Welcome to Expositing Ephesians

THIS BLOG IS DEDICATED to one of the chief passions of my life and ministry, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. I believe this epistle is at the very core of the Christian life. I spent years in the study of it and then three and one half years expositing it from my pulpit. I hope this blog will be a blessing to you as I share that exposition. I also hope you will tell others about this blog. Please check for new posts each Monday .

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Proof of Grace (1)

Having examined the Purpose and Plan of grace, we look finally at the Proof of grace in Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

After seeing the etymology of the English word grace, not to mention the transformation of the Greek word charis, one would think that this would be enough to clearly show that salvation cannot be earned. But Paul, through the Holy Spirit’s control, realized that man’s ignorance demands that God be even clearer. Not only does he tell us what grace IS, he goes into more detail to tell us what grace IS NOT. This truly is the pivotal principle. So, with three thoughts Paul proves that grace is unmerited and unearned.

First, with the words that not of yourselves, Paul declares that salvation has nothing to do with us. Theologian John Murray states the case very well when he comments on this verse: “When [Paul] says “and that not of yourselves,” he is reminding us of the true nature of grace, that its whole urge and explanation reside in God. It may be easy to give formal assent to this text. Every evangelical Christian will do so. But how ready we are to shy away from its implications! In reality we deny the truth here asserted when we introduce at any point in the whole span and process of salvation a decisive autonomy on the part of man. If salvation at any point is contingent upon some contribution which man himself makes, then at that point it is of ourselves, and to that extent it is not of grace. Paul’s definition “and that not of yourselves” is thereby effaced and the true nature of grace is denied.” Indeed, Murray cuts to the heart of the matter. Grace that is not ALL grace is NO grace. Grace means that God has done everything; if He does not do everything, then it is not grace.

Second, salvation is a gift. Here is a beautiful thought. The Greek for gift is dōron. The idea behind it, and the related word dōrea, is “a complimentary gift.” It is used, for example, in Luke 21:1 where money is being cast into the treasury for the support of the temple and the poor (cf. Matt. 15:5). A synonym, didōmi, is used in that often quoted verse John 3:16, and means “to give of one’s own accord and with good will.”

A gift is such a nice thing to receive, is it not? The whole idea behind a gift is that it is unearned; it is given out of love. In contrast, think about the money you receive each week from your employer. Is that money a gift? Certainly not; it is that which you earned. But our salvation is a gift; it is unearned, undeserved, and given out of unfathomable love.

The story is told of a man who came eagerly but very late to a tent revival, where he found the workmen already tearing down the tent. Frantic at missing the meeting, he asked one of the workers what he could do to be saved. The workman, who was a Christian, replied, “You can’t do anything. It’s too late.” Horrified, the man said, “What do you mean? How can it be too late?” The workman rightly answered, “The work has already been accomplished. There is nothing you need to do but believe it.” All the work has been done. Salvation is a gift. This should, indeed, prompt us to declare soli deo gloria—to God alone be the glory. This leads to Paul’s final thought, which we’ll examine next time.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Plan of Grace

Having examined the Purpose of grace, we turn to the Plan of grace. In that wondrous statement—For by grace are ye saved through faith (Eph. 2:8)—is found the most important truth about God’s salvation to be found in the Scriptures. Paul presents two thoughts.

First, salvation is BY Grace. These words could not be clearer that the source of salvation is grace alone. Man has absolutely nothing to do with his salvation whatsoever. As preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “We are Christians entirely and solely as the result of the grace of God. Let us remind ourselves once more that ‘grace’ means unmerited, undeserved favour. It is an action that arises entirely from the gracious character of God. So the fundamental proposition is that salvation is something that comes to us entirely from God’s side.” Those words “entirely from God’s side” are most significant. As we’ll see, the teaching that says grace is “God’s side” in salvation and faith is “man’s side” is in error. Salvation is entirely of God.

