Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV) 3 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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
The first in a series on the entire book of Ephesians. Click here to hear all thirty-two sermons.
Election: Chosen in Christ | Ephesians 1:3-4
We are beginning a series today in the book of Ephesians. I want you to come away from this series with three bedrock beliefs – first that as a believer God has a good purpose for you individually, second that God has a good purpose for the entire universe, and third that those two purposes work together for your good and his glory.
Going into seminar ten years ago, I was not sure about these. I had been through a lot of pain in the church through a church split and two subsequent unsuccessful senior pastorates. Though things had gone well for the first ten years of my service as a music director, the past ten years seemed to have been nothing but upheaval, pain and confusion.
During my time in seminary, God began to sort it all out for me. As we studied the Scriptures I saw that he has a master plan for the universe – though I cannot understand it all – and that he has a minor plan for you and you and you and you and me – though we can’t understand even all that – and that all the minor plans work together in the master plan. And that ultimately those plans are good because God is good.
I needed to see that God does have a good plan for me, but at the same time, it’s not all about me, that he has a plan for everyone and is in the process of working it out in a way that glorifies himself, the most worthy object of glory in the universe.
The question we have to keep going back to in our lives as Christians is: “Can we trust this God who has called us, who claims to love us, who has chosen us to be in Christ?” or rather, “How can we trust him, when we can’t understand – much of the time – what he is doing or why he is doing it?”
In Ephesians, the apostle Paul is not dealing with particular problems in the church. He is simply teaching a number of basic doctrines of the faith – the God’s sovereignty in salvation, God’s eternal plan, the church, new relationships and spiritual warfare to name a few. (See Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary by James M. Boice.)
Paul presumably had plenty of time to think about what he wanted to say. He wrote this, we believe, from prison probably in Rome. He had previously visited Ephesus twice, once for only a day or two, but later for over two years he lived among them and taught them the gospel.
Ephesus was famous at the time as the home of the temple of Artemis, one of the seven great wonders of the ancient world, which housed the statue of Diana, believed to have fallen from heaven. The temple was served by hundreds of priestesses of Diana as temple prostitutes. In spite of the prominence of the temple, God saw fit to establish a thriving church there through Paul’s ministry.
Whenever I’m feeling dejected, rejected, down, or worthless I go to the first chapter of Ephesians to give me reassurance for the present and hope for the future. I need to remind myself again that God loves me and has a plan for my life and for this crazy mixed up world. This passage, more than any other, does that for me.
I want the same for you. I want you – when you are feeling rejection or false shame or guilt or any other feeling or belief that is not from God – to be able to return to this passage and remind yourself of God’s love and plan for you in Jesus Christ.
Verse three is a summary of what will follow for the next 10 verses. Verse three tells us “God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
So we know the source of the blessings in the verses that will follow is God, the mediator of these blessings is Christ, the extent of the blessings is total, the nature of these blessings is spiritual – that is, they are conveyed by and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit and are primarily spiritual, not material – and the fullest form of these blessings will be received in our future home in heaven.
Then he lists at least seven blessings which we will cover in turn over the next few weeks.
The first of these blessings, found in verses 4 and 5 is that we have been chosen by God. It says, “…He [God] chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love he predestined us…”
Have you ever felt truly loved by someone? Someone who loved you just for who you are – not for what you could do for them, not because of your abilities or background or position or the way you look or talk or act – but because they just chose to love you, and you felt it deep down in your bones.
You knew that nothing you could say or do would deter their love for you, even if you failed miserably in some way – even in a moral failure or a marriage failure – you knew they would be very disappointed, but would still love you and be there to help you work your way out of that failure. I hope each of you has at least one or two people in your mind right now, of someone you believe would love you no matter what!
That’s a human example of the kind of love God has for us, that God had for Israel in our OT reading; and in our NT reading, the kind of love Jesus had for his disciples, and that Jesus taught his disciples to have for one another.
I want us to see today that the first of God’s blessings we enjoy are the fruit of his love for us. That’s where it all begins – in the love of God. I want us all to begin again to understand, to feel deep down in our bones, to know the love God has for us so that when we feel useless, or tired or ashamed or under attack from the devil or other people, we can both retreat to and stand firm in that love.
I want you to understand who you are – in Christ – because that’s the ground of everything. You need a place you can go back to… in times of difficulty, when you are feeling guilty, condemned, blamed, shamed, by the devil, by other people and even by yourself at times.
