A sermon on Ephesians 1:3-6 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 12 July 2020
I’m afraid to say that as a young person, I was very judgmental. I didn’t like bullies. I didn’t like cheats. I didn’t like selfish people who only thought of themselves. But as hard as I was on others, I was equally hard on myself. Yes, I judged others. But I knew in my heart that I was no better. And it made me miserable. You see, I knew the real me. I could be nice on the outside, but on the inside I knew that sometimes I wasn’t good. And so, I was never sure if God could really love me. I was never sure if I was good enough for him. Youth Group leaders kept saying that it wasn’t good enough to believe God in our heads, we had to believe in him in our hearts. Which is fine and true, but always made me feel like my faith wasn’t good enough. Like I didn’t have enough faith or my faith was the wrong kind. It meant that I rode a spiritual rollercoaster, sometimes feeling close to God and then feeling very far away. Until I was about 18 years.
In my last year of high school, when I should have been studying for my Higher School Certificate, I procrastinated by starting to read my Bible seriously. And I discovered what passages like Ephesians chapter 1 teaches us. That God loved me before I ever loved him. That God sent his Son Jesus, not because I loved him, but because I didn’t. Or as Romans 5 puts it,
Christ died for the ungodly.
While we were sinners, Christ died for us.
When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.
And I learned that there is nothing I can do to make God love me more. And there is nothing I can do to make him love me less.
Today we are looking at what the apostle Paul wrote in verses 3 to 6 of Ephesians chapter 1. Verse 3 begins:
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.
It begins with a call to praise. We are to praise God. We are to praise him who is our God because he is the God of our Lord Jesus, who is our Father because he is Jesus’ Father and because Jesus made himself our brother, taking our flesh and blood, our sin and our curse, and making us his. We are to praise him, our God and Father, our maker and our Saviour, because he has blessed us.
The message here is more than just that we should be thankful for what we have. Yes, it’s important to learn the secret of contentment. But that’s not the lesson here. The message here is about the infinite generosity of God who has spoiled us with so much that we lack not one thing for our complete salvation. We have received “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ”. Not some blessings. Not many blessings. But every blessing we need or can even imagine for God to fulfil his purpose for us. They are not earthly blessings of wealth and fame and possessions. Our blessings cannot be stolen by thieves or destroyed by rust or halved in value on the stock exchange. But our spiritual wealth is everything that contributes to our full inheritance of the glory of God in the new heaven and the new earth.
And these blessings come to us in Christ through Christ by means of Christ and because of Christ. By faith he belongs to us and we belong to him and no one can come between us and his love. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.”
The message is not “Count your blessings” but for us to realise that we have countless blessings. God has made known to us his infinite love and the completeness of his salvation, so that we would praise him. To praise God is our greatest calling, our greatest privilege and the source of our greatest joy. For it is in praising him that our life is in closest harmony with the purpose of all creation. The whole universe sings a song of praise to its creator, and we are miserable and fall short of our purpose until we learn the tune and the lyrics of that song and sing it too.
What are these blessings? There are too many to mention or to count in total, but the apostle Paul mentions the blessings that he has particularly in mind in Ephesians chapter 1 verses 4 to 14. This one long sentence that is 11 verses long divides neatly into the work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in our salvation. And today we are looking at verses 4 to 6 and at the work of God the Father.
He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
“He chose us in him.” “In love he predestined us.” There are a lot of myths and misconceptions that people believe about the doctrine of predestination. But it is important that we know and believe the truth about God, because the truth will help us to love him more and to serve him better. For our God is not the God of Islam who decides whatever happens for his own mysterious reasons, like picking cards from a deck. Nor is our God the God of karma who organises events so that everyone gets what they deserve. Rather, he treats us better than we deserve. Our God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus loved and trusted him. He surrendered his whole life to his will and he teaches us to do the same. God is not a puppet master. He is not a slave driver. He does not just program robots so that he is not only responsible for what they do, but also guilty. God is the God of the gospel. He is the Lord of good news. And the good news is that God had a plan and that God made decisions before the creation of the world, before we were ever made or even thought of, that have resulted in blessing for us. We will not be condemned because God didn’t pick us on his team. In fact, God has done everything necessary to remove our condemnation.
