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This powerful series will challenge you to understand your role in the body of Christ. Through the book of Ephesians, Pastor Philip will remind us of the joy and blessings God intends for believers to experience in the church as they live as a united family in Christ.
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Well, let’s take our Bibles and turn to Ephesians 1:3–14. We started the sermon last week entitled “Greatly Blessed.” I don’t know if you feel greatly blessed this morning, but you are, so make sure that your feelings catch up with the reality of what you are in the Lord Jesus Christ: blessed by God the Father. We’re going to continue to work our way through this passage. It’s one long sentence in the Greek, and it’s probably going to take us about four sermons to work our way through this one passage, “Greatly Blessed.” We’re really going to focus on verses 3 to 6 this morning, and then we’ll pick up verse 7 next Sunday morning. Follow along.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
Some years ago, I hosted a conference at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Toledo, Ohio, where I pastored, and one of the speakers was Dr. Erwin Lutzer from Moody Church in Chicago. He told a story about a young man who had just purchased for himself a red Ferrari. He went to his local priest and asked the priest if he would bless and christen the Ferrari, and the priest replied, “We tend not to bless inanimate objects. We bless people, not things, but I’m going to make an exception. But, before I bless your Ferrari, I’ve got a question. What is a Ferrari?”
Well, the young man was offended, and he stomped out of the priest’s office and down the street to the local Baptist pastor. And this kind of thing was replayed all over again. He asked him if he would bless his Ferrari. The Baptist pastor said, “Well, we tend not to bless things, we bless people, but I’ll overlook it this time. But I got a question. What is a Ferrari?” The young man can’t believe this, and so he stomps out of the Baptist church and down the street to a Unitarian church. He grabs the priest there, and he asked him if he would bless his Ferrari. And he said, “Absolutely! A Ferrari! Best sports car in the world. Naught to 60 in four seconds; 95 miles an hour in second gear. But I’ve got a question. What’s a blessing?”
Well, in the opening verses of Ephesians 1:3–14, the apostle Paul has no trouble outlining for us and underlining for us the nature of the blessing that each Christian enjoys eternally in Christ. This is an expression of thanksgiving in the light of the blessing of salvation which God has chosen for us in Christ. That’s what we have got going on in verses 3–14, 202 breathless words in the Greek where Paul invites us to join him in blessing God for blessing us with every conceivable blessing in Christ. This long sentence functions as an elevator, carrying the reader to the dizzy heights of the believer’s special status in Christ. We have been raised together with Him, and we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. And because of our union with Christ through faith, where He is and what He is are ours.
Paul begins to outline these blessings—that we were chosen before time, destined to holiness, adopted and accepted into God’s family, redeemed and forgiven as a result of God’s lavish love placed within the plan of God for future glory, and given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul is enthralled, and he wants us to be enthralled at the breadth, length, depth, height of God’s love for us.
Now, last week we looked at verse 3, and we looked at the source and the spheres and the scope of gospel blessings. We want to come back, and we’re going to expound verses 4, 5, and 6 this morning. Before we do that, I want you to see and notice something here. In this passage, in this section in Paul’s letter, there’s a Trinitarian structure. You’ll notice that the passage here is kind of punctuated by this call to worship. Verse 6: “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Verse 12: “to the praise of His glory.” Verse 14: “to the praise of His glory.” You’ll see that each of those punctuations and calls to praise focuses on one person within the Godhead. Verses 3–6 focus on the Father. Verses 7–12 focus on the Son. Verses 13–14 focus on the Spirit. Paul calls us to praise God from whom all blessings flow, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Paul wants us to celebrate the fact that salvation is administered by the Father who chooses us. Then, it’s accomplished by the Son who redeems us. Then, it’s applied by the Spirit who regenerates us, indwells us, and works in us all that God has planned and all that the Son has purchased.
Here’s an outline: in verses 3–6, we have the will of the Father; in verses 7–12, the work of the Son; and in verses 13–14, the witness of the Spirit.
