How To Get Elected
How to Get Elected
When I was a little boy, my friends and I built a clubhouse. You should have seen it – or maybe it was better that you didn’t see it. There was a small lumber yard not far from our home in Hutchinson, Kansas, and when they had small pieces of scrap wood they used to throw it onto a trailer out back and we could go down and bring any of that wood home with us to do with as we wanted. It was great. But of course, there was no consistency to the pieces, most were small and to fill in, we sometimes resorted to cardboard – all of which was destroyed every time there was a rain. Truth is, that clubhouse was a hodge podge that didn’t look very good and wasn’t very functional. My dad, a master carpenter, finally took pity and built us a wonderful framework, large enough to walk in and with consistent dimensions. I learned the value of a plan and the benefits of something being built by one who knew what he was doing.
Well, the book of Ephesians is all about God’s masterpiece of construction – the church. It doesn’t always look like it, but someday it will be revealed that He knows just what He is doing and its future is truly glorious. It is to be the means by which he accomplishes His purpose, kept secret as a mystery until the time of Paul’s writing but now revealed in verse 9 9) making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10) as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
As Paul thinks about all this, he became so ecstatic in his dictation that before he knew it, he had composed a wonderful 202-word single sentence doxology -- thought to be the longest sentence known to literature, other than one I think I penned in a 9th grade composition class! This single sentence by Paul covers everything from election, to predestination, to forgiveness, to redemption, to sanctification, foreordination, adoption, acceptance, enrichment, enlightenment, inheritance, glorification, sealing, -- the list goes on and on – all in one sentence!
All three persons of the Trinity are here – in verses 4-6 we have the Father playing His part in the past in choosing those who would be in the church. In verses 7-10 we see the Son providing redemption now and then in verses 11-14 we have the Holy Spirit sealing us as a guarantee of future blessings. In all of this, Paul constantly gives God the glory: “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (v. 6); “that we…should be to the praise of His glory” (v. 12); “to the praise of His glory” (v. 14). Paul’s doxology is a wonderful foundation for this book. Today we begin by looking at God the Father’s part in the formation of His Church – the choosing, the election of its members.
We’ve just been through a nationwide election. You may or may not have liked the outcome, but there is no doubt that elections are controversial. And some strange things happen in elections, too. I heard of one candidate who came home late on election night filled with elation. He gave his wife the glorious news. “Honey, I’ve been elected!” “Honestly?” she replied with enthusiasm. “Hey,” he said, “Why bring that up?”
Well, we have a great passage before us the next couple of weeks and it deals with an election that is as honest and as sacred and as holy as anything could ever be – and folks, if you are “in Christ” as we discussed last week – if you are a believer, then this election is definitely about you. If you are not sure that you are “in Christ” today, then I want to invite you to listen closely, because I think you will want to be and we will tell you how to get elected.
Now I am perfectly aware of how many viewpoints are probably represented here today on this topic -- of how fraught with baggage this topic is – of how much controversy surrounds it – of how heated the discussions sometimes get. I know all of that. I also know that such reactions totally miss the spirit of this passage and rob us of the comfort and glory and majesty and blessing that should be ours in considering the subject.
So – I want to ask you to put aside any pre-conceived notions you may have on the topic today. Just put them aside whatever they may be. I want us to remember that John Calvin did not invent election. Augustine did not invent election nor did Martin Luther. Neither did Arminius or John Wesley invent free will. Both were invented and introduced by God! Both are taught in Scripture. And so as we study this passage on election I want us to consider that God authored these words. And he did not author them for argumentation or to create hard feelings. He authored them for our edification, for our insight and for our joy! Paul blesses God for his election, so I beg you, look at this subject as never before. Let’s revel in the truth of election – of your election! We’re going to unpack this passage in detail and examine eight elements of election presented here. You will see yourself and your God differently by the time we get done. So, hang with me here, leave your prejudices behind, and let’s ask what does this passage teach us about God’s election – His choosing of you and me by name to be part of His body, the church?
I. The Method of God’s Choosing – Election
So, let us begin our examination of God’s building His Church. First the method. We find it in verse 4: 4) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love. What was God’s method? Very simple. He chose. The Greek word is the word εκλεγομαι and it means in Greek exactly what it means in English. It means to select one or some subset out of a larger group. In classical Greek it was used of rulers selecting certain soldiers for guard duty or certain candidates to be their oarsmen. It was used of men who singled out those grey hairs from their head to pull out. They chose them. In the Greek version of the OT it is said that David chose certain stones for his sling when he went to fight Goliath.
There are a couple of things worth noting about the concept of choosing as it is used in the Bible. First of all, the choice is always made from all known options. Nothing and no one is overlooked. Second, the choosing of one never indicates that something or someone not chosen is spurned or disliked. Third, the choosing is always based on the will of the one choosing. It is never based on the goodness, attractiveness, merit or value of the thing or the one chosen. Never. And so it is in the case of the election of believers. We are chosen totally based on the grace of God – never on our own merit.
The Bible is also pretty clear that apart from God’s choosing there would be no blessing for anyone.
In Deuteronomy 7:6 God chose Israel out of all the possible nations and they were blessed as a result and they were themselves a blessing to others as a result (Gen. 12:20). The angels were elect (I Tim. 5:21). Christ was chosen (I Pet. 2:6). But in particular, believers are chosen -- elect, specially selected by God.
