Predestined to Adoption

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:4-6


Ephesians 1 Paul wants us to understand that if we are Christians, we too have been adopted, adopted by God. Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians in a sort of outburst of praise. It begins in verse 3 and runs all the way down through verse 14, twelve verses. And in the Greek text these twelve verses are one long sentence. Paul is just overflowing with a stream of praise to God. In fact, this one sentence contains some of Paul's most profound theology.

The theme of the sentence is this, God is worthy of all of our praise, and all of our thanksgiving because of all that He has done for us in Jesus Christ. There are three stanzas in these twelve verses. The stanzas are marked out by the repetition of the refrain "to the praise of His glory." You can see it in verse 6, again in verse 12, and finally in verse 14. So, we can outline this sort of outburst of praise, this long sentence into three sections. Each section focusing on the role of a different member of the Trinity in the eternal plan of redemption. In verses 4 through 6 the focus is on the Father Who initiated the plan. In verses 7 through 12 the focus is on the Son Who accomplished the plan. And in verses 13 and 14 the focus is on the Spirit Who personally applies the plan of redemption to each of our souls.

This morning, I want to just briefly consider the Father's role in the passage that we just read together, verses 4 through 6. You'll notice that once he blesses God in verse 3 for all the spiritual blessings we enjoy, he then begins to list some of those spiritual blessings. And in verse 4 Paul begins his list with the expression "just as." And he begins his list of the blessings we enjoy in eternity past with sovereign election.

When Paul considers how it is that all of us came to enjoy the blessings that we enjoy, he goes back before our salvation, before our lives, before the incarnation, even before the world existed. He goes back to the time when there was no space, and there was no matter, and there was no time. There was nothing but God. He begins the story of redemption and your story and my story with a decision of God in eternity past. If you're a Christian this morning, you need to understand that your spiritual biography did not begin on the day you were saved. It began at a moment in eternity with a divine choice called election.

Now in this text we learn several truths about election. First of all, we learn that election is sovereign. Notice verse 4 "God chose." The word chose simply means selected, to select from a group, to choose, to pick. God chose.

Secondly, we learned that election is individual. God chose us, Paul says to the Ephesian Christians. We learn in other texts that this selection was very much individual.

Thirdly, he tells us here that election is in Christ. Notice, "He chose us in Him." That is, in Christ. Every blessing that we enjoy flows to us through the mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, and our election is no different. It was in Christ.

Fourthly, election is unconditional. Notice verse 4, "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world." Before creation. Paul uses that same expression in Romans 9 to make the point that it was before we were born, before we did anything good or bad, before there was anything in us whatsoever on which God would base His choice. Instead His choice was unconditioned on anything in us. It was conditioned solely by His own character, by His own grace, by His own love. And in the middle of verse 4 down through verse 6 we learn that election is intentional. That is that God had specific goals in mind.

My goal this morning however is not to explain to you the doctrine of election. If you're unsure about that, or if you have questions, let me encourage you to go, and listen to the series I did when I taught through Ephesians. I preached six messages on this passage because there are so many questions Christians have about it. You go and listen, and I think it will be an encouragement to you. But this morning, I want to focus instead on just one of the obvious questions that arises out of the doctrine of election, and that is, why me? Or to broaden the question, why us? From the middle of verse 4 down through verse 6 Paul tells us why.

Notice in the middle of verse 4 is one of those small little words that is so huge in understanding the Bible. Notice the word "that," literally "in order that." What follows that word is always the purpose or the goal of the action of the verb. He chose "in order that." You see God had very specific goals in mind in election. There are others listed in other places in the New Testament, but here in Ephesians 1 Paul specifically mentions three purposes or goals behind God's choosing of us for salvation.

The first purpose is there in verse 4, our holiness. Notice that He chose us in order that we would be holy and blameless before Him. You see God's design in election was to create a redeemed humanity who would be like Jesus Christ. In other words, God chose you, and God saved you so that someday when you stand before Him perfect in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and perfect in the practical righteousness of a holy life, you would reflect the moral character of Jesus Christ. And, in so doing, through all eternity, you would bring glory to Jesus. That was the Father's plan. You see if you're a Christian, this is the motive God had. He wanted Christ to be exalted, and the way Christ would be exalted is by having a full orbed realm of humanity that are redeemed and changed and who now look just like His Son. This was the Father's plan.

Now, skipping the second goal for election for a moment, let's go to the third purpose lying behind God's choice of us, and it's found in verse 6. It's God's glory. To the praise of the glory of His grace which He freely bestowed on us and the beloved. He chose us to the praise of the glory of His grace. Like everything else God does, He intended sovereign election to bring Him glory, especially His glorious grace. What could more put God's grace on display than for Him in eternity past to choose me, for nothing in me, and to choose you for nothing in you? It's grace.