So, this morning we’re going to cover the will of the Father and the unfolding of these spiritual blessings. The first blessing acknowledged by Paul, reveled in by the apostle, is the blessing of our election, or our predestination in Christ. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus” (v. 3). “He chose us in Him” (v. 4). He has “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ” (v. 5).
Paul marvels at the fact that God chose us before we chose Him. Paul marvels at the fact that God Almighty loved us first. Isn’t that how John puts it in 1 John 4:19? “We love Him because He first loved us.” Now, we’re about, this morning, to look at the will of the Father in our election—God’s choosing us, bringing us to choose Him. I do acknowledge I’m about to pull a pin on a theological hand grenade. I understand the danger involved and the damage that can be done. I understand the explosive nature of this truth. But also, in keeping with the military metaphor, there would be a dereliction of duty on my part as a pastor or a preacher if I didn’t address it. I’m called to preach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
Now, let me also say this pastorally. As we look at these verses, I’m going to, hopefully, answer some of your questions, and I’m probably going to raise some questions I don’t get to answer. Here’s what I want to suggest to you: Remember to be more exegetical than emotional. When it comes to the doctrine of election, when it comes to the issues of Calvinism and Arminianism, there’s a lot of emotion attached to the issue. But let’s be more exegetical than emotional. Let’s try and come with a certain freshness and submission to the authority of God’s Word. Let’s not read into God’s Word. Let the Word of God speak as we unfold its meaning.
Psalm 119:105 says this: The word of God is a lamp onto your feet and a light onto your path. When it comes to this issue, as we find it in God’s Word, always remember that it’s not human reason or human emotion that must guide us but the authority of God’s Word. So, let’s be more exegetical than emotional. There’s too much emotion attached to this subject and not enough theological reflection.
Number two, we need to be reminded that he is the potter and we are the pot. Paul anticipates all kinds of issues attached to the doctrine of election. And he reminds us in Romans 9:15–21, quite bluntly, God will have mercy on whom God will have mercy, and if you have a problem with that, zip it. Who are you, the pot, to question the potter? Kind of blunt, isn’t it? But striking. I think Paul knows when it comes to this issue, we need to be sat down. We need to be put in our place. We need to sit before and sit under the teaching of Almighty God.
Number three, we need to pay more attention and pay more than lip service to the imposing doctrine of the sovereignty of God. Now, if I was to ask you the direct question “Do you believe in the sovereignty of God?” or “Do you believe that God is sovereign?” I don’t think any one of us this morning would say “no” to that question. You’d say, “Yes, I believe in the sovereignty of God. I believe God is sovereign.” But we sometimes pay lip service to it, because if God is sovereign, then according to Psalm 115:3, “God is in heaven”—now listen—and “He does whatever He pleases.”
Here’s the implication of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. When you say you believe it, you’re acknowledging, you’re embracing this thought, and it plays into this issue. We acknowledge that God is free to do whatever He wants, with whom He wants, however He wants, for His greater glory. It’s all His to dispose of it, to design it, and to determine it as it pleases Him. Just bear that in mind. If you start there, I think you’ll go a long way to helping yourself wrestle with passages like this.
Let’s define our terms quickly. What do we mean when we talk about election, or the choosing of us to be in Christ by God or the predestination of some to faith? J. I. Packer says, “The biblical doctrine of election is that before Creation God selected out of the human race, foreseen as fallen, those whom he would redeem, bring to faith, justify, and glorify in and through Jesus Christ.” I’m stating in a few words and in a few seconds what I’m going to take the rest of the sermon to unpack. I’m reading a very helpful book—and I commend it to all if not many—a book called Humble Calvinism by J. A. Medders. I especially commend it to young men who are dealing with this doctrine. “Election means that before the events of Genesis 1:1 unfolded in space and in time, the triune God chose which depraved sinners would receive his mercy in Jesus Christ.” That’s what we’re dealing with in the doctrine of election.