Jesus said to His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you” (John 15:16). And in the same Gospel, John said, 12) But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.(1:12–13).
Paul taught the election of God in his other epistles like 2 Tim. 1:9: “9) who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,” He says in 2 Thess. 2:13: “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation” The point -- we can run, but we cannot hide. If we are “in Christ” today, it is simply because God chose us and that is what makes us special.
It was a great thrill for me the first time I got to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. I had followed baseball since I was a child and to actually get to that place when I was well over 40 years of age was still very exciting. One of the first things I sought out was an exhibit that included a red New York Yankees locker with the number 3 on the outside. Babe Ruth. And inside that locker was the long, heavy-handled bat that Babe Ruth had once used. Millions of baseball bats have been made over the years. Why, of all things, was that one any different from all the others that I might have been interested in? Why was it there? Very simple reason. Because in the late afternoon of September 30, 1927, Babe Ruth came out of the Yankee dugout to take his turn at bat. It was the bottom on the 8th and the game was tied at two when Ruth emerged, looked at the bats available to him and selected one. With that bat in hand, he walked to the plate and on a 3-2 pitch from Tom Zachery of the Washington Senators, Ruth hit a curve ball deep to right field for his 60th home run of the year. That is the bat that I saw in the Hall of Fame. Its presence there had nothing to do with its inherent quality. It was neither better nor worse than any other bat. But on that day, Babe Ruth chose it and it’s whole future changed.
Now, Beloved, put aside again any thoughts you have about further implications and think about this. Just like Babe Ruth chose that bat and changed its whole future through no merit of its own – just so, God chose you. [p] Can you get your arms around that? God chose you. God elected you -- by name! As Paul thought about his past persecution of Christ and antagonism toward the church and then realized that God had chosen him, he got almost euphoric. So should we, for Beloved, God chose us – if we are “in Christ”.
And the word that is used here is further instructive. It is a verb in the middle voice. We don’t have that in English, but in Greek the middle voice is reflexive, meaning that the sense here is that God chose us for himself. Get the meaning? Can you think back to that time when the person who is your spouse today was yet uncommitted to you. You knew that you loved them, but others were in pursuit. You didn’t know how it would go, but at some moment in time you found out that that person loved you too – and didn’t just love you, but wanted you for themselves – exclusively. You didn’t come to your senses for days, did you?
That’s exactly the sense here. God chose you – for himself. Just think about that. Revel in the fact that long before you were born or even thought of by anyone else, God chose you for Himself. If that doesn’t bring joy to our soul, we are too calloused. We need a fresh glimpse of him for it should leave us as breathless as it did Paul.
God did not choose us because we were good. We hadn’t done anything good or bad at the time He chose. He did not elect us because He foresaw that we would choose Him. Some have mistakenly thought that as God looked out in time, He saw those who would believe and elected them. They misconstrue Romans 8. Look with me beginning at verse 28: 28) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29) For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. They say, see, God foreknew that some would believe and he predestined them. But that understanding does irretrievable damage to the text. First of all, the word “foreknow” means not to know ahead of time but to determine to enter into a relationship with. The word “know” is often used in the OT to speak of the intimacy of a marriage relationship. When we read that Adam knew his wife, it doesn’t mean he met her in the garden one day and said “Hello, how are you? Don’t I know you?” No – it means that they entered an intimate relationship that produced a child. So foreknow means to determine ahead of time to enter a relationship.
But notice further in verse 28 that we were called “according to his purpose” – not according to something he saw ahead of time. He called us because he purposed to do so. When we are told that God foreknew Christ in I Pet 1:20, do you suppose it is teaching us that He just looked out in the future and saw what Christ would do? Of course not. It is teaching that God pre-determined what Christ would do.
I guarantee you that God did not choose anyone based on looking out and seeing that they would believe. You know what He saw when He looked out into the future? Turn with me to Romans 3. Here is what He saw. 10) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11) no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12) All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” What God saw was that there was no one – not one single solitary person would choose him if He did not do something. So He chose us. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But keep in mind, it says in Ephesians 1:4 even as he chose us in him. When God the Father saw that no one would seek him, he determined to choose some, but it was “in Him” – “in Christ” that He chose. There’s that phrase again. He could only choose if Christ would come to provide the sacrifice needed to give us his righteousness. Only with that determined was the Father free to choose.
So, just like Babe Ruth selected that one bat that afternoon, so God, deliberately, calculatedly, freely and lovingly looked out one day on all of mankind and he said, “I choose --- I choose Lee, and I choose Joy and I choose Leslie, and I choose Mike.” He chose us because He wanted to. He chose us regardless of the sin that would plague us. He chose us despite the fact that we would never have willingly chosen Him first. He chose us – because He chose us. There should be no end to our thanksgiving that He did.
II. The Object of God’s Choosing – The Elect
Now, if you’ve been paying attention up to this point, it is obvious to you that the implication of God choosing some is that there are others He does not choose. This is the crux of the reason why some do not like this doctrine. They think it unfair that God would choose some but not others. They go so far as to contend that by not choosing some, God is condemning them. In this they willfully ignore that every man is condemned by his own sin, never by God’s interference.
Human beings left to their own devices are according to Scripture absolutely unwilling and unable to come to God. I could multiply Scriptures this morning. Let me give you one example from John 5, beginning at verse 39. Jesus is here debating with the religious rulers of the Jews who by now have condemned him in their hearts and want to do more. He says to them (and please listen very closely now. This speaks for itself). “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me. 40) yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Get the picture? Those who search the Scriptures – not just the average Joe off the street, but those who honestly search the Scriptures; those who search the Scriptures with a view to eternal life; those who search the Scriptures with a view to eternal life which Scriptures bear witness to Jesus Christ are nonetheless unwilling to come to Him. Why is that? Turn with me to John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
The word “draws” carries the idea of an irresistible force and was used in ancient Greek literature of a desperately hungry man being drawn to food. Salvage yards use giant electromagnets to lift and partially sort scrap metal. When the magnet is turned on, a tremendous magnetic force draws all the ferrous metals that are near it, but has no effect on other metals such as aluminum and brass. In a similar way, God’s elective will irresistibly draws to Himself those whom He has predetermined to love and forgive, while having no effect on those whom He has not.
To me the absolute epitome of this truth is found no further away than Genesis 3. Adam and Eve, having enjoyed perfect fellowship with God for we know not how long eventually succumbed to the temptation of the devil, and they sinned. What was their reaction – these who had experienced the excellence of perfection? Did they run to God in confession and humility? Did they seek His remedy for their plight? Well, you know the answer. They did what every man, woman, boy and girl since has ever done. They hid from the presence of the Lord. He sought them out – not the other way around. He called them, not vice versa. He chose them after they had chosen against Him. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
On our own we simply would never turn to God. And the fact that God chooses some – far from being an act of condemnation to others, is an act of extreme mercy and love and blessing to those who are chosen. Adam and Eve became the very first to experience what was expressed by a young man that Harry Ironside, long ago pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, used to tell about. He said the young man came for membership in the church and was questioned about his salvation. He responded by saying, “Well, I did my part and God did His.” The leaders, thinking the boy was saying he could add to his salvation, questioned him further. What did he mean that he did his part? What was his part? To that question the young man replied, “Well, my part was sinning. God’s part was saving.” Exactly what Adam and Eve and I hope everyone here this morning has experienced.
What if I’m not elect?
But now let’s get to the critical question. What if you haven’t had that experience? What if you are not “in Christ” here this morning? What if you have never repented of your sins and asked Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord? What if you cannot say with assurance this morning that you are part of this elect group? Does that mean you are out? Does that mean there is not hope? What if God did not choose you? What then?
Now I want you to listen very closely now. If you have a full blown concern this morning about whether or not you are one of God’s chosen. If you have even a shadow of a doubt whether or not you have been eternally ignored by God, then I want to address these comments to you. You will notice that I have entitled this sermon, “How to Get Elected.” And now I want to tell you how to get elected. Here it is in the simplest possible words – They are from Acts 16:31 where Paul says, 31) “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Can you believe in Jesus Christ? Can you accept that he was God come in the flesh to die for you and to be resurrected again – then you can be elected!
God’s choice is wonderful. To believers under persecution it provided a much needed assurance that it would not be for naught. But God’s choosing doesn’t do away with our choice. There’s a broad way that leads to destruction. It gets narrower the further you go. You can keep on that way if you wish, but you can also turn off. I John 2:1 says Christ has made propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” A legitimate offer of salvation is there. You can turn off the broad way onto the narrow way that broadens as it goes. God so loved the world that whosoever will may come. Paul says in Romans 10:9-10: 9) because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. There is no qualification here – no further action required – no ritual or rite to go through. If you will truly confess Jesus as Lord and believe that God has raised Him from the dead, dear man, woman, boy or girl, you can be elected. The Bible is unequivocal.
You say, but you just said that only the elect can be saved. That’s right. And I believe it because the Bible teaches it. But the Bible also teaches what we just read. It’s up to you! Jesus himself says in Mark 8:34 If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Listen to me now. Listen carefully. We will all – everyone of us one day stand before God and answer the question what have we done with Christ. And you will never, ever be able to say, I rejected Him because I was not elected by God. Never. It will not happen. Because he has said in essence that WHOSOEVER WILL MAY COME. The responsibility is squarely upon each of us and each of us will answer to God for what we did with that decision. How do you get elected? You accept the gift of eternal life that God offers you in Christ, by confessing your sins, asking His forgiveness and offering your life to be replaced by Christ living in you. That’s all it takes! It’s your choice. D.L. Moody said, “The whosoeverwill’s are the elect and the whosoeverwon’ts are the nonelect” It’s up to you.
So, you say, God’s election is conditioned by man’s acceptance? The truth is somewhere in the middle between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will to choose? No, no no. That’s not it at all. What I’m saying is that though we cannot understand it, though our mind simply can’t grasp it all and make rational sense of it, though our limited vision renders us unable to totally get it, both are true. If we accept Scripture, we must accept both. Think of it this way – from God’s perspective, the elect are those whom He has chosen, unfettered by any condition, without respect to person and with the full knowledge that they would never come without his drawing them.
BUT, from a human perspective the elect are those who having been drawn by the message of the gospel, having been prompted by the Holy Spirit and having been convinced of their need of a Savior, respond freely and willingly to the Spirit’s prompting. Though we don’t get it, both God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are true.
And here is the proof. Are you ready? The same Jesus who said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” says this in John 6:37 37) All that the Father gives me will come to me (God’s sovereignty), and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (man’s free will). We see the very same juxtapostion of sovereignty and free will in Luke 22:22 22) For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined (Jesus’ betrayal and death were a matter of God’s sovereignty as expressed in many prophesies to that effect), but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed! (human free will as expressed in the person of Judas was the instrument)”
You say, “I don’t get it.” Join the crowd! Listen, we accept things all the time that we don’t understand. Perhaps this will help. Put this in a category called “antinomy”. An antinomy is a contradiction between rules or laws, between two equally valid principles. Take light for example. We know that matter cannot be energy and energy cannot be matter. Yet light has properties of both energy and matter. That’s impossible from a scientific point of view. And yet it’s absolutely true. In some experiments light seems to be energy composed of waves. In other experiments it seems to be matter and composed of particles. We don’t understand that, so do we say – “Well, let’s do away with light! I don’t get it so I’m not going to believe in or utilize light anymore!”? Of course we don’t do that. We just enjoy the light, right? So my question is, if we can live with such contradiction in the physical realm, why not in the spiritual? This Bible contains some things that are so simple that a child can understand them and some things that are so complex that even the brightest minds cannot comprehend them, but that does not make them any less true anymore than our science books are false because they can’t explain light.
When Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher, was asked how he reconciled God’s sovereignty and predestination with free human will, he said this: “I see no need to reconcile between friends”. I like that. Be glad that God is bigger than you are – whether it be concerning the attributes of light or the elements of salvation.
Someone has beautifully depicted it like this and I believe it has some validity. Imagine that over the gates entering heaven is written in large letters, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). On the side of the door facing those who were already in heaven were written the words “called through his grace” (Gal.1:15).
III. The time of God’s Choosing – Eternity Past
Now, let’s look at some additional elements of God’s choosing as presented in this passage. How about the time of God’s choosing. It is in eternity past. Look again at verse 4: 4) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. With the introduction of this phrase, we really cross a fantastic threshold. We are immediately transported back to a time before time. Certainly it was before the world was created and I believe before time began – and what do we see. God, Himself, is busy planning out the future, including those whom He will choose. Does that give you goose bumps or what?
Listen to what God says to Jeremiah in 1:5: 5) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Here is the word “knew” used again as we saw last week to speak of a determination to enter a relationship with. I mean, how does it feel to know that you are part of God’s blueprint? This verse always reminds me of an event that involved the inimitable Winston Churchill. In the early 1900s, Churchill gave a lecture on his dramatic escape from prison during the Boer War. He had been provided with a large map of the relevant part of South Africa, which he used from time to time during the talk. Describing his movements immediately after the escape, he suddenly broke off, looked closely at the map, and carefully placed the tip of his pointed on a tiny dot. “That’s me!” he announced. Beloved – that’s you – right there in the middle of God’s blueprint for all time. There you are. Really and truly, there you are.
Here’s another one for you to think about. It’s from Psalm 139. I did a sermon one time entitled, “If God Can Be Trusted, Why Do I Look Like This?” I want to share it with you one of these days. Psalm 139 formed a lot of the basis for it. Psalm 139 speaks of how God was involved in the very forming of us in the womb. Wonderful passage. Here’s what verse 16 says: 16) Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Believe me, folks, we are no surprise to God. Before the world was ever formed, He had already chosen you.
Think about it this way. In Russia today it takes a long time to get a car. It usually takes an average of 10 years to save up enough money to buy a car, and then you have to pay in advance to get in the queue. So, one guy saved and saved until the great day finally arrived. Ten years after he began, he had enough for his car. So he goes to the state bureaucracy responsible for cars in high hopes only to have those hopes dashed. The clerk took the money and said, “Okay, come back ten years from today and pick up your car.” “Ten years?” Ten years.” Becoming resigned to his fate, the man said, “Okay, ten years from today – morning or afternoon?” “Morning or afternoon?” said the bureaucrat. “Morning or afternoon? What possible difference could that make in ten years.” The guys says, “Well, the plumber is coming in the morning.”
Does that story pain you like it pains me. I like order. I like speed. I like results. I like definition. You know what I like? I like God thinking everything out before time began so that He is never taken by surprise, never at a loss for what to do, never outflanked, however it may appear. I like God doing all that and saying at the same time, Dave McNeff—I choose you. One implication of God choosing us before the foundation of the world is that He is absolutely in charge.
I think it is also interesting that just as God chose us, He also chose the method by which our salvation would be accomplished. Look again at verse 4: 4) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. Note that He chose us “in Him.” Just as we’ve seen earlier, everything is predicated on Jesus Christ. The choosing is “in Him”, meaning that without his shed blood and sacrificial death, none of this could happen. Interestingly enough, Peter uses language almost identical to Paul’s to describe Jesus’ part in providing God a means of choosing us. He says in I Peter 1 19) but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20) He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you. So, you see, just as God foreknew (determined to enter a relationship) with us – he also foreknew Christ, that is, determined that his sacrifice would provide a means for what would otherwise have been impossible. When Peter says in I Peter 5:7 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you – it is a dramatic understatement. God has been caring for us since before time began. Honestly, I can’t fathom it, but I love the security it brings to know it.
One other implication we should note. If God chose us before time even began, it certainly wasn’t on the basis of anything good we had done, was it. It was long before we had done anything, and with the full knowledge as expressed in Romans 3:10 that not a single member of the human race would ever seek Him out on His own and yet He chose to save and honor us. Do you get that? Do you? Would you do that for someone and you didn’t have to?
You see, this means it is all grace. It has nothing to do with human merit. It is all grace. Spurgeon 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.”
Jesus describes it this way in Matthew 25:34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. John Newton who wrote “Amazing Grace” said it this way: “When I get to heaven, I shall see three wonders there: The first wonder will be to see many there whom I did not expect to see; the second wonder will be to miss many people whom I did expect to see; the third and greatest of all will be to find myself there.” All because he chose us in eternity past. How thankful we should be that God has been active on our behalf for so long.
IV. The Purpose of God’s Choosing – that we be holy and blameless
Still looking at verse 4 we read 4) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. The little word “that” introduces a “purpose” clause. Why did God choose us in the first place? You would think that you might find some comment about qualifying us for heaven, wouldn’t you? But, you see, while that is absolutely true, God’s purpose goes beyond just what we get out of His grace. God’s goal is to get us back to His original intention for mankind – being a holy and blameless people who could have fellowship with Him.
Did you ever play with those race car sets where you punch a button to regulate the speed and these cars go around the track way too fast to stay in their grooves? Ever play those? You spend way more time picking up the cars and putting them back in their grooves than anything else, right?
Well, in a sense, that’s what God is doing with election. He is setting mankind back in the groove – back on the course He intended all along that would be good for Him and good for us. That purpose of our election is that we would become blameless and holy. God says in I Peter 1:16 You shall be holy for I am holy. That is the purpose of election and the goal of our existence.
Now the interesting point here is that we are chosen to be holy, not because we are holy. If we were holy, there would be no point to choosing us to become holy! Thus, as a sinner, we are perfectly positioned to be the object of God’s choosing and redemption. The implication, of course, is that all those chosen would be hopelessly lost without God’s election. As one commentator says, “Election is not conditioned on man’s foreseen merits or even on his foreseen faith. It is salvation’s root, not its fruit!
Understand that you have nothing to offer God. We’re like the IRS. The IRS can be really accommodating. They asked one taxpayer in for an audit, and when it was over they said, “We’ll call you a cab.” “No thanks,” he told them. “I have a car.” They said, “That’s what you think.” That’s you and me trying to offer God our righteousness – our efforts – our balance between good and bad. We say, but God, I have righteousness. He says, “That’s what you think.” God chose us to become holy, not because we were holy or He foresaw that we would be or any other permutation. The purpose of election is so that God will have holy people to demonstrate forever through His grace throughout His universe.
Now there is a question of timing here. When exactly is this blamelessness and holiness supposed to happen? The words “before Him” give some clue. They would suggest that a future culmination is in view. It is certain that the Ephesians were not perfect as indicated by Paul’s encouragement to them later to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. We know that we are certainly not perfect yet.
In Ephesians 5:27 Paul speaks of how Christ will sanctify the believers 27) so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Turn with me to Philippians 1. He notes in verse 9 : 9) And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more (not perfect, see, but progressing), with knowledge and all discernment, 10) so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. So the ultimate fulfillment of this purpose is yet future at the day of Christ.
Yet, there is a sense in which even now, “in Christ” that is our position. We are seen by God as perfect now. Paul says in Romans 8:1 1) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He tells the Ephesians in 4:1 as he moves from the doctrinal to the practical portion of the book “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, What is he saying? Act like what you are. We find very similar language in Philippians 2: 14) Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15) that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, Though not yet perfect, God does expect us to be blameless in the midst of a very imperfect world.
So, let’s review for a moment. The purpose of election is that we who are elect might become holy and blameless. The ultimate fulfillment of this will be at the time when Christ comes again. And yet, positionally, we are holy now. We are saints now as he notes in verse 2. So, when we get to the latter half of the book we will see the emphasis is on becoming in practice what we are in position.
I’m sure you can appreciate the tension this brings because you experience it. I love what Brennan Manning says, “When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and I get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, ‘A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.’” Folks, that’s a great description of the Christian life, and if you are experiencing it, join the club. The life we are living now is one of growth, not perfection. We’re moving experientially toward what we have been chosen for and toward what we already have in position.
But we must also acknowledge that if we’ve been chosen for holiness and should logically be moving in that direction, there may be something wrong if there is no movement. It’s not a question of, do we sin? We do. It’s a question of do we sin less! It’s a question of in what direction are we looking and is there progress, for if there is not, something is drastically wrong. We’ve been called to holiness. Holiness is gradually being worked out in our lives and will be consummated at the coming of Christ. And the clear implication for believers is that even now we should live according to the divine intention.
If we’re not, we might well ask, are we truly Christian? We’ve all heard the “You might be a redneck if” jokes. You might be redneck if
· You think Taco Bell is a Mexican phone company
· You’ve been married three times and still have the same in-laws
· Your house still has the WIDE LOAD sticker on the back
· You like to shop at Dollar General because it’s casual and you don’t have to get dressed up like when you’re going to WalMart
· You carry a fishing pole into Sea World
· You bring back more than you took on a trip to the dump.
So, how about, you might not be a Christian if . . . R. Kent Hughes, pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois says this about testing your Christianity: “If some of your most cherished thoughts are hatreds, if you are determined not to forgive, you may not be a true believer. If you are a committed materialist who finds that your greatest joys are self-indulgence – clothing your body with lavish outfits, having all your waking thoughts devoted to house, cars, clothing , and comforts – you may not be a Christian. If you are a sensualist who is addicted to pornography, if your mind is a twenty-four-hour bordello – and you think it’s okay – you may very well not be a Christian, regardless of how many times you have ‘gone forward’ and mouthed the evangelical shibboleths. Election ultimately results in holiness, but the process begins now.” Are you elect, Beloved? You can’t tell by your perfection. You’re not there yet. But you can surely tell by which way you are pointed! And you know that better than anyone.
