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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Let us praise the God who has graced us with every spiritual blessing in Christ!
Text:Ephesians 1:3-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2010
Added:2010-12-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 56:1,5
Psalm 102:1,2 (after the law)
Psalm 65:1-3
Psalm 16
Hymn 22

Reading: Ephesians 1
Text: Ephesians 1:3-6
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

What would your reaction have been if I would have visited with you this past week and told that you this morning’s sermon would be dealing with the doctrine of election?  I can imagine that while we might not say it, some people would be indifferent, while others might even be disappointed.  After all, what does a lofty doctrine like election have to do with our day to day lives?  What can you do with election?  It has nothing to do with us doing anything – it’s something that is entirely in God’s hands.  Election might be good to teach in catechism or preconfession, it might be worthwhile for our seminary students to spend time on, but when it comes to our daily lives, how could it be relevant? 

It would be understandable if you’d think that.  There is a sort of anti-doctrinal virus drifting around and it’s easy to catch it.  However, this morning’s text from Ephesians is a powerful anti-viral medication and an immunization shot (though without the pain!).  The apostle Paul clearly shows that this biblical teaching has a lot to do with our daily lives.  This involves me at work, this involves me in the kitchen, or at school, or whatever I’m doing.  The doctrines of Scripture are not just there to occupy theologians, but to captivate our minds, hearts, and wills too.  This also holds true when it comes to the biblical doctrine of election.  We’re going to be looking at that doctrine this morning as it’s revealed in Ephesians 1:3-6. 

Our text can be summarized in this way:

Let us praise the God who has graced us with every spiritual blessing in Christ!

We’ll consider:

1.      The basis of these blessings

2.      The content of these blessings

3.      The purpose of these blessings

Paul is writing here to the “saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”  They are those who have been set apart by God in that place.  As he begins his letter, he does so in a familiar way.  “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  He greets them with a blessing from God.  “Grace” is the unmerited favour of God.  It’s a word that comes up repeatedly in this epistle and it also occupies a central position in our text.  “Peace” is the result of reconciliation with God through the blood of Christ.  God blesses his people in Ephesus (and us) with these gifts.    

Then we come to verse 2 and the beginning of our text.  Look at the very first word that Paul writes:  Praise.  That sets the tone for everything that follows.  This is all about praise for God, all about making much of him.  It’s all about heaping honours upon the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who’s blessed us with every spiritual blessing.  Those blessings are found throughout verses 3-14.  In fact, in Greek verses 3-14 make up one long sentence.  Our translation has broken it up into manageable sentences.  But once Paul started with his praise to God, he couldn’t stop.  He just piled up one thing on top of another.  We’re going to restrict ourselves to verses 3-6 – and this is a coherent unit in itself – but keep in mind that the spiritual blessings are not restricted to the two or three that we’ll look at.

Naturally, we want to get to the blessings mentioned in verses 3-6.  But first we ought to consider the basis of these blessings.  In other words, we need to be clear about why we receive these blessings.  What is the reason God has been so favourable to us? 

To begin, it’s clear that God’s blessings don’t have their basis in our having earned or merited anything from God.  Think of what Paul writes in Romans 11:35, where he’s quoting Job 41:11, “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”  As sinners, what do we deserve from God?  Nothing, except wrath and condemnation.  Therefore the basis of any good we receive from God cannot be in ourselves, for apart from Christ we are under a curse. 

It’s only in Christ that this can be turned around.  That’s where Paul wants to take us.  He wants us to see that the blessings he’s going to describe are all connected to our Lord Jesus.  All the good that we have from God is rooted in him and God’s good pleasure through him.  And so in verse 3, all these spiritual blessings come to us “in Christ.”  He is the one seated in the heavenly realms.  He is the one with whom we are united by faith and the Holy Spirit.  The blessings described don’t have their origin or basis with us or our world, but with Christ and his eternal dwelling place in the heavens.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is the source of every blessing we receive from the sovereign God’s hand. 

