The Gospel And Adoption – Ephesians 1:3-6

The Gospel & Adoption

Nick Esch, 11/12/2017 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

This month is national adoption month, and today is Orphan Care Sunday. One of the reasons there is such a thing as Orphan Care Sunday is because there is an orphan crisis. There are around 153 million orphans globally. And here in the states alone we have somewhere around 500,000 children in the foster care system. And many of those kids are sleeping on the floors of CPS offices or shelters, instead of being in a home and being part of a family. This is a great tragedy. And it’s one that we all should care about and relate to as Christians.

And this morning that’s what I want us to think about; I want us to get a brief theology of adoption, and then think about how that should effect our lives. I want us to look at some glorious truths this morning, and then think about how those truths enable us and compel us to give our lives to sacrificially loving others; to loving others at great cost to ourselves, much the way a family does when they adopt. So with that in mind, look with me at Ephesians 1:3-6.

Ephesians 1:3-6

Our passage begins with Paul praising God; he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” And it might seem strange to you that he brings up Jesus while praising the Father, but he explains why this is when he says that God, “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” You see it is only in Christ that we can praise God. In and of ourselves we are unworthy sinners… In fact, Paul says in the next chapter that in and of ourselves we were dead in our sins, living only to carry out the passions of our flesh, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind… But (as we read earlier), there is therefore now no condemnation, no wrath for those who are in Christ Jesus. In and through Christ we are made right with God; and in and through Christ God blesses us beyond measure.

What Paul is doing here is calling us to praise the God from whom all blessing flow; and the chief blessing He is pointing to, to demonstrate the reality of our blessedness, is Christ Himself. As Paul says elsewhere, “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Paul is calling us to praise God because of Christ and how He’s blessed us in Christ. He’s saying, “Praise God! And if you need a reason to praise God, look to Jesus!!!” Beloved, we have great reason to praise God: the blessed One has blessed us with every blessing in Christ… If you are a Christian, you have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you. And the life you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself for you. He is in us and we are in Him; He loved us and gave Himself for us and now when we give ourselves to Him, we get Him… And there is nothing and no one better…

And to unpack just how amazing all of this is, Paul begins to explain just how blessed we truly are in Christ. In verse 4 he says that God, “chose us in him (that is, in Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Now, just marvel at this for a moment. In and of ourselves, all of us are children of wrath; meaning that in and of ourselves, from the womb to the tomb we are sinners, and sinners rightly deserve the wrath of God. In and of ourselves we are dead in our sin, meaning we are dead spiritually, dead to God. In fact, in our sin we are at enmity with God. The reason we are dead to God is because we have considered God dead to us; in fact, in our sin, we live as if we are God.

We seek to rule and reign in our lives; but instead of that being a good thing, like it is for God, we only live to carry out the passions of our sinful flesh, carrying out the desires of our bodies and minds… And you see, our desires, our flesh, we ourselves, are broken and evil outside of the grace of God. I know the world tells us that people are inherently good, but come on; we know that’s not true. That’s why most of us in this room have a set of keys on us; we lock our doors because we don’t want anyone to steal our stuff. Or think about the horrors of what happened at FBC Sutherland Springs last week. Evil is a reality in this world, and the unfortunate truth is that sin is behind all of the evil we see; and all of us are sinners by nature.

But here we’re told that God has chosen us, in Christ, to be holy and blameless before him. Friends, in and of ourselves we are anything but holy and blameless; even if we clean up our act as best we can, we are still certainly not blameless. I mean think about every person who goes into politics; no matter how good of a person they may be, the media or the person they’re running against is always able to find some kind of dirt on them, some kind of fault in their past; and if it was us in their place they’d find dirt on us as well. Friends we are all guilty on some level… We are not blameless… But, in Christ all of that changes…

It is in Him that we are holy and blameless. Jesus, God the Son is the only blameless one who has ever walked this earth. Friends, that’s why He came; He came to live the perfect life that we have failed to live, and to die the death that we deserve to die in our place, as the spotless Lamb, the perfect atoning sacrifice. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God. The blameless one took our blame upon Himself, that He might make us holy and blameless. He lived and died in our place. But He didn’t stay dead; no! He rose in power, showing Himself to truly be God in the flesh, and showing that God the Father accepted His sacrifice in our place. And that same power indwells and enables every true Christian.

