So, it hit me this week, this first section of Ephesians, the single sentence of praise that stretches from verse 3 down to 14 in the original Greek, it’s like a really, really, good buffet. And one of the problems with a really good buffet, or really good Dim-Sum, is that you can’t eat everything that looks good in one sitting, so you always go away happy but feeling stuffed and still wishing you had been able to try a few more things, unless you’re like a sixteen year old boy, then maybe…. But for most people, when you walk away from a good buffet, you’re already looking forward to next time you can come back.
Well, we get to come back each Sunday to the same spread. So, instead of stacking our plates a mile high and crowding everything we can into a single sermon, we’ve been working our way through slowly, focusing on one or two items at a time savoring each dish and giving it time to digest.
Recently we’ve been making some observations about the fact that God chose us, He predestined us, and about the timing of that choosing, that it was before the foundation of the world, and then the style of that choosing, that He adopts us as sons and daughters and you remember that while there may be an ‘accidental pregnancy’ there’s no such thing as an accidental adoption, God has done all of this on purpose.
So this morning we’re going to spend our time considering that purpose, why did God choose us in the first place? What was the motivation, the reason? What was the purpose of His choosing if you’re taking notes? Well, read with me and see if you can pick it out:
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.
Did you hear it there in verse four? He chose us “that we should be holy and without blame before Him.” That’s the purpose behind His choosing, “that we should be holy and without blame.” And by we, of course, he means all Christians – those in Ephesus two thousand years ago, and those of us in this room today. We are foreordained, not just to salvation, but also to holiness.
So, what does that mean? What does it mean for something or someone to be holy?
Well, it comes to us from the Greek word hagios meaning to set something apart, in this case, as dedicated to God. If you remember from one of our earlier studies, it’s the same Greek word behind our English word ‘saints.’ According to verse one, Ephesians is written to “the saints, the hagios, who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus.” They were people who lived in Ephesus, but who were also in Christ Jesus.
And that made them different, that made them separate. That made them hagios. They were set apart for a different purpose, a different life, and a different eternity than everyone else in Ephesus. Just like you, Christian, are set apart for a different life and a different destiny than other people around you who are not holy. You are set apart for God’s purposes and that means you are no longer ordinary like everyone else.
When I was growing up my mom had a sewing machine, I know that’s an increasingly rare tool these days, but it’s still a very cool skill. Very useful. She made things for us that I still have today. Along with that sewing machine she had another important tool – her sewing scissors. And those scissors were holy. They were special. They were set apart for mom’s use. And we kids knew, you didn’t mess with those scissors. They were her sewing scissors!
There was nothing inherently special about them, we didn’t have enough money to afford special carbide tip, diamond cut, titanium-forged scissors, they were just ordinary scissors but we weren’t allowed to use them to do ordinary boy stuff like cutting nails or prying things apart because they needed to be kept sharp and she needed to have them in her sewing stuff so she didn’t have to go looking for them all over the house. We could use other scissors, but not her sewing scissors; they were holy, set apart.
Some of you know what I’m talking about. Or, maybe your dad had ‘his tools?’ There were other tools you could use, but not these, not without asking, they were dad’s tools. They were holy. They were set apart for a special use and they were jealously guarded.
Christian, that’s you. You’re holy. You’re set apart for special purposes. You’re not like every other pair of scissors in the house, or every other tool in the garage. You’re holy.
In spiritual terms you’re holy because God saved you. He picked you up from one location spiritually and put you in another. Once, you were outside of a relationship with Him, and then He adopted you and He moved you from one category to another. A child that has been adopted doesn’t keep going on with her life, being visited occasionally by her adopting parents. No, the adopting parents take her with them, give her a new home, new clothes, new opportunities, things change because she’s been chosen, she’s now set apart.
God has a long history of doing things like this.
He reached down and chose Abraham thousands of years ago out of Iraq. Abraham had his own life, had family, had a place to live, had connections with people in the community. He was going on with life. And then God called Him, choose Him, and said “I’m going to do something spectacular with you Abram. I’m going to set you apart for My purposes, you’re going to be different and you’re going to be a blessing to all mankind because of what I do through you.”
And as you know, Abraham became the father of the nation of Israel. His descendants were different than other nations because God had set the nation of Israel apart as His own Holy people.
But why them? Why Israel? Why are they special to God? Well, it’s not because there was anything inherently special about them, it was just because God wanted to use them. In fact, He told them this in Deuteronomy so they wouldn’t get a big head.
Remember, last week when we looked at the fact of God’s choosing us, we noticed that He did it, according to the good pleasure of His will, in other words, because He wanted to. Israel didn’t do anything to earn or deserve their holy identity. No one ever held a special tournament of the nations to see who God would use. He did what He wanted to do, with whom He wanted to do it because He had an agenda, He had something He wanted to accomplish through them.
