Ephesians 1:3-6 God’s sovereign choice
Mention of ‘predestination’ evokes different responses. Some want to avoid discussion of what they think is a difficult and divisive subject. Others are ready for battle, to combat what they consider to be a thoroughly unbiblical idea. Still others relish a debate about a doctrine they believe is the heart of biblical theology. What we need to do is examine carefully and humbly what the Bible actually says. Consider Ephesians 1:3-6 God’s sovereign choice.
1. The nature of God’s choice
Paul begins with resounding praise to the Triune God for ‘every spiritual blessing’ (v3). He comes to a focus on God’s sovereign choice of unworthy sinners for the glory of redemption: ‘he chose us in him [Christ] before the creation of the world’ (v4). Salvation originates in eternity, when God made provision for the salvation of a people for himself. The key is ‘in him’. This is covenant language – in the Covenant of Redemption Christ acts as the representative of those the Father has given him, undertaking to do all that is necessary for their salvation. Thus in 1 Corinthians 15:22 we read ‘in Christ all will be made alive’.
2. The motive for God’s choice
There is nothing in sinners to attract God’s choice. As with his choice of Israel, ‘it was because the Lord loved you’ (Deuteronomy 7:8). So here, ‘In love he predestined us’ (v4-5). We must trace salvation to the undeserved love of God (see 1 John 3:1). This love led to action – the sending of the Son (John 3:16). It is all about ‘the glory of his grace’ (v6, lit). Thus the Father ‘did not spare his own Son’ (Romans 8:22). No deeper explanation is possible than ‘the good pleasure of his will’ (v5). Salvation is a gift of grace (2:8).
3. The effects of God’s choice
- Holiness. The outworking of grace in our lives is to enable us to be ‘holy and blameless in his sight’, joyfully keeping God’s law. God calls us to Spirit-enabled holiness.
- Adoption. We are brought into God’s family, adopted as his sons’ (v5). We have ‘the Spirit of sonship’ (Romans 8:15). We share the father’s love for his beloved Son (v6).
4. The goal of God’s choice
The final goal of election is ‘the praise of his glorious grace’ (v6). Every aspect of salvation manifests God’s glory. Redeemed sinners will eternally demonstrate the grace of God that has transformed them (2:7). They will be living testimonies to his work in and for us.
5. The response to God’s choice
The ‘praise of his glorious grace’ is not confined to the world to come – our present response should be one of praise to God’s name. Paul is filled with rejoicing as he contemplates what God has done for his people (v1). The doctrine of election does not feed our pride, but leads to humility and praise, filling us with a desire for greater holiness and faithful service.
Luke 9:1-9 Kingdom ministry
Ephesians 1:1-2 Greeting faithful saints
In the course of serving Christ, Paul endured many hardships, in fulfilment of Christ’s words in Acts 9:16. Paul lists his early sufferings for the name of Christ in 2 Corinthians 11:23ff – punishments, dangers, hardships – and there were many more to come. On at least 2 occasions he was imprisoned in Rome. Instead of showing self-pity and depression, Paul wrote letters to challenge and encourage various churches. One letter from his first imprisonment (AD60 or 62), is Ephesians, a profound study of the eternal plan of God to save sinners, the unity of the church in Christ and the practical outworking of faith in spiritual warfare. Consider Ephesians 1:1-2 Greeting faithful saints.
1. The author
‘Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ’ – he immediately identifies himself, with no mention of his imprisonment. He is not seeking sympathy or boasting about his suffering for Christ. Note his humility in 3:8 ‘less than the least’. As an ‘apostle’ he belongs to the group selected by Christ as the foundation of the church in its NT form. An apostle is a ‘sent one’, sent by the Head of the church. As an ‘apostle of Jesus Christ’ Paul was sent by the Lord for a special work of evangelising and also for the writing of NT Scriptures. His status was questioned by his enemies, who receive a strong response in Galatians 1 and 1 Corinthians 9:1 ‘Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?’ He is clearly thinking back to the Damascus road when he met the risen Christ and was commissioned as an apostle. Note ‘of Jesus Christ’ – belonging to the Lord. A true servant is concerned to glorify his Master, without any spiritual pride (see 1 Corinthians 3:5). His position is ‘by the will of God’ – every servant is to accept willingly the place allocated by the Lord, learning and following his will.
2. The recipients
The letter may be a circular letter sent to several congregations in the area. They are ‘the saints’ – a reference to every born-again Christian. The word indicates that they are ‘set apart’ by God as his special people (see 1 Peter 2:9). This holiness is to be expressed in a life lived according to God’s law. The ‘faithful’ are best understood as ‘those who exercise faith’. The Christian is one who puts faith entirely in Christ as Lord and Saviour (see 2:8). Note ‘in Christ Jesus’ – faith unites us to Christ in his death and resurrection, so that we become part of his ‘body’, the church. The recipients are at the same time ‘in Ephesus’ – in very ordinary situations. When saved we are left in the world to serve the Lord (John 17:15).
