Study Notes:

Ephesians 1:4-6

This morning as we return to our study of the book of Ephesians I want to begin by re-reading the Scriptures and then jump right in and make some observations because we’re going to be dealing with a pretty complex issue: the fact that God chose us, in Christ.

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.

Last week we looked at the fact that this was all part of a plan God designed “before the foundation of the world” and we talked about all the things God’s plan and design have weathered and overcome in human history so the gospel might arrive in the lives of people like you and me today. So, if you are the kind of person who likes to take notes, you might call that the time of His choosing. It was “before the foundation of the world.”

This morning though, we want to look at the fact of His choosing. Because, if you are a Christian, Paul says God chose you before you ever had anything to do with it. The Scriptures in front of us say that “before the foundation of the world,” God “predestined us to adoption” and He did it because He wanted to, it was “according to the good pleasure of His will.”

Now that’s troubling to some people. It’s unsettling. It is terribly undemocratic. And if that’s the way you feel, let me say, I understand. It’s confusing at times. We don’t completely understand how it can be so. Because, if that’s true, then what about me? What am I? Do I have any control or any say in these things? And if some people are chosen before the foundation of the world then does that mean there’s a list of people who aren’t saved? And is it their fault?

There are some serious questions here. And I think every growing, maturing, Christian needs to pass through a phase where you work through and struggle with and think on these things. But not I said it’s a phase you need to pass through, don’t get hung up in it. This is an issue that theologians in the church and philosophers outside the church have been struggling with for a very, very, long time.

You might be surprised to learn though that even outside the church philosophers deal with a very similar question, that of determinism. And what they mean by that is: how much control do human beings have over their own experience? Are you truly free? Can you really make any choice you wish? Or, is choice an illusion? Hard-determinists would say you are not free, you’re programmed by your genetics and your upbringing to respond a certain way to a given situation. The universe is marching on according to the laws of physics and chemistry, and as depressing as it may be, you’re just another part of the machine and you’ll respond in a predictable way to any given stimulus based on certain variables.

And this is what some very intelligent men and women believe – they completely reject the notion of an all-knowing, all-powerful God who set everything in motion and who is orchestrating it’s outcome to serve His purposes, and in the place of deity they set rigid scientific laws that push everything toward an equally rigid outcome but which struggle to explain things like individual personality and irrational choice.

In the church you may hear the question discussed in terms of God’s sovereignty vs. Man’s free-will, or Calvinism vs. Arminianism, which to give you a bit of the scope of the problem, was a theological debate that is now almost 500 years old. It took place about this time of year in Holland in 1618 and lasted until the Spring of 1619. So, people have been seeing this issue from slightly different perspectives for a very long time and if you want to have a go at solving it, be my guest. Perhaps you’re the person the world has been waiting for to finally and decisively end the matter.

But honestly, you’re probably not. And neither am I. And the more sure you are that you understand all of this, and that you have it all solved, the more sure I am that you’re ignoring some of the other arguments.

But again, it’s important to chew on. It’s important to wrestle with. It’s good to think about what it means for God to predestine you and for you to still have to make choices. It’s good to wrestle with the fact that the Bible always presents God in control and accomplishing His works, but it also never presents us as pure automatons, or unthinking robots. In fact, we’re told to choose time and time again and our wrong choices often get us in trouble. How can that be? How do these two things fit together?

Think on these things, wonder about them. But don’t get hung up on it. Remember there are other things we don’t fully understand in Christian doctrine. We don’t fully understand the Trinity. We don’t fully understand the hypostatic union – the fact that Jesus was fully God and fully man, both at the same time. And yet they’re all true. Christianity demands that you accept them. Anything less is heresy.

But Christianity also insists that the most important we are to do is love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and that we love our neighbor as our self. And whenever you get all bogged down or all knotted up over some piece of complex theology, just bring it back down to that foundational imperative and ask yourself – how am I doing with this? Am I fulfilling this most basic commandment? Have I really graduated beyond this so that now I’m ready for the ‘heavier stuff?’ Of course not. We never do.