This is a doctrine, by the way, that’s biblical. You’ll find it in the Old Covenant regarding Israel and the Jewish people, and you’ll find it in the New Covenant regarding the church and the nations. Go back to the Old Testament, and you’ll read about how God sovereignly, freely chose the nation of Israel from out among the nations and entered upon a special relationship with them based on covenants that, I believe, He still keeps to this day. God sovereignly chose Israel. If you read Deuteronomy 7, you’re going to see that He didn’t choose them because they were the brightest and the best. God chose Abraham, a pagan idolator out of the land of the Ur of the Chaldeans. He chose him to be the father of faith. God chose King David to be a shepherd over Israel, His sheep.
The idea of God selecting and electing people in distinction from others is carried out throughout the Bible. When we come to the New Testament, especially with regards to salvation, that is true. I’ll give you a couple of key verses. Write them down, and I’ll read them for you. Write down Romans 8:28–30. We’re in Ephesians 1:4–6, but we need to see that this is a doctrine, a theology, that you’ll find in other passages within God’s Word. Again, listen to the distinct words that are chosen: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He [God] predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30). Let me give you 2 Thessalonians 2:13: “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord”—now listen—“because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” What about 2 Timothy 1:9? Similar thought: “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” And then you’ve got 1 Peter 1:1–2.
So, let’s get into this. Let’s unpack this biblical doctrine which spans Old and New Covenant—this idea of God selecting and electing people in distinction from others for His glory because of His grace.
Four things, as time allows: the principal person in election, the primary purpose in election, the precious privilege in election, the prompted praise in election. Let me show you it in the text.
First of all, the principal person in election. According to our text, it is God the Father who chooses us to life in His Son. As we’ve said, there’s a Trinitarian construction to this liturgy here in Ephesians 1:3–14. It is the Father who administers salvation. It is the Son who accomplishes salvation. It is the Spirit who applies salvation. Let me borrow the words of the apostle John here: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). How are you a child of God this morning, enjoying all the privileges of sonship in his Son? It’s because God intended it to be that way. It’s according to His purpose and His will that that’s being brought about. It is God the Father who gives us to God the Son. It is God the Father who chooses us and predestines us to salvation.
According to John 1:12–13, it’s not by the will of man but by the will of God that you and I have received the Son and have been given authority to call ourselves His children. Now, the word “elect” or “election” means “to gather,” “to choose,” “to pick out.” I think you can understand that. The word “predestined” or “predestination” means “to mark out.” God has marked a body of people out for salvation, chosen them to be in Christ, and all the benefits that accrue from being in union with Him, marked out.
Maybe an analogy would be if you’re driving around town and there’s some new housing development going on—not much in our area given the crampness of everything. But, should you see that, you’ll typically see string or chalk marks where things are marked out. Property lines are marked out, and a house will be built in that place marked out. There’s an intention to do something there. That’s kind of our word, that God in eternity past has marked, earmarked, certain people for salvation. Remember, He’s sovereign. He’s free to do whatever He wants with whomever He wants, however He wants, for His greater glory.
Let’s unpack this issue of God choosing us. I want to try and be textual here. Within the text, there’s certain things that help us to understand God choosing those in Christ. I want you to notice, first of all, this choice is sovereign. This choice is sovereign. This plan to save people, this process, is under God’s complete control. Look at the language of the passage. Look at verses 5 and 9. It’s because of His “good pleasure” that happens. Or, it can be translated, it’s because of His “kind intention.” God delights in doing this, and we delight in Him because of it.
Notice God’s will. What is the determining factor in people coming to faith? Is it their free will, as some argue? No, it’s not in our text. What we read is that it comes about according to God’s will. Verse 5: He predestines us to adoption according to His kind intention and according to His will. Verse 11: “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” God’s will is preeminent and precedent in people putting their trust in His Son. Look at verse 10: “that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ.” That word “dispensation” means “to administer.” His administration brings this about. It’s His plan. It’s His purpose. He does not consult. He does not defer in this matter. Romans 9:15: God will have mercy on whom God will have mercy. It’s His free and sovereign choice to mercy those who put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Number two, this choice is unconditional. And I take that from the fact that this choice, this decision, is pre-temporal. It’s before the foundation of the world. Before the sun rose, before the moon shone, before man was created, before man fell, before angels were created—God made a choice to save some, based on His purpose, His pleasure, His will. And He intends to accomplish it through His administration. If that’s the case, it’s unconditional.
