(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.