Chosen in Christ

May 10, 2015 Series: Ephesians Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-4 by Chris Strevel

The sinless angels are singing over God’s wondrous mercy to sinners, and yet how silent we often are! Should not we who have been forgiven much love much? Attend upon the Lord day and night with praise and singing? “Let such as love thy salvation say continually, The LORD be magnified” (Ps. 40:16). Our earthly burdens and sinfulness tear off the garments of praise with which Jesus Christ hath clothed us, but here he calls us to put them back on by remembering what our God has done for us. To bless God is to praise him with thankful hearts. The more of mercy and grace we know, the more fervently we   bless the Lord. He is called the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” to stress that he is also our Father, for his Son is our Head (John 20:17). We do not bless a distant deity but the God of love who has redeemed us through Christ’s blood and has adopted us into his family. Do we not praise and revere our earthly fathers? The living God is the best of all fathers and has done great things for us. He will never fail us. He forgives all our filth, invites us to call upon him with hearts assured of his love, and receives our halting obedience as if it were worthy of his majesty. He does this because he looks upon us with a father’s tender eye, knows our weakness, and promotes our good and salvation in the world through his faithfulness, wisdom, and power.

Since the gospel has brought us into this realm of blessing, even to heaven itself (Eph. 2:5-6; Heb. 12:22), we must bless God and devote our lives to his praise. His mercy to us in Jesus is one of the greatest motivations to offer him such a life (Rom. 12:1). We have been redeemed with the high price of our Savior’s precious blood. If we are struck at all by God’s mercy, we shall bless him. This is not because he needs our blessing, but so closely has he bound himself to us by covenant, that he invites the lesser to bless the greater, the children to bless their Father. He dwells in our praises (Ps. 22:3). He has redeemed us so that we might praise him (1 Pet. 2:9). Thus, our greatest joy as Christians is to be praising God. Our experience of Christ is far less than it would otherwise be due to our neglect of praising God. We forget that he “daily loadeth us with benefits” (Ps. 68:19). Our iniquities quench love and praise. Worldliness and worry choke out his word so that we forget his promises and do not much profit from them. The remedy for this is sincere, hearty repentance, a life of praise and singing to him for his mercy, and living to bless our God and Savior.

Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ (v. 3)

The fires of praise require fuel. The only effectual fuel that sets us to blessing God and rejoicing in his goodness and saving mercy. They are called “spiritual blessings” not because they are immaterial but because God graciously gives and seals them to our hearts by his indwelling Spirit. These blessings are not in the realm of man’s ability or understanding but in the realm of the Spirit, God’s power, and from heaven. They consist fundamentally of eternal peace and fellowship with God as his reconciled friends, his abiding presence by the Spirit; free access to his throne of grace through the intercession of our Savior, the assurance that he guards us with his power, protects us as our Shepherd, provides as our Father, and supports and shields against all the malice of Satan and the temptations of our own heart. God has done great things for us! Blessed be God! In Jesus Christ, he has brought heaven down to us, slain his Son with the fiery sword of his justice that separated us from his comfortable presence. Thus, our blessings are in the “heavenly places” because our citizenship lies there, where Christ is, with whom our full life and blessedness yet lie hidden (Col. 3:1-3). Although these blessings are spiritual and heavenly, far beyond our ability to conceive or appreciate except with very dim and weak vision, we see something of them now, for we see Jesus (Heb. 2:9). The clearer we see him, the more assurance of these blessings God will give to us, for he never blesses any man outside of union and communion with his Son.

This is the reason that these blessings are “in Christ Jesus.” He is the “yes and A-men” of God (2 Cor. 1:20). All the promises and blessings of God are secured to us through faith in him. And who is he? He is the Mediator of the covenant (Isa. 42:6; 1 Tim. 2:5), the seed of Abraham to whom the promises were made (Gal. 3:16-17), and the One come down from heaven to reveal the Father (John 1:18). Many today speak of men being blessed outside of Christ, or of Christ blessing all men independently of faith in his gospel. Either of these views makes the gospel covenant irrelevant. They turn history, redemption, and revelation on their collective heads. Since Eden, when in Adam every man heard the voice of God, there has been only one Seed in whom men could be delivered from Satan and restored to fellowship with God: Jesus Christ, the heir of the covenant. God has sent the gospel out to the all the nations for the “obedience of faith” because there is “none other name under heaven given among men, by which men must be saved” (Acts 4:12). To say that Jesus Christ is a way rather than the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:3) is wicked blindness speaking. He is not simply the best way; he is the only way to God.