Listen to these words by Sam Storms in his book Chosen to Life: “One reason Paul describes election as pretemporal is to emphasize that the divine decision concerning human destiny is wholly unaffected by human deeds. To say that God chose us before the existence of all created things is to say that he chose us without regard to any created thing. It was before, and therefore independent of, the birth and behavior of the twins that God chose Jacob but not Esau.
“Election is not something that awaits some event in human history, either the cross-work of Jesus or the faith of man.” That’s a staggering statement. “It antedates,” he says, “all human history. What we see unfolding in time-space history is the progressive fulfillment of a divine purpose that was conceived in eternity past.”
So, by implication, this idea of being chosen before the foundation of the world means that God’s choice is unaffected by human choice, human events, human deeds. Election is not something that awaits an event in human history, not the death of the Son of God and not the decision of man. The work of Christ flows out of the love of the Father, for a body of people He’s going to gift to His Son, whom His Son will purchase on the cross. Election shows us the chronology of choice.
See, you and I, and rightly so, have vivid, personal, individual memories of the day we got saved. I do. It’s a Sunday night; it’s youth group. It’s a message on the second coming of Jesus. It’s not the first time I’ve heard the gospel. I’ve sweated my way through bouts of conviction to the light of day to get back to my disobedient behavior. But that night something was different. That night a conviction, a compelling conviction, an irresistible conviction, came upon me about my sin and my need of a Savior. And the thought that Jesus was returning and I hadn’t responded to his free offer in the gospel bothered me. In the goodness of God, the light came on, and I put my faith in Jesus Christ. Very vivid. I think it was somewhere about 9:15. I sensed things had changed, although the implication of that dawned on me in a much greater capacity as the days unfolded and I started telling my friends I’d got saved, which brought from them some very strange stares.
Now, I have a vivid memory of that, but this passage wants me to understand the chronology of choice, that that was brought about by God, who had chosen me in Christ before I even existed, before the world was. The Father administered that salvation, and the Son accomplished it, and God the Holy Spirit—that night on the 20th of January, 1978—applied it. That night I embraced the call, the “whosoever will believe will be saved.”
Now, sometime after that, I came to understand the chronology of that choice—that God had chosen me, which brought about my choice of Him according to His will. I didn’t will it; He willed it. An old pastor taught, and many pastors have taught this to help us understand this, that when we get saved, we’re approaching the door, Jesus Christ. And on one side of the door is this across the entrance: “whosoever will.” We have vivid memories of hearing that invitation and responding to that invitation, and we did it gladly. And it’s the best day of our lives. Amen? But, when we go through the door, we begin to understand what’s written on the other side of the door: “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.” We live in the tension of that from the human side. It’s our choice. And it’s personal, and it’s memorable. And I pray today, if God is working in your heart, you’ll make it yours. God calls all men everywhere to repent.
But when you get onto the other side of it, you realize the Father was drawing you and the Spirit was doing that unconditional work in your life based on the choice of God.
The choice is sovereign. The choice is unconditional. Number three, the choice is loving. I think, when we get into this doctrine of election and predestination, it sounds very fatalistic and cold and arbitrary, even capricious. And Paul wants us to know, no! Look what we read: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” What’s driving this? What’s defining this? What’s determining this? It’s God’s love. This choice is not cold or detached on the part of God. It’s not some kind of theological eeny, meeny, miny, moe. It’s rooted in and rising out of His love for sinners, a love that they have no right to claim and God is not obligated to show, but He does. He does.
