Glory to God: The Only One Who Gets Credit
Passage: Ephesians 1:3–1:14
Why does God get all the credit for our salvation?
When I was growing up, we had a trampoline. My sister and I had this game where one person would be on the ground with a ball and they’d try to hit the person on the trampoline. But because it was a trampoline, you could jump and dive and do crazy things to avoid the ball. I always imagined the moves I was doing to dodge the ball were really cool but in actuality it probably just looked like a kid flopping around.
While fun for jumping, a trampoline isn’t a very good place to keep anything organized. If you were to lay out all your crayons or marbles or something on the trampoline, they wouldn’t stay where you put them. Because as soon as someone gets on the trampoline, all the objects would roll towards them. Everything on the trampoline rolls toward whatever weighs the most.
If you think about your life, what weighs the most that everything else rolls toward? Think about all the people, things and activities in your life laid out on a trampoline. Which of those things weighs the most and causes everything else to roll toward it? Maybe it’s a person: your kids or your spouse or boss or a parent. Maybe it’s yourself. Maybe it’s an activity: a hobby or work or relaxing or watching TV. Or maybe it’s a thing: your house, your car, your lawn, your body, your clothes.
What is that heavy thing in your life that everything else rolls toward? Your time, your thoughts, your energy, your worry, your fears, your excitement, your money all roll toward it.
Today, we are in our final message in a five part series called “Five Truths About Salvation.” This year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation so we are taking time to learn about the five truths at the heart of it. These truths state that salvation is 1) by grace alone 2) through faith alone 3) in Christ alone 4) revealed in Scripture alone 5) for God’s glory alone.
So far we have learned that Scripture alone is the #1 authority for our knowledge of salvation. That grace alone is the only source of our right standing with God. That faith alone in Jesus Christ is the only way we are saved. And that Christ alone is the only basis for our salvation.
This week, we are talking about who gets credit for our salvation. Who gets the praise? Who gets the applause? Who do we point to and say, “This is all them?” The answer the Reformers gave was: glory to God alone. He gets all the credit. One author says this is the glue that holds all the other truths together.
In Scripture, the word “glory” can also mean “heavy.” When someone is glorious, it means they are weighty. They are important and influential. So when you think about laying out everything in your life on a trampoline, it should all roll toward God. He is the most weighty thing.
To get a deeper understanding, we are going to be looking at Ephesians 1:3-14. The big question this passage answers is: why does God get all the credit for our salvation? Why does God get all the credit for our salvation?
Our passage today is all about how God should fill our thoughts the most, especially when it comes to salvation.
First, let’s talk about glory to God alone in the Protestant Reformation.
Glory to God Alone in the Protestant Reformation
Last week, we talked about how John Calvin became a Reformer, but we didn’t really hear much about what he did. Calvin didn’t talk much about himself because he was naturally shy but he also didn’t want to distract people from God’s glory. He wanted it to be all about God. This was the theme of his life.
Calvin wanted to live a quiet life studying classic literature. All he wanted was to find a place where he could do this in peace. But God had different plans. In the summer of 1536, when Calvin was 27 years old, he was traveling with his brother and half sister from Paris to Strasbourg, France. His goal was to settle down there into a life of quiet study. But a battle forced them to take a southern detour. They stopped in Geneva, Switzerland, planning to spend one night there.
They had no idea that just a few months earlier (May 25, 1536), Geneva had voted to become a Protestant city and depart from Catholicism. They embraced the Reformation under the leadership of Guillaume Farel. At this point, Calvin has already published the first edition of his greatest work: The Institutes of the Christian Religion. He is known for it. Farel is a fiery man and when he hears the author of The Institutes is in town, he decides to enlist his help. He bursts into Calvin’s hotel room and implores him to stay in Geneva and help with the reformation of the city. At first, Calvin refuses and express his desire to live in quiet study. Seeing persuasion isn’t working, Farel prays that God would curse Calvin’s studies if he would withdraw and refuse to help in such a grave emergency. At this, Calvin gives in with terror of God’s curse.
Geneva was a Catholic town and Calvin’s task was to help it become Protestant. All the priests and monks were driven out and now it needed leadership, teaching, and pastors. Calvin soon became a pastor and leader who organized institutions and systems for teaching the people of Geneva the gospel.
Calvin’s highest concern was the right worship of God. One of my professors in seminary (Dr. Manetsch) made this distinction between Calvin and Luther:
For Luther, the primary failure of the medieval Catholic church is that it promoted works righteousness.
For Calvin, the primary failure of the medieval Catholic church is that it promoted idolatry.