V. The Motive for God’s Choosing – Love
Now we come to a very interesting little phrase at the end of verse 4. Your Bible probably puts a period at the end of “before Him” as does the ESV. Most translations do. The indication is that the phrase “in love” goes with the next verse and modifies predestination. The sense would be that God predestined us to adoption because He loved us – certainly a correct idea.
However the majority of commentators, including those most skilled in the Greek language, believe that “in love” modifies “holy and blameless.” The sense would then be that God has chosen us for the purpose of making us blameless and holy in response to His love. Either interpretation could be correct and neither changes the meaning of the passage, only the nuance. I favor the latter for a variety of technical reasons. I believe that a twofold idea is in mind. First God has purposed to make us holy because He loves us, and second, our motive for cooperating with this process is love.
Of course, the word used here is the word αγαπη. It contrasts to the word ερος which is much more closer to the way we use the word “love” in our culture. These two differ on two primary points. First, ερος only loves that which it perceives as “worthy” – thus we gravitate toward those who are attractive, ambitious, successful, and valued when choosing those we will love, spurred on by an emotional impulse and certainly not a calculated decision. And second, which follows naturally, ερος desires to possess. We like to think that we are thinking only of the other when we love, but the truth is, we want exclusivity; we want access; we want a return response; we want to possess.
And αγαπη, of course, is exactly the opposite. It is a love bestowed by decision without regard to merit or worth and it seeks to give, not get. God does not love us because we stir an emotional response in Him by our goodness or cuteness or cuddliness. We’d be without hope were that the case, would we not? He loves us because He freely chooses to do so and out of that decision, He desires to give, not take.
A few weeks ago the Family Circus cartoon showed the mother holding her little son and saying, “Why are you so special and precious to me?” The little boy replies, “I don’t know, Mommy. I guess I was just borned that way.”
See, that is the wonderful truth of election. In spite of ourselves, not because of ourselves, God chooses to love us. Paul makes that crystal clear in Romans 5 8) but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God didn’t see us as lovely. He saw us for exactly what we are and He still loved us. C. K. Chesterton called this the “furious love of God”. I like that, don’t you? It speaks of God’s single, relentless stance and purpose toward us. He is not, as we so often picture Him, capricious or moody. He knows no seasons of change. He loves us.
As a matter of fact, think about this for a moment. He is the only God that man has ever heard of, taking all the religions of the world into account, He is the only God who loves sinners! Outside of Christianity, the effort is always to change to earn God’s love, to merit God’s affection, to entice God to turn my way. Only in the Bible do we find a God who already loves sinners. Brennan Manning says, “False gods – the gods of human manufacturing – despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course, this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: Through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of grace”
Now, can you see, once we really understand love like that, God’s love for us becomes the primary motivator for us, His elect, to fulfill His purpose for us to become holy. No doubt you’ve already proven to yourself that you won’t get very far in changing your lifestyle to become holy by determining that you will follow God’s law. Nor is it much of a motivator to think that He is just watching to zap us every time we err. But love can change everything. I think if we truly understood even a small fraction of just how much God loves us, it would change us completely.
A husband and wife didn't really love each other. The man was very demanding, so much so that he prepared a list of rules and regulations for his wife to follow. He insisted that she read them over every day and obey them to the letter. Among other things, his "do's and don'ts" indicated such details as what time she had to get up in the morning, when his breakfast should be served, and how the housework should be done. After several long years, the husband died. As time passed, the woman fell in love with another man, one who dearly loved her. Soon they were married. This husband did everything he could to make his new wife happy, continually showering her with tokens of his appreciation. One day as she was cleaning house, she found tucked away in a drawer the list of commands her first husband had drawn up for her. As she looked it over, it dawned on her that even though her present husband hadn't given her any kind of list, she was doing everything her first husband's list required anyway. She realized she was so devoted to this man that her deepest desire was to please him out of love, not obligation. This is just the same steady, permanent, unchanging, unconditional love that the Father extends to us. As we truly grasp it, think of it, meditate on it, revel in it, it will change our motivations, our actions and our lives.
VI. The Implementation of God’s Choosing – Adoption
Now the next element of election that we want to look at is the implementation. How is His choosing actually implemented? We find it in verse 5. 5) he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. The word “predestination” used here is a further explanation of the “election” or “choosing” of verse 4.
One way to see the distinction between these words is to view God’s choosing or election as His determining who is to be on board a plane with His kingdom as its destination. Predestination (or foreordination) is His determining how it goes -- the schedule, the routing, the speed and all the other necessary details to complete the trip. Choosing identifies the group who is going. Predestination arranges to get them there.
And the means God uses is implement our election is nothing short of unbelievable. He adopts us. God the Father adopts us. What an innovation!
What did adoption mean in the Roman world of the Ephesians? Family life was a little different back then. It would certainly not have stood up to the political correctness filters we have in place today. The father then had absolute power. He could dictate his family’s every move. Schooling, career choice, even marriage partner were all at his discretion. Further, he had the power of life and death in his family. In one instance related by William Barclay a son named Aulus Fulvius joined the rebel outlaw named Cataline. He was arrested and brought back to his father who on his own authority ordered that the son be put to death. He said that “he had begotten him, not for Cataline against his country, but for his country against Cataline”. He could dispose of property as he willed. As far as his family was concerned, he was the law.
