Yesterday, we started to look at how all three members of the Trinity are involved in our salvation. If you have not read the previous posts from last week and yesterday, I encourage you to go back and take a look at them to get a sense of where we are at in this discussion. Over the next few days we will look at how all three members of the Trinity carry out their individual roles in our salvation.
The first element that we need to look at takes us back to before time even existed. Back before the universe was even created to ground our salvation in mind of God the Father. Before you read the rest of this post, I encourage you to open your Bible and read Ephesians 1:3-14.
- Chosen by the Father (v.3-6)
If you were asked you to share your salvation testimony, you’d probably start out with something like the following. First, you’d tell me what your life was like before Christ. Then you’d move on to tell me how you came to know Christ before concluding with what your life is like now. This is a time tested and Biblical way of sharing our testimony. In fact, it is the very pattern Paul generally used when sharing his testimony (see Acts 22:1-21; 26:1-23). While our testimonies are a good place to begin our understanding of salvation and a powerful tool for witnessing, they are not to be the final word on the doctrine of salvation.
Notice that here in Ephesians, Paul wants to take us beyond the basics of his testimony. Instead of retelling his Damascus road experience, which they’d probably already heard before, Paul takes them into eternity past. He goes all the way back into eternity to ground our salvation firmly in the sovereign will of God the Father. This a good lesson for us.
While our testimonies are an amazing tool for sharing the gospel, they should never be our sole means of understanding salvation. We must go beyond the initial salvation experience by pulling back the tapestry of time and capturing a glimpse of the Trinity at work. That’s what exactly what Paul does in Ephesians 1:3-14. He transports us back into eternity, giving us a view of our salvation from the standpoint of eternity:
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 to himself 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. (1:3-6)
Paul grounds our salvation, not in the moment we chose to follow Christ, but in the moment God chose to save us. Our salvation, in other words, does not begin at the moment of conversion but in the eternal counsel of the Father’s sovereign will. Paul elaborates on three incredible truths about this choice.
- His Choice Was Deliberate
The first thing we notice about the Father’s choice is that it was deliberate. In v.4, Paul says, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” Then in v.5 he adds that God, “predestined us for adoption as sons according to the purpose of His will.” Both statements underline the deliberate nature of God’s choice and its timing — “before the foundation of the world.” This means that before God created anything in the universe — before he created the heavens and the earth, before he created the angels, before he spoke one molecule of the physical world into existence — He decided to send His Son to redeem us and rescue us from sin.
We can debate about exactly how and why this choice was made, but in the end, we must admit that it’s one of the most glorious statements in entire the Bible. It reminds us that our salvation was not God’s plan B. God was not taken by surprise by our sin. He did not stand aghast in heaven, startled that we’d rebelled against Him, desperately wringing His hands while searching for some way to fix what we’d just messed up. Instead, Paul reminds us that God had a plan for our salvation from the very beginning. Before He spoke anything into existence God had already chose to send Jesus as our redeemer.
While there are a lot of things we can never understand about this doctrine, there is one thing we can be sure of — nothing was ever forced upon God. He does not save anyone because He must, or because He was forced into it. God’s choice was a free and deliberate act of His will in eternity past. From the lofty perch of heaven, His omniscient gaze looked down the corridor of time and saw every moment of our lives. He saw every rebellious act, every foolish choice, every time we miss the mark of His righteous demands. Yet He still chose us.
- His Choice was Purposeful
The deliberate choice of God, reminds us that our salvation is a part of a larger plan. Paul fleshed out this plan by showing us that God had three purposes for choosing us. The first, not surprisingly, was to deal with our sin problem. In v.4 he writes that God, “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Even though this comes first in the text, the forgiveness sin was not God’s primary motivation in election. Such an idea would be too man-centered. Instead, the forgiveness of sin is placed at the beginning, because it is an essential first step towards something even greater. It reflects the fact that until our sin problem is dealt with, we can be of no use to God. Sin separates us from Him and keeps us from fulfilling His divine purpose. But through the forgiveness sin, God gives us a new standing before Him and declares that we are “holy and blameless” before Him.