Which brings us to another side of what it means to be holy. You see, we can approach this idea of holiness from the negative side and see that it means we are separated from others in this evil world, we are subtracted, we can focus on what we are taken away from, we can look at holiness as what we are not.
But there is also a very positive side to it, we aren’t simply sorted out and piled off to the side. No, as we say so often, we are not just saved from sin, we’re saved for service. And that’s the positive side of what it means to be holy. We have a purpose – the point of our holiness is to be useful in the worship and service of God.
You can’t do that if you’re not holy. You cannot worship or serve God if you are not holy. You can come to church, you can sing songs, you can help little old ladies cross the street, but if you’re not holy, if you haven’t been moved from one category to the other, none of it counts.
If, on the other hand, God has moved you from one category to the other, if He has saved you, if He has adopted you, if He has forgiven you and purchased you, then you are an entirely new creation and you are set apart for His special use and pleasure. This is an important theme that plays out again and again in Scripture.
Paul will tell us in the next chapter:
Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
This is one of those verses you need to memorize. You know how sometimes you read an article online now or on your Kindle and it will tell you the sentences people have highlighted the most, or tweeted the most? Well this would be one of those sentences. Paul is telling us, if you are a Christian, if you are in Christ, God has plans and purposes for you, He’s preparing them for you and preparing you for them because you’re holy and you’re His. You have things ahead of you that other people do not.
He says it in another way in
Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Paul is saying that because he has this relationship with God, Christ now lives in Him, and that makes him different. It makes him holy. And Christian, the same is true of you. Paul wasn’t saved in a different manner than you. He was used in a different way than you, and that’s fine, it’s God’s prerogative, but he wasn’t saved in a different manner than you. When he was saved, he understood that Christ was now living in and through him, and that very same thing is true for you and me. We are now holy. We are now different, because of what He has done, and there is no going back.
He tells the Christians in Colossae
Col 1:21 (ESV) you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…
There are those words again, holy and blameless. That’s what God has made us and brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to see ourselves the way God see us.
But how do you see your self? What do you tell your self about your self? Do you ever tell yourself that you are holy, and without blame? Probably not. We tend to see ourselves as full of holes – a totally different kind of hole-y, and that’s how we’re afraid others see us, and it’s how we look at others. We stare at the holes. The things that aren’t there. The places we fall short.
But the Scripture here and in Ephesians says God choose you and did all these incredible things for you in order that you might be holy and blameless. And to be blameless is to be without blemish. In fact the same word is used to describe an Old Testament offering. Back in Old Testament times, if you were going to offer a lamb or a bull as a sacrifice to God, it had to be blameless. You couldn’t bring the runt of the litter, or the one that been hurt or sick or disfigured. You had to bring God your best.
That’s how God sees you. Because you are in Christ, He sees you and He loves you. He accepts you. Naked, vulnerable, fragile, uncertain, aging, weak, undependable, you. He sees you and He loves you.
Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,
If you are in Him, you are clean. You are holy.
1 Peter 1:18 … you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
Ask any lady, what do you do about a blemish on your face? Well, they sell anti-blemish cream and powder, don’t they? Cover-up. In the same way, Jesus is our cover-up. A woman puts on make up in order to improve or highlight her appearance, and when Christ is put on us, the same effect is achieved. Our blemishes are concealed.
But now, just like a woman might begin to act a little different, to carry herself a little different after she’s gotten herself all dolled up, we need to act like what we are too.
The apostle John said
1 John 3:2 Beloved … we are children of God … And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
Holiness is normal for healthy, mature Christians. It’s what’s expected. It’s why we were saved. But do you embrace it? Do you desire it? Do you want to be purified more and more, increasingly identified as holy, increasingly feeling, sensing, internally agreeing with your identity as holy? Is that your desire? And do you despise things in your life that are unholy? Do you hate the fact that there are contrary behaviors and thoughts in your life?
Listen to the words of the famous early American pastor Jonathan Edwards, as he reflects on his own sin in the 1700’s, he says:
I have had a vastly greater sense of my wickedness, and the badness of my heart than I ever had before my conversion. It has often appeared to me that if God should mark iniquity against me I should appear the very worst of all mankind—of all that have, since the beginning of the world to this time, and that I should have by far the lowest place in hell.
… I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite… When I look into my heart, and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, can you identify with that? Do you hate the presence of unholy sin in your life? The closer you get to Christ, the more you will hate sin because sin is what Jesus came to conquer. You can’t hold on to both at the same time. You can’t say I want to grow in Christ, I want to know more, I want to experience more, but cling to your anger, your lust, your fear, your laziness. You can’t keep holding hands with your Savior and the thing that made His death necessary. You have to choose your allegiance.
