Sermon Notes

Ephesians 1:3-4 August 29, 1999
The Marks of God’s Affection: Election

In the chronicles of stinginess few were more miserly than Hetty Green who won the title as America’s greatest miser and a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Hetty died in 1916, leaving an estate worth over $100 million. Although rich, she still ate oatmeal cold, because it cost to heat it. Her son's leg was amputated, because she delayed too long looking for a free clinic. When she died they found in her bath a small tin filled with slivers of soap she saved to compress together in order to avoid buying a new bar of soap. We shake our head at such a scrooge. To possess such great assets but to live so miserably, to live the life of a pauper when her wealth was so tremendous, was very foolish.

Yet how similar so many of us are as we live like spiritual paupers when we have, at our disposal, the wealth of heaven. It is this of this great truth which Paul seeks to remind his readers in Ephesians, the truth that we not only look to heaven as some future reward, but that God’s tremendous inheritance is ours now. The benefits, the blessings which are ours today are unappreciated by so many of us today, resulting in some Christians living what Thoreau would call "lives of quiet desperation."

Some live frugal lives because they fear losing what they possess, others because they do not know what they have. For many who profess faith in Christ, the chief problem is that they do not realize what is theirs as a child of God. Many who struggle with the Christian life, who seldom experience joy, who wrestle with finding peace, do so because they do not know how rich God has made them. That is Paul’s concern in Ephesians. It forms the purpose for this letter and he mentions that consideration in his prayer in 1:18: "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe."

In order to encourage his readers, Paul begins by listing all our benefits, our riches, our blessings. He does so in what is the longest sentence in the New Testament. The sentence begun by "blessed" ("praise" in the NIV) rolls like a snowball tumbling down a hill, picking up volume as it descends. Its 202 words, and the many modifiers which they form, arranged like shingles on a roof or like steps on a stairway, are like prancing steeds pouring forward with impetuous speed. [Hendriksen, 202] Of this great panoply of praise, one author has said, "there is a swirl of words and a storm of thought behind them." [Morris, 13]

The structure of this sentence, flowing from verses 3 through 14, is one complete, unbroken sentence replete with dependent clauses, excursus, specification and with many adjectival phrases brought in to amplify and enrich it. To get its effect, take a deep breath sometime and read straight through. In so doing it reminds me of a tour group, rushing through the treasures of the Lourve or Vatican Museum, never taking a moment to allow the beauty to be soaked in, only enough time to glance and be in awe.

The next four weeks we’ll look at this one long sentence so we can be saturated in the riches God has already given us. With this slower pace we can then benefit from meditating on the riches God has already given us. These benefits are but the marks of God’s affection for us. The first mark of God’s love is found in verses 3-4.

3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

4. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

God’s Riches Deserve Our Praise - verse 3

Praise focuses on the giver of the riches - the God and Father

The intensity of Paul’s praise is seen in his repetition of the word "bless." In order to avoid what in English would be awkward, the NIV uses the word "praise" to open, but the Greek says: "Bless." The word "bless" or "blessings" is certainly one of those particular churchy words.

As a teenager who had recently come to faith I made a switch from the liberal mainline church my family attended to a conservative, independent church. The pastor of that church would have the habit of often saying with great enthusiasm "Blessings on you!" But as a new believer I couldn’t figure it out; I hadn’t sneezed! But with that simple phrase, he only sought to remind people of their status in Christ and the need to give Him praise.

Paul calls each of us to first blessing God, that is, speaking well of him. The word here is Euvloghto.j from which we get the word eulogy, which means to say something good. We reserve this for a person after they die, but here it is part of Paul’s everyday vocabulary. We eulogize God, we speak well of Him because He has blessed us. This word for blessings, similar to the praising God, signifies the benefit of good gifts given by God. We bless God because He first blessed us.

The immediate and primary focus for Paul is not so much what gifts are received, but the giver who has placed these blessings in our life. It is in adoration, in worship, that we find our calling. It is here we glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Adoration is central in Paul’s life as it should be in ours.

Notice the content of this praise. As we examine this extended acclamation of the Father’s grace, we will see the various marks of God’s affection on us. In the verses for our consideration this morning (verses 3-4) the mark of God’s affection is seen in the Father’s election. In verses 5-6 the mark of God’s affection is seen in the Father’s adoption. In verses 7-10 God’s affection is seen in the Son’s redemption and in verses 11-14 God’s affection is evidenced in the Spirit’s protection. Paul’s praise sets the example for us, as the subject is the Triune God and we the unworthy recipients of His grace in a full and complete salvation.

As Luther told Erasmus, ignorance of what God has done for us is ignorance of the Gospel. "For when the works and power of God are unknown in this way, I cannot worship, praise, thank, and serve God, since I do not know how much I ought to attribute to myself and how much to God.…If we do not know these things, we shall know nothing at all of things Christian and shall be worse than any heathen." [Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, p.117]

Praise focuses on the place of the riches - in the heavenly realms

At first this sounds like a carrot on a stick, pie in the sky. Sure you have riches, but you can’t touch them till you die. But that is not what this phrase means. The focus of Ephesians is not just getting into heaven, but living out heaven here and now.

