A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 05/03/1998
God, being rich in mercy, has made us alive with Christ, raised us up with him, and seated us with him in heaven "in order that in the ages to come he might show the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ." INTRODUCTION:
In the last four verses of chapter 1, Paul presents us with a vision of Jesus Christ raised from the death he died for sinners and exalted by God from the pit of hell to the pinnacle of heaven as the representative and head of all true believers. Now in chapter 2 we have seen the effects of the experience of the Head recapitulated in the Body. For we too were dead in trespasses and sins but we were made alive, raised, and seated in heaven with Christ because of his work on our behalf. We must not forget that this development of the doctrine of regeneration is part of the development of the theme of God's eternal purpose to build his Church as a means of bringing glory to Christ and shalom to creation. Obviously, sinners cannot glorify Jesus Christ or be part of his Body, cannot take their place as living stones in the true Church, that eternal Temple being erected to the praise of Christ, unless something is done about their sin. It must be forgiven, and they must be restored to spiritual life through the death and resurrection of their hew Head. Verse 7 then deals with the relationship of verses 1-6 to God's ultimate purpose. We were redeemed and forgiven and regenerated "in order that in the ages to come he might show the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ."I. THE PURPOSE OF THE PROOF
The word translated "show" is DEIKNUMI, which means to show in the sense of display, demonstrate, or prove. It was used in the ancient Greek law courts for the act of establishing the facts of the case which clearly indicated the guilt or innocence of the accused. In this sense then God is going to "demonstrate" to the universe through our salvation that he is indeed a God of grace and kindness. What immeasurable grace and condescension is this, that the Judge will voluntarily adopt the position of defendant! But there is precedent in the Old Testament: "Declare yourselves and come; draw near, you fugitives of the nations . . . Declare and set forth your case" (Is. 45:20-21). Here God asks the nations to show cause why they have not acknowledged him as God. He is secure enough in his sovereignty and deity to give them an opportunity to defend their allegiance to idols. This theme is picked up again in the New Testament, where God presents the evidence on his own side.
Why does God do this? Because Satan is an Accuser of both men and of God. We see him in this role in the Book of Job, accusing Job of being mercenary in his devotion. But he began his career by accusing God himself. "What do you mean, you can't eat of every tree in the Garden? What is God holding back from you? He must not be as good as you think," he implied to Adam and Eve in the Garden (Gen. 3:1-5). Yet it goes back even farther than that. Why did Satan rebel in the first place? Milton insightfully suggests that it was because "he thought himself impaired." He had convinced himself that God was not being fair to him in maintaining his own rule and relegating Satan to the second place in the cosmos.
Ever since, Satan's chief objective has been to destroy the glory of God by convincing the world that God is a hard taskmaster, a cosmic killjoy, an unreasonable and cruel tyrant. He wants to convince the world of his own mistreatment by this allegedly "good" God. He does this by corrupting mankind and tempting them to share his own resentment and hatred of God. He does it by destroying the beauty of creation, by convincing human beings to focus on their sufferings as unmerited and unfair. He wants to erase or corrupt or obscure all evidence of the wisdom, goodness, and love of God.
Therefore, one of the chief objectives of the plan of salvation is to prove once and for all that Satan's lies are lies. This is to be done not so much for the sake of God, whose intrinsic glory is undiminished and who is not threatened by Satan's attacks, but for the sake of men and angels. And it explains why this whole train of thought leads us inexorably to Eph. 3:10. It is all "in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." This is ultimately the issue over which the whole spiritual war is being fought.II. THE IRREFUTABILITY OF THE EVIDENCE
Let us examine first the case of Satan against God. The charge? Unfairness, cruelty, tyranny, lack of love. The evidence? Satan presents all the pain God permits, the tragedies that come indiscriminately on the innocent as well as the wicked. He presents the existence of Hell, where God plans to torture the majority of the human race forever because they have failed to keep perfectly his picayune list of arbitrary rules. He presents the imposition of the Law itself, a frontal assault on man's freedom, and the Gospel, a frontal assault on his pride. It is a compelling case, especially to those who have been, or whose loved ones have been, the victims of seemingly unmerited tragedy and evil.
