Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Terrapins, The Riches of God’s Grace and a Philosophical Problem: Ephesians 1

When we read through Ephesians 1:3-14 we find the Apostle Paul highlighting three aspects of salvation: God’s work in the past (1:3-6); God’s work in the present (1:6-11) and God’s work in the future (1:12-14). Salvation (as we use the term) is not limited to mere hell-fire rescue. This was God’s plan since before the creation of the world that through Jesus Christ we can be free from the power of sin and enjoy a restored relationship with Him as we await the final reconciliation to Him, when we see Him face to face.
The riches of God’s grace ais seen in the fact that we are made His children. Certainly we are His children by virtue of creation, but because we broke His moral law, we are separated from Him. Through the gift of His Son, we can turn from our sin and be made what we were not already—sons by adoption. Why does He do this? Because He is kind (Eph. 1:3,5). “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) Simply put: He didn’t have to do this, but He did because He is kind.

Do you know what a terrapin is? A terrapin is a species of freshwater turtle that some people actually eat. As with any turtle, it can pull in its head and feet, closing up its shell quite tightly for protection. Small children often try to pry them open, but the animals dies with this sort of handling. The way to get it out, as with any turtle, is with patience—and a little warmth. Before long, out comes the head, then feet, then off it goes. People can be like that, which is why the kindness of God is so important. We may clamp up tight in sin, but His kindness waits until we are ready to come out of our shell, instead of killing us forthright.

Why does God do this? He did this to bring glory to Himself in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:6). One of the great questions that philosophy tries and cannot answer is, “why are we worth saving?” Are we worth saving at all? Yes, because we are made in His image and though we are now fallen in sin, God cannot just cast His image-bearer aside. The philosophers only find themselves saving our stuff (country, ideas, society, etc.) and think they’ve done the job. Many respond to God’s offer of salvation through Christ as a matter of survival (they don’t want to go to hell) but that is a selfish response and ends with the individual at that point—nothing else changes in their life because they have not died to self. God’s kind offer for salvation is in the present before it is in the future and for His glory, not our own, “we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” (1:12, 14)

Another way to grasp what this means requires that we flip back to the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, where the LORD the Creator says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.” (Isaiah 43:2) God is not interested in our stuff but in our person. This is why we can do nothing to save ourselves and He must do everything. Our response can only be, whether we eat or drink or anything else for that matter, is to give glory to God because He has done it (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Consider God’s motives—He wants us to receive His grace: He wants us to be holy and blameless before Him (1:4); to be His children (1:5); to lavish rich grace (1:7-8); to make His will known (1:9); to give an inheritance (1:11). He assures this by giving His Spirit as a pledge (1:14).

He made the payment for us in His blood to demonstrate His righteousness (Romans 3:21-26). Forgiveness came at that price for us. It does not just happen. He gave us Christ that we may be received back into fellowship with Him. What makes us worth saving is that, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

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