We need to have that teaching firmly fixed in our hearts and minds.  When we do, there are two things that flow from that.  The first is humility.  We deserve nothing, but receive everything.  Not because we can look at ourselves in the mirror and think about God’s goodness and say, “What’s not to love?”  Instead, it’s all about God’s grace through Christ.  This helps us so that, as Paul says in Romans 12, we would not think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  So that we continue to put our pride to death.  The second thing is closely connected, because when we realize that everything is of God and nothing is of us, we’re led to what?  To praise him!  Then not only with our words, but also with our lives.  We don’t live for ourselves, but for the glory of the one who has blessed us in every way when we deserve nothing.       

Now that we’re properly oriented as to the basis, we can look closer at the content of these blessings.  Our text speaks of two things:  election and predestination.  Though those two words are often used interchangeably, we’re going to see that there is a difference between these two. 

So now we’re in verse 4 and we’re looking at the words, “For he chose us in him before the foundation of the world...”  That’s the teaching we call “election.”  When I teach it to catechism students for the first time, I tell them that the simple definition of election is “God chooses us.”  We didn’t choose God, but he chose us.  And note again that this was “in him,” in Christ.  Before the world was created, God decided to set his love upon you and choose you in Christ.  Not because you were better or more worthy, but out of his good will and pleasure.  God sovereignly decided the matter of your salvation in Christ. 

I’m sure you’re aware of the objection that often gets raised at this point:  it’s unfair.  It’s not right for God to choose some and not others.  To be fair, God has to choose everybody.  But loved ones, this objection assumes something critical.  It assumes that everybody deserves to be chosen by God.  That assumption is wrong, it doesn’t fit with what the Bible teaches.  So, the question shouldn’t be:  why doesn’t God choose everybody?  But rather:  why does God choose anybody?  Why does God choose me?  And then the answer is pure grace.  It has nothing to do with me or anything that I’ve done or haven’t done. 

There is one more thing we need to wrestle with here in verse 4.  Paul says, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world...”    Who is the “us”?  Does Paul mean to say that every single person in the Ephesian church is elect, chosen by God?  No.  Remember that he’s writing to a congregation of people who profess faith in Christ, just as we do.  On that basis, he can write these words.  You would expect to find the elect of God among Christians gathered together in a church.  It’s not to say that every single person, head for head, is elect – even Paul couldn’t know that, just like we can’t know that about anyone here.  When it comes down to particulars, who is and who is not elect is not ours to know.  That’s all part of God’s secret will.  But yet we do know for sure that the church is where you will find the elect.  So Paul can use the word “us” and so can we. 

So, the first spiritual blessing is God’s gracious election in Christ before the foundation of the world.  The second is found in verse 5, “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”  Right away we’re reminded again that the blessings described here flow out of God’s grace.  This second spiritual blessing comes to us because of God’s love. 

Many of us know about the Arminians or Remonstrants of the seventeenth century.  They were followers of Jacobus Harmenzoon or James Arminius as he is often known  today.  The Canons of Dort were written as a response to the false teachings of Arminius and his followers.  The Arminians also believed in election and predestination.  Today those who call themselves Arminians still believe in election and predestination.  But in the Arminian version, God looks down the hallways of history and he sees those who believe in Jesus Christ.  God looks into the future and he sees those who make their choice for him.  On that basis, he chooses them, predestines them unto adoption and so forth.  So the Arminians believed and believe today in election/predestination, but they make the basis out to be ultimately the human choice.

But does that agree with what we read here in Ephesians 1?  According to Paul, it’s not because of human actions or decisions, but in love.  It’s about God showing his completely undeserved mercy towards us.  We have forfeited everything with our sin and disobedience, and yet we receive the opposite of what we deserve from God. 

We deserve to be cast off, but God predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.  Predestination – I mentioned a couple moments ago that it is not exactly the same thing as election.  It’s actually a richer term than election.  Election is a broad term, indicating God’s choice.  Predestination is more particular because you are always predestined unto something.  Here that something is adoption as God’s sons through Jesus Christ. 

What a beautiful blessing that is!  Let me remind you why.  In our sinful state, we are objects of God’s holy wrath and condemnation.  Apart from Christ, we are in serious trouble with God.  The biggest problem for an unbeliever is not his or her sin as such, but where sin puts them in relation to a holy and just God.  It puts them in debt with him.  He says, “Be holy,” and human sinfulness says, “No way!”  This is the problem that the gospel addresses.            

