The following is my manuscript for the sermon I preached yesterday, March 13, 2022, at First Baptist Church in Lindale, TX. My text was Ephesians 1:3-6 out of the Legacy Standard Bible.
“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, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love, 5 by predestining us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He graciously bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
Imagine you are 20 years old. A few of you are 20, so you won’t have to imagine very hard. Some of you are looking forward to 20, many of you are looking back on 20, and others of you are looking way back on 20. But for this illustration to work, I think it’s easier for everyone to imagine you are 20 years old. And you have a very wealthy, very wise relative. More than just wise, this relative is a prophet.
Your relative calls you to visit him, and he says to you, “Twenty is going to be a good age for you. In fact, you’re going to have a great decade. You will be married, you will have children, and everyone is going to be of great health. You will advance in your career and be financially stable. Indeed, you will know this is the blessing of God. But after that, things will get more difficult. You’ll go through a few jobs. You’ll face trials in your marriage. You will weep for your children. You will face times of depression and health complications so difficult, you will feel like you receive the sentence of death.
“But no matter how hard things get, you will not die. Trust in the Lord, and He will sustain you. And as difficult as these next several decades will be, when you reach the age of 50, I am going to die. And I am going to leave behind for you an inheritance of $100 million. And you will never have to worry about anything again for the rest of your prosperous life.”
If someone were to prophesy something like that for you, though you are a young and immature 20 years old, wouldn’t that would change the way that you live your life? Would you have a sense of hope every single day you wake up? Yeah, things will be really hard, but you know, “I won’t die, and there’s an incredible reward waiting for me on the other side!”
Well what if you were to realize that your richest relative is the Lord Jesus Christ, who has promised you a reward far greater and more permanent than $100 million? Would that change the way that you live? Shouldn’t that fill you with hope? This promise of eternal life and great reward is our guarantee, and it is proclaimed to us in the doctrine of adoption.
Let’s look at our text. We saw this word “adoption” in verse 5: God predestined “us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” In this particular section, these four verses we started with, we have some basic questions answered for us: who, what, where, when, why, and how. These are the six basic questions every journalist must ask and attempt to answer in any story they write.
Look at the first verse, and we answer the “Who?” question: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us.” That’s who—our God and Father. If we are going to be adopted, we have a Father who has adopted us. He is the subject of this sentence. There are two more “who’s.” They are not the subject but the objects of the Father’s affection. First, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, there’s us. He has “blessed us.”
Blessed us with what? “With every spiritual blessing.” Where? “In the heavenly places in Christ.” Over 80 times does Paul make a reference to being “in Christ,” and it means to be no longer of sin and the world and the works of darkness, but to be of Christ and His kingdom and works of righteousness. Consider some of these verses where Paul mentioned being in Christ:
- Romans 6:11, “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
- 1 Corinthians 1:30, “By His doing, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away. Behold, the new has come.”
- Galatians 3:26, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Everyone who has put their faith in Christ has been made a child of God to receive every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
When? Well, you are given every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus right now. But that’s not actually the answer we are given here to the “when” question. When were you chosen to receive these heavenly blessings? Answer: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” So just consider this: Before God said, “Let there be light,” before He divided the land from the sea, before He made the moon and the stars or a single creature on earth, God chose you to be in Christ, to receive every spiritual blessing.
“Why?” Look at the next part of verse 4: “That we would be holy and blameless before Him in love.” He didn’t just choose you to receive every spiritual blessing. He also chose you to be holy and blameless. If He has chosen you to be justified, He has also chosen you to be sanctified. To be justified means to be declared innocent. And when you came to faith in Christ, you were immediately justified—but you had not yet been fully sanctified.
To be sanctified means to be made holy. And as you have come to Christ, now you are in this process of being made more like Christ, which will not be completed until the day of Christ. Philippians 1:6 says, “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” And this is all according to the predestined plan of God. This is the very work of God in you, “that you would be holy and blameless before Him in love.”
