Monday, February 27, 2012

Redeemed by Grace

Part 5 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.

"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" (1:7-8). 

A Third Blessing

In 1:3-14, Paul praises all three persons of the Trinity (Father, vv. 4-6; Son, vv. 7-12; Holy Spirit, vv. 13-14) for blessing the believer with “every spiritual blessing” (v.3). In vv. 7-8, he thanks God for a third blessing: redemption.

The Greek word for “redemption” (apolytrosis) is used ten times in the NT (Luke 21:28; Rom. 3:24; 8:23; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:7, 14; 4:30; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:15; 11:35). Redemption is deliverance from captivity or slavery. In the OT, God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt. In Paul’s day, slaves were redeemed by the payment of a ransom (like hostages are freed by a ransom payment).

Believers have been redeemed from bondage to sin.

Why is redemption a praiseworthy blessing? Without it, eternal punishment would be the destiny of everyone.

Our Redemption 

Paul writes, “We have redemption” (v. 7). But redemption would be impossible without four things.

1. Without our Redeemer, there would be no redemption. 

We have redemption “in [Christ].” Sometimes it’s said that a person has “found redemption” (i.e., they have atoned for past sins). But biblically there is nothing we can do to redeem ourselves. “Because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us…redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:30-31).

2. Without the cross, there would be no redemption. 

We have redemption “through [Christ’s] blood.” In the NT, redemption “refers to one set free on the basis of a ransom paid to God by Christ’s death” (Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 206). The ransom price for our redemption was the blood of Jesus. Jesus declared, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; cf. Mark 10:45). “You were ransomed…, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Christ “has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev. 1:5; cf. 5:9).

“The forgiveness of our trespasses” further defines redemption. “Forgiveness” (aphesis) “is the permanent cancellation of or release from the punishment for sin because it has been paid for by Christ’s sacrifice” (Hoehner, Ephesians, p. 207). “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22; cf. Lev. 17:11).

3. Without God’s grace, there would be no redemption. 

We have redemption “according to the riches of [God’s] grace, which he lavished on us.” Redemption can’t be earned. It’s a gift from God to all who put their faith in Christ. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23-25).

4. Without God’s wisdom, there would be no redemption. 

We have redemption because it was planned “in all wisdom and insight.” After Christ’s death and resurrection, Peter preached in Jerusalem, saying, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23; cf. 4:27-28). 

Redeemed to Serve

God has not freed us to do whatever we desire. “He who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 7:22-23; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19-20). “The released slave was officially designated a ‘freedman’ and frequently continued to work for is former master. Many extent inscriptions from freedman indicate the tendency to adopt the family name of their former master (now their ‘patron’) and to continue honoring them” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2201).

Christ gave his life for us. He asks us to live our lives for him.

There is a psychological phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome in which hostages develop positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of helping or defending them (a recent case was Jaycee Lee Dugard). Christians are often guilty of spiritual Stockholm Syndrome. We have been freed from sin’s bondage, but we still go back to it and sometimes even defend it. Paul mentions some of these sins in the latter part of Ephesians: lying (4:25), stealing (4:28), corrupting talk (4:29), bitterness (4:31), wrath (4:31), anger (4:31), slander (4:31), malice (4:31), sexual immorality (5:3), impurity (5:3), covetousness (5:3), filthiness (5:4), foolish talk (5:4), and crude joking (5:4). We have been freed from sin by Christ. But we have also been freed to serve Christ.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Adopted by Grace

Listen to this sermon here.

Part 4 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

Text: 1:5-6

Blessing upon Blessing 

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved (1:5-6).

In 1:3, the apostle Paul writes that God has blessed the believer “with every spiritual blessing.” In 1:5-6, he praises God for the blessing of adoption. Often, adoption results in a child going from a bad situation to a good situation (e.g., Michael Oher, adopted by a wealthy couple and now an NFL football player). Certainly that is true of the believer’s adoption.

Believers have been welcomed into God's family. 

Paul’s concept of adoption probably comes from the Roman law and practice of his day. “Under Roman law the procedure of adoption had two steps. In the first step, the son had to be released from the control of his natural father. This was done by a procedure whereby the father sold him as a slave three times to the adopter. The adopter would release him two times and he would automatically again come under his father’s control. With the third sale, the adoptee was freed from his natural father. Regarding the second step, since the natural father no longer had any authority over him, the adopter became the new father with absolute control over him, and he retained this control until the adoptee died or the adopter freed him. The son was not responsible to his natural father but only to his newly acquired father. The purpose of this adoption was so that the adoptee could take the position of a natural son in order to continue the family line and maintain property ownership. This son became the [head of the family] in the next generation” (Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 196).

