Ephesians 1

Steven Lawson: To the Praise of His Glory: God’s Grand Design of Redemption

A biblical view of salvation centers on God. Before the foundation of the world, He graciously chose a people for Himself while justly passing over others “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:3–6). This session will demonstrate why the doctrine of God forms the heart of our understanding of the gospel and the doctrines of grace.

This message is from Ligonier’s 2015 Fall Conference, So Great a Salvation.

Salvation Belongs to the Lord!

spurgeon_chair-e1379528080265God’s Work in Salvation – Spurgeon – Edited by Alistair Begg

Salvation belongs to the Lord! – Jonah 2:9

Salvation is the work of God. It is He alone who quickens the soul “dead in…trespasses and sins,”1 and He it is who maintains the soul in its spiritual life. He is both “Alpha and Omega.”

“Salvation belongs to the LORD!” If I am prayerful, God makes me prayerful; if I have graces, they are God’s gifts to me; if I hold on in a consistent life, it is because He upholds me with His hand. I do nothing whatever toward my own preservation, except what God Himself first does in me. Whatever I have, all my goodness is of the Lord alone. Whenever I sin, that is my own doing; but when I act correctly, that is wholly and completely of God. If I have resisted a spiritual enemy, the Lord’s strength nerved my arm.

Do I live before men a consecrated life? It is not I, but Christ who lives in me. Am I sanctified? I did not cleanse myself: God’s Holy Spirit sanctifies me. Am I separated from the world? I am separated by God’s chastisements sanctified to my good. Do I grow in knowledge? The great Instructor teaches me. All my jewels were fashioned by heavenly art. I find in God all that I want; but I find in myself nothing but sin and misery. “He only is my rock and my salvation.”2

Do I feed on the Word? That Word would be no food for me unless the Lord made it food for my soul and helped me to feed upon it. Do I live on the bread that comes down from heaven? What is that bread but Jesus Christ Himself incarnate, whose body and whose blood I eat and drink? Am I continually receiving fresh supplies of strength? Where do I gather my might? My help comes from heaven’s hills: Without Jesus I can do nothing.

As a branch cannot bring forth fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can I, except I abide in Him. What Jonah learned in the ocean, let me learn this morning in my room: “Salvation belongs to the LORD.”

1) Ephesian 2:1
2) Psalm 62:2

God Alone

Text: Ephesians 2:4-10

Salvation is God’s act! While dead in our sins, only the intervention of a Sovereign, all powerful God can bring us to life. In this, all glory goes to Him, for even the faith that joins us to the perfect Savior, Jesus Christ, is God’s gracious gift to His people.

Three Views of Salvation

JI-PackerThe problem with analogies is that at some point, they almost always fail. While the illustration does not give sufficient account of the biblical portrait of man (the man would need to be dead at the bottom of the river) it does achieve the purpose of answering the specific question, “Which of those three men is the truest illustration of what God does to save us?”

“Long ago, when I was an undergraduate, I had an experience on one of the rivers in Oxford where students love to pole themselves around in flat-bottomed boats called punts. I do not know if undergraduates do it in the universities of this country, but we do it in Oxford. The experience was my falling into the river. I can still remember the surprise I had when I suddenly found myself upside down in the water and that there were strands of green weed around my head and the light was up at my feet. You do not forget that sort of thing quickly, and on the basis of that experience I construct for you the following illustration.

Imagine a man who has fallen into a river. He cannot swim. The weeds have caught his feet. He is threshing around, but he cannot get free and will not be above the surface for very long. His state is desperate. Three people come along on the bank. One looks at him and says, ‘Oh, he’s all right; if he struggles he’ll get out; they always do. It’s even good for his character that he should have to struggle like this. I’ll leave him.’

The second person looks at the poor struggling man and says, ‘I’d like to help you. I can see what you need. You need some tips about swimming. Let me tell you how to swim.’ He gives him a great of good advice, but he stops there.

Then there is the third man who comes along and sees the measure of the trouble. He jumps in, overcomes the man’s struggles, gets him free from the weeds that have caught him, brings him to shore, gives him artificial respiration, and puts him back on his feet. Which of those three men is the truest illustration of what God does to save us?

These three views have theological names. The first corresponds to what is called Pelagianism: its only message is self-help. A hard and unfeeling form of Christianity it is. The second corresponds to what is called Arminianism: God tells us how to be saved, but stops there. The third corresponds to Calvinism. And you can see how the illustration fits. God takes the initiative. Christ comes right down to where we are, enters into our trouble, and does all that has to be done. He breaks the bonds of sin that bind us, brings us to land (that is, to God), restores life, and makes us believers, all this by his sovereign grace which saves absolutely and wonderfully from first to last.”

