worked out his plan who would be his. He determined that many people in Adam would become his children. In the Korean war two sons of a northern Korean preacher were killed by a communist official. The parents were given grace to seek him out and express their offer of forgiveness to him. But he had been captured and sentenced to death. The minister and his wife appealed to the authorities to give them the right to take this man into their own home, and it was finally agreed. They treated him as one of their own children. They finally adopted him as their own son. He was overwhelmed by their love and he became a preacher in south Korea. It is a feeble picture of God’s love for us by Jesus Christ (v.5), and when God justifies sinners he adopts them to and for himself. giving them ‘the liberty and privileges of children’ (1823 Confession). He teaches and protects us all the time from dangers seen and unseen. He chastises us but he has never casts us away.
Picture a criminal found guilty but another taking the punishment, so that the criminal is freed, but as he walks out of the court he feels abandoned. He heads for a dirty hut in the country where he can doss down and eke out a living. As he goes the officials of a great King come and tell him there is a permanent place for him in the palace. He has been adopted into the King’s family. That is the doctrine: enemies and rebels are brought into the family by God’s grace.
The ultimate aim of al this is in verse 6 – ‘to the glories of his grace.’ The aim is God’s glory. The grace of God highly favours us all through the beloved One. Christ has achieved it all and made it possible – by that One alone of whom God says, "Thou art my beloved Son…" He spared not him but freely delivered him up for us all. Look at the cross and there you see most brightly the glory of God’s grace. Those for whom he dies have done nothing for which they merit such love. The Father has sent his Son to that darkness and laid on him our sin. He hides his face from his Son that we might never face a face-hiding God. Here is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.
A few years ago I was in the home of a pastor and in his lounge I noticed an enlarged photo he had on his wall of a 1950 LMS steam engine. My father used to work on the LMS and once or twice I used to ride on the engine. This was a photo of the Holyhead to London train ready to leave and the driver was looking out of his cabin and he was looking down at a boy gazing up at him. The pastor told me that he had bought it in a second hand shop in Betws y coed. He liked it for its message and he tested me. What is the message? I suggested one thing after another. No, no. I didn’t know. "Look at the boy’s face," he told me. "He is overwhelmed by the size of the engine." Then he took my arm and said, "That is worship." It is not noise and music. It is a sense of wonder and appreciation. You are taken up with the object. Today the professing church is being captivated by secondary issues. We must cry from our hearts, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
THE GLORY OF GOD THE SON
From verses 7 to 14 Paul emphasises more the work of the Son of God after having dealt with the work of the Father – though this is not a rigid distinction.
1. IN HIM WE HAVE REDEMPTION (v.7)
A young man in Germany in 1505 had just achieved his Master’s Degree. His father wanted him to become a successful lawyer but he knew he was burdened with a guilt before a righteous God. Thoughts of death and hell pressed down on him. "How can I be right with a holy God?" he wanted to know. In a storm he was terrified and he cried for help. He began to read the Bible for answers. He found it in the gospel. In Christ we have redemption, through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace. It is all found in union with Christ alone. No one else can help us. Luther discovered it and millions more like him. Paul writes about a received redemption. This is a key word, a ‘dramatic metaphor’ which includes deliverance from slavery, and being set free at the payment of a price. At the exodus the people of God were redeemed from Egyptian slavery by divine power. Soldiers captured in a war were redeemed by a price.
That terminology describes how Christ came on his mission on earth – to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. He is the redemption price, his life on the cross. Paul uses a similar picture in Galatians 3:13
– Christ became a curse for us. It was such a costly enterprise on which he set out and accomplished it for us. Why a sacrifice, and a suffering Son of God? Why not words of apology and regret. Surely that is all we men require. Is God different? Yes, he is. He is the Creator and not a part of his creation. He is eternal, distinct, transcendent and wholly other from ourselves. We must begin to realise the vastness of this God and so very different from all his creatures. He is also holy, and that holiness cannot be emphasised enough. There is not a grain of evil in his nature. His purity is dazzlingly magnificent. If it were possible to take an X-ray picture of the being of God you would see only absolute sinlessness, whereas sin has touched every part of our nature. Even in believers a corruption remains. You can meet people who claim to be perfect, but they are deceiving themselves and the truth is not in them. Yet God is a being who is utterly pure.
Not only is he pure but a God who hates sin. Men show their anger at some crimes outside a court when a case is over, shouting and threatening, and yet the shouters are sinners. They have a partial and selective judgment on sins. We all struggle with our own sin. But the holy God’s hatred of sin is perfect and his wrath is his permanent opposition to what contradicts what he is. He is not capricious, or moody, or whimsical. His nature requires his response in indignation against sin. How can we be right with such a God? He cannot condone sin or close his eyes to it. He maintains the standards of his nature and will. Yet this means so little to sinners. He cannot pretend that he cannot see it. His holy nature demands his condemnation of all that is dark and mean and filthy.
