The Electing Love of the Father
Ephesians 1:3-14 (verse 3-6)
This morning we will be looking at Ephesians 1:3-14 and focusing on verses 3 through 6. But before we go there I want to take us back…way back…to the Garden of Eden. Here we see God and man in full unity. No guilt. No sin. No broken fellowship. Everything is good. It is good between God and man and it is good between man and woman. Then we have the fall.
Immediately after the man and woman eat of the fruit we see brokenness. Chapter 3:7…”and they knew that they were naked (guilt, shame, fear). And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (self-atonement…the only time in the Garden that man has had to ‘provide for himself’). Then we see man’s relationship with God. Rather than intimate fellowship it is marked by fear, hiding, and lying. We see the blame game crop up for the first time. Adam blames God and his wife. Eve blames the serpent. And then we read of all the curses. Pain in childbirth, a fight between man and woman for authority, unfulfilling labor, a broken world. The result of the Fall are broken people in a broken world. And we still are living today as broken people in a broken world.
Yet, I think some of us—especially I think believers—live as if we are still in Eden. As Larry Crabb so aptly put it:
“But I wonder if most people who look good all the time are really out of touch with themselves, unaware of how they impact others, and covering up deep pain with the pleasures of activity and achievements. Perhaps much of what passes for spiritual maturity is maintained by a rigid denial of all that is happening beneath the surface of their lives. Maybe in this life it’s impossible to be as together as some people look.
Yes, believer, God has redeemed you and God has begun the process of restoration. But we are not living in Eden and we are not yet fully restored. It doesn’t take that long of an honest look to discover that we often look more like Adam and Eve after the Fall than we do Adam and Eve before the Fall.
And yet there is good news underneath all of this. God knows that you are broken. Let that sink in for just a moment. God knows that you are broken. He knows the deep fears in your heart. He knows the sin that you keep safely hidden and silent. God knows you better than you know yourself. He knows you inside and out. And He knows that you are broken. Perhaps you do not yet see how this is good news.
God knows the restlessness in your heart that cries out, “something is messed up here”. He knows your heart, your longings, and your most intimate desires. He knows your good motivations and your prideful and selfish ones. You will never catch God by surprise with your emotions, your thoughts, your fears, your dreams, your sin, your faith, or your life. There is nothing that He cannot handle that is going on inside of you. Oh, that we would no longer engage in Adam-like hiding with fig leaves but that we—especially believers—would own up to who we really are and be real with the things that we struggle with. Adam-like hiding has consequences.
What does Adam-like hiding and fear mean for our everyday lives? It means that rather than living in the freedom of being known by God we live in the fear of being known by God. It means that our lives are often very surface. Our relationship with other people is surface. And on the deepest level our relationship with God is surface at best, and non-existent at worse. It means that we do not face the monsters in our closet. Rather than tackling those really deep things like anger, bitterness, resentment, greed, fear, worry, shame, regret, unrest, guilt, lust, etc. we campaign to clean up the outside things that people see. We keep our visible anger in check but let it boil below the surface. We mask our fears and worry with shallow humor. We get uncomfortable talking about deeper things so we avoid them with movies, music, magazines, video games, videos. We make certain to look like good Christian people but inside all of these things are left unchecked.
What I have just described is the human condition. We are broken people in a broken world. Yet, there is good news in the midst of this. If you are willing to own up to the stuff buried down deep then there is healing. God knows you are broken. God knows that we are broken people in a broken world and the message of the Bible and specifically in the book of Ephesians is that God is in the business of redeeming broken people. God knows you are broken and God also knows the solution to your brokenness.
Tonight, we begin our series on Ephesians. And we will begin by unwrapping a very difficult text of Scripture--Ephesians 1:3-14. We will be looking at this text for the next three weeks and each message will have the same central theme: “The most important problems in the universe, and in our lives, have been solved for us through the gospel.” That is actually a quote by Mark Dever, but it fits so well with this text that we will use it as our theme.
What we see in Ephesians is how God restores a broken people that live in a broken world. What we see from the fall and it is confirmed in our text is that the greatest problems that we face really are spiritual. They are three-fold
1) Our judicial standing before God
Part of our brokenness stems from our guilt before God. Ever since Adam and Eve fell in the Garden man has came into the world not spiritually pure and innocent but spiritually dirty and guilty. Our sentence is the same sentence as Adam…death. Sin leads to death. Our sentence is death—and not merely physical death--our death sentence is an eternity separated from God’s good and glorious presence. Our sentence is hell. We truly are hell-deserving sinners. This is our judicial standing before God.
