Ephesians 1:4

Sermon preached on November 27, 2005 by Laurence W. Veinott. Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

Election and predestination are two of the most reviled and hated doctrines in Christendom. I remember hearing a TV evangelist say that they are doctrines that come from the pit of hell. He felt that they were demonic, destructive doctrines that do a great deal of harm. Some people think they're especially harmful to Christians because they encourage a lackadaisical attitude toward Christian living.

But on the other hand, some Christians think they're among the grandest and most magnificent truths of the Bible—ones that give God all the glory and lead people to appreciate and magnify His great name. I belong to that group and this morning we're going to look at why I think we should all belong to that group. Paul wrote,

"For he chose us in him
before the creation of the world
to be holy and blameless in his sight."

The first thing I want you to see here is that

election is one of the great reasons we ought to be praising God.

In verse 4 Paul starts to describe some of the ways in which God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. He puts election first. Now we may be inclined to think that that's just because it comes first in order, before any of the other blessings. God chose us before He justified us or sanctified. But I believe there's more to it than that and that election and predestination are specifically related to God's glory and are doctrines that should especially cause us to praise God. In verses 4 and 5 Paul deals with election and predestination and then in verse 6 he exults,

"to the praise of his glorious grace,"

This morning I want to look at how election should cause us to praise God.

The first reason is because He is the only One who had anything to do with our election.

God chose us in Christ before He began to create. He chose us before the foundation of the world. The reason for our election lies in God alone. Nothing external to Him caused Him to choose us—because there was nothing external to Him. We are in Christ because of God. John Stott writes that before the foundation of the world refers to, (God's New Society, p. 36)

"before creation, before time began, into a past eternity in which only God himself existed in the perfection of His being."

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin writes, (Institutes III:22:2)

"By saying that they were "elect before the creation of the world" [Ephesians 1:4], he takes away all regard for worth. For what basis for distinction is there among those who did not yet exist, and who were subsequently to be equals in Adam? Now if they are elect in Christ, it follows that not only is each man elected without respect to his own person but also certain ones are separated from others, since we see that not all are members of Christ."

God chose us before the foundation of the world—long before we existed. This means that

you owe all credit for our salvation to God.

This is one of Paul's great themes in his letters. He was insistent that people should not boast before God. We see this in Ephesians 2:8-10. Paul wrote,

"For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith—and this not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God—
not by works,
so that no one can boast.
For we are God's workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do."

John Eadie writes, (Ephesians p. 18)

"the general doctrine is, that the change of relation is not of man's achievement, but of God's… that man does not unite himself to God, but that God unites man to Himself…"

As the apostle John put it in 1 John 4:19, (KJV)

"We love him,
because he first loved us."

John Calvin writes,

"If the reason is asked as to why God has called us to participation in the Gospel, why He daily bestows upon us so many blessings, why He opens to us the gate of heaven, we always have to return to this principle, that He chose us before the world was."

God doesn't deserve 75% of the credit for our salvation. He doesn't deserve 90%, or even 99.99%. He deserves all the credit. Why will you be in glory forever and ever, with God, enjoying Him, serving Him? It's because God chose you before the foundation of the world.

But someone might object and say,

"Didn't I choose God?"

What's the answer to that? John Stott writes, (p. 37)

"Yes, indeed you did, and freely, but only because in eternity God had first chosen you."

Someone else might say,

"Didn't I decide for Christ?"

Stott, again,

"Yes, indeed you did, and freely, but only because in eternity God had first decided for you."

Yes, Christians do something. They go to Christ. But even that is God's doing. None of us would be in Christ except for God's choosing us before the foundation of the world.

Not everyone agrees with election as I have presented it.

One of the things I've read is that some people understand these verses as referring to a group of people, and not particular individuals.

They say that it was like in the Old Testament God chose the nation of Israel to be His. He chose a group, not individuals. In other words, we are to understand election corporately—it refers to God's electing a group, but not individuals.

In other words, God made salvation possible. He decided to save a group of people, He chose a group of people, but not the individuals that make up that group.

But the problem with that is that
you really can't have a forest without the trees. Indeed, without choosing individuals, no one would be in the 'group'. Chapter 2 tells us that before they became Christians, the Ephesians, (verse 1)

"were dead
in your transgressions and sins,"

In verse 3 Paul includes himself with them and says,

"Like the rest,
we were by nature objects of wrath."

Then in verses 4 and 5, he states we became alive because of God's work in us.

"But because of his great love for us,
God, who is rich in mercy,
made us alive with Christ
even when we were dead in transgressions—
it is by grace you have been saved."

