Theology

To God Be the Glory: A Brief Stroll through Ephesians 1 & 2

To God be the Glory great things He hath done…”

This opening of the popular hymn entitled To God be the Glory emphasizes the fact that God alone deserves glory. The reason He deserves praise above all others is emphasized in the portion “great things He hath done….” Well, what are those great things?

In the opening chapters of his Ephesian epistle, the apostle Paul shares with the members of God’s household what great things God has done for them (us) in Christ. Unfortunately, God’s accomplishments are sometimes muddled by those who insist that individuals share some part in His work. A faithful reading of the first two chapters of Ephesians squelches this idea.

The second chapter of Ephesians discusses our state (condition) before our being grafted into Christ. It follows the discussion from the first chapter, and sheds further light on why any are found in Christ. Those that struggle with this portion of Scripture do so not because the language is difficult, but rather the concept that the language conveys is difficult. However, our theology should be derived from the text of Scripture…not the traditions that we tenaciously hold. Over the next couple of posts, we shall begin looking into the argument presented by the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians.

A Brief Consideration of Ephesians 1: The Underlying Emphasis

Those that enter into fellowship with God through Christ, having the seal of the Holy Spirit placed upon them, are in that condition because of God’s action in history. It is God our Father “…who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1.3; ESV throughout). We ought to note that the emphasis given here is on what God has done. We, who call Christ Jesus Lord, do so because of the blessing that God has poured upon us. Chief among them (or included among them, if you will) is that “…he chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1.4a). God did this choosing so “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1.4b).

Which means what exactly? This verse insinuates that before our being found in Christ we were anything but “holy and blameless.” The state we were formerly in will be discussed when we start looking at Ephesians 2. For now, though, I want you to recognize one more point.

God did this act of “choosing” (eklegomai) out of “love.” Now you can place this “love” at the end of v. 4 or the beginning of v. 5. It does not change that God decided to do what He did out of love. “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons [heirs] 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” (Eph 1.5-6). Again, the emphasis is on what God has done.

I once had a student make a very astute observation regarding our being “heirs” by way of adoption. She pointed out that an heir has no say in their status. You do not choose to be an heir. Just as you don’t choose your inheritance. The Adopter and the Author of the Will decides who shall be adopted and who shall receive what.

God predestinating means “determining before,” this decision by Him was before He began creating. In other words, He knew who He wanted out of love to be adopted, to be considered heirs with Christ Jesus. This has nothing to do with the man or woman in question, but everything to do with God who is gracious (cf. Rom 9.16).

Revelation of Graceful Inheritance…

Verses 7, 11 reveal two things that we have acquired (inherited) as a result of God’s grace.

“In him we have redemption…” (v.7)

“In him we have obtained an inheritance…” (v.11).

Again, the emphasis is on what God has done.  There is no way around it. There is no way to shift from what God has done, in an effort to say “yes, but this is what man has done!”  I think that of all the truths contained in Scripture there is nothing more distasteful than “God has to do it for you or it won’t be accomplished; it is impossible without God doing it.”

It is God who “…predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1.11b; italics added). This emphasis is repeated in vv. 5, 9 that came before. This is the only reason given for us who “hope in Christ” (Eph 1.12).

The Objector Protests…

“But, what of verse 13?” the observant reader asks.

What of it? What does it say? It speaks of another blessing that we have acquired from God.

In him you also…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1.13-14; italics added).

“But you left out a key part!” you exclaim.  What part? Ahhh…you mean the section that says this:

“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” (Eph 1.13; italics mine).

Do you think that this proves the emphasis should, at least in this part, be given to the person rather than God? That you have done it? That you have become a co-partner with God in your salvation?

Hmmm…Interesting.

The Slight of Hand…

The whole chapter has emphasized what God has done, how He has blessed, How He has given, but you want to emphasize what man has done? A tell-tale sign of a man-centered theology is one that tries to shift the focus from what God has done, to what the person has done. As if the person’s action is really the important factor.

Could it not be understood that Paul is merely telling you how God’s predestinating choice of love took place in history? Could it not be that Paul is saying that this blessing was realized in your life when you embraced the gospel’s command, and at that moment were sealed in eternity with the Holy Spirit? Therefore, this descriptive statement (Eph 1.13-14) is telling you how God has worked out His plan of purpose in your life, and the proof that you are truly an adoptive co-heir with Christ is that the gospel struck you open. Therefore, you turned to God beseeching mercy, and according to the riches of His glorious grace you experienced His merciful redemption?

Surely, that makes much more sense.  But maybe not. Maybe you aren’t convinced. Perhaps, these are the kinds of discussions that turn you off. The sort of Christian talk; Bible pillow talk, that keeps you tossing and turning throughout the night.

But let’s be honest, shall we. Faith in God is NOT mankind’s default mode of operation. Faith in the salvific work of Jesus Christ is NOT mankind’s default mode of operation. Faith in the Holy Spirit driven Word is NOT mankind’s default mode of operation. We are in every way antithetical towards God, His rule, His will and His Word. Which is a focal point of Paul in Ephesians 2.

To Be Continued

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