This morning we continue our study of the book of Ephesians by observing that God has accepted us, and that He actually planned to do that, that He was happy to do it, and that He is praised as a result. This is on top of what we’ve already learned in previous weeks, that God has:
– blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places
– chosen us before the foundation of the world
– made us stand before Him holy and blameless, and
– predestined us to adoption, because He wanted to.
I don’t know what you’re asking for for Christmas, but I know what you’ve already been given, and it’s a lot!
Read with me if you will:
Eph 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
By now hopefully we’re growing well acquainted with some aspects of what God has done for us, but this morning I want to begin by drawing our attention to verse five where we discover the motive behind it all. Why has God blessed us? Why has God chosen us? Why has He made us holy and without blame? Why did He predestine us as sons?
Well, according to what we read here, it’s “according to the good pleasure of His will.” Or, as we have been putting it more bluntly, it’s ‘because He wanted to.’ Christians, we receive all of these benefits and blessings, because God wanted to give them.
That tells us something about God. It tells us that in addition to being Holy and perfect, He is also He is merciful, patient, and good. He was willing to suffer for us. That even though He knew all the heartache and hassle involved in our salvation, He took it on anyway “according to the good pleasure of His will.”
That’s important to know because it means we’re not God’s intergalactic service project, a little pro bono work for His resume. No, God didn’t need community service hours. He saved us because He wanted to. God wanted to save you.
He didn’t have to be talked into it, or nagged into it, He didn’t even have to do it, and yet He did. At great personal expense. And that means the doctrine of predestination, which we have been discussing lately, shouldn’t seem grim and hopeless, fatalistic and determined, it should be seen as joyful and attractive – notice how Paul just bubbles over with praise as he describes what God has done “according to the good pleasure of His will.”
This letter to the Ephesians helps us understand that God has a will, an intention, a purpose or desire and that it is for us, it is for our benefit. God thinks about us and makes plans for us. The Bible tells us it’s His kindness that leads to repentance (Rom 2:4), and that He is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). For God so loved the world that gave His Son, right?
So seeing all of this come to pass, seeing Christ come, seeing us adopted, and blessing us brings God pleasure, “good pleasure.” You know how people go wild when someone scores a touchdown, hits a home run, or nails an impressive slam dunk – well, the Bible says the angels in heaven go crazy when a sinner repents, that means they ask God to forgive them of their sin and live differently. Because God wants to show His pleasure, His good pleasure to people like that.
All of this is illustrated quite clearly during the Christmas season, when we celebrate Jesus coming to earth. If you remember the story from the Bible or from the Charlie Brown Christmas special, where Linus recites what the Bible says, the angels appeared to the Shepherds in the field and announced:
Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
The word “goodwill” there is the same Greek word we read in Ephesians 1:5 as ‘the good pleasure’ of His will. Christ coming to earth at Christmastime is an expression of God’s goodwill toward men because it was His good pleasure to save them.
But it doesn’t stop there. Yes, it is His good pleasure to save us, but we must never forget that the gospel is not just what we are saved from. The gospel is not simply “You’re making a mess out of your life and God wants to save you.” No. God is more than just a lifeguard at the pool, only there to help if you’re drowning and tell people to stop running. God wants to save you, of course, but whether He finds you in the gutter on skid row, or in the halls of the Capitol building, He’s not just concerned about your past, He’s intensely focused on your present and future as well.
And so the Bible tells us
Phil 2:13 it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Do you ever have a sense that you should or should not do this or that? It is entirely possible that ‘sense’ is God at “work in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” The Bible tells us that through His Word, and through His Holy Spirit in us, and through the counsel of other godly men and women, God is shaping our desires, steering our lives, if we will submit and obey instead of delaying and resisting.
God has a will, He has a desire, and it involves you. He has adopted you, He is involving you, He has sacrificed for you, and is reaching out to you. And He is doing all of this because He wants to, because it’s according to the good pleasure of His will!
And it’s all made possible because He has, according to verse 6, made us accepted in the Beloved.
God has blessed us, chosen us, made us to stand before Him as holy and blameless, and
predestined us to adoption and the end result of it all, is that we are now accepted in the Beloved.
I don’t want to get too nerdy on you here, but the Greek word from the original writing in verse 6 is χαριτόω, (charitoo). The root is charis, grace. So, in other words, we could say God has graced us in the beloved. You could also use it to say that God has made us graceful, charming, or agreeable, or that He has poured out favor and honored us with blessing. In fact, if you have a NIV or NASB Bible, you see one of those words in verse six instead of ‘accepted.’
But let me give you a great way to understand this, especially in light of the Christmas season. Because this word charitoo, occurs some where else important in Scripture. We find it in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel when the angel appears to Mary. He tells her:
Luke 1:28 “Rejoice, highly favored (χαριτόω) one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
Now, that makes sense to us, right? That if God was going to choose the human mother for this Holy Child, that He would pick someone special, someone ‘highly favored.’ And we can even understand how some people, meaning well no doubt, would choose to exalt her, to venerate her, to think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as somehow different than the rest of us. To perhaps even create a separate category for her. It’s like there’s God, and then there’s the angels, and us human beings, but over in a separate category somehow you have people like Mary, and maybe Moses, and perhaps Paul and then in their JV league maybe you have other people referred to as “saints.”