In other words, it promoted the worship of false gods rather than the one true God. Calvin thought the Catholic Church turned people’s attention and focus away from God. They put something other than God at the center. They gave someone other than God the credit for salvation. When everything was laid out on the trampoline, God wasn’t the one everything was drawn towards.
There are three things he saw as distractions. First, the holy bread. In Catholic services, the central focus is put on the bread in the Lord’s Supper. It looks like bread, but in actuality the priest change it into Jesus’ actual flesh. The bread is honored and revered. In Calvin’s view, it is worshiped and thus takes away from God’s glory.
Second, holy places. Catholic places of worship were extravagant and filled with art depicting God the Father. Calvin saw this as breaking the second of the Ten Commandments which forbids making no images of God. He also thought the extravagance was a distraction from actually worshiping the true God.
Third, holy people. In Catholic teaching, you can ask Christians who have died in the past to pray for you, including Mary the mother of Jesus. These people are called saints. Catholics teach they only worship God but highly respect the saints. But Calvin points out that in how people actually treat the saints, there really is no difference. They are looking to the saints to give and do what only God can do and thus they are worshiping the saints and robbing God of the glory he is due.
Calvin believed that only God should be at the center and only God should be lifted high. The glory should go to him alone. But in the Catholic Church, holy bread, holy places, and holy people were lifted high and people looked to those instead of to God. People’s thoughts, affections, and worship were rolling toward those things on the trampoline instead of to God. Calvin made the worship space of Geneva very simple so as not to distract people from God and he emphasized that God’s people need to hear their God speak so the bible was at the center of the worship service.
Calvin was concerned that God alone get the glory. God alone is lifted high. God alone is at the center. With that in mind, let’s turn to Ephesians 1, verses 3 through 14.
Paul, an early follower of Jesus, wrote this letter 2,000 years ago to a church he spent three years teaching. These opening verses are one long sentence in the original Greek language, exploding with praise for God. Paul reaches all the way back into eternity past and looks all the way into eternity future as he shows how great our God is.
The big question this passage answers is: why does God get all the credit for our salvation? Why does God get all the credit for our salvation?
The short answer is: Because he has done it all! He gets all the credit because he has done everything for our salvation and we’ve done nothing. Look at Paul’s opening line in verse 3:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)
God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. All we could ask for or imagine has been given to us by God. And it all comes packaged “in Christ.”
Paul starts with praise of God and then he gets specific. There are three sections to this passage and each ends with the phrase “to the praise of his glory” (vv 6, 12, 14). Each section describes the work one of the three persons of the Trinity has contributed to God’s divine act of blessing us with every spiritual blessing.
It’s possible that the term “Trinity” is new to some of you or perhaps you have heard it but aren’t really sure what it means. In the historic Christian faith, we believe there is one God who exists in three persons. One God, three persons. A unity of three. A Trinity. There is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each section of this passage focuses on one of them.
Let’s begin with section one in verses 4 through 6 which focuses on what God the Father has done to save us. Let’s reread verse 4.
The Father Chose Us for Adoption into his Holy Family (1:4-6)
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4)
Anyone who is saved was chosen by God. Anyone who trusts in Jesus as their Lord was chosen by God. We did not first chose him, but he first chose us. Yes, at some point we did chose him, but that is only because he chose us first.
When did he do this? Before the creation of the world. Before Genesis 1:1. Before anything existed besides God. Paul goes all the way into eternity past. If you trust in Jesus today, God chose you before anything was created.
And for what purpose did he chose us? To be holy and blameless in his sight. God chose us to wash us of our sins, to make us righteous, to take all possibility of blame and guilt from us.
Paul repeats the point in the next sentence. Look at verse 5:
In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ in accordance with this pleasure and will (Ephesians 1:5)
We may be tempted to think of “predestine” as a cold word. But what does Paul say? “In love, he predestined us.” In love. God is love and in love he predestined us. “Predestine” simply means “he decided beforehand” and his attitude in his decision was love.
What did he decide? In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship. With an attitude of love, God the Father chose us before the creation of the world to be adopted as sons and daughters into his family. And how has he done this? Through Jesus Christ. God is forming a holy family. But we are unholy, we are unrighteous, we are sinful and guilty. God adopts us into his holy family through Jesus Christ to make us holy and blameless.
And all this, Paul says at the end of verse 5, is “in accordance with his pleasure and will.” The God of the universe planned your adoption into his family...and he took pleasure in doing so.
Why did he do this? Paul says in verse 6:
6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
The Father has adopted us into his holy family. Why? For the praise of his glorious grace. That is his ultimate purpose, that we might praise him for the majesty of his graciousness - the magnitude of his unmerited favor bestowed on unworthy sinners. This privilege of being a part of his family is freely given - no strings attached. And it is given to us in the One he loves, his Beloved Son. God holds out a gift to us and that gift is packaged in his Son, Jesus Christ.