Whose love? His love or your love? There’s a certain sense in which the answer is both, but it starts with His love. You don’t have love for God if He doesn’t first have love for you. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And it’s because of the love of a holy God that He makes us holy and blameless before Him.
“How?” That’s the last question here. Let’s review our questions:
- “Who?” God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with…
- “What?” Every spiritual blessing.
- “Where?” In the heavenly places.
- “When?” Before the foundation of the world.
- “Why?” That we would be holy and blameless before Him in love.
“How?” Verse 5: “By predestining us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself.” He predestined us to be adopted sons and daughters of God, which we have been granted by our faith in Jesus Christ.
Let’s talk about this doctrine of adoption. It is not a commonly taught doctrine, but it is a beautiful doctrine, and it is all over Scripture. One of my favorite passages is John 1:12-13, which says, “As many as received Him,” meaning Jesus, “to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
This word “adoption” probably doesn’t need a definition for you. I think we all know what adoption is. To think of it in our modern American context, to adopt is to legally acquire another’s child and raise the child as if the child were your own. How about spiritual adoption? Said Baptist minister Aaron Menikoff, “Adoption is the gracious act of God wherein He makes justified sinners His beloved children.”
Of this doctrine, Joel Beeke said, “Spiritual adoption is the excellency and apex of God’s salvation.” J.I. Packer said, “Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers.” And nineteenth century Baptist theologian John L. Dagg called the doctrine of adoption even sweeter than the doctrine of justification.
Now, how could that be? We are justified, declared innocent before God, by faith in Jesus Christ. That’s the central theme of the book of Romans. Consider Romans 5:1, which says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That must happen first before adoption. So how is it then that adoption might be considered even greater than justification? Listen as Dagg explains:
“In adoption, as practiced among men, an individual receives the son of another into his family, and confers on him the same privileges and advantages, as if he were his own son. In this sense, God adopts all who believe in Jesus Christ: ‘We are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 3:26). ‘Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God’ (1 John 3:1). This blessing of grace rises higher than justification. Though a judge may fully acquit one who is arraigned before him on a charge of crime, he does not confer, on the man so acquitted, any of the privileges or advantages which belong to a son. But the believer in Jesus is permitted to regard God, not only as a justifying Judge, but as a reconciled and affectionate Father. The problem, how he can be put among the children, has been solved. Though once far off, he has been brought near by the blood of Christ, and made of the household of God.”
So you see, it wasn’t simply enough that you and I were justified. Friends, we could have been declared forgiven our sins, but we still would have been left spiritual orphans without the wonderful grace that is adoption. Just as I said earlier that those whom God justifies He also sanctifies, so it is also true that those whom God justifies He also adopts. This is part of what we call the golden chain of redemption, also known as the ordo salutis, or the “order of salvation.”
The passage most often used to summarize the ordo salutis is Romans 8:29-30, which reads, “Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would 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.”
Of course, that’s not the whole order of salvation. Regeneration, conversion, faith, and repentance have to fit in there somewhere. This is just a summary of the order of salvation. And you may ask, “Well, if adoption is the sweetest doctrine, then why is it not mentioned?” Oh, adoption was mentioned before justification—right where Paul mentioned predestination.
Verse 29 starts, “Those whom God foreknew.” Let me stop and mention something about God’s foreknowledge. Often times, when we read about God foreknowing something, many tend to picture God as looking into the future to see what is going to happen and what choices we will make, but never to interfere with our free-will choices. Like, He sees that someday I will choose to follow Jesus, and so therefore God foreknows that I will become His child.
But if our salvation is dependent on a choice that we will eventually make, and God chooses us only because He sees that we will make the right choice someday, then we have the power to determine the future before we’re even born. How absurd! That is not how the Bible uses this word foreknowledge. That would be more like soothsaying or what a fortune-teller does. God does not need to learn anything because God knows everything (1 John 3:20). He knows the future because He has determined it.
