- First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi - https://fpcjackson.org -

The Panorama of Grace

Please take your Bibles in hand and turn with me to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. If you’re using one of our church Bibles you’ll find that on page 976. We had been working our way through the book of Exodus. As we completed chapter 18 last week, we came to a natural break before the next segment of the story where God reveals His law to Moses, or to Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai, so we’ll pause in our studies in Exodus picking them up, God willing, after the summer. And during the summer months we are going to be thinking about the message of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Now you have your Bibles open before you, before we consider its message in chapter 1 let’s bow our heads as we pray. Let’s pray together.


O Lord, give us ears to hear what Your Spirit would say to Your church from this portion of Your holy Word, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Ephesians chapter 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:


“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,


To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even 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 for adoption 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. 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 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.


In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”


Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy and inerrant Word.


As I was preparing for this passage of Scripture and the sermon this morning, it occurred to me that I could not find an antonym, an opposite, for the word “loneliness.” I could find words that came close but the word, loneliness, I couldn’t find the precise opposite that evoked the positive for all of the negative connotations of the word loneliness. And it strikes me that it may be this very phenomena in our language, this lack of an opposite, that reflects one of our deepest fears – that loneliness has no answer; that there is no antonym, no opposite for it, no antidote to it. Our vocabulary itself seems to betray one of our deepest fears and deepest needs. One of the deepest issues plaguing our radically individualized society in these days – the issue of loneliness. And the great theme of this generation is the quest for community and the search for belonging.


God’s New Community

As we begin our studies in the book of Ephesians, Paul writing to the church in Ephesus from a Roman prison cell sometime in the early A.D. 60s, we’re going to see that at the heart of its message is a message about the church, God’s new community. It is, in many ways, an encyclopedic statement of Christian truth but its heart, its central concern and burden, is to teach us about where we really do belong. It is, if you like, a user manual for true belonging in the church of Jesus Christ, the community into which we are built as we believe the Gospel of grace. And so the book of Ephesians is immensely important in the days in which we live as people long for a place to belong. Here is a book that deals with the church of Jesus Christ and the community into which God seeks to plant us by the Gospel.


And this morning we are going to deal with the first fourteen verses of chapter 1. If you look at it with me, in verses 1 and 2 you see Paul’s customary apostolic greeting. His burden, as he begins his letter, this letter as well as others in this way, is to remind those to whom he is writing of his apostolic credentials. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” – he’s saying to the church at Ephesus as he is to the church in Jackson, Mississippi, “Listen up. This is not Paul’s best advice. This is the Word of God brought to you by Christ’s own authorized spokesman.” And so as we hear the message of Ephesians we are hearing from Christ addressing His church. And in verses 3 to 14 we have this extraordinary statement, really it’s one long single complex sentence in Greek, that summaries almost the entire body of Christian truth; the complete encyclopedia of Christian truth is here in these twelve verses. If you were to visit our home, you would see hanging on our dining room wall a really rather large photograph of Wester Ross, that part of the northwest highlands of Scotland where my wife’s family are from. Stac Polly and Ben Mor Coigach and other mountains rise almost directly out of the lofts that are there reflecting the beautiful blue sky overhead. It’s a stunning panorama. And that’s exactly what we have here in verses 3 to 14 – a stunning panorama of the country of God’s redeeming grace. And Paul wants us to take it in and to be moved by it, to be captured and captivated by the glory and the sweep, the grandeur of it.


And as we seek to do that together this morning in the few moments we have, I want you to notice four themes. We’ll organize our reflections on these twelve verses under four headings. First, I want you to see that Paul is teaching us that salvation is doxological. That is to say, salvation’s goal and purpose is doxology. It is about praise to God; it’s about worship. Then secondly, salvation we are being taught in verses 3 to 14, is Christological; that is, it is centered on and focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Then thirdly, we’ll see that salvation is Trinitarian. Although these verses are focused with precision on the person and work of Jesus, they are nevertheless robustly Trinitarian, showing us the work of the Father in purposing our redemption, the work of Jesus Christ, God the Son, in accomplishing our redemption, and the work of the Holy Spirit in applying it to our hearts and lives. Doxological salvation, Christological salvation, Trinitarian salvation, and then finally we’ll see that our salvation is comprehensive. It begins in eternity, sweeps on through time at Calvary, into our experience as we are converted, and then on into glory as the end of the ages when the fullness of time comes and all things are united, things on earth and things in heaven are brought into unity in Christ. Eternity, history, our experience and our future, are all here. It is a comprehensive salvation. So let’s think about those four headings.