Instead, this is the truth. Verse 4 says that he chose us “in Christ”. Verse 5 says that he predestined us “in love”. Who God is, is revealed in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. And who God is is consistent with the love revealed in all that Jesus is and does. Paul teaches us here in Ephesians chapter 1 that God had a plan. It was a plan of blessing for the creatures he would make. He made us so that we might know and have his love in us. He chose us in Christ. The life and death and resurrection of Jesus weren’t just a plan B to get an out of control world back on track, but was plan A all along before the creation of the world that Jesus would be our brother and that in him we would be the children of God and inherit the family fortune.
Notice that it says, God chose “us” God did not choose me without you or you without me, but he chose himself to be ours and he chose us together to belong to him and to belong to each other. God has chosen a community, his people. He chose us “in him”, in Christ. He didn’t choose us out of a hat. But he chose us in Christ who became poor so that we might become rich, who died so that we might live, who bore our sins so that we might bear his righteousness. He chose us “to be holy and blameless in his sight”. God does not love us because we are holy, but so that we might be holy. By his choice, the holy God claims us. We belong to him. He made us and he saved us and his purpose for us is that we reflect that holiness.
The doctrine of predestination simply means that God has a plan. That he had a plan from the very beginning. That his plan was to bless us in Christ. And therefore he has not only taken the first step in our salvation, before we ever stepped towards him, but he has taken every step that is necessary to bring us to him fully and completely. So that our complete and eternal salvation rests not on what we have done for God, but on what he has done for us.
Last Wednesday, the old bridge between Wahgunyah and Corowa was closed to close the border between NSW and Victoria. But the cross of Christ forms a bridge that can never close. Our sin separated us from God and from the life of blessing with him. But God built a bridge to us. He didn’t build it halfway, leaving the rest to us. He didn’t build it almost all the way so that we could jump. He built it all the way so that we could cross. So that if we accept God’s gift of life in Christ, if we cross that bridge from death to life, we can say that we chose God. We can say that we crossed the bridge. But we did not do one thing to build the bridge. When a bridge is opened, everyone gives the person who designed and built it a clap. But those who walk across the bridge don’t get any round of applause. We would be lost and rightly so, except for what God has done for us in his Son.
“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”. None of us have been born into the family of God. None of us share God’s DNA. None of us are bound to God by ties of blood. We are not only unworthy creatures, made from the dust of the earth, but we rebelled against him and went our own way. We were lost orphans and slaves to sin. But God adopted us. He became our foster father. And nothing that we have, nothing that we enjoy, is of our own making or devising, but is only a gift from God. Our heavenly inheritance is due to the fact that God has adopted us into his family, sending Jesus to be our brother so that his Father might be our Father too.
God has done this “according to his pleasure and will” so that we might “praise his glorious grace”. His underserved kindness. His mercy for the godless. His love for sinners in order to make his enemies his friends. We must cross the bridge to God. Yes. But the bridge was built by him. And it was built in Christ before you loved God before you believed in him, before you were even born. God chose us. He made us and he chose to be our God in Christ. God saved us, we did not save ourselves. Because people who can save themselves don’t need saving. God saved us in Christ. He does not need our help. He does not need our permission. He built the bridge and all we need is the faith to cross it. Not faith as big as a mountain, but faith as small as a mustard seed, which can move mountains because it trusts in the God who made the mountains. So that nothing we can do or think or say can make him love us any more or any less. Not one bit more. Not one bit less.
Yes, we must choose God. Yes, we must love him with our whole heart. But before we chose him, he chose us. Before we loved him, he loved us. So we don’t have to ride the spiritual roller coaster, because in Christ we have received countless blessings.