Many years ago, a well-known pastor and local church were sued by the family of a man who had committed suicide.
The young man had sought counsel from the pastor concerning his very troubled life. In the course of the time they spent talking, the pastor pointed this man to the Lord Jesus Christ as his only hope. The pastor, along with other elders from the church, told this man that, apart from a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, life is futile. Later, when the man chose to take his life, the family sued the church, claiming that it had pushed him over the edge. After all, if life is not worth living, then this man was being encouraged (so they claimed) to commit suicide. The jury sided with the pastor and church. And though the jury was not making a theological statement, nevertheless it remains true: Apart from salvation in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, life is ultimately purposeless. Paul says so.
If you do not believe in, belong to and behave like the Lord Jesus Christ, then you are wasting your life. And if you are, then salvation, not suicide, is the right response. The Bible tells us so.
In these opening verses of Ephesians 1, Paul blesses the Lord for the blessings of salvation bestowed upon all who make up the new community of faith; those who were predestined for such blessings. These blessings were appointed by the Father, accomplished by the Son and are applied by the Holy Spirit. And once we grasp something of the enormity of these blessings we are blessed to live purposefully. This, it seems to me, is the big idea of vv. 11–14. In a phrase, those whom God saves, those who form the community of faith, are predestined to purposeful living.
Doxologies are difficult to dissect. Praise, by its very nature, does not always follow an orderly pattern; it is spontaneous. In some ways, this may be how Paul was feeling as he penned the kaleidoscope of praise from vv. 3–14—one long sentence that defies sentence structure and grammatical syntax, while at the same time honouring the glory of God.
Yet, as we have noted in our studies, there is a definite theme inherent in these words: a celebration of God’s salvation.
Paul praises the triune God for the Father’s election (vv. 3–6), the Son’s redemption (vv. 7–10) and the Holy Spirit’s guarantee of our glorification as a means for cosmic reunification (vv. 11–14). Paul is praising God for predestination concerning cosmic redemptive history. By God’s grace, we—believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews—are part and parcel of it.
Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, God has been on a rescue mission—one that is certain to succeed (Genesis 3:15). In fact, as we have seen so far in our studies, God has been on this rescue mission from before there was a need for it (v. 4)! God the Father resolved to save a people (and to save the world); God the Son redeemed those people (and this world); and God the Holy Spirit guarantees this eventual redemption. This is the story of the Bible; this is the plotline of Scripture.
Henry Blackaby wisely advises that Christians need to find out what and where God is working and to then get there. In doing so, we will experience God. Well, we know what God is doing: He is reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). We know where He is doing this: in world history (Ephesians 1:7–10). So, if we will experience God, if we will live meaningfully, then we need to get in on this.
But perhaps this is precisely our problem. We are not sure about all of this; particularly with reference to our role in this cosmic plan of redemption. A proper understanding, however, of this passage will equip us to live purposefully, productively and, like Paul, praising God for such a life.
Fundamentally this passage emphasises what the triune God has predestined us to (glorification) and ultimately the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing this to pass in space time history. As Boice so helpfully summarises,
God now chooses those who have been chosen, thereby working out his purposes in their particular lives. This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to understand what Christ has done for us, grants faith to believe on him, and moves our wills to embrace him as our personal Saviour.1
We will note what this predestined purpose involves under the four major headings.
Predestined to Belong
The first thing we learn here is that Christians are predestined to belong. Paul writes, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (v. 11).
Let’s spend a moment looking at the word “predestined” (see also v. 5). The word simply means “to be destined before,” “to determine before.” In other words, it means what you probably think it means! God determined beforehand an outcome, and therefore you can count on that outcome.
The Greek word is used four other times in the New Testament (Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29–30; 1 Corinthians 2:7). Clearly, it carries the idea of foreordaining. The root is the word from which we derive “horizon,” and so we can say that, when God predestines, He “sets the horizon” in the sense that He determines the future.
Paul tells us that God has determined that those whom He chose to save will fulfil His purpose. Their lives are positively purposeful.
But what, specifically, is this purpose? The first part of v. 11 tells us: “we have obtained an inheritance.” We have a predestined inheritance.
Perhaps our initial conclusion is that there is something that we will one day receive as an inheritance, and no doubt this is implied in the larger context. But we need to pause to discover that actually Paul is saying that we are predestined to being an allotment, not simply receiving an allotment. As Chapell observes,
The Greek word (eklerothemen) indicates that “we are apportioned as an inheritance.” The passive voice favours the notion that “we” are those who are made to be the inheritance rather than those who have obtained an inheritance…This apportioning is according to God’s own choice, which is further emphasized by Paul when he discusses God’s predestining purpose.2
We are predestined to be God’s inheritance; we are predestined to being God’s portion (Deuteronomy 32:9; Psalm 33:12).