“To All Who Will Come,” in Serving the People of God: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer, Volume 2 (Paternoster Press), 200-01.

The United Work of the Trinity in Salvation


This excerpt is taken from Pillars of Grace by Steven Lawson

Divine sovereignty in salvation involves each of the three persons of the Godhead—the Father, and Holy Spirit. All three work in perfect unity to rescue the same undeserving sinners. Within the Trinity, there is one saving purpose, one saving plan, and one saving enterprise. Those whom the Father chooses are precisely those whom the Son redeems and those whom the Spirit regenerates. The persons of the Godhead act as one Savior. The Trinity is not fractured in its saving activity. It is not divided in its direction and intent, as if each person of the Godhead seeks to save a different group of sinners. Instead, each member of the Trinity purposes and irresistibly proceeds to save one and the same people—God’s chosen people.

Sadly, many believe otherwise. They insist that the Father saves only the few sinners whom He foresees will believe in Christ, thus mistakenly confusing foreknowledge (Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29–30; 1 Peter 1:2, 20), which means “forelove,” with mere foresight. They also imagine that Christ hypothetically died for all sinners—a different group from that which the Father saves—naively assuming there is only one meaning for the scriptural words world and all. They further claim that the Spirit saves yet another group, that is, some sinners whom He woos. Sadly, they mistake His internal, saving call (1 Cor. 1:2, 9) for a general, non-saving conviction (Heb. 6:4–5). According to this leaky scheme, the three persons of the Godhead are purported to be pursuing three different groups of individuals—few, all, and some. Thus, the persons of the Godhead are sorely divided in Their saving activity. Even worse, the sinner—not God—reigns as determinative in his or her salvation.

But the Bible teaches otherwise. Scripture reveals a perfect unity within the Trinity, a perfect oneness between the Father, Son, and Spirit in Their saving activities. God’s Word teaches that the Godhead acts as one Savior in saving one people. The truth is that man is not sovereign in salvation—God is.

All three members work together with absolute sovereignty and unwavering resolve to save the very same people for Their own glory.

This is accomplished through the free exercise of the supreme authority of all three members of the Trinity. Consider the part that each plays in this cohesive salvation.

The Sovereignty of the Father

Before the foundation of the world, God chose individuals—undeserving and unworthy though they are—to be the objects of His saving grace (2 Tim. 1:9). The apostle Paul writes, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4a). That is to say, He chose His elect by Himself and for Himself—a sovereign choice not based on any foreseen good works or faith on their part. This divine election originated within Himself, by His own gracious choice (Rom. 9:16). For reasons known only to God, He selected whom He would save.

Having chosen His elect, the Father gave them to the Son before time began to be His royal inheritance. This gift was an expression of the Father’s love for the Son (John 6:37, 39; 17:2, 6, 9, 24). These chosen ones were selected for the highest purpose—that they would praise the Son forever and be conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29). The Father then, in eternity past, commissioned the Son to enter the world to purchase the salvation of the elect. Further, the Father directed the Holy Spirit to regenerate these same chosen ones. Thus, their salvation was foreordained and predestined by the sovereign will of God before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:5). The names of the elect were then written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). Under the direction of the Father, all three persons of the Godhead irrevocably agreed to execute the salvation of these chosen people. This is the sovereign grace of God the Father in eternity past.

The Sovereignty of the Son

Having long ago received from the Father the individual names of the elect, Jesus Christ came into this world to purchase their salvation. With a singular intent, Christ purposed to die for His true church—those given to Him by the Father in eternity past. He declared, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). Bound by devotion to His chosen bride, Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25b).

With this definite design in the cross, Jesus purchased with His own blood all those who were predestined to believe in Him (Acts 20:28). He did not merely make salvation possible. He did not make a hypothetical redemption. Rather, He actually saved. Christ was not shortchanged at Calvary, but acquired all those for whom He paid. Jesus truly secured eternal life for His sheep. Not one for whom He died will ever perish. This is the sovereign grace of God the Son two thousand years ago in His saving death.

The Sovereignty of the Spirit

Moreover, the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into this world to apply the saving death of Christ to all the elect. As the gospel is proclaimed, the Spirit issues a special inward call to these chosen ones, those elected by the Father and redeemed by the Son. The Spirit powerfully regenerates their spiritually dead souls, raising them from the grave of sin to saving faith in Christ (Eph. 2:5–6). Jesus asserted, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37a). This saving enterprise is unalterably certain because God “draws” (6:44) all these “given ones” to Christ. The Spirit grants them repentance (2 Tim. 2:25) and authors saving faith within them (Phil. 1:29; 2 Peter 1:1).

