Please go with me again to Ephesians 1. Having shown us God the Father’s role in choosing a people for salvation, Paul now turns his attention to Christ the Son. If there is a word that stands out to me in this text, it is redemption. “In him [that is, in Christ] we have redemption through his blood” (Eph 1:7).
I’ll read Ephesians 1:7-10.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10)
Dear Righteous, Heavenly Father, I must admit that I do not feel qualified to teach this weighty and important passage as well as it deserves. Please give me the ability to speak with clarity about what Christ has done on our behalf. Give us all the ears to hear and understanding hearts. Help us to look back and see your Son on the cross as he made atonement for our sins. Better yet, help us to understand what it means when your Word says that we have forgiveness of our trespasses. In Christ’s holy and perfect name. Amen.
Blessed In the Beloved
I’m currently in the middle of reading a biography on Martyn Lloyd-Jones. People have said that he was to the 20th century what Charles Spurgeon was to the 19th century. Not only was he a powerful expositor of Scripture, but he also possessed a Puritan’s spirit. Anyhow, he once said:
Redemption is a greater work even than creation, and especially when we consider the way in which God has achieved it, even through the sending of His only Begotten Son into this world in all the marvel and the wonder and the miracle of the Incarnation, but above all in delivering Him up to the Death upon the Cross. This is the supreme thing—that sinful fallen man can be redeemed and restored, and ultimately the whole of creation also. (Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure)
Here in Ephesians 1, Paul uses a unique phrase at the end of verse 6 which moves him from the subject of God’s election to Christ’s redemption. It creates a bridge between those two aspects of our salvation. The phrase is this: “He has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:6).
By definition, “beloved” is a word which refers to one who is loved. In context, it means one who is loved, in particular, by God. At the baptism of Jesus, God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). And Paul is suggesting that those whom God has chosen to adopt into his family are elevated to a status equal with Christ his Son. We are blessed in the Beloved. In other words, God has brought us into the same everlasting love which he has for his own Son.
It should be understood, however, that our elevation as illegitimate children to the beloved sons and daughters of God in heaven is not something we deserve. It is the result of God’s “glorious grace” (Eph 1:6). Paul says, “To the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” God brings us into his family on the basis of unconditional love and undeserved mercy. He sovereignly “chose us [and] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:4-5).
Did you hear that last part? We are adopted through Jesus Christ. We are blessed in the Beloved. Verse 3 says that God has “blessed us in Christ” (Eph 1:3). The temptation of Calvinistic believers is to become so enamored by the doctrine of election that God’s initial decree “before the foundation of the world” becomes the gospel itself to us (Eph 1:4). We may very well stress election and predestination to the neglect of Christ’s atoning work and even our justification by faith in Christ.
I’ll give you an example. In the early-19th century, there was a Baptist preacher by the name of Daniel Parker who started an anti-missions movement that swept the country. He took the doctrine of election to such an extreme that he not only believed that evangelism was unnecessary—why evangelize if God has already chosen his people?—but he also claimed that it was unbiblical. The death of Christ, though necessary, became little more than a footnote in God’s plan of redemption, and justification by faith was altogether irrelevant.
Needless to say, neither Paul nor the rest of the Bible shares his convictions. The thrust of the gospel message is never that God simply chose a people for salvation. Rather, it is that Christ died for our sins and that God accepts us only through him. We are blessed in the Beloved because Christ, the Beloved Son of God, has redeemed us by his blood, and we are united with him through faith.
In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul rolls all of the various aspects of our salvation into one seamless declaration of both theology and doxology. Frankly, if our theology doesn’t lead to worship, then either our theology is wrong, or there is something critically lacking within ourselves. Perhaps we’ve “abandoned the love [we] had at first” just as the Ephesians eventually did (Rev 2:4). As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, we should marvel at the Incarnation of God’s Son and even more so at his death on the cross which procured our redemption.
Redemption Through His Blood
According to Paul in verse 7, “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Eph 1:7). The Bible uses several words to describe our salvation (“redemption” being one of them). Others include justification, forgiveness, adoption, and reconciliation. For the purpose of clarity, let me make a distinction between these terms.
In justification, we stand before God as guilty, but he declares us innocent. In forgiveness, we owe a debt, but God says the debt is canceled. In adoption, we are strangers and illegitimate children, but God makes us his sons and daughters. In reconciliation, enemies of God become his friends. In redemption, slaves are set free.
During the first century, slavery was big business in the Roman Empire. Millions of slaves were bought and sold year after year. So Paul is using a familiar analogy here. The Ephesians understood what it meant to redeem someone. If you wanted to grant someone freedom, you had to buy that person. You had to pay the going rate before you could give him a written certificate of freedom.
In the case of sinners, the price is incredibly steep. According to Paul in Romans 6, “the wages of sin is death” (Ro 6:23). To be clear, we all begin as slaves of sin. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (Jn 8:34). According to Romans 8, all of “creation” is in “bondage to corruption” (Ro 8:21). Sin is our master, and the price which he demands for us is death. Either we pay it, or someone else does. Regardless, sin demands death.