"Heavenly realms" is used throughout this letter. It reveals a biblical cosmology of which we are often ignorant. The term describes the universe not in the sense of physical matter now and spiritual, non-physical in the hereafter. Rather we exist in both a physical and a spiritual world today.

Just as Christ is seated in the heavenly realms now (1:20), so also we are now already raised and seated with Christ in those heavenly realms (2:6). In 3:10, Paul declares that it is the purpose of the church to make known the manifold wisdom of God to rulers and authorities in heavenly realms. But this realm is not exactly equated with heaven, for Paul says our daily life is filled with spiritual warfare, as he says in 6:12. What we see and touch is not the fullest extent of reality. It is real, but it is not all that is real. Who we are and what we have is more than the sum total of our bank accounts and 401K. It is not reduced to the degree hanging on our wall or the car we drive. Who we are is most fully realized "in whom" we exist.

Praise focuses on the person of the riches - in Christ

All that the Father has lavished on us is channeled through His Son. This constantly repeated phrase of Ephesians of being "in Christ" and "in Him" reiterates the centrality of the covenant which God made with us through the covenant between the Father and the Son. As Christ has become our federal head, our representative, we then are the recipients of all that the Father gives to the Son. The certainty of our benefits, the confidence that we right now possess all the riches God has promised us is only because Christ has secured them for us.

If I were to tell you that there’s a million dollars set aside for you, you may be ecstatic. But your jubilation may be tempered if I informed you I invested that money in Internet stock, since that sector has not done as well. But if I then told you its was a computer company in Uzbekistan you may rightly conclude you’ll see none of that money. But if the gift is invested in blue chip stocks and insured by Lloyds of London, with an additional guarantee by Bill Gates, you can rest assured. How much more should we be certain of our riches in Christ?

God’s Riches Demonstrated in Our Election - verse 4

The definition of election

It may come as a surprise that the first benefit of our riches in Christ is the one which sends Christians into such apoplexy. If you ever want to throw a grenade into a Christian gathering, ask people if God foreordains whatsoever shall come to pass, ask them if they believe in predestination, ask them about election.

The story is told of a group of theologians who were discussing the tension between predestination and free will. Things became so heated that the group broke up into two opposing factions. But one man, not knowing which to join, stood for a moment trying to decide. At last he joined the predestination group. "Who sent you here?" they asked. "No one sent me," he replied. "I came of my own choice." "Free will!" they exclained. "You can't join us! You belong with the other group!" So he followed their orders and went to the other clique. There someone asked, "When did you decide to join us?" The young man replied, "Well, I didn't really decide - I was sent here." "Sent here!" they shouted. "You can't join us unless you have decided by your own free will!" (Today In The Word, August, 1989, p. 35)

The word Paul uses here translated "chose" (ecloghv) helps form the basis of the biblical doctrine of election. This and similar words are used in reference to God’s gracious action in salvation whereby He mercifully chooses some from the mass of humanity to be His.

Israel is a classic proof of the doctrine of sovereign election. Deuteronomy 7:6-7 describes Israel's unique relationship with God and how that relationship came about. In John’s gospel Jesus frequently speaks of God’s sovereign action in our salvation as we are given to the Son by the Father (see John 6:37,44; 17:2,9,24). Paul may be best known for this truth: Romans 8:28,33; 9:11; 11:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. Peter refers to this doctrine: 1 Peter 1:1-2; 2:9; 2 Peter 1:10.

What seems to be the problem with this concept? Why does it cause such division? People view this truth in a variety of ways. There are three ways in which people describe God’s choosing us.

One position is to deny election outright, that no one can be saved by some supreme hidden purpose of God. God’s grace only goes so far to reveal Himself in such a way that people are then free to make their own decision. As one wag from the pulpit put it: "I believe in election. God votes for you, the devil votes against you, and you cast the deciding vote."

Such a view has several problems with it. First, God is reduced to a competitor of Satan, both limited beings who wish for success but are unable to accomplish it. God is no longer the Creator of the Universe. Since God is not sovereign here, who is? Both God and Satan stand at checkmate, but the one who holds the ultimate power is you and me.

The strength of this view is that it conforms to what we all naturally like to think about our abilities. We like to think we are in control. Martyn Lloyd-Jones refers to this teaching as a "statement, not an argument" [God’s Ultimate Purpose, 86] The difficulty is that, whether we like it or not, the Bible does teach election.

