- The Explore the Bible lesson for Sept. 1 focuses on Ephesians 1:3-14.
The hymn Amazing Grace is one of the best known and most beloved songs of all time. Even people who are not believers find themselves singing it in times of sorrow and need. Indeed, the presence of grace is a great source of comfort and joy, but it so much more than that when put in the proper context of God’s relationship to his people.
To even begin to plumb the depths of how amazing God’s grace truly is, we first must see it in connection to his nature and person. Such a connection inevitably leads one to acknowledge his or her dependence on God, to grow in his or her appreciation of what God has done, and to break out in praise and worship of God. The amazingness of it all demands as much.
God’s grace is not just a source of joy for the believer; it is the foundational one. To know that God has chosen, redeemed and sealed his people is to catch a glimpse of his glory and, for the first time, to truly know who we ourselves are.
Chosen (Ephesians 1:3-6)
Grammatically, verses 3-14 are one long sentence. It’s as if the Apostle Paul begins his praise of God and doesn’t want to take a breath, lest his readers miss how all of this is connected. The start of his praise begins with the truth of God’s election of his people. Election simply means that God has chosen his people and that our very existence as his people is solely dependent on God, not us.
The work of election always is discussed as a corporate idea in Scripture and is therefore one that draws out both the privilege and responsibility of what it means to among the saints. Paul emphasizes that our election is both in (1:4) and through (1:5) Christ, and so our identity as a people is found in the work and person of Jesus. But the work is grounded in the Father’s grace. In verse 6, the NIV’s “to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us” is literally “to the praise of his glorious grace which he has graced us with.” This adoptive (1:5) work moves us from being enemies to being his very children.
What are some ways that realizing we are chosen would find expression in our attitudes and actions toward God?
Redeemed (Ephesians 1:7-12)
Paul moves in the next section to show us how our election was accomplished in Christ—namely, through redemption. The term redeemed means to be released from imprisonment because someone paid the price. In this passage, Paul almost personifies sin as an evil jailer or a slave master who has imprisoned and enslaved humanity and will accept no payment for our release except the blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:13, Galatians 3:13).
This work of redemption is not described as a task Christ was forced into or surprised by, but one which was done out of love, growing out of the abundance of his grace and lavished upon us. It was an exuberant, joyful giving of himself, done with full understanding of what was to occur and taking place at the perfect moment in history (1:10)
As people who are called to model our life after the life of Jesus, how does both the manner and action of his redemption shape our approach to others?
Sealed (Ephesians 1:13-14)
As consumers, we often look for products to have certain markers that their authenticity or value. To see the USDA or Good Housekeeping seals is to know that the product we are examining has met certain criteria that ostensibly means they are quality products. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, a seal was used to denote authenticity and/or ownership.
So, when Paul moves in the last two verses of our passage to highlight that upon salvation we were sealed by the Holy Spirit, he is proclaiming that God’s work not saved us in the past, but continues with us as a defining characteristic of our identity.
With this last observation, Paul has now pointed us to all three Persons of the Trinity in relation to the work of salvation. The Father’s grace and election, the Son’s redemption and work, and the Spirit’s sealing for now and forever reveal the grandeur of our salvation and the importance that God puts into it. The end result of this is not that we would see ourselves as valuable (though that might be a side effect), but that we would acknowledge God’s glory and break out in praise of just how amazing he is.
The sealing of the Holy Spirit as a work has implications for both the now and the not yet. What are some of those implications as outlined by Paul here and elsewhere in Scripture?
The nature of this passage as a prayer or song of worship highlights the interconnectedness between theology and worship. To be able to truly rejoice in God, it is essential that we couch our thoughts in proper understandings of who he is and what he has done. This doxology, as it often is labeled, sees the holistic work of the Triune God as resulting in the only end it can—our worship, not only the songs we sing but the life we live.
Timothy Pierce, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University.