I.  Salvation is Doxological


First of all, salvation is doxological. That is the basic orientation given to the passage in verse 3. Look at verse 3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is about to launch into this extraordinary single sentence like a stream of consciousness just pouring from him. He barely stops to take a breath. And here at its beginning we see what these amazing vistas of God’s saving design and purpose are doing in the heart of the apostle himself and what they ought to do in our hearts as we take them in. He is bursting into praise, into doxology, into worship. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” As you survey all that God has purposed and performed and applied in securing your salvation, you ought to worship. The goal of God, the terminus, the target at which He aims in all His saving works, is praise and honor for His own name. It is a theme that is repeated at least three more times in these verses. Verse 6 – we are predestined for adoption. Notice, verse 6, “to the praise of his glorious grace.” Or can you see in verse 12 Paul himself hopes in Christ so that he might be “to the praise of his glory.” Or verse 14, we too, having been converted and sealed by the promised Holy Spirit enjoy all of this “to the praise of his glory.”


Chosen to be A Worshipper

Why does God do all that He does? What is God’s great design in the salvation of sinners? It is not to make much of us but to be made much of by us. He does all that He does for the praise of His name. The goal of God is the glory of God and the worship of His people, saved from every tribe and language and nation under heaven. Our salvation isn’t the end; it’s the means to a greater end and that end is worship, which, just as a little footnote, should tell us something about how we ought to use the great truths that we find in this text. It is the locus classicus, one of the key texts to which we often turn when we wish to demonstrate the Biblical teaching on the doctrine of election and predestination. But remember here we are being taught that election and predestination is not a stick with which to bludgeon unsuspecting Arminians! It’s a spark that should ignite adoration in the hearts of all who contemplate it. It is fuel for praise. If your grasp of the doctrine of election makes you into a pugilist, into a fighter, you have not begun to grasp its significance or its purpose. It should make you a worshipper. That’s what it does in Paul’s heart and ought to do in ours. Salvation is doxological.


II.  Salvation is Christological


Then secondly, salvation is Christological. That is to say it is focused on and centered in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 3 again – every spiritual blessing is ours. Where? Are there any spiritual blessings to be found anywhere other than in Christ, Paul? No, every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places are ours. Only “in Christ,” verse 3; we are chosen and predestined “in Christ,” verses 4 and 5. The glorious grace with which we have been blessed is ours “in Christ,” verse 6. Redemption by the cross is ours, verse 7, “in him.” God’s purpose is set forth “in Christ,” verse 9, and one day all things will be united together, the fall will be undone, the effects of Adam’s first transgression removed forever and all things reintegrated, alienation ended, harmony restored and transcended and perfected at last in the fullness of times “in Christ,” verse 10. We obtain an inheritance “in Christ,” verse 11; we hope “in Christ,” verse 12. We are sealed with the Spirit “in Christ,” verse 13. One of the great themes, perhaps the great theme, more than election, more than our own reception of redemption and conversion, one of the great themes of this passage is union with Christ. We are united to Christ in eternity in the electing plan of God. We are united to Christ at the heart of history when we were crucified with Christ at Calvary as our representative and substitute bore our punishment and bore our sins in His body on the tree. We were united to Christ experientially and vitally when we believed the Gospel and the Holy Spirit made us alive together with Christ. And we will be united to Christ in consummation, forever to enjoy unbroken fellowship with Him in the fullness of times at the end of the ages.


