God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians: Predestined in Love

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on July 17, 2005

Ephesians 1:4-6

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The Lord’s Day
Morning

July 17, 2005

Ephesians 1:4-6

“Predestined in Love”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

If you will look at Ephesians 1:4, you will notice that the
last words, probably, in your pew Bible translation, and certainly in my
rendition of the New American Standard Version here, have the words In love
as the first words of a sentence.

Now, the reason is [that] in the King James this
verse was read this way: “…that we should be holy and blameless before Him in
love.” So the idea was that the way in which our holiness and blamelessness was
going to be manifested was in our agape love. But almost all modern
translations — or certainly, many of them — put the in love of verse 4
with verse 5, as the first two words of a new thought, and that’s how we’re
going to read it today. It’s a choice you have to make as you’re working
through a long sentence without punctuation in the original, but you will see
that it makes perfect sense, especially in light of the final phrase of verse 5.

Now as we read from those two final words of verse 4
down to verse 6, let me just remind you of a couple of things. One is that
we have said that this whole section from verse 3-14 is a life re-orienting
prayer. It is a prayer of doxology or of adoration, or of praise, or of
thanksgiving to God;
that is, the prayer is directed towards God not simply
as the One who is the recipient of the request, but the One who is the focus of
the content of the prayer. It is praise or adoration of God which is the
content of this prayer.

Now when you get to verse 15, to the end of the
chapter in verse 23, that prayer is a prayer of intercession.
It’s a prayer
of request in which God is being asked to do something. In the case of verses
15-23, He’s being asked to open our eyes to see the riches that we’ve praised
Him for in verses 3-14.

But the whole of this first part of Ephesians 1 is a
life re-orienting prayer; that is, if we would really understand, comprehend,
and believe what God tells us about Himself, about what He has done in verses
3-14, it would re-orient our whole approach to life. And as we read these two
verses and two words, I want you to be on the lookout for five things.

First of all, you’ll note in the very first
words of verse 5 the word predestination. Paul here speaks of the
truth of the biblical doctrine of predestination as a matter of enormous comfort
for the Christian, so be on the lookout for that.

Secondly, you’ll see just a few words after
that, the word adoption, and here we see a beautiful expression of the
Christian doctrine of adoption.

Immediately after the mention of the word
adoption
in verse 5, again you will see that this adoption is through
Jesus Christ
, and in that phrase we see the glorious truth of union with
Christ: that the Holy Spirit saves us by uniting us by faith to Jesus Christ.

And so we see here Paul intimating this glorious doctrine of union with Christ.

Then, in verse 6, you’ll see why God has done all
of this — the predestination, the adoption, the union with Christ. Why is it?
“To the praise of the glory of His grace.”
In other words, it’s all about
the glory of God: Soli Deo Gloria. The glory of God alone is focused on
in verse 6.

And then finally, at the end of verse 6, you’ll
notice a fifth thing, and that is that the great salvation which God bestows on
all those who trust in Christ is costly, but it is freely bestowed.
Now,
those are the five things that we’re going to look at in our time together.

Now I must hasten to say, if you were a seminary
student, you would spend an entire semester, four hours a day, thinking about
those glorious truths – and we’ll do this in about 25 minutes, so we’re just
scratching the surface of these glorious but comforting and practical truths.

Before we read God’s word, let’s ask His help as we
hear it. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, Your word is truth, and
Your word is sanctifying: It grows us up; it makes us disciples; it gives us
assurance; it gives us confidence; it gives us hope. We pray that You would
speak to us by Your word, and that we would understand and believe it. We pray
that the Spirit would help us. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Hear the word of God.

“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.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

In these two short verses, the Apostle Paul is
continuing to re-orient the way that we look at life, and he does that by
drawing attention to God’s everlasting love, expressed in our being welcomed
into His family as children saved through the work of Jesus Christ, living for
the glory of God, and having received a grace which was freely bestowed —
something that we didn’t earn or deserve. And these things Paul heaps up not
only as a matter of our praise to God, but as a matter of our comfort and our
encouragement as we realize what God has done for us. And so I want to look at
these five things with you for just a few minutes this morning.