3. The greeting
In his prayer Paul uses a Christian form of classical good wishes. First ‘grace’ – free undeserved favour. Grace saves (2:8) and equips for service (4:7). We require a daily supply of grace for our every need. Also ‘peace’ – the fundamental blessing of salvation. When justified, we have ‘peace with God’ (Romans 5:1). Indeed ‘he himself is our peace’ (2:14). This peace is an unchanging, objective fact, but we allow sin to disrupt our experience of peace and need regularly to seek that blessing. There is only one source of these blessings: ‘God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ’. We should often pray in the way Paul does.
Luke 8:40-56 The power of the Messiah (2)
Matthew 19:13-15 Blessing covenant children
Whatever the crisis, it is usually the children who suffer most. Whether in times of famine or in war and civil unrest, many suffer directly as victims or may be part of families that are torn apart. We are also acutely aware of the abuse of children and the scars left by domestic conflict. Throughout Scripture there is great concern for children and a high value put on them. Consider Matthew 19:13-15 Blessing covenant children.
1. Parental concern for covenant children
Very different attitudes are evident in the disciples and those bringing children to Jesus. The parents act out of faith, seeking his blessing and prayers (v13). The children in question are very young (see Luke 18:15). There is no rebuke from Jesus. The parents’ concern is perfectly proper. The disciples, however, ‘rebuked those who brought them’. Perhaps they thought that children were beneath Jesus’ concern or they may not have wanted their discussions with Jesus interrupted. Jesus in turn rebukes the disciples – ‘Let the little children come to me’ (v14). The parents’ concern reflects his concern, and should be the concern of all of the Lord’s people. Such loving concern is both a duty and a privilege.
2. Spiritual privileges of covenant children
These are the children of God’s people – covenant children. The OT shows clearly that God’s covenant embraces the children of his people (Genesis 17:7). Believers in the NT are in the same covenant and their children enjoy the same privilege. Note Jesus’ statement, ‘the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’ (v14). 2 great privileges are included:
- They are citizens of the Kingdom. At least some of these children were regenerate, the Spirit having implanted new spiritual life in them. Such was John the Baptist (Luke 1:15, 44). The Lord is not saying that this is the case with all of these infants. Regarding the faith that saves, where new life has been implanted, the response of faith will become evident as the child grows up. The sin they are born with needs to be forgiven.
- They are members of the Church. All covenant children are to be counted as within the circle of the covenant – only through time will it become apparent if they have not experienced the saving grace of God. They are to receive the sacrament of initiation – circumcision in the OT and baptism in the NT. We baptise covenant children because of what they are, not in order to make them something. They have the responsibility to accept the obligations of God’s covenant by faith in Christ and make profession of faith.
3. Loving ministry to covenant children
Jesus ‘placed his hands on them’ (v15) – symbolic of blessing them. The Church, as well as parents, has the duty and responsibility of ministering to covenant children:
- Prayer, seeking that they will come to faith and will lovingly serve the Lord.
- Teaching, supplementing parental instruction, grounding them in God’s truth.
- Example, providing consistent models of living out God’s truth in daily life.
These are great tasks that should drive us to prayer for the Spirit’s enabling and grace.
Ezekiel 34:1-24 The true Shepherd
Ezekiel 36:24-28 A new heart
The Israelite exiles were in Babylon because of their sin. In the latter part of Ezekiel God promises to restore the exiles to their homeland. But how can a holy God restore a sinful people? Restoration would indicate forgiveness, and for God to forgive without repentance on Israel’s part would be a denial of his holiness. There must be a change in the Israelites which only God can effect. That is the theme of our text – a radical and all-pervasive change that God will bring about. We consider Ezekiel 36:24-28 A new heart.
1. The new heart
Verse 26 is crucial: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you’. The ‘heart’ in biblical terminology is the centre of man’s being, his thinking, willing and feeling. The ‘spirit’ is that which directs a man’s thinking and action. Here we have a description of the re-creation of the sinner by the power and grace of God. A new nature is provided. Note – ‘I will give’ – it is entirely his work. Sinners thus become new creations’ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
2. The thorough cleansing
The Lord deals with our sin: ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean’ (v25). Sin is to be thought of not only as guilt, but also as defilement. The Lord deals with both. The cleansing is from ‘all your impurities and all your idols’. How is this effected? Not by the animal sacrifices of the OT. Instead we read in Hebrews 10:14 ‘How much more, then, will the blood of Christ…cleanse your consciences from acts that lead to death’. The promise given through Ezekiel has in view the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
3. The indwelling Spirit
The most wonderful aspect of the transformation God effects is – ‘I will put my Spirit in you’ (v27). God personally indwells his redeemed people by the Holy Spirit. This is a much richer experience than was known to OT believers. The Spirit is our Counsellor/Advocate/Comforter (John 14:16), the evidence we are children of God.
4. The willing obedience
The presence of the Spirit is discerned through our willing obedience to God’s Word – ‘follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws’ (v27). The grace of God makes the keeping of his law possible. Obedience is the best indicator of our spiritual health and our love for the Lord (John 14:15). He stirs greater love for God and greater obedience to him.
5. The gracious covenant
God brings sinners into a loving personal relationship which takes the form of a covenant by which he and his people are bound willingly in a mutual commitment – ‘you will be my people and I will be your God’ (v28). The love and grace of God establish an unbreakable bond and we respond by loving and serving him. It is an eternal bond of love.