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For Us and For Our Salvation

Original Date: 
Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ephesians 1:11-14 The Dance: For Us and For Our Salvation

Know Your Heretics
So, I want to tell you about a famous dead guy. Actually, I should say he is an infamous dead guy. If I were tweeting, and I don’t tweet, I’d give this a hashtag of “knowyourheretics.”

I’m talking about a man named Arius. He lived in Alexandria, Egypt at the beginning of the fourth century (that’s the 300s). At this time, Alexandria was a part of the Roman Empire and was actually one of the leading cities in Christianity.

Anyway, the story goes that Arius was a presbyter (which would probably be the equivalent of a local church pastor today) who was attending a series of lectures by his bishop on the Trinity. They probably weren’t actually using the word Trinity yet, but the bishop was teaching on the nature of God, and specifically the idea that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all God. As Arius listened though, it sounded to him like his bishop was teaching a form of modalism—that is, the idea that each member of the Trinity was just God in a different mode. The Bobby Valentine in disguise idea that I talked about last week.

Arius didn’t agree with that, so he did some digging to prove the Father and the Son were different persons. What he came up with was the idea that God the Son was at one point created by God the Father, and before that the Son did not exist and neither did the Holy Spirit. What he proposed was that both the Son and the Spirit were created, and thus were something less than fully divine.

As it turns out, Arius was something of a marketing genius. He wrote little jingles and rhymes and people who agreed with him began to spread his ideas around the Empire. I’m not sure what people talked about back then, but apparently average people—bakers and farmers and the like—were repeating these little sayings and buying into the idea that Jesus was not fully God.

One saying that survives is this: “There was when He was not.” In other words, Arius was saying that there was a point—not in time, really, because Arius thought the Son and the Spirit came into existence before time began—but there was a point prior to that when God the Father existed and the Son and the Spirit did not. So the Son and the Spirit were special, important, powerful, but not fully God.

Today, the Jehovah’s Witnesses hold to a version of Arianism. If they ever come to your door, they’ll talk about Jesus; and they’ll even agree with you that Jesus is god, as long as you spell “god” with a small letter “g”. But really, they don’t believe Jesus is fully God, they think He is the first created creature.

And this started to spread around the Roman Empire, and it became very controversial. So controversial, in fact, that in AD 325 the Emperor Constantine called a special church council just to deal with it. This was the first major church council—with leaders and thinkers in the church coming from all over the empire—and they met in a place called Nicea on the Black Sea.

All Because of a Little “i”
In the end, the debate centered around two words. One word is homoousios. Greek. Homo- is the Greek word for same. Ousios is the Geek word for substance or essence. Really, it’s the word for stuff. Homoousios means “of the same nature.” So the question was whether or not the Son was the “same stuff” as the Father.

The Arians didn’t like this word. They proposed, instead, the word homoiousios. Homoi is the Greek word for similar. “of a similar nature.” The Son and the Spirit were of “similar stuff” as the Father, but they were not fully divine.

So literally, this huge debate boiled down to one letter. The letter “i”. In Greek, the letter “iota.” The smallest letter in the alphabet. Some people think Christians are a little nuts for having such huge fights over one tiny little letter—and you have to admit that from several centuries away it all looks pretty silly—but there are massive implications in whether you accept that little “i” or not.

In the end, the Council of Nicea produced a creed. We call it the Nicene Creed. And the pertinent part went like this:

[We believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ,
The only Son of God,
Begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
Begotten, not made;
Of the same essence [homoousios] as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven…

Jesus was “begotten, not made.” In other words He has a Father/Son relationship with the Father, but there was never a time when He was not. He wasn’t made. He wasn’t created. He’s of the same essence as the Father.

The Council determined—and orthodox Christianity has believed ever since—that God the Father and God the Son (and, by extension, God the Spirit) are each fully, and completely divine. The Council of Nicea was the first official formulation of the Trinity.