I. Christian life and praise is
reoriented by an appreciation of the loving and kind predetermination of God.

First of all, let’s look at the very first
words in the end of verse 4 and in the first part of verse 5: “In love He
predestined us…”
[and then in verse 5] “…according to the kind
intention of His will.
Here the Apostle Paul gives us the doctrine of
predestination as a matter of comfort to the Christian. Paul is saying that
your whole life and the way you worship will be re-oriented by an appreciation
of the loving and kind predetermination of God. He is drawing attention to the
fact that God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen all those who rest
and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation; and he draws attention to that
fact and to Who is doing it, and how He is doing it, in order to force upon our
hearts tremendous comfort. The Apostle Paul is saying that God’s love for you
did not begin when you believed for the first time; that God’s love for you did
not even begin at the cross of Jesus Christ; but that God the Father set His
heart upon you from before the foundation of the world.

Now, I know that the doctrine of predestination is a
matter of debate, and very often we want to argue about it rather than revel in
it. I know this from my own family experience. My mother is from good Southern
Baptist stock from East Tennessee, and I grew up going to my grandparents’…to
her parents’ house…in the summers and spending time with them and worshiping
at First Baptist Church in Mims, Florida.

And I can well remember having a conversation with
my grandmother one Christmas when we were visiting them, and for family
devotions my grandfather read from Ephesians, chapter one. Now, I was fifteen
years old at the time, and I had just finally gotten my head somewhat around the
glorious truth of God’s initiating love in predestination and election, and I
love the doctrines of grace — that God had reached out to me before I ever
reached out to Him. So when we were reading Ephesians 1, I was just beaming as I
was there in my grandmother’s and grandfather’s home, thinking of these
thoughts. Well, after the reading of this section, I didn’t say anything. You’d
have been very proud of me! I made no theological jabs, I just kept my mouth
shut. But my grandmother just couldn’t resist it. And so after the reading she
said, “Now, Hon, you know that we’re Southern Baptists and we don’t believe in
predestination.”

Now, you need to understand: my grandmother was a
formidable woman! She was the only one of ten siblings that graduated from
college. She went through college on a basketball scholarship. She played for
the Milligan College. Now, the men’s teams were called the “Buffaloes”; do you
know what the women’s teams were called? “The Buffalettes!” She played
basketball – she was a Milligan College Buffalette! She was fierce.

My grandfather ran a furniture mill in Athens,
Tennessee, and when the owner died, the mill was shut down. There was a great
deal of unemployment in the area. He was a man of humble means, and they had to
pick up and move to Florida where the space coast was just opening up, and the
space program in Titusville was starting up. He opened up a service station,
and at that time that service station was called an Esso station. Some of you
remember Esso stations. Now, you will remember that Esso became Enco, and then
Enco became Exxon…or maybe you won’t remember that, but that’s how it went:
Esso to Enco to Exxon.

Well, I’ll never forget being there when the
regional sales director for Esso came to the place bringing all the new Enco
signs. Now, my grandfather’s name was Ray Arthur Ledford, and up on the Esso
sign it said “Ray A. Ledford.”

Well, they brought the new Enco signs, and you know
what they said? “Roy A. Ledford.” Well, let me tell you what! My
grandmother let her voice be heard! She let that guy have it one side down and
the other. She said finally, “I wouldn’t name a pig Roy! Now what’s your name,
so I can call the regional office?”

“[Ahem…] Roy Smith, ma’am.”

She was a formidable woman! She would not back
down, so I just said to her, “Well, grandmother, look. The word
predestination
is in the Bible. You and I both believe in predestination,
it’s just that you think it means something different than I do.” And that was
not satisfying to my grandmother at all.

She said, “Son, you don’t understand. We’re
Southern Baptists. We don’t believe in predestination.”

