God is unrelentingly God-centered. He does all things to the praise of His glory. All things — including the salvation of sinners. It is within this God-centeredness that we find assurance of the gospel of mercy and love.
This is the sixth post in my series on Ephesians 2. The lessons come out of a small Bible study I teach every Friday at a local high school. If you do happen to read, please pray that the Lord would bring unsaved sinners to our Bible studies, and that He would be pleased to save them.
This is the great theme that we have been unfolding: We are more sinful than we could ever fathom. Yet, we are more loved than we could ever imagine.
For the last several weeks, we have been learning about the first sentence, namely our sinfulness. Now, there is much more we could say about the sinfulness of sin, the depravity of man, the effects of sin on the mind, the effect of sin on the world, the danger of sin in the church, etc. And, assuredly it would be profitable to study such things at a later time.
But, for now, because our text turns to other matters, let's move on to part two of our theme: the great love of God. Let's read our text:
Ephesians 2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging in the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God,
Let me stop here, just for a moment. "But" is a word of transition. Against the dark curtain, the shadowy night of sin, here it is! A ray of light, a flickering candle, dim — yet spectacular — against the blackness of sin. It arrests our attention, focuses our eyes, and bids us come close to see. After such a comprehensive declaration of the plight of man, what hope could there be? What more could be said?
And, yet, in hope against hope, the passage continues. But God! From here on, Ephesians 2 like the dark night giving way to the brilliance of day. Darkness has extended its reach, infiltrating all corners of the earth, but then! a beam of light breaks through, shatters the dark, and grows into the full strength of the light of day, overwhelming, conquering, obliterating the darkness. "But" is just the beginning, the pin prick of light, the hope not yet fully comprehended.
Okay then. Back to the text:
Ephesians 2 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
"But God" is the launch pad from which the rocket of glory rises higher and higher and higher. Notice that this passage is all about God, what God does, how God acts. He is the One who acts, and therefore the One who deserves the credit for these things. In just verses four to ten, we see the following:
- God is rich in mercy
- God loved us with a great love
- God made us alive together with Christ
- God saved us by His grace
- God raised us up with Christ
- God seated us with Christ in the heavenly places in Christ
- God has planned to show His surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us
- God has saved us by His grace, a salvation received through faith
- God has made us His workmanship
- God has created us in Christ Jesus for good works
- God has prepared our good works so that we would walk in them
Again, all the action is done by God. And thus, God gets all the glory. Now, I want to dwell on just two words today — But God. This is the greatest turn, the greatest pivot of all of redemptive history. We are sinners, but God. We deserve death, but God. We fail in every way, but God.
If you learn one thing today, learn this: the gospel is entirely God-centered. Although we receive grace through the gospel, the gospel is not primarily about us. Instead, it is about God. What I want to do in this lesson is to look at how this fact isn't surprising, as the rest of Scripture tells us that God is central in all things, for God alone is God, and thus God alone deserves glory.
I. God Alone is God
It is, of course, clear from Scripture, that the God of the Bible is the only true God. But, let me remind you, and let us see some of the implications of this.
Isaiah 45: 21 ... Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. 22 “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.
Psalm 115 1 Not to us, O Lord, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. 2 Why should the nations say, “Where, now, is their God?” 3 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. 4 Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. 5 They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; 6 They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; 7 They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. 8 Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them.
The first implication we ought to see is that as God is the only God, God is the only Savior. There is no one else to turn to for help, for salvation, for life. To whom else shall we go? There is no other!
Second, we ought to see that God is superior to all other so-called 'gods.' He created all things by the power of His Word. He upholds all things by the Word of His power. He sits in the heavens and does whatever He pleases. Nothing thwarts His will; He alone reigns on high. Indeed, all other 'gods' are idols — dead, dumb, deaf, impotent, mute, stupid, fabrications of man's hands.
Third, we ought to see that because God is the only God, and the superior God, He alone deserves glory. Let us elaborate on this a bit more clearly.
II. God Alone Deserves Glory
There is no other god but the One True God. Thus, He alone deserves glory. And because He alone deserves glory, He acts for His glory alone. The most explicit statement of this God-centeredness of God is found in this passage:
Isaiah 48 9 “For the sake of My name I delay My wrath, And for My praise I restrain it for you, In order not to cut you off. 10 “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. 11 “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.
For the sake of His name, for His own praise, for His own sake, for His own sake, for His own glory, He delays wrath, restrains judgment, and acts. Let us not for one moment believe anything that God does is for our glory. And, let us not for one moment believe that the gospel is about us. God is at the center of salvation, of the gospel, and it is for His praise that He acted and acts.
But of course, this truth is not confined to only one passage in Isaiah. The New Testament has a passage with the same tenor. In Ephesians chapter 1, we see "to the praise of His glory" three times:
Ephesians 1:3-14 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters. Why? To the praise of the glory of His grace. He has given us an inheritance. Why? So that we would be to the praise of His glory. He sealed us with the Holy Spirit. Why? To the praise of His glory. This is the God-centeredness of the gospel, and it flows from the God-centeredness of God.
III. How Then Shall We Live ?
I emphasize this God-centeredness of the gospel because I don't hear this from most churches. The modern way of 'preaching the gospel' goes like this: "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life! He loved you so much that He gave His only Son! Those who believe in Him and follow Him will have everlasting life. Don't you want that?"
Yet, the biblical way of preaching the gospel goes like this: "You are dead in your sins and have offended the Holy Creator God. You are guilty, cannot save yourself, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you. Yet, God, because He is good and great, because He is kind and is love, He sent Christ to take the punishment for sin and give sinners His righteousness. Those who believe on Christ, trust Him entirely for salvation, and give up their lives to His will, will be saved. God deserves honor and glory; repent!"
The modern way says God loves me because I'm so great. The biblical way says God loves me because He is so great.
Which do you believe? Do you believe that God exists to serve you b/c you are so worthy or that you exist to serve God who is worthy? Now, of course, no one would ever say out loud that they think God exists to serve us. But the way to really tell is not to listen to what you say, but to look at how you live. Do you live to make Him look great and big in the world or do you live to make yourself look great and big in the world? Are you God-centered or self-centered? God-honoring or self-honoring? God-focused or self-focused?
What occupies your thoughts, your dreams, your loves, your ambitions? If you could wish for one thing, what would you wish for? If God were to give you the delight of your heart, what would it be? When you pray, what do you pray for? Do you pray to Him as He is, or do you pray to some god of your own making? What do you get excited about, spend money on, obsess over, rejoice in? Is your life about God, or is your life about yourself?
Let me remind you. If we say we are Christians, Christ-followers, our lives must be entirely about Christ. God did not save us that we might live for ourselves. God saved us that we might live for Him. We are not the focus of the gospel. He is. We are merely swept up in this cosmic, divine purpose to give all glory to God. He is the focus of the gospel, the main star, the glorified One, not us. He is the purpose of the world, the central Person of all that ever existed and exists and ever will exist
Beloved, in the end, I have only one plea: He saved us. How then shall we live? May we say along with Asaph:
1 Chronicles 16 23 Sing to the Lord, all the earth; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. 24 Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. 25 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; He also is to be feared above all gods. 26 For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the Lord made the heavens. 27 Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and joy are in His place. 28 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 29 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come before Him; Worship the Lord in holy array. 30 Tremble before Him, all the earth; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved. 31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; And let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” 32 Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. 33 Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord; For He is coming to judge the earth. 34 O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.