By His Grace and For His Glory

I. Identification and Salutation.

A. Paul wrote this letter as an “apostle of Christ Jesus,” he was given the call to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah and by his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension he has brought salvation to all who will trust him. (Acts 9:20-22). When he points to his apostleship as “according to the will of God,” he refers to the particularity of God’s setting him aside for this ministry to the whole church throughout the ages (See 3:2-25).

B. He wrote this to the church at Ephesus, but probably also intended as a circular letter for other churches. This appears to be the case with other Pauline correspondence as he fulfilled his role as an apostle of the New Covenant (Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 3:17). Second Peter 3:17, 18 assumes that Paul’s letters circulate to all the churches and should be considered Scripture, deserving careful attention, properly interpreted in a way consistent with other Scripture but received as an expansive revelation of God’s work of redemption and his eternal purpose. Peter’s revealed instructions include the affirmation of the certainty of God’s purpose toward his elect and indicates that we can interpret the Lord’s present delay in bringing history to consummation as a determination to bring salvation to all his elect (2 Peter 1:3-11; 3:14, 15). We are to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” 3:15). Until the last of the elect has come to salvation by divine grace, God will not bring this present order to end as described in 3:13. Paul has given a more expanded discussion of this, so Peter acknowledges. When they consider Paul’s writings, therefore, they are to read and embrace them with care and reverence, and find in them a means to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Peter’s closing apostrophe of praise, “To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity,” echoes Paul’s continued refrain in Ephesians 1, “to the praise of his glory.”



II. We come face to face first with Paul’s description of the Father’s role in Salvation. He is called the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This refers to both aspects of nature in the person of Christ. In his humanity the Father is the God of Jesus whom he obeyed and worshiped. In his eternal essential unity with God and in his eternal personhood, Jesus the Lord Christ is the eternally generated Son of God. We now are given a breathtaking perspective on the covenantal relations of the three persons of the Trinity in the plan of redemption.

A. First, we view the activities of the Father.

  1. He has blessed us. This is an accomplished fact, a definitive point action in the past, that is before time itself came into being. An arrangement eternally present in the purpose of God as a natural outflow of his knowledge of himself and of his knowability by other rational and sentient beings. This is probably behind the reference to the “eternal covenant” of Hebrews 13:20 or the giving of John 17:2, 6, 9-10, 20-22.
  2. He chose us. Election of individuals to all the blessings of salvation is peculiarly the work of the Father. Again, this is a decisive action prior to creation (“before the throwing down of the world”).
  3. He predestinated us to adoption [verses 5, 11]. Adoption is both legal and transformative. We are not slaves now, but sons and thus heirs (Galatians 4:7). The result of adoption, however, in this case is that the adopted ones actually take on resemblance to the family into which they are adopted. To this Paul makes reference when in Romans 8:29 he points to predestination as making us like Christ: “Predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Also, in Galatians 4:6, adoption results in the presence of the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of his Son,” transforming our affections so that like Christ we cry “Abba, Father.”
  4. He made us accepted or he “graced us” in “the Beloved” (6). Paul has a parallel idea in Colossians 1:12, 13, where he affirms that the Father has taken us out of the kingdom of darkness and “transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” We certainly should understand from this at least two things: (1) Every grace we have comes to us only through Jesus Christ; (2) these graces are given because the Father loves the Son and glorifies him in the redemption of sinners.
  5. The Father forgives according to “riches of His grace” (7). Eternity will unfold the “surpassing riches of his grace” (2:7).
  6. Revelation – He made known to us the mystery of his will (9). Revelation is the action of God in which he discloses what could not be discerned apart from his purposeful unveiling; otherwise it would remain a mystery and impossible to know. The purpose of the unveiling, however, is not just advancement in knowledge, but the grasping in both mind and heart the redemptive action of God on behalf of those who are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. For a more detailed statement of the redemptive content of this revelation see verses 3:3-5.