Yet there is this extraordinary divine hope of redemption through the blood of Christ. God’s wrath being appeased was seen in the sacrificial Levitical system of the OT. The hand of the worshipper was placed on the head of the unblemished lamb which he brought. Only by sacrifice could salvation came. The blood on the doorposts meant the first born of the Israelites were spared in Egypt. That is the type. The anti-type is seen on the cross where the Lamb of God bears the judgment and iniquity of us all. The wrath falls on him, and we are spared. Peter in his first letter tells us of our redemption through the precious blood of Christ. Harry Woods was one of the characters saved under Dr Lloyd-Jones’ ministry in Sandfields, and Mrs Lloyd-Jones tells of him in "Memories of Sandfields." He was once walking on the shore at Port Talbot, and looking at a wrecked boat it reminded him of his sin, and he wept. Then the tide came in and the wreck was finally covered. That spoke to him of the blood of Christ covering his sins’ guilt and punishment. He later told Dr Lloyd-Jones of this experience.
Sins are also ‘forgiven’ in those redeeemed. Forgiveness is usually the first thing we are conscious of as we made aware of our redemption. Spurgeon as a teenager was exhorted to "Look to Jesus Christ!" Spurgeon says that he could have jumped out of his seat and he cried out, "I am forgiven! I am forgiven! I am forgiven!" Sin is our major problem and this is the first place sin is mentioned in Ephesians. The word is in the plural and so it is referring to actions, words and events which have built up a mountain of guilt that all needs to be removed. Forgiveness means to be delivered from guilt.
All this is according to the riches of his grace. Why have I been redeemed? Because of God’s grace alone. It is completely undeserved riches which are given to a pauper. The grace is vast and priceless. It has overflowed from heaven’s fulness upon sinners in wisdom and understanding, and it proceeds to show us how we should live
Then he mentions God’s revelation. You have probably met some man who is very talkative who proceeds to tell you all about himself. God is infinite, hidden away and we cannot penetrate him, living in unapproachable light. He has unveiled his character. He has stamped his glory on creation so that men instinctively know God is. But God has shown more, through prophets and then by his Son and his apostles. We know the ‘mystery’ (v.9) as it is now revealed. His plan is beyond our natural grasp. That is why we must read the Bible and hear preaching.
Then Paul mentions the restoration all things in Christ, of heavenly and earthly things. Think forward to the future. God has a plan. He is revealing to us details concerning the end of the earth when everything will be restored to be a fitting honouring of God. All things in heaven – the sinless angels, and believers who have died. All things on earth – the world and space, believers still alive at the end. All things were made by and for Christ. The very hands of Christ uphold the universe. From heaven he is the head of the universe and also of principalities and powers.
The world has fallen and groans today but there is going to be a great change. A mystery is revealed here, that the creation itself is going to be liberated and brought from its decay into a new state of regeneration. We shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye. How will the universe be changed? We do not know the details. A new heavens and earth will be established, and Christ is going to do it. Friends, we are going places and God’s plan embraces the universe.
Our inheritance is guaranteed (vv.11-14). We have obtained an inheritance. It is very personal. How do I relate to this future? Will I lose out? Can I keep it up? Will I get there? There are these grounds for assurance: i] Our union with Christ – ‘in him therefore’ (v.11) these things occur. We are joined to him, and we can as much fail to enter glory as Christ. You may have had the experience of being abandoned in an airport for 24 hours not knowing what is going to happen and when you will be delivered. There are Christians who worry that they will be left out. But Christ will never drop us at any stage of the pilgrimage. He will never walk out on us. ii] God has a sovereign purpose (v.11). His plan involves us personally. No one suggested to God what he should do. He redeemed us in Christ and he has sealed his own covenant with his people. He will accomplish what he began.
iii] Saving faith (v.12) first in the believing Jews who trusted in Christ, and then he turns to Gentiles and they also trusted in him. Something big is being emphasised. Jews and Gentiles who are one in Christ. Asylum seekers once at war with one another, but now in Christ, are one. iv] The sealing with the Holy Spirit – the first of 11 references to his work in this letter. By his person and work we are all kept. We are sealed by him – those who trust in the Lord Jesus. One purpose of a seal is to authenticate and confirm something as genuine. He confirms to us that we are his by producing his own fruit of love, joy and peace. He also is the guarantee of our inheritance. We are still looking forward that this is certain to happen to us. We are safe in his hands, and God himself is the deposit of God completing the work he has begun. There has to be some experiential dimensions to the sealing which the Spirit does so that it does have aspects of the Spirit’s giving assurance that we are God’s.
THE PRAYER OF THE APOSTLE
In verses 15-23 the apostle turns to thanksgiving, and he makes specific prayer for the Ephesian church. It is a prayer for their spiritual progress and development. These verses make up one unbroken sentence of 116 words. I met a new Christian in Romania. He had read John 3:16 in the NT which had spoken powerfully to him. "What is a Christian?" he asked me, and when I asked him about his faith he told me that he knew the Christians he had met (including his own wife) were right when they spoke about such themes as Christ and sin. "I had a longing to know what they knew." There was a conviction and hunger. "I ran to the fields to find Jesus, in fact I can show you where I went, and there I prayed and I found him and trusted in him." Saving faith rests on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. I used this 15th verse to encourage him.