2) Our relational standing with God
But this is not our only problem. Perhaps our deepest problem is not that we stand guilty in a courtroom. Perhaps our deepest problem is that we are not in a right relationship with God. This seems to be what is highlighted in the Genesis story—man’s relationship with God is broken. Contrary to popular belief we are not all children of God. If you are without Christ you cannot call God your Father. He is your Lord, He is your King, but He is not your Father. Nor can you call Jesus your Friend. Nor is He in the purest sense of the term Your Savior. We are broken and our relationship with God is broken.
3) Our inability to fix it
The last problem is that we are unable to fix the problems that we have created. We cannot, on our own fix our relational standing with God. Relationships require two people. God is a Person and God has been offended. Even if you apologize, confess, and decide to get things right with him the relationship could still be broken on His side. Now we know that God is good and that God is forgiving and that God is very loving. But do not let that cause misunderstanding. We read often in the Bible of God’s love, grace, and quickness to forgive. But God is never required to forgive. More than that we cannot fix our judicial standing before God. It is not as if you can pay your fine and all is right. You have committed an eternal sin and only and eternal payment will suffice. You cannot fix that no matter how hard you try. You cannot make yourself right with God.
One last thing on this particular point about our problems. You are not the victim here you are the culprit. I understand that some of the things that we face in life are not our fault. I understand that there are things that happen to you that you did not want and things that you did not create. We live in a broken world and people hurt us. But, how we respond to these things—and when we do so sinfully—we have to take all of the credit. You will not grow unless you get rid of this silly victim mentality that is plaguing our culture. Yes, some things might have happened that are not your fault. And I am sorry for that. God knows those things and God will deal justly with those things. God will take care of it. But I would venture to say that if we are honest, 95% of our problems are of your own making and happen because of our own sinful response.
The point with all of this is rather simple. You are broken, often by our own making, and we lack the ability (often the desire) to fix it. That is one part of the gospel and the part that is difficult to swallow but we must. If broken people want to be fixed they have to swallow their pride and admit their brokenness. Otherwise when we explain how God fixes broken people (really the message of Ephesians) it will not stir you. So consider your brokenness as we look now at how God fixes broken people.
This passage of Scripture is one of the most difficult ones to preach because it is one of the most difficult passages to wrap your mind around. Remember that chapter and verse divisions are not in the original text—it’s not as if the author wrote a little number after each sentence to helps us cite it later. The text we are looking at this evening is actually one really long sentence. And that alone makes this passage difficult, yet that is not our only obstacle. In this passage we are also confronted with really big theological words that are jam-packed with difficult things to understand: such big words and concepts like predestined, adoption, redemption, mystery, inheritance, just to name a few. So, because of these difficulties we can often get bogged down in the detail and miss the overall beauty of this passage. That is what I hope to do in the next three weeks. We will not deal in detail with answering some of those big theological questions like predestination but will look at what the text says and try to enjoy what is actually there.
READ EPHESIANS 1:3-14
Turn now with me in your Bibles to verse 3. Verse 3 sets the stage for everything that follows. In verse 3 Paul says essentially God is absolutely amazing—“blessed be the God and Father”. The way Paul starts out this passage is the way that you would start out a call to worship in ages past. You see this numerous times in the Psalms—“blessed be…” Such words lead to worship. So, this is Paul’s primary point in this passage—leading us to worship and adoration of this great God and King.
Why is God so amazing? Why is God “blessed”? He is blessed because he has blessed us. He is amazing because he has blessed us. Let us bless him because he has blessed us. He has given us everything we need. He has solved our greatest problems. How you ask? And that is what verses 4-14 aims to answer.
Verse 4-14, Paul’s explanation of what God has done can be broken up into three different sections with each proclaiming how amazing God is and urging us to praise Him. The first section is verse 4-6. This is the section we deal with tonight—this section is on the electing love of the Father. The second section is verse 7-12 which focuses on the redemptive and reconciling work of Christ. And finally verses 13 and 14 focus on the sealing work of the Holy Spirit.
Tonight we will focus on the electing love of the Father. We will see how in eternity past God set in motion a plan that would solve our three greatest problems.