There’s a Verizon commercial on TV right now. It shows some older boys in a line up for a pickup basketball game. The team leader who’s about to make the next pick looks sort of geeky and uncoordinated. He already has two other geeky guys standing next to him as if he had selected them, and he’s looking over the remaining candidates. The question posed is, “Who would you pick?”
Most are tall and/or well-built and wearing appropriate footwear for playing basketball. But one guy is wearing sandals, is generally geeky looking and is taking a huge bite out of a messy sub-type sandwich. You guessed it, the geeky team leader picks him.
Later we see the two teams warming up for game. The geeky team can’t dribble or get the ball even close to the hoop, while the talented team is alley-ooping one another and slamming the ball through the hoop.
The point Verizon is trying to make is, don’t be a loser by picking another loser. That is, when you pick an internet service provider, don’t be a loser as a consumer by choosing a loser ISP. Rather, be a winner by choosing a winning team – Verizon – the one that can give you the most bang for your buck!
But God doesn’t choose the same way!!! He doesn’t look us over and see who has the most talent, has the right shoes, will have the best job, the best family background or the biggest bank account.
He chooses on the basis of his own criteria, which are a mystery to us, but he has a purpose in doing so – the praise of his glory.
We saw in our OT reading that God chose Israel out of love “to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers.” God chose to bless Israel, and he is working out his plan to do so.
We saw in our NT reading that Jesus chose the twelve, not because they were especially talented or faithful, but out of love. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. You did not choose me, but I chose you…
So let’s look at what we believe this passage is teaching and what it is not teaching. We are told in the WCF to teach the doctrine of election with great care, so that is what we hope to do.
The first view of election is what we believe the Bible teaches.
- Views of election
Election pure and simple
WCF 3.5 Before the creation of the world, according to his eternal, unchangeable plan and the hidden purpose and good pleasure of his will, God has chosen in Christ those of mankind who are predestined to life and to everlasting glory. He has done this solely out of his own mercy and love and completely to the praise of his wonderful grace. This choice was completely independent of his foreknowledge of how his created beings would be or act. Neither their faith nor good works nor perseverance had any part in influencing his selection. (Rom 9.11,13,15-16, Eph 1.4,6,9, 2Tim 1.9, Eph 2.8-9)
-This view preserves God’s sovereign free will. It says he freely chose in eternity past to save some undeserving people from their bondage to sin and death because of his mercy and love, apart from anything in them.
Denial of election
Before the foundation of the world, there was no plan of election. God does graciously offer salvation, but man must choose to accept it of his own free will.
-This preserves man’s free sovereign will. They say that unless man is absolutely free to choose or not choose God’s gracious offer of salvation, the process is simply mechanistic and reduces people to virtual robots.
We would reply that “absolute” freedom in man places him above the creator. Adam did not have absolute freedom even in the Garden of Eden. It was possible, before the fall, for him not to sin, but it was not possible for him to rise above the creator as sovereign. By challenging God’s word and seeking to be like God, as Satan had unsuccessfully done in the past, and as the serpent suggested to Eve, Adam fell into a state of sin which made him even further incapable of making an absolutely free choice. He became dead in trespasses and sins. He was spiritually dead, and therefore even more incapable of exercising absolute freedom of will.
Man’s will is a derived will and therefore cannot be absolutely free. Just as the pot does not tell the potter how to make the pot or how it should be used, so man cannot tell God what
This does not make man into a virtual robot. It simply makes him subject to the creator.
Romans 9:20-21 (ESV) But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
Election based on foreknowledge (middle position)
Before the foundation of the world, God chose some people for salvation on the basis of his foreknowledge of what they will do in the future.
-This preserves God from accusations of arbitrariness or injustice. They say that since God is neither arbitrary nor unjust, he must have chosen people based on how he foresaw they would respond to the free offer of the gospel. So let’s look at the two objections of arbitrariness and injustice.
- Objections to election
Election is Arbitrary
God has no reason for what he does. God has no purpose in choosing some over the others. He could have picked everyone or none at all since there is no purpose in his choice.
Answer – it may seem arbitrary or purposeless from our perspective, but the Bible teaches that God has a purpose, found in Eph 1.5-6, he predestined us… according to the purpose of his will… to the praise of his glorious grace…
God purposed to glorify himself by saving some. In doing so He demonstrated the glory of his love, mercy and grace. By leaving some in their sin, he demonstrated his wrath and justice toward evil.
