Ephesians 1:4-6 | Spiritual Blessings in Christ
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
God’s purpose for every believer is reconciliation in Christ for all time. Therefore, if you’re in Christ, your life is absolutely massive, with a glorious destiny. I wonder if you believe that?
This world minimizes us, selling a cheap version of everything. We’re surrounded by the trivial and phony and misleading, rushing us from one distraction to another. We grow tired and disappointed. After a while, we begin to wonder what life amounts to. We trust Jesus and do our best, but we still fail. Sometimes we feel weak and worthless. But the Christian should abound in hope. How can we do that? We need to see the glorious things God has done for us, and the ultimate end to which he’s taking us. In these verses, Paul helps us see that.
Now, I know many people find the doctrines of God’s election and predestination very difficult. Many godly Christians have differing views. But we are not saved by our perfect understanding of these doctrines. We aren’t saved by a doctrine at all. We’re saved by a person, Jesus Christ.
You may have questions about these doctrines, and we won’t answer all those today. After all, this passage is not a treatise on election and predestination. It is about the end to which they lead: that we should be holy and blameless before God, and our adoption through Christ, to the praise his glorious grace. But if you have questions you’re wrestling through, we’re a church that wants to help satisfy those questions. We all want to know as much about God as we can. So, Dustin and I and your community group leaders are available anytime.
Now, we have three verses, so we have three points.
God makes us holy and blameless
God adopts us through Christ
God blesses us to praise his glorious grace
God makes us holy and blameless
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
God, the Father, chose us, his people, in him, Jesus Christ. In verse 3, Paul says God blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and the first blessing he highlights is that of election. So what is election? Election is God’s sovereign choice of his people unto salvation.
Paul isn’t introducing a new doctrine. It’s one that runs throughout the whole of Scripture. Paul also doesn’t make an argument for election here, he merely affirms it to drive us to its purpose. What is our election for? “That we should be holy and blameless before him.” To be holy and blameless means, in the simplest terms, to be like God. The Bible is very clear that God is holy. His holiness is not a part of who he is; it is who he is. Holiness means wholeness, completeness, perfection in every moral sense. To be holy is to possess ultimate purity. It is also to lack all pollution. So God is blameless, spotless, with no impurity, no stain, no reason for shame. And Paul says our election is so that we might be like that. He’s showing in the strongest terms what God means to do to us: he aims to make us like himself.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but humanity struggles with holiness and blamelessness. We can’t seem to get our act together—individually or corporately. And every time we try to do better, we end up failing. That’s a big problem. Remember God’s words to Moses, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” That’s because man is unholy. The author of Hebrews says without holiness no one will see the Lord. So, holiness is not merely a nice addition to our lives. It’s a requirement for our future life in God’s presence.
So, what’s the hope for us? Is it that one day we’ll figure it out on our own? One day we’ll find the right rule book or attend the right class or find enough willpower? Well, many people think that, but no one’s ever found it. Some truths are so deep they have to be revealed. And that’s what God does in the gospel: he reveals himself.
If salvation is left in our hands, we will certainly fail. Just think back to that New Year’s resolution you made this year. We have trouble keeping promises to ourselves. How much more do we have trouble keeping promises to God? But what sets Christianity apart as a religion is that our salvation is not dependent upon what we do or choose. It’s dependent upon what God does and who God chooses. A Christian is holy because God chose them. They are not chosen because they are holy.
When you realize how unholy you really and how holy God really is, you are floored that he would love you. When you realize that despite all the times you’ve rejected him, refused him, rebelled against him, run from him, he still saved you, you fall in worship before him. You realize how deserving of wrath you are, and you see how wonderful the grace and mercy of God is.
When you really grasp this, there is no doctrine as comforting. When you really see that the only reason you’re a Christian is that God in mercy and grace chose you before the foundation of the world, you begin to realize you’re not on shaky ground with God. You don’t have to wonder if he’s going to love you tomorrow. He’s loved you before the foundation of the world! If he chose you back then and done all he’s done to save you in Christ, is he going to give you up now when you’re so close to being with him for eternity?