He has loved us with an everlasting love. Salvation’s not a roulette wheel. It’s not the rolling of a celestial dice. It’s warm. It’s determined by an act of love on the part of God toward us. I love what J. A. Medders in that book Humble Calvinism states, a book, again, I commend to you: “No one has ever loved you like God does. Election means God loved you before anyone else did. Way before. The almighty God is the first person to ever love you. God made plans to take care of you, eternally, when you didn’t ask him to. God decided to give you an inheritance with the Son without getting second opinions or calling your references.” That’s humbling. That’s exciting. That’s enthralling.
Number four, this choice is gracious. This choice is gracious. It’s an act of grace based on a determination of love. Look at verse 6: “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” We read in verse 8 of chapter 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves.” This choice is gracious. You are saved because of God’s undeserved favor. The only thing we contribute to our salvation is the thing that makes it necessary. We don’t deserve God’s salvation, none of us.
When it comes to understanding the gospel and understanding God’s grace, Spurgeon said it. The issue isn’t and the question isn’t why everybody isn’t saved. The issue is why anybody is saved, because it’s undeserved. You don’t have a claim on grace. You don’t get to demand it—which you need to remember, by the way, when you get into the furnace question. “This doesn’t seem fair.” My friend, if God was fair, we’d all be going to hell, because that’s what we deserve. But God, in the mystery and the freedom of His own sovereign choices and purposes, has decided to show grace upon a vast, vast, vast, vast number of people, and He’s going to show that grace to them for all of eternity. The choice is gracious.
Colin Smith, in his book on Jonah, says, “Grace means that God steps into the lives of particular individuals with the purpose and effect of saving them. He needs no permission to do this, nor is He under any obligation to do so.” God isn’t under any obligation to save any one of us. That’s Spurgeon. The issue isn’t why everybody isn’t saved, the issue is why anybody is saved—given our sin nature, given our lawlessness, given the fact that no one seeks God.
I’ve told you this story before from R. C. Sproul. It’ll illustrate my point. He was teaching an Old Testament introduction class to 250 freshmen in a Christian college, and a part of the coursework was three papers that were due at the end of September, October, November. On the first month, when the paper was due in September, 25 students were tardy. He decided to show a little bit of leniency. In the next month, 50 students were tardy. Again, being gracious, he gave them three more days to turn in their late papers. Well, come November, given the fact that now R. C. Sproul was the favorite professor on campus, 150 students of the 250 were late with their papers. But this stage, he starts handing out failing grades, to the protest of a student called Fitzgerald who said that wasn’t fair. Reflecting on that, R. C. Sproul said this: “Those students had grown accustomed to my grace.” In September, they were amazed by it. In October, they were no longer surprised by it. In November, they were demanding it.
In some of our discussions on election and the mystery of God’s purposes and plans in salvation, you almost get a sense from some who are arguing from another position that grace can be demanded. God is obligated. There can be an expectation on our part to have what we don’t deserve. I think you get my point. Let that percolate and work through your thinking on this matter.
Then, finally, God’s choice is wise. This is very helpful. The choice is wise. You notice the language of verse 8: “the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us”—notice—“in all wisdom.” Grace underwrites this, love prompts this, and wisdom shapes this. Some of this doesn’t make sense to us. In fact, I met a lady in the car lot after the first sermon when I preached this. She says, “Pastor, my head’s busting.” I said, “Well, I hope your heart’s bursting also.” There are things hard to understand here. There are things hard to reconcile: the sovereignty of God, human responsibility, the free offer of the gospel. And yet, ultimately, only a limited number will be saved, according to God’s purpose. I can’t reconcile some of that. I’ve tried. But, it seems to me, my interpretation of this text is fair and true, and therefore I need to remember this is all resolved in the mind of God.
It’s His wisdom that stands behind this purpose and plan. Look at verse 11: “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” All kinds of questions are raised, but they’re beautifully resolved in the mind of God. You have to submit to the Word, and where the Bible leaves off teaching, you need to leave off learning and live with some of the mystery of it. The fact that God has taken counsel of Himself to do it this way and because He’s sovereign, we need to be fine with that and good with that. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are much higher than our thoughts.