Paul is no doubt thinking in Jewish terms. He understood the truth of Exodus 19:4–6 (see also Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Isaiah 43:21; Malachi 3:17), where we read of God’s people:
You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Paul understood that God administered human history in such a way as to bring Christ into the world via the nation of Israel. He understood that Israel was God’s chosen portion, His “chosen possession,” and that this was part and parcel of God’s mysterious ordering of the ages to eventually bring all things to reunification in Christ. However, he also now understands that this larger plan includes Gentile believers as well as Jewish ones. Gentile believers are as much God’s portion as are Jewish believers. This new community of faith is a predestined one; one predestined by God to belong to Him.
Paul develops this thought further in the latter part of the verse when he writes that this predestined privilege comes about “according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”
In other words, it is God’s predetermined will to save a people and bring them into His family (v. 5). And since He is God, He does all that is necessary to make this happen. Those whom God chose to save He chose also to belong to Him. And nothing will thwart this purpose. Whatever needs to be done in space-time history for God’s predestined sons to belong to Him will occur. As Stott wrote,
Paul could hardly have insisted more forcefully that our becoming members of God’s new community was due neither to chance nor to choice (if by that is meant our choice), but to God’s own sovereign will and pleasure. This was the decisive factor as it is in every conversion.3
This is good news! John expressed it this way: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12–13).
The doctrine of predestination is a wonderful truth to be embraced, not a controversial one to be debated. Once we acknowledge that God is God and we are not, we will joyfully submit to this truth. God orders history for the salvation of His people (Psalm 98). Everything that happens in the life of the believer is in some way connected with God’s purpose of “possessing” His children as His own. Whether “good” or “bad,” the events in our lives are in some way connected with our experiencing that we belong to God. No wonder Jonathan Edwards could say that “the doctrine [of predestination] has often appeared exceedingly pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.”4
I recently read the words of the pastor who preached the funeral of a believing childhood friend who was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He claimed, “What happened on 11 September was not the will of God. It was the result of people using their free will to commit acts of terror.”
Though obviously we understand that the evil deeds violated God’s revealed will, I don’t think, unfortunately, this is what the pastor meant. And I have a serious concern with his conclusion. For if those events were not the will of God, then whose will is ultimate? The only conclusion would be the “free will” of the terrorists. Where is the comfort in that?
No, to the contrary, 9/11 was “according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” In some way, the tragic events of that day were connected to the reality that my friend belonged to the Lord. He was appointed to salvation before the foundation of the world; his redemption was accomplished in space-time history by the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and on 9/11 this work was fully applied as he was ushered into the presence of the Lord. On that infamous day, he entered more fully into belonging than he had ever experienced before.
Christian, what a privilege it is to belong to God. You are God’s “peculiar possession” (1 Peter 2:9). You are the recipient of an exclusive and privileged blessing. Of course, this is all of God’s grace, for we certainly do not deserve this. This is why this message is the gospel; it is good and great news indeed!
This truth speaks to our identity in Christ—an important truth for the Christian to grasp. If you belong to God then you can handle the disappointments of not belonging to certain cliques and communities. You may not belong to the community of the wealthy or educated or professionals or the popular or the successful or the highly gifted and talented. But if you belong to God in Christ then you belong to the most privileged, because the most loved and the most accepted, group of all.
The Holy Spirit is sent into the lives of God’s children to make this sense of belonging experiential. “Abba Father” is our cry as we sense being led by the Spirit (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). We know that we belong to Him and that, by His grace, we are no longer our own, for we are bought with a price and (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). We are not “orphaned,” but we belong to the God and Father and of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Predestined to Believe
The second major truth here is that Christians are predestined to believe. God predestined these things “that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:12–13).
Of course, the most pertinent of questions to be answered is, how do we come to belong? These verses reveal the answer: by believing.
Meaningful church membership is an important issue in our day. It always has been. One of the major concerns is with reference to when to recognise a person as a member. The debate often centres around the question of does belonging precede believing or vice versa? This is a very important matter and one on which the Bible is not silent. But first let me illustrate the importance of this matter.
The Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in South Africa recently took the decision to formally affirm the legitimacy of same sex marriage. Many have made the point that, by this decision, the DRC will be hindering its efforts to reach people with the gospel. Some of the leaders of the DRC have countered that, in fact, this decision will actually help them to be more effective with the gospel. Their argument of inclusiveness as a means to ministering to the homosexual community is an argument for allowing them to belong to the church before believing the gospel. Of course, this is completely wrongheaded.
Certainly we must do all we can to be a welcoming community to those who would attend our services. But there is a world of difference between welcoming sinners and affirming their sin. This is because we understand that belonging requires believing, and believing always results in behaving.
Though many are averse to the idea that some are on the outside of the church while others, by God’s grace, are on the inside, nevertheless we must not budge or fudge on this. This entire epistle argues for this reality.
So let me summarise: Those who are predestined to belong are also predestined to believe. The latter must be our experience before the former can ever be a reality. And this occurs by the blessed ministry of the Holy Spirit, who faithfully applies what the Son of God accomplished in response to what God the Father appointed. This is plainly taught in vv. 12–13.
Paul now makes it clear that there was a time in which our space-time belonging occurred: When we believed.
In v. 12 Paul speaks of “we who first trusted in Christ.” This can be translated just as accurately, “to hope beforehand.” The ESV translates it as “we who were the first to hope in Christ.” Verse 13 sheds more light on what this “hope” looks like when he writes, “you also … having believed.” So “hope” and “believed” are used interchangeably to highlight that those who belong do so because they trusted in Christ. They believed the gospel and therefore they belong to God. God’s new community, of which Paul is writing, is a gospel-believing community. If you do not believe the gospel then you are not of God.
Consider the founding of this church as recorded in Acts 19:1–6. It would seem that the dozen disciples of John were behaving as though they belonged to God but, for whatever reason, Paul had his doubts. And so he very wisely and winsomely asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” I think that Paul was actually asking them, “Are you believers? Have you believed on the Lord Jesus Christ?” What follows indicates that Paul was right to do so—and they will be eternally grateful that he did so. Like many in our day, even though they had been through the waters, they did not belong because they did not believe.
Later in the chapter we read that, through the ministry of Paul, “the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified and many … believed” (vv. 17–18). It was from these believers that this new community of faith was planted in the heart of this pagan city. These believers understood that they belonged to God and therefore there was a sense of belonging among themselves (20:36–38).
Of course, to believe the word of truth, we must hear the word of truth. Faith comes by hearing, Paul told the Romans (10:14, 17). God fulfils His predestined purpose through predestined means—like preaching. For this reason Boice says, “We can never give too much attention to the Bible. The Bible is the means God uses to call and bless people, as the Holy Spirit, who is God, reveals the Lord Jesus Christ and his work through its pages.”5
So let me ask, have you heard and believed? Is it possible that one reason that you may sense that you do not belong is because, in fact, you don’t? That is, because you have not first trusted in Christ, because you have not believed the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, you do not know what it means to be God’s portion. This is vital. This is eternally essential. Have you believed the gospel of God?
Many people believe that they belong because they know Christianese or because they do good deeds. But this is not what believing the gospel is about. Rather, when we realise that we are ruined by our sin, and that we are in need of the Saviour, then, and only then, will we find our hope in Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, as the one through whom we receive forgiveness of sins.
Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. He won’t help those who are well; He can help those who know they deserve hell.
To believe is not merely intellectual; it is to have “hope in Christ.” This implies a whole-hearted casting of ourselves upon the Saviour. The mind is certainly involved, but so is the heart and the will. To trust in Jesus as Redeemer, as the one in whom we have forgiveness of our trespasses, is to rely on Him completely as our only hope.
Oh Happy Day
Picture yourself as an abused slave under the tyranny of a despot. One day, a kind and gracious and loving and all-powerful King comes along to pay the ransom price for your freedom. Would you not run into His presence, kneeling before Him with grateful submission to serve Him? You would be like the woman in Luke 7 who, knowing the greatness of her sins, came to know the greatness of the grace of Jesus. Her happy, hopeful and worshipful response was to wash His feet with her hair dipped in her tears. As Jesus concluded, she loved much because she was forgiven much (Luke 7:36–50).
This is what saving faith looks like. It is not self-conscious, but it openly declares allegiance to the Redeemer. It loves much in response to realising how much it has been forgiven. Does this describe you?
Is it possible that, though the membership list says you belong, in your heart you know that you don’t? Is this the reason that you have little or no appetite for prayer meeting? For the preaching of the Word? For fellowship and ministry with and to others? Do you really belong? In other words, do you really believe?
