My wife and I enjoy receiving cards in the Christmas season. Some have annual newsletters. Some include pictures. Some just have a signature. But it doesn’t matter to us. It is nice to be thought of. A friend took the time to let us know that we are, indeed, friends.
The only time when a card loses its charm is when the names of the senders are merely printed. Once we received a card that the giver wrote and printed nothing. The one advantage was that we could use the card to send to someone else. What was made clear was that we were little more than names on what must have been a long list.
Our passage is intended to assure us that the gift of Christ we received did not fall into our hands because our names happened to appear in a list. We received our gift because God the Father personally chose us to receive. We were, and still remain, very much in his mind.
…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 through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…
Last Sunday, we explored the wondrous gift of Christ himself and all the other gifts we receive through him. I hope that those of you who followed along the recital of gift after gift, blessing after blessing were indeed blessed as we counted the uncountable riches we have in Christ. But there may have been some of you who also doubted that such blessings really could be yours or secured for you. What if you were to lose them? What if you received only a portion? Because, if you were saved by chance; if you were saved by your own wit, how secure can your salvation and the blessings that accompany it really be?
Verses 4 and 5 tell us that we receive all these blessings in Christ because God chose us; he predestinated us to receive them. We were not pulled out of a lottery basket. The gift of salvation was not handed out indiscriminately and we happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Look at verse 4. God chose us in Christ, when? When he had time to observe us and measure our worthiness? He chose us before we were born; not just before we were born; before God had laid the foundation of the world. Before God created the world, he had chosen us to belong to him; he had chosen us to be holy and blameless before him. Yes, God had chosen us to be his holy people, and even the Fall, which brought in sin and death, has not succeeded in changing his original intention.
Because God chose us in Christ, he assured that Satan’s intent would be foiled, that the Fall itself would be turned into a means to all the more display his glory. Those whom God chose to be his would be made his through the work of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Satan’s intent was to rob God of his chosen people. That intent failed because his chosen people were chosen in God the Son.
Verse 5 fleshes this out further. God predestined us – predetermined, foreordained – to be adopted through Jesus Christ. It is true that Satan succeeded through the Fall in cutting all mankind off from the gracious covenant relationship with God. We were cast out of the Garden. We were barred from the Tree of Life. Far from being holy and blameless, we became guilty sinners. It appeared that Satan foiled God’s good purpose.
And yet, even as God pronounced judgment, he foretold how his good purpose would be fulfilled.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
There would be, literally, a seed of Eve, an offspring who would battle Satan and win victory. That offspring would be Jesus Christ, the Son of God made flesh. His victory would take place upon a cross. He would suffer his own wound, but he would also strike the decisive blow against the Enemy. He would bring us near to God by his blood. He would become our peace, reconciling us to God through the cross, thereby killing the hostility between us and God. The result is that instead of being enemies of God, we become his adopted children.
All of this would take place “according to the purpose of his will.” It would happen not according to God’s hope, but his good pleasure, another synonym to use with purpose. We have heard such expression in movies with kings. Someone will ask, “What is the pleasure of the king?” meaning what is the will of the king. And whatever the will is is what will take place.
These concepts of God choosing us, predestinating us, and then carrying out his will to make us his is conveyed throughout the first two chapters.
Verses 9 and 10 read: “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time.” God is making known his will, according to his own good pleasure. This purpose is carried out in Christ, according to the way God planned it to be. God is not rewriting his plan as he goes along. He is not winging it. He is not figuring it out as he goes along.
Verse 11 piles on the terms: “In Christ we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” We have been predestined. We have been predestined according to the purpose, the good pleasure, of God. God is the one who works all things according to the counsel of his will. He works all things, not some or most things. He works all things according to the counsel of his own will.
Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding? (Isaiah 40:13-14)
Chapter 2 presents God carrying out his will. Verse 4 reads: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
We were dead; we were not men and women dying who grabbed oxygen masks just in time. We were dead. But God made us alive together with Christ. He acted according the purpose of his will.
First, he sent his Son: “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” (Galatians 4:4).
“When the fullness of time had come” – when time reached God’s timing – God sent forth his Son, as he had planned, to make redemption available. So then, did God merely plan the means of salvation and then leave it up to us to take hold of it? Was it the means of salvation that was predestinated? In other words, did God choose the type of people who would be saved – namely, any who would choose Christ – and then left the choice up to whomever might lay hold of it? Thus, as the beginning of verse 8 states, “by grace you have been saved through faith.” By grace – by God’s gracious work of sending Christ – we are saved when we by our own choice exercise faith.