But Paul goes even further, adding a second purpose to election, saying that God chooses us to be, “adopted as sons…” (v.5) God the Father was not content with simply forgiving our sin and restoring us to friendly terms. Paul shows us that God’s plan goes beyond anything we could have possibly imagined or hoped for — He adopts us as sons. Stop to think about that for a minute. God takes those who were once His enemies — you and me — and adopts us as into His family as His beloved children. This concept has been driven home for me by two friends who’ve experienced adoption from different angels. One from the perspective of the adopted child, the other from the perspective of the adopting parent.
Eric, was my next-door neighbor and best friend growing up. As a baby, he was adopted into an incredibly loving, supportive and nurturing home. He used to sometimes joke with me saying, “Your parents were stuck with you, but my parents chose me.” While I’m sure Eric meant this in jest, he was pointing out something special about his relationship to his adopted parents. Out of all the children up for adoption in the world, they choose him. That made him special. We can understand our relationship with God in the same way. God was not stuck with us. He deliberately chose us before time even began. That makes us special. But there is another perspective on adoption.
My friend Martha shared with me her frustration with people who refer to her daughter’s birth mother as her “real mom.” She told me, “Adoption made Elizabeth ours — really ours! She has all the legal rights of a biological child!” She then added, “When people ask about her ‘real’ mom, I want to shout I am her real mom.” The same thing holds true for our adoption as God’s children. We belong to Him. We are truly and genuinely His children. We enjoy all the legal rights of a natural child.
As special as adoption is, however, it is still just a means to an even greater end. God’s primary goal in our salvation is to honor and glorify Himself. Read back through this passage and notice the repeated phrase, “the praise of His glory.” (see v. 6, 12, 14) The Father chose us, for the praise of His glory. Jesus redeemed us, for the praise of His glory. The Holy Spirit seals us until the day of redemption, for the praise of His glory. From beginning to end, our salvation is motivated by the glory of God.
In a later chapter, we will look at God’s pursuit of His own glory more closely but for right now, let it suffice to simply say that God’s primary purpose in our salvation was His own glory. That’s why I say that our salvation is a means to an even greater end. It is part of God’s eternal plan to glorify Himself. While that may at first sound selfish on God’s part, Paul immediately turns our attention to God’s motivation — His love.
- His Choice Was Motivated by Love
The Father’s motive in choosing to save us was love (v.4-5). Commenting on these verses John MacArthur writes, “God elects those who are saved because of His love… Just as He chose Israel to be His special people only because of His love (Deut. 7:8), so He also chose the church, the family of the redeemed.” (MacArthur 1986, 14) Our society has so watered down the concept of love that it distorts the true Biblical picture. We can see this in the way we talk about love. Modern language reduces love to a mere emotion. In fact, Tina Turner even went so far to say that love is just a “second hand emotion.” We dream about love, sing about love, and even write about love, but all our imaginations fall short of what true love looks like.
In God’s economy love is a verb. He doesn’t just say He loves us, He proves it through the unselfish, sacrificial giving of His Son. This is what Paul has in mind in Romans 5:8 when he says, “but God shows his love for us in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love makes a deliberate, purposeful choice to do what is best for us, despite anything we do in response.
Several years ago, we had a deacon in our church whose wife had been severely disabled by a stroke. Every day Dennis went to the nursing home to take care of Shirley. She didn’t recognize him. She couldn’t talk to him. She couldn’t contribute to the relationship in anyway. But every day Dennis faithfully went to the hospital to take care of his wife. One day, I commended Dennis on how he took care of her and he told me, “Pastor, I made a decision many years ago to love Shirley no matter what. We took vows to love, honor and cherish each other in both sickness and in health. Now I am doing what I promised all those years ago.” Those words struck a chord in my heart. Dennis understood that love is more than an emotion — it’s a choice. He made the choice to love Shirley, no matter what happened and no matter how she responded. That is what true love looks like. That’s exactly the kind of love God shows towards us.
In the same way that Dennis made a choice to love Shirley before they got married, God chose to love us even before the creation of the world. His love for us is not based upon any feeling of pity gained towards us after the fall. Nor is it conditioned upon any action that we take in the present. God’s love is a sovereign, deliberate, purposeful choice made before the foundation of the earth. The greatest proof of His is that He sent His Son into the world to redeem us from the curse of sin.