1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will: To the faithful saints in Christ Jesus at Ephesus. 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is addressing the saints. The saints are not a special class of super Christians. Or the spiritually elite, the ministers. Saints means believers. Paul is addressing the entire church. What characterizes these saints? They are faithful saints. They are saints with faith. They trust in Jesus. And they place their faith in Jesus, not just one time, but faithfully, over and over again. This is what it means to be a faithful saint.
Starting in v3, Paul launches into praise. Here is a quote from C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms:
“The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise… The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least… Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible…”
Lewis observes that we naturally praise the things we value. You praise your favorite team when they win the championship. You praise your favorite book to your friends or your favorite movie or you go on yelp and praise your favorite dish from a restaurant to the general public. If you got a new job, or there is a baby on the way, you want to tell the world. We are praising people. Praise is in our nature. I found that last line from the C.S. Lewis quote to be especially helpful. Praise is inner health made audible. When you are healthy spiritually, praise comes out spontaneously, from the core of our being. And others can hear it and see it on your face. Others hear you praising God and it’s contagious. On the flip side, if you don’t praise, we can assume that your soul is sick. Something is wrong. You are not healthy spiritually.
I want to answer a few questions this afternoon pertaining to praise. Questions like, why should we praise God? Why did God bless us? And toward what end, or for what purpose does God bless His people?
First, why should we praise God? 3 Simple reasons: 1) God wants to be praised, 2) because God has blessed us in Christ and 3) because God wants Christ to be praised.
3 Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.
Paul, in fact, doesn’t just praise God the Father in this opening chapter. He praises God the Son and the God the Holy Spirit as well. God’s trinitarian nature is in full view.
In verses 4-6, Paul praises the Father who elects. In verses 7-12, Paul praises the Son who redeems. in verses 13 and 14, Paul praises the Spirit who seals. Let’s look at each of these more closely. Paul praises the Father for election.
4 For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world…
5 He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself…
11 …predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will…
There are many who simply don’t like the doctrine of predestination and election. They don’t believe that God chose who will be saved and by implication excluded people from salvation. They insist that this text only teaches that God chose Christ and an undefined number of those who will eventually choose to be in Christ by faith. They say that Ephesians 1:4 is not an election or choosing of individuals, but an election of Christ and the universal church. God doesn’t decide the specific individuals who are part of the church. Meaning, God does not decide, ultimately, when it comes to your salvation and mine. The ultimate choice lies in the power of man’s autonomous will, and that’s a domain that God does not rule in. It’s off limits to God. Because the choice is ours.
Many don’t like the doctrine of election because it’s not fair. How can God choose some people and not others? Wasn’t it my choice? Didn’t I choose God? To this, we must answer, yes, indeed you did and freely. But, you chose God only because in eternity past God first chose you. Both God’s choice and our choice work together and how it works precisely is a mystery.
But, where you place the accent is important? I used to place the accent on human free will and choice. And so I placed a lot of pressure on myself as a minister. When presenting the gospel, if I phrase it perfectly and then I pop the question when the mood is right, do you want to accept Christ? Then, maybe he will say, yes. This is an example of placing the accent on human choice.
Over the years, I have been pulled gradually to the side of God’s sovereign choice and verses from Ephesians 1 I believe confirm that we ought to place the accent there. God saved us, He took the initiative first and He did this so that no one could boast. No one could say, I am saved because I chose him. Or, I’m Christian because I wanted to be saved. Look at me. I’m a good person. I deserve to be saved. God looked at me and said, that person will make a great minister in the year 2011, I think I’m gonna save him in November 1993.
To prevent us from taking any credit, God saved us before we did anything, before we were born, before the foundation of the world was laid, before the universe even existed. God had everything mapped out in advance. This means, God knew Adam and Eve would sin before they were created. Think about that. Before creation began, God already knew that sin would enter the world. And he already knew Christ would have to become a man and die on a cross for our sins. And God knew the entire universe and the church that was birthed through Christ would culminate in Jesus’ Second Coming. All of this was mapped out even before there was any whiff of pre-Big Bang cosmic gas or a speck of cosmic dust in a pre-universe nothingness.
Before the foundations of the world were laid, God chose us. Eph 2:1 also adds weight to the argument that the accent should be on God’s sovereign choice instead of human free will. [READ]
This was our spiritual condition before God choose us. We were spiritual corpses. A corpse by definition can’t do anything except to rot. There is no life, there is no ability to choose anything. You are completely helpless. And God said, this was your spiritual condition. You were dead, spiritually. So of course, a dead person could never repent from their sins and turn to Christ in faith and be saved. God had to choose first and his choice breathed life into us so that we were free to choose him in response.
Your salvation did not begin with your choice to believe in Christ—a choice which was real and necessary. Your salvation began before the creation of the universe when God planned the history of redemption, ordained the death and the resurrection of his Son, and chose you to be his own through Christ. Before the creation of the universe, God thought of me. He fixed his gaze on me and chose me for himself. He did not choose me because I was already in Christ of my own doing, but that I might be in Christ. He did not choose me because he saw me as a believer, but so that I might become a believer. He did not choose me because I chose him, but so that I might choose him. He did not choose me because I was holy or good but so that I might become holy and good.
No wonder Paul says in Gal 6 that his only boast is in the cross of Jesus Christ.
We know this to be the case if we think of a relationship between a parent and their child.
I love my kids unconditionally. They could become criminals and land themselves in jail, but as their father, I would love them unconditionally.
But how much or how little I have input into their lives is on them. That’s because love is a two-way street. A relationship by definition involves two parties. This speaks to the conditional side of love. If my kids love me, meaning, if we have a relationship, then I can actually have input in their lives. If I love them unconditionally and they reject me, then I have no say in their lives. They are essentially on their own and I am relegated into the role of a waiting father. But if I love them and they love me in return, then I have a chance of working for their good.
Many things in Scripture are not clearly laid out and this mystery makes us feel uncomfortable. Sadly, entire denominations are formed around a group of people who stand on one side or another based on their convictions over one or more of these controversial issues. But we have to be careful — certain things are intentionally left vague and I think we need to leave it that way instead of choosing sides. [Read more…] about Romans 8:28 – The Conditional Part of God’s Unconditional Love (Part 3 of 4)
Starting from Romans 9:10, we read,
10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, BEFORE the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—IN ORDER THAT God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” ~Romans 9:10-13
Twins. Same father and mother. Yet, before they were born, according to God’s purposes, one is elected and the other is not. The older one, Esau, will serve the younger brother, Jacob. And to be blunt about it, v13 – Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.
How do you react to these verses? That’s not fair. Give poor Esau a chance. [Read more…] about Romans 8:28 – The Conditional Part of God’s Unconditional Love (Part 2 of 4)
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. ~Romans 8:28-30
Today, I want to cover the conditional part of God’s unconditional love in Romans 8:28.
But before I do, we need to understand the context, so let’s talk about verse 29 and 30: predestination vs. human will and human freedom.
Both sides argue that the other side has gone too far in one direction, and therefore, has a skewed theology. The Calvinists say God is sovereign. End of story. Everything in world history is pre-ordained and our salvation has been pre-destined before the foundations of this world were put into place. The Arminians say the Calvinists have gone too far in that direction and have little room for human will and human freedom. It’s our choice. We are not puppets to divine fate. [Read more…] about Romans 8:28 – The Conditional Part of God’s Unconditional Love (Part 1 of 4)