Under Roman law, there were two steps to adoption – 1) release from the natural father if still alive – as he often was in those days as adoption was often used as a means of solidifying political power, achieving financial gain and other reasons not common in our day. The adoption process actually required the father to sell his son three times to adopter. The first two times the adopter would release him and he would automatically again come under the control of his natural father. With the third sale, the adoptee was freed from natural father. 2) Since the natural father no longer had control after selling three times, the adopter became the new father with the same absolute control that the original father had previously exercised until the adoptee died or was freed. It was very common for this process to be utilized so that some well-to-do citizen without sons of his own could continue the family line and maintain property ownership.
So – when Paul spoke of our adoption into God’s family he was depicting a relationship whereby we have been moved from the family of Satan into the family of God. He is describing a process that his readers would have known implied their move from the absolute control and obligation of one family, that of Satan, to the loving control and loving relationship of another family – the family of God.
But what we must realize is that when Paul used this term, he was depicting a relationship with God that was absolutely unheard of in the ancient world. As conceived of in the world of the Ephesians, God was other. God was outside of and separate from human relationships. God could never have been thought of as being approached in these terms. It wasn’t much different in the Jewish culture. God is spoken of as “father” only 14 times in the OT, and then only in relation to the nation of Israel– never toward an individual. You don’t find any reference to Moses, or David or Daniel as being the children of God. It isn’t there. When Jesus came and began to use the term Father to refer to God, it was astounding. When Paul suggested that we might call God, “Abba”, the most intimate and endearing term possible for an earthly father, it was mind-blowing.
We are so blaze about this because we have lived with it for so long, but it is good for us to be reminded what in incredible privilege it is to be a child of God – adopted into His family. Commentator William Barclay says this: “The person who had been adopted had all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family, and completely lost all rights in his old family. In the eyes of the law he was a new person. So new was he that even all debts and obligations connected with his previous family were cancelled out and abolished as if they had never existed. That is what Paul says that God has done for us.”
As adopted children of God, we have gained the unthinkable status of brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ Himself. I mean it’s one thing to know that God loves me and has chosen me through no merit of my own. But to basically declare me the equal of Jesus Christ Himself in my standing before the Father never ceases to blow me away. And yet, this is everywhere taught in Scripture. Paul says in Romans 8 15) For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Even more impressively, if possible, he says in Romans 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. God’s choosing guarantees that ultimately we will be conformed to the image of Christ, but look at the reason – so that he would be the firstborn (that is the preeminent one) among his many brothers (and we might add, sisters). Welcome to the family, Beloved.
Some wit has said that the secret to dealing successfully with a child is not to be its parent! That should be helpful to some of you if it’s not already too late! But God takes exactly the opposite approach. He has willingly, lovingly, purposefully adopted us into His family. I think it’s very much like one mother wrote in a recent magazine article: “I stayed with my parents for several days after the birth of our first child. One afternoon, I remarked to my mother that it was surprising our baby had dark hair, since both my husband I are fair. She said, “Well, your daddy has black hair.” “But, Mamma, that doesn’t matter because I’m adopted.” “With an embarrassed smile, she said the most wonderful words I’ve ever heard: ‘I always forget.’” Welcome -- to the family of God, where none other than God is your Father and Jesus is your big brother as well as your Savior and Lord. Isn’t that something!
VII. The Goal of God’s Choosing – The Praise of His Glory
It isn’t hard to find the ultimate goal of God’s election, is it? Yes, there are those subordinate purposes that we love because they deal with us – the purpose of our salvation, of our adoption, of producing holiness in us – but the one overriding, ultimate goal of election is found in verse 6. Let’s look at it in context beginning in verse 4: 4) even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5) he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6) to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Isn’t that an inspiring phrase – the praise of His glorious grace? Grace is already wonderful, and now to add the word glorious to it!
We’re built to want to praise that which is done well, aren’t we? And at its best, praise can change whole cultures. I’m willing to bet that most of you remember the 1980 US Hockey team. They were the best our colleges and universities had to offer, but we’re not exactly a hockey obsessed society, are we? So there were no, and I mean no expectations when that team went to the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid that year. They were college boys who had been together for a few weeks going up against teams of men from other countries who were hockey obsessed and whose teams had been together for years – easily the equivalent of professional teams which were not allowed in the Olympics at the time.
The US and the Soviet Union teams met in an exhibition on February 9 that year – the last tune-up before the games. As expected it was a blowout – 10-3 in favor the Soviets in a match that the Americans were never in. Of course you remember the rest of the story. When the Olympics actually started a few days later, it was like someone had flipped a switch. The American first tied a strong Swedish team and then defeated a highly rated Czechoslovakian team. After three more victories, they found themselves playing the Soviets again in the semi-final round. Still no expectations. The debate wasn’t whether they would win or lost, but how badly they would be beaten. Behind early 2-1, the Americans rallied to tie then to go ahead with 10 minutes left. Somehow they survived everything the Soviets could throw at them for that final interminable period and no one who heard will ever forget Al Michael’s immortal call as the game entered its final seconds with the US still holding on – “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” That moment was later voted by Sports Illustrated as the greatest sports moment of the 20th century. But more importantly, many believe that it was the catalyst to changing American’s overall attitude of negativism coming out of the difficult days of the late 1970’s. Something to rally around and praise from a national perspective was a good thing.