The big question this passage answers is: why does God get all the credit for our salvation? The first answer is: because the Father chose us for adoption into his holy family. Because the Father chose us for adoption into his holy family.
As many of you know, Katie and I are in the process of adoption. When we do adopt, that baby will have done nothing to bring themselves into our family. We are the ones planning it, we are the ones paying for it. In love, they will be chosen for adoption not through anything they do but through what we do.
Salvation is about becoming part of a new family: the family of God. In love, he chooses us and we do nothing for it. He does it all.
Who do you think initiated your relationship with God? You or the Father? Who gets the credit?
The first section of this passage is about the Father choosing us for adoption into his holy family. The second section in verses 7 through 12 focuses on how this is through Jesus Christ. Let’s begin with the first sentence in verse 7.
The Son Redeemed Us Through His Death (1:7-12)
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:7-8a)
In Christ we have redemption through his blood. In Scripture, redemption means deliverance at a cost. The word was used in the slave market. To redeem a slave meant you freed them. You paid the cost of their freedom. That’s redemption.
What cost was paid for our redemption? Paul says Jesus’ blood, referring to Jesus’ death. The cost of our freedom was Jesus’ life. What did we need to be freed from? Paul indicates another way to say it is “the forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness also has to do with freedom. A forgiven loan means you are free from paying it pack. A forgiven offense means you are free from making up for it. Paul says we have been forgiven of our sins - we have been freed from making up for them, from paying for them. What we owe for our sin against God - our unfaithfulness to him, our rebellion, our disobedience - is our lives. Jesus gave his life so we wouldn’t have to give ours.
We were in slavery to sin - its guilt, its shame, its consequences, its influence. But Jesus freed us from our slavery at the cost of his life. God the Son paid the price of our rebellion against him. God took our place. He laid the punishment we deserve upon himself.
Why would he do this? Paul says it was in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. It is pure grace. “Grace” means free and undeserved favor. It means you get what you don’t deserve. There can be no forgiveness without grace.
Notice, God in the past chose us for adoption and in the present we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. God’s eternal plan enters our life when we trust in Christ and know we are forgiven. Paul goes on in verses 8 through 10 to describe how this reveals God’s eternal plan:
With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10)
God has made known the mystery of his will. “Mystery” in the New Testament refers to something that was once hidden but has now been revealed. God’s plan for the entire universe was once hidden but has now been revealed. And Christ is at the center of it all. Jesus, God’s Son, has made it possible for us to be forgiven and for all of creation to be renewed. One day, heaven and earth will be made one and God’s heavenly presence will fill the whole earth.
In verses 11 to 12 Paul summarizes what he has been saying so far in this passage:
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-12)
Paul has been talking about him and his readers, but here he makes a distinction. Here he is focusing specifically on himself and the Jewish people. In verse 13, he will focus on his Gentile, aka non-Jewish, readers.
In verse 11 he summarizes what all this means for him and other Jews. They too needed to be redeemed. They needed to be chosen according to God’s plan and purposes. Why? Verse 12 says: in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
The message about Christ first came to the Jewish people because all the predictions and promises of Jesus’ coming were given to them. So he Jesus and his message first came to them. Jews were the first to put their hope in Christ. The purpose is so that they might be for the praise of his glory.
The big question this passage answers is: why does God get all the credit for our salvation? The second answer is: because the Son redeemed us through his death. Because the Son redeemed us through his death.
Adoption today is costly. Katie and I know firsthand. You have agency fees, lawyer fees, medical bills, and so forth. We have had to save up money over time in order to pay for it and we’ve even done a fundraiser. When we adopt a baby, we aren’t going to save all our receipts and one day ask them to pay us back. No, we are taking the total cost upon ourselves. The entire price will be paid for their adoption into our family.
Of course, it didn’t work the same way in Paul’s day. But the problem for us was that we were in slavery. The price of our freedom needed to be paid before we could be adopted into God’s family. Jesus totally paid that cost. He freed us from slavery - he paid the horrible cost of our sin. God chose us and adopted us and now he isn’t saving the receipts for us to pay him back. He did it all.
Who do you think keeps you in relationship with God? You or Jesus? Who gets credit?
God chose us for adoption and Jesus paid the price. In verses 13 and 14, we hear about the Holy Spirit’s work.
The Spirit Seals Us as God’s Own (1:13-14)
Paul writes in verse 13:
13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. (Ephesians 1:13a)
Paul pointed to himself and said: “Look, we were chosen so that we could praise God.” Now he points to his readers and says: “And look, you also were chosen, you also have been included in Christ. When the message of your salvation came to you and you believed in Jesus, you also were redeemed and forgiven of your sins.”
And how do you know that you are in God’s family? He says at the end of verse 13:
When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13b-14)
In the ancient world, a “seal” was a mark of ownership. Seals were made of stone or metal and had a distinct image engraved on them. All of a person’s significant possessions were marked with the impression of this seal.
When we trust in Christ, God marks us with his seal of ownership. He marks us as his treasured possession. And that mark of his ownership is the Holy Spirit. He sends his Holy Spirit to dwell inside us. And the Holy Spirit is not only a seal, but a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. When you are part of a family, that means you can expect an inheritance. You are going to get your parents stuff: land, money, house, possessions. God gives us the Spirit to assure us we have a glorious future ahead. We really are his children and that means we can expect an inheritance. In our case, we inherit the kingdom of God. We get to live life in his presence forever free of sin.
There is an already but not yet reality to our redemption. We have been freed from the penalty of our sin and we have been freed from the power of sin, but we are not yet free from the presence of it. That’s what we have to look forward to in the future, when our redemption is fully complete. All of this, Paul says, is to the praise of God’s glory.
The big question this passage answers is: why does God get all the credit for our salvation? The third answer is: Because the Spirit seals us as God’s own. Because the Spirit seals us as God’s own.
Adopting a child into a family is a delicate process. You want them to know and feel that they are a real member of the family. You don’t want them to feel they are inferior in any way. If Katie and I have biological children, there aren’t our real children and our adopted children. There are just our children. They are all our real children. Throughout their whole life, they must be treated as our real children and assured that they are our real children because that’s what they are.
This is the Holy Spirit’s job. The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter by Jesus. His ministry to us is one of comfort and assurance. He assures us that all the good news we hear in the gospel is true. We really have been adopted. We really have been redeemed and forgiven. We are really God’s children and that means we really do have an inheritance. We aren’t orphans. The message of our salvation isn’t fiction. It’s all true.
Who do you think assures you of the Father’s love for you? You or the Spirit? Who gets the credit?
Know that your salvation flows from who God is and what he has done. He get’s all the applause. He gets all the credit. He gets all the praise. He saves us because of who he is and not because of anything about us.
Instead of putting God at the center of salvation, we are prone to put ourselves at the center. We either think we are deserving or try to make ourselves deserving. We can put ourselves at the center in two ways.
First, we say: God saved me because of who I am. “I am valuable. I am worth the effort.” We are saying that who we are makes us deserving of salvation. Because of we are valuable and worth the sacrifice, God was motivated to save us. This makes salvation human-centered: Because I am so valuable, I deserve God’s salvation.
This is the opposite of what the bible teaches. The bible says: Because God is extremely gracious, God saves the undeserving. The bible teaches that we are totally undeserving of salvation.
Second, we say: God saved me because of what I have done. “I have done good deeds. I have been a good person. I have earned it.” We are saying what we do makes us deserving of salvation. This makes salvation human-centered: Because I am so good, I deserve God’s salvation.
Again, this is the opposite of what the bible says. The bible says: Because God is extremely gracious, God saves the undeserving.
The weightiness of God’s grace is shown in how he saves completely undeserving sinners. He gives highest and greatest blessings to those who don’t have an ounce of worthiness in them. Imagine a scale. One side is the platform for weighing God’s contribution to salvation. The other side is for weighing our contribution to salvation. This passage says that all the weight goes on God’s side. He saved us for the praise of his glorious grace. If we put anything on the human side, it pulls a little off his side.
The person who is most weighty in your life is who you will put first. They are who you will look to. Is God the hero of your salvation story or are you? Who initiated your relationship with God? Do you think you found him or did he first find you? Who keeps you in God’s family? Is it your good behavior or is it Jesus’ work on your behalf? Who assures you of the Father’s love? Do you look at yourself to believe you are deserving of it or do you listen to the Spirit?
Reflect on this question this week: who does your life point to? Does it point to you or to God? Does all the praise go toward him? Does all the applause and credit go toward him? Or are you trying to steal some for yourself?
The big question this passage answers is: why does God get all the credit for our salvation? The first answer is: because the Father chose us for adoption into his holy family. The second answer is: because the Son redeemed us through his death. The third answer is: Because the Spirit seals us as God’s own.
John Calvin and other Reformers believed the Catholic Church fails to give glory to God alone for salvation. In every truth we have covered in this series, the Catholic Church gives man part of the credit. But this isn’t only a Catholic problem; it’s a human problem. We all are prone to rob God of his glory and give ourselves credit. But the more we accept how undeserving of salvation we are, the more we will praise God for his grace.