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Ephesians for Newark

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Looking on to verse 3, “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.”

Blessings of the past – Father – Election

Blessings of the present – Son – Redemption

Blessings of the future – Holy Spirit – our inheritance

Thus, we see blessings stemming from each member of the trinity, blessings that touch upon the past, present and future. No part of our live is untouched by the Father who loved us, the Son who died for us, and the Holy Spirit who strengthens us. 

1. The blessings of election that comes from God the Father. We read in verse 4, “For he (that is the Father) chose us in him (that is, in Christ) before the creation of the world…”

The notion of God choosing us is referred to as the election of God. The notion of election is one of the most difficult of doctrines in the Bible. It has caused much debate throughout history of the church. Some have understood salvation as completely depended on God. If one is saved, it is because God took the initiative and enabled that lost individual to call out to God for salvation. It is believed that there is no power or inclination on the part of sinful man to bring about his own salvation. Salvation is based solely on God’s grace and God’s choosing.

Others have understood salvation as somehow a work of God as well as a work of man. Those on this side of the debate teach that there is some power or ability on the part of man to cooperate with God in the process of salvation. Lost humanity is called upon to decide for Jesus. It is felt that such a calling implied some ability or responsibility on the part of man to respond.

God’s sovereign election and man’s exercise of responsibility in choosing Jesus Christ seem be opposite and irreconcilable truths—they are from our limited human perspective. But from God’s perspective, in Christ, they are harmonized. From God’s infinite perspective, salvation is by the grace of God and is the result of God choosing us according to his divine sovereignty. But there is also a sense in which we choose to follow Christ.

Salvation is by God’s grace. It is not something that we have earned, not something that we deserve, but rather it is the result of God’s choosing us before the foundation of the world. We are saved when we make a decision for Christ. When we “walk the aisle” if you will, but it must always be remembered, that long before we chose Christ, he has chosen us. In fact, it was before you or I are even born, before creation itself, that God chooses us for redemption.  

John 6:44, Jesus said, “No one comes to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” We do choose God, but it is only because he first chose us and enabled us, as sinful humans in our fallen condition, to choose him.

We belonged to God before time began, and we will be His after time has long run its course. Our names as believers were (Rev.13:8) “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.”

Why is it important to note that all this took place before creation? Because it points to the truth that our redemption is based on God’s choosing us rather than us earning or deserving his mercy.

This truth is illustrated quite clearly in Romans 9 – a passage that describes God’s electing or choosing Jacob over Esau (v.10-12) “Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

If God’s choosing took place after we were born or after we had done enough good things in our life, then we could take a little credit for ourselves. We could say, God chose me because I am such a good person. But no, God chose us before creation. Therefore, we can take no credit for his decision. Our salvation is by his grace alone.

One of the reasons that the doctrine of election is difficult for some is that we like to feel that we are in control, at least in part, of our lives (of our salvation). But the doctrine of election removes the idea that we are in control. Because our election took place before creation, it is completely apart from our control, completely apart from any merit or deserving that we could have. God simply chose us in him, that is, in Christ.

There can be no room for pride or imagined merit, but rather profound humility and thanksgiving. There are no grounds for boasting. I cannot say, “God chose me because I am a pretty good guy. Or God chose me because I earned it or deserved it. God made his decision to send his Son to give his life for all the saints of the church before creation. All we can do is thank God that we are recipients of his grace. Any merit in salvation is the merit of Christ Jesus and his death on the cross.

So what was the purpose of this election? …that we become holy and blameless. (v.4) “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Now because God chose us and redeemed us apart from any merit or goodness in us, some have reasoned that we can therefore sin all we want with the idea that God will continue to save us.

Paul talks much about the salvation we have by the grace of God in the book of Romans. At the beginning of chapter 6 of that book, he asks, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? His answer, “By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

God’s grace covers all our sins, and the more we sin the more God’s grace covers that sin. But we should never allow this biblical principle provide an excuse to continue in sin.

I have often heard people use this very line of reasoning. They treat God as this ever-forgiving God—a God who never stops extending his grace to his wayward people. These people reason, therefore, “Whatever trouble or sin we get ourselves into should not cause undue concern because God will always forgive.” Well, this may be true in part, but this should never become a cavalier attitude on the part of believers or become an excuse for our lives of sin. Instead, we must understand that God’s election is to a life of holiness and Christ-likeness. He chose us “to be holy and blameless in his sight.” 

In gratitude to what God has done, we are to live holy lives. The purpose of election is therefore our sanctification. Paul described the believers in the church as “saints” in verse 2.  This pointed to the fact that they were “set apart” for God’s purposes but also that we are to become holy or sanctified in his sight.