You see, you can go on parsing all of this stuff out for years and years and get fancy letters to put behind your name and at the end of it all, if you’re honest, you’ll still have to say, “but there are plenty of other really smart people who think differently than me, and they might be right about some things.” So, let’s go ahead and avoid all that debate that comes up when we try to overly systematize and categorize all of this and see what we can just accept at face value on the authority of Scripture and what it might mean for all of us in Christ.

And the first thing we need to see is that God is the author of predestination, not some philosopher or theologian. This concept was not coined by Augustine or Calvin or Thomas Hobbes or David Hume, it is presented throughout Scripture by a God who flatly declares He has made the world and everything in it and what He wants to happen, happens. That’s His identity and how He introduces Himself time and time again.

Now I know that immediately sets the mind racing, but when you read the Scriptures predestination is never seen as a matter of controversy that God feels a need to explain through the prophets or the apostles. It’s never something that Jesus says, “OK, now let me talk to you about this, I know there has been a bit of confusion over how God’s sovereignty interacts with your free will, so let me break things down for you and tell you what you really to need to know.” No. We never find that. There’s never a detailed explanation of what all this means. It’s just plainly stated to be so and the Scripture doesn’t attempt to resolve the tension.

So, let’s think about that. Why would it be? Why would God tell us something like this? Is it just to show off? I don’t think so. There are plenty of other sections in Scripture where we see that God says He doesn’t need anything from us. So, why would He be trying to impress us?

Is it to confuse us? No. Scripture tells us God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). Confusion is actually a symptom of those who are envious and self-seeking (James 3:16). God has at times confused His enemies and the enemies of His people (Ex 23:27; 1 Sam 14:20), but He has always promised enlightenment and understanding to those who are in close relationship with Him.

Jesus explained many things to His disciples and wanted to tell them even more, but they weren’t ready to receive it all yet. He wasn’t hiding things from them, He was revealing things to them, always wanting them to know more. In fact, He often explained things to them that the crowds didn’t understand. So we see the principle at work over and over again in Scripture, that coming to God through Christ results in increased understanding, not increased confusion. So, God could not have intended for us to be frustrated and confused by all of this talk of predestination.

What about fear then? Fear is a common response to things we don’t understand. But do you think God wanted us to be afraid of the fact that He has [chosen] us in [Christ] 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.

Does that sound like something that’s intended to make us afraid or anxious of what it all means? Of course not.

So, why would God say this to us? Why would He introduce the idea of predestination? I believe it’s intended to comfort us and reassure us, to give us an unshakeable spiritual confidence in an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present God who is intimately concerned with and involved in our lives.

And think about who is writing this particular passage: the apostle Paul. Think about what you know about his conversion. Think about how he became a Christian. He was a fervent, zealous, anti-Christian traveling on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus in order to find and arrest the Christians there when he had a sudden and completely unexpected collision with Christ. No one ‘led Paul to Christ.’ No one invited him to church. No one had him repeat the “sinner’s prayer.” He didn’t respond to an altar call, but his life was completely altered when Christ confronted him on that desert road.

Now, do you think an experience like that might have an influence on how he sees salvation? Do you think it affected the way he looks at how God moves in the lives of men and women? I do.

I think one of the things Paul learned from that radical conversion is that God can call and use whoever He likes, whenever He likes, for whatever He likes. And that means people like you and me have no excuse. We can’t say that we’re too broken for God to use. We can’t say we’re too scarred for God to use or too scared for God to use. We can’t say we’re too old, too young, too scared, too busy, too tired, too different. We have no excuses. God calls whom He calls, when He wants. This is the God who predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.

And I must confess that I actually love the way that phrase conflicts with the flavor and tenor of everything else we seem to experience in our culture today. Because it says you want to know who did it? God did it. And you know why? It was according to the good pleasure of His will. In other words: because He wanted to. And it’s so wonderfully defiant. This is rock solid, in your face theology. He’s God and He wanted to, so He did. No apologies, excuses or explanations.