This seems reasonable as one reads through Ephesians 1-3 and sees how much of it is speaking of the church, which is now made part of the covenant that exclusively belonged to the Jewish nation. The rest of chapter 2 and first half of chapter 3 address the mystery of God’s will to include Gentiles as partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. And, indeed, 3:11 uses the same language of God’s will is this regard: “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But then, how do we come into the church? What makes us considered saved? It is the faith that we exercise as individuals. It is not the church that is saved, which then includes whatever individuals might happen to choose to believe. It is we individuals in 1:13 – “when [we] heard the word of truth, the gospel of [our] salvation, and believed in him” – who make up the church. The guarantee of an inheritance is made to us as individuals. The whole point of the doxology in chapter 1 is to give us individual assurance that we have been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. It is not the church that has been sealed, and we then are included individually as long as we maintain our policy premiums. We are sealed.
Verse 2:8 continues: “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
The faith we exercise to receive our inheritance is God’s gift to us. It does not come out of our own works. There is nothing that we can point to in ourselves to explain where the faith comes from or even to explain why God should give us faith. No one may boast. We might then do good works once we are in Christ, but we find that even those works were prepared by God beforehand.
God has planned our salvation. He has chosen who will receive salvation. He has planned the means, according the purpose of his will. He has carried out his will toward us.
So let us join with the apostle Paul in proclaiming “Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ.” But then that is what many of us who have been chosen are reluctant to do – blessing God because he has predestinated us. Something doesn’t quite seem right about it?
Why does this doctrine bother us so? For some the problem is what predestination implies about free will. How can we have free will if our salvation is predestined? For others the issue is one of fairness. How can it be fair for some to be predestined to be saved and others are left out? And then others simply point out that there are verses that specifically say God wants all persons to be saved. How can we make sense of them if predestination is true?
These are challenging questions and worth pursuing. But for this time, I want us to consider why it is that Scripture teaches us the doctrine. Besides this passage, there are two other significant ones that present the subject at length. As we read them, observe the reasons why the subject is brought up.
First is John 6:35-44:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘Ihave come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Here is Jesus giving an open invitation: “whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” He then observes: “you have seen me and yet do not believe.” How then does he explain this lack of response? He has a tougher crowd than usual to convince? No, he states: “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” They will come, and when they come they will never be cast out. Members of the crowd grumble, Who do you think you are? Again, Jesus responds. Grumble all you want, but the reason you do not come to me in faith is that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (v. 44).
Why does Jesus respond this way? He seems to have two points to make. One is that, contrary to appearances, he has not failed to achieve his purpose – in this case to win over his audience. He has done his part – give the open invitation. God the Father will then carry out his own purpose in drawing those whom he has chosen to give to his Son. The other point is to assure the chosen, that those whom the Father has determined to give will indeed come and that they may be assured of their reception.
The other passage is Romans 9: 6-20:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 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 his call— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 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?”
Paul also wishes to express that there is no failure on God’s part regarding salvation. “It is not as though the word of God has failed.” The promise of salvation is made in advance “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call” (v. 11).
He is assuring his readers that God has not failed but also that their own inclusion is not some glitch in the divine computer system. They are children of the promise, not children who slipped into a system designed for another people. Their reception of God’s compassion lay not in their “human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (16).
What does that mean for us? He has got us and he will not let go. God chose us before the foundation of the world. He predestined us to receive the gift of Christ, his Son. He gave us as gifts to his Son, and the Son shall lose no one whom the Father has given, and he shall raise us up on the last day.
He anticipates the same objections we have raised. His basic answer is, do not question our Creator. Neither he nor Jesus nor any other biblical writer takes effort to defend God. They simply explain what he is doing and give us assurance that God is just, that he is merciful, and that he will carry out whatever his will concerning us may be. Or to put it simply – let God be God.
Can you do that? You will acknowledge that as a created human being you have limited ability to understand the mind and ways of your infinite, eternal Creator. Surely you will admit that he can think and do things that you cannot think all the way through. Can you not let God be God?
But it doesn’t seem fair; it doesn’t seem to be loving! Look at the Cross. What do you see? The babe of Christmas is now the sacrificial lamb of Good Friday. Do you, a sinner, believe that you understand justice better than God? His Son hangs on a cross for your sins. Are you prepared, because you can’t figure out the fairness of his choosing to give you his Son, to then accuse him of injustice? You know your heart – how sinful it is. Are you really going to place yourself in the position of saying of God what is merciful and what is not? Of determining what is the act of love and what is not?
Can you not simply hold out your hands, receive the gift your Father has chosen to give you, and then give thanks, accepting that your Father really is the smartest Father in all the world and that he loves you more than anybody else, and that all you need to do is trust him to know and to do what is best. That is why he is telling you through his Word about all this choosing and predestinating. He is say, “My child, I’ve got you. I have never not had you. I have always known you, always chosen you to be mine, and I have worked everything out to make you mind. I will never let you go. Trust me.”
And then, if anyone is here who has never come to Christ, and you ask if that is because you are not chosen; then come now and answer the call of Jesus Christ, and test his promise that whoever should come to him, he will never cast out but raise you up on the last day.
You may think you are here by chance. Is it not likely that he has brought you into this sanctuary to hear this message at this time, so that you might come to Christ who calls you?
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