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God's Love Initiates

Back to all sermons The Christmas Revolution

Date: December 2, 2018

Speaker: Erik Raymond

Series: The Christmas Revolution

Category: Biblical Exposition

Scripture: Ephesians 1:3–1:5

“God is love.”

The Bible teaches us that we begin to learn about love when we familiarize ourselves with what God has done for us in Christ. Everything involved in the life and ministry of Jesus teaches us about the true nature of love.

This information is not meant to be stagnant. We don’t just learn things to learn things. It’s intended to cause a couple of other reactions.

The first is that marveling. As we begin to learn about God’s love become overwhelmed by it. As people, we have all experienced or extended some degree of love. But even at its best, its tainted by imperfection. God’s love, on the other hand, is perfect. It has no blemishes or imperfections. When we study it we find ourselves marveling with worshipful adoration at a God like this.

The second is that of imitation. The love of God revealed in the Bible means to have us emulate it. God wants us to be like him. This love that we see modeled in the life and death of Jesus is to so grip us that we put it into practice ourselves. We are to emulate God by, loving others. And, this love is to be characterized by initiating with others, identifying with them, sacrificing for them through service, and aiming to do them good by blessing them. 

I hope you can begin to see how this study is not simply learning new facts but by taking on this description of God—he is love—we find ourselves reflecting God more and more in our lives. And as we do this, God is glorified and we and those around us are made to be joyful.

Today we are going to look together at Ephesians chapter 1. And, I want to draw your attention to verse 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,

The Apostle Paul is starting this letter like a two-liter of Pepsi all shaken up. Verse 3 is him opening up the cap—he explodes out of the gate with praise to God. 

He is blessing to God because God has blessed us. Praise to God for his unimaginable, unfathomable, extraordinary gifts.

In verses 3-14 we have one of the longest run-on sentences in the Bible. It is because it is full of theological freight. Have you ever been stopped at a train track waiting for a train to pass by? If it was a commuter rail then it’ll likely be a quick wait. But, have you ever been stuck waiting for a major industrial shipping rail? It seems like the train is an infinite number of cars. This is like this sentence; an infinite number of cars stuffed and overflowing with glorious theological truths. These are the wonderful gifts, or blessings, that flow from God to his people through the gospel.

And what we find is, these rail cars of gospel blessings are packed by and delivered by divine love. It is our loving God who has done all of this. The God who is love has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. 

And this morning, what I am attempting to persuade you of is the greatness of God’s love and the need to put it into practice in your own life. 

More specifically, I want to show you that, God displays his love by initiating a relationship with people who don’t deserve it and can’t pay him back.

Two ways we see God’s love initiated… 

In verse 4 we see God’s election or choosing and in verse 5 we see predestination.

 

(1)   Election (v.4)

Look with me at verse 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”

Let’s start with this word chose in verse 4. 

The English terms predestine and predestination come from the Greek word prooriz┼Ź, a compound word that means “to determine beforehand.” Essentially, predestination refers to setting the destiny, goal, or end of something before it happens. The concept of predestination can refer to anything that happens in history; however, the most common usage of the term among Christians is in reference to salvation. (Tabletalk)

The word means to pick out. It’s used for choosing disciples or choosing people to go out and plant churches. In a simple sense, it means to pick someone or something for your own reasons.

Now this concept will take on an expanding shape as we fill in the words surrounding it. But for now, just know that it chose means, much like in English, pick out.

Now, who did the choosing?

Well, we see that Paul references here a pronoun, he. Who is he? Well, if we trace it back up to verse 3 we find that this he is the one who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. This is none other than God the Father. He has chosen. This should get our attention because anytime God does anything it is significant. But here we read of him making a choice. He is picking something or someone out for himself. 

Who does he choose?

Look again at the text, he chose us. Now, this is significant. God chose us. He picked us. He set us out for himself. I have to restrain myself from wringing out the implications here because we are just taking the verse apart. But, let me just say, when we put the pieces back together in a minute, this is going to be big.

But there’s more.

We read that he chose us in him. 