God is changing us to be holy and blameless before him because God never planned to accept us just as we are. That’s not good enough for him and it’s not good enough for us. To be before him, we must be changed. But he’s not asking us to change ourselves. He took the initiative. He did the work on our behalf, without our permission, to bring us to himself through the cleansing blood of Jesus who lived, died, and rose again. His perfect blood washes us holy, and his perfect righteousness makes us blameless.
Why did God do this? Because he loves you. And as C.S. Lewis said, love wants to enjoy its object. To enjoy you, and for you to enjoy him, God must make you holy and blameless. And he does through the perfect work of Jesus Christ.
Paul wants us to understand how deeply God loves and saves us, so he uses another image: God adopts us through Christ.
God adopts us through Christ
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will
There is some debate about where the little phrase “in love” belongs. The Greek text is totally ambiguous. Many translations, including the ESV, begin verse 5 with it. It could modify the end of verse 4. We just can’t be sure. But it fits either place, because God’s love effects our holiness and blamelessness and our predestination for adoption. So, we’ll just take it where it is in the ESV.
Now, what’s the difference between election and predestination? Election tells us that God chooses whom he will. Predestination says whom God chooses, he adopts. In other words, God doesn’t choose and set aside. God chooses and brings in. One great theme of Ephesians is God’s reconciliation of all things in Christ. How does that happen? Well, it starts with God’s adoption of sons and daughters, tongues and tribes, into his family.
Now, why does God adopt us? Notice what Paul says. According to the purpose of his will. God adopts us because he wants to. There is no other reason: not your goodness, not your potential, only the purpose of God’s will. When you meet someone truly alive to God, one thing you can’t help but notice is they can’t get over the fact that God wants them. They accept it wholeheartedly, but they’re amazed. One way you can know how alive you are to God is what you think about being his child. When you see the wonder of it, you can’t help but be amazed. God wants us?! Though nothing in us is remotely attractive, by his Spirit in Christ, God brings about his predestined purpose of adoption. He brings us home to himself.
What does Paul mean by adoption? The Old Testament doesn’t mention it much. But the New Testament does often. J.I. Packer says adoption is “the highest privilege the gospel offers.” And when you realize what it means, it’s life-changing, as all adoptions are.
Paul’s concept of adoption comes from his Roman culture. The father had ultimate authority over the family. He could even kill a family member without it being considered murder. Often, an important father would have only daughters and no one to carry on the family line, to inherit his property, and so forth. So, he would adopt a son. He would seek a child he wanted and adopt him from his natural home into his home. The adoptee received all the blessings and inheritance of his new family. He has a new status, a new name, new privileges. This was a common practice, for example, with Emperors. Augustus was adopted into the royal family. He was from a poor family and became the Emperor of Rome through adoption. So, when Paul says that God has predestined us to adoption through Jesus Christ, he’s saying that though we are like Augustus, once from a destitute and poor family, we’re now placed into the royal family. We were sons of disobedience and children of wrath because we are sinners, but God in Christ has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. We are God’s children now, and no one else has any claim on us. No one else has any power over us. Satan has no rule, no claim, no right to influence our lives one bit. We are God’s children, and we will always be so! No one can snatch us from his family.
But in ancient Rome, adoption was costly. Every adoption is, including the Christian’s adoption. What was the cost? The cost was the Son of God, Jesus Christ, our big brother. The whole Trinity is involved in our salvation, their plan before the foundation of the world was to adopt us at the cost of the Son into the family of God. Tim Keller says, “Jesus, when he died on the cross; Jesus, when he poured himself out; Jesus, when he opened not his mouth even when he was slaughtered, was brothering you so God could father you. Adoption is not something that happens naturally. Adoption takes a choice. Adoption takes a legal activity, and that is the marvelous claim of Christianity. Through Christ, at Christ’s expense through the redemption of his blood, you can be adopted. The reason you’re in the family is because of the redemption of his blood.”
