Ephesians 1: 1-14 (Living Bible)
Greetings from Paul
1 This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. I am writing to God’s holy people (in Ephesus), who are faithful followers of Christ Jesus. 2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son (“in the beloved”). 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
9 God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfil his own good pleasure. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.
12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own (“put His seal on you”) by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.
CHOSEN BY GOD (Ephesians 1: 1-14)
Have you ever been chosen for a task ahead of others?
- When I was at school, I was once chosen for a football team ahead of the best footballer in the school… I still remember the emotion and my pride in tackling him and scoring a goal
- I was once approached by a police officer when passing a central Police Station to take part in an identity parade… I obviously looked the criminal type but was paid 6/- (six old shillings/30pence/ about 20 Euros/about 75US cents) for doing it!
Sometime, being chosen is not much fun… chosen for redundancy or to give someone bad news or finish a job that no one else is willing to do.
I read a story about a Christian, who was told by his boss to say to someone that the boss was “out of the office” when he wasn’t! The Christian did just the opposite and handed the ‘phone to the boss. Although the boss was initially furious, he later chose the man to be his second in command… “If a person is willing to tell a lie in my presence, he will be willing to lie behind my back. I need a man that I can trust”. As a result, he chose the Christian employee to be his Number Two.
In the Bible, we read of many persons that were chosen by God for special tasks…
- Some of them were unlikely candidates for the job!
- Think of Jacob (a deceiver)… Joseph (a despised brother)… Moses (a murderer) … Gideon and Elisha (farmers)… (King) Saul (a shy man)… Peter (a fisherman)… Saul of Tarsus (a persecutor)…
Why did God choose these men and not others?
- Quite simply, He chose them because He chose them!
- Certainly, we know that God looks beyond the immediate situation and sees the individual’s potential… but the bottom line is that God chooses whom He will… not because the person is “worth it”
Not least, God chose the Jews… not Arabs or Aborigines or Eskimos… to be His ‘special people’
The issue of BEING CHOSEN is not too troubling when we think of God’s right to choose whom He will for practical tasks…
It is much more challenging when it comes to the issue of salvation!
In Chosen People Part 1, I want to look at present some of the background issues. In Chosen People Part 2, I shall look in more depth at relevant Bible passages and attempt to draw some (tentative) conclusions.
BEFORE I DO, a few brief points to note about the verses I read:
- God the Father is the initiator of all things. Note these phrases:
- “The will of God”
- “Grace and peace from God”
- “All praise to God”
- “God… rich in kindness and grace”
- “An inheritance from God”
- “God saves you”
- “God’s guarantee”
- God the Son is the focal point for all that God the Father does:
- “An apostle of Christ Jesus”
- “United with Christ”
- “Chosen in Christ”
- “Adopted by God… through Christ”
- “The authority of Christ”
- “Trust in Christ”
- “Believed in Christ”
- God the Holy Spirit is the One who ‘seals the deal’:
- “God identified you as His own by giving the Holy Spirit”
- “The Spirit is God’s guarantee”
And notice that we receive ‘every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms’… Earthly blessings are wonderful and we thank God for them… but one thing that separates people from animals is that we can have spiritual blessing in heavenly places, which is far more wonderful.
Note especially verses 4 and 5a: Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.
Broadly, there are two interpretations of what is said in the Bible concerning salvation…
- God chooses who will be saved… OR
- We choose whether we will be saved.
In a nutshell, the issue can be framed in this way: “Has God decided in advance about those who will be saved… or not?”
SO… “Did God decide to save you and not to save others? Has he already decided that you will not be chosen and others will be?”
It is, of course, essential to see what the Bible actually says and not fall back on a favourite verse or our human instincts about what God should or should not do!
Note that the belief that God has chosen in advance those who will be saved is associated with Calvinism… The belief that we have a choice about whether or not we are saved belongs to Arminianism. However, there are a variety of views under these two headings.