Think of any blessing from God you need. Perhaps you are a father who needs wisdom and patience to lead his family closer to God, or a mother who needs tenderness and patience in guarding her home and raising children in the Lord’s fear and nurture. Businessmen need God’s blessing upon their callings, not simply so that they can make a profit but that while doing so, they may not lose their souls but seek God’s kingdom first. Young men and women need to feel the reality of the gospel and devote themselves to serving God so that they may mature and be ready for whatever sphere of kingdom service to which he calls them. Every believer needs the blessing of strength and consecration to God so that each may fulfill his role in the body of believers, worship God faithfully, profit from his preached word, and contribute to the body’s health and usefulness through service, prayer, and commitment to its worship and work. Where are these blessings to be found? Where the daily forgiveness we need for our many sins, and the grace to seek God’s mercy? Where the comfort when we are troubled and fearful? Where the assurance in suffering that God loves us and is working all things for our good? These blessings and many more are “yes” in Jesus Christ alone. He is the well of blessing, the fountain of living waters. He said: “If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink; he that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). He is that water. He is the fountain head of spiritual and heavenly blessings. God’s promises are all “yes” in him, so we must come to the Father through him, ask in his name, and depend upon his intercession and worthiness to secure the blessings that God has promised to us in his word. Receiving so many blessings through him, we must bless and praise God for his goodness, gratefully devote ourselves to his honor, and consecrate ourselves to him as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1).

Chosen in Christ (v. 4)

Since we are tossed by so many troubles, these blessings will remain unsure and murky to our weak faith unless we trace them back to a certain foundation, one that cannot be moved or shifted by our sinfulness or the malice of Satan. Whenever the Holy Spirit would give us strong assurance of our peace with God, he directs us to our election in Christ. Said simply, it is by God’s sovereign choosing of us before the foundation of the world that we are made partakers of Jesus Christ and of all the benefits he has obtained for us. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing not on the basis of a decision we have made, or works we perform, or religious sentiments we have but on the basis of God’s choosing of us in Christ. This moves the ground of our salvation and of our confidence in God’s blessing beyond all the changes we see in this life and the weaknesses and trials of our faith. Not only does this give us the firmest possible assurance of salvation, but it also reserves to God alone the sole glory for our salvation.

Many stumble over this doctrine, raising all manner of speculative questions and especially focusing upon the issue of “fairness.” If fairness or human merit entered into the question, then all must be consigned to hell. It is wicked to put God and his word on trial because he chooses not to give a free gift to everyone, for no one deserves the gift. God’s choosing is based upon no other consideration than his free mercy. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God who showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). God’s election in Christ is a revealed truth of which we would have remained wholly ignorant had not God been pleased to show it to us through his word. It is a most necessary doctrine to be believed if we are to have firm assurance of salvation and sincerely, exuberantly bless God for his mercy to us. It is one of the doctrines that divide those who are truly submissive to God’s word from those who search for ways to escape its authority and avoid our total dependence upon God’s mercy. It is a deeply humbling truth, for we are Christians only because God chose us. As Jesus told the twelve, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16). Unless the source and initiative of our salvation is grounded exclusively upon God, we rob him of his glory and ourselves of firm confidence of his love.