And I again said… (Now, if I had been wise, if I
had known what I would learn later, I would have said, “Grandmother, Baptists
and Congregationalists and Presbyterian and Reformed and Episcopalians have
always agreed on predestination. If you look at our creeds from the 1650’s on,
we all agree with one another. We might have differed on church government or
on baptism, but we all agree on predestination.” But I didn’t know that then.)
So I just said to her, “Grandmother, the word’s right there. Paul used the word
predestination. You believe the Bible, so I know you believe whatever it
is that he’s saying. It’s just that we disagree on what he means by it.”

And she said, “No, son. You don’t understand.
We’re Baptists, and we don’t believe in predestination.”

It finally dawned on me that my grandmother had two
control beliefs: that the Bible was absolutely true, every last word of it; and
that predestination was not. And therefore it didn’t matter where you showed it
to her in the Bible, it couldn’t be there.

Well, that’s how many people are about
predestination. They see this as a doctrine to argue about, something to
dispute about.

But you understand why Paul is mentioning this here.
The Apostle Paul is mentioning this because he wants you to know that God set
His love on you. If you’re trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, Paul
is wanting you to know that God set His love on you long before you trusted in
Jesus Christ, long before Jesus Himself came into this world. In fact, His love
was set on you from before the foundation of the world, before there was space,
before there was time, before this orb existed on which we live, before the
solar system was created, before the universe came into being. Eons ago, ages
ago, God set His love on you.

The Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian, I want you to
realize this: That there has never been a time in the history of the universe
when your name was not on the heart of God as one of His beloved; that God has
not existed any time in which His love was not set upon you. In other words,
God’s love for you is from before the foundation of the world. It is co-eternal
with Him–His love for you.’

And the Apostle Paul is saying that is a tremendous
encouragement to us! It’s not something to argue about! It’s something to fall
down on your face and praise God for! Me? A sinner like me? An undeserving
person like me? Yes. The Lord has loved you from before the foundation of the
world. “In love He has predestined you…according to the kind intention
of His will.”

You see, the point is that this action of
predestination is maximally loving, maximally kind, maximally generous. This is
displaying God’s love, not diminishing it in any way.

II. Christian life and praise is
reoriented by an appreciation of the privilege of being welcomed into God’s own
family.

And then the Apostle Paul goes on to say a
second thing. He explains what we have been predestined to. Not only that God
has set His love on us from before the foundation of the world, but what He has
set His love on us in order to accomplish for us what we have been predestined
to, and you see it there in verse 5: “…to adoption as sons…to Himself.”
Here Paul is reorienting Christian life and praise by an appreciation of the
privilege of being welcomed into God’s own family.

Some of you sisters in Christ today may be
scratching your heads at the thought that you’ve been adopted “as sons” and you
may be suspicious that some male chauvinism is going on in your Bible
translation, but that’s not it at all. You see, anyone in the Greco-Roman world
would have known that when you’re adopted into a family as a son, you are
adopted in and receive a full share in the inheritance of the father of that
family. And that was something in the Greco-Roman world true of adopted sons,
but not of adopted daughters.

And so the Apostle Paul is saying to brothers and
sisters in Christ ‘You have received the adoption as sons. Sisters in
Christ, you have a full share in the inheritance of the elder brother, the
Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, brothers in Christ
. You have been adopted
into God’s family; not only saved from the righteous penalty for your sins, but
brought into God’s family as a join heir with Jesus Christ, so that you share in
the inheritance that belongs to the only begotten Son of God.’ The Apostle Paul
is saying that God made you His child, and you receive a full share in all of
the blessings which belong to His only Son, the inexhaustible blessings and
benefits of Jesus Christ.