It addresses it through the substitutionary atonement of Christ.  In his book A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens tells the stories of a French aristocrat named Charles Darnay, and an English lawyer named Sydney Carton.  The men are spitting images of each other.  They both love the same woman, but it’s Darnay who sees his love reciprocated.  Toward the end of the novel, Darnay goes to France.  This was during the French Revolution and remember that he was an aristocrat.  So this was a bad idea, and indeed he ends up in prison facing execution.

The night before Darnay’s death, Carton went to the prison with a helper.  At the gate, he showed his papers, and announced, “Sydney Carton, Englishman” and he was let in.  Once in the prison cell, Carton gave Darnay a drink with a sedative.  He then changed clothes with him.  The helper carried out Darnay to the waiting carriage and then on to the gate, where he announced to the gatekeeper, “Sydney Carton, Englishman” and Darnay was let out to freedom.  Meanwhile, of course, the real Carton was in prison and the next day he was sent to the guillotine in Darnay’s place. 

That’s something like what Christ has done for us.  He took our place so that we could go free.  He paid our debts to a holy God.  But he also lived a holy and righteous life in our place.  All the demands of God’s law have been met in him.  One of the most beautiful results of that is that God declares us to be his sons!  The natural Son of God has made us to be adopted sons of God.  And it’s important that we retain the word “sons” there, because that reminds us that we are those who will receive an inheritance.  This is what we have been predestined to by God.  And this happened in accordance with his pleasure and will, not in accordance with what we’ve done.

But then loved ones there’s another issue that often comes up.  I’ve only been in the ministry for ten years or so, but I’ve encountered it a number of times already.  Sometimes people hear about this biblical teaching and they come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what they do since God has decided it all beforehand anyway.  If he wants me to be elect, then I’m elect.  If I’m not, I’m not and there’s nothing I can do about it.  I may as well just live the way I want. 

These sorts of thoughts start from the wrong place.  They attempt to reason out of God’s hidden will, out of things that are not accessible to us.  Instead, we need to work out of what God has revealed.  He has revealed that our deepest problem is our sin and how it offends him.  God has revealed a solution through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He calls us to rest and trust in him.  God calls us to embrace the salvation that is offered through his Son.  He says, “You’re in serious trouble, but there is a way out through Christ.  Throw yourself on him and you will be saved.  I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”  We believe in God’s sovereignty, but we also hold to the human responsibility to respond in faith to the call of the gospel.    

Having done that, then there are those who struggle with assurance.  Am I elect or not?  How can I know?  Can I know for sure?  Or do I have to go through my whole life doubting and constantly wondering? 

So, how can you have the assurance that what Paul writes here is true for you?  It comes exactly through what I was just describing, by beginning with the gospel, by looking to God’s promises for salvation in Christ and clinging to those promises in faith.  Assurance of election comes from God’s promises as they are applied to yourself and appropriated for yourself.  You can know yourself to be one of God’s chosen and predestined by the faith that he gives to his children.  Look with me for a moment at chapter 1, article 12 of the Canons of Dort [read].  So, assurance is possible.  And having that assurance is a wonderful, comforting thing, for then we know that we are safe in the hands of our sovereign God.  He will never turn his back on us. 

Loved ones, God has truly blessed us beyond what we can comprehend.  And it is God’s purpose that these blessings produce fruit in our lives.  Back in the seventeenth century, the Arminians objected to the Reformed doctrine of election because they said it made people indifferent to living godly and holy lives.  People still say that today.  Election makes Christians complacent, turns them into the “frozen chosen.” 

But look at how Paul makes it clear that this cannot be the case at all.  Verse 6 says that all of this serves the “praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”  You could also translate that as “the grace with which he has graced us in the one he loves.”  Grace has been heaped upon us!  These teachings then produce something – worship for God in view of his undeserved mercy through Christ.  And this worship for God is something that includes what we do on Sundays, but it’s more than that.  It’s a service to God that encompasses the entirety of our lives.