A Larger View of Christ

What a vital corrective that is and ought to perform in our hearts when we are so tempted to think of the Christian life as leverage, as a tool, and to think of Jesus even as a means to an end. We need Jesus so that He can bless us with the blessings we need. “I have a problem and so I need Jesus for my problem.” Paul wants to change the way that we think so that Jesus is not a tool to another end but rather that Jesus is the circumference and the center of our whole Christian lives, that there are no blessings, there is nothing for the Christian outside of Christ, that what you get in the Gospel is not an inventory of discreet blessings. What you get in the Gospel is Christ Himself, clothed in all His benefits. You get Jesus when you get the Gospel so that you begin to think in terms of fellowship and communion with the Savior and much less in terms of, “How do I get the blessings that I need along the way in order to accomplish and fulfill my purposes for my life?” Our whole lives are radically reoriented and reconfigured around Jesus and no longer around ourselves when the vision Paul sets before us takes root in our hearts. Salvation is doxological and it is Christological. Paul is trying to ignite in your heart worship and his first strategy for doing so is to rivet your eyes on Jesus. Look at Him in the fellowship of the blessed Trinity before the dawn of creation agreeing with the Father to accomplish your salvation, bear your sin, endure the cross for you. See Him born in a manger, see Him bearing the cross, see Him agonized and brutalized and broken. See Him as the Father turns His face away for you. See Him risen and reigning and ever living to make intercession for you. See Him pour out His Spirit. See Him draw you to Himself by the Gospel. See Him keep you and sustain you and preserve you through every trial along your journey. See Him wait for you to receive you with open arms when at last you cross the finish line. Christ is all in all, the beginning and the end, the center and the circumference. He is the servant and the master of our Christian lives. And Paul wants us to fill our vision with large views of Him that our hearts may melt in wonder, love, and praise and begin to adore Him. You do not live for a tool that you use, but you will live for a Savior who gives Himself for you.


III.  Salvation is Trinitarian


Salvation is doxological, it’s Christological – it’s all about Jesus – and thirdly, it is Trinitarian. I’m sure you noticed that as we read through the passage. This is a profoundly Trinitarian text. Verses 3 to 6 – our attention falls on the electing work of God the Father. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the one, verse 3, who chose us. He is the one who, verse 4, predestined us. And we were predestined and chosen, verse 5, to be adopted as His sons. But then in 7 to 10 the focus falls on the work of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you see that? Verses 7 to 10. We have redemption by His blood. The blood of the cross. Our forgiveness, the forgiveness of our sins, is secured by Jesus at Calvary. And more than that, the Father’s plan in obedience to which Christ came into the world, takes in one day will sweep onward beyond you and beyond all of us to take in all creation and will reunify a broken world and a broken creation. God will “unite all things together in Christ,” verse 10. The work of Christ.


Fellowship with the Trinity

And then in verses 11 to 14, the work of God the Holy Spirit in our conversion. Paul reflects on his own conversion, 11 and 12, and the Ephesians’ conversions, verses 13 and 14. And he says the whole experience of Christian conversion, of being brought to know Jesus, is crowned by the sealing work of the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance. The blessed Trinity provides the context for our Christian lives. The work of the Trinity is woven into the fabric of our Christian lives. We said earlier that a major theme of Ephesians is new community, of belonging to the community that the Gospel creates, the church. But behind and before that community there is a much more mysterious and more glorious and beautiful community to which we are brought to belong. We have become participants in the fellowship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit when we believe the Gospel. There is therefore a real sense in which, as we live in a generation longing for community and belonging and for rootedness, that when you become a Christian you can never be alone because you have been swept up into the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. You are made a participant in the unceasing exchange of love and delight that has flowed from the Father to the Son and the Spirit forever. What a glorious thing is yours, child of God. You will never be alone. The roots that are put down for you when you are brought to know Christ penetrate into eternity and into the very fellowship of the Godhead itself. To be a Christian is to participate in a profound mystery that means you will never, never really be utterly isolated. Here’s the depth of your belonging when you come to know Christ.


IV.  Salvation is Comprehensive


Salvation is doxological, it’s Christological, it’s Trinitarian, and then finally it’s comprehensive. Notice how it begins in the eternal, predestinating purposes of God the Father, verses 4 to 6. When were Christians chosen? Verse 4 – “before the foundation of the world.” What is God’s goal in choosing and predestinating Christians? Verse 4 – He does it “that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Or verse 5, He predestined us for “adoption as sons.” Notice there that our Christian lives are the consequent and not the cause of God’s choice of us. It’s the fruit and not the root. He didn’t choose you because you are such a wonderful person. He didn’t choose you because you would be good. He chose you that you might become good by His sovereign grace. He did not choose you because He knew you would choose Him. He chose you because He knew you never would choose Him apart from His electing love.