The secret things belong to the Lord. Listen to these words from John Calvin himself, and we need to listen to this from a man whose name has been associated with this doctrine. He said, “Human curiosity renders the discussion of predestination, already somewhat difficult of itself, very confusing and even dangerous. No restraints can hold it back from wandering in forbidden bypaths . . . . If allowed, it will leave no secret to God that it will not search out and unravel. . . . First, then, let them remember that when they inquire into predestination they are penetrating the sacred precincts of divine wisdom. If anyone with carefree assurance breaks into this place, he will not succeed in satisfying his curiosity and he will enter a labyrinth from which he can find no exit.”
When I was at the Irish Baptist College, we had a professor called Dr. Shields. He taught systematic theology, historical theology. When it came to issues like the Trinity and explaining three persons in one God, when it came to issues like divine election and human responsibility, he would teach us. He would show the different views. He would try to synthesize those to the degree that he could. But often, he would come up with this statement, much to my disappointment: “Guys, there is mystery here.” And he’d often finish the class, and I’m going, “I am paying bucks here for you to get rid of mystery and give me answers to all my questions. Is that not the end of education?” But it’s good. I’ve matured. There are some things that can only be reconciled in the mind of God. There’s mystery here.
Before I move on from this thought, having said all of that, this kind of teaching can make souls anxious, and it raises the question in the part, “Well, am I elect?” I think D. L. Moody has got it right: “The whosoever will’s are the elect and the whosoever wont’s are the non-elect.” My friend, if you want to know you’re elect, then put your faith in Jesus Christ, because God chooses the elect to be in Christ. And if you’re in Christ, you can be sure that you’re the elect. If God is opening your mind, and God is drawing your heart, and God is bending your will to a love for His Son, bend the knee and accept His free offer of salvation. And God does that generously, and God does that indiscriminately. I want to tell you this morning: Whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Those who want to be saved will be saved, and God will make sure of it.
Let’s get onto the last three points. But that is such deep, glorious, stretching truth. Let’s always remember that Paul is celebrating it, not censoring it. Paul is celebrating it. We can do this somewhat quickly. The primary purpose. Well, there you have it in verse 4: chosen “in Him before the foundation of the world”—for this purpose—“that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” God has elected you, God has saved you, for this purpose: that you would be holy and blameless. I think Paul here is speaking, at least in this context, of our position and our status in Christ, speaking about our justification—the fact that when you and I put our faith in Jesus Christ, God imputed the righteousness of Jesus Christ to you and to me, and we have a new standing. When God looks at us, He sees Christ, and we are accepted in the Beloved one.
Christ has made us right with God, and we stand holy and without blame. Holiness is the positive side of justification, where God imputes and gives us Christ’s righteousness. And blamelessness is the negative side, where He removes our guilt through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. You and I stand before God this morning accepted, perfect in His sight, in union with the perfect Son of God who made the perfect sacrifice for sin. But holiness is not just the position. Paul will go on in this letter to talk about holiness as a practice, that now that we’re in Christ—and we’re perfect in Him, and we have been given the righteousness of Christ, and we have this perfect standing and acceptance before God—we are now to become what we are before God. We’re to become that before men, and God has given us the Holy Spirit and the holy Scriptures to bring about a change in our life, as we put off the old man and the old life and we put on the new man and the new life and become increasingly like the Lord Jesus. That’s chapter 4 through 6.
You’re a different kind of husband when you get saved. You’re a different kind of wife when you get saved. You’re a different kind of son and daughter when you get saved. Read all about it in Ephesians 5 and 6. You’re a different kind of employee when you get saved. Your relationship with Jesus Christ starts showing up at home, at play, at work, at rest. But, ultimately, holiness is a prospect. In chapter 5, verse 27, we’re taken into the future when we will stand before God glorified—completely saved from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and the presence of sin, saved to sin no more—and Jesus will present us to his Father as “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (v. 27).