This is what God’s Word is getting at here when it says that we should be holy and blameless in Christ. Blameless speaks of our standing before God; that we are guilt free. Like the words of that old hymn: “No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine! Alive in Him, my living head, and clothed in righteousness Divine!” In Christ we are vindicated; by grace, through faith in Christ we are justified… So it’s not just as if we’ve never sinned, but just as if we never would sin. We are made righteous in Christ because He gives us, He clothes us in His righteousness. That’s what it means to be blameless… But holy here, speaks to moral purity; that if we are in Christ we are now empowered by the Spirit of Christ to live upright and holy lives that bring Him glory. We are not to wallow in our sin, but to fight our sin and pursue holiness; and by God’s grace we can… The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is in us… So though we should recognize that we are sinners, and we should be humbled by that, we must also recognize that Christians are repentant sinners who make war on sin, and live lives that are set apart from the world, that are holy…

Now all of this is amazing, but it gets better… If you aren’t amazed by God’s grace yet, just get ready… God is so good! In the first part of verse 4 we’re told that God chose to do all of this and chose us before the foundation of the world. So try to get your mind around this (though you won’t be able to); this is a sentence begun in eternity past. Before the foundation of the world, that is, before the world existed, God the Father chose us, in Christ, to be holy and blameless before Him. Now, I know, I know… The whole idea that God chose us in eternity past, or the doctrine of election and predestination, which comes up in verse 5, is controversial, and causes much confusion, and even anger in some… But church, this shouldn’t cause anger, but amazement…

God chose His people, He chose us before the foundation of the world. It is God who initiated our salvation, and He initiated it before we were ever born. He chose us and made a plan to make us holy and blameless, and that plan was the person and work of Jesus. He chose to save a people for Himself and He made a plan to accomplish that salvation through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and death defeating resurrection of Jesus. As 2 Timothy 1:9 says, God, “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” God’s purpose for us, His grace towards us was established before the ages began, in Christ.

Charles Spurgeon said it well when he said, “I believe in the doctrine of election because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; And He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love.” Now, understand, that God’s choosing doesn’t negate our responsibility; and it isn’t as though God is turning people away who desire to be saved. Over and over again God’s Word invites all to come. But remember what we saw earlier: outside of God’s grace everyone is dead in their sins, living only to carry out the passions of their flesh, and are by nature children of wrath. So even though God stands with arms open ready to receive all who will come to Him, in our sin we’re running away from God, we want nothing to do with Him. Or perhaps like the prodigal son, we desire the gifts of the Father, all the while not really wanting anything to do with the Father Himself. That is, until something changes…

Think about your salvation; how did you come to know the Lord? No doubt, at some point you came to the realization that God was real and holy, that you were a sinner in desperate need of a Savior, and that Jesus Christ was that Savior, and then you turned from your sin and trusted in Him. But why? Why did you do this? Apparently you had not been moved to do so the day before; so why that day, why then? Beloved, God’s Word is telling you why… You repented of your sin and placed your faith in Christ because God in His grace and in His sovereignty so worked in your heart and in your life that He enabled you and empowered you to come to Him. All of your desires were fleshly pursuits, but God in His grace so transformed your desires that He led you to desire Him. God is the Divine initiator of our salvation; long before we ever wanted Him He was after us. The reason we have come to God is because before time began God determined to come after us. And if you’re not a Christian today, and you’re wondering how you can know if God chose you, the answer is, are you willing to come to Him… He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Turn from your sin and trust in Him and you will be saved; He will not turn you away.

Again, God does not turn people away who desire to be saved. That’s not what this is telling us. What this is saying is that none of us would desire to be saved if God did not first desire us. In our sin we are all fleeing from God; but God in His grace enters into our rebellion, enters into our fleeing and rescues us from our self. As professor Mark Webb has said, “Election keeps no one out of heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of sinners out of hell who otherwise would have been there. Were it not for election, heaven would be an empty place, and hell would be bursting at the seams…” So we have no one but ourselves to blame for our condemnation, and no one but God to credit for our salvation. It is all of grace; and therefore all glory goes to God alone…

This is truly amazing grace! Are you amazed yet? Well, just wait, it get’s even better… Look at the last two words of verse 4, and then verse 5. “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” So why did God choose us in eternity past, why did He predestine us for all of this—that is destine us before hand, before time began? Because of His love; in love He predestined us… This ties together with all the in Christ and in Him language that’s in our passage. It is because of God and who He is, and especially who He is in the person of Jesus that He chose to save us; it is because of His great love for us, indeed it is because He is love.

His choosing us had nothing to do with anything He saw in us. It wasn’t as though God looked at us in eternity past and said, I really need them on my team, they really bring something to the table… No, no… All that we bring to the table is our sin… It’s like what God told Israel in Deuteronomy 7:7-8: He said, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you…” Why does He love us?! Because He loves us! Because He is in fact love!!! He doesn’t love us because of how amazing we are; He loves us because of how amazing He is!