And it’s not just a one-time choice. It’s ongoing, daily, a regular, active, awareness of the existence of sin in my life and my need for forgiveness from Jesus, guidance from the Bible, strength from the Holy Spirit, and grace and mercy from God.
One Christian author said, “Sometimes the growing Christian sinks under a sense of sin so miserable that he wishes he could tear open his chest, rip out his sin-blackened heart, and fling it as far from himself as possible.”
Do you feel that? Do you agree with that? Or is that weird to you? Is that fanatical? Is that overboard?
My friend, it is not. It is normal. It is healthy. It indicates the soul of someone who is truly alive spiritually and desiring greater and greater holy health instead of slumping along on life support.
Romans 6:11 … reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you…
You have been chosen to be holy my friends, holy and blameless.
Now listen, can I talk you men especially for a minute? We’ve been using this word holy a lot this morning. And maybe it makes you a little uncomfortable. You have a hard time picturing yourself as holy even if you are because you’re afraid that someone who is holy is also socially awkward and weird. You don’t want to come across as holy or holier than thou, because that makes it hard to be one of the guys. I get what you’re saying, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Think about it, who was really the holiest man to ever walk the planet? Jesus, right? And how did people respond to Jesus? Read the book. Read the gospels. Who wanted to meet Him? Who wanted to talk to Him? Who invited Him over? Everyone. People from the country who worked the fields or worked on boats for a living – blue-collar types. But when He went to the big city, people there wanted to meet Him too. Religious and political leaders all wanted to see Him. Women, men, children, everyone wanted to see Jesus and hang out with Him. So, if you’re more like Jesus that doesn’t mean you’re automatically strange or weak. It is very possible; in fact, it’s entirely necessary for you to figure out what it means to be holy in your life Monday through Friday and not just in your car or on the bus or train during your commute.
So let’s ask a very important question of everyone listening: are you holy? Is that a term you embrace? Is that an accurate way to describe your life? If you were given a list of 100 adjectives to describe yourself and holy was on there, would you choose it? Would anyone else choose it in describing you?
Because it’s possible that you’re sitting here this morning, in the midst of holy people, and you’re not holy yourself. And yet, as we have seen from Scripture, holiness is proof of your election, of your selection as a child of God. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him.”
And notice that important condition – we are to be holy, not just in our own estimation, but before Him – before the searching, penetrating, piercing eyes and judgment of God.
The non-Christian might be disappointed in herself because she’s not living up to her own expectations or the expectations of others she values, but she doesn’t think of it as sin that separates her from a holy God. Most people don’t consider themselves perfect, but they aren’t brokenhearted about their sin and it’s offensiveness either. They just think they’ve made a few mistakes and need to improve. Think about the way people apologize in the press today. They say, “I’ve made some mistakes. I regret them. But now it’s time to move on.”
Is that you? Or do you experience the Holy Spirit inside of you convicting you of sin and planting a desire for holy things in you? Are you drawn to holy thoughts, holy things, and a holy God? OR is your desire steadily or increasingly for average things or fleshly things? Are the desires in your heart, the thoughts in your head, the things on your list, any different than your unsaved neighbor?
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, … He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him
God has gone to incredible lengths to save and preserve and rescue you because He wanted to. Does the outside of your life line up with the truth inside?
Are you living like someone who is holy and blameless in the sight of God? Or are you forgetting your identity in Christ? Where are the blemishes where the make-up of Christ has been smudged off your face a bit? Where are the places where the flesh is showing through? Where is wickedness seeping out of your life? Where does a holy purge need to occur? Are there things in your house, or on your phone, that need to go?
And how do you present yourself in public? Are there things on your social media feed that are not holy, that are not blameless, that do not present the truth of Christ in your life? Are there some things that need to be deleted or things you need to think before you post?
If you are in Christ, you are holy. It doesn’t matter whether you feel like it or not. And when there is a tension, a conflict, between this reality and your present experience, it’s not because God has changed, it’s because something in you needs to change.
Ask God what that is this morning. As we close in our final song, praise God for all that He has done for you. Praise Him for the fact that He has made you holy and blameless, even if, especially if, you don’t feel that way. And talk to Him about the things that are causing discomfort.
And if you have a sense that this doesn’t apply to you, but you want it to, you want it to be true, you want to be cleansed by God, you want to be called holy. Talk to Him about that too. Tell Him you are dirty. Tell Him the things you have done, the things you have said, the things you have thought, the places you’ve been. Tell Him they’ve made you dirty, and ask Him to cleanse you through the precious blood of Christ. He will forgive you, He will cleanse you, He will straighten you out where you are bent, and cover all your blemishes. He will make you holy and blameless and give you a reason to rejoice.
Copyright 2016 The City Gates Church – No Distribution Beyond Personal Use Permitted Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, pp 101-102.  Don Whitney, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, 103.