Here’s the point. God elects us, predestines us, chooses us, calls us for this purpose, that we will become “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:28–30). When it’s all said and done, there’ll be a new heaven and a new earth, and those who populate this new earth—not on physical features, not on facial recognition—will be very like the Lord Jesus, reflecting His character and His beauty, the perfect society based after the perfect Son of God. God has not elected us to remain in our sin.
One of the tests of your election, one of the proofs of your reality of a relationship with Jesus Christ, is not your ability to explain the five points of Calvin. It’s your likeness to Jesus Christ. It’s holiness of life. That’s the test of those who embrace this doctrine and who are embraced by God on the basis of this doctrine. That’s why 2 Peter 1:5–10 says what? “Make your call and election sure.” Prove it to yourself and others—but God already knows—by a transformed life, as you add to your faith all kinds of virtues.
I love the story of Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie, who used to be the chaplain to the United States Senate. He once pastored Hollywood Presbyterian church in LA. One Sunday morning, an elderly saint, an older woman, grabbed him by the hand. She looked at him and said, “Pastor, I pray your life will be as wonderful as it was in the mind of God when He created you.” There’s a statement worth reflecting on. “Pastor, I pray your life will be as wonderful as it was in the mind of God when He created you.” He went home and did reflect on it. As he was praying, “What did You have in mind when You created me?” the Spirit of God, in the silence, impressed upon him the word “Jesus.”
You see, God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son. That’s what God had in mind—a body of people at the end of history going out into eternity who have been redeemed by the Son. And through the work of the Holy Spirit, they’ve taken on His likeness. It does not yet appear what we shall be, but when He shall appear, we will be like Him. Our greatest love is to be like the Lord Jesus. Our greatest passion is to be like the Lord Jesus. In fact, I would take one step back from that woman’s statement. I pray you’ll be as wonderful in the mind of God when He created you—one step back—when He chose you before He created you. The primary purpose.
Thirdly, the precious privilege. This deserves better treatment than I’m about to give it, but let’s see what we can squeeze in here. Look at verse 5: “having predestined us [marked us out, put His love on us] to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself.” This carries the echo of Romans 8:15–16 and Galatians 4:4–7. Election is with a view to adoption. God chose us out of His kind intention, His good pleasure, to adopt us into His family. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1). We were once in Adam and part of that family, marked by death. Now, we’re in Christ and part of that family, marked by life.
Can you imagine? God has not just predestined us to become His servants but to become His sons. He has chosen to unite us with His Son by faith and to enjoy the Son’s privileges. Let me explain. In the Roman context, if an elderly man didn’t have a son or had a son that was out of relationship with him, he adopted someone to be his son and the heir to all his estate and wealth and name and future. The interesting thing is, in our day, we tend to adopt young babies and young boys and girls. This is much later on in life in the Roman context. Often, he chose a trusted servant or slave. That’s our image. That’s what Paul’s getting at. So, on one day, you would be the servant of Mr. Wealthy, and then there would be a rag to riches story. It would happen overnight. Through adoption, you would be the son of Mr. Wealthy. Amazing.
Now, remember, in that context that’s because either he has no sons, the son has died, the sons have died, or there’s a bad relationship, and so the father chooses the inheritance for another. That’s what makes our adoption all the more wonderful, in that God’s got a Son, and He’s very pleased with Him. “This is My Son, in whom I’m well pleased.” Jesus Christ will be the inheritor of all things since He created all things, but God has invited us to be part of His family, to join His Son and, in union with His Son, to enjoy the privileges of sonship and an eternal inheritance. Marvelous, isn’t it? We can own God as our Father, which means that we enjoy every day our Father’s focus, attention, and care. We enjoy our Father’s favor and grace and treasure. We enjoy our Father’s family, and we enjoy our Father’s fortune. Amazing, and it’s ours. God has adopted you, sought you, found you, signed the papers, and taken you home.