Three of our Greatest Problems solved by the electing love of the Father
1) The problem of our judicial standing is solved by the electing love of God which makes broken, fallen, rebellious sinners holy and blameless before him.
As we look again at our passage we see that in verse 3 Paul is bursting forth in adoration and worship. He shares that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Everything we need has been given to us in Christ. And everything we need may not necessarily be seen because it is in the heavenly places. How, specifically has God blessed us with every spiritual blessing? Paul begins in verse 4 with the word “even as”. It’s his way of saying, “here I’m going to show you”.
First on his list is that “He (God) chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” You will notice that in the title of this point I used the phrase, “electing love”. That is because the word here for “chose us” is the word that is often translated “elected”. It simply means to “pick” our “choose out of” for oneself. If you are standing before the candy rack and you choose for yourself a Snickers bar then you have “elected” the Snickers. What this text is saying is that God has chosen us (Christians) to be his treasured possession. I want to notice three brief things about this election.
First, notice when it happened. When did God choose us in Christ? As this text says he chose us in him “before the foundation of the world”. This means that before you were even created God decided that he was going to set His love upon you. The fact that it is before the foundation of the world means something very significant. Because it happened before you were even created then we know that it does not depend upon your “desire or effort”. What comfort to broken people. You cannot screw this up. It was something that God (not you) decided to do in eternity past. This is hard to understand but if you can wrap your mind around it, oh, what grand security this provides for us. Furthermore, it confirms and speaks deeply to our heart—you are not an accident but you were fearfully and wonderfully made.
I think the 1800’s Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon grasped this well when he said:
"In the very beginning, when this great universe lay in the mind of God, like unborn forests in the acorn cup…before the mountains were brought forth; and long [before] the light flashed through the sky, God loved His chosen creatures. Before there was any created being --- when the [air] was not fanned by an angel's wing, when space itself had not an existence, where there was nothing save God alone --- even then…and in that deep quiet and profundity, His [heart] moved with love for His chosen. Their names were written on His heart, and then were they dear to His soul. Jesus loved His people before the foundation of the world --- even from eternity! and when He called me by His grace, He said to me, 'I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee'" (Autobiography, I:167).
Do you see what this means to broken people; even before you knew that you were broken God had already set in motion a plan that will lead to our restoration and redemption.
Secondly, notice the purpose of election. Now, we know from the entire context of this passage that the grand purpose of all of God’s actions is to the praise of His glorious grace, it is for His honor and glory that He is acting here. But there is a purpose that stands on top of that greater purpose and it is that we might be holy and blameless before him. This simply confirms what we said earlier. If this action must happen in order to make us holy and blameless then we must not be holy and blameless in the first place. In other words God knows that you are fallen and broken. God knew when he created you that you would be broken and he still chose to create you. What a deep truth this is. You cannot “out sin” God’s grace. So, if we really want to experience the freedom of the gospel then again we have to own up to our sinfulness. No more hiding.
The positive side of this is astonishing. God is in the business of making that which is unholy, vile, dirty, unclean, sinful, detestable, abominable, etc. the exact opposite—HOLY and BLAMELESS before him. When it says here “that we should be holy and blameless before him” it could mean one of two things. One, it could mean that because he has elected us we must now be holy and blameless in our lives. This view takes the holy and blameless to be a reflection of our life here and now. Certainly this could be seen from numerous passages and scripture and is definitely plausible. But I think it means something a little different.
The idea of being “before him” is sacrificial in language. It really refers to standing before him in judgment and those that stand before him and are in his presence must be without sin and without fault. That is what is being spoken of here. As one commentator notes "the phrase denotes the reality or genuineness of the holy and blameless state." God accounts it so. The elect are not esteemed righteous "merely before men," . . . Their [holiness] is not a brilliant hypocrisy. It is regarded as genuine, "before Him" whose glance at once detects and frowns upon the [fake], however [believable] the disguise in which it may wrap itself.” In other words you really are holy and blameless in God’s site. Guilty, vile, dirty, etc. though you may feel in God’s sight because of Christ you are holy and blameless before God.
The third thing to notice is that this happens in Christ. There are numerous statements throughout this passage that help us to see that everything Paul is talking about as far as spiritual blessings are reserved for believers. If you are unbeliever then we will make application for you in a moment. But you must be in Christ if these are yours. And if you are in Christ then these things are most assuredly yours. This is not an optional thing that is based on your performance. If you are in Christ all of these things are true.