Do you believe about Christ, or do you believe in Christ? Those prepositions may be the difference between life and death—eternally.
We Are One Body
Paul switches pronouns from v. 12 to v. 13. He says “we who first trusted in Christ” and then “in Him you also.” Why does he do this and to whom is he referring?
Some say that Paul is simply making the switch from his own testimony, and others who, like him, were saved before the Ephesians were saved. Others hold that the contrast is more significant in that Paul is contrasting the salvation of Jews (who literally first hoped in Christ, whether under the old covenant or at Pentecost and in the early days of the new covenant era) with the salvation of Gentiles, which came later. Though there are some good arguments for the first interpretation, I think that the latter is correct. Stott comments, “The apostle moves from the pronoun ‘we’ (himself and his fellow Jewish believers) to ‘you also’ (his believing Gentile readers) to ‘our’ inheritance (in which both groups equally share).”6 This matter of one gospel for all peoples, of all believers belonging together—regardless of ethnicity—is a major theme in this epistle, as Paul will make explicit in chapter 2.
And so Paul is saying that, in Christ, God has brought about His predestined purpose to make a new people to share a new inheritance—to be God’s one chosen people. The redemption (salvation) that was appointed by God the Father and was accomplished by God the Son is now applied by God the Holy Spirit across all ethnic divides. The Holy Spirit is applying the gospel to Jews and Gentiles in the same way: He is enabling them to believe and to belong to God as His portion. Blessed be the Lord!
The Sealing of the Spirit
But neither Jew nor Gentile can believe the gospel apart from the effectual work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught this very clearly in John 3:1–8. Paul told Titus this truth in 3:5. The new birth (“regeneration”) comes by the Spirit, and it is only by this initial work that we can then believe. Dead people can do nothing, including believing. But the Holy Spirit gives life to the dead spirit and then this resurrected spirit believes the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. Upon believing, the once dead sinner is now a very living member who belongs to the Body of Christ (see James 1:18). This sense of life and of belonging to God is what Paul is referencing when he says that they “were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.”
The word “sealed” is used in the context of securing something by literally placing a seal upon it (Matthew 27:66); to identify as to ownership (Revelation 7:3, etc.); to authenticate, certify (John 3:33); or to preserve until a later time (Ephesians 4:30). In reality all of these meanings can be applied here.
The Holy Spirit literally comes into our lives marking us as belonging to God. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our life authenticates our belonging to God (Acts 19:2–3). The Holy Spirit does preserve us as a “guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (v. 14). And therefore we are secure.
The promised Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49) was sent by the Father and by the Son to apply the work of redemption appointed and accomplished by them. But how does one know that He has applied this to them? Well, as we have already noted, they we when we believe and are made to belong. When we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to believe the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, then our hearts cry out “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). This is all part and parcel of what it means to be “sealed with the Holy Spirit.” As Chapell explains,
The proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit is … the immediate fact that God has brought the person to saving faith. Belief itself indicates the presence of the seal (mark) of the Spirit of God that guarantees we are God’s children because without the Spirit we could not and would not believe (Rom. 8:6–9; 1 Cor. 2:14).7
In other words, when we truly hear the word of truth, we can know that we are “of the truth” (1 John 3:19).
The Holy Spirit applies this work of salvation to everyone whom God has appointed to salvation, to every one for whom Christ accomplished salvation. Jew or Gentiles, bond or free, pagan or cultured, it makes no difference. Every believer belongs—equally so!
This should speak powerfully to us about ethnocentrism in the church and in the wider culture. It should speak to our burden for the unreached. It should speak to the existence of a generation gap in the local church and to cliquishness among church members.
In summary, if you truly belong, then you truly believe, and the Holy Spirit deserves the credit for this.
Predestined to Behave
The third lesson here for us is that Christians are predestined to behave in a certain way, for the Spirit “is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (v. 14). The Christian proves that he believes, and therefore belongs, by how he behaves. This is implicit in this teaching about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The word “guarantee” is sometimes translated “earnest.” It is a commercial term, much like our term “earnest money” or “down payment.” It was used in the ancient world to communicate the idea of an “installment.” In modern Greek it is used to describe an engagement ring. The arrabon was an announcement of what was yet surely to come. In the Old Testament, the word described a “pledge” such as that in Genesis 38:17.