Paul could not be clearer. Without God's work in us, none of us would have been saved. As Jesus said in John 6:44,

"No one can come to me
unless the Father who sent me draws him,"

God chooses a group because He chooses individuals. Peter O'Brien writes, (Ephesians)

"There is clearly a corporate dimension to God's election. It was God's intention to create for himself a people perfectly conformed to the likeness of his Son (Rom. 8: 29–30). It is inappropriate, however, to suggest that election in Christ is primarily corporate rather than personal and individual. We have already seen that throughout the paragraph the recipients of 'every spiritual blessing' are mentioned again and again (vv. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14) — in what has been called an 'ecclesiological focus'. The same group of people is clearly in view. Some of the divine gifts, for example, redemption and the forgiveness of sins in Christ (v. 7), together with the sealing of the Holy Spirit following belief in the gospel of salvation (vv. 13,14), must be understood as coming to believers personally and individually (without thereby denying the corporate element). The plurals ('we', 'us') are common, not corporate."

But even more than that, in Romans 9, the other great passage where Paul deals with election, he clearly speaks about it in terms of individuals. He mentions, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Esau. He wrote, (Romans 9:

"Not only that,
but Rebekah's children had one
and the same father,
our father Isaac.
Yet, before the twins were born
or had done anything good or bad—
in order that God's purpose in election might stand:
not by works but by him who calls—she was told,
The older will serve the younger.
Just as it is written:
'Jacob I loved,
but Esau I hated.'"

That's as individual as you can get. It's not talking about a group being chosen, but an individual. Paul continues, (Romans 9:

"What then shall we say?
Is God unjust?
Not at all!
For he says to Moses,
'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion
on whom I have compassion.'
It does not, therefore,
depend on man's desire or effort,
but on God's mercy.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh:
'I raised you up for this very purpose,
that I might display my power in you
and that my name
might be proclaimed in all the earth.'
Therefore God has mercy
on whom he wants to have mercy,
and he hardens whom he wants to harden."

Again, Paul talks about an individual, Pharaoh. Election cannot and should not be thought of in terms of God electing some indistinct group. He elects individuals and those individuals make up that group.

Election is individual. We as individuals have this in common. If you're a Christian it's because God chose you, as an individual. We see this as well in
Jeremiah 1: 4-5, where Jeremiah wrote,

"The word of the LORD came to me, saying,
'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.'"

This is one reason why we should be praising God, why we should be lifting His name high. He chose us, individuals, in Christ, before the foundation of the world.

The second thing in our text that shows us we should praise God is the fact that

He chose us to be in Christ.

Paul wrote,

"For he chose us in him
before the creation of the world"

The Father chose us in Christ. It in is Him, in Christ. John Stott writes, (p. 19)

"Mark well the statement, he chose us in him. The juxtaposition of the three pronouns is emphatic. God puts us and Christ together in his mind. He determined to make us (who did not yet exist) his own children through the redeeming work of Christ (which had not yet taken place)."

Charles Hodge writes, (p. 30-31)

"It is the purpose of God to bring his people to holiness, sonship, and eternal glory. He never intended to do this irrespective of Christ. On the contrary, it was his purpose, as revealed in Scripture, to bring his people to these exalted privileges through a Redeemer. It was in Christ as their head and representative they were chosen to holiness and eternal life, and therefore in virtue of what he was to do in their behalf."

What a thought! Us in Christ! He chose us in Christ. This truth is almost too sublime for words. Before the creation of the world, we were chosen in Christ. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity—and us.

Christians, stop and let that thought settle in your mind. God chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world. Before the creation of the world you were in Christ.

For you Christians this means that you are safe in Christ.

You were chosen to be in Him before the foundation of the world. Your salvation is secure. It was determined before the world came to be. God determined it before creation. His making the universe, angels, human beings—none of that can change His eternal purpose. You are safe in Christ.

But this application is the very reason that many people don't like election. They think it will lead Christians into loose living, into sin. They know, quite correctly, that God's church is to be pure, that God's people are to be holy. They are afraid that telling them Christians that their salvation is secure is a very dangerous thing to do.

But quite the opposite is true. It's not dangerous—it's very helpful and comforting to Christians—even more than that—it ought to help them praise God and lift His name high. The third reason we ought to be praising God is because

He chose us to be holy and blameless in His sight.

One of the purposes of election is that we be holy and blameless. That's why God chose us. Anyone who says, "I'm safe in Christ," and then goes off and gives themselves to sin is deluding himself. No one should do that. And the point is that God's elect don't do that. God chose them to be holy and blameless. As the writer to the Hebrews said, (Hebrews 12:14)

"without holiness
no one will see the Lord."

We are called to holiness? As Peter put it in 1 Peter 2:9,

"But you are a chosen people,
a royal priesthood,
a holy nation,
a people belonging to God,
that you may declare the praises
of him who called you out of darkness
into his wonderful light."

So anyone who understands election as the Bible teaches it will know that it is election to holiness. As the apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:1f,

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are! …
Dear friends, now we are children of God,
and what we will be has not yet been made known.
But we know that when he appears,
we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope in him
purifies himself,

just as he is pure."

Now what this means for you Christians is that you need to give yourself to holiness.

You were chosen to be holy. Be holy! You are children of light. Live as children of light! Or as Paul writes later in Ephesians (5:12)

"Be imitators of God,
therefore, as dearly loved children
and live a life of love,"

Give yourself to holiness. This is what the apostle Paul did. In Philippians 3:12 he wrote,

"I press on
to take hold of that
for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."