Now, a couple of thoughts. This doesn’t mean that for the first 300 years of Christianity they didn’t believe in the Trinity. In fact, I’d argue exactly the opposite. The point of the council was to determine that, indeed, for the past 300 years the Trinity was exactly what Christians believed (though they probably didn’t use that word yet). They hadn’t really spelled it out yet, because nobody had really challenged the idea. Everybody believed that the Son was God. It wasn’t until Arius came along and raised some serious challenges that the church was forced to sit down and really clarify what they believed on the subject.

And this happens quite a lot in the church. There are a number of things that Christians have always believed that really never got spelled out until people started to challenge it. The doctrine of inerrancy, about 150 years ago, is one example. Contemporary examples might be in the area of human sexuality and marriage.

So Christians had always believed Jesus was God, they just hadn’t thought about it much. Then Arius came along, and they could tell something about his teaching didn’t smell right, and so they worked out the idea of the Trinity.

Then, my other thought: this is a reminder of what’s at stake when it comes to the Trinity. That little “i” is the difference between Jesus being a really special man—maybe even an angel or a demi-god—who had some really good teaching and died to leave us an example of courage and sacrifice; or Jesus being God in the flesh who came to take on an enormous burden of guilt in order to bridge a gap between us and God that we never could otherwise have hoped to bridge.

At stake, as I said last week, is salvation itself.

For Us and For Our Salvation
So, in our little three week series on the Trinity, salvation is what I want to focus on this week. The other phrase that stands out to me in the Nicene Creed is the line: “for us and for our salvation.” That’s what this is about. We need to understand who God is and how that affects our hope of being saved.

Specifically, today, I want to focus on the role each member of the Trinity plays in our salvation. Because really, that’s what makes the members of the Trinity distinct from each other. They have the same nature, they are united in purpose and love, but scripture describes them performing different primary activities when it comes to relating to the world.

And as we seek to understand better what we mean when we say that we believe in Father, Son and Holy Spirit (and remember, that’s the point: when you come into church you are going to hear about one God, three persons; you are going to hear us call the Father “God” and then call Jesus “God”; you’re going to wonder what’s going on) one of the best ways to understand the Trinity is to think about how each member of the Trinity relates to us in the work of salvation.

So, my text today, a very Trinitarian passage, is Ephesians 1:11-14. As I read it, see if you can pick out the three members of the Trinity and the work they do that contributes to our salvation:

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 hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having 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.

My outline now will be simple: three points, one each for each member of the Trinity.

We start with God the Father. The Father is the Architect of our Salvation. Verse 11:

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.

This verse is talking about God the Father. He’s the one “who works our everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” This verse is actually a part of a much larger train of thought that begins back in verse 3 by giving “praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms.”

The idea is that God the Father is the planner, the originator, the initiator. The Father is the one who plans and sends and chooses.

Really, most of us, when we hear the word God, think first and foremost of God the Father. Unless otherwise specified, most of the time the word God is used in the Bible, it is referring to God the Father. So, for example, when the first verse of the Bible says that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) we take that to be referring to the first member of the Trinity.

Likewise, when we say that “God so loved the world that He have His one and only Son” (John 3:16) it is clearly God the Father who is in mind. The whole mission of salvation is portrayed as His idea.

To put it another way, the Father is supreme among the persons of the Godhead. That’s not to say that He is more powerful or more knowledgeable or more eternal or anything like that. But in the ordering of the relationships in the Trinity (what theologians sometimes call “the economy of the Trinity”) God the Father takes the lead. And so, Jesus teaches us to pray to “our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9-10) and He Himself prays to the Father (John 17:1). It’s one of the reasons we use language like Father and Son to describe the relationship in the Trinity, because of the priority and authority that Fatherhood implies.

As this verse from Ephesians teaches, then, when it comes to our salvation the Architect and designer is God the Father. He has a plan. He has a purpose. His purpose is that the Son will be the focal point, the one at center stage. It is in the Son that all the spiritual blessings will be realized (Eph. 1:3), to be sure. But the One who plans it all, the One whose will is being accomplished, is God the Father.

And the point is that “everything” is worked out according to God the Father’s design. Nothing is left out. All things in heaven and earth, everything from initial creation to ultimate eternal life is planned according to the purpose of God’s will and accomplished according to His counsel.

God the Father is the architect of our salvation.