You are not another child butting into Jesus’ happy only-child existence. You’re the little brother or sister Jesus always wanted. He wanted you so much he didn’t merely bring you in, he joined you to himself. He made you co-heir with him.
Your life may not feel all that glorious, but if you’re a Christian, the glorious God has done this glorious work for you. He chose you and predestined you to be his child. Like the younger son in the parable of the Prodigal Son, our sin cut us off from the Father. Unlike the elder son in the parable, Jesus sought us out and brought us home, and the Father came running to us. Our adoption means we’re back in the family, guys. We’re home, and it feels so good.
Adoption means you could not be more loved. And our response to this saving love is praise. Look at verse 6.
God blesses us to praise his glorious grace
to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Throughout chapter 1, there is a goal. Three times, in verses 6, 12, and 14, is a call to praise God for his grace. I wonder what you think of that. I wonder if it sounds a strange goal to you? It certainly did to C.S. Lewis. He couldn’t understand why God would save people to praise him. I mean, who wants to be around someone who always wants praise? But as he thought through the problem in the Psalms, he realized something.
“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 honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise . . . The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite 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. . . . praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. . . . I had not noticed that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: 'Isn't she lovely? Wasn't it glorious? Don't you think that magnificent?' The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us what we delight to do, what indeed we can't help doing, about everything else we value.”
Christians are on the path toward inner health made audible, to complete fulfillment and enjoyment of the one person whom our heart longs for the most. We are racing toward the presence of God, and one day we will get there. And our response will be praise.
I wonder if this sounds as good to us as it should. I think to really get it, we need to back up and consider two words in verse 4 that we kind of raced over before. God chose us that we should be holy and blameless before him.
If we want to understand why the goal is the praise of God, we must understand the weight of it means to be before him. God is and will forever be the most glorious person. Our enjoyment of him will be complete as we praise him. Our deepest desires will find their fullest satisfaction. Just as you had to contain your heart from exploding on your wedding day, standing before God in holiness and blamelessness will be a complete inability to keep your mouth shut. All your greatest desires will pour out in praise, your greatest joys will find their end, your deepest longings will be totally satisfied before him. You will have no further wants, no further needs. You will be whole in a way you can barely imagine right now. You will wonder how your heart can take it all in, but it can, because God will give you an even greater heart to bear it—a heart holy and blameless. In this world, we constantly encounter cheap imitations of the real thing. But one day, we will be brought to ultimate reality himself.
So, what will that day be like? The Bible tells us a little about it.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
You might have noticed how many times wiping the tears from our eyes appeared in these verses. Why is that? Because our unholiness and blame created our tears. With every sin we commit and is committed against us, we die a little more inside. But when we are before him, we will behold Life itself. We will no longer have any reason to cry over our little death because the pierced hands of Jesus will remind us of the life we have in him. He will wipe away every tear every sin ever made us cry and we will be reminded that he was the one who took them all upon himself for us. He will give us our life back, we will feel finally at home, and his love will place a smile on our face. We will be made white in the Lamb’s blood. The injustices committed against us will be made right. Every single thing our heart truly longs for will be ours for eternity in him, and the increase of that joy will never end. Every day will be better than last. You were chosen and predestined in Christ for that future! And everything God is doing right now in your life is to get you ready for that day when he will present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. And when we finally arrive, we will explode with praise for eternity.
So we can endure with hope, can’t we? Our life is absolutely massive because we’re on our way to the massive presence of God. And in his glorious wisdom, God calls us to share this journey with others. He calls us to invite others in. That person you’re thinking of right now who doesn’t know him and doesn’t want him might join us on the journey one day. Why not tell them where you’re going and see if they’ll come along?