The Reformation was a recovery of the Gospel of grace. Not by the merit of saints, or the good works which we or others have done, or the penance paid into the coffers, but by the free grace of God are you saved. But in every age, various attempts are made to cloud and obscure and bury this glorious doctrine. It is the church’s duty to proclaim and defend this Glorious Gospel through all ages.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:3-7).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
In this prologue Paul gives us the Gospel message undiluted. The Blessed God has poured out heavenly blessings upon us in Christ (v3). This blessing is not haphazard, but is according to His eternal purpose, before the worlds began, that we should be holy (v4). All blame is lifted away from us, Satan’s accusation is answered with the simple, child-like answer: Jesus loves me (v4).
Our holiness & blamelessness is brought about by His predestinating our adoption by Jesus unto Himself (v5); all this is according to God’s good pleasure (v5), and results in praise to the glory of His grace as displayed by enemies & strangers being transformed into beloved sons (v6, Cf. 2:13). This Gospel can be simply summarized in this way: by the redeeming blood of Christ, our sins are forgiven (v7). Furthermore, God can forgive our sins because He is rich in grace (v7).
THE SCANDAL OF FREE GRACE
Grace is favor. But God’s favor is no intangible notion that lives in the realm of ideas. When we look at the story of Scripture, we see that God’s favor makes the barren woman bear a child in old age (Cf. Gen. 30:22, Rt. 4). It delivers a nation of slaves (Ex. 15). It gives revelation to the proper worship of the living God (Deu. 4:33). It sends down heavenly manna, and makes water spring from rocks (Ps. 78:16, 25). It routs armies of Giants. It topples Jericho walls.
When God places His favor upon either an individual (i.e. Noah, Abram, David, Solomon, etc.) or a nation (i.e. Israel), things are not left as they once were. God gives the Law to Moses, and then Moses asks to see God’s glory, and in that episode the Lord, the Lawgiver, declares His character: “And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation (Ex. 34:6-7).” God’s glory is declared in His graciousness to mankind; this is nestled in the context of God establishing His covenant mercies with Israel. God rearranges Israel, and this is because God’s favor has been set upon them.
God’s favor rests upon Jacob as he flees from his brother, and God promises at Bethel to protect him in his wanderings (Gen. 28:15); upon Jacob’s return, God comes to wrestle with Jacob. This, too, is a display of God’s favor. It is a grace to wrestle with God (Gen. 32:28). How else did Jacob get a new name, Israel? God’s favor rested upon Jacob, it upheld him, protected him, and came to define him.
The story of biblical history is God repeatedly coming in grace to mankind, and revealing His great purpose to restore man to the glory of His presence. But when God comes down, He does not come down to simply leave things put. God’s grace rearranges the furniture. The presence of God, His sweet favor being poured upon His people, brings about the great moments of redemptive, covenant history. His favor is set on Noah, and the world is flooded & remade. His favor is set on David, and the Philistine giant is toppled and the army put to flight.
Grace is sweet. But not like a 2lb. bag of gummy bears. It’s like the sugar which activates the yeast in your dough. Apart from grace you are damned, you are dead. But when God, by His eternal purpose, shows grace to you, you are brought to life. You are justified. You are forgiven. You are reckoned as righteous in God’s sight. And that grace begets in you life. True life. Christ’s life, by His Holy Spirit.
That first sight of grace is the root. But the continued gaze upon God’s glorious grace brings about the fruit of holiness, the fruit of the Spirit. Grace opens our eyes, and grace keeps our eyes steadfast upon the Christ who sought us and bought us.
KIDNAPPING INSTEAD OF ADOPTION
John Newton once said, “Satan will preach free grace when he finds people willing to believe the notion, as an excuse and a cloak for idleness.” Paul warns in his famous rhetorical question, “Should we sin so that grace may abound? God forbid.” But regardless of such warnings many Christians continue to operate under a misguided assumption about what grace is.
Amidst the many ways that the clear glass of grace is clouded over with the doctrines of men, is a recent tendency in modern evangelicalism to absolutize the doctrine of adoption. Our text describes our salvation in terms of being adopted in God’s household (Eph. 1:6). But recent articulations of this doctrine turn this adoption from a glory to a grief. Being adopted as sons by the Heavenly Father is turned into being pampered by a heavenly wet-nurse who denies no treat to the spoiled heir.
Grace is not the indulgence of God the Father of our sinful lusts. Grace begets a new nature within us, because the Father has adopted us and made us partakers of His nature. Grace restores nature, it doesn’t indulge fallen nature. Our adoption into the household of God is not a permission slip to remain in sin, to remain as enemies of the Almighty. Our adoption is a change of generation, a change of Fatherhood.
GRACE IS IN A MAJOR KEY
Another common feature of many descendants of the Calvinist heritage is to think of the doctrine of man’s total depravity as a description of the Christian post-conversion. But this is not the Gospel which was recovered in the Reformation.
Instead of moaning over or coddling our sinfulness, the Gospel of grace gives us hope that we are not only reckoned as righteous in our justification, but we are empowered by the Spirit to walk in true holiness in our sanctification. We aren’t left as orphans. We are given a new nature. A new heart. A new Spirit is put within us.
This glorious gospel of God’s grace is in a major key. Attempts to play it in a minor key are just plain ugly. As Paul puts it in our text, your salvation results in praise to the glory of His grace. Or as he calls it elsewhere, it is the “glorious gospel of Christ (2Co 4:4);” it is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God (1 Tim. 1:11).”
The glorious Gospel of grace is this. God has set His favor upon you. Not because of anything good in you, but by the goodness of Christ in your stead. This grace will not leave you as you are. By grace your eyes are opened to see Christ. By grace the glory of Christ holds your gaze. By grace you shall one day say with the hymn-writer, “hope shall change to glad fruition, faith to sight, and prayer to praise.”