What’s this mean? The in him, here, and throughout the section, has to do with being in Christ. It means that those who are chosen are chosen in a realm. They are chosen or picked out in Christ.

Before we get too many things on the ground, let’s just look at what we have. God chose us in Christ.

What some people do here is look at this verse and say this means that God chose me because he knew that I would choose him. In other words, God looked down the corridor of time and saw that at such and such a time, you would choose to believe in Jesus and so he waited and then when you believed, he chose you. 

But this can’t be. Look at the rest of the verse? 

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. 

This is when God did the choosing, he did it before the foundation of the world. He chose or he elected you in Christ before the world was ever created. 

Two quick but important things here.

First, when we venture back before the creation of the world, I think we are walking into a very unfamiliar area. As we do we are, I believe, moving beyond any of our concepts of time. It is at the creation of all things that we have matter, space and time coming into existence. So we mustn’t fall into the temptation of stepping back into a calendar date in history. This election, this divine choosing was a loving initiative of God prior to creation—but prior to everything, including time. 

Second, even though it’s prior to creation it doesn’t mean that it’s separate from God’s complete knowledge. He knows all things. Nothing escapes his mind. He knows all things actual and possible. He has all knowledge. I want you to think about this for a second, this election, this divine choosing, it isn’t like God doesn’t know who he was picking. He knows exactly what a mess you and I would be. And yet, he chose us. 

This is quite remarkable, isn’t it, God chose people—like you and me—to be in or given to Christ, before the foundation of the world. (this is a common theme in Paul’s letters Romans 8:29; 2 Tim. 1.9; 1 These 1.4, 2.13)

To what end?

Well, we read again in verse 4, that we should be holy and blameless before him. 

The goal of God’s electing love is purity and holiness, not the basis. 

What does it mean to be holy? It means to be perfectly acceptable, useful, and full set apart to God. It means to be morally and spiritually perfect. You have done everything perfectly.

Blameless goes the other way, there is nothing imperfect that you have done. 

As far as the Law of God goes, you are absolutely without blemish and utterly perfect in God’s sight.

And the fact that this is before him, means that we are talking about being in God’s sight. 

In the full inspection of God. Under the infinitely holy eyes of God, he inspects us and he sees us as be holy and blameless before him.

So we put this together.

God, before the foundation of the world, chose us in Jesus Christ, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

God in his love initiated and secured this. 

His divine love chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to the end that we would be forever holy and blameless before God.

The foundation and first cause, both of our calling and of all the benefits which we receive from God, is here declared to be his eternal election. If the reason is asked, why God has called us to enjoy the gospel, why he daily bestows upon us so many blessings, why he opens to us the gate of heaven,—the answer will be constantly found in this principle, that he hath chosen us before the foundation of the world John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 197–198.

(2)    Predestination (v.5)

The second way we see God’s love initiated in this text is predestination. We see this in verse 5, In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

As we’ll see, these terms, election and predestination, are very closely related. But since Paul uses both words here, and layers more details upon them, I think it’s helpful for us—especially because it underscores the amazing, gracious, sovereign initiating love of God.

The verb we find here “predestine” is in the New Testament six times. And each time it refers to God. Another word for predestine is foreordain. It means, according to one Greek dictionary, to decide beforehand. 

When the Bible talks about God predestining someone to something it is talking about God’s sovereignty. It comes from the realm of his decree or sovereign will. 

If we make a distinction between election and predestination, then it would be this: predestination is a general term that speaks of God’s sovereign ordaining — his will or decree, while election drills down further to the specific action of choosing us. 

In both cases, we have God initiating in his mind, his will and the transaction or execution of that will through election. 

To put this in simple terms: God willed from eternity past to do something very special for you.

And, when we consider what he did and who he did it for, it is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

Look again at verse 5, and remember, think about this initiating love of God, in love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. 

First, we see that this predestination was unto something. What is it? It’s adoption.

God has a purpose in his will. It’s the adoption of people. 