And look how great this love is… Not only does God the Father make a plan to save us, and not only does God the Son come down from heaven and make that plan happen, and not only does God the Spirit work in our hearts giving us the faith to believe this plan; but, God in His gracious love so works in this plan to bring us to Himself and to bring us into His family. It says in verse 4 that we should be holy and blameless before Him, that is with Him. God wants us with Him. And He doesn’t want us with Him as mere servants or something, but He wants us with Him as a child of God. He predestined us for adoption as sons—that is as children of God who are heirs of the Kingdom, who have every right that a firstborn son would have. There are no second-class citizens in God’s Kingdom; there are only sons of the King. And God in His grace looked out from eternity past and set His love and affection on you in such a way that He said, “I want that man, I want that woman in my family, and I will do everything necessary to make it happen, I will give all to make it happen…” Beloved that is amazing love! That is amazing grace! Oh, how He loves us!!!

This is all a part of His great plan; this is all according to the purpose of His will, His plan that cannot be thwarted, His great plan of redemption. David Wells sums all of this up in a marvelous way, saying, “That God has planned our redemption from all eternity delivers a declaration louder than any thunderclap. It is that he is for us, that he has always been for us. He was for us in the far reaches of eternity. It was there he took thought of us even before we existed. It was there that he planned to act for us. This plan was there from the very beginning. He planned to do this knowing that once we fell into the disorder of sin our fist would be raised against him. But his grace preceded us. It preempted our refusal to submit to him. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He refused to abandon us as orphans in the world. On the contrary, from all eternity he planned to effect our rescue and adoption. Can we find a more reassuring word than this?”

God had a plan to be for us in every way… And the consummation of this plan is found in verse 6. This is all working, “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” The doctrines in this passage are often mischaracterized as God forcing people to do something they don’t want to do, and exercising His sovereignty in such a way that we are just a bunch of robots being forced to do His will. But that is simply not the case. God doesn’t make us do something we don’t want to do, He enables us to do what we were created to do, what we would want to do if our hearts had not been hardened by sin. No doubt there is much mystery here, but we serve a BIG GOD, so we should be OK with mystery; and mystery shouldn’t be a cause for anger, but for praise and worship. And notice God doesn’t just simply demand praise; He does all that He does, all that we have been marveling at, in such a way that we cannot help but praise. God doesn’t delight in our begrudging obedience and praise, He delights in our so being amazed by His glorious grace that our amazement overflows to praise. When we marvel at the grace that He has blessed us with and the fact that we are in the Beloved, that we are in Christ and loved in Christ, that leads to a life of praise. And God’s grand purpose in our life of praise, and in all of this is to make much of Jesus; indeed He is God’s glorious grace incarnate…

Now this idea of a life of praise, a life that praises God for His glorious grace is what Ephesians is all about. The first half of the book lays out the doctrines of grace, and the last half of the book tells us what the life that praises God’s glorious grace looks like. But I think there are two verses that sum it up well: Ephesians 5:1-2 say, “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” We are now children of God and we are to imitate God and walk or live in love, a love that is defined by the person and work of Jesus, a love that is defined by the cross, a sacrificial love… To imitate God and to walk in love is to pour ourselves out for the glory of God and the good of His people, it’s to love God and love people at great cost to ourselves.

Think about what we’ve seen this morning when it comes to God’s love and grace. Think about how He has loved us at great cost to Himself. Or, since it’s Orphan Care Sunday, let me illustrate it like this… Imagine for a moment that you’re a parent of young children and you have decided to adopt a child. As you meet with the social worker in the last stage of the process, you’re told that this 12-year-old has been in and out of psychotherapy since he was three. He persists in burning things, and attempting repeatedly to skin animals alive, and all kinds of horrific things… He is guilty of some of the vilest acts that you can imagine… Then she continues with a little family history. This boy’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather all had histories of violence, ranging from spousal abuse to serial murder. Each of them even ended their own lives in one way or another… Now, think for a minute… Would you want this child? If you did adopt him, wouldn’t you watch nervously as he played with your other children? Would you watch him nervously as he looks at the knife on the kitchen table? Would you leave the room as he watched a movie on TV with your daughter, with the lights out? Well beloved, that little boy is you… And he’s me… We are guilty of all of these things, if not physical, certainly spiritually… That’s what the gospel tells us (The general idea for this came from Russell Moore’s book Adopted For Life)… And the gospel tells us that this is what God did… He adopted into His family the sketchiest of people… you and me… He did this at great cost to Himself—the greatest cost—the life of the Son of God…

Adoption is such a beautiful picture of the gospel, and it’s such a beautiful picture of how we can imitate God, how we can walk in love, how we can live for the praise of God’s glorious grace. This is why James said, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). By pure religion here, he just means true Christianity. And by visit he doesn’t just mean to pop in every once and a while; he means to seek them out with a deep concern for their well being and a clear commitment to care for their needs… And is this not exactly what God has done for us? He sought us out, before time even began! He entered into time and was so committed to our well being that He poured Himself out to the death, for our good.

