By David M. FreemanAt the outset of his letter to the Ephesians (1:4-6), the Apostle Paul focuses our attention on the fact that God graciously saves sinners as a result of his own unprompted desire to do so. God is not gracious out of obligation. God chose to be gracious before he made the world, and he chose particular people to be recipients of his grace before any people existed. When choosing to love his future children he was not moved by their merit. He chose them in spite of their sin, purposing to adopt them into his family by virtue of all that Jesus would do on their behalf (2:4-7).
Through their identification with his beloved Son Jesus, God would graciously accept forgiven sinners into his loving embrace.
In verse 6 Paul gives us a particularly beautiful insight into the nature of God’s gracious salvation. Having affirmed the fact of God’s grace, in verse 6 Paul reveals the reason for God’s grace. Paul declares that God is gracious in order to bring praise to the glory of his grace. In other words, God unveils his grace in order to display the glory of his grace and to elicit praise for its glory.
The Glory of God
If we are to understand what Paul is saying in verse 6 we must understand the concept of glory. Glory is that which inspires wonder and worship. Glory attracts attention and adoration. To say that something is glorious is to say that it is awesome, marvelous, and worthy of praise.
According to scripture, God is supremely glorious and supremely worthy of praise.
If we want to understand the concept of glory we must first and foremost understand the glory of God. Only in light of his glory can we properly understand and appreciate all lesser glory. The heavens above are incredibly glorious, as are many other portions of his creation. Nevertheless, the glory of creation is not an end in itself. The heavens declare the glory of their Creator (Psalm 19:1), as does the entirety of the world in which we live. “The whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). The glory of God is so transcendent that to praise any other glory as an end in itself is treasonous and evil. Scripture describes such praise as idolatry. God himself declares, “I am the LORD, that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8). The glory of God himself is incomparable and unique. All other glory is simply a reflection of the glory of God. Thus we read the exhortation, “Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above earth and heaven” (Psalm 148:13). We must not forget that all glory is derived from and subject to the supreme glory of God.
The Glory of Grace
Having briefly considered the glory of God himself, Paul would have us consider the glory of the grace of God. If we want to better understand the motivation behind God’s display of grace in salvation, we must better understand the glory of the grace on display in salvation. Perhaps the primary glory of grace is the fact that it is free. In one sense, it is free because God bestows grace according to his own free will. In verse 5 Paul affirms that spiritual adoption is the result of the “good pleasure of [God’s] will.” In verse 9 Paul speaks of salvation as the produce of “[God’s] good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself.” In verse 11 Paul once again declares that our salvation is planned and accomplished “according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Paul’s point is hard to miss. God displays his grace in the salvation of sinners precisely because he desires to do so. He was not coerced or required to be gracious. God was under no moral or ethical obligation to be gracious towards sinful humanity. By its very definition, grace is completely undeserved. God is gracious simply because God decides to be gracious. He makes a free and unconstrained decision to be gracious. Grace is also free in the sense that it is given at no expense to its recipient. As Paul makes plain in Ephesians 2:8-10, salvation is a free gift from God received through faith in Jesus Christ. Even our good works flow from the grace of God, for it is God who graciously created us in Christ Jesus for the purpose of walking in good works (cf. Philippians 2:12-13).
Grace, by its very definition, cannot be earned.
God saves us “not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9). Sin-tainted self-driven efforts to earn the favor of God fall infinitely short of their goal. It is an inescapable fact that “the wages of sin is death,” and yet the gracious “gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We receive the grace of God as a free gift. And yet God did not freely obtain this gift. God purchased the gift of his gracious salvation with the blood of his only begotten Son. The justice of God demands our condemnation, and yet the love of God desires our adoption. In order to reconcile the justice and love of God, Jesus perfectly expressed the love of God for man by fully satisfying the justice of God against our sin. He became our substitute. Jesus died the death we deserve to die. Jesus was punished as we deserve to be punished. As a result of the substitutionary life and death of Jesus, those for whom he lived and died (and rose again!) are treated as only the Son of God deserves to be treated. They live the eternal life only Jesus deserves to live. Paul sums this up in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where he writes, “[God] hath made [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”Grace is glorious because grace is freely given, but this is true only because grace was so costly to obtain. If the grace of God came at no cost to God, it would not be so glorious. Because the grace of God comes at infinite expense to God, it is infinitely glorious when God freely bestows his grace upon undeserving sinners.
The Praise of Glory
What is the appropriate response to glory? Consider the exhortation of the psalmist, “Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts” (Psalm 96:7-8). When we see glory, we ought to ascribe glory to what we see. In other words, the appropriate response to glory is praise. It is such praise that God had in view when he purposed to be gracious. Paul tells us that God “predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself…to the praise of the glory of his grace” (1:5-6a). In the context of contemporary culture this statement may be surprising or even offensive. It indicates that salvation does not have the happiness of man as its chief end. Rather, salvation has the praise of the glory of God (and his grace in particular) as its chief end. In other words, human happiness is not the primary purpose of salvation. The glory of God is the primary purpose of salvation. We must avoid making our own happiness the center and focus of salvation, and yet we must also avoid the belief that the glory of God stands in opposition to our happiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The true happiness of man and the glory of God go hand in hand when properly understood. When Paul speaks of the praise of the glory of God’s grace, he speaks of the very grace that has brought us eternal life and peace with God! Paul speaks of praising that glorious grace of God by which we are made to drink deeply from the river of God’s pleasures (Psalm 36:8). Praise is due to the glorious grace by which we gain access to the joy and everlasting pleasures that are found only at the right hand of God (Psalm 16:11). Part of God’s glory is his purpose to make man happy, but we must realize that true happiness is found only in the glory of God.
As you consider the glory of the grace of God, what is your response? Are you inspired to praise the glory of God’s grace by which you have been saved?
Do you desire to live as a testament to the glorious grace of God? Are you willing to shine as a light, reflecting the glory of God’s grace into a dark world? Do you pray that God will work through your life to inspire praise for his glorious grace in the lives of those around you? If you have been saved from your sin and adopted into the family of God, you owe it all to the glorious grace of God. Furthermore, God chose you and redeemed you and accepts you for the express purpose of eliciting praise for the glory of his grace. Through faith in Jesus Christ, ask God to help you align your thoughts and actions with this purpose. Live your redeemed life for the praise of the glory of the grace by which you have been saved.