The beloved pastor Harry Ironside captures this Truth as well: “We are not saved because we prayed so earnestly, repented so bitterly, turned over a new leaf, made restitution for past sins, tried to do good, kept the law and obeyed the sermon on the mount, or anything else that we could do, but we were saved by grace, and grace is God’s unmerited favor to those who merited the opposite.” Ironside actually hits on the real issue, namely, grace verses works. We’ll come back to this, but grace and works are diametrically opposed in acquiring salvation.

As Charles Spurgeon declared: “There can be no present salvation unless it be upon this footing—’By grace are ye saved.’ It is a very singular thing that no one has risen up to preach a present salvation by works. I suppose it would be too absurd. The works being unfinished, the salvation would be incomplete; or, the salvation being complete, the main motive of the legalist would be gone.”

Indeed, you will never hear someone who believes in salvation by works say, “Well, I am now sure I possess salvation; I am now sure that I will go to heaven.” Why? Because they do not know; they can never know because they can never be sure that they have done enough works. In contrast, God has done everything that has to do with providing salvation. Paul then presents something else.

Second, salvation comes THROUGH faith. Many Christians are unknowingly guilty of saying, “Salvation is by faith; we are saved by faith.” But this incorrect; we are saved by grace through faith. This is not just “semantics;” it’s doctrinal Truth. Grace is the cause of our salvation; Faith is the channel. Or as Spurgeon put it, “Grace is the fountain and the stream: faith is the aqueduct along which the flood of mercy flows down to refresh the thirsty sons of men.”

As we’ve mentioned before, any definition of faith is incomplete without a consideration of its object. Faith is a verb, so without an object, the entire concept is incomplete. In contrast to today’s meaningless “faith in faith” concept, saving faith has as its object “the Lord Jesus Christ.” As pastor and commentator James Boice details in his exposition of Ephesians, faith is not subjective feelings, wishful thinking, optimism, or self-confidence. Rather faith is a total trusting and committing of oneself to Christ as Savior and Lord.

Contrary to popular opinion, faith does not save us. A person can have faith in anything. For instance, you are probably sitting in a chair as you read these words. In a sense, you are putting faith in that chair; you are putting your weight on it fully believing it will hold you up. But does that faith have anything to do with spiritual salvation? Will sitting in church save you? Will being confirmed save you? Will baptism save you? Will observing some ritual or sacrament save you? NO! It is what we place our faith in that makes the difference. What saves us is God’s grace manifested in the person and work of Christ; we merely put faith in that grace and through that channel salvation is given. People today throw around that word “faith.” They say, “Oh, I have faith in God,” but they turn right around and try to work their way to heaven. That is a blatant contradiction, as we will see in the Proof of grace next time.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Purpose of Grace

In light of the undeniable definition of grace we examined in our last installment, we are prepared to look at three principles concerning grace: its Purpose, its Plan, and its Proof.

First, consider the Purpose of grace. Why did God show such extraordinary, such astounding grace toward us? There is a twofold reason. First and foremost, God showed grace for the express purpose to glorify Himself. How arrogant we are sometimes! The usual view of why God saved us is that He did so because He loves us—that, is, the primary reason God saved us was to bring about something for our bene­fit. Now, while it is quite true that God loved us, that’s not the primary reason He saved us. Why? Because this view pictures us as God’s ultimate purpose when in reality God’s purpose in saving us was to ultimately bring glory to Himself. As we mentioned in Ephe­sians l, God’s ultimate purpose is to restore the unity between God and man so man can glorify Him. Oh, may we come down from our pinnacle of theological arrogance and realize that we are not God’s “focal point.” God’s focal point is primarily His own glory. Any other view is human pride and theological arrogance. We have elevated man over God’s glory.