Paul uses this language extensively in the book of Romans. More than once in Romans 6, he reminds us that we were “slaves of sin” or that we were “set free from sin” (Ro 6:17-18). To the Galatians, he wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Gal 3:13). In Colossians, he said, “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption” (Col 1:13-14). Hebrews tells us that “through death [Christ] might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb 1:14-15).
The Bible paints a rather vivid picture. We are slaves bound by sin, destined for death. But Paul says, “We have redemption through [Christ’s] blood” (Eph 1:7). Unlike the typical slaves of the Roman Empire, our master requires a price that can’t be paid with any amount of money. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Mark Zuckerberg combined could not afford to pay the price of redemption.
Peter said, “You were ransomed … not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1Pe 1:18-19). Why blood? Again, “the wages of sin is death” (Ro 6:23). Without death, without blood, there can be no redemption of sinners.
In the Old Testament, the blood of animal after animal was offered on the altars to make atonement for sin. During the annual Passover, the Jewish historian, Josephus, estimated that more than two million lambs were sacrificed in only two days. He described how the blood flowed from the temple like a red river down the hill into the Kidron Valley below. But for all that blood, not one person was redeemed from death and hell.
The problem with an animal sacrifice is that it’s not sufficient. The slave of sin is worth far more than all the dead sheep in the world. Attempting to redeem a sinner with the blood of goats and bulls is like trying to trade your Nissan Versa for a brand new Ashton Martin. There’s a significant value gap between the two.
Oh, but Christ, the Beloved Son of God, the only righteous, sinless man to ever exist—he is worth infinitely more than all the sinners in the world. Furthermore, he was willing to not only leave his glory in heaven but also subject himself to the wrath of God against sin all while being mocked and tormented by the same vile people he came to save.
More to the point, he was successful to the end. He overcame all temptation during his life. He maintained his sinlessness. And his pure, innocent blood was able to pay for our freedom. We owed a debt that only God could afford, and he paid it with his own blood.
Today, “redemption” is a beautiful word to us as it should be, but it’s also a violent word. It’s a word that carries with it the reality of an innocent man crying out in torment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). You’ll notice that Jesus didn’t cry, “My Father, my Father.” No, he felt forsaken because he was forsaken. At that moment, every ounce of God’s righteous anger against us was poured out on him. There was an utter separation between Jesus and his Heavenly Father. He couldn’t even bring himself to say, “My Father, my Father.”
That mental image of Christ on the cross should be enough for every one of us to want nothing to do with sin ever again. It may supply us with fleeting moments of pleasure, but inevitably it leads to misery, death, and hell. Don’t flirt with it. Don’t play with it. Remember that it once held us enslaved. It was our slavemaster. It killed our Lord and Savior. It laughed and danced around the hill of Calvary as Jesus’s blood poured from every open wound on his body. If Christ has made you free, leave sin alone and never look back.
The Forgiveness of Our Trespasses
So where does this freedom in Christ leave us? Paul says, “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will” (Eph 1:7-9).
First and foremost, the redemption that God’s chosen people have through the blood of Christ has resulted in forgiveness. Do you remember how I defined forgiveness? In forgiveness, we owe a debt, but God says the debt is canceled.
Imagine a man who is out of work. He’s months and months behind on his mortgage payments. The interest he owes is piling up, but he can’t afford to pay. He’s about to lose the house. His family will soon be out on the streets. So in a last ditch, desperate effort, he goes to the bank to plead for more time. “Please, please,” he says to the bank manager, “I just need some mercy.” But to his surprise, the bank manager says, “Don’t worry, my friend. You don’t owe us anything. Your debt has been paid in full.”
While that story may seem far too wonderful to ever be a reality, it is a reality for God’s redeemed family. It perfectly captures the conversion of sinners to Christ. Once a sinner comes to terms with the depth of his depravity, there’s nothing else he can do but plead with God for mercy. And God says to him:
“Let it be known to you … that through [Christ, my Son] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)
When Jesus bought our freedom, he paid our debt in full. There’s nothing left to pay.
On the Old Testament Day of Atonement, the high priest would select two of the best goats. He would kill the first goat, sprinkling its blood on the altar. Then, he would lay his hands on the second goat, symbolically putting the sins of the people on that animal. Finally, he would take the second goat deep into the wilderness. He would lead it so far away that it could never find its way back.
So the first goat represented the blood sacrifice of Christ. The second goat, then, represented the way in which Christ’s sacrifice removed our sins so far that they can never return to us.
Psalm 103 expresses it this way:
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12)
How far is the east from the west? I’ll let you start walking east or west (your choice), and you tell me when you reach the other. You never will. You’ll always be moving either east or west.