Romans 9:22-23 (ESV) What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory–
“God created a world in which both his wrath and his mercy would be displayed. His mercy shines against the backdrop of his just wrath.” Misunderstanding comes when we think God owes us salvation. (ESV Bible notes)
For some that raises another objection.
Election is Unjust
It is unjust or unfair for God to choose one rather than another. All must be given an equal chance.
Answer – Unfortunately, when Adam fell into sin, we all fell into sin and the penalty of sin with him. We have inherited his guilt and his sentence of physical death and spiritual death. Therefore, we are born in sin and deserve God’s wrath, not by God’s fault, but by Adam’s fault.
Is it unfair or unjust of God that some are born with birth defects, or a genetic susceptibility to heart disease or cancer? No. It is Adam’s fault. It was his sin that brought disease into the world. We have to live with it and deal with it.
Is it unfair or unjust of God that all men die? No it is Adam’s fault. His sin brought physical death into the world. We have to deal with it.
But it goes further than that. It’s not just Adam’s fault. It’s our fault too. Because we were born sinners in Adam, we actually commit sins. Therefore, we are guilty both for our sin nature and for our actual sins and deserve God’s wrath. Romans 3:22-23 (ESV) …there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
Though there are objections to the doctrine of election, there are many blessings associated with it.
- Blessings of election
Gives assurance of salvation or comfort to the believer
If it depended on us to accomplish or maintain our salvation, it would be a very unstable salvation. We would believe we are saved one day and not saved another day.
Our feelings come and go, but we can know based on God’s word that he will fulfill his promises in salvation which he began in election before the foundation of the world.
Romans 8:28-30 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might 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.
Critics say that election promotes boasting, that it is the height of arrogance to say that oneself has been elected to salvation, that in doing so one is claiming to be worth more or to have done something better than others.
However, election does not imply that at all. Election means that salvation is completely from God. He chose, he predestined, he has freely given, and it is all “to the praise of his glorious grace.”
Election, in fact, eliminates boasting. If a person could get to heaven on the grounds that he had done something to merit, earn or accomplish it, then he would have a reason to boast. But that is not the case.
2 Timothy 1:9 [God] who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Romans 9:11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls–
Leads to holiness
Critics say that belief in election leads to sin because a person can say, “Since I’m elect I can do anything I want, I can sin all I please, and God will still allow me into heaven.”
However, verse 4 tells us election and holiness go together.
Ephesians 1:4 (ESV) he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him
God’s purpose for us is that we would become like him – like Christ – that through sanctification, we have taken on and are continuing to take on the family attributes of holiness and blamelessness.
Critics say that belief in election makes evangelism unnecessary. They say, “If God is going to save certain individuals anyway, he will save them, and there is no point in my having anything to do with it.”
However, election does not eliminate the means by which God calls elect persons to faith. One of those means is the proclamation of the gospel by those who already believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21 (ESV) For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
Also, as we recognize the importance of election, we gain hope in evangelism. If people’s hearts are as opposed to God as the Bible says they are, how can we hope to persuade them differently?
But if God is doing this work on the basis of his prior election of some, we can speak the word of truth boldly, knowing that all those whom God has previously chosen, will come to faith in due time.
Since we don’t know who the elect are, the only way to find out is by their response to the Gospel and their subsequent growth in holiness. We should simply proclaim the word trusting in God’s ability to bring to pass what he began before the foundation of the world.
As Paul wrote to Timothy, 2 Timothy 2:10 (ESV) Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
A final appeal
We are a messed up people living in a messed up world. But because we have been chosen in Christ to receive the gift of salvation we can have great hope in spite of our current situation and in spite of the current situation of the world.
We must live in the promise that God is working out his loving purposes for us and for the universe simultaneously. It’s for your good, and your good, and your good and my good all at the same time. Who but God could work all that out?
And it’s all for the glory of him who created it – his response to both the bad and the good testify to his great wrath against evil and injustice and to his great love and mercy toward a fallen creation.
Because of this I don’t want to give up – well, sometimes I do! – And I want you to join me in not giving up. As we continue to return to this passage again and again, to be renewed in our hope and enabled to live in the assurance of God’s promises, to pursue lives of humility and holiness, and to pursue evangelism trusting that God is working in us and through us to fulfill his plan in others he has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.