You see, election and unholy living do not go together. One cannot claim to be a Christian, one of God’s elect, and then continue to live in sin. One cannot claim to be a “saint” in the church and then live like the devil. We have been forgiven by the blood of Christ. That forgiveness covers all of our sins, and so we are indeed righteous in his eyes. The unworthy have been declared worth, the unrighteous have been declared holy. Our calling now as Christians is to put into “practice” that very holiness that we have before God.  

We read in Ephesians 5:27 that it is Christ’s eternal and foreordained plan to “present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or winkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.”

Why are we chosen by God? Why did God elect us? We read at the end of verse 4 and the beginning of verse 5, “In love, he predestined us…” The idea of predestination is the same as that of “choosing” or election. We see here that this all stems from the love that God has for us.

All of God’s activity, all have his interactions with humanity, stem from his deep love for us. Talking about the election of Israel as God’s chosen people, his holy nation, we read in (Deut. 7:7-8) “The Lord did not set His love on you nor chose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loves you.”

Israel was not chosen by God because of any merit on their part. They were not more deserving of God’s favor than all the other nations. No, their election, like our election, in based solely on God’s sovereign love and will.

What is the aim or goal of this election or predestination? (Verse 5)... that we be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ. Paul is indicating that God has chosen us to be his children. In Roman law adopted children enjoyed the same rights and privileges as natural children.

John 1:12,13  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a human will, but born of God.”

Rom. 8:15 “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear,” Paul says, “but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out ‘Abba, Father!”

Abba was an Aramaic word of endearment somewhat equivalent to Daddy or Papa. It the term a child would use to addressed his or her father.

And finally, under this first point of election, notice that our election and adoption as son is…According to his pleasure and will (v.5)

Phil 2:13 “God is at work in [us]…for his good pleasure.” God is pleased when his choosing, his election, results in the saints enjoying their adoption into God’s family. He is pleased when the election of the saints results in holy and blameless living in his glorious church.

Summarizing then our first point - the first blessing is the election we have in the Father. It is a blessing initiated in eternity past. It is a blessing secured by the love and will of God.

The second blessing we have, according to Paul, is the present blessing of redemption that we have in God the Son, we read starting in verse 7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins…”

The notion of redemption used in v. 7 comes from a verb which means to release from captivity. This word is used to refer to the payment of a ransom in order to release a person from bondage, especially that of slavery.

During New Testament times the Roman Empire has as many as six million slaves, and the buying and selling of slaves was a major business. If a person wanted to free a loved one or friend who was a slave, he would buy that slave for himself and then grant him freedom, testifying to the deliverance of the slave by a written certificate.

This idea of release from bondage is precisely the idea we see in the New Testament. It is a release from bondage secured by Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. He paid the redemption price to buy for Himself fallen mankind and to set us free from our sin.

Sin is man’s captor and slave owner, and it demands a price for his release. Death is the price that had to be paid for man’s redemption from sin. Biblical redemption therefore refers to the act of God by which He Himself paid the ransom, the price for sin.

The story is told of a small boy who lived in a city on the shore of a great lake. This young lad loved the water and sailing. So deep was his fascination that he, with the help of his father, spent months making a beautiful model boat, which he began to sail at the water’s edge. One day a sudden gust of wind caught the tiny boat and carried it far out into the lake and out of sight. Distraught, the boy returned home inconsolable. Day after day he would walk the shores in search of his treasure, but always in vain. Then one day as he was walking through town he saw his beautiful boat—in a store window! He approached the proprietor and announced his ownership, only to be told that it was not his, for the owner had paid a local fisherman good money for the boat. If the boy wanted the boat, he would have to pay the price. And so the lad set himself to work doing anything and everything until finally he returned to the store with the money. At last, holding his precious boat in his arms, he said with great joy, “You are twice mine now—because I made you, and because I bought you.”

That indeed is the story of God’s relation to us. He created us for his glory, and when we wandered away in sin, he purchased us back with the blood of Christ. We are indeed twice-owned by God, having been created by him and then redeemed by his blood.

The price of redemption is the blood of Christ. It cost the blood of the Son of God to buy men back from the slave market of sin. It cost the blood of the Son of God to secure the forgiveness of our trespasses.

Israel’s greatest holy day was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On that day the high priest selected two unblemished sacrificial goats. One goat was killed, and his blood was sprinkled on the altar as a sacrifice. The high priest placed his hands upon the head of the other goat, symbolically laying the sins of the people on the animal. The goat was then taken out deep into the wilderness, so far that it could never find its way back. In symbol the sins of the people went with the goat, never to return to them again. (Lev. 16:7-10)(MacArthur)

In the same way, Christ became the unblemished sacrificial animal for the sins of mankind. Through the shedding of his blood, he took our sins upon himself, removing that sin from us.