Questions of free will do not enter into this matter, and the willfulness of men, the fear of total dependence upon God’s free and sovereign grace, and the insinuations of Satan are responsible for the confusion that free will introduces. No one should deny that men freely choose according to the dictates and inclinations of their hearts. But this is really the single issue: what is the condition of man’s heart? We are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1). Left to ourselves, we would not choose God. Dead men have no faith to exercise. Our wills, like our minds and affections, are “only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). “They that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). There is not even a spark in us that wants to please him, except on our fallen terms. So where does this leave the sinner? Solely at the mercy of God. Thus, if God has sent a gospel messenger to us and given us faith to repent and believe that gospel, it is due to his electing mercy in Jesus Christ and to no other source. This is the reason we must bless God and take no credit for ourselves. This is the confidence we have of God’s blessing: “He that hath begun a good work in you will keep on performing it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Having freely chosen us to be the vessels of his mercy, God will never cast us away or fail to complete his saving work in us.

“In Christ” confronts us with the very personal nature of election. In reality, there is only one “elect man,” God’s Suffering-Servant, Jesus Christ (Isa. 42:1). He is the covenant (Isa. 42:6), its mediator, and its seed. He is the covenant or federal head of a vast multitude, for whom he is their Surety, undertook to deliver them from sin’s curse by becoming sin for them, and secures their salvation by the sealing work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, “seeing that there was no man” (Isa. 59:16), God’s own arm brought salvation through the God-man whom he had ordained. We receive what Jesus Christ merited for us by his obedient life, efficacious death and resurrection, and living intercession at God’s right hand. If we would have assurance of salvation, therefore, we must seek it in Jesus Christ. Only in him do we receive the blessings of salvation.

Before the Foundation of the World (v. 4)

God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. The verb tense of “have chosen,” a past, completed choice, coupled with this phrase “before the foundation of the world” completely removes God’s choice from the realm of human merit. Nor did he make this choice based upon foreseen goodness, for his electing grace is what makes us holy. This choice was made “before we were born, or had done any good or evil,” solely that the “purpose of God according to election might stand” (Rom. 9:11). God’s election goes much “further” back than our personal histories. When there was nothing but the triune God, perfectly contented contemplating his own excellence and sufficient unto himself, he saw the whole world as fallen in sin and from that fallen mass chose some to be the vessels of his mercy in Jesus Christ. The rest he “ordained to destruction,” not because they deserved it more than the rest, but for the praise of his justice. His reasons are known only to himself, and beyond what is revealed we dare not inquire. It is enough for us to know that his reasons are based upon his own holy, wise, and righteous determination, most conducive to the praise of his grace and the praise of his justice, and designed to leave us humbled in the dust before his majestic mercy and love.

And this is exactly the reason that election disturbs some in the church, is ridiculed by the world, and explained away by preachers who would make God’s truth more palatable to fallen reason and popular blindness. While God’s choosing of us in Christ before the foundation of the world leads us to bless God for his goodness to us and gives us the firmest possible assurance of our salvation in Jesus Christ, it also leaves us wholly at the mercy of God. There is no room in such a plan for man’s decision completing God’s or God’s choosing based upon man’s foreseen choice. He is sovereign in his decrees. He made them with reference to himself alone: his purposes, will, glory, grace, goodness, truth, mercy, and righteousness. Men who are humbled by the revelation of God’s sovereignty do not ask questions about free will or squirm when they are placed at the mercy of God. They marvel at God’s grace to sinners. Hell they can understand. God’s decree to damnation they can readily accept, for they know themselves well enough to admit they deserve it fully. It is grace that sets us to marveling, to blessing God, to obeying him with humble hearts. But we shall not be humbled as we should be unless we attribute our salvation solely to his sovereign grace. We are in his hand for him to do by, with, and for us whatever he has determined. That he would choose us in Christ is truly awe-inspiring; it leaves us dumbstruck before God’s mercy; it will loosen our hearts and tongues to praise him now and forever.