All this is in view here in verse Ephesians 2:7—he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. The full meaning of the words he might show is to show and demonstrate Himself. That is why, first and foremost, God should grace toward us. It wasn’t because of our goodness. It wasn’t because we had something to offer Him. It wasn’t because of some talent we might be able to contribute to ministry. It was because He wanted to display Himself, to demonstrate Who He is and what He alone can do. Why did Paul write to the Corinthians, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31)? Because since God displays His glory, should we not also demonstrate it in all that we do?

The second aspect of God’s purpose is to show kindness to man. 19th Century preacher Alexander Maclaren offers this beautiful illustration: “As an artist in his noblest work paints or chisels simply for love of pouring out his soul, so, but in infinitely loftier fashion, the great Artist delights to manifest Himself, and in manifesting to communi­cate somewhat of Himself.” There truly is a beautiful balance here. First, only God is worthy of praise and all He does brings glory to Himself. Second, one evidence of the glory He is worthy to receive is that He loves us and has shown mercy and grace toward us. There we have God’s purpose—to glorify Himself. But at the same time He shows kindness to man, for that too, above all else, brings glory to Him. Why did God save us? Because He wanted to show kindness. But why did He want to show kindness? To display His glory.

Consider one more thought. How does God show Himself?—through the exceeding riches of His grace, as we have seen clearly in Ephesians 1. But further, how long has He been doing it? Paul says in the ages to come. What a statement that is! It was the design of God to hallow, in all ages, the remembrance of so great goodness. For all time, eternity to eternity, God displays His glory, His greatness, His goodness, and His grace through the holy person and finished work of Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Meaning of Grace

As Charles Spurgeon said over a century ago, there are “many who are as altogether strangers to the doctrine of grace.” To dispel such misunderstanding, let us look closely at the meaning of the English word grace as well as the Greek and Latin words behind it. May I prepare our minds by saying that what follows is definitive. This is not opinion, rather fact concerning the meaning of this term. No misreading of Scripture or faulty interpretation of a text can negate the meaning of these terms.

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that grace comes from the Latin gratia, which means “favor, goodwill.” It goes on to say that grace is “an exceptional favour granted by some one in authority . . . Favour, favourable or benignant [i.e., kind] regard or its manifestation (now only on the part of a superior); favour or goodwill, in contradistinction to right or obligation, as the ground of a concession.” Finally, it adds that “in scriptural and theological language” grace is “the free and unmerited favour of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowing of blessings.” Webster agrees: “Unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”

So, thus far, we see that the essential concept in grace is that it is a kindness or favor granted by one to another that is not only free, but also not grounded in any way in the receiver. Let that soak in for a moment. The very foundation of grace is that it is freely bestowed by God and has nothing to do with the recipient. To add anything to grace, which is what all religion tries to do, is to deny the etymology of the word. To say that works must be added to grace is to deny the very word itself.

Even deeper is the Greek word charis. In Classical Greek it meant “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight” and from there several meanings developed: grace, favor, thankfulness, gratitude, delight, kindness, etc. Originally, then, the word didn’t carry the idea of some­thing “unmerited” because Greek philosophy (which is at the root of our western culture) believed in human merit and self‑sufficiency. Even then, however, the Greeks thought they needed “a little help,” so they prayed to their gods for favors and gifts.

It was, therefore, in the New Testament that charis was transformed. While some of the meanings from the Classical Greek are found, the New Testament usage is unique because New Testament grace is coupled with the person and work of Jesus Christ. If you remove Christ, and therefore grace, all you have left is another religion. You have ten practical commandments, many ethical principles for living, but all you have is mere religion.

One example of this is found in John 1:17: “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Does that say grace and truth came by religion or works? No, for the ultimate manifestation of God’s grace is Jesus Christ. Throughout the New Testament, in fact, grace is coupled with Christ, for He is the ultimate manifestation of the grace of God.

So, based on our word study and our present text, we offer this Biblical, theological, and etymological definition of grace: Grace is the unmerited favor of God toward man manifested primarily through the person and work of Jesus Christ, apart from any merit or works of man.