So what is a biblical understanding of foreknowledge then? When we read in the Bible that God knows us, there’s affection that is being expressed. When David says in Psalm 139, “O Yahweh, you have searched me and known me,” he’s singing about the affection of God for him. When Jesus says to the lawless in Matthew 7:23, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” He is saying there has never been a fellowship there. He has never had affection for them as He has for His true disciples.
To read in Romans 8:29, “Those whom God foreknew,” we’re reading about those whom God placed His affections on before the foundation of the world. And this is not according to anything you did because, again, you didn’t even exist yet to do anything. As Charles Spurgeon famously said, “It’s a good thing God chose me before I was born, because He surely would not have afterwards.”
He predestined you. He predestined you for adoption. He predestined you for this before He ever made anything else. Brothers and sisters in the Lord, God arranged every atom in the universe, the trajectory of every asteroid in space, the fluttering of every blade of grass on the ground, the passing of every cloud, the falling of every rain drop. He caused the wind to blow through your mother’s hair in just such a way so that it would catch your father’s attention and he would say, “Hey, that’s a good lookin’ woman right there.” And the two of them would come together and bring forth you.
And God put you in exactly that time and place that you would need to be in to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed to you. And you would be convicted over the sin that you committed against God. And you would come to faith in Jesus Christ, who was delivered over on account of our transgressions and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). By grace you have been saved through faith. And being justified you have been adopted, made a son or daughter of God—who was not going to allow one molecule to move to the left or to the right, if it kept you from becoming His child. That is the doctrine of adoption.
None of us are worthy of this. I am not, and you are not. It is an act of grace that we are adopted and made sons and daughters of God—no longer objects of His wrath but recipients of His love and affection. Paul Washer said, “You ask me, ‘What is the greatest act of faith?’ To me is to look in the mirror of God’s word, and see all my faults, all my sin, all my shortcomings, and to believe that God loves me exactly as He says He does.”
Let’s come back to Romans 8:29 again: “Those whom God foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.” There’s adoption right there: “that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.” Many more would be brought into this family, adopted by God that we would become fellow heirs with Christ.
If we were to actually map this out, the order of salvation in Romans 8 would go, “foreknown, predestined, called, justified, adopted, sanctified, glorified.” Do you see that? Adoption must come after justification, but it comes before sanctification. Why is that? Because it is those who have been adopted who are made to look like the firstborn, who is Jesus. That’s the process of sanctification.
Jesus is called in Scripture our older brother. Yes, He is our Lord. But He’s also called, in the spiritual sense, our older brother. Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore, He had to be made like His brothers in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Now, in Old Testament times, when a father passed on his inheritance, he passed it on to the oldest son. So when we read in Scripture that Jesus is the firstborn, that is to understand that He has been given everything by the Father. Everyone who is in Christ, He makes us fellow heirs with Him. Titus 3:6, “Having been justified by His grace, we would become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
When we have been adopted into the family of God, we will begin to take on the characteristics of the members of this household—especially the Savior who saved us and the Father who adopted us. This is what it means to desire godliness. If we are truly the children of God, then we will want to be like our heavenly Father. We look like we’re part of this family. Friends, that means you put away the sinful works of your flesh and you walk in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. If you still live like the world, act like the world, and love what the world loves, then you are not a child of God.
Whose child would you be if you are not a child of God? You would be a child of the devil. Look at Ephesians 2, and in the first three verses, we are reminded of who we were before our adoption:
“And you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom we all also formerly conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
That’s who we were before we came to faith—we were sons and daughters of disobedience. Children of Satan. As 1 John 3:8 says, “The one who does sin is of the devil, because the devil sins from the beginning.”
Of course, you’ll hardly find anyone admitting that they are a child of Satan and not a child of God. No one is walking around going, “Yup, proud child of Satan, right here.” Everyone wants to believe that they are a child of God. Oprah, has said as much: “We’re all God’s children.”
I was evangelizing in a park one time, and I walked up to a man on a park bench and handed him a tract. “What’s this?” he said. And he noticed right on the front was the question, What is the gospel? “Oh, I don’t need this,” he said. “I’m already saved.”