The prophet Micah declared:
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)
Even in our day of impressively sophisticated technology, do you realize that there are still parts of the oceans that we’ve not explored? If that’s where our sins were cast, maybe we never will.
The point is, God’s forgiveness through Christ is infinite. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro 8:1). In other words, there can never come a day when God says, “You know what? I’ve changed my mind. The debt is yours to pay. I no longer forgive you.” No, he could never say that without violating his own will and contradicting his own nature. God himself would—I don’t know—implode, taking all of creation along with him. It simply can’t happen.
But what if we continue to sin? Is it possible that Jesus paid our debt only to a point? Is it possible to sin beyond what he’s paid? The short answer is no. John wrote, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1:9). Past, present, and future—every sin was laid on Christ. The debt has been paid in full. We are absolutely and totally forgiven.
According To the Riches of His Grace
In case you’re not convinced of the comprehensiveness of God’s forgiveness, Paul adds, “According to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” (Eph 1:7-8). You’ll notice that he uses this language of certainty and totality throughout the entire passage. “[God] has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing,” not some spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3). “The riches of his grace” have been “lavished upon us.” And he doesn’t speak of the mere possibility of redemption, but the absolute certainty of it.
So we never need to worry that God’s grace isn’t enough. The Bible says, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Ro 5:20). Again, his forgiveness is infinite. The word “lavished” signifies that God’s generosity is more than a small favor or act of kindness. Rather, he is extravagant in the blessings that he gives. His generosity is over the top if you will.
Paul says that God forgives “according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). Let’s say that Bill Gates gives fifty dollars to charity. Is he giving according to his riches? Not really. Bill Gates’ net worth is more than eighty billion dollars. He would need to give at least several thousands before he would come anywhere close to giving according to his riches. Anything less would be him giving out of his riches. Perhaps we could say that he is giving from his riches. For Bill Gates to give according to his riches would require an amount that is much closer to his net worth.
As for God, he gives “according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). How much is that? You tell me. How much is your son worth? If you don’t have a son, how much is your hypothetical son worth?
All Wisdom and Insight
Beyond even forgiveness, Paul says that God has also given us “all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will” (Eph 1:8). “Wisdom” is a word that emphasizes our understanding of the most vital spiritual things such as God, righteousness, sin, heaven, hell, and so on. “Insight” emphasizes our understanding of practical things. God gives what we need for everyday living.
God doesn’t redeem us only to leave us wandering aimlessly through this world. Instead, he brings us into his confidence. He shares with us his will. He equips us to understand him and what is pleasing to him. He gives us his Word, of course, but there’s even more to it than that.
To the Corinthians, Paul wrote:
We do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory … Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-6; 12)
At the end of the chapter, he makes this astounding declaration: “We have the mind of Christ” (1Co 2:16). God is not dropping leaflets from the sky with mere tidbits of truth printed on them. By his Spirit, he is bringing us into a shared wisdom with Christ. He is opening our eyes to a world that we never saw before. He is giving us spiritual insight to see life for what it is and even the ability to see beyond this life.
People all around us are searching for meaning and purpose. Many of them think that they’ve found it in relationships, experiences, jobs, money, or possessions. But it’s not long before they feel dissatisfied once again and the search continues.
Those who are united with Christ, however, don’t have the same fundamental problem. By God’s grace, we see the bigger picture. We understand our purpose. We have direction and objectives. And though we may have never thought about it this way, we have those things because God has redeemed us. “We have redemption … according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will” (Eph 1:7-9).
If you find yourself thinking, I’m not so sure that God has given me the degree of wisdom that you’re talking about, consider James 1:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)
All you have to do is ask. Again, the redeemed have already been given “every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:3). At the very least, the believer has access to “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (1Pe 1:3). But you must ask God in faith. After all, if you don’t believe that God can answer your prayers, why bother praying?
To Unite All Things In Him
There is a question that comes up often as we talk about God’s plan of redemption. The question is, why? Why has God done all of this? Why has Christ made himself so low for unrighteous, undeserving sinners?
Listen to what Paul says next: “According to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9-10) God redeems us so that he might unite all things in him according to his purpose. What does that mean?
Redemptive history is not over. It wasn’t over once Christ died, and it will not be over until he comes again. The entire world is moving toward a climax, a resolution. And the grand finale will be (1) the complete annihilation of sin and (2) the restoration of creation.
Ultimately, Christ will bring the entire universe into unity in him. “At the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php 2:10-11).
Dear Gracious Father, we have this amazing hope for the future because of what your Son has done in the past. We look forward to a day when everyone without exception will sing your praise. In the meantime, we want to exalt Christ now. He is the Perfect Lamb who laid down his precious life for our sakes. Lord, we are unworthy to be called your children. But we are also thankful for that great privilege. Please continue to lavish us with your grace. Please forgive our sins daily as we confess them to you. In Christ’s name and only Christ’s name. Amen.
Preached at Joy Christian Church (Benson, NC) on May 14, 2017.