May we boldly say that if anyone defines grace differently than that, let them be accursed (Gal. 1:8-9). Anyone who does not preach that doctrine of grace is a false teacher. Many verses of Scripture substantiate that definition. Especially pointed is Romans 11:5-6: “Even so, then, at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace . . .” (emphasis added). To speak of grace plus works is in essence to redefine grace as something other than grace.

There are some beautiful pictures of God’s grace in the Old Testament. My favorite, in fact, is the story of how King David showed kindness to Mephibosheth, the crippled son of his friend Jonathan (II Sam. 4 and 9). But even that cannot compare with the New Testament usage of grace because that usage involves Christ. When we see the word grace in the New Testament, we need to realize that it is immediately identified with Christ, rooted in His Divine person and finished work. If we add anything to that, we have negated it and even blasphemed it. We shall build on this as we continue.

Monday, January 2, 2012

God’s Grace

In Ephesians 2:4-5, Paul mentions the third of three words that details our reconciliation to God—grace. He goes on to detail this term in verses 7-9: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

As I shared on the morning I delivered the first of three messages on this passage, I had been looking forward to these verses for weeks. This passage is truly the “high point” of our study thus far. Ponder a moment: What is the symbol, the mark, the distinctive trait of our reconciliation? In fact, what is the symbol, mark, and distinctive trait of Biblical Christianity? These three verses provide the answer—­GRACE. There is no other word in the entire vocabulary of Christian Theology that is more characteristic of its true nature than grace.

Grace truly is the “focal point” of the Epistle to the Ephesians. As we’ve mentioned before, Ephesians has been called “the Epistle of grace,” and there is more about grace in Ephesians than in any other book of the Bible, even Romans.

Over a century ago, in one of the greatest sermons he ever preached, which was based on Ephesians 2:8 and titled “All of Grace,” Charles Spurgeon began with these words: “Of the things which I have spoken unto you these many years, this is the sum: Within the circle of these words my theology is contained, so far as it refers to the salvation of men . . . The doctrine which I preach to you is that of the Puritans: it is the doctrine of Calvin, the doctrine of Augustine, the doctrine of Paul, the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. The Author and Finisher of our faith himself taught most blessed truth which well agreed with our text. The doctrine of grace is the substance of the testimony of Jesus.”

To that we say, Amen. Grace is our Theology. In a sense, the word grace sums up all Biblical Theology. Of all the theological words we could discuss—redemption, reconciliation, justification, sanctification, glorification, election, and many more—none cuts to the heart of our theology than grace. Today’s redefining of the Gospel is not the Gospel at all; it is not the Gospel of grace.

In a day when grace is so challenged by religion, it is absolutely essential that we define exactly what this term means. This word lies at the very heart of Christianity. It is, indeed, as theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer calls it in his book on the subject, “The Glorious Theme.” Without grace, in fact, Christianity is just another religion with no difference in its basic essence than any other religion. No other religion or faith on the planet uses the word grace as does Biblical Christianity.

That said, however, few words are more misunderstood, misused, or misapplied than grace. Two people can be discussing grace but mean two entirely different things. Other words in this category are “election,” “predestination,” “foreknowledge,” and others, but grace is at the heart of every one of those, as well as other concepts, so to misunderstand grace is to be totally clueless as to what Biblical Christianity is about.

In the same sermon just mentioned, Charles Spurgeon illustrated such confusion: “Among those who dwell around us, we find many who are as altogether strangers to the doctrine of grace, and those never dream of present salvation. Possibly they trust that they may be saved when they die; they half hope that, after years of watchful holiness, they may, perhaps, be saved at last; but, to be saved now, and to know that they are saved, is quite beyond them, and they think it presumption.”

Spurgeon was right then and is still right today. People are strangers to the real meaning of grace. In one way or another, they deny and pervert its true meaning. In the installments to follow, I hope to dispel such misunderstanding.