That’s the way people naturally think. But God doesn’t want us to think naturally. He wants us to think supernaturally. He says that we are all saints, this letter is written “to the saints in Ephesus” and as we saw a while back, that means every single Christian in Ephesus. When it comes to Christianity you’re either a saint, or an ain’t, there are no other categories, you’re either in or you’re out. It’s pass/fail.
And so yes, it must have been incredible to be Mary, to have her privilege, to have been chosen by God for that role – she’s someone else who wouldn’t argue the doctrine of predestination with you, right? God just showed up in her life and said Mary, I want to use you in a special way. The angel who brought the message said, “you are highly favored,” but it turns out it’s not just her; it’s all of us! You and me, we’re highly favored too. We’re graced. We’re blessed. We are accepted and all of this activity on God’s part that we’re discovering here in Ephesians 1 is evidence of it.
But now this is where I really want you to pay attention, because if we could receive this truth and rest in it, it would transform our lives.
Do you remember what we said a few weeks ago, that if you would listen to Scripture more than you listen to yourself, it would change you? Friends, this is a perfect example of that. Right here in Ephesians 1:6 God is telling you that if you are Christian, you are accepted, and not by just anyone, you are accepted by God.
You. ARE. Accepted.
Not you will be accepted, not you might be accepted, not you’re accepted now but we’re going to keep an eye on you – no, you ARE accepted. You are highly favored. The same way the angel spoke of Mary, Jesus’ mom, that’s also how the Bible speaks about you.
That is CRAZY! This one truth, right here, is the prescription, it’s the program, it’s the answer to so much of what is messed up in our lives. Because think about this: how much do people struggle to find acceptance? It’s one of our deepest needs, isn’t it?
When we’re kids and teens we want to find acceptance among our friends and in the classroom or on our team. We feel a tremendous amount of pressure to fit in and belong. And so we spend time in front of the mirror worrying about our hair or this or that body part. And we pressure our parents for new toys, or new clothes or new sports equipment, or a cell phone or a tablet, or what ever it seems like all the cool kids have, because we want to fit in, we want to find acceptance.
And for a good solid stretch from our middle teens to our middle twenties we’re especially prone to do stupid things to find that acceptance. What kind of lines have you crossed, how have you compromised yourself, your morals and your values, how have you defiled your own conscience for the sake of fitting in, for the sake of acceptance? What have you, or did you, or are you letting people talk you into?
And this stuff doesn’t go away with age, does it? As you grow up you find a greater and greater desire for acceptance in a romantic relationship, to know that there is some guy or some girl out there somewhere who thinks we’re special. What have you done, or what are you doing right now just to find acceptance by someone of the opposite sex, or to keep them?
But this desire for acceptance is not limited to just school or romance. Every time you enter a new group you face it again: will I be accepted? Even those in leadership positions, whether you’re the coach, the captain, the commander or the boss wonder: “How’s the team going to respond to my leadership?” Will the leader be accepted?
It’s even here in the church. Some of you are here visiting for the first time today and you’re wondering: do I fit in? Is this a good place for me? The answer is yes, absolutely yes, if you interested in Jesus and the Bible, this is the place for you.
But do you feel that way? Have enough people been friendly to you? Has anyone smiled at you? Has anyone introduced themselves in more than a passing way? Has anyone made you feel genuinely welcome and accepted? I hope so. But honestly, they might not have. And you know why? Maybe it’s because many of the rest of us are wondering if we’re accepted ourselves. We’re all so fragile. We need to listen to the Scripture when it says, He made us accepted in the Beloved. He blessed us, He graced us, He favored us. God likes us.
But instead of focusing on that truth we listen to ourselves and so we struggle with depression, anxiety, and fear because we need to know where we stand and how we measure up.
At it’s most extreme, this obsession with acceptance becomes harmful to people who feel it. You might hurt yourself by turning to food or drinks for comfort, or by turning away from food and towards conditions like anorexia or bulimia. You might compromise yourself in bad relationships. You might try cutting or other forms of self-harm. You might get involved with drugs or other ways of seeking a high. Or you might start thinking of ways to check out and begin thinking about what suicide would be like. And in the worst manifestations in our society, we see people vent their rage over a lack of acceptance by turning toward violence and mass shootings. All of this because we fragile little humans so desperately need a place to belong.
But turn it all around and ask yourself, what does it feel like to know you are accepted? How do things change? Well, there’s a sense of comfort, isn’t there? You can let your guard down. You don’t have to be at your best. You can take off the mask and the uniform. When someone who has accepted you comes over to the house, you don’t worry about how long it’s been since you scrubbed the floors or whether there are dishes in the sink. You don’t worry about whether you have your best outfit on. You relax, and you enjoy the company of the other person or people. You know you belong and they are welcome.