Similarly, there will be a rallying cry throughout all eternity praising God for His marvelous work in putting back together that which had been ruined by the sin of Satan. Paul can hardly contain himself as he thinks about it. Praising God brings us all together. Praising God creates community, keeps His greatness in focus and rallies our spirits.
Did you ever notice how much more fun it is to watch with someone else sporting events that are important to you. C. S. Lewis -- I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. If it were possible for a created soul fully to 'appreciate,' that is, to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme blessedness.
As those in heaven and on earth see what God has done through election – how He has taken that which was ruined and dead, made it alive, useful and beautiful, there will be no stopping the praise and in that praise our souls will find their supreme blessedness. Why wouldn’t we want to start now?
VIII. The Benefit of Election – We are Accepted in the Beloved
The final phrase in these three wonderful verses and the final benefit is found at the end of verse 6. 6) to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Paul cannot but come back to the benefit we as believers derive from God’s choosing. We are blessed in the Beloved. The KJV says we are accepted in the beloved. The word “blessed” is actually the verb form of the word “grace”. Literally the phrase reads, “he has graced us in the Beloved” – or he has highly favored us in the Beloved. However translated, the sense is we are the recipients of something that is very, very special.
Interestingly, the word that is translated “blessed” here is used only one other time in the Bible and it provides an interesting comparison. It is found in Luke 1:28 where we read 28) And he (Gabriel) came to her (Mary) and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” The word “favored” there is our word. Mary was “graced”, highly favored by God, to become the mother of Jesus. So, now we are in the exalted and highly favored company of Mary, folks. Just as she was especially blessed and honored by God to carry His son – just so are we blessed, highly favored, honored by God’s election. Wow. I remember that I used to read that verse in Luke and wonder how young Mary must have felt to find herself blessed with such an honor. It never occurred to me that the same fate was mine. Just as Mary was favored by God and carried the baby Jesus, so we, through God’s election, are favored by God to carry Jesus in our hearts and in this world.
But please notice once again, it is not through our merit. He has ingratiated us with grace “in the Beloved.” “Beloved” – isn’t that a great title that God gives His son here. And all that we have that is important, we have because of this Beloved one. Romans 8:32 says 32) He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Now think about what he is saying there, folks. He’s saying that at great price, God gave up His own son – allowed His own son to suffer death on our behalf so that he could make us sons as well. If He would do all of that, is it logical to think that He would withhold anything from us. To the contrary, he will graciously give us all things. Are you beginning to see why it is so awful to reject Him? Are you beginning to see why it is so disrespectful and unloving as a Christian not to live for Him? Do you get that He does have a claim on your life that has been lovingly attached?
How many times do our circumstances dictate our spiritual walk? When our spirits are lively and our hopes are bright, we believe that we are highly favored and accepted by God. But when troubles comes, difficulties mount, financial reversals occur or worst of all, we find ourselves wallowing in some sin or other – then we become downcast, we doubt, we feel like second class citizens, and if we don’t already, you can be sure that some around us will help us get there! But here is the absolute and honest truth. At those times more than ever, you are accepted, wanted, loved, forever desired, for you are highly favored IN THE BELOVED – and no circumstance, no emotion, no fact in heaven or on earth can ever change that. Not ever. You think as you look at yourself, “There is nothing acceptable here.” And you are right. But you see, the Father is looking at the Beloved – and there is everything acceptable there.
Donald Grey Barnhouse, a fellow alumnus of Biola and the great old preacher from Philadelphia, tells of a jeweler in Cleveland named George Beatty. A wealthy customer once wrote to Mr. Beatty that his dearest granddaughter was going to have a birthday; he wanted something distinctive of real beauty. Five times in the letter, the customer spoke of the granddaughter as “dearest.” The old man looked at Barnhouse and said, “I prayed and asked the Lord to give me an idea. I noticed how many times “dearest” appeared, so I underlined it. When I sent my customer the sketch and told him what I proposed to do, he was greatly pleased and thought my idea was wonderful.” Mr. Beatty sent him a ring with baguettes so beautifully cut that the light scintillated from them. Across the top of the ring the first stone was a diamond; the next, an emerald, then an amethyst, a ruby, a second emerald, a sapphire, and then a topaz. Barnhouse looked at it and asked, “But why do you have two emeralds?” He smiled and said, “Because there are two e’s in dearest. If you take the initials of those stones, it spells the word “dearest.” Before the Lord God Almighty created the sun, the moon and the stars, He chose us, and – as it were – He put us as a ring to be worn as a signet upon His hand. Spelled out in the heart of God, we are his dearest. That’s what election is all about. It’s a family secret – to be told only once someone has exercised his or her free will to accept Christ as Savior, but then the marvelous truth comes – it was all by God’s grace all the time and I am His forever.
Somehow we don’t often reference the Song of Solomon in our sermons, do we? But among other things, it is a beautiful depiction of the relationship between Christ, the groom, and his bride, the church. Whatever your circumstances, whatever your failures, whatever your shortcomings, whatever your doubts – here is what He sees when he looks at you. It’s expressed in the Song of Solomon 4 1) Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! . . . . 7) You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you. What’s left for us to do? Believe it.