“Really?” I said. “So you’re a Christian?”
“Everyone’s a Christian,” he said. And he quoted to me something from the Psalms—I don’t remember which one it was now, but it talked about the children of God. I told him, “Sir, that was written about those who actually fear God. Psalm 103:13 says, ‘As a father has compassion on his children, so Yahweh has compassion on those who fear Him.’ You’re taking a verse that’s describing those who are actually of God and you’re twisting it to apply to everyone. Only Christians are children of God. Whoever is not a Christian is a child of Satan.”
The man said to me, “Oh, that’s a bunch of nonsense. Where did you get that from?”
I said, “Jesus. He said in John 8:43-45, ‘Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth,’ Jesus said, ‘you do not believe Me.'”
Needless to say, I was unable to convince the man. But this is a very common false teaching in the world today—to believe that everyone is a child of God. After all, we were all made in the image of God, right? Yes, but we have born the image of the man of earth (1 Corinthians 15:49). That’s in reference to Adam, whose sin nature we have inherited. We must be born again to bear the image of Christ. And it’s in our rebirth that God adopts us from being children of Satan to becoming children of God.
As we go on to read though in Ephesians 2, beginning in verse 4:
“But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (this is adoption we’re reading about here) 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand (there’s all of that predestination talk again), so that we would walk in them.”
Again, that we would live like our Savior; that we would look like our Father. In Matthew 6, when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” that was unheard of at the time. Jesus was teaching His disciples that just as He called upon God as Father, so would His disciples get to call upon God as their heavenly Father. Up until Jesus, no one was calling God “Father.” In the Old Testament, there are very few places God is called by the title of Father. There’s a prophetic reference in Psalm 89:26, which says, “He will call to Me, ‘You are my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation.'”
Jesus came praying to the Father, and He taught us that we can know God as our Father. Only the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ get to call God “Father.” Galatians 4:6-7 says, “Because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”
As I close, I want to share a story about Annie. She’s getting baptized next week—the first of our children to be baptized (we figured it would be better to start with our 14 year-old than with our 6 month-old). Anyway, there won’t be time to share this story next week, so I’m going to share it now.
When Annie was four years old, I was coming out of a room one time and I saw her standing in the door in the hallway. She had tears streaming down her cheeks. I said, “What’s wrong sweetheart?” And she said, “Daddy, how do I stop lying? I really want to stop lying.”
I have no idea what events led her to feel convicted about lying or why she asked me that question. But my heart just broke. The fleshly part of me really wanted to say, “That’s a good question, sweetheart. And when you figure out how to stop lying, let me know.”
We were in an awkward spot in the hallway. Nonetheless, we sat down on the floor and began talking. For more than an hour, I talked with her about sin, and the desire in our hearts to sin, what sin means, and how it’s rebellion against God. I told her that God is gracious and merciful toward us. He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins, and everyone who believes in Him will be forgiven.
When you believe in Jesus, He gives you a new heart and a new mind—a heart that does not desire to sin. We don’t want to lie anymore, but we want to tell the truth. If you do lie, you will feel guilty about it. That’s the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But the Bible says in 1 John 1:9 that if we ask forgiveness for our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I don’t remember what happened after that, but she took it all in. She listened to every word—a 4 year-old. And I will never forget the look in a little girl’s eyes when she asked me, “Daddy, how do I stop lying?” This little girl hated her sin at the age of 4 more than I hated my sin at the age of 20.
Annie is not my biological daughter. I adopted her when she was two and a half. But I don’t love her any differently than I love the rest of my children. She is just as much my child as the other four. I gifted her with a Bible yesterday, and in the front of it I wrote, “Never forget that you are my daughter. And I will always be your dad.”
But better than that message, there’s another message in her Bible, and it’s in yours and it’s in mine. That message is that, “We are God’s children now” (1 John 3:2), and He will always be our Father, by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. This is all to the praise of His glory.
To close with Ephesians 1:5-6 once again, we have been predestined “to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He graciously bestowed on us in the Beloved.”