Second, God the Son. The Son is the One who accomplishes our salvation. Verse 12 and part of verse 13:

12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.

The purpose and design of the Father’s plan is that we will be included in Christ in salvation. God the Father’s greatest desire, it would seem, is that lost sinners will glorify and praise His Son for their salvation.

And so, of course, God the Son is the One who was sent into the world. God the Son is the One who became incarnate in Mary’s womb. God the Son is the One who walked the dusty roads of Israel. God the Son is the One who healed the sick and told the story of the prodigal. And God the Son is the One who agonized in Gethsemane, stood trial before Pilate, and suffered and died on Calvary.

Our salvation was accomplished through the obedience of the Son to His Father’s will. (i.e. John 8:28-29) Jesus says things like “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). And He says similar things often. There’s a definite sense of submission to the Father.

But that’s not the same as saying that the Son is inferior to the Father or “less than” the Father. Again, the Biblical evidence points again and again to the co-eternal, divine nature of both the Father and the Son. The first verse in the gospel of John says that the Word (who is Jesus) was present at the beginning, that the Word was with God and that the Word was God.

It seems best to think of the Son as the “agent” of the Father. That is to say, as the Father plans and designs it is the Son whom He looks to in order to execute those plans. That seems to be the case when it comes to creation—the first few verses of John go on to say that “through him all things were made and without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3)--and certainly when it comes to Salvation.

Our redemption then, comes through the blood of His Son. (Eph 1:7) Forgiveness is available because the Father has designed it to come through the death of Jesus. And the Son—fully a member of the Trinity and fully on board with the Father’s plan—has graciously and obediently achieved it for us.

Thus it is right and good—and fully a part of the Father’s plan—for us to worship and adore Jesus as our Savior.

Third, we need to talk about God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One who applies our salvation. The middle of verse 13 and all of verse 14:

Having 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.

The Holy Spirit is also a part of our salvation. His role (and, by the way, the Holy Spirit is a person, so it is proper to refer to Him with a personal pronoun. He is not an “it”, like the “force” from Star Wars or Hindu Kharma or anything like that) His role is to connect us to the Father through Jesus Christ. We know about and receive salvation because of the Holy Spirit.

These verses use two key words to describe the work of the Spirit. One is “seal.” The Holy Spirit marks us like a seal. What this is talking about is the ancient practice of sealing a scroll with wax. If a king wanted to send an important message somewhere, and he didn’t want anybody else to read it, he’d roll up the scroll and then drip hot wax on it. Then he’d take his special ring—on with his unique sign on it—and r oll it through the wax. That way, if anybody else opened the scroll they wouldn’t be able to reseal it with the same symbol, and it would be obvious that someone had tampered with it.

A seal, then, meant identification. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us and helps us to see the truth of what Jesus has done for us, then we are marked as belonging to God. We are sealed and identified as Christians.

Then, the other key word is “deposit.” The Spirit in your life is like a security deposit guaranteeing the fulfillment of all God’s promises in our lives. Just like you have to put down a deposit when you rent a house as a way of guaranteeing that you will make good any damages that are caused while you live there; the Spirit is God’s way of assuring us that, yes indeed, He will someday fully free us from sinning and welcome us into His heavenly home.

Other ways the Bible says the Spirit applies salvation to us is by enabling our new birth (John 3:5-8), through the process of making us more like Jesus (also known as sanctification, Rom. 8:13), and by granting us spiritual gifts for use in serving Jesus (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 12). In general, the work of the Holy Spirit seems to be to bring to completion the work that has been planned by God the Father and begun by God the Son.

The Point
The point of all this, then, is to help us see how all three members of the Trinity contribute to our salvation. As I said earlier, we’re going talk a lot about the Trinity in the church—somebody pointed out to me that the Trinity is depicted on our stained glass window (we have the hand of the Father, the Cross of the Son, and the dove of the Holy Spirit)—we might as well try our best to understand what we’re talking about. And examining the different roles the different members of the Godhead play in our salvation can help us understand them better.

As the Nicene Creed indicates, it is our salvation that is at stake in understanding the Trinity. It is because God the Father saw our need, God the Son came to address our need, and God the Spirit applies salvation to us that we are saved.