In the Graeco-Roman world, this term would have been ringing bells. Adoption was for those who were not naturally born children but were then brought into the family to enjoy all of the rights and privileges of a son. They would have a new status, with all of these new privileges and responsibilities. 

What do we see int his verse? The adoption is to himself. 

God sovereignly willed — in eternity past — that he would adopt people (like you and me) unto himself. 

He decreed that he would bring people into his family. He planned this all out.

And just like with election, this is prior to us doing anything. So, it can’t be based on anything we have done. In fact, it is in spite of anything we could do. This is sovereign grace.

Also, for the first century Christian thinking about how they might fit into this picture with Isreal having a long history with God and Gentiles being brought in, this reminds us that new believers in Christ have been sovereignly will to be adopted and have all of the benefits of the family. There are no second-class sons. 

Further, with this new status of an adopted son, we are no longer under obligation to serve our old father, the devil. We are part of a new family with a new ruler. We are under God. 

And we see how this would get done, it is, according to verse 5, through Christ. 

All of God’s blessings come to us through Christ. Every single blessing is mediated or comes through Christ (v.3).

Even this relationship with Christ was foreordained or predestined. God planned all of this. He decreed it.

Look how the verse ends to underscore this, according to the purpose of his will. 

Some translations say the kind intention of his will. And this is better. What Paul is getting at here with this word (translated purpose by the ESV) is this plan, or decree, or will of God—this predestination—was according to his good pleasure. 

It pleased God to predestine people unto himself. (like a parent decorating the nursery or buying clothes, God is loving even before we are born)

What does this tell you about God? God amazing. His love for his people is sovereign (it is his own decision), initiating (he moves toward us), it is gracious (we don’t deserve it at all).

How can you respond to God’s sovereign, initiating, gracious love? 

  1. Exaltation

Worship. This seems like the right response, doesn’t it? Isn’t this natural? All of the benefits are given to us? Chief among them is that God has given himself to us. There is not a better gift in all of the world! And, he has arranged all of this before the foundation of the world - when only he existed. 

Humility. We don’t deserve this. This election is based upon the kind intention of his will, it’s his good pleasure. Nobody deserves this. This isn’t a payment, it is a gracious gift. This is why Paul will go on and say to the praise of his glorious grace. How is it that you are a Christian today and your neighbor is not? Is it because you are wiser? More moral? More deserving? No. It is a result of God’s sovereign initiating love—before the foundation of the world!

Boasting. Our worship expands out to boast or brag upon God. We want to talk about and be fixated on how great our God is! We want this truth of sovereign, gracious, initiating love to be our anthem.

But, we also want to tell others about this. If you are here this morning and you are not a Christian, I don’t want you to fall into a trap of wondering am I chosen? This is the wrong question. You are here and God’s word is opened to you. The gospel of Christ is preached to you. Will you believe it? If you believe it and come to follow God then you will prove that you were in fact on the mind of God with this amazing initiating love.

  1. Sanctification

This means that we should pursue that which you have been secured in and for. God has done this with an intended result that you would be holy and blameless before him. 

This holiness is worked into our lives and will be finally and fully realized in the end. So you and I should live according to God’s will—his intention.  

  1. Imitation
  • this is a helpful diagnostic and a pattern for us to pursue for us to pursue

Does your love for others reflect God’s love? I know all of us lack the sovereignty and eternal existence required to perfectly reflect all aspects of God’s love. 

But, in principle, do you love others as God does?

  • Do you only love people who can give you something in return? (in this case are you only loving yourself?)
  • Do you only love people who are like you or are you willing to love people who are different from you?
  • Does your love only respond to others or is it a love that initiates?
  • When there is an argument or disagreement, are you the one who initiates reconciliation or are you waiting for the other to do it (because you feel you are entitled to it)?
  • Is your love motivated by God’s glory and other’s good?

Conclusion

As Christians, our lives depend upon a love that never had a beginning and will never have an end. God has loved us from eternity past and will love us through eternity future.

God displays his love by initiating a relationship with people who don’t deserve it and can’t pay him back.

This is an occasion to rejoice!