Did man in sin desire salvation, and for that matter petition God for it?
If we were to cast our minds back to the scene in the Garden of Eden, when man fell to sin by choosing to listen to Satan instead of to God. We hid from His presence out of guilt and shame. We fell short of the glory of God, and since then sin has reigned in all of Adam’s posterity till today. Man in sin naturally cannot please God, and his life consequently does not bring glory to God.
We are told in Genesis 3, at the scene of the fall that God promised a way out – the seed of the woman — none other than Jesus Christ — would bruise the serpent’s head and free the human race from the tyranny of sin and Satan. But why did God have to do anything about the situation of man at all? After all, we chose to disobey; we willingly plunged ourselves into the situation of misery and slavery to sin that we find ourselves in. God didn’t owe man an escape route or any response whatsoever, save to leave us to justly suffer the consequences of our actions. We deserved what we got, it was only fair. That God would save any at all, out of the morass of humans who willingly disobey and rebel against Him is nothing but an act of undeserved kindness – divine grace in its full elements.
So what was God’s great purpose in redemption? Scripture makes us know that it is for His glory!
Man before the fall was created perfect. God remarked of His creation, “It was very good”. Sin however marred God’s glory which He clothed man with; fallen man is a pale reflection of what He once was – the image bearer of God. The puritan John Howe said concerning the state of man in sin that it can be described in the phrase “God once dwelt here.” We can be compared to those worn out and dilapidated buildings that are sometimes labelled with the words, “so-and-so person once lived here”. Fallen man cannot help but sin, even when he doesn’t want to. To restore man from the ruins of sin, to the glorious destiny of adoption as sons in Christ Jesus into God’s own family is therefore something God does in spite of us, and for His own glory.
This is exactly what Paul teaches in Ephesians 1:6. In the context (Ephesians 1:3-14), Paul gives us an insight into the role of each person of the Trinity in the grand scheme of the salvation of man. From verses 3 to 6, he tells us of the work of the Father in choosing (election) us in Christ before the foundation of the world, His predestination unto adoption as sons and accepting us in the Beloved (Christ). From verses 7 till 12 he expounds on the work of the Son in redeeming us with His blood, and subsequently the role of the Holy Spirit in applying all these to the believer (verses 13-14). In the sixth verse, just when the apostle was about to make a transition from the work of the Father to that of the Son, He says this,
“To the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
From the flow of thought, it is immediately apparent that the purpose of God in doing all that He did in Christ to save man is to the praise of His glorious grace. We can conclude from this that the salvation of man is the highest expression of God’s glory.
If Salvation is all about God’s glory, then how grievous it must be, when we present it as something that is all about man? Our conception of salvation and it’s preaching today seems quite estranged from the picture we see here. It is not uncommon today to present salvation to sinners largely in terms of the benefits we stand to gain by “accepting Christ”– ”If you desire to be happy in life, come to Christ”, “You will never know poverty again, if only you gave your life to Christ”. “Christ redeemed us so we will not suffer in this life again.” These are popular reasons proffered from many a pulpit today with regards to the purpose of God in saving man. As wonderful as these may sound, if we hold them up to the Scriptural teaching about salvation, it immediately becomes apparent how selfish and self-centred our perception of God’s saving work is, and subtly how demeaning and cheapening they are of the Glory of God! Salvation is not about us, but about God! Not so much about (our) benefits, but all about His Glory.
We see in the Scriptures that the whole atmosphere of salvation is one of praise – praise of God’s glory! God Himself rejoices before the angels when a soul is saved (Luke 15:7&10). At the announcement of the advent (the coming of Jesus into this world in human form), the angels declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill towards men” (Luke 2:14). Notice the sequence – the glory of God is revealed in His goodwill towards men who will come to know peace with Him through Christ. Other texts that speak of salvation reveal that the glory of God is always tied to the revelation of God’s plan of salvation (2Cor4:6). Paul called the gospel which he preached, “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1Tim1:11).
Consequently, the Bible teaches that the believer is redeemed to live a life that brings glory to God alone. Whatever the Christian does, (s)he must do with God’s glory in view (Col. 3:17); including even eating and drinking (1Cor10:31). A life that is conformed to the image of His Son is the ultimate destiny of all believers (Rom8:29), and this is nothing but the highest expression of God’s glory.
It is instructive to note how the prophetic writers in the Old Testament always rose to their utmost heights whenever they prophesied about the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah 40 is a classic example. Each time the coming of Christ was in view, poetic imageries are employed to their best elements, and superlatives are piled upon superlatives. The Holy Ghost by this sends a clear message that the work of Christ in redemption is a thing that brings God utmost glory!
Paul does the exact same thing in this first chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians. He can’t hold his excitement in check when he talks about God’s grace. Consider how he almost exhausts his superlatives in these verses:
“To the praise of his glorious grace” – God’s grace is glorious! It exudes and excites for praise! God’s glory is to be praised in salvation!
“According to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” – God’s grace is so rich! As if the description as “rich” is not enough, he adds, “which he lavished (poured out without measure) upon us! Grace in itself is stupendous love so undeservedly given. Yet he adds that it is rich! And overflowing, and boundless!
Beloved, do you feel the same excitement when you think about God’s salvation in Christ? Do you burst out in praise of God’s glory? Perhaps our response to our salvation and that of new converts is a good test of whether we view salvation from God’s perspective or not.