The Letter to the Ephesians – 02 (“New Life Through Christ Jesus – The Father’s Role”)
(Message by Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 21 February 2016 – Please visit our Website: http://3riversbaptist.co.za)
- SCRIPTURE READING:
Ephesians 1:1-6 ~ “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
If you have ever watched a surveyor check property lines where new houses were to be built, you know how very careful he must be about where he places his transit instrument. This is because the exact point-of-beginning must be located before any surveying can be done. If the point-of-beginning is wrong, property lines will be confused, houses will be misplaced, and the courts will be flooded with people protesting the violation of their property rights. So what is important is this, builders refuse to begin their work until the survey is completed.
The passage that we are looking at tonight, deals with the point-of-beginning in spiritual matters – both for the individual Christian and for the whole Body of Christ – and traces it back to eternity, to the sovereign will of God.
The two key expressions are “chose us” (v.4) and “having predestined” (v.5). Since all else in the passage revolves around these two ideas, it is absolutely necessary that we understand their meanings and implications.
The blessing of salvation then, comes through, what we call in theology, election. This doctrine – the doctrine of election, is difficult to accept for many people. But before we deal with their objections and the doctrine itself, we must deal with the various views that people hold about election.
- The first group denies the doctrine of election outright. They believe that God graciously reveals Himself to fallen man and offers salvation to them, but after that, man then can choose salvation from their own free will. It is all about their ability; their preference and their will. When we look at the Word, it is very difficult to understand, if at all, that people can reason like this, because there are almost a dozen verses from Scripture that clearly teaches “election” – just looking at tonight’s text for example – what can be clearer than v.4a. ~ “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world”.
- A second viewpoint is that Scripture teaches election, but it is based on foreknowledge, in other words, God has chosen specific people, because He knew upfront that they would choose Him. The problem with this viewpoint is that election cannot be election, because God did not elect them, in other words, God does not preordain certain people to anything, because in this case, people ordained themselves.
The biggest problem with this view is what to make out of the totally fallen state of mankind. No man will want to choose God. The SOLA 5 Confession of Faith states it beautifully: Adam and Eve willfully and freely broke God’s commandment. By so doing they lost their original righteousness and communion with God (Gen.3:10-11, 22-24). Since Adam was appointed to stand in the place of all mankind, each of his descendants inherit the guilt of his sin…(Rom.5:12-19). Furthermore, all people inherit a corrupt nature from their original ancestors, Adam and Eve… Thus, all people are by nature subject to God’s wrath, to death, and temporal and eternal misery… The corrupt nature inclines them away from all good and is the cause of all sin actually committed (Ps.51:5 ~ ; Rom.3:10-19; Eph.2:1-3). (an extract from Articles 3 & 4 of the SOLA 5 Confession of Faith). Mankind, through Adam’s fall, became dead in sin and therefore unable to choose to walk with God.
Rom.3:10-11 says ~ “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Did you hear that? …NO ONE SEEKS GOD! Jesus Himself said in John 6:44 ~ “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” This second viewpoint is therefore also not Biblical and not acceptable.
- The third viewpoint is election pure and simple. This position teaches that we are too hopelessly lost in sin to ever partake of God’s great spiritual blessings on our own. Instead, God in His mercy chose us and then made His choice effectual. First the Father made our salvation possible by sending Jesus Christ to die for our sin. Then He made us capable of responding to His effectual calling by sending the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and hearts to the Truth of the Gospel – Our salvation is therefore firmly grounded in the one-sided act of God the Father, through His Son, Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.
What is the effect of election? There are four things:
- No man can boast that he was saved on his own merit.
- Election gives us assurance of salvation.
- Election leads to holiness.
- Election promotes Evangelism.
- THE FATHER’S ROLE (v.4-6):
Back to our text. In vv.4-14 we will see that eight truths about the believer are revealed. Each member of the Godhead is responsible for some of these elements. Through the Father, we as believers are chosen, predestinated, and accepted in the Son, Jesus Christ. Through the Son, we have received redemption, forgiveness, and an inheritance. Through the Holy Spirit, we have been made alive and have been sealed.
- Chosen in Him (v.4):
We read in v.4, that the Father has chosen us in Him ~ “…even as He chose us…” Paul uses a Greek word here for “chosen” that literally means, to make a choice of one or more possible alternatives – to choose, to select, to pick, to prefer. The Father has therefore preferred to pick certain people to be in Him. That “certain people” refers to us – believers. Not everyone, but only those whom God elects are those whom He has declared holy. Being a Christian is having been chosen by God to be His child and to inherit all things through and with Jesus Christ.
When we look at John 15:16-17 we find the same concept there ~ “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” God the Father has chosen us – we did not choose Him! When God chooses man, then that must have some radical ramifications for us who have been chosen.
How, when and why then has the Father chosen us?
