Human beings are brilliant. There seems to be no end to what they can accomplish technologically, medically, or creatively. But, there is something that no one can accomplish by himself. In fact, no matter how advanced society becomes, no man will ever be able to justify himself before God.
This is not good news. It’s hard to hear. No matter how many expectations man surpasses, he always falls short of God’s standards (Rom. 3:23). For this reason, man’s current condition is bleak (Eph. 2:1-3). Said another way, man is estranged from God, and he is bereft of the resources necessary to heal the breach (Rom. 8:5-8). The only way for this problem to be fixed is if the Father fixes it.
Thankfully, God not only wants to fix it, He has the authority and the power to fix it. The Bible uses the terminology of rescue to describe God’s redemptive purpose (Col. 1:13-14). What does this mean? We are hopelessly trapped in bondage to sin. We need to be rescued. But, we are without the means to accomplish it. Someone with enough love to risk all and enough power to break the bondage must initiate a rescue. That is exactly what God did. He saved us. It was a sovereign act of the triune God conceived in eternity past, accomplished at the cross and is in the process of being worked out now and forever.
Paul’s description of God’s sovereign salvific work is clearly expressed in Ephesians 1:3-14. In this passage, Paul writes of salvation in terms of the sovereign plan of God, the sacrificial provision made by the Son, and the sustaining presence of the Holy Spirit.
- God’s sovereign plan (Eph. 1:3-6). Before the foundation of the world, God made a choice. He was under no obligation or compulsion. His choice was nothing more than an expression of the kind intention of His will to the praise and glory of His grace. He planned to make us part of His family and bestow on us an indescribable inheritance (Rom. 8:15-17). For such unmerited favor, He is due gratitude, not skepticism.
- The Son’s sacrificial provision (Eph. 1:7-12). According the gracious plan of God, we have redemption and forgiveness through the blood of His Son. Christ paid the ransom to the Father in order to affect our release. Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21). What exactly was the provision? It was nothing less than the condemnation of sin (Rom. 8:3). When sin is condemned, we are set free. This too is the sovereign work of God in our salvation. Jesus’ death was not plan B; it was the only plan. God’s sovereign power (Job 42:2) precludes alternatives because what He always desires happens. God foreknew Christ as the Lamb, who would take away sins, and He revealed Him on the cross for our sake. Here’s how Peter describes it,
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you. (1 Pet. 1:17-20)
- The Spirit’s sustaining presence (Eph. 1:13-14). The final sovereign work of God in salvation is accomplished by the agency of His Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s presence in a believer’s life seals him as an authentic child of God (Rom. 8:9, 16). The residential testimony of the Spirit also reminds us that we have an inheritance reserved in heaven (1 Pet. 1:3-5).
All of God’s sovereign work in salvation is aimed at one thing. No, it is not our glory; it is His glory. We are sovereignly saved to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). As with all of God’s sovereign acts, they proceed from a good God who works all things together for His eternal good.