Lesson 2: A Sentence Begun in Eternity Part 2 of 4 (Ephesians series)
by John Lowe
The only way any man can please God is in Christ. If you ever hear God the Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” It will only be because you stand before God in Christ Jesus.
We have arrived at a very important section of the Book of Ephesians. We are in that part which states that God the Father planned the church. You would not build a home today without a blueprint. What is God’s blueprint? What did God do in planning for the church? We find in this section that He did three things: (1) He chose us in Christ; (2) He predestined us to the place of sonship; and (3) He made us accepted in the Beloved.
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
In this section, Paul is thinking of Christians as the chosen people of God, and his mind runs along three lines.
1) He thinks of the fact of God’s choice. Paul never thought of himself as having chosen to do God’s work. He always thought of God as having chosen him. Jesus said to his disciples: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Here precisely lies the wonder. It would not be so wonderful for man to choose God; the wonder is that God chose man.
2) Paul thinks of the rewards of God’s choice. God chose us to bless us with the blessings which are to be found only in heaven. There are certain things which a man can discover for himself; but there are others which are beyond his obtaining. A man by himself can acquire a certain skill, can achieve a certain position, can amass a certain amount of this world’s goods; but by himself he can never obtain goodness or peace of mind. God chose us to give us those things which He alone can give.
3) Paul thinks of the purpose of God’s choice. God chose us so that we could be holy and blameless. Here are two great words. Holy comes from a Greek word which has in it the idea of difference and of separation. God is supremely holy because He is different from men; the Sabbath is holy because it is different from other days, and because God says it is. So, then, God chose the Christian so that he would be different from other men. This difference consists in his separation and dedication to God.
“For he chose us in him…” Paul begins with God’s purpose and plan. Right at the beginning he underlines that all the blessings of salvation come to us because He chose us in Him Christ before the creation of the world. Jesus said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit . . .” (John 15:16a). The word translated “chose” literally means “choose out” or “select” (for one’s self).
God did it all. An old hymn puts it like this:
Tis not that I did choose Thee
For, Lord that could not be.
This heart would still refuse Thee
But thou hast chosen me.
A favorite hymn of today says:
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
“…before the creation of the world…” God’s grace is so gracious that He had us in view before we came to faith, even before we were born, even before the world was created! Then—when only Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed (notice how he mentions all three persons of the Godhead in this section)—in the love which these persons have for each other, and for all they are as God—God lovingly predestined His people to be His (4, 5).
“…for he chose us in him before the creation of the world…” God planned our salvation way back yonder in eternity before you and I were even in this world at all. The Lord Jesus Christ is the One who came down in time, and He wrought out our salvation upon the cross when the fullness of time had come. God the Holy Spirit is the One who can fix us today. He brings us to the place of faith in Christ and to a saving knowledge of the grace of God that is revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Charles Spurgeon who once said, “God chose me before I came into the world, because if He’d waited until I got here, He never would have chosen me.”
“…to be holy and blameless in his sight.”This is God’s eternal election. This doctrine magnifies the sovereignty of God, the helplessness of man to save himself, and the sinfulness of sin. In a more restricted sense, it is God’s gracious and sovereign choice of individual sinners to be saved in and through Christ.
This teaching deals a crushing blow to human pride. It is indeed a leveling doctrine, which strips away all trust in flesh and brings a man to rely wholly on the grace of God in Christ. When rightly understood, election is a precious truth designed to give believers assurance of final salvation and to make them realize how much they owe to God’s grace and mercy.
Here is the challenge that the modern Church has been very slow to face. In the early Church the Christian never had any doubt that he must be different from the world; he, in fact, knew that he must be so different that the probability was that the world would kill him and the certainty was that the world would hate him. But the tendency in the modern Church has been to play down the difference between the Church and the world. We have, in fact, often said to people: “So long as you live a decent, respectable life, it is quite all right to become a Church member and to call yourself a Christian. You don’t need to be so very different from other people.” But, the fact is that a Christian should be identifiable in the world.
If we ask “Why did He choose me?” the only answer is: “He loved you.” If we then ask; “Yes, but why did He love me?” the only answer is “because He loved you and planned to bring glory to His grace in and through you.”
But surely there must be some other reason? What was there about me that made Him love me? Did He see that I was the kind of person who would trust Him? No! How befuddled such an idea is! I am the kind of person who is dead in sins, without hope, at enmity with God. There is nothing in me that “makes” God love me. The reason for His love lies in Himself. It is grace from start to finish; nothing but sheer grace.
When we see this we begin to understand why so much talk about “free will” is harebrained. My will is certainly free, but only in the sense that it is not coerced. It is never free from who I am, as if I could will “out of character.” No, what passes as “out of character” is not a deviation from what we are but a revelation of it! Thus, because my mind is by nature at enmity with God, inevitably my will opposes Him (and opposes His free will! Romans 8:7-8). I need to be set free from that bondage if I’m ever going to want Christ. Though Paul holds to the idea of election, he no less firmly believes in human responsibility, and recognizes that a man may fall from the place in grace to which God has elected him. Basically, the doctrine of election is rooted in the conviction that we do not just happen to exist, that our lives had their roots in eternity past, that our salvation begins in the mind of the Eternal God, and that it is brought to realization in Christ, the divinely sent Savior of men.
It is also harebrained to question God’s sovereign election of His people by protesting that this is not “just.”
God would have displayed perfect justice by condemning all of us. It is His mercy that is expressed in lovingly choosing to save any of us, even one of us.
Paul’s teaching on God’s election often provokes controversy. Often, the prejudice against election springs from embedded human conceit. It is also frequently misunderstood—“If you believe in election there is no point to evangelism,” as it is frequently said. But notice that Paul is teaching election to the very people he himself had evangelized! Election and evangelism are not opposites, far less enemies, but friends.
Paul had learned this from his Old Testament. But he has also observed it from personal experience (his own “free will” lead him to seek to destroy the church). Only the intervention of God, rooted in the loving will of God, could save him. That intervention was not an accident. It was planned from the foundation of the world! And what was true of him was, he believed, true of all believers.
The last thing to die in us seems to be the lingering element of pride that says “there must be some reason in me to explain why God loves me.” But as soon as we have thought that way (and how hard it is for us proud sinners not to think that way!), we have compromised grace. And compromised grace is no longer grace.
How wonderful, on the other hand, to reflect on the fact that God loved me before I loved Him, before I trusted in His Son, even before His Son came, even before the creation of the world. Can His love for me be that big, last so long, and be that deep? Yes, indeed—and if it is rooted in eternity, it will also last for eternity. God always puts the finishing touches on the work he has begun (6).
In sports where contact with a ball is involved, a carnal error is often repeated; taking your eye off the ball. It is easily done. We want to see where we hit it yet even before we made contact with it!