In this effectual act, the Spirit opens the spiritually blind eyes of the elect to see the truth (2 Cor. 4:6). He opens their deaf ears to hear His voice (John 10:27). He opens their closed hearts to receive the gospel (Acts 16:14). He activates their dead wills to believe the saving message (John 1:13). The Spirit overcomes all resistance and triumphs in the hearts of the elect. This is the sovereign grace of God the Holy Spirit within time.

Total Substitution

sub2The message of the Gospel is so different from every man made attempt at religion that it is hard for even Christians to fully grasp its truth. Even for those who read their Bibles diligently there is a tendency to receive the inspired, inerrant, God breathed information through man centered filters, which means that we often fail to see the pristine beauty of a God who rescues us by His work alone. We tend to think ‘there must be something God demands us to bring to the table of redemption.’

Here’s what we know. There is a God and neither you nor I are Him. We therefore need to acknowledge Him as God, the way He has revealed Himself, both through nature and in Scripture, and approach Him on His terms. To act in any other way means that we create an idol and engage in idolatry.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God is holy. In fact, saying these words is wholly inadequate. Accessing the immediate presence of God, the angelic host proclaim day and night without ceasing, He is “holy, holy, holy” (Isa 6). Not just “holy” but “holy, holy, holy.”

God is perfect in holiness and therefore His standards are likewise perfectly holy. He demands perfection. Christ said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)

What God demands from you is:

1. Perfect obedience to His law – Getting close is just not good enough. No best efforts are allowed.
2. Perfect repentance.
3. Perfect faith.

Do you see the problem here? No man is capable of any of this. Jesus said “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:20) This statement should rock our religious world to its very foundation. Jesus, the kind and Good Shepherd affirms the fact that just as a country’s leader might not negotiate with terrorists, God will never negotiate with sinners. The requirement for entry into God’s presence is perfect righteousness. His standards are perfect and He will never lower them. God is just and He will not violate His character in order to allow a sinful man into His presence.

The sinner’s dilemma is therefore massive and distressing. Every sin we have committed is an act of high treason against God, fully deserving His just and eternal punishment. It is precisely at this point where we recognize our desperate need for a righteousness we do not possess, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ begins to make sense. We hear it and say, “I must have Christ. He alone can save me.”

Greg Francis makes the point very well: “God demands 100% faultless perfect obedience, and if you can’t do that, you better find Someone who can do it for you.” That Someone is the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I say that no man is capable of perfect obedience, repentance and faith, there is one exception to this rule. The Lord Jesus Christ lived a perfectly righteous life – fully pleasing His Father always. There was not a single stain or blemish of sin in His life. And here is where this affects us and is the very essence of the Gospel. Christ did all that He did in obedience to His Father and as our Substitute. What God demands FROM us, Christ provides FOR us. Christ lived for us and He died for us. He lived the life we should have lived, fulfilling all the demands of God in His holy law. He loved God with all His heart, soul, mind and strength. Then He died for us. All the sins of all of those who would ever believe in Him were laid on Him at the cross and He absorbed the full punishment we deserved (Isa 53:4-6; 1 Pet 2:24).

God is holy and He is also love. Once again, what God demanded, Christ has provided. It was love for the world that motivated the Father to send His Son to live and die for us. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Knowing that we could never repent, believe or obey Him perfectly, the Father has given gifts from His heart to all of His people:
1. The perfect obedience of Jesus is given to us (2 Cor 5:21).
2. Repentance is perfected in and through Jesus – remember Jesus was baptized by John with the Baptism of repentance (Matt 3:11).
3. The faith God requires is a gift from Him (Eph 2:8,9; Phil 1:29).

Christ saves His people from their sins (Matt 1:21). Salvation is not achieved by a combined effort of God and man working together. It is God’s work entirely. C. H. Spurgeon declared, “Substitution is the very marrow of the whole Bible, the soul of salvation, the essence of the gospel.” The Bible is therefore a revelation of His rescue plan – God’s work done for us through the means of Christ in total substitution. The Gospel is about Christ’s life for us, His death for us and includes His present day High Priestly ministry at the right hand of the Father where He always lives to make intercession for us (John 17:9: Heb 7:25).


Question 60. How are you righteous before God?
“Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.” – Heidelberg Catechism