Why does Paul pray if God is sovereign? We are governed by a personal living God and he has decreed the means by which we accomplish his purposes. He has chosen prayer, witness-bearing, the Bible, its reading and preaching, holy living, the means of grace, the fellowship of his people. William Carey was a great man of prayer, a man who believed in the sovereignty of God, allied with a great passion for the lost. In 1793 he sailed for India. He knew that God sovereignly decreed all things but one means by which God appoints all things is by prayer.
I once talked to an Arminian missionary who told me of his visit to a village where no Christian had been before. They were taken to an old lady who was very ill, in fact, she died in the presence of the doctor. "I wept and wept," he said to me and then he added, "but you are a Calvinist, Eryl, and you don’t cry." I rebuked him. Here Paul prays for believers. He wants them to know God better. You must repent of any callous attitude to the right use of the means God has purposed to accomplish his will. If you are neglecting to pray for Christians you need to repent of that.
That They Might Know God Better.
1. Firstly, he prays that they would come to know God better, and know him as the Father of glory. He is the one who thus appeared to our father Abraham, says Stephen. Paul is praying that they might have real knowledge of God, accurate and experiential. That is eternal life. Paul wants them to know him better and better, increasing in their knowledge of God. How is this possible? Not through a week-end away where you will ‘get the Spirit,’ or going to an exciting church by a North American airport, or the popular one in your locality, or somewhere where every single place in the building has been anointed with oil! Not by such devices does anyone grow in knowledge of the living God. No wonder people are confused. No, it is through the Bible and the Spirit that such knowledge comes. Go to the Bible! It is God’s Book. The very words are what God has revealed. There we see God. It is not for extra-biblical revelations we plead but to know that revelation which God has given. In regeneration our eyes have been opened. We have seen the light! That is the beginning and then we need the Spirit to reveal more and more of the Word of the Lord, and t he Lord of the Word to us. So Paul is praying that we see what is revealed to us in the Scriptures, clearer views of God, being overwhelmed by him. Practically speaking, use your Bible well. Pray. Get to know God on your knees. Ask God to illuminate your life. Discipline your life.
That They Might Know the Hope to Which We are Called (v.18).
2. God is calling people everywhere through the gospel. Many people ignore that general call. But usually the ‘call’ is effectual in Scripture. When God calls he brings a sinner from sin to the glorious salvation of heaven. We are called to a great hope. The world lives and dies without hope, but we are going to see God in our eternal home. We are going to see the head that once was crowned with thorns for us. All the elect will be safely gathered there and not one will be lost. He will be there at the centre of it all. There are no divisions there. 100% agreement there, and no problems with difficult men. You can understand the note, "Don’t pray for healing. Don’t keep me back from the glory," which Dr Lloyd-Jones scribbled just before he died.
To know God’s Great Power (v.19).
3. Thirdly Paul uses about four words to describe that omnipotence at work. The energy of God overcomes all opposition. Paul wants them to see this. "Open their eyes," he cries. The Ephesians lived under the shadow of the temple of Diana. There was a network of power streaming from the idol. Paul prays that the church may experience the power of God, that power that conquered death in Christ, which power raised him from the dead and which set him at the right hand of God in heaven. The God-man, the mediator, returns to heaven, to the right hand of the Father. No one is higher (v.21). He is head over all things to the church (v.22). He exercises that mediatorial authority on behalf of the church. There is a mystery in providence. In some parts of the world there is intense persecution and evil regimes. Yet there are also thriving churches in those places. The Good Shepherd spreads a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Christ is building his church and blessing it. "Open their eyes to see your great power," prays Paul.
THE GLORIES OF GOD’S GRACE IN SALVATION (Ephesians 2:1-10)
Apart from the grace of God no one could ever be saved, in either the accomplishment or the application of salvation. What are unconverted people like? In the opening verses of Ephesians 2 we are given a description of them as God sees them. This is what they really are, and here are the reasons they do not respond to the gospel. The condition is so bad that God alone can transform such people. In the first three verses we see:
THE PLIGHT OF MAN. (vv.1-3)
i] They were dead in trespasses and sins. You can stand by a person who has died and is not moving a muscle. Nothing you say to him changes him in any way. There is no response. This was, in fact, my condition when I first came to University here in Aberystwyth. Christians spoke to me for two terms and I was unresponsive. One even gave up on speaking, but a month later God converted me.
ii] They were walking according to the course of this world. A fifteen feet shark was recently on sale in Swansea. A freak storm had swept it off course from west Africa and it was netted by trawler men of the south coast of England and this fishmonger from Wales purchased it. The shark was way off course and so it was caught. Before he sinned Adam was on course, enjoying and obeying God. When he defied God he went off course. Sin had got Adam and so he and Eve
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