But I want us to reflect for just a few minutes on verse 5 and on the second purpose behind election, and that is our adoption. Notice verse 5, "In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will." Now depending on the translation that you're using "in love" could be at the end of verse 4, could be attached to verse 4, or it could be attached to verse 5,legitimately could be either. After examining the evidence, I have to agree with the NAS translators, "In love He predestined us to adoption…."

Now, remember the context. In Ephesians 1:3-14 it's one long complicated Greek sentence divided into sections by the recurring refrain "to the praise of His glory." That means that verses 4-6 stand as one unit. And that unit describes the Father's primary role in our salvation. And the core idea of the Father's involvement is in verse 4, "He chose." Everything else in these three verses relates back to that verb. Everything else traces back to election.

So, verse 5, "He [chose us in love having] "… predestined us to adoption." Now the Greek word "predestinate" is one of those fighting words. You say it, and you either need to duck, or pucker. It depends on the person, whether you're going to get hit or kissed. But the word itself is not a difficult word to understand. It means literally "to decide beforehand," "to predetermine" someone's destiny. Do you see that? That's the meaning of the Greek word as well as the obvious meaning of the English word. It means that God decided our destiny before, before we came to Christ, before we were born, and even before, according to verse 4, the foundation of the world. All of those God chose were chosen to a predetermined destiny. What was their destiny? Look at verse 5. "Predestined to adoption as sons."

Here is one of the great reasons for election. Not only our holiness and God's glory, but also our legal adoption. The Bible teaches that God only has one Son by nature. Jesus is called the only begotten Son, the "monogenes." It doesn't refer to His origin. It's not like He had a birth. Instead, it's a term that simply means the unique, one-of-a-kind Son. There's nobody else that fits into His category. He is the only begotten One. He is the unique one-of-a-kind Son of God.

But one of the purposes God had in choosing us was to make us His sons and daughters as well. And to do so by adoption. This is exclusively a New Testament concept. There are a few passages in the Old Testament that picture Israel's relationship to God as sons. But the Jewish culture didn't have adoption in the way Paul is talking about it here. In fact, there are only four adoptions recorded in the Old Testament, and all of them happened outside of Israel. Instead Paul borrows this image from Roman family law.

Paul was, you remember, a Roman citizen. He grew up in the midst of a Roman empire. He wrote to people who lived in a Roman culture, and he borrows this image there. The process of Roman adoption involved two steps. The first step was to release the son from his natural father. And this was a strange ceremony. But essentially the natural father sold the son to the adoptive father as a slave, not once but three times. And the first two times the father who wanted to adopt released the boy, and he automatically came back under the authority of his natural father. But the third sale with that third time, the son was permanently free from his natural father. He was free to be adopted, and that's the second step.

Then the father who wanted to adopt, actually adopted the son, and he became a son in every sense that a natural son would be. In fact, in Roman law there was absolutely no difference between a son born into the family and one who was adopted. The most famous example of this is in the line of the emperors. Julius Caesar adopted a man named Octavius. And Octavius became the emperor of the Roman empire. We know him by the name Caesar Augustus, no difference whatsoever. So, Paul uses Roman family law to describe an amazing spiritual reality.

If you are a Christian this morning, if you have repented of your sins and believed in Christ as Lord, this is the reality. God, the eternal God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the sovereign Lord over all things has legally adopted you. Now, when you hear that, the first response is "wow." And then there's a bit of us I think if you're honest, if I'm honest with myself, when I hear that God has adopted me, I think that statement should be followed by some legalese. You know like after the commercials on television. God had adopted us, but the adoptive Father makes no guarantees explicit or implied and said adoption may be rescinded at the discretion of the adopting parent for reasons including but not limited to.

Listen folks, there are no caveats. There is no fine print in our adoption. When God saved you, He legally adopted you in the very same sense that human parents adopt their children. Some of you here are adopted. Others of you have adopted children of your own. You understand this passage in a way that the rest of us don't.

But here's the bottom line for us all. If you're a Christian, God truly thinks of you as one of His own children. That's God's perspective of you. You are His child. He has adopted you. This means that God is your Father. He is your Father. That means, like a father, He has compassion on us. Psalm 103:13, "Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him." It means, He's going to provide for our needs. Matthew 6:32.

After Jesus says don't seek, don't spend your life seeking all the stuff because "your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things." Matthew 7:11, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" Jesus says listen you're fallen people. And if you love your children you're generous with them. Do you really think God, your Father, the One Who adopted you, is not going to care for you?

If you're here this morning, and you're in the midst of trouble, difficulty (I know some of the circumstances of the folks in our church, but maybe I don't know yours). If you find yourself this morning in the midst of trials, and troubles and difficulty, your heart weighed down, let me tell you God is your Father, and you can cry out to Him. Romans 8:15, "We cry Abba, Father." That's the context of that statement. It's out of pain, it's out of suffering. It's like a child who finds himself in trouble and cries out, "Daddy!" He'll hear. He's your Father. He loves us. God loves us. 1 John 3:1, "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God."