Children of God 

In 1:5-6, we find five truths about the believer’s adoption.

1. Our adoption was predetermined. 

“In love [God] predestined us for adoption.” To “predestine” means “to determine in advance.” The Greek word for “predestined” (proorizo) is found six times in the NT (Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29, 30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5, 11).

2. Our adoption makes God our Father and us God’s heirs. 

We were adopted “as sons.” Paul refers to all believers—both male and female—as “sons” of God. Why? Again, Paul was thinking of Roman adoption, which was “a legal practice by which the father of a family accepted as his heir a male child who was not his own” (Frank Thielman, Ephesians, p. 52). So Paul calls us all “sons” because we all-whether we are male or female—have been given the same privileged position in God’s family.

In chapter 2, Paul writes that we were once “the sons of disobedience” (v. 2) and “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (v. 3). We who were slaves to sin are now sons of God! “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:14-17; cf. Gal. 4:4-7). We went from having nothing to being an heir to everything (cf. Eph. 1:11, 14)!

3. Our adoption was possible only because of Christ. 

We were adopted “through Christ.” “To all who did receive [Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12). “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26). Without the cross, there could be no adoption.

4. Our adoption brought God great joy. 

We were adopted “according to the purpose of [God’s] will.” The KJV says, “according to the good pleasure of his will.” As adoption brings human parents great joy, so too with God. In eternity past, God had a plan for those whom he had chosen to save (and who would believe). “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29). (Of course, there is an important distinction between the Son of God and sons of God.)

5. Our adoption reveals that God deserves our praise. 

We were adopted “to the praise of [God’s] glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Our adoption proves that God is full of love for us. Scholars are divided as to whether “in love” qualifies “before him” or “he predestined.” But certainly we were adopted by God because he loved us.

The first time the word “love” is used in the OT is in Genesis 22:2. In that verse, God says to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.” In the end, Abraham discovered that this was only a test. Isaac was spared (vv. 12-13).

The first time the word “love” is found in the NT is in Matthew 3:17. In that verse, God’s voice is heard from heaven, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love” (NIV). The ESV says, “This is my beloved Son.”

What Abraham was asked to do, God has done. He offered his only Son as a sacrifice for our sins. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). Christ suffered so that we could be blessed. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).

We have been blessed “in the Beloved.” The “Beloved” is Jesus (Matt. 3:11; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 9:35; Col. 1:13; 2 Peter 1:17). Since we are in Christ, we are God’s beloved sons and daughters. 

Imitating Our Father

Paul writes in 5:1-2, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” God loves us, and we should love one another.

Ephesians has much to say about loving other members of God’s family. We are to bear with one another “in love” (4:2). We are to speak the truth “in love” (4:15). We are to build up one another “in love” (4:16). We are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave [us]” (4:32). Those of us who are husbands are to “love [our] wives” (5:25) and love them as ourselves (5:28, 33).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chosen by Grace

Part 3 of a series through the book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.

Valued by God

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph. 1:4).

How does a child feel when he or she is chosen first to be on a team? The child feels valued. Ephesians 1:4 says that believers have been chosen by God. (However, God’s choosing is not based on merit.)

Those who have been chosen by God are valued by God. 

The Doctrine of Divine Election

In the original Greek, 1:3-14 is one long sentence of 202 words. Scholars call this passage a eulogy. It could also be described as an outburst of praise. In verse 3, Paul writes that believers have been blessed by God “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Then in the remaining verses of the eulogy, Paul lists several of the blessings believers have been given. The first blessing on Paul’s praise list is election.

In Scripture, the “elect” are individuals who have been chosen by God to be saved. Christians (Calvinists and Arminians) have different views on the doctrine of divine election. Four truths about elections are found in 1:4.

1. We were chosen because of God's grace. 

“[God] chose us.” The Greek word for “chose” (eklegomai) is found 22 times in the NT (Luke 6:13; 9:35; 10:42; 14:7; John 6:70; 13:18; 15:16, 19; 1 Cor. 1:27, 28; Eph. 1:4). Out of the 22 times the word is used in the NT, either God or Jesus chooses in 16 instances.

