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Rejoicing in Sovereign Election

Back to all sermons Ephesians

Date: August 25, 2019

Speaker: Erik Raymond

Series: Ephesians

Category: Biblical Exposition

Scripture: Ephesians 1:3–1:6

Title:   “Rejoicing in Sovereign Election

Text:   Ephesians 1:3-6

TBI:   The doctrine of election compels our worship because it shows God’s loving plan to save people who don’t deserve it.

Outline:  7 basic questions about election

  1. What is election? Election is a loving act of God before creation where he chooses some people to be saved—not based upon anything they would do—but only because of his good pleasure.
  2. How does it happen? God decrees it in Christ
  3. When did it happen? Before creation
  4. What’s its purpose? Holy & Blameless People
  5. What motivated God to do it? Love
  6. What’s the result? Adoption
  7. What’s the ultimate goal? The glory of God

 

There was a man who was a good husband and dad. He loved his family. He was always around, was steady, took care of them, and was central in everyone’s life. But, they didn’t fully appreciate it until they found his journal. Upon opening it, they could see the backstory to their memories. Their happy experiences were intricately planned and carefully executed. He even commented after the fact about how happy he was that his wife or children were happy. His family was filled with joy when they read the journal because they could see the backstory. They were welcomed into the quiet place of intentional planning and loving execution. They could see how they were central to everything that he had done.

In Ephesians chapter 1 we walk into the journal of our heavenly Father. And we find that the experiences that we enjoy were carefully and intricately planned. God has set his love on his people before the foundation of the world. And he carried it out in real-time.

And how do we respond? With humility and happiness. We are filled with joy. We worship. 

Look at 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 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 wonder 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.

Election, as Calvin said, is ‘the foundation and first cause’ of all blessings. 

I know there are people that love to argue about predestination and election. But my goal in this sermon is not to debate. There is a place to interact with these types of comments but it’s not this morning and not in this passage. Paul here is making a statement. And it’s neither defensive nor apologetic. It’s straightforward unpacking of glorious truth. And the goal of it is to make God’s people praise him.

The doctrine of election compels our worship because it shows God’s loving plan to save people who don’t deserve it.

(1) What is election?                   

Right away we’re introduced to the concept of election. In verse 4 we read, “even as he chose us in him…” It is this word “chose” that we are zeroing in on. What does it mean?

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. 

This isn’t a new concept in the Bible. It’s a truth that’s taught throughout the Old Testament. We read in Deut. 14:2, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” God elected or chose a people for himself —from all of the nations of the earth. And, he did not do this because he saw something admirable in them nor was it because they might fulfill some emptiness or lack in him.

Both assertions would be ridiculous. God saw no merit in Israel because Israel proves itself over and over again to be a sinful people. And God did not chose them because he needed anything, for God himself is the only self-sufficient being in all of the world. He needs no one and everyone and everything relies upon him. What then is the reason? We will talk about this in a few minutes, but for now, it is good to let this question dangle before you; why would God choose anyone?

So let me offer a definition of election.

Election is a loving act of God before creation where he chooses some people to be saved—not based upon anything they would do—but only because of his good pleasure.

We are going to flesh this out a bit as we go, but for now, this is a definition.

 

(2) How does it happen? God decrees it in Christ 

How does it happen? What are the mechanics of it? Answer: God decrees election in Christ.

Let's break this into two parts, decree and in Christ.

First, election is a result of God’s decree. This simply means that God has foreordained what will happen. In a true sense of the word, God is sovereign. Whatever was according to the counsel of his will, he has decreed to happen. As we read in Isaiah 46:10, “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.”

So this election, this choosing, by God of some to be saved—not based upon anything they would do—but only because of his good pleasure; this is accomplished by his decree, according to the counsel of his will.

And we see this come out with the word that Paul uses in verse 5, look with me if you would at what he says, “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Can you see how this act of predestining and the will of God and tied together with his action of election?

You might be wondering what the difference is between election and predestination. These terms are very closely related. 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’ ordaining something by 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.

Back to the question, how does this happen? Election happens when God sovereignly chooses some to salvation. He does this according to his decree or the counsel of his will.

The second half of the answer is that election is in Christ.

Every single blessing is from God and is mediated through or comes in and through Jesus Christ — from the greatest to the least. From the drop of salt on your food to sovereign election before the foundation of the world. Every blessing is mediated through Jesus. God is the source and Christ is the sphere of blessing.

We see this clearly in summary form in 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”

and then in explicit terms in verses 4-5: “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will”

When we are thinking about election, we have to remember that it is always and only in Jesus. “He is foundation, origin, and executor: all that is involved in election and its fruits depends on him.” (F.F. Bruce)

How did it happen? God decreed or has willed to chose believers in Christ. In other words, God predestined his peoples’ election in Christ.

