Monday, February 6, 2012

Chosen by Grace

Part 3 of a series through the book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



Valued by God

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph. 1:4).

How does a child feel when he or she is chosen first to be on a team? The child feels valued. Ephesians 1:4 says that believers have been chosen by God. (However, God’s choosing is not based on merit.)

Those who have been chosen by God are valued by God. 


The Doctrine of Divine Election

In the original Greek, 1:3-14 is one long sentence of 202 words. Scholars call this passage a eulogy. It could also be described as an outburst of praise. In verse 3, Paul writes that believers have been blessed by God “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Then in the remaining verses of the eulogy, Paul lists several of the blessings believers have been given. The first blessing on Paul’s praise list is election.

In Scripture, the “elect” are individuals who have been chosen by God to be saved. Christians (Calvinists and Arminians) have different views on the doctrine of divine election. Four truths about elections are found in 1:4.

1. We were chosen because of God's grace. 

“[God] chose us.” The Greek word for “chose” (eklegomai) is found 22 times in the NT (Luke 6:13; 9:35; 10:42; 14:7; John 6:70; 13:18; 15:16, 19; 1 Cor. 1:27, 28; Eph. 1:4). Out of the 22 times the word is used in the NT, either God or Jesus chooses in 16 instances.

The doctrine of election requires humility. We must accept that all God does is perfect, even if we don’t understand it. In Paul’s discussion of election in Romans 9, he writes, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Rom. 9:20).

The doctrine of election also eliminates boasting. “[Salvation] is not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. 1 Cor. 1:29). If God chose you, it wasn’t because you were superior to anyone else.

Theologians have debated this doctrine for centuries, but the reason why Paul brings it up here is to encourage believers to praise God for his grace. The doctrine of election should generate more praise than debate.

The doctrine of election is extremely difficult and, as a result, often misunderstood. First, election is not unjust. Actually, it would be perfectly fair for God not to save anyone. “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). “The real problem is not why he had not chosen some, but why he chose any” (Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 176).

Second, election is not random. God did not choose to save random individuals. He didn’t go, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.” God knew everything about every person he elected. 

Third, election is not fatalistic. Scripture emphasizes both divine election and human choice. Acts 13:48 states, “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Jesus declared, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). No one should ever worry if he or she is elect. The Bible promises, “Whoever believes in [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). If you choose to believe, you were already been chosen by God.

Many Christians argue that the doctrine of election discourages evangelism. But Paul asks, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14). Actually, election can be seen as encouraging evangelism. Paul writes, ”I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10; cf. 1 Thess. 1:4-5). Paul kept on sharing the gospel because he knew there were many elect people who were not yet saved. (If a fisherman knows there are “elect” fish in the lake, he will be encouraged to keep on fishing.) Election is the guarantee that there will some evangelistic success.

Fourth, election is not based on God’s foreknowledge of our faith. First Peter 1:1-2 refers to “those who are elect…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Many Christians believe that this means God foresaw who would believe and chose those individuals for salvation. But foreknowledge means more than a mere awareness of facts. When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, he said, “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” (Jer. 1:5). And in Amos 3:2, God said to the people of Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” In Scripture, “knowing” someone can indicate a special relationship. (“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain,” Gen. 4:1). When God chose us to be saved, he decided to initiate a saving relationship with us. If election was based on foreknowledge of our faith, God would be stripped of his sovereignty. “God chose us simply because he decided to bestow his love upon us. It was not because of any foreseen faith or foreseen merit in us” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 679).

2. We were chosen because of Christ's work. 

God chose us “in [Christ].” The title “Christ” means “the anointed one.” (“Christ” and “Messiah” are synonymous.) In the OT, a king or a priest was anointed with oil, demonstrating that he had been chosen by God for that position. As “Christ,” Jesus was the one anointed to be humanity’s Savior. He is the ultimate Chosen One. During the transfiguration of Christ, “a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One’” (Luke 9:35; cf. 23:35). Without Christ and his cross, there could be no salvation. And without salvation, there could be no election.

3. We were chosen in eternity past. 

God chose us “before the foundation of the world.” This is the time of election. Before creation, God decided that he would save people from sin through Christ, the one loved by God “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:14; cf. 1 Peter 1:20). “[God] 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 before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9).

4. We were chosen for a purpose. 

God chose us “that we should be holy and blameless before [God].” This is the purpose of our election. To be “holy” means to be unique. In Isaiah 6:3, the angels cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” God who is holy is different from other gods, and so people who are holy are to be different from other people. Believers are to reflect God’s character. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:16; cf. Lev. 11:44).

To be “blameless” means be without sin. The Greek word for “blameless” (amomos) is also translated as “without blemish” in the NT. First Peter 1:19 describes Christ as “a lamb without blemish or spot” (cf. Heb. 9:14). Paul writes in Romans 8:28-29, “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30). “The divine purpose in our election was not simply to repair the damage done by sin but also to fulfill God’s original intention for humankind, namely, to create for himself a people perfectly conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 100).

Being conformed to the likeness of Christ and being holy as God is holy are goals that cannot be fully reached in this life. “Before him” probably indicates that Paul is thinking about the future day when the believer will stand in God’s presence. Later in Ephesians, Paul writes that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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” (5:25-27; cf. Col. 1:22; Jude 24). “However, there is a necessary correlation between what God is going to do in the future for believers and what he is presently doing for them. Since he is preparing believers to go into his presence holy and without blame, certainly that is what he desires for them now….” (Hoehner, Ephesians, p. 179).


Responsible to God 

How should a politician who has been chosen to govern feel? He should feel responsible to the people who elected him. He should be determined to do his best.

Those who have been chosen by God are responsible to God.