The redemption and forgiveness through his blood are all according to his abundant grace. If you notice, grace is a theme that runs throughout the opening verses of Ephesians. Paul wishes grace upon his readers in verse 2, his election and adoption is “to the praise of his glorious grace” (v.6). In fact verse 6 uses the root for the word grace (charis) twice: once as a noun and once as a verb. Literally, it could be translated, “he has graced us with his grace” Following the full word order, the verse could be translated, “to the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he as graced us (or blessed us, or shown kindness to us) in the beloved (that is, in Christ). Finally in verse 7, Paul indicates that all these things were accomplished “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”

Grace is the power that works throughout the Christian life – in both our redemption and in our sanctification.

We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. An interesting feature of the opening verses of Ephesians is this—verse 3 through verve 14 are one long sentence in Paul’s letter. It is one long “doxology” for God’s many blessings. A doxology is an outpouring of praise and thanksgiving to God for what He has done for us.

Paul feels compelled to praise God in these opening verses.

v. 3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

v. 6 “to the praise of his glorious grace.”

v.12 “for the praise of his glory.”

v. 14 “to the praise of his glory.”

We must always be full of praise and thanksgiving to God for his blessings…

Paul goes on in verse 11, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”

Now we have here a case where the NIV renders a rather odd translation for the first verb. The NIV reads “we were also chosen.” A much better translation (and one contained in KJV, NAB, NRS) is “we have obtained an inheritance” or “we were appointed as heir.” This translation carries the future orientation that these last few verses of this section address, and this is the now the third point in our outline. We have an inheritance in the Holy Spirit, our third spiritual blessing, pointing to the future.  

This spiritual inheritance, as these verses indicate, is secure and certain in God the Holy Spirit. It is an inheritance (looking now to the next phrase in verse 11) that was decided beforehand or determined in advance according to God’s divine plan. We also see here that the same God who devised the plan will also work out all the details so that everything conforms to his plan or purpose.

We read in the latter part of v. 13 and v. 14: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

There are three keys thoughts here:

1. Promise – While the NIV renders this idea as the “promised Holy Spirit,” it is better translated “the Holy Spirit of promise” (KJV, NAB). God the Holy Spirit is making promises about the future in which we can have certainty. You see, while humans have the tendency to make and break promises, God’s promises are certain and reliable. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “He who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23) Or as Paul illustrates in Romans 4:21, like Abraham, every believer should be fully assured that what God promises He is able and certain to perform. According to Titus 1:2, Ours is a God who will not and cannot lie. What is the promise we have in God? That we are heirs, and that we will receive an inheritance as God’s children in Christ—that our redemption will be complete at the end of time. That promise is sure.

2. Sealed – The sealing of which Paul is speaking refers to an official mark of identification that was placed on a letter, contract or other important document. The seal usually was made from hot wax, which was placed on the document and then impressed with a signet ring. The document was thereby officially identified with and under the authority of the person to whom the signet ring belonged.

This is the very idea behind our being sealed in Christ with the Holy Spirit of promise. The seal of God’s Spirit in the believer signifies our security in God’s promises. The Holy Spirit secures each believer, marking him with God’s own seal. Later Paul writes in Eph. 4:30 that believers are “sealed for the day of redemption.” Because God’s seal is on us, our redemption is certain.

3. A deposit or pledge of our inheritance – The deposit or pledge originally referred to a down payment or earnest money given to secure a purchase. Later it came to represent any sort of pledge or earnest. A form of the word even came to be used for an engagement ring. As believers, we have the Holy Spirit as the divine pledge of our inheritance, God’s first installment of His guarantee that the fullness of the promised spiritual blessings will one day be completely fulfilled. John MacArthur writes, “The Holy Spirit is the church’s irrevocable pledge, her divine engagement ring, as it were, that as Christ’s bride, she will never be neglected or forsaken.” 

This completes our threefold blessing (past, present, and future)

As we reflect on the opening verses of Ephesians: Application

1. In humility, thank God for his election and choosing of you for salvation: This opening section in Paul’s letter to Ephesians is actually a doxology. That means it is Paul praising and worshiping God for what he has done in our lives. We also must praise and worship God for what he has done in our lives.

2. In diligence, live our lives in and with the holiness to which God has called us. Not viewing his grace as an excuse for continuing in sin, but treating it as an incentive toward righteousness.

3. With urgency, share the message of reconciliation which God has entrusted to us with the lost world because this is the means the God has employed to bring about redemption. People are saved by God’s grace and in accordance with his election, but God has also called us to be Christ’s ambassadors…    

4. Finally, with great hope, know that the work and plan that God has established in all eternity will indeed come to completion—for it is a plan devised by the Father, it is a plan put into effect by the Son, and it is a plan guaranteed by the Spirit.

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