Creation 2.0: God’s Cosmic Plan, Part 1

Ephesians is perhaps Paul’s most global, cosmic epistle — although Colossians gives it a run for its money. If you want the big picture, flip to Ephesians.

(Eph 1:3-6 ESV)  3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,  4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love  5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,  6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Now, I doubt seriously that Paul was trying to win a debate on Calvinism vs. Arminianism. That came 1,500 years later.

He refers to “predestination” in the sense of what God has always planned from the beginning of time. We can talk about what this means for free will and such another quarter. This quarter we want to consider Paul’s main point, not 16th Century theological skirmishes.

Paul’s point is that our salvation is part of God’s intentions, dating back to the foundations of the world, that is, the Creation. For that long, he’s intended that we be adopted as his sons.

Sons? Why sons? Well, “sons of God” has deep meaning–

(Deu 14:1-2 ESV)  “You are the sons of the LORD your God. … 2 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

To be a son of God is be chosen and elected, treasured even. You can see why Paul speaks of “adoption” in this context. We’re chosen sons.

Hosea prophesies that in the age of the new covenant,

(Hos 1:10 ESV)  10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

The allusion to God’s promise to Abraham is clear, as is the family relationship being promised.

Of course, to be a son of God is to be a king, because the son of a king will also be a king –

(Psa 2:7 ESV)  7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”

(Psa 89:27-29 ESV)  27 And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.  28 My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him.  29 I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens.

These are references to God’s promise to be co-regent with David and the Messiah. But we’ll share in Jesus’ kingship by becoming a part of him — fulfilling the plan revealed at the Creation.

In Paul’s world, the world was ruled by an emperor who claimed to be a god. Augustus was chosen and adopted by Julius to succeed him as emperor. And when Augustus ascended to the throne, he declared Julius to have been a god, thereby making himself “son of god” — and he commonly referred to himself this way. (And so, to call Jesus “son of God” was considered treasonous in many places.)

And the Ephesians, living in a Greek city in Asia Minor, where the worship of the emperor was strongest in the Empire, surely didn’t miss the message.

God has intended from the beginning of time for us to become his sons, so that we’d become kings — like Augustus Caesar except better. After all, Augustus died.

(Eph 2:1-3 ESV) And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Although God intended that we become sons and kings, it’s not because of our great virtues or goodness. Rather, we followed the “prince of the power of the air,” that is, Satan. We were by nature “children of wrath,” no better than anyone else.

This sounds suspiciously like –

(Deu 9:6 ESV)  6 “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”

God chose us. (Again: just not interested in the whole Calvinism debate.) He chose us in the sense that parents choose the children they adopt — not because that babe had done anything to merit an adoption. But the lesson is harder than that. Babies are innocent, and yet we were saved despite our guilt.

(Eph 2:4-7 ESV)  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved – 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

We don’t deserve our forgiveness, and yet God not only forgives us, he seats us with Jesus “in the heavenly places.” The only seat that’s ever mentioned in heaven is a throne!

(Eph 1:20-21 ESV) 20 [H]e worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

The grammar is actually quite plain. We sit on the throne with Jesus — as part of Jesus — at God’s right hand, as co-regent.

And so when we’re baptized “into Christ,” as the Scriptures so often say, we are baptized into his kingship.

(Eph 2:8-9 ESV)  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

If you’ve read Deuteronomy, you recognize that Paul is repeating God’s warnings to Israel. We’ve been chosen to receive a gift that we’ve done nothing to earn. There is nothing to boast about other than God’s righteousness. And yet we’ll receive an “inheritance” that we did not buy or build.

(Eph 2:10 ESV) 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

“Workmanship” translates poiema, meaning (are you ready?) creation. The word is only used of works of divine creation in the New Testament — and is a form of poieō, the word for “create” in Genesis 1:1. (“Created” translates ktisis.)

Thus, Paul doubly emphasizes that what God has done for us is comparable to the Creation itself — which should, quite naturally, result in our being kings, priests, and images of God.

Therefore, what are the “good works, which God prepared beforehand”? Well, our duties as kings, priests, and image-bearers. And what are they?

Well, Paul eventually gets around to telling us how we are realize our purposes in Christ — in chapter 4.

Avatar of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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10 Responses to Creation 2.0: God’s Cosmic Plan, Part 1

  1. Ray Downen says:

    We note that the emphasis all the way is on JESUS rather than on the Holy Spirit. Paul was an ambassador for JESUS CHRIST, as we also should be.

  2. Doug says:

    I struggle some with the whole concept of God’s Cosmic Plan. What am I to do with the whole story of God’s chosen people, the Jews? I know that they had many advantages that I didn’t have in that they saw many miracles and signs and heard the voice of God and witnessed his presence in clouds and fire but I have to wonder if I could have done any better in knowing God than they did if I had been in their place. So what was God’s purpose in the use of them? Did He actually think that they could live up to His standards or were they just cannon fodder that had to mowed down on the way to Jesus. I know God’s ways aren’t my ways but was this the only and best way to get to Jesus? How do I have peace over their suffering that enabled me to meet and know Jesus? It just seems like a very bloody path that God used to bring Jesus into humankind. Maybe that is the reason for His methodology?