Christian the great problem of your judicial standing before God has been solved. You no longer stand before him as guilty and condemned. You stand before Him as holy and blameless and this because of Jesus Christ. Now our second great problem:
2) The problem of our relational standing is solved by the adopting love of God that turns hell-deserving sinners into beloved children.
As we learned earlier we are not natural children of God. We are created by God. He is our King, He is our Lord, but we are rebellious sinners. And because of this we are not deserving of the benefits as a son of the King we are in fact the opposite we are hell-deserving sinners that deserve only to be thrown out of his kingdom. But look at what happens in our text, “In love he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ”. Hell-deserving sinners are made sons.
It is such a truth that causes the apostle John astonishment in 1 John 3:1, “How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God! And that we are!” A better translation would probably be, “What type of planet did this other-worldly love come that the Father has lavished upon us? That we should be called children of God! Are you serious? But that is indeed what we are….fifteen exclamation points and perhaps a tear soaked page of papyrus.”
Look at what happens in adoption. What a jam-packed thing to say that we have been adopted. Hell-deserving sinners are now children. If we put all of this together Paul is saying that before the foundation of the world God put a circle around His people and said—these are mine—these are my children. And if you are in Christ this is what He has done.
And all of the benefits of adoption are now ours. When you are adopted you receive a new name, a new legal standing (if you were a slave you are now free), a new family relationship, a new image, a new identity, a new Spirit. You are totally new. No longer a sinner but now a saint. No longer guilty and enslaved to sin but now free and standing without condemnation. No longer estranged from God but now deeply love in His presence. No longer with a marred image but now a brand new image and identity—we have now the identity of Christ. Because we are in union with Christ all that He has we have. No longer do we have a wicked spirit that craves the world but we now have a new Spirit that craves what it ought to—namely, God Himself. You are not who you once were. You are no longer a vile, wretched, worm of a sinner. You are a child of the most High God. Your Father is the King. Once a hell-deserving sinner and now a child of God.
I absolutely love how Sam Storms caps off this point: Choosing hell-deserving sinners to spend an eternity with Him as his beloved children is uniquely joyful and pleasing and delightful and exciting and satisfying to the heart of God! In other words it puts a smile on God’s face to call you son or daughter.
And now we see finally that God does what we cannot do:
3) God’s glorious grace fixes broken people that are unable to fix themselves.
This is really the entire message of Ephesians and much the message of the Bible. God fixes broken people in a broken world and all to the praise of his glorious grace. How can you not praise Him? You don’t have to clean yourself up before coming to God. His graces reaches you were you are. Believer you too don’t have to clean yourself up—his grace continues to reach you as well. It’s not as if he has saved you and the left you to yourself. No, it is his grace that shines throughout this passage. It is his grace that caused him to choose us before the foundation of the world and it is his grace that caused him to redeem us by shedding his blood, it is his grace that gives us the Holy Spirit, from beginning to end it is all of grace.
A word to those apart from Christ. How do you respond to the doctrine of election, adoption, and grace? You understand what God is calling you to do today and you do it. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Cry out to God and he will save you. He fixes broken people. If you have that desire then you can be assured that God is working in you. Unregenerate people do not have that desire. Those of you who reject Christ tonight are doing so because your heart does not see the beauty and the treasure. It will stay that way until God changes something. That should concern you and drive you to your knees pleading with God for mercy. For those that do see the beauty of Christ will realize that you are thirsty and will find life in Christ.
For, those in Christ join with Paul in breath-taking adoration of what God has done for you. Do you not see what He has done? He has solved our greatest problems. He fixes broken people. So, rather than running from Him and trying to fix your problems on your own realize that He is your Father. You have a hearing in His court. You stand before Him without condemnation. Live in that freedom. Stop hiding and own up to your brokenness and begin to allow God to fix it. God fixes broken people and His broken world.
Because of this you can face all of those deep things that you are denying, hiding, and trying to conquer on your own. In closing I want to return to the story in Genesis 3. It has something to say to those that are without Christ and something to say to us as believers. Remember in 3:7 that Adam and Eve try to cover their nakedness by sewing fig leaves. Now look at Genesis 3:21…”And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”
He provided the covering of sin. He provided the redemption. And today he still does. In your brokenness I urge you this morning not to sew fig leaves to cover yourself before God. The only hope you have—believer, and unbeliever—are the clothes that God has provided. And these are the robes of righteousness that Jesus Christ has purchased for us.