The Lord's Day Morning
July 17, 2005
“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.
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.