God has always cared deeply for the orphan, for the widow, for the poor and powerless… In Deuteronomy, near the very beginning of the Bible, we’re told, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18). God has always shown love and concern for the poor and powerless; and so it makes sense then that James would say that true Christianity is for us to do the same. If we are to imitate God, if we are to walk in love, if we are to live for the praise of God’s glorious grace then we must live in this way, where we give ourselves over to loving others, especially the marginalized, especially those in great need like the orphan.

And church, if we truly understand all of this rightly, how could we not give ourselves to such things. What we’ve seen this morning is that in our sin we are all poor and powerless. Ephesians 2:12 says that in our sin we were all without God and without hope in this world. It would seem that we were destined to perish. But God, in His great love for us and His glorious grace, did not allow us to continue to run towards hell, but He stopped us. He chose us and He came and He did everything necessary to save us in Christ. I was running towards hell, and then at the age of 23 God stopped me in my tracks and opened my eyes to the most beautiful thing in existence—His glorious grace in Christ Jesus, and then He brought me in. He chose me, He adopted me, all in spite of me. And He did the same for you—at whatever age… Or perhaps He’s doing it right now… But He does this and then He commissions us to go and to love and to praise; and if we would be amazed rightly we don’t even need to be told to do this; how can we not do this?! God is great and greatly to be praised, and we praise with our lives by pouring out our lives for His fame; by joyfully sacrificing our wants, our comforts, our time, our finances, our lives for the good of others and the glory of God.

And beloved, you would be hard pressed to find anything that displays God’s sacrificial love for us in the gospel more than our sacrificially loving others who can do little to nothing for us in return. We give God nothing, and yet He gives us everything. In adoption, in caring for the orphan, in caring for the poor and powerless, typically we give and give and give and get little to nothing in return. Or think about parenting in general. We bring these kids into our homes, we clothed them, we bathed them, we feed them and care for them for years; and during most of those years those kids are completely ungrateful. Yet we love them and give ourselves wholly to them anyway. And that’s what the life of praise looks like. We praise God’s glorious grace by imparting that grace to others. Parenting in general displays that well, but adoption really puts the gospel on display.

Most of us think of adoption as Plan B to having natural children; but what we see here in Ephesians is that adoption is Plan A. Adoption was God’s plan before the foundation of the world. And He calls us to care for the orphan and to be involved in adoption an orphan care because in doing so we live for the praise of His glorious grace, we make His grace known, we make much of Jesus…

Conclusion

So understand, we are not called to care for the orphan because we’re the answer to all their problems, and if we’d just step up we could solve the orphan crisis. No… “We are not the solution to the orphan crisis; the cross is the solution to the orphan crisis, and the cross is the solution to our crisis” (Russell Moore)… But in caring for the orphan, in being involved in adoption, or foster care, or partnering with ministries like our foster closet, or Care Portal, or getting involved at a Crisis Pregnancy Center, or the like, we are displaying the gospel, we are living in such a way that we praise God’s glorious grace as we are motivated by His grace to do these things, and we are pointing people to His grace as we do these things. In sacrificially loving the poor and powerless we are showing that Jesus is our greatest treasure, not ourselves, not our comforts, not our money, not our time, not our homes, nor any of the gifts that God has blessed us with; because we are willing to give of all of those things for the good of people and the glory of God, even if those people can give us nothing in return.

Orphan care, adoption, sacrificially giving to ministries that help orphans and the like: these things are hard and costly… But how much harder, how much more costly was it, is it, for God to love us? Yet He gave all in His great love for us… He chose us, He made a plan for us, a plan that will not be thwarted; He came for us, He lived, died, and rose again for us, and He adopted us into His family and made us all sons of the living God. To be a Christian is to live in light of that reality, in light of that glorious grace, and to live for the praise of that glorious grace. And one of the primary ways we do that is by loving sacrificially, by pouring out our lives for the fame of Christ by giving ourselves over in love for the glory of God and the good of His people, especially the poor and powerless, the orphan, those who offer us little to nothing in return. Because we don’t do this to get anything, we do this because we already have everything in Christ…