 

(3) When did it happen? Before creation

When did this occur? Look again 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” 

Paul is trying to secure people’s worship by eliminating human boasting. How does he do this?

He focuses our attention to God’s unmerited gracious choice in Christ before the foundation of the world. Paul is making the point that this election was not based upon anything we might do for God, because it was before the foundation of the world. What existed before the foundation of the world. There was no-thing but there was someone. That is God himself. He chose people before the foundation of the world, to be united to Christ in election, according to his own free decision and love.

Christians, think about this: your identity in Christ precedes your existence and it will abide throughout eternity. Being in Christ is more central to who you are than anything about you. You belonged to God before time began and you will be his forever. We were chosen in him before the foundation of the world. And then our names were written in the book of life of the lamb who was slain (Rev. 13:8; cf. 17:8).

 

(4) What’s its purpose? Holy & Blameless People                 

Why did God elect people to himself? The text provides an answer. Look at verse 4 again, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him”

The purpose is to make people holy and blameless before him.

What do these words mean?

Holy means set apart. In the Old Testament we read of things that are clean and unclean, common and holy. The point is there are things and people who are set apart to God. What makes someone set apart, or holy to God, is how they relate to the Bible. Holiness describes someone who reflects God’s standard.

What is this standard?


Look at the second word, blameless. This means to be without defect, blemish, or fault. It means that the one who is being talked about is in perfect conformity with God’s Law. It’s perfection of the highest order.

Now combine the terms, holy and blameless. What is he saying? He is saying that part of what God’s electing purpose was to secure their eternal acceptance before God in a state of absolute moral perfection. 

You might be thinking, “But I am not holy and blameless. And, I'm pretty sure no one in this room meets that standard.” Is this some sort of charade? Is this all pretend? How can people who are not perfect be above reproach in God’s sight?

Let me ask you. Is holiness and being blameless a blessing? Where do we find the blessings of God? What has Paul said?

God has blessed his people with every spiritual blessing in Christ!

How then does this happen?

It happens when you and I become a believer. We repent of our sins and trust in Christ. We admit our sin—our rebellion against God’s Word and our inability to earn his favor. We admit we are unholy and worthy of blame. We turn and trust in Jesus as our righteousness and our basis for acceptance before God. And God then charges the record of Jesus—which is utter perfection—to our account. And we become at that very moment holy in God’s sight.

Now, this is a positional reality. He counts us as righteous and holy in his sight. But the practical reality takes time to catch up. God is working this reality out in the life of the church. He is making his people practically what they are positionally. 

But rest assured, on the last day, we will stand before God, holy and blameless before his seat of judgment.

And if the question is asked you on that day, how are you holy and blameless before God, you will answer, because God has blessed me in Christ. He chose me before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him.

There might be another question, I suppose. Someone might ask why. Why would God do this?

 

(5) What motivated God to do it? Love

We see this right at the end of verse 4. And, the phrase could go with either verse 4 or 5. I think it colors both. 

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 to himself 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. (Ephesians 1:3–6) 

Why did God choose people to himself? Why did he predestine them to adoption? It is love 

6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 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, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6–8)

God’s attitude towards his people—before the foundation of the world—is love. There was truly nothing that compelled his decision to elect a people to himself but his love for us. There was no human merit or goodness in us. We couldn’t add anything to God. He loved us before the foundation of the world and he will love us unto eternity.

Oh, what is the response to such a love?

The doctrine of election compels our worship because it shows God’s loving plan to save people who don’t deserve it.

(6) What’s the result? Adoption

It just keep getting better. Look at verse 5, In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 

We are all likely familiar with the contemporary notion of adoption. Someone welcomes someone to be part of their family. There is a legal process to make this offical. It’s similar in the biblical sense.

The biblical doctrine of adoption means that God makes people part of his family. As God’s children, those adopted enjoy rights and privileges of sons, especially the experiences of relational intimacy and care. It means that those who are not naturally God’s children—you and me—are recognized as being his children. People who don’t deserve any of the blessings and benefits—because of our sin—receive all of the privileges of being part of the family. 

As with being holy and blameless, this adoption is in Christ. He is the mediator of all of God’s blessings. Our adoption is to God through Jesus Christ.

Adoption as God’s children is theirs “through Jesus Christ” because through their union with him, Jesus Christ shares his divine sonship with them. Believers call God “Abba Father” because Jesus spoke this way of his relationship with God (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15; cf. Mark 14:36 and Jeremias 1971: 61–68). They are heirs of God because Jesus is God’s heir (Gal. 4:7; Rom. 8:17). His status as God’s Son lifts them out of the status of slaves and makes them sons and daughters of God with him (Gal. 3:23–4:7; Rom. 8:15–17). (Frank Thielman)

Adoption reminds us of the close relationship we have with our Heavenly Father. He loves us (John 20:17; Romans 1:7; 2 Thes. 2:16); He knows all of our needs and cares for us (Matthew 6:8, 10:30). The indwelling Spirit gives believers assurance that they are indeed God’s children and enables them to cry out to God as Father (Rom 8:15, 16). Such intimacy with the Creator and Savior in prayer is one privilege of adoption.