We don’t fully know what to make of it, but the Bible clearly says that if you are a Christian you have been predestined to meet with God. You can get hung up on that, or you can rest in it. You can get wrapped up in it, or be wrapped up by it, comforted by the knowledge that God orchestrates our salvation from first to last. Salvation is entirely of God from top to bottom – He chose to do it, He chose the terms, He chose the method, He has done everything, now He’s simply expecting us to come along, receive and respond.

Our finite minds cannot completely capture and analyze an infinite God and His incomparable wisdom but we can accept it and marvel at it, and once we get beyond all our American need for choice self-expression, maybe we can even rest in it. Let’s talk about that.

We’ve talked last week about the time of His choosing, we’ve spent time this morning considering the fact of His choosing, now let’s consider the comfort we might receive from the style of His choosing: adoption.

Yes, we were predestined, and yes, it’s hard to intellectually process that, but what were we predestined to? What is this outcome that we were compelled toward? It’s adoption. Now that’s something we can understand, right? It’s the process of becoming part of a family that you were not born into. There is no natural, biological connection there. You were once outside, but you have been brought inside, and it was all by a matter of choice, an intentional effort brought you in.

John, the apostle and disciple of Jesus marveled at the fact that God has adopted us, do you remember his words from when we studied 1 John? He marveled:

1 John 3:1 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

This idea of God bringing us into His family has been a core belief to Christians since the beginning of the church. And when we studied 1 John we talked about the fact that we are actually too inclusive in our casual cultural theology today. We are mistaken when we say things like, we’re all God’s children. That makes people feel good, it’s a very polite thing to say, but it’s not true.

We’re all created in God’s image. All human beings have worth because they were made by God, and that value isn’t diminished by their sex, their religion, their degree of mental or physical ability or lack of it, or the amount of melatonin in their skin. But not all people are children of God, that title only belongs to those who have been adopted, to those who have received the love the Father has bestowed on them.

Once we were not God’s children, that’s why Jesus came. Remember, Ephesians tells us He predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself.

Paul explains this to us even more in Galatians, it’s just a page or two before the passage we’re looking at in Ephesians, so why don’t you turn there with me?

Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Do you see what this is saying? The Son of God came to earth so we could become sons and daughters of God. That’s why He came. Jesus wasn’t out running some intergalactic errands so He just decided to pick us up on the way – sure Dad, I’ll stop by earth and pick up some humans before I head back home. No! We aren’t an incidental, we were the very reason why He came. Our salvation, the fact that we are sitting here in these maroon chairs with this worn out blue carpet is all because God determined, before the world began, that He would send His Son to rescue and redeem us.

And because of all this, we get to call Him “Abba, Father!” If you’re not a Christian, you don’t get to do that. According to Galatians 4:6 you only get to do it because you are sons, [because] God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts.

You know, it’s been said before that Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship. It’s quaint, but it’s true. And people outside the church hate it. They hate the fact that Christians claim to have an exclusive, definitive, knowledge of God. We don’t just claim to know spiritual things, we don’t just do spiritual things, they could live with all that, but we claim to actually know God, so intimately we can speak to Him like a little child and call Him Father. People bristle at that. They condescendingly tell us to ‘coexist.’ But God wants His children to know that they are adopted, they are chosen, they were intentionally brought into a different relationship with Him than other people have. And if you are missing that, you are missing Christianity.

But can I point out to you the incredible, absolutely invaluable result of knowing all of this?

If you can receive what God is telling you through the Bible, it crushes anxiety, worry, self-doubt and self-loathing, it refutes and argues with all those voices that say you’re not good enough, that you need to improve, that you need to change your appearance or your ability, and it says, “Hey, you’re accepted in the Beloved, chill out.” If you would listen to the Scripture instead of listening to yourself, it would absolutely revolutionize your life. In fact, some of you are missing out on time you could be spending in prayer and Scripture because you’re too busy trying to do the thing that you think makes you accepted instead of spending time with the one who says you already are accepted.

If you struggle with anxiety, or doubt, depression, or if you wonder if you’re doing a good job, or if you’re pretty enough, or strong enough, or good enough, first of all you’re human, those doubts plague us all, but let me tell you, you have two choices: you can keep running, in search of the thing that’s going to help you, or you can sit down are rest in the fact that God has chosen you.