You know, my friends, it’s an amazing thing. We
could spend our whole eternity just praising God that He did not give us what we
deserve and send us to hell. But we’ll have more than that to praise Him for:
that He has caused us to be joint heirs with Jesus Christ; that He is now our
elder brother as we are united to Him by faith. All the blessings and benefits
— and what blessings and benefits does Paul tell us have been given to the Lord
Jesus Christ? It’s going to take us a while to get there, because it’s all the
way down in verse 10, but you remember everything in the universe is His. So
what’s your share? And the interesting thing is, when you’re a recipient of the
benefits of the Lord Jesus Christ as they are parceled out to you as joint heir
with Jesus Christ, they don’t diminish: they expand, they’re inexhaustible. The
supply of God’s benefits is inexhaustible. And you see, the Apostle Paul is
saying to those Ephesians who are facing persecution — they were marginalized,
they were hated by the world — ‘You are a joint heir with the One who rules over
all things by the word of His power. You are an adopted child into the family
of God. Your last name is God’s last name.’

You remember in the Old Testament, these great
events would occur and God would change a person’s name. Jacob becomes Israel.
God gives him his last name. You’re Mine. You’re chosen. You’re Mine. That’s
what Paul says happens to you in the Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, Paul’s saying this not so that we can
debate it, but so we can praise God as we realize the glory of God’s provision
in salvation. But he doesn’t stop there.

III. Christian life and praise is
realized, enjoyed, given and received only in Christ.

He not only tells you what you’re
predestined to, he tells you Who you were predestined in.
Notice the next
words in verse 5: “…through Jesus Christ.”

You see, the Christian life and Christian praise is
realized and enjoyed, and given and received, only in Jesus Christ. Paul is
drawing attention to the glorious doctrine of union with Christ: that all of
those who have been by the Spirit made alive, and who have been by the Spirit
enabled to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the
gospel, are united to Him and become the beneficiaries of His person and work on
their behalf. And so all of these benefits — the benefit of adoption, the
benefit of predestination — is accomplished through Jesus Christ and enjoyed in
a faith relationship with Jesus Christ.

And isn’t it interesting there that a few words
before Paul is speaking about predestination, a few words later he’s speaking
about being predestined and adopted through Jesus Christ, to emphasize our
exercising trust and faith in Jesus Christ. Predestination and faith in Jesus
Christ are not two alternatives for the Apostle Paul; they fit hand in
hand. It’s not that you either believe in predestination or
you believe that everyone who is going to be saved must trust in Jesus Christ
alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. No, you believe both
if you’re a biblical Christian.

Now, sometimes you’ll have friends that will say
‘Now wait a minute. What if somebody who is predestined never believes?’ (Never
happens!) ‘What if somebody who’s not predestined does believe?’ (Doesn’t
happen!) The number of people…the multitude that no man can number, from
every tribe and tongue and people and nation, men and women, boys and
girls…throughout the history of humanity who trust in Jesus Christ, that is
the identical set of those on whom God has set His love from before the
foundation of the world.

Now, a lot of people will say, ‘You Presbyterians
think you’re going to be the only ones in heaven.’ No, that’s not what we
believe! We just believe that there are going to be a lot of people that are
surprised when they get there that God’s love for them did not start when they
started loving God; that God loved them eons before they ever first reached out
to Him in faith. And they’ll have missed the glorious comfort of walking through
this world knowing that God’s love for us as Christians was not at first
contingent upon our love for Him, but that it preceded our love for Him, that it
prompted our love for Him, and that it won our love for Him!

But here Paul is stressing that all of these
benefits are received only in Jesus Christ. There is no contradiction between
predestination and the exercise of faith. They are both indispensable, and
they’re both part of the same salvation that God has appointed.

IV. God’s chief end is His own
glory, and so is ours-and that’s a purpose to be driven by!

But then, in verse 6, Paul goes on to explain
what God was up to in doing this. What was God’s purpose for doing this? What
was God’s purpose in setting His love on us from before the foundation of the
world, and adopting us as His children, and giving us all the benefits and
inheritance of Jesus Christ, and enabling us to exercise saving faith, and being
united to Him by the Holy Spirit? What was God doing? And verse 6 tells you: He
was exalting His glory.