The doctrine of election requires humility. We must accept that all God does is perfect, even if we don’t understand it. In Paul’s discussion of election in Romans 9, he writes, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Rom. 9:20).

The doctrine of election also eliminates boasting. “[Salvation] is not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. 1 Cor. 1:29). If God chose you, it wasn’t because you were superior to anyone else.

Theologians have debated this doctrine for centuries, but the reason why Paul brings it up here is to encourage believers to praise God for his grace. The doctrine of election should generate more praise than debate.

The doctrine of election is extremely difficult and, as a result, often misunderstood. First, election is not unjust. Actually, it would be perfectly fair for God not to save anyone. “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). “The real problem is not why he had not chosen some, but why he chose any” (Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 176).

Second, election is not random. God did not choose to save random individuals. He didn’t go, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.” God knew everything about every person he elected. 

Third, election is not fatalistic. Scripture emphasizes both divine election and human choice. Acts 13:48 states, “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Jesus declared, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). No one should ever worry if he or she is elect. The Bible promises, “Whoever believes in [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). If you choose to believe, you were already been chosen by God.

Many Christians argue that the doctrine of election discourages evangelism. But Paul asks, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14). Actually, election can be seen as encouraging evangelism. Paul writes, ”I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10; cf. 1 Thess. 1:4-5). Paul kept on sharing the gospel because he knew there were many elect people who were not yet saved. (If a fisherman knows there are “elect” fish in the lake, he will be encouraged to keep on fishing.) Election is the guarantee that there will some evangelistic success.

Fourth, election is not based on God’s foreknowledge of our faith. First Peter 1:1-2 refers to “those who are elect…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Many Christians believe that this means God foresaw who would believe and chose those individuals for salvation. But foreknowledge means more than a mere awareness of facts. When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, he said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). And in Amos 3:2, God said to the people of Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” In Scripture, “knowing” someone can indicate a special relationship. (“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain,” Gen. 4:1). When God chose us to be saved, he decided to initiate a saving relationship with us. If election was based on foreknowledge of our faith, God would be stripped of his sovereignty. “God chose us simply because he decided to bestow his love upon us. It was not because of any foreseen faith or foreseen merit in us” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 679).

2. We were chosen because of Christ's work. 

God chose us “in [Christ].” The title “Christ” means “the anointed one.” (“Christ” and “Messiah” are synonymous.) In the OT, a king or a priest was anointed with oil, demonstrating that he had been chosen by God for that position. As “Christ,” Jesus was the one anointed to be humanity’s Savior. He is the ultimate Chosen One. During the transfiguration of Christ, “a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One’” (Luke 9:35; cf. 23:35). Without Christ and his cross, there could be no salvation. And without salvation, there could be no election.

3. We were chosen in eternity past. 

God chose us “before the foundation of the world.” This is the time of election. Before creation, God decided that he would save people from sin through Christ, the one loved by God “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:14; cf. 1 Peter 1:20). “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9).

4. We were chosen for a purpose. 

God chose us “that we should be holy and blameless before [God].” This is the purpose of our election. To be “holy” means to be unique. In Isaiah 6:3, the angels cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” God who is holy is different from other gods, and so people who are holy are to be different from other people. Believers are to reflect God’s character. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:16; cf. Lev. 11:44).

To be “blameless” means be without sin. The Greek word for “blameless” (amomos) is also translated as “without blemish” in the NT. First Peter 1:19 describes Christ as “a lamb without blemish or spot” (cf. Heb. 9:14). Paul writes in Romans 8:28-29, “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30). “The divine purpose in our election was not simply to repair the damage done by sin but also to fulfill God’s original intention for humankind, namely, to create for himself a people perfectly conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 100).

Being conformed to the likeness of Christ and being holy as God is holy are goals that cannot be fully reached in this life. “Before him” probably indicates that Paul is thinking about the future day when the believer will stand in God’s presence. Later in Ephesians, Paul writes that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:25-27; cf. Col. 1:22; Jude 24). “However, there is a necessary correlation between what God is going to do in the future for believers and what he is presently doing for them. Since he is preparing believers to go into his presence holy and without blame, certainly that is what he desires for them now….” (Hoehner, Ephesians, p. 179).

Responsible to God 

How should a politician who has been chosen to govern feel? He should feel responsible to the people who elected him. He should be determined to do his best.

Those who have been chosen by God are responsible to God.