Adopted in Christ | Ephesians 1:4-6

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:4-6 ESV

Having begun our walk through the beautiful and lengthy doxology with which Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians, we will continue to see how Paul develops the blessed realities of being in Christ. These two verses build upon the marvelous blessing of being chosen in Christ by noting that we were chosen to be adopted as sons and daughters of God through Christ.

PREDESTINED FOR ADOPTION // VERSE 5

The first two words of our text technically belong to verse 4, and many debate over what exactly they are attached to. Is Paul saying that our holy and blameless lives are to also be lived in love, or is he saying that God predestined us for adoption in love? Both statements can be supported by other biblical texts, so for the purposes of this study, I will follow the ESV’s structure of attaching in love to verse 5.

Paul begins verse 5 with a powerful statement: he predestined us. Some attempt to wiggle out of the apostle’s point by saying that foreknowledge is being really described. They would argue that God knows beforehand who will choose Him and who will not; therefore, His predestining of His people is actually foreknowledge. The problem with this thought is that predestined here does not mean foreknew; instead, it means foreordained or decided beforehand. Furthermore, Paul was not unfamiliar with the concept of foreknowledge. In Romans 8, he does indeed teach that God fore knew His people:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:29–30

From this text, we can also see that Paul is almost certainly not using foreknew to mean that God knew beforehand who would choose to follow Christ. Rather, he is teaching that God knew His elect before the foundation of the world, and He also predestined them.

Also, we must remember that the sentence divisions in our English translations are not present in the original Greek; thus, the NET’s footnotes indicate that a more literal translation could read by predestining. The connection here is to verse 4’s clause he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Paul is, therefore, further describing God’s act of choosing from verse 4. God chose us in Christ by predestining us in love for adoption. Far from sweeping the doctrine of election under the rug, Paul is emphatically declaring the glorious reality that God has chosen to save us.

While last week we saw that God chose us so that “we should be holy and blameless before him,” now Paul declares a parallel truth: He predestined us for adoption as sons. Where do we even begin to describe the wonders of our adoption in Christ?

First, let us note a few quick truths that must under-gird our discussion. God is the almighty Creator of all things; therefore, we can rightly say that He has fathered all of creation. Jesus Christ, however, is the only begotten Son of God, yet Jesus was not made by God the Father. Jesus has eternally existed in and with the Father and the Spirit as the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God (John 1:1). Jesus alone, therefore, has an inherent claim to sonship of God the Father.

Adoption, of course, is the process of bringing a son or daughter into the family who is not naturally born into the family. Robert Letham helpfully notes the distinction and connection between adoption and sonship:

There is an important distinction between adoption, the process by which we enter into this privilege, and sonship, our resulting and continuous status. Adoption is by grace, a process contrary to our natural condition, whereas sonship is the legally grounded filial status and privilege we possess forever.

Systematic Theology, 730.

Innately bound to adoption is election. Plenty of children have been conceived unintentionally, but an adoption cannot be unintentional. The circumstances leading to the adoption may seem to have just fallen into place, but the very act of adopting a child requires a conscious choosing of him or her or even them. Likewise, God chose us, predestining us from before the foundation of the world, to be adopted as His children.

But how has God the Father of our Lord also become our Father? Through Jesus Christ. Jesus alone is the means of our adoption. Through the only begotten Son of God, we have been adopted as sons of God. In our sin, we were once not simply estranged from God but His enemies. We were “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath,” but in Christ, God has transformed us into members of His very family.

In Galatians 4:5-6, Paul describes our adoption process through Christ: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Being “born under the law,” Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience, the life that we were required to live but could not. Upon the cross, Jesus then willingly submitted Himself to unearned death to pay the debt we owed before God. By this dual exchange (the taking of our sin and transmission of His righteousness), Jesus has reconciled us to God the Father so that He is now our Father as well.

J. I. Packer, therefore, did not exaggerate by saying that adoption “is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification” (Knowing God, 206). As Packer continues to argue, justification is the primary and fundamental blessing of the gospel without question, yet our justification is for the purpose of becoming children of God. Contrary to the ever-prevalent belief that Jesus is gracious and loving while God is vengeful and unkind, Jesus reveals to us the depth of the Father’s love for us. Paul also communicates clearly this love by first qualifying that God’s predestining us for adoption was in love. Our election was not some cold calculation on God’s part; instead, it was the grand prevenient grace of our Father. Yet Paul also declares that the Father adopted us through Christ according to the purpose of his will. As we noted during the Lord’s Prayer, we can classify God’s will into two (or even three) distinct categories: His decreed or sovereign will, His prescriptive will, and His dispositional will. Here the apostle is clearly referencing God’s sovereign will. By calling our predestination according to the purpose of his will, Paul was not saying that God wanted us to be adopted. Nor was he declaring that God commanded us to be adopted. No, God simply, by the purpose of His will, adopted us. The Father sovereignly decreed our adoption through Christ before the foundation of the world.

We should further note that although our adoption is through Christ it is also by the Spirit. Our adoption is work of the Trinity. The Father chose us, Jesus redeemed us, and the Spirit now brings us into communion with our Father. Consider how Paul describes the work of the Spirit of adoption within us:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him[1] in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:14-17

By the Spirit, we call God our Father. By the Spirit, our default cry becomes “Father!” Little children run to their parents for nearly everything, whether in joy or in pain. In January, I came down with a severe cold and quarantined myself away from my daughter for nearly an entire week. Throughout that week, she would sneak glances into my bedroom just to mouth, “Te amo.” When I was sufficiently better, she gave me the largest hug I’ve ever experienced, and she scarcely let go of me throughout the rest of that day. Such is the heart of Christian toward our Father. By the indwelling Spirit, our hearts are knitted to the Father in affection.