B. His purpose

  1. His purpose is comprehensive. The Father’s purpose does not omit any of the events of this created order which he has placed into being for the manifestation of his wisdom and the multifaceted excellencies that compose his nature. His purpose is pervasive and absolute [5, 9, 11]. It includes his predestining his people for adoption as sons; it involves the eventual unity of all things in Christ, that is, the comprehensive perfection of having set everything in its proper place as a result of the perfect obedience of the Son of God; it involves the manifestation of his unfathomable wisdom in the creation of the world and his disposing of all of its events from beginning to consummation.
  2. The final purpose of all that he does is the manifestation of his glory, the beautiful perfection of his being. All that each person of the triune God does aims at that end: To the praise of His glorious grace and His own glory [6, 12, 14]. We are introduced to the peculiar spheres in which the Father sets forth his glory, where the Son gives a specific manifestation of his glory, and how the Spirit operates in demonstration of his glory.



III. The Son fulfils the pleasure of the Father. Only because these things are done by God the Son in our nature and in our stead are any of them acceptable to the Father and efficacious for salvation (6).

A. Verse 7 says that “in him we have redemption through His blood.” We are purchased from the slavery of sin and the certainty of condemnation by Christ’s sacrificial, substitutionary death.

B. All Creation is subdued to his purposes in Christ particularly magnifying the redemptive purpose (10-12).

  1. All the events of Christ including his first appearing for redemption and his second appearing for the consummation of judgment occur in a prearranged order, an administrative purpose. The fulness of times was accomplished when Christ was born of woman (Galatians 4:4). Then when God’s purpose in the preaching of the gospel is accomplished, Christ will come in his glory (Acts 1:11; 1 Corinthians 15:22-27).
  2. All things will “summed up” in Christ (10) both in heaven and on earth and will be presented as the prize of his full obedience to the Father. Nothing either in providence or redemption occurs without showing how God’s purpose in Christ is fulfilled.
  3. In particular, this is writ large in the inheritance received by those who were predestined to believe and hope in Christ. Their, our, very existence gives an eternal testimony of praise to his glory, “That we might be [exist] to the praise of his glory” (12).
  4. The “first to hope in Christ,” (12) in the revelation received by Paul, were the Jews themselves. They hoped first in him through the testimony of prophets and were the first to believe at the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost: first to the Jew, then to the Greek (Romans 1:16).



IV. The Spirit as Seal

A. The Spirit performs his applicatory task in accordance with the efficacy of Christ’s work (13b, 14b). The Gentiles “heard the word of truth,” specifically delineated as “the gospel of your salvation.” Paul’s point here is to the Gentiles, not to the Jews only, the word of salvation came and its permanence was granted by the sealing of the Holy Spirit. Paul as a Jew was among the “first to hope in Christ;” but he informs the church of Ephesus that as Gentiles they also have given to them all the promises and hopes that are bound up in the coming of Christ.

B. Thus, not for the Jews only, the covenant people by national and ethnic selection, but for the Gentiles also, the Holy Spirit seals the reality of heavenly blessings for us all (14a). He is the “earnest,” the “guarantee,” even a qualitative presence of the thing itself, that is, the final inheritance of heaven. Heaven is the undiminished and unbroken involvement within the joy and love of the triune God. The “earnest” of the Spirit is an admission into certain aspects of that eternal condition even now.



V. Implications for the Trinity

A. Father, Son, and Spirit share the same purpose and perform efficaciously to bring it about. The Son redeems by his blood those whom the Father has elected, and the Spirit brings those to believe and seals them. Each person of the Trinity receives glory in the particular operations undertaken.

B. The Father loses none of His glory in investing the work of his grace in the Son. When the Father receives glory in his predestining decree (6), it is diminished in no degree by the Son’s glory (12) in his redemptive work done according to the working of the Father’s decree.

C. None of the Son’s redemptive work nor the manifestation of the Father’s glory can possibly be diminished by the Spirit’s seal. The Spirit’s glory (14) in sealing the redeemed also seals the glory of God in this glorious eternal purpose.

D. Roles in the work of salvation are a fit image of the eternal relations within the Trinity. Noting that the actions of God are not accidental but reflective of his eternal nature and the internal personal relations of the three persons, we can discern something of the distinctive features of the personhood of the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.



VI. Having looked at the glory and work of the persons of the triune God, we now ask, “What are the blessings of the recipients?”