The Fruit of our Election (v. 4)

It is very evident that God did not foresee any righteousness in us, for his election unto salvation is what makes us good. That he chose us “to be holy and blameless before him” clearly indicates that God’s decrees take into account the entire history of man: creation in righteousness, fall into sin, and redemption in Jesus Christ. There is no before or after with God. He saw us as we are: cursed sinners heading to hell, dead in our depraved condition, and insensible to our peril. It is his gracious choice that secured us in Christ and makes us holy. The surest proof that a man is one of God’s elect, therefore, is holiness of life. Without it, “no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Yet, it turns this passage on its head to think, “I must get about holiness so that I can be one of God’s elect.” Rather, the connection between election and holiness is revealed so that we shall be firmly persuaded that holiness is the fruit of God’s election of us in Christ. If God has chosen us, we shall be holy and blameless.

Now, this is certainly an encouragement to holiness, but not in the sense of needing to be holy so that one can be chosen. The encouragement is the other way. First, any strides we have made in pleasing God must be attributed to his sovereign grace in us. Holiness of life, like justifying righteousness in Christ, brings us back to God’s sovereign mercy so that we may praise him and look for nothing but what we find in him. Second, in our battle against sin, it makes all the difference in the world to know that however the flesh may seem at times to get the best of us or Satan fire his missiles at us, we can throw back God’s sovereign grace into his face. I shall get the best of this sin, the believer knows, because “this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). I not only have the means of grace, God’s weapons that are powerful to demolish strongholds, but behind those means I have the decree of God. My sinfulness can neither resist nor overcome my Father’s will.

Therefore, if we have heard and believe the gospel, we may be assured that we are of God’s elect. “As many as were ordained unto eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Faith is God’s gift, not man’s exercise of will (Eph. 2:8-9). And as we seek to “perfect holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1), we do so not as those who are trying to mount up to God in our own strength or to merit his favor by our works. Perish the thought! In us, no good thing dwells. Rather, we pursue holiness armed with the confidence that our Father has chosen us in Christ, united us to him in a living union, and has every intention of working in us “the fruits of righteousness that are by Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11). Then, knowing that holiness comes from his grace to us, we may draw near to him with humbled, trusting hearts, asking him to work in us as he ordained before the foundation of the world. Do not be discouraged, child of God. Yes, the battle against sin and for God’s church and honor in the world is long and severe, to our way of thinking, but we fight it in the strength of our election in Christ. We cannot fail. Christ will never leave or forsake us. He is our mighty Head in whom we are chosen! Fall we shall, even seven times, but God will make us to stand again. Our steps our ordered by him so that we shall grow in grace and never be “barren or unfruitful in the knowledge of him” (2 Pet. 1:8). Joined to our Savior and his word indwelling us, we shall bear much fruit. His grace never fails. He will perfect that which concerns us.

Should we not bless God most heartily for all he has done for us! He has done everything, given us everything. When we hear men balking at election, we should pity them. By resisting this truth, they are resisting the very thing that gives us an immovable rock of security upon which to ground our hope of everlasting life. They cast away assurance, strength unto holiness, and empowering, soul-ennobling views of God’s sovereignty. It is true that God’s election leaves us humbled in the dust, but our Father does not intend to leave us groveling there. He will raise us up with Jesus, exalt us with him, and fill us with godliness. This godliness is our breastplate against Satan’s assaults. “Look, you foul worm; do your worst; Jesus Christ has defeated you. Yes, I am filled with sin and often live as if hell and not heaven was my destiny. But God is not finished with me yet. You cannot resist his decree, his merciful choosing of me in Christ before the foundation of the world. I am holy in Jesus Christ’s obedience; I will be holy in life, for he is holy; he has willed it. It must come to pass.”

And believing this precious truth, then we are in the best position to make a believing use of the means of grace: no praying out of guilt, or reading Scripture out of fear of not reading it, or coming to church out of shame for being absent. As weak as we are, and the best of us barely crawls toward heaven, we obey God with the confidence that his sovereign grace is working in us. Any strides, however small, we bless him for it. When he forgives our many sins, we bless him again. If we are able to obey our husband or parent, love our wife, or do our duty a little better today, God has done this in us. Let us bless him, rejoice in his mercy, and depend upon his promise never to leave off working in us until we stand before him without spot or blemish – all because of his mercy, all because of Jesus Christ, all because God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.