If we go back to verse 4 for a moment, why did God choose us before the creation of the world?  It was not because we were holy and blameless in his sight, but so that we would be.  That has two aspects. 

First of all, there is the fact that in Christ we are holy and blameless in the sight of God.  All of Christ’s merits and righteousness are given to us as our own.  Every good thing that Christ ever did is credited to your account!  All of his perfect law-keeping is yours, because God knows that you cannot keep the law perfectly yourself.  So he gives you Christ to fulfill the demands of the law.  In Christ, we are holy and blameless in the sight of God.  That is the real reality. 

But there is a second aspect to it and that has to do with this truth emerging more and more in our daily lives.  God set his love upon us in Christ so that we would be who we are in him.  That we would be holy and blameless not only in his sight, but also more and more here on earth in the living of our day-to-day existence. 

What does it mean to be holy?  It means to reflect God and the way in which he is set apart from sin.  To be holy means to reflect God and his revulsion for sin.  That we love what God loves and hate what God hates. 

And blameless, what about that?  Blameless means “without blemish,” like the sacrifices of the Old Testament.  Without fault or defect.    In Romans 12:1-2, Paul wrote about Christians being living sacrifices of thankfulness.  The sacrifices which we offer to God are ourselves, and we want these sacrifices to be clean and pure.  Nobody should be able to look at these sacrifices and pick out something that dirties them.

So, our election and predestination are meant to lead us to holy and blameless lives here and now.  Now that sounds very nice, but how is that going to happen exactly?  Brothers and sisters, it boils down to adoration, love, and gratitude.  When you adore someone, you’re at their beck and call.  When you love someone highly exalted over you, you’ll want to do whatever he asks of you.  When you’re thankful to a great King, you’re at the ready to do his bidding.  This is where these teachings are meant to lead us – to make our hearts and wills pliable for God. 

That he saved me, when I know what a sinner I am – I can’t wrap my head around it.  I belong on the broad road, but out of his unmerited love and compassion he put me on the narrow road.  How can I be indifferent to that?  How could I ever say, “whatever” and then just carry on doing whatever I want to do.  How could I find this dull and boring?  Instead, this is something that grabs my heart.  I have a God who loves me and who has loved me before there were stars in the sky.  He knew my name before there were fish in the ocean.  He knew that I would be his and he would be mine.  He gave me a perfect Saviour to live for me and to die for me and to rise again for me.  Father, not to me, but to you belongs all glory and praise!

That’s where the Holy Spirit wants to bring us with our text.  To our knees in awe and love for God, ready to live for him in holiness.  You see, God doesn’t come to us as Christians and say, “Well, here are your obligations, now get to it or else.”  He motivates us with his love.  He earnestly appeals to us that we might love him and that we might obey him because we truly love him. 

In the early twentieth century there were those who were indifferent to doctrine and tried to minimize it.  In the process, they gutted the Christian faith and opened the doors for theological liberalism, not only when it came to doctrine, but life too.  When you lose the great truths of the faith, you lose all the motivation to love God and to obey him out of love and gratitude.  So back in 1923, the founding father of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, J. Gresham Machen, said that Christianity is a life founded upon a doctrine.  That includes this doctrine of God’s gracious unconditional election found here in Ephesians 1.  It’s true:  Christianity is a life founded upon a doctrine.  Brothers and sisters, let’s embrace this doctrine found in Ephesians 1 in faith and let it shape our lives as we love the God who first loved us – even before the foundation of the world.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Father,

Your sovereign grace has left us in awe again.  We give praise to you for blessing us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  We praise you choosing us before the foundation of the world.  We adore you for your love, in which you’ve predestined to be adopted as your sons through Christ.  We give you honour for your glorious grace in every single way.  We are humbled and grateful to be yours.  Father, please continue working in us so that we have the necessary understanding of how rich we are in your sovereign grace.  Please continue to work through your Spirit so that we fix our eyes on Christ, through whom all these blessings come.  Father, we do love you, but we want to grow in our love for you so that we may be holy and blameless not only in principle, but also in practice.  Father, we want to live for your praise, and because we are just children, we ask for your indispensable help.     




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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