And if you’re part of a team that finds this dynamic, you look forward to going in, to meeting up. It feels safe. In fact, after a while you probably don’t even think about it all you just enjoy what you’re a part of.
Well, I am here to tell you this morning, you have been accepted by God. The One who knows everything about you, who has seen every part of you, the One who knows all the little things you do to try come across better, He has accepted you. He knew you were lost and He sent His Son to find you. He knew you were lonely, so He sent His Holy Spirit to comfort you. He knew you needed acceptance so He said, call me Abba, Father.
And we learn from this passage in Ephesians that not only does He accept us, He has MADE us accepted. Christian, God is for you. He has taken the Divine initiative. We’re the recipients of all His good efforts. God has done all of these things we’ve been reading and talking about for weeks now, He has done them all for us. Knowing and believing that could radically change our lives.
But even though we know it, sometimes we struggle because we don’t ‘feel’ accepted, right? What do we do at times like that? What do we do when the need to ‘feel’ accepted is so strong? Well, this is where you need to keep coming back to Scripture. The circumstances of your life may change, but God’s Words never do. These things are true whether you feel it or not.
There are times, dark nights of the soul, difficult and troubling times in the life of the Christian. There are times when God seems silent. Or for some unknown reason He just seems distant. At times like that, know the truth, remind yourself of the truth. You don’t need to wonder what God thinks; He has hold told you quiet clearly. You are accepted.
And so was Mary, she was “highly favored” charitoo, right? And what did she do with all the things that she was told about Jesus? She “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Do you think there were times she didn’t understand what was going on? Times during her pregnancy? The time when all the babies in Bethlehem were killed? While she and Joseph and Jesus the toddler were living as refugees in Egypt? Or when she stood at the foot of a Roman cross helplessly watching the Empire and the nation brutally murder her first born son – do you think she felt special, accepted, blessed, at that moment?
Of course not. She was most likely full of doubt and conflicting thoughts and emotions – momentary, but intense, feelings likely sought to smother what she objectively knew to be true. The ironic thing is that the pain and difficulty of those moments were a side-effect of the fact that God was actually working all things together for her greater good. If she could endure the difficulty of the moment, eternity would prove it was worth the pain.
Le me put this same idea in modern terms. You see, when soldiers are fighting on the battle field, and the enemy is gaining the upper hand, when the good guys are in danger of being overrun or the situation is growing pretty desperate, they can call in support from the air and ask gunships or fighters to come in and place their weapons ‘danger close.’
It’s a method of last resort; you’re exposing the good guys to effects of weapons that you normally want to keep far away. But in extreme situations, you can bring them in even closer. And if that happens, the good guys are going to feel the effects. It’s going to be loud. You’re going to feel the concussion of the blast, but it’s all being done to save you.
There are times in our life when the spiritual battle is raging and bombs are being dropped danger close to our life. We feel the darkness and the intensity and the awful grey haze of the battlefield, all the beauty and peace are gone; we’re not lying down in green pastures by still waters, we’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but it’s for a reason. It’s because God is our shield and our defense, and perhaps we can’t see His face as clearly as we would like because He’s standing between us and our enemy – they see His face, and we, ignorant of everything else that’s going on, feel like He’s turned His back on us. And He has, but only in order to fight for us.
So Christian, never give up in the dark what you were so sure of in the light. When the angel spoke to Mary he spoke clearly and told her the truth. When you read God’s word it speaks clearly – you are blessed, accepted, embraced, and graced, even when you don’t feel like it, if you are in the Beloved.
And what is the rightful response to all of this, to all this acceptance, to the mercy that has been poured out on us because it pleased God, because He wanted to do it? Praise. The right response is praise. It should all lead to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 1:6).”
Remember Paul starts off by saying “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He’s telling us something that is true, he’s not telling us to do it. He’s telling us God IS blessed, He IS praised by those who see and understand what He has done. The angels bless Him, the creation declares His glory, day after day, night after night to anyone willing to stop and look. His works bless Him, and Jesus said that if the people didn’t praise God for what they were seeing in His life, the rocks on the side of the road would cry out. Scripture tells us one day every knee will bow, and even His enemies will confess and know that God is great and worthy of praise.
And that is why we praise Him each time we gather. We bless the God who has done all of these things for us. We praise the God who has poured goodness, mercy and truth into our lives. We exalt the God who is there for us.
Would you remember that this week Christian? Would you remember that you are accepted in the Beloved? When the doubts start to come, or when the desire for something cool rears it’s head, when you feel pressured to do something you don’t really want to do, would you remember what God has said about you, and what He has done for you, and would you praise the glory of His grace? He’s certainly worthy of it, so listen to Him and His Word more than you listen to yourself and see if it doesn’t change your life.
Copyright 2016 The City Gates Church – No Distribution Beyond Personal Use Permitted Strong’s definition, G5485: to give special honor, to make accepted, to be highly favored