The Great Mystery of His Choice

Notice what it is that constrains and compels God’s choice. Verse 5 – “in love he predestined us according to the purpose of his will.” The purpose of His will alone, not compelled or constrained by anything in the creature, by nothing in you, but only His free and sovereign choice has directed Him. And yet for all that notice it is not an arbitrary or cold choice. Look at the text again. “In love he predestined us.” Why did He choose to save you? Isn’t that the great mystery? “Why me?” It’s a profound abyss impenetrable. The great mystery you know is not “Why did He not choose to save everyone?” God is free to treat us as our sins deserve. He’s not required to save any but He will be just in dealing with us all and He would be perfectly righteous to condemn us for our rebellion and sin. The great mystery you know is why He would choose to save any at all. Why would He choose to save any at all? And the answer of our text is love. Behind this we cannot go. He chose you because He loved you. He chose you before the worlds were made and there He loved you. He was compelled to choose you because of infinite love for you. And not because you were lovely. He loved you because He loved you! There is no “why?” to the love of God. What a mystery it is so that don’t you find yourself singing, “While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast, each of us cries with thankful tongue, ‘Lord, why was I a guest? Why was I made to hear your voice and enter while there’s room when thousands make the wretched choice and rather starve than come?’ Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in, else we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin.” We owe it all to the love of God the Father in eternity who fixed His delight upon you. He loved you because He loved you.


It’s comprehensive because it takes an eternity but notice it sweeps on into history. Verse 7 – here we are at the pivot point of the ages. Here we stand in verse 7 at Calvary watching the God-Man bear our sin in His body on the tree. Eternity on into history. And then on into the future – verse 10. The plan for the fullness of time to restore and unite all things in Christ is coming one day and sin will be forever gone and all things will be made new and broken creation will be mended and transcended and surpassed in the new heavens and the new earth. Eternity and history and the future, even our experiences here, isn’t it? Verses 13 and 14 – do notice the pattern of God’s way with a soul. We hear the Word of truth, the Gospel of our salvation, verse 13. We come to believe and we are united to Christ and in that very same moment, verse 14, we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit who is the guarantee and down-payment of our inheritance that will be ours one day, securing us and keeping us to the last. Election is here, verses 3 to 6. Atonement and justification are here, verse 7. Adoption is here, verse 5. Conversion is here, verse 14. Even glorification is here, verse 10. All we need, everything, from eternity through history, through the present into the future, God has provided for us Paul is saying in Christ. Every spiritual blessing in Christ. That’s the whole landscape. What a panorama it is!


The picture of Wester Ross that hangs on our wall at home is there because it’s beautiful but it’s there for a deeper reason. Its beauty stirs our hearts and it reminds us of home. I think something like that should be happening in our hearts as we study Ephesians 1:3-14. There’s beauty here and glory here and it should remind us of home. There ought to be a stirring in our hearts that says, “This is the landscape, this is the country of God’s redeeming grace spreading out before us all its mountains and valleys, it’s beauty and grandeur, and this is where I belong as a child of God and here I am utterly, utterly secure, chosen in the love of the Father in eternity, purchased by the blood of the Son in history, drawn by the power of the Holy Spirit in my experience and kept by Him for glory that will come!” This is your country and as you take in its beauty and its grandeur, don’t you find your heart joining the apostle Paul with breathless wonder saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ to whom be all glory and praise, now and forever”? May the Lord bless to you the ministry of His Word. Let us pray.


Father, thank You for full, comprehensive redemption. Forgive us for the ways that our words, our thoughts, fall short of description, never mind explanation for it. Help us please to linger long before the beautiful vista, the panorama of Your redemptive plan set before us, and use it to kindle in our hearts praise and worship not just of our lips but of our whole lives and selves, given up, that with Paul we too might be to the praise of His glorious grace. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.