Sermon (Ephesians 1:1-10)
Collect for Illumination (Calvin & Bucer)
“Almighty and gracious Father, since our whole salvation stands in our knowledge of your Holy Word, strengthen us now by your Holy Spirit that our hearts may be set free from all worldly thoughts and attachments of the flesh, so that we may hear and receive that same Word, and, recognizing your gracious will for us, may love and serve you with earnest delight, praising and glorifying you in Jesus Christ our Lord.” We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord, in the power of the Spirit, Amen.
God recently blessed our family with the addition of an adopted daughter. As I read through Scriptures, Paul’s use of the adoption-theme jumped out at me. The doctrine of adoption is often over-looked, but it is central to the good news that Jesus brought into this world in His Incarnation.
Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians with grand picture of our cosmic redemption. We are blessed in Christ in heavenly places (v. 3), we were chosen in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world so that we might be holy and blameless (v. 4). We were predestined, according to the will of God (v. 6). We have redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ and our sins have been forgiven (v. 8). God has made known to us the “mystery of his will” (v. 9). We are part of God’s cosmic plan to unite all things in Christ (v. 10). Yet, in the midst of this breath-taking panorama is a startling phrase—“adoption through Jesus Christ.” How many times have you heard of the good news of adoption? But, that’s not all. If we read the entire verse in context, we find we were “predestined for adoption 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” (v. 5-6). How many of you have ever heard or read anything about “predestination for adoption”? This is a sadly neglected doctrine, but it is also a glorious truth and the only basis we have for any hope of salvation.
God saves through adoption. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, we were all born into Adam’s rebellious family. The human race is one, big dysfunctional family. Worse, the human race is a dysfunctional family of slaves. We were slaves to sin (Ro. 6). By nature, we are all children of wrath, and we walk in darkness. We were “sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:1-3). Through God’s gracious adoption, we can become the children of obedience. We can become the children of God.
Ro. 8:15-17 – we were slaves to sin (Ro. 6:17) but now we have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Paul says much the same thing in Gal. 4:4-7. We are all now children of Abraham (Ro. 4:16). We are heirs of the covenant promises God made to Abraham.
This is the Christmas story. There will only be one true Son of God, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God by rights; we are sons of God through adoption. But, unlike other first-born sons who might lord it over their adopted siblings, Jesus generously shares his inheritance with us (Eph. 1:11-14). Calvin put it well:
“Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2:558).
Because the eternal Son of God became a man, we men can become adopted sons of God.
Ro. 8:29–30 – we Reformed types have too-often worked ourselves into theological fits instead of focusing on Christ. The doctrine of predestination is a good example of this. The point of predestination is to make us more like Jesus Christ. God “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” What good is having a right doctrine of predestination if it does not make us more like Jesus? We shouldn’t avoid difficult doctrines, but nor should we use difficult doctrines to be difficult! We shouldn’t beat our brothers over the head with the doctrines of grace. The doctrines of grace should make us … well, gracious.
1. Why were we adopted? “To the praise of his glory” (1:6, 12, 14). Being a Calvinist is not a free ticket to feeling proud of how much theology we know or how much more faithful we are to the Scriptures. Believing in predestination should make more gracious, because we realize how gracious God was toward us. There was nothing good in us that made God choose to adopt us out of the mass of sinners. We weren’t the cutest baby, or most intelligent baby. We were abandoned in the dark. We were sold into slavery by our father Adam. But, the good news of gospel is free adoption—free grace. God adopted us to glorify himself. End of discussion. The only proper response is to glorify his name and thank him every minute of our lives.
2. Children always copy their parents. God designed children to imitate their parents. God wants us to copy and imitate Him. Let us imitate God in adoption—James 1:27 (“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”) We don’t believe in a social gospel, but the gospel is always social. God has taken us into his family. How can we turn away from those who have no family? God has prepared a table for us. How can we refuse to feed those who hunger? We don’t have to travel to China to be a missionary. We can evangelize the Chinese one baby at a time. How much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel? Many people have told us that they would like to adopt a baby, but they say it’s just so expensive. Are we willing to sacrifice a bigger SUV to save one baby? Are we willing to sacrifice a bigger house for one baby? Think how many babies could be saved from the abortionists’ knives if Christians would put their money where their mouth is! Why do we spend thousands of dollars on short-term mission trips? Adoption is an opportunity for a life-time of evangelism. God sacrificed his only Son in order to adopt us. This is not to say that every Christian family should sign up now for adoption. There are many considerations and many different situations. But, we can’t all expect everyone else to do it. The church needs to care for the poor. The church needs to care for widows. The church needs to care for orphans. We don’t have to do it all right now, but we can resolve to do it as soon as God gives us an opportunity. The doctrines of grace are worthless if they don’t motivate us to show grace to others. Let us follow the example of our elder brother, Jesus Christ, as he gave us his life in order to save the world. Let us give up our lives, day by day, and pray that God would save a small part of the world through us.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!