  3. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Doug asked,

    What am I to do with the whole story of God’s chosen people, the Jews? I know that they had many advantages that I didn’t have in that they saw many miracles and signs and heard the voice of God and witnessed his presence in clouds and fire but I have to wonder if I could have done any better in knowing God than they did if I had been in their place. So what was God’s purpose in the use of them?

    Doug,

    When you or I make a decision, we are fortunate to be able to anticipate the results at all. Even chess grandmasters only think 7 moves ahead. God, however, thinks forever ahead.

    When we seek to judge God (a rather daring task, you know), well, we just don’t have enough information. We don’t know what’ll happen tomorrow, much less 1,000 years from now.

    God’s plan to work through Israel is a plan that has major ramifications, nearly 2,000 years after the crucifixion. It was about far, far more than the Jews. Who knows what implications that plan will have for the next century or millennium?

    Moreover, we don’t have anything like the contingent knowledge of God. We have no idea what would have happened had he elected the Chinese or the Bushmen or the Cherokee. Presumbly, the result would have been worse in the grand scheme of God, or else God would have made a different choice.

    Think of it like Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope strategy against George Foreman or Ark vs. Texas A&M last year. (Or AU vs. UA in 2010. Ugh.) Sometimes you can’t judge a strategy at halftime. You have to wait for the entire game to be played. Ideas that seem foolish early may prove genius much later.

  4. guy says:

    Jay,

    Hmmm…i left this comment before but apparently it didn’t post.

    i think if you trace out the “us/we” references and the “you” references in the first 3 chapters of Ephesians, a strong case can be made that the ‘us/we’ references are Jews, and ‘you’ references are Gentiles. Thus, all the ‘chose’ and ‘predestine’ language of chapter 1 would apply to Jews in a way that it would not apply to Gentiles. i’ve always though Paul’s ‘chose us’ but ‘you also were added’ language in Eph 1 mirrors his train of thought about natural vs. grafted-in branches in Romans 11.

    –guy

  5. Doug says:

    Jay, one of the main things I get as I read the stories of God’s chosen people,
    is how their story as a nation mirrors my story as an individual. Even their voluntary return to Egypt in the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, a return to the slavery of their past is similar to my return to the sins that I detest. I also get affirmation that even when God’s chosen people were at their worst, God continued to bless them with prophets, priests, and a few righteous Kings and Judges and He continued to promise restoration for them when they were at their worst. That is comforting. I also wish to assure you that I don’t question God’s ways or methods, I just don’t always understand them.

  6. Alabama John says:

    Jay, God did chose those folks you mentioned to believe in God, but not as the ones for Jesus to come through.
    Those mentioned believed in God and considered him all peoples but, they were not chosen the ones that would be written down and studied by us.
    For us to teach all others were created and born to burn in hell has been a false teaching for way too long and in truth most folks by far never believed that to begin with.

  7. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Doug,

    It’s okay to question God. Moses did. David did.

    (Rom 12:2 NET) Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.

    It’s just that we have to do so with the greatest of reverence and humility. That’s not at all an accusation, just a reminder to the readers — and a major hermeneutical principle, to my way of thinking. You just can’t get to the correct result unless you begin with a deeply reverent and submissive heart. (Again, not at all an accusation.)

  8. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Guy,

    I agree with your exegesis of “you” and “us” passages, but believe you wind up in the same place. I shortcut the analysis in doing a 30,000-foot overview.

    The theme of the second half of Eph 2 is that the wall of separation between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down (like the grafting of branches).

    (Eph 2:19-21 ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

    Hence, Gentiles are “fellow citizens” and not “aliens” (often translated “sojourner” in the Torah). That is, the ethnic and national distinctions are gone in Christ.

    This is in contrast to –

    (Eph 2:12 ESV) 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

    Therefore, we are now part of the “commonwealth of Israel” and privy to the “covenants of promise.”

    Therefore –

    (Eph 3:6 ESV) 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

    Culminating in –

    (Eph 3:8-12 ESV) 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

    “The plan of the mystery hidden or ages in God” is that the the Gentiles would be added to the blessings of Israel (thus defeating the powers who stand againt God). And among those blessings is, of course –

    (Eph 1:3-6 ESV) 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

    In short, I think that Paul begins by extolling the blessings the Jews with faith in Jesus — predestined by God Almighty for adoption, holiness, and every blessing. He inexhorably leads to the Gentiles being added to this same community — through faith — so that they receive the very same blessings as the Jews.

  9. guy says:

    Jay,

    i’m not sure Paul would be willing to make the circle you made. That circle seems to diminish the significance of Paul saying that the gospel is for the Jew first and then the Greek. The “Greek” could easily object to Paul’s Jewish-’first-ness’ with the very reasoning you just used.

    Surely, Paul’s comments make more than a mere historical point (we got here at a point in time earlier than you did).

    i think it matters to point out the immediate referent of “us/we” is Jews. It makes apparent that whether the passage even addresses the kind of concerns Calvinists bring to it cannot be taken for granted (as though when all a Calvinist needs to do is read it aloud to make his point).

    –guy

  10. eric says:

    The contrast of where we are coming from (sinful) and what we are promised is mind boggling. This is what I “try” to remember when I interact with others. I don’t want to set the bar to high for others when God has given me so much grace. What a picture of the life of Christ not only loving and healing the helpless but also healing the souls of those who may have oppressed others as well. Zacchaeus comes to mind.

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