And what will God present in his defense? He could (and will) show the fallacies in Satan's arguments. There are no righteous people and therefore no undeserved suffering; human freedom actually depends on the existence of an objective moral order, without which choices would be meaningless. Etc. But while these arguments would be sufficient for rational minds, their sufficiency may be unclear to those minds, clouded by sin and pain, that must actually hear them. So what wins the day? God presents into evidence Exhibit A: the Church. You and me.
So how does the Church demonstrate the goodness of God? When you consider its desert: eternal punishment, banishment, and wrath; when you consider its condition: dead in trespasses and sins, unable ever to merit, deserve, or win a reprieve; when you consider the cost of its restoration: the blood of Christ; when you consider the position and the privileges granted to it: sonship, heaven, heirs and joint-heirs with Christ, every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; when you consider the freedom of the offer: to whosoever will; when you consider the simplicity of the condition: faith alone; when you consider the totality of the provision: a free gift, all of grace, based on the finished work of Christ granting us everything pertaining to godliness; then the answer is plain. When angels and archangels, principalities and powers, cherubim and seraphim, and all the sons of men see this great company from every tongue, tribe, and nation as we will be when God presents us complete in Christ, at that moment the trial will be over. No verdict will even need to be rendered. Every mouth in opposition will be stopped. And every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. And we will remain on display for all eternity "in order that in the ages to come he might show the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ."III. THE PRACTICE OF THE PROOF
It is a general and fundamental principle then that the final purpose of salvation is the demonstration of God's grace and his goodness. Therefore, the lives of its recipients should magnify the grace of God. Anything that clouds or detracts from his grace is inconsistent. This comes out in at least three ways.OUR TESTIMONY: The first thing our testimony should do is magnify the grace of God. Just take verses 8-9 and put them in first person: "By grace I have been saved through faith, and that not of myself; it is the gift of God, lest I should by any means boast." That is the note we should strike. Our purpose is not to "express ourselves," still less to engage in a kind of spiritual boasting; it is to magnify the grace of God. People who say, "I'm trying to lead a good life," or "I try to live by the Golden Rule" have not even begun to understand the Gospel. What does this "trying" on their part have to do with the grace of God? How is this "trying" a proof of God's grace, his unmerited favor to undeserving sinners? The Christian's testimony should glow with two emphases: the centrality of the Cross and the primacy of Grace. "There but for the grace of God go I" must flow from a convinced attitude of the heart. The Gospel is not about what we are trying to do but about what God has done! Let his grace be the focus of everything we say about his work in our lives. OUR CONFIDENCE: Our confidence in a meaningful future, our assurance of God's acceptance and good pleasure with us, is based not on our attainments but on the promise and purpose and faithfulness of God. To the extent that we do not understand that the purpose of salvation is to magnify his grace, to that extent we will be tempted to think that everything depends on our own performance. And this is a recipe for disaster; it can lead only to the ugliness of pride or the blackness of despair. It is not about us. Everything must focus on his sufficiency, his goodness, his faithfulness, his grace. And that is a solid foundation on which to build our hope indeed. OUR LIFESTYLE: If you want to know what the lifestyle is that manifests and magnifies the grace of God, then read chapters 4-6. We will look at them in detail in due time. For a walk that is worthy of THIS calling is essential to the whole plan. If God had saved us FROM sin by grace, but in a way that left us IN sin, this would not bring glory but ridicule to his name. Instead of God bringing good out of evil, salvation would allow Satan to bring more evil out of God's naive kindness. This would definitely not make known the manifold wisdom of God to anybody (3:10). But does this necessity throw us back into the performance-based spirituality we just warned against? No. To understand by receiving God's grace is to be filled with an undying gratitude. Gratitude is the irresistible motive that flows from Grace and makes aspirations to the worthy walk compelling. You cannot truly be a recipient of grace without it. CONCLUSION:
What then is the lifestyle that proves God is gracious? It is neither the laxity of libertinism nor is it the bondage of an outward and ugly legalism. It is the joyous response of gratitude for his grace. The specifics are revealed in chapters 4-6. Read ahead and begin to live it even now as we continue to lay the foundations for that way of life in chapters 1-3, not the least important stone of which is the fact that all of God's work for our salvation was done "in order that in the ages to come he might show the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ."
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams