The Gospel of a Splendid God

The good news is better than we imagine. /

We are a species curved in on ourselves. We think a lot of ourselves and a lot about ourselves. Even when it comes to “the gospel of salvation.” The very phrase suggests that someone is lost but now is saved, and that someone is us. The gospel, it would seem, is also about us.

Yes and no; I’ll explain in a bit. For now, you’re going to have to do some work: read or recall a longer passage of Scripture. Preachers and spiritual writers know better than to quote Scripture at such length. Listeners and readers tend to just skip over these quotes, even if they believe them to be the very Word of God! At any rate, one reason for quoting Ephesians 1:1–14 in full is that (in light of the astounding things I’m claiming) I’m not making this stuff up.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. (NRSV)

Yes, Paul is talking about a “gospel of . . . salvation” (v. 13), so we can’t get around the fact that the gospel is, in part, about us. But what interests me is how much of the gospel is about God—what God has done. The gospel is not just about our rescue, but about who God is, what he’s really like: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul begins. Not “It doesn’t get any better than this” or “What joy we know.” Not even “Amazing grace.” More like “Amazing God.”

So who is this God who is the sum and substance of the gospel?

For one, he is “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). He has “blessed us in Christ” (v. 3). He has chosen us in Christ (v. 4). He has adopted us in Christ (v. 5). He has freely bestowed the good pleasure of his will in Christ, whom he calls the Beloved (v. 6). In Christ, he redeems and forgives us (v. 7). In Christ, he has set forth the mystery of his will towards us (v. 9). In Christ, he gives us an inheritance (v. 11). In Christ, he marks us with the promise of the Holy Spirit (v. 13).

This is the God we are dealing with, the God who has made himself known and has acted in Christ, who

though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
(Phil. 2:6–8, )

To know Jesus Christ—the one who humbles himself and gives his life for us—is to know this fatherly God whom Paul talks about.

Furthermore, this God-in-Jesus-Christ is a God who thought long and hard about us. From “before the foundation of the world” he had us in his sights (Eph. 1:4). He long ago “destined us for adoption as his children” (v. 5), “destined according to . . . his counsel and will” (v. 11). What God has done for us in Jesus Christ is no accident, no sudden change of plans, no response to the shifting winds of history, no plan B. What God has done for us in Jesus Christ is plan A, the plan concocted before there was ever a before or after, before there was any other plan.

And what type of plan does this destiny-making God in Jesus have? To create a people for himself and a people for one another. A people who might be holy and blameless before him in love (v. 4). A people he can call his children (v. 5). A people upon whom he could freely bestow grace (v. 6)—not just bestow but lavish with grace (v. 8). A people who would be gathered up in the “fullness of time” into his presence and into the presence of one another (v. 10). A people to whom he has made an unbreakable pledge—that we would indeed and without reservation receive the inheritance he had planned for us from the very beginning (v. 14).

And there’s more. This plan includes the forgiveness of our sins. That is, this predestined plan was carried out faithfully despite the ugly fact that the people God created for himself rejected him, rebelled against him and his destiny for them, blew off the blessings planned before the foundation of the world. In other words, this God is one of sovereign grace.

We spit in the face that looks upon us in love, and he just lets the spittle drip from his cheek; we stab him in the back, and he just lets the blood run out on the ground. We hang him from the gallows until he limply dies. Such insurrection is as unjust as it gets.

And yet this God steps into this ugly situation, and does so in the man Jesus Christ. And in Christ, we discover that God has vindicated himself. Not merely in the satisfaction of justice—yes to that! But he’s also vindicated himself in carrying out the plan he had intended from the very beginning.

We discover that because the God-man Jesus Christ has died, bearing the sins of this world, we can enjoy the benefits of the predestined plan, which, not to put too fine a point on it, is this: to enjoy “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (v. 3). This God would not let our sin, disobedience, and rebellion dissuade him from his plan. Nothing could separate us from his loving plan in Christ Jesus. His grace is a sovereign grace, a powerful grace, working in our favor despite us.

This is the God of the gospel. He’s a stubborn fellow, not easily dissuaded from doing that which he intends. The God who decided to be God with and for his people before he decided anything else. The God who intended that we lavishly enjoy the overflowing blessings of heaven. The God who could not imagine existing without children whom he could love as a Father. The God who made it possible for those erring children to be reconciled to him, so that they could swim in the lavishness of grace and the friendship of this remarkable God.

So yes, the gospel is, in one sense, about us and what happens to us. But can we also see that more than anything, the gospel is the good news about a splendid God?

Mark Galli is editor of CT and The Behemoth.

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Also in this Issue

Issue 4 / September 4, 2014
  1. Editors’ Note
  2. What Steadfast Looks Like in a Revolution

    How in three years an evangelical pastor went from America’s first national hero to “the first of villains.” /

  3. Immortal Jellyfish

    A startling exception to the great biological rule. /

  4. Making Someone Who Lasts

    My enduring legacy is sleeping in the nursery. /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Links to amazing stuff

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