The Holy Spirit is given by the Father and the Son to those they save as a promise that He is not yet done with us but rather that there is a more glorious day yet to come. There is coming a day in which God will fully “redeem” and remake His “purchased possession.” The NIV helpfully reads, “until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” As Wood observes,
Paul regards the Holy Spirit as the first instalment of the Christian’s inheritance. At the end of the age God will redeem his pledge and open the treasuries of heaven to all who are his in Christ. Meanwhile, the Spirit gives us the assurance that these things will one day be ours.8
But this is more than financial fiction; rather, as Lightfoot noted long ago, “God is not just promising us our final inheritance but actually giving us a foretaste of it, which, however, ‘is only a small fraction of the future endowment.’”9
This really is a beautiful teaching, which, if properly grasped, will give us great boldness to live for the Lord.
Preparation for What’s Predestined
The Holy Spirit is not inactive in the lives of those who believe and belong. Rather He is even now producing changes in our attitudes and actions; He is producing changes in our beliefs and behaviours to bring us more and more into conformity to the one whom one day we will be like, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28–30).
Let me put it this way: Those appointed to salvation are predestined to behave like it. The proof of our profession of belonging through believing is our behaving. The gospel changes our life. The work of the Holy Spirit guarantees this (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). He moves in and rearranges the furniture of our worldview and subsequent lifestyle. Do you know of this behavioural adjustment in your life? This is not perfection—yet. But there will be direction towards this. And if there is not—and especially if there is no desire for such a reorientation—you should examine whether or not you truly believe, whether or not you truly belong. Listen to these important pastoral words:
Fallen man, imprisoned in his own little ego, has an almost boundless confidence in the power of his own will, and an almost insatiable appetite for the praise of his own glory. But the people of God have at least begun to be turned inside out. The new society has new values and new ideals. For God’s people are God’s possessions who live by God’s will and for God’s glory.10
But what is the point of this predestined belonging, believing and behaving?
Predestined to Bless
Finally, we learn that Christians are predestined to bless. All of this is “to the praise of His glory” (v. 14; see also v. 12).
This is God’s predestined purpose for those whom He saves. He appointed us to salvation, the Son accomplishes this salvation, and the Spirit applies this salvation “to the praise of His glory.” It is all about Him. As Foulkes summarises, “This great doxology ends with the thought of the full possession of all that God has planned for humanity—Jews and Gentiles alike—and this, like all that has been given at each stage in the unfolding of God’s purpose, is ‘to the praise of his glory.’”11 And, of course, this is precisely what Paul has been doing since v. 3.
Paul, having realised God’s predestined grace for sinners like himself, in turn blesses this blessed God! This is God’s predestined purpose for everyone whom He has chosen. It is His prescribed purpose for everyone who enters the human race. Are you fulfilling your purpose? If not, then hear the word of truth today, repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christian, God has blessed you with belonging and believing and behaving so that you will bless Him with your lips and with your life. We are to so live that His glory, His weightiness, will be felt in this world and the next.
Too often, our lips are filled with murmuring and complaining, and even with cursing, rather than with blessing. My brothers, this ought not to be (James 3:10)!
Too often we do little by our lives to declare the grace of the gospel of God, with the result that we look and think and respond little differently than those who do not believe and belong. This is tragic. Rather, like Paul who was moved by the glory of the gospel, let us live to the praise of the glory of God. And as we do so then perhaps we will more frequently experience those who do not yet belong asking us the reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). Our response will then be, “Praise God for the salvation He has appointed, accomplished and applied. What a glorious thing is the grace of predestination!”
But one final observation is essential: We are to bless the Lord in community. Those who, by the grace of God, are “in Christ” are to live for Christ in community. You will never fulfil your God-appointed purpose in isolation from other Christians. This, in many ways, is Paul’s emphasis in this passage. Together, believing Jews and believing Gentiles are to live to the praise of God’s glory. This is the predestined purpose and privilege of the new community. As MacArthur puts it, “God’s ultimate goal in redeeming men is ‘the praise of His glory.’ We are not saved and blessed for our own glory but for God’s…. We are saved to be restored to the intended purpose of creation—to bear the image of God and bring Him greater glory.” We will do so in community for eternity, so why not do so today? Stop isolating yourself. If you have been converted, then be committed and get connected—to the praise of His glory.
- James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 28. ↩
- Bryan Chapell, Ephesians: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2009), 46. ↩
- John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians: The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 48. ↩
- R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 39. ↩
- Boice, Ephesians, 31. ↩
- Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 45. ↩
- Chapell, Ephesians, 55. ↩
- A. Skevington Wood, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 11:27. ↩
- Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 49. ↩
- Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 50. ↩
- Francis Foulkes, Ephesians: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 66. ↩