Look at the words: “To the praise of the glory of
His grace.
” Listen to them again. He predestined us to adoption as sons “to
the praise of the glory of His grace.” Why were we predestined unto salvation?
Why were we predestined unto adoption? For the glory of God.

You know, I love the way The Children’s Catechism
puts it. It helps us have a framework for appreciating the first answer to
The Shorter Catechism. The first question is, “Who made you?” And the
answer is, kids? “God.” What else did God make? (I memorized the old version:
“All things” is the way I did it.) OK. And then it asks, “Why did God make you
and all things?” And the answer is…? “For His own glory”, and that’s exactly
what the Apostle Paul is getting at here.

A couple of years ago, my son got a scooter called a
California Chariot — not one slat, but two. And he was riding around on
that thing like a race driver, in the driveway. And he came up to me and he
said, “Dad, why did God make California Chariots?” I had no idea how to
answer the question, and so I just made something up: “Well, Jennings, I guess
it’s because He wanted little guys like you to have fun.”

“No, Dad! For His own glory!”

Touchй. He was exactly right! Everything in this
world is for God’s own glory. But my friends, if you really believe that, that’s
life re-orienting.

I was listening to either National Public Radio or
the BBC yesterday, and they were interviewing a woman who was 23 years old when
she was working as a stewardess on an Air Florida jet that took off from
Washington, D.C. You remember the story of that Air Florida jet? It never made
it any further than the 14th Street Bridge. She was one of the
survivors. All she remembers of that crash are the fear in the faces of the
people, and in coming up for air in the freezing river and being rescued. She
had never prayed in her life until that day. She had never gone to church. She
is now teaching Sunday School in a Baptist church in Miami, Florida. She has
three beautiful children, she’s married to a Christian man, and she, in her
interview, said, “God used that to change my life for my eternal good and for
His own glory.” That’s exactly right. She understands exactly what Paul is
getting at.

This is a life re-orienting truth, that everything
is for God’s glory, and Satan will whisper in your ear that God is not worth
living for, and that is the worst thing that can be said about our glorious God
in all of the world. And God is saying there is going to be a multitude that no
man can number, men and women and boys and girls from every age of humanity,
from every tribe and tongue and nation, who are all at the Last Day going to
stand up and they’re going to say in Satan’s hearing ‘Oh, yes, He is worth
living for, and He is worth glorifying forever.’ And the Apostle Paul is saying
to us now ‘Live for the glory of God and give to Him the glory due His name.’

V. God the Father’s saving favor
is costly and free, and realizing this is life reorienting.

And there is one last thing I want you to
see. He goes on to explain to us here that this grace (and you’ll see it there
in verse 6)…His grace is freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. What Paul is
telling us there is that God the Father’s saving love to us, costly as it was,
because it cost…what? The blood of the only begotten Son of God. As costly as
the saving blood of Christ is, it is freely bestowed on us. In other words,
God’s grace is freely given though expensively bought.
And both of those
things are crucial for Christians to understand.

Let me explain this. It is predestination that
helps us appreciate that God’s costly gift is freely bestowed.
We as
Christians know that the Lord Jesus Christ is at the center of the Christian
faith; not only the Lord Jesus Christ in the abstract, but the Lord Jesus Christ
crucified, dead, and buried on our behalf. That is at the center of the
Christian faith.

We know that by the death of Christ forgiveness of
our sins and eternal salvation were purchased, but we could make the mistake, if
we don’t realize the big story around the cross which God has been telling since
Genesis 1:1, of thinking that the cross itself is what caused God to love us;
that somehow God’s love had to be conditioned by Jesus Christ; that Jesus on the
cross was saying ‘Please, heavenly Father, don’t hurt Your people. Don’t judge
Your people. Don’t blame Your people. Don’t heap guilt upon Your people.
Please, God the Father, love Your people.’ And that’s not the picture at all,
because the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross is fulfilling the designs of the
Father’s love which were from the foundation of the world. God’s justice had to
be satisfied; every sin had to be paid for.