A. Scope

  1. Nothing that prepares us for eternity is omitted, for in Christ we are given, by the Father’s decree and the Spirit’s sealing, “all spiritual blessings.”
  2. These are not dependent on the mutability of time in the created order, for they were granted “before the foundation of the world.”
  3. Their accomplishment is not dependent on apparent delays or changes or failures of men but they occur in the “fullness of times.”
  4. The certainty of the accomplishment of these decrees is as sure as the immutability of the attributes of God himself, for in the final issue, we exist to the praise of His glory (12). Should he lose any of those whom he has decreed to redemption, then there would be a flaw in his glory antecedent to the decree and a failure in exhibiting his glory subsequent to its [failed!] consummation.

B. The related spheres within which these blessings are given:

  1. Since this world eventually will pass away according to the purpose of God and be replaced with a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13), these blessings are given in “heavenly places,” that is, in the presence of God himself.
  2. The sphere in which the decree is secured according to both the promise and the justice of God is “ In Christ” (3, 4, 5, 6), “in the beloved, (7, 10, 11), “in whom” (13). He alone is qualified to secure the success of the decree, thus “he has blessed us in Christ” (3).
  3. The sphere of reception is faith. Those who receive these spiritual blessings in heavenly places secured in Christ are those who believe (13). By the Spirit, he brings us to this faith (Ephesians 2:8).

C. Nature

  1. The goal of election is that we might stand holy and blameless before the Father (4).
  2. Predestination, or God’s ordering of all events both redemptive and providential, results in our adoption as Sons (5).
  3. The entire scheme of this transaction depends on our being accepted, or peculiarly blessed, “in the Beloved,” for his acceptability, not for ours (6).
  4. This is, of course, the reason that the means of this decreed status for the people is redemption through Christ’s blood (7). The nature of salvation is that it is irreducibly moral and based on principles of righteousness. Mere decree cannot save sinners but principles of righteousness concerning both punishment and perfect obedience must be met. The decree, therefore, does not eliminate the use of means but establishes their necessity.
  5. There is an exuberance in the operations of God described by Paul as the “riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.” There is no waste or overabundance, but all the lavish bestowal of grace was just what was needed for our desperate and miserable case (7, 8).
  6. The nature of this redemptive work calls for a revelation of His will regarding it, for its recipients are to be united with the provision by belief. Revelation on the part of God and preaching on the part of his apostles, prophets, and gospel ministers is necessary for the reality of faith. There can be no belief apart from knowledge and understanding (9).
  7. In this sovereign plan, we have “obtained an inheritance,” the inheritance granted to the Son as a reward of his faithful execution of the entire redemptive plan from incarnation through ascension. He is now seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us, be our mediator, and prepare the full inheritance for us (John 14:1-14).
  8. To give a final assurance of its reality in our experience and to give a foretaste of the fellowship with God that constitutes its goal, the Holy Spirit is given as an earnest, or guarantee, or down-payment on the prize.
  9. The full transaction, while done “through Jesus Christ” and sealed by the Spirit, is finally “unto Himself” (5). The Father saves his elect and secures them and transforms them in order that the Son might be “the first-born among many brethren,” and he makes them “joint-heirs” with Christ. He sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts whereby we cry “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6, 7). Thus a specific point of relationship is established with each person of the one triune God. Finally, however, the text teaches that the Father’s election of a people is “unto Himself,” as if he finds his fullest expression as Father by multiplying children upon whom he can bestow his blessings, children who can share the joy already in his presence through the Son and the Spirit.



VII. Reflections

A. God himself is the initiator and perfecter of salvation, beginning in election before the foundation of the world and continuing all the way until the final redemption of all those who are the peculiar possession of God.

B. All the saints, those set apart unto holiness and blamelessness, have communion with the triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit. We know him in his undivided purpose and essential holy goodness, and experience in worship the intercommunion of all persons in the grace of salvation, but also in the discreet properties that eternally distinguish each person. We rejoice in the paternal blessings of love and acceptance from the Father, the sacrificial obedience and redemptive love of the Son, and the exuberant presence, illuminating power, and transforming love of the Holy Spirit.

C. All of the decrees and operations initiated and accomplished by God are for his own glory, and that glory of redeeming love will be the atmosphere in which the saints live for eternity.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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