A second view may be more common among those who have a high view of Scripture and the God they serve. But this view begins with a mistaken assumption that God’s sovereignty and human will are at odds, so they seek to ameliorate the supposed paradoxical views. They will agree election is taught, but that election is based on foreknowledge. They say God elects some to salvation but He does so on the basis of a choice, a response of faith, or some other good that He foresees in them. God, being God, glimpses ahead to see what we’ll do. By foreknowledge, these people mean that God looked down through history and "foresaw" beforehand who would be "willing," with their free will, to accept Christ, and on the basis of this "foreseen faith," God chose these particular people to be saved.

The problem here is that election ceases to mean anything. In this view God does not preordain an individual to anything; the individual actually ordains himself. What is more, if what the Bible tells us about the hopeless condition of man in sin is true, what good could God possibly see in anyone to cause Him to elect that one to salvation? Goodness is from God. Faith is from God. If God is eliminated as the first cause of goodness or faith or a God-directed human choice (whatever it may be), how could there ever be any faith for God to foresee? Adam’s sin stains each of us so that we all run from God. God could wait a hundred thousand years and we still would not turn to Him. Our sin is that great.

When people have trouble with election - and many do - their real problem is not with the doctrine of election, although they think it is, but with the doctrine of depravity that makes election necessary. How far did we fall? How deep is our sin? Are we dead in tresspass and sins as Paul says in the next chapter, or are we just ailing, in need of a little pick-me-up? What good makes me worthy enough for God to choose me?

The third position is election pure and simple. It teaches that we are too hopelessly lost in sin ever to partake of God’s great spiritual blessings on our own. Instead, God in His mercy chose us and then made His choice effectual. First He made our salvation possible by sending the Lord Jesus Christ to die for our sin. Then He made us capable of responding to Him by sending the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the truth and glory of the Gospel. Thus, all the blessings we enjoy must be traced back to this sovereign electing purpose of God toward us in Jesus Christ. And Paul does exactly that in these opening verses in Ephesians. [from Boice, Ephesians, 15-16]

The timing of God’s election

The passage helps clarify the basis of God’s choice by giving us the timing: before the creation of the world. God’s choosing antedated human need - indeed, human existence! Calvin says: "The very time of election shows it to be free; for what could we have deserved, or in what did our merit consist, before the world was made?"

This forms a bedrock of confidence for the believer. A God who chose you before time, when only He existed, will not leave you victim to the time and tides of life. With this we begin to see what riches we possess. We are not afterthoughts in God's working. We are not accidental members of His body. There are no second class citizens in the church of Jesus Christ; we are all equal, chosen of the Father, selected to be members of His family, added to the new creation, the new order that God is producing in this world. What a fantastic privilege!

What tremendous wealth we have as believers in election. The worries we may have of God’s love evaporating must itself be set aside. Since His love is not based on my performance, since His choice of me is not rooted in who I am, but only in His love, then I can breathe a tremendous sigh of relief. He has been on my side before the world was formed.

But some people fear that such a blessing will quickly become a curse. Our riches will be our downfall. If we think that God chose us without regard to at least our own faith, if He determined to make us His children without a thought to our behavior, then such a teaching will lead to all sorts of immorality. This sets aside anything good we can add to God and therefore leaves the barn door wide open to whatever lifestyle one wants to choose. "Who cares about sin; I’m chosen!" But notice what Paul says next.

The goal of election

The goal, the purpose for God so electing us is made clear. Our election is not just about getting to heaven. The right teaching about election will lead to sanctification. This truth in our lives will make a difference in how we live. Election does not carry us only half way, but all the way. It does not merely bring us to conversion; it brings us to perfection. Election is morally elevating because it is election to a dynamic two-sided sanctification.

Positively it is to be holy - that is, set apart from the world, separate, different. This same root was seen in verse 1 where he calls his readers saints. They are holy already because God has declared them to be. This is a benefit, a blessing of justification. God’s choice of us to be His own also incorporates His plan of salvation wherein He sends His Son to die in our place, cleanse us from sin and cover us in His righteousness.

And negatively it is to blameless - literally, without spot or blemish, a sacrifice to be presented to God. Behind this word lies a use in Old Testament sacrifices. Only a perfect animal could be offered to God (e.g. Leviticus 1:3,10). Election demands and promotes the radical moral excellence of Romans 12: the offering of believers' bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1). Interesting that the conclusion of Romans 9-11, a passage which clearly teaches God’s work in election, draws the readers to a conclusion of right living.

We are not chosen because we are holy and blameless, nor does the grammar allow us to read this that God choice is only extends to our holiness without specifying whom He has chosen. The Puritan Thomas Watson said it best: "Let us then ascribe the whole work of grace to the pleasure of God's will. God did not choose us because we were worthy, but by choosing us he makes us worthy."

How wealthy are you? What riches do you possess? Are you living like Hetty Green, scrimping like a miser all the while God has already showered you with benefits of being a Christian?

God’s gracious gifts are ours. The mark of His affection for us is already on us, placed there before the world was formed. In eternity past His kiss was placed on us in election. He chose you in Christ and the love He has for his Son is yours as well.

Sermon Notes