Let me finish this point with this quick story. Greg Laurie told this one day on a program I was listening to on the radio about two brothers who were fighting. One was a biological son. The other was adopted. In the course of a heated conversation, the natural born son kind of demeaned the other brother and reminded him that he was adopted. He wasn’t a biological son; he was adopted, inferring “You’re second class. You come later.” Not to be outdone, the adopted son replied, “But that means they chose me. But they’re stuck with you.” To some degree, that’s exactly what’s going on here. God’s not stuck with us. God chose us. Although He has a Son, glorious and beloved, He has chosen us through the Son to become sons and to inherit His favor forever.
Don’t give me that stare. That should bring a smile to your face and a joy to your heart, which brings us to the last thought, which will bring a smile to your face. We’re almost done. The prompted praise. I could develop this, but just notice this because we’ll come back to it. Verses 6, 12, 14. We’re called in the light of the administration of the Father, the accomplishment of the Son, and the application of the Spirit in salvation. We’re called to praise God for His grace. Just look at verse 6: “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” When you consider all of this—your election, your predestination, your adoption—there’s only one response: Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. The election sets the soul on fire as we delight in the God who made it His delight to save us.
Out of His kind intention, because of His good pleasure, you and I are saved. We’re part of His family. Our future is beyond imagination. We praise God for the expense of His grace in Christ, the extravagance of His grace in Christ, and the fact that you and I are an exhibition of His grace within history. Aren’t you amazed that Paul begins this letter by jumping into the deep end of the theological pool? They’ve hardly caught their breath when he goes on a rant of 202 words in a breathless manner—startled, enthralled that the Father chose Him and the Son redeemed Him and the Spirit of God has applied and made this real in his life. Why does he jump into the deep end? Because Paul doesn’t want to feel the bottom when it comes to worshiping and praising God. And nothing should draw us to worship God, and nothing should humble us, like the doctrine of election. We should submerge ourself in those waters and swim in those waters because they’re deep and there’s no touching bottom. You’ve got 10,000 reasons associated with all of that to bless the Lord.
Here’s where I’ll sign off. If election becomes an argument among us, we have lost our way, because the doctrine of election doesn’t produce argument. It produces adoration. And that’s why I’m enjoying that book Humble Calvinism, because that’s what that book’s about. You’ve got a little statement in it. There’s nothing wrong with Calvinism, just Calvinists who have lost their way and whose Calvinism is marked by coldness, pride, arrogance—where their greatest passion is to win an argument, to humble a brother, instead of being humbled by the thought that God has chosen any one of us, graced us in a lavish manner. Election is a reality. I’ve made an argument for that this morning. It remains a mystery, but it must always be a eulogy, causing us to praise the God who has graced us with His grace.
Gipsy Smith was an evangelist, and he was asked what allowed him to be so enthusiastic and effective. And he said, “I’ve never lost the wonder.” This doctrine is calculated to leave us in wonder, love, and praise. Have you lost the wonder? Have you been fighting this doctrine and not entered into its wonder? There was an old man at our church in Rathcoole Baptist, Tommy Armstrong. Every Wednesday night at the prayer meeting, somewhere in his prayer, he invariably got to the verse in the hymn “The Wonder of It All”: “O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all! Just to think that God loves me.” My friend, praying, praising, parenting—wherever we are in life, we better get to the place where we confess the wonder of it all. To think, that God would love us before the foundation of the world.
Father, we thank you for our time in the Word this morning. We’ve exhausted our time. We have, to some degree, exhausted our capacity to think about this great doctrine, but may we revel in the inexhaustible riches of your grace. May we never tire of worshiping you and praising you at the wonder of it all. Just to think that God would love me. He didn’t have to, but He did. And He did it in an extravagant, expansive manner in Jesus Christ. He brought about my choice of Him based on His choice of me, through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in that free and open invitation to the gospel. Lord, we would pray that today in this service, in a human heart or human hearts, You would do Your will and save. If there’s anyone whose eyes are fluttering open, whose heart beats after You, whose will is being bent to submit to Your will, may they call out upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ today and be saved. For all who want to be saved will be saved, for Your glory. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.