– Chosen in Him: First, He has chosen us in Him (v.4). As already indicated, God the Father was the sole initiator of our salvation and He adopted us into His family, both present and future. Listen to how beautifully Paul describes this in Gal.4:4-6 ~ “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father’.” It is therefore clear, that the purpose of our salvation is relational.
We must also note that God’s adoption of the elect is not an individualistic act – it has a collective purpose. Adoption is “family imagery” – it is a corporate term. Nothing in Ephesians focuses on individuals; rather, the text focuses collectively on those who are in Christ.
In a similar fashion, the Israelites were called in the Old Testament as the instrument through whom God wanted to bless the world. In Gen.22:18, the Lord addresses Abraham and He says to him ~ “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
The fact that Israel was chosen by God, did not mean that the others were rejected by Him. Rather, it meant that Israel was chosen with special favour by Him and as an instrument in His hand to be a blessing to the other nations. And this blessing that was to be conveyed to the other nations, included the provision for the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ.
This in itself has implications for all believers, because those who have received Jesus Christ as Saviour are chosen to make salvation available to everyone by means of sharing the Gospel ~ “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Joh.15:16). Paul says it even clearer in 2 Cor.5:18 (Amplified Bible) ~ “But all things are from God, Who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself [received us into favour, brought us into harmony with Himself] and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation [that by word and deed we might aim to bring others into harmony with Him].” We as the elect, therefore, also have an obligation to share the Gospel to a lost world. Abraham was also called to be a blessing to the nations.
– Chosen before Time: Second, the choosing of the elect was before time as we know it ~ “…before the foundation of the world” (v.4). Do you hear that? Even before God started to create the universe, your and my names were on His mind. No, more than that, He already made a decision that we will be saved. What an astonishing thought – We were already set apart long before we were conceived – even before the creation of heaven and earth! What an almighty, magnificent; sovereign God is He!
The salvation of the elect was not an escape route for God, because His plan with mankind already failed in Eden – in all its details, it was decided before the foundation of the universe – before Eden and Adam and the “snake”! David says in Ps.139:16 ~ “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Our election was only part of God’s sovereign and eternal redemption plan for creation. Jesus Christ had to become man, die for sin, be buried, rise to life again, and then ascend to heaven. By His death and burial, Christ provided the payment for sin’s penalty, and by His resurrection, He provided life for all who receive Him as Saviour – please note: Not, who accepted Him as Saviour. No, who received Him as Saviour, from the Father – a gracious gift without any merit.
– Chosen to be Holy: The Father has chosen believers for a specific purpose. God’s choice of us being chosen by Him, was purposeful. This truth is brought out in two statements.
The first, “…that we should be holy…” (v.4). God wants us to be a certain people: He wants us to be holy. The Greek word for holy is ἅγιος (“hagios”) and means, to be separated to Him, or pertaining to being dedicated or consecrated to the service of God.
– Chosen to be without Blame: Second, Paul also uses another expression in tandem with “be holy” in v.4 and that is, “…without any blame.” The Greek word here, is ἄμωμος (amamos / ama-mous). This is a sacrificial term. In reference to sacrificial animals it meant “without blemish” or “without defect” and the root meaning is “flawless”. In the New testament, where the word occurs eight times, it is used in various contexts. For example, it is used of Christ, who offered himself without spot to God (Heb.9:14) and whose blood was like that “of a lamb without blemish” (1 Pet.1:19). It is also used of Christians, who are to show themselves to be “children of God without blemish” in the midst of an evil generation ~ “…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil.2:15). It is also used of the Church, Christ’s bride who one day will be presented to Him, “holy and without blemish” (Eph.5:27; Jude 24). Here in Eph.1:4, Paul uses it to denote the stainless life that God purposes for His people to live.
- Chosen by Him (v.5):
– Adopted to be Sons: I said that God’s choice of us being chosen by Him, was purposeful. This truth is brought out in two statements. First we saw, “…that we should be holy and without any blame before Him”, but the second statement of purpose is put in terms of our standing before God and we find this in v.5 ~ “…He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…” Adoption embraces more than our relationship to God as His children. This relationship we have by our new birth. It literally means that we are God’s adopted sons – we did not adopt Him as Father (that cannot be done) – He adopted us, as His sons – “unto Himself” says Paul in v.5. This verse can thus be translated as follows: “He destined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ.”
– Chosen to the Purpose of His Will: There is however a second part in v.5 and it reads as follows ~ “…according to the purpose of his will.” In other words, He destined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ, “…according to the purpose of his will.” Why did God choose us to be His adopted sons? The whole idea of the original Greek words used here, is to express the idea of kind intent and gracious will. It is, in other words, an act of His own pure goodness and sovereignty. He did it, because it was right and good for Him to do it.