What a great thought—us standing before God and being holy and blameless.

"For he chose us in him
before the creation of the world
to be holy and blameless in his sight."

Holy and blameless in His sight! What a delightful concept. How sublime. How wonderful it will be. This is what we will have in Christ. In fact, we already have it in one sense. We have been justified. We have been declared righteous. All our sins have been washed away. We have been given Christ's righteousness. That's all true in an objective sense. One day it will come true subjectively as well. Holy and blameless before God—in His sight! Let that thought sink in. Having that you have everything. Having Christ you have everything.

And it is the result of God's choosing us. It's all His doing. How you Christians should praise Him for the fact that you will be holy and without blame in His sight. He deserves all the credit because He chose you before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blame.

But again, some Christians disagree with this.

They say that God chose us because He saw something good in us before He chose us.

But this is the exact opposite of what our text says. John Calvin writes,

"If God has foreseen in us everything worthy of election, the very opposite would have been said."

In other words, it would have said that God chose us because we were holy and blameless in His sight, or because He saw that we were going to be holy and blameless in His sight. But he doesn't say that, rather, he says that He chose us 'to be holy and blameless in His sight'. Calvin writes, (Institutes, III: 22:3)

"Say: 'Since he foresaw that we would be holy, he chose us,' and you will invert Paul's order. Therefore you can safely infer the following: if he chose us that we should be holy, he did not choose us because he foresaw that we would be so. For these two notions disagree: that the godly have their holiness from election, and that they arrive at election by reason of works."

John Stott writes (p. 36)

"since he chose us that we should be holy and blameless before him, which indicates that we, when in his mind he chose us, were unholy and blameworthy, and therefore deserving not of adoption, but of judgment."

Stott is there putting forth what is called the 'infralapsarian' view. It has to do with the order of God's decrees. Some reformed theologians believe that God decreed the fall into sin before He decreed our election. Others believe that God decreed our election first. But in either case, being holy and blameless is not the result of us being chosen for any good in us. In his Institutes, Calvin writes, (III:22:2)

"the fact that they were elected 'to be holy' [Ephesians 1:4b] plainly refutes the error that derives election from foreknowledge, since Paul declares all virtue appearing in man is the result of election. Now if a higher cause be sought, Paul answers that God has predestined it so, and that this is 'according to the good pleasure of his will'. [Ephesians 1:5b]. By these words he does away with all means of their election that men imagine in themselves. For all benefits that God bestows for the spiritual life, as Paul teaches, flow from this one source: namely, that God has chosen whom he has willed, and before their birth has laid up for them individually the grace that he willed to grant them."

We see the same thing in Romans 9:11-13,

"Yet, before the twins were born
or had done anything good or bad—
in order that God's purpose in election might stand:
not by works but by him who calls—she was told,
The older will serve the younger.
Just as it is written:
Jacob I loved,
but Esau I hated."

Verse 16,

"It does not, therefore,
depend on man's desire or effort,
but on God's mercy."

It's about mercy. Mercy means getting something good that you don't deserve. It's compassion for the miserable. As the NIV Dictionary says, it's,

"Forbearance from inflicting punishment on an adversary or a lawbreaker."

If people were chosen because there was something good in them, it wouldn't be mercy. But it is mercy.

We see this lack of worth again in
1 Corinthians 1:27-31. Paul wrote,

"But God chose the foolish things of the world
to shame the wise;
God chose the weak things of the world
to shame the strong.
He chose the lowly things of this world
and the despised things—
and the things that are not—
to nullify the things that are,
so that no one may boast before him.
It is because of him
that you are in Christ Jesus
who has become for us wisdom from God—
that is, our righteousness,
holiness and redemption.
Therefore, as it is written:
'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'"

Notice the phrase, "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus". That says it all.

Christians, praise God for choosing you. When you were dead and trespasses and sins God made you alive. He made you alive even when you were by nature an object of God's wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Lastly, for non-Christians, what does this mean for you?

It means that you need to look to God to save you.

You need to ask Him. You need to be like the tax-collector in the temple. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, (Luke 18:13)

"God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

You may say,

"But what if I'm not one of God's elect? What good will that do me?"

You are not to think in those terms in regard to deciding whether you should go to Christ or not. You don't know if God has chosen you or not—so that can be of no help to you.

Rather, you are to focus on the invitations that you have in Jesus Christ. You're to think in terms of the fact that you're a sinner and you need Jesus to save you. You need to focus on His great love for sinners. You need to focus on His invitations, on His commands to repent, how Jesus said, (Matthew 11:28)

"Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest."

Or Jesus words in John 6:37,

"whoever comes to me
I will never drive away."

God's power is at work in His Word. The Spirit works through the promises of God. When Jesus told the man with the withered arm to stretch it out—He also gave power for the man to do it. By definition you can't stretch out a withered hand but God's power enabled him to do it. God commands you to do something that you can't do on your own. Through Jesus He gives power to do it. If you go to Jesus with nothing but your sin, seeking mercy, you, like the tax collector in the temple, will go home justified. Put your trust in Jesus now.