Adoption reminds us of the close relationship we have with one another.

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Gal 3:25-26) 

We have brothers and sisters in our new family. Consider how many times you read the family language in the Bible (brothers and sisters in Christ — Rom. 1:13, 8:12, 1 Cor. 1:10, 6:8; etc). (Consider also the mother & father language in 1 Tim. 5:1-2.) 

The church is the family’s work together. The church as God’s family should give us a new perspective on the work of the church; it is “family work,” and the various members of the family never should compete with each other or hinder one another in their efforts, but should encourage one another and be thankful for whatever good or whatever progress comes to any member of the family, for all are contributing to the good of the family and the honor of God our Father. In fact, just as members of an earthly family often have times of joy and fellowship when they work together on a single project, so our times of working together in building up the church ought to be times of great joy and fellowship with one another. Moreover, just as members of an earthly family honor their parents and fulfill the purpose of a family most when they eagerly welcome any brothers or sisters who are newly adopted into that family, so we ought to welcome new members of the family of Christ eagerly and with love.“ Grudem, (Systematic Theology)

The doctrine of election compels our worship because it shows God’s loving plan to save people who don’t deserve it.

(7) What’s the ultimate goal? The glory of God

We have seen some goals of this work of election. Certainly being forgiven of our sins, made holy and blameless, and knowing Christ — these are wonderful realities worthy of rejoicing. But, what is the ultimate goal?

Look again at the text in verses 5-6,

Ephesians 1:5–6 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself 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.

It was God's sovereign decretive will to do this, but it was for the ultimate purpose of his praise and glory.

Wait a second here, is this saying that the ultimate goal of our salvation is not the forgiveness of sins? Yes. It’s a blessed bi-product, but it’s not ultimate.

The ultimate reason why God does anything, including the ordaining, electing, love of our salvation, is for the praise of his glory. The purpose of his will works to exalt his glorious grace. 

And it is by being made aware of this reality that people like you and me, we come to see what God has done and we too rejoice in him. We heap praise upon him because he has been so gracious to us.

But you might think for a moment and say, “What a second. If God is all about his glory, how is he not an egomaniac? How is he not using us instead of loving us?”

Two answers to this.

First, God is not like us. If you or I were all about exalting ourselves we would not be doing a good thing. We would be supremely narcissistic. It’s ugly to be self-exalting if we are imperfect. But, God is not like us. He is the highest good. There is no blemish in him. To exalt, or glorify God is to do the best thing because he is the greatest good. To turn away from doing this or to exalt someone or something else is to turn away from what is best. If God were to stop glorifying himself or pursuing his glory he would be turning away from the best. Or another way, he'd be doing something imperfect. And in an instant he would be imperfect. He would cease to be acting like God. So it is consistent with his character and nature as God to pursue and promote his own glory — above everyone and everything else. But also, to glorify himself by doing immeasurable good to others. Whether we are talking about the gift of natural life or eternal life.

But, second, to the question of using us rather than loving us. Imagine this hypothetical situation to make the point. Let’s say a husband brings his wife flowers and then when he comes home his wife says, “So, you did your duty?” No, the husband says, “I love you. This is not a duty. It’s the expression of my love for you. Nothing makes me more happy than to spend time with you and see you happy.” Could you imagine his wife answering this to say, “You are so selfish. All you ever think about is yourself.” Of course not! We can see in this moment that the husband loves his wife. He enjoys happiness in her happiness. God is not using his people rather than loving them. He is glorifying himself 100% by loving us 100%.

The reason God in exalting himself is not an egomaniac, is because he is exalting the very thing that satisfies my soul, namely his beauty, his glory, his character. 

So, if God did it for his glory and praise. Therefore, it should be our response also. 

If the glory of God was the motive for divine election and predestination then it most certainly should be our response. 

Conclusion

Implications: The doctrine of election should lead us to humility, happiness, and holiness.

(1) Humility

If we are chosen in Christ it is outside of ourselves. There is nothing to warrant this love. It is God showing mercy and love to us.

To be in Christ excludes all merit (Bruce). This should humbled us because 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!

(2) Happiness

This seems like the right response, doesn’t it? Isn’t that 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.

Further, election provides us with the unchanging, iron-clad, assurance of salvation. Nothing can change God’s mind about you now or in the future because he made up his mind to set his love upon you before the foundation of the world. You are his.

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.

(3) Holiness

It is inconceivable that we should enjoy a relationship with God as his children without accepting the obligation to imitate our Father and cultivate the family likeness. (Stott)