3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
I flew up to Minnesota on Thursday to perform the wedding service for an old friend from college. Weddings always seem to bring out the romantic in people and you often hear phrases like, ‘they were meant for each other’ or ‘they are soulmates.’ The true intent behind those phrases is to say that the couple is a good match for one another and as far as anyone can tell they will be together until death do them part. The actual phrases though are not true. God does not make one perfect partner for each of us that we must search for until we find our soulmate. There is no one person that you will meet that will be a perfect match guaranteeing lasting happiness, health, wealth, children and no fights. Instead, there are many people whom you could or could have promised to be faithful to and work at marriage with until death do you part. It may not sound as romantic, but if more people understood what marriage real is, a commitment to be faithful, and what it is not, a perfect match that will never experience ups and downs or require work, then perhaps more marriages might last in this country. The person you marry may not be specially made for you or chosen by God, but God does tell us about something he chose to do even before he created the world. In our second lesson from Ephesians 1, we will hear that what God chose for us leads us to praise God for every spiritual blessing in Christ.
The Apostle Paul never married, but he did have a lot of love to give. His God given passion for sharing Jesus with others drove him from town to town so that more people would hear about Jesus and possibly believe. Paul did a lot of traveling to share the gospel, but the Ephesians held a special place in his heart. In Acts 20, we hear the account of Paul saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders…
36 When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.
There was great love for Pastor Paul in Ephesus, which might sound strange because his opening lines to them dealt with the doctrine of election or predestination, a teaching that in many cases has brought confusion and conflict to the church.
If we want to boil down the many conflicts caused by the teaching of predestination to one issue, we can make it very simple by saying that some believe it means God doesn’t love all people. Predestination is understood by some as God’s choice to save some, but not others. This would then mean that God doesn’t love all people because he willing choses to send some to hell. Out of these same thoughts have come the excuse by some to live life however they see fit believing that if they are chosen to be a believer, God will make them come to faith. On the other hand, if they aren’t chosen, then there is no point in trying to find God because God has already rejected them. All of these ideas empty God of his love and turn our spiritual life into a predetermined course of events over which we have no control.
It is very dangerous to say that God is not loving and we do not have control over our spiritual lives. The danger in believing these two statements was central in the first sin in the Garden of Eden. When Satan tempted Eve to eat the fruit from the tree God had told Adam and Even not to eat from, he told her that God was holding something back from her and her husband. In Genesis 3, Satan said,
5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The truth was that God had given Adam and Eve everything good and held nothing back from them. In love, he had given them life and this wonderful world to give them everything they need. When Adam and Eve doubted the extent of God’s love, they lost their faith in him and learned what evil was. Their sin meant that the control over their spiritual lives was now corrupted by sin. This sin meant that all their decisions would be made according to sin, which cut them off from a good relationship with God and created the need for God to punish mankind for their sin. Therefore, we are still affected by the sin that Adam and Eve fell into when they doubted God’s love.
As believers, doubting God’s love due to a misunderstanding of predestination affects us in two ways. One the one hand, we can become so confident that we are saved that we become unafraid of sin. When a believe begins to use their faith in Jesus’ saving him or her from all sins to justify sinning, then they are in danger of losing their faith because their actions reveal that they are not afraid of sin, don’t see sin as a really being that bad and love sin more than God. On the other hand, a believer can become so afraid of sins, that he or she becomes convinced they we are not predestined or one of God’s elect. The guilt and frustration over past sins or falling into a sin over and over can make a person doubt that they truly have faith in Jesus or are one of God’s elect.
Both of these misunderstandings are solved by what Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:7,
“In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
In Jesus, we see both what we needed from God and what he wanted to give us. Jesus’ blood was spilled because the severity of our sins, the lack of love, selfishness and destruction sin causes must be punished by death. Thus, Jesus was put to death for our sins. At the same time, Jesus’ perfect life became ours when he died because he died as an innocent man, trading his good life for our bad lives. The redemption or buying back, gave all people forgiveness for their sins.
This forgiveness of sins is what Paul was giving thanks for as he began he letter to the Ephesians. In verse 6, he gives thanks to God for adopting the Ephesians as his own sons and daughters in the faith. In verse, 12 he gives thanks for those
who were the first to put our hope in Christ,
the Israelites or Jewish people who were looking forward to the Savior and now put their faith in Jesus. Finally, in verses 13 and 14, the Gentiles, all nations and all of us were included as Paul wrote,
13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
All of us who by faith put our hope in Jesus have been filled by God with the Holy Spirit so that we are now God’s people or spiritual Israel. Paul gives thanks to God that people from all nations, places and time are included as believers, not because of their physical genealogy from Abraham or anything they have done, but they are believers by the grace of God.
This section is all praise to God for his desire to bring some to faith because it was done out of love. Paul said,
“In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
God deserves all praise for what he did because he would have been justified in leaving all of us on our own to be punished for sin. So then, God deserves all glory because he did not have to save us. When we talk about God’s glory, we really mean what God has done. We give praise to God for his glory, which means we give praise to God the Father who acted in love to make a plan to bless us in Christ, to send Jesus to give his blood as a sacrifice for sin and to send the Holy Spirit as a deposit of faith guaranteeing our inheritance in heaven.
Paul confidently shared that God had chosen to save the Ephesians only to give them peace and joy. We may not know all those God has chosen to believe in Jesus, but we do know Jesus saved all people. That is why we are filled with peace and joy because we know that Jesus has save us. This is also why in our Gospel lesson from Mark 6, Jesus sent out the 12 disciples and
they went out and preached that people should repent.
They did not only go to the predestined, they went to everyone. It is not for us to know who will or will not come to faith. Instead, we give thanks that any come to faith and we especially give thanks that God chose to give us faith in our Savior Jesus and hope for eternal life in heaven.
The encouragement I gave the young couple entering marriage on Friday was simple, depend on God to run the race of faith. Marriage is not easy and you don’t need statistics to figure that out, just ask anyone who is married. Marriage takes work because the person you are married to is just as sinful as you are. It takes work, but as believers we get to do that work in our marriage, at work or at play confident of what our Savior Jesus has given us. We are saved, forgiven and dearly loved by our God in heaven, the Creator of all things. He chose you even before this world began to be his own, so praise God for every spiritual blessing in Christ because in Jesus we have every spiritual blessing of God’s love, forgiveness and eternal life in heaven. Amen.