Of course, our love for the Father does not erase our fear of Him; rather, our fear of God is qualified by Him being our Father. We fear God similar to how a child rightly should fear their earthly father. We fear His hand of discipline upon us, but we do not fear that His affections toward us will change. Indeed, as Hebrews notes, God’s discipline upon us actually reveals our status as sons of God. A loving father disciplines his children. As Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” A refusal to correct destructive behavior is not love but hate. Likewise, as sons of God, our Father will not allow us to wallow in our sins. His love for us compels Him to discipline us for our own good. Our love and fear of the Father, therefore, are intermingled, not contradictory.

Thus far, we have viewed the supreme blessing of our adoption, but how are we then to know that we have been adopted? John 1:12-13 states:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John Calvin also applies this point to election, which as we have seen is intimately connected to adoption, by saying, “How do we know that God has elected us before the creation of the world? By believing in Jesus Christ” (Sermons on Ephesians, 47). The evidence of both our election and adoption is to believe in Jesus’ name, to place our faith solely upon the work of Christ for our justification before the Father and our status as His sons and daughters. Believe in Christ alone for salvation and by the Spirit cry out to God as Father.

TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORIOUS GRACE // VERSE 6

Interestingly, verses 5-6 sort of mirror the pattern of verses 3-4. Whereas 3-4 began with praise and moved into the blessing of God electing us, 5-6 begin with God’s predestining us for adoption before calling us to praise Him in light of this marvelous blessing.

Indeed, our adoption as sons of God in love and by the purpose of His will is to the praise of his glorious grace. We cannot understand the wonder of God adopting we who were once His enemies as anything other than pure grace. We contributed no merit to our salvation and, in fact, only reinforced our rejection of God with each and every sin. Even our good works outside of Christ are still sinful because whatever is not done to the glory of God is sin.[2] By grace alone, we have been saved, and this glorious grace is our blessing in the Beloved. As with sonship, Christ alone is inherently the Beloved. Before creation, Jesus was the object of the Father’s love (John 17:24). The Father’s love for us is grace, an unmerited blessing.

The proper response to this glorious grace is praise. C. S. Lewis offers this needed clarification on the nature of praise:

But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praise least. The good critics found something to praise in many imperfect works; the bad ones continually narrowed the list of books we might be allowed to read… Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible… I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. (Reflections…, 93-95)

Reflections on the Psalms, 93-95.

“Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.” This is certainly true regarding our praising God. Just as the Spirit of adoption enables us to cry out “Abba! Father!”, so does our worship reflect our understanding of God’s glorious grace. Praise naturally overflows from beholding the beauty of God and His vast love toward us, making it the fitting response to the gospel. Being rescued from our sin and adopted as children of God, we rightly glorify and exalt our Lord. Indeed, praise is the verbal component of worship, of living for the glory of God alone. Through praise we give expression to our own soul’s joy while also calling for others to join in our delight, we invite others to also glorify our great God.

As Reformed-leaning Evangelicals, we proudly confess the Five Solas of the Reformation: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone, Scripture Alone, and God’s Glory Alone. In fact, each of the Solas finds some sort of expression in Ephesians, with our present passage verses 3-14 particularly describing Grace Alone and Christ Alone, yet continue to notice both here and through the next two week as well how Paul grounds everything in the glory of God. This fits with David VanDrunen’s description of God’s Glory Alone being “the lifeblood of the solas” (16). He continues to note that:

Our focus so easily becomes self-centered, even when we ask the same important questions that occupied the Reformers: Where can I find God’s authoritative revelation? How can I escape the wrath of God? What must I do to be saved? The other four solas provide necessary and life-changing answers to such questions, but soli Deo Gloria puts them all in proper perspective: the highest purpose of God’s plan of salvation in Christ, made known in Scripture, is not our own beatitude, wonderful as that is. The highest purpose is God’s own glory. God glorifies himself through the abundant blessings he bestows upon us.

God’s Glory Alone, 16.

Glorifying God is our highest purpose. It must be the great goal of our life. And why would we not long to give the proper honor to the One who has so exalted us above what we deserved? How can we meditate for any length of time upon our adoption through Christ without bursting into praise for our heavenly Father?

Brothers and sisters, in Christ, you have been adopted by the Creator almighty, and you are now a fellow heir with Christ, the only Father’s only begotten Son. Let the beauty of this adoption transform every facet of your life so that all that you do is to the praise of our loving Father and His glorious grace.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. How does God’s predestining us for adoption connect and build upon verses 3-4?
  2. What does it mean for us to be adopted as sons and daughters of God?
  3. How is our adoption a work of the Trinity?
  4. What is praise? Why is praise a fruit of the gospel?

[1] Here our present sufferings do not contradict Paul’s claim from verse 3 that we have received every spiritual blessing in Christ. Indeed, as we suffer alongside Christ, the Father often gives us the glorious blessing of being molded more like Christ. In Christ, therefore, we even view suffering as an instrument for God’s good toward us.

[2] Calvin makes this point: “For although we lived as perfectly as angels, yet if we were so foolish as to think that such living comes from our own free will and self-effort, we miss the chief point of all. For to what purpose serve all our good works but to glorify God? And if we regard ourselves as their authors, we see that they are marred thereby and turned into vices so as to be nothing else but ambition” (39).

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