A lot of us are runners though, aren’t we? You run for a prescription that will help with the anxiety, you find a line of make-up that works best for you, you find a sport or workout plan you can pour yourself into, you take online surveys that help you find your true inner strengths. We try to find something that will help us feel better about ourselves when the whole time God is saying, “Hey, come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

If you are a Christian, you have been seen for who you are. You have been seen by the searching, penetrating gaze of God, and selected, chosen, adopted. What are working so hard for? Why can’t you just rest? Tell Him your fears, tell Him your doubts, pour it all out to Him. It’s OK, He knows and understands. And just like any parent trying to help their kid navigate the process of growing up, He sees something in us that others don’t see, and He knows we’re graduate soon and be out of here and nothing that these people think or say is going to matter anyway.

I read a story in the New York Times recently that had nothing to do with election coverage. It was titled, No One Is Looking At This Headline, and then the first line of the story went on to say, You’re looking at Phil Heath, the six-time Mr. Olympia, who eats a lot of tilapia

and works out in a strip-mall gym.[1]

It was a fascinating story about this man whose entire life is dedicated to working out. He’s one more title away from tying Arnold Schwarzenegger, the most famous body builder of all time, and barring injury is on a path to win more titles than anyone else in history. But it all comes at a cost. He spends long hours in the gym and then goes home and agonizes over whether he did it right, so he’ll go back at midnight or 3 AM and get in a little more. He’s always worried about his dimensions and proportions and whether you can see how much striation in his muscles.

He won $400,000 for winning the Mr. Olympia title this past year and has endorsements bringing in enough to raise his annual income to over $1Million, but he spends over $1000 a week on groceries at Whole Foods and needs to eat five to six pounds of meat a day. And he has to do it all while on the road making appearances for his sponsors. And when it comes time to ramp up for a competition, things get even more intense. He goes through a regimen of self-deprivation in order to impress judges who stare at and grade every aspect of his appearance.

But he’s Mr Olympia, right? He’s on the cover of the magazine, right? He’s won the title six times, right? He’s could make history, right? Yeah, sure. Is that the life you want to live? Constantly worrying about how you look, what you should eat, what others think of you, worrying about whether you’re good enough, or if you’re still good enough, if you were ever good enough or if you’ll ever be good enough. Is that the kind of life you want to live? Are those the kind of things you wanted to be trapped by, governed by, ruled by? Oh wait…they are huh?

They are the kinds of things we all worry about. Mr Olympia and Ms Universe, and all the rest of them, they all struggle with the same kinds of doubts and fears and struggles and anxieties as the rest of us. So, tell me again, what are we all chasing so hard after? What do we think is really going to make our lives better? How much bigger, faster, smarter, better, richer, thinner, cooler, whatever do we think we really have to be? When is it ever enough?

And now, into the midst of our confusion and worry and stress and doubt comes this blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine.

I have been blessed … with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 He chose [me] in Him before the foundation of the world, that [I] should be holy and without blame before Him in love, He predestined [me] to adoption as [a son] 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 [me] accepted in the Beloved.

Think about the intersection of predestination and adoption. Adoption has this idea inherent within it of intentionality. You have to intend to adopt. You have to foreordain for the adoption to occur. Parents have to choose to adopt before an adoption is possible. It involves a conscious choice.

We speak about accidental pregnancies. We weren’t trying for that, but, well, it happened, and we rejoice, we trust God. God has been very surprising to some of you, I know. You didn’t think it would happen, but it did. And again, you’re grateful, but it wasn’t planned, it wasn’t intentional.

There’s no such thing as an accidental adoption. Think about that. There’s just no such thing.

God knows who you are, He knows what you are, and He still chose you. He loves you, He has loved you, and He will continue to love you in Christ. He’s given you His Holy Spirit so that you would never forget. But you need to listen to Him instead of listening to yourself, instead of listening to others. Shut off your phone, and pick up your Bible and listen to what God is saying to you.

Rom 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

So,

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.

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