- Chosen for Him (v.6):
The ultimate end of God’s choice, of His foreordination of sinners, is ~ “…the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved” (v.6). Why did God do all of this for us? Why did He want us to be His sons? Because we are saved and made sons to praise the glory of His grace. Above all else, He elects us and saves us for His own glory. God delights in the fact that we are His adopted sons. Jesus said in Luke 12:32 ~ “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” – For His good pleasure! In Phil.2:13 Paul says ~ “…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” – For His good pleasure! Isaiah says in Is.43:21 ~ “…the people whom I formed for myself.” God’s chosen was elected by Him, for Himself. So, those who are chosen in Christ must live to the praise of the splendour of His grace. And how do we do that? By being “…holy and without any blame before Him.”
Finally, how can we summarise everything that has been said up until now? We must ask the question, what does it mean to be chosen IN Him?
– John Stott says that the doctrine of election is a divine revelation, not a human speculation. That is so true. Because this doctrine is clearly derived from the Word, it is not only the New Testament that is clear about it, but even the Old Testament teaches this wonderful doctrine. God chose Abraham from among all other men in Ur; He chose Isaac rather than Ishmael and the other sons of Abraham; He chose Jacob rather than Esau; He selected Israel over all other nations of the earth and made them His “chosen people.”
In the New Testament we see how God elects people for Him, from all the nations in the world. Simply stated – God tells us that He elects whomever He wants, to be His children. Paul was therefore not teaching a new doctrine. What Paul does assert is that God has chosen a new people, and this has been done regardless of geographical or racial distinctions.
– Stott also says that the doctrine of election is an incentive to holiness, not an excuse for sin. Although we have the assurance that we as God’s elect, are saved from eternal damnation and that no one will snatch us from His hand (Joh.10:28), we are also called to a holy life ~ “…As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet.1:14-16).
– Stott says in the third place, that the doctrine of election is a stimulus to humility, not a ground for boasting. Many Christians, if not all, have asked this question: How is it that we are the ones who are justified, adopted, sanctified and persevering? Why me? We are certainly not better than others, in fact, I know many unsaved people who have much better qualities in their characters than I have. How is it then that I have come to receive every spiritual blessing in Christ, while millions of others never taste this glorious blessing ever?
Paul is clear about this when he writes in v.4 ~ “…he chose us in him.” God decided; He did it; He wanted to do it – He is God and He can do what He wants. Who are we or for that matter, anyone to question that?
There is also, however, a warning that we must keep in mind. That we cannot and may not be arrogant about the fact that we are saved (elect), because it is not through our own doing but only through grace and grace alone; through God’s love and by God’s decree, for His purpose.
How then can we apply this text to our lives? From the outset, we must remember that this text is a doxolgy, or a liturgical formula of praise to God (lofprysing in Afrikaans), or simply stated, a hymn or a song of praise. This text is similar to e.g. Ps.146 – a song in which David glorifies God. We cannot apply a doxology in a direct way, because the passage does not ask anything explicitly of the reader, but the message suggests application on two levels.
At one level, the application is imitation. The reader (us) should do just what Paul did – we must imitate Paul by worshipping and praising God. Any attempt to analyse and explain this passage falls short of the exuberance (Afrikaans: “uitbundigheid”) of Paul’s praise. On the second level, the implications of the theology of this passage for Christian living are enormous:
- We must start worshipping God as a God that is in our midst – He is not a remote God, cut off from us and not involved with us. He has been and is active and present in our lives. He is a Father to us (v.3) and we are His children (v.5). Life is lived before Him (v.4), and His Spirit has been given to us (1:13-14). Our lives must be lives that are intertwined with God and therefore we must and may not neglect our times of communion with Him (studying the Word and praying).
- We must live IN CHRIST. We must constantly be aware of the presence of God our Father. Awareness of the presence of God and of living in Christ are the keys to all of life. People sin because they forget God and they forget that they live in the presence of God.
- It is clear from 1:3 that the Lord blesses His elect – His children, but note, that this has nothing to do with health and material blessings – it clearly says ~ “…the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” – SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS. What are these blessings? We are saved and adopted sons of God – enough reason to worship Him – to sing praises to Him!
God is at work in our lives, in fact, He was at work in the past by deciding that we will be part of the elect. He is still at work in our lives by keeping us firmly in the palm of His hand and helping us with our sanctification. He will be at work in the future through our glorification. What an awesome God we serve – He who adopted us as His very own!
Just one warning though – We must not be so focused on our adoption; on our salvation; on our justification; on our sanctification and ultimately our glorification, that the focus centres only on us! We, as Reformed believers, confess, “Soli Deo Gloria”, then it is not about us, but about God and therefore we must realise that everything in the past and the present and the future is about God’s future triumph; the establishment of His Kingdom; the fact that He is Holy, Almighty, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Sovereign, Gracious, Loving and Creator God. He will complete His initial plan with creation!