I love John 17:23. It's in Jesus' prayer to the Father, the high priestly prayer there before His betrayal. Listen to this. I love this. He's praying to the Father, and He says, "Father You love them…." He's not just talking about the eleven, because He's just said, I'm also praying about those who will believe through their word, that's us. He says Father, You love them, even as You have loved Me.

Listen, our heavenly Father loves His adopted children every bit as much as He loves His monogenes, His one-of-a-kind unique Son. We now share in our Father's estate. We are heirs of everything He owns. Romans 8:17, "If children, heirs of God." Christ is now our older Brother. We are fellow heirs with Christ, or as Hebrews puts it in Hebrews 2:11, "Christ is not ashamed to call us [brothers]…." Although we already enjoy these benefits of our adoption, it's not yet fully complete in all of the benefits. Romans 8:23 says, "… we … groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons…." [that is the finalizing of that process, that is the redemption of our body.]

Our adoption won't come to its full completion until we have a body like unto His glorious body where we are perfect like He's perfect. Understand than, at the moment of salvation one of the purposes for which God chose you in eternity past was fulfilled. He legally at that moment adopted you as His own child.

Now, Paul gives us several other insights into our adoption. Look at verse 4, "In love…." It was motivated by the love of God. Verse 5, it's "through Jesus Christ." You see Christ is the source of every spiritual blessing we enjoy including our adoption because He was our representative. And, through His work on the cross, Jesus made our adoption possible. God couldn't just adopt us. Jesus had to do His work.

You see Jesus was the only Son of God, the one and only unique Son. He became fully human as well. He lived a perfect life, the life we should have lived. And then He died enduring the judgement of God against the sins of all who would believe in Him. And God raised Him from the dead. Our adoption only comes to us through Jesus Christ. Notice in verse 5 our adoption is to Himself. In other words, it wasn't a cold legal transaction. It was personal with God. It was to Himself.

The last insight that Paul gives us into our adoption comes at the end of verse 5. He says, It is, "according to the kind intention of His will." Notice if you have the NAS the marginal reading there, it is according to the good pleasure of His will. In other words, it's according to what pleased Him. William Hendrickson writes, "What God did in our adoption was a result of not sheer determination but of supreme delight." Listen, God didn't adopt you because He couldn't get around it. He was just stuck with you. He adopted you, and in doing so, He found in His own being supreme delight out of love. What an incredible privilege. He has adopted us.

Now, maybe you're thinking you know, Tom, I would love to truly have God as my Father, but how do you go about getting God to adopt you? How does one become a son or a daughter of God? Well, the New Testament tells us. Listen to the apostle John in John 1:12, "… as many as received … [Christ] to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." If you're willing to repent of your sin, to turn from your rebellion against God, your Creator, and you are willing to put your faith in Jesus Christ and to follow Him as Lord, then God will adopt you.

What about for those of us who are already believers. How do we respond to such amazing reality? Turn over to Ephesians 5 because Paul tells us. "Therefore" verse 1, "be imitators of God, as … [the] children [He loves]." Imitate God. Imitate your Father. Live like your Father wants you to live now that He's adopted you. Live in a way that reflects well on the family name. "Walk in love," verse 2, "just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma."

Now that He's adopted you, imitate your Father. Love God, love the Son of God, love the things that God loves, love the people around you. Walk in love. And he ends that verse by saying, Christ loved you, your older Brother loved you, and He gave Himself up for you as a sacrifice that soothed God's justice. That's what that fragrant aroma means. That's from the Old Testament. That's the language of when the smoke of the sacrifice went up. It was said to be a soothing aroma in the nostrils of God. It calmed His just wrath. That's what the sacrifice of Christ did. It completely soothed the wrath of God against us and moved Him to adopt us.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, our hearts are full from this morning. We have been moved by the story of a human adoption, and how You adopted her into Your family. And Lord, we've been moved by the truth of our own adoption.

Thank You, oh God, for Your glorious grace that would move You to sacrifice Your unique one-of-a-kind Son, Your monogenes, for us who were rebels and Your enemies so that You could adopt us into Your family.

Oh, Father, we love You, and we're so grateful. As we prepare now to partake of the Lord's table Lord, forgive us our sins against You. We want to honor You. Forgive us for the way our behavior, our thoughts our words, our actions have brought shame on You our Father. Help us to imitate You.

Father, forgive us for Christ's sake because of what He did. Give us a renewed resolve to please You. Lord, we each confess individually our own unique temptations and sins. We know what they are. We're painfully aware, and Lord in our own hearts we confess them to You.

But also, Father, corporately those temptations that are universal to us all we confess to you our pride and our selfishness and our lust and our love for ourselves rather than a love for You and a love for others. Father, forgive us, cleanse us. Let us take of this reminder of our Lord and His sacrifice in a way that honors Him.

Receive our worship we pray in Jesus name. Amen.