So let’s consider the possible implications of these two strongly held beliefs…
If GOD chooses in advance those who are saved, there are some people already ‘lost’ and doomed to spend eternity separated from God because of sin…
- No amount of persuasion, effort or prayer will make a difference
- Evangelism has more to do with helping people who will be saved (“the elect”) to acknowledge their belief in Christ and embrace the life-transforming work of the Holy Spirit
- The emphasis will be more upon learning to live a godly life in anticipation of heaven than upon campaigns and witnessing
If WE choose whether we are saved, eternity with God or separated from God depends upon the decision made by each individual… ASSUMING that the person has the opportunity to hear the Gospel message in the first place!
- Persuasion, perseverance and prayer will make a significant difference to the outcome
- Evangelism has more to do with helping unsaved people to acknowledge their need of Christ and believe in Him
- Living a godly life can only begin once the person has made a decision to ‘accept Christ as Saviour’
The issue of evangelism is an important one…
- If people are saved (or lost) “in advance” by the sovereign will of God, it could be argued that the effort expended in campaigns and other forms of persuasion is rather pointless (“One-party state!”)
- If people are given the choice about being saved, worldwide evangelism is absolutely essential because people cannot respond to the Gospel if they haven’t heard it!
Both arguments have to grapple with some serious issues…
- Those who interpret the Bible as saying that God has already determined those who will be saved must answer why Jesus told the early disciples to make evangelism (“preaching the Gospel and making disciples”) such a priority
- However, those who say that we choose whether we are saved must answer what happens to those who never hear the Gospel or are too young/feeble-minded/unwell to understand and respond… They cannot possibly “choose” so presumably must be lost!
Whatever view we hold, there are a number of fundamental points to consider:
- God the Holy Spirit is the Great Evangelist… People are saved because God is at work… We cannot save anyone… so we can relax and allow Him to use us as He determines.
- God chooses (there’s that word again!) to use you and me in His work… He didn’t have to do so! Part of the reason that we share the Gospel is because Jesus told us to do it! We are not only co-heirs with Christ but also co-workers.
- Prayer, sharing the Gospel and being Christ’s ambassador are all directed by the Holy Spirit… so they are never wasted, however unsatisfactory they may feel to have been.
- It is God’s work… As someone has rightly argued: ‘For where we are not consciously relying on God, there we shall inevitably be found relying on ourselves. And the spirit of self-reliance is a blight on evangelism. Such, however, is the inevitable consequence of forgetting God’s sovereignty in the conversion of souls.’
Eric Naus has summarised the position as follows:
‘So, when God intends to save, he inspires and empowers his saints to share the message. God gets all the glory and we have the privilege of joining him in his work. Be encouraged, friends. Your efforts and words and witness are worth it!’
To conclude this “canvas-painting” about CHOICE, let me provide three scenarios to consider prayerfully:
- Occasionally, a person considered ‘worthy’ of an award (e.g. a knighthood or MBE) refuses it… for various reasons. A person may be chosen but not accept the offer.
- Sometimes, a person will be left a large legacy by a distant relative and simply refuse to believe that it’s true… They think it’s a trick or a mistake, not true.
- It has been shown that many people who win a fortune from a Lottery end up worse off and unhappy. They accept the prize but use the winnings wastefully.
Let’s transfer these three scenarios to the spiritual realm and the issue of “choice” in salvation…
- Being chosen requires acceptance… We refer to “making a decision to follow Christ”… but this decision also applies to those who are ‘elected’ by God… Anyone can refuse His offer. No one is dragged, jacking and screaming, into the Kingdom of Heaven!
- Belief is very important… Some people say that it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere… But only knowing the truth sets us free from sin.
- Jesus said that by their fruit, you shall know them… Whether we think that God chooses or we choose, becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ involves more than mere words… We have the resources of the Holy Spirit at our disposal… If a person claims to be a Christian and lives a wasteful life away from God, we can state with absolute assurance that the person is not saved.
Under “Chosen People Part 2”, I shall examine in a little more depth what the Bible reveals about God’s gracious work of salvation and its implications for you and me.
So… Does God choose? Do we choose?
- What’s going on here?
- What possible explanation can there be?
- Is it possible to reconcile the two interpretations?
- SEE UNDER “Chosen People Part 2” for further details.