But don’t think that in paying the penalty for sin
that Jesus is getting the Father to love you. He’s paying the penalty for
sin because the Father loves you, and that reality helps us to understand
that salvation is both costly and free. It is costly to God; it is utterly free
to us. He bears the cost, He bears the penalty, and then He freely bestows that
salvation on us; not because your faith made Him love you, not because Jesus’
death made Him love you, but because He loved you before space and time existed,
and the Lord Jesus Christ said ‘Father, I’ll take that man’s, I’ll take that
woman’s place, and I’ll bear the penalty so that Your love which You have had
for them from before the foundation of the world can come forth in full fruition
and eternal salvation and fellowship with them forever and ever more.’ And that
picture makes all the difference in the world, my friends.

You know, in the Reformation there was a debate
about this. A man named Socinius was what we would call today a “liberal.” He
argued that the Bible had two contradictory pictures of God’s forgiveness of us.
He said part of the Bible teaches that God freely forgives; part of the Bible
teaches that He forgives by the satisfaction of Jesus’ blood. And Socinius
said, “I find it offensive to say that God forgave through the satisfaction of
Jesus’ blood, because that means that God really didn’t mercifully and freely
forgive; that He meted out punishment and then He turned around and He gave us
something which was not a gift of mercy, but a gift of justice. And so,
therefore, I choose to reject the idea that Jesus on the cross purchased the
forgiveness of our sins, and I choose to believe that God just mercifully
forgave us, apart from what Jesus did.”

Now, he thought that he had created an unanswerable
argument, and a man named John Calvin gave him an answer. And here is the
answer: “You misunderstand the Scripture. The Scripture says that at the cross
Jesus purchased for us a costly forgiveness that was freely bestowed on those
who did not earn nor deserve that forgiveness, because of the mercy of God; so
that God’s mercy and justice meet at the cross and kiss, and so that His
forgiveness is just, and the costly sacrifice results in a free gift of grace,
so that God is glorified in all.”

You see, God’s grace is both costly and free. The
atonement proves its costliness, but predestination proves its freeness, because
from before the foundation of the world — before you existed, before you had
done anything, before you had chosen right or wrong, before you had trusted in
Jesus Christ — God set His love on you.

That’s what this hymn is about that we’re going to
sing in just a few moments. Let me ask you to turn there and look at it for a
moment. It’s a favorite old hymn found in the Southern Presbyterian Hymnal,
and look at the first line. It goes like this:

“I sought the Lord, and
afterward I knew

He moved my soul to seek Him,
seeking me.

It was not I that found, O
Savior true;

No, I was found of Thee.”

You see, the first stanza acknowledges that God finds us
before we find Him. But when does He find us? When does He set His love on
us? Well, the third stanza answers that question:

“I find, I walk, I love…” [that’s an affirmation
that we really do those things – we do trust in Christ, we do have faith in
Christ, we do walk with Him, live with Him, we do love Him -] “…but [it goes
on to say], oh, the whole of love is but my answer, Lord, to Thee.”

My love to You, O God, is just the answer of Your
love to me. How does John put it? “We love because He first loved us.” You
see, if you reject the truth of this glorious, comforting doctrine of
predestination, you have to say He loves because we first loved Him, and that
reverses the whole order of the gospel. It undermines the freeness of God’s
grace. So, the whole of my love is but the answer to You…

“…for Thou wert long
beforehand with my soul;

Always Thou lovedest me.”

That’s what Paul’s trying to drive home to our
hearts in this word: that He was always with us in love.

Let’s pray.

O Lord, grant us ears to hear and hearts to
believe, and lives that flow out of the glory of Your everlasting love; for You
loved us before time, You adopted us as children, made us joint heirs, united us
to Jesus Christ. You did this for the praise of Your glory, and You manifested
in it, O God, the freeness of Your grace. Hallelujah! In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

[Congregational hymn:
I Sought the Lord]

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

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