Letting God Be God
September 11, 2016 | Randy Smith
Letting God Be GodEphesians 1:3-6
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
I can still remember the day very clearly. I was just saved and began attending a great Bible teaching church. The month was December. The year, 1990. And the pastor was preaching through Romans. When I arrived he was in chapter 8. In a matter of weeks we entered chapter 9 and I first learned about the sovereignty of God in salvation. Called by other names, it's referred to as Reformed Theology, Calvinism, the Doctrines of Grace.
My former Pastor spoke on Romans 9:15, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 9:16, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." 9:20-21, "On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?"
Wait? I thought I gave my life to Christ based on my own freewill. These verses seem to teach that God called me to Himself. They seem to teach that He chose to have mercy on me. I'm confused.
So I went to the Scriptures and began to study the Word of God. The verses just kept jumping out at me from every biblical book. Matthew 22:14, "For many are called, but few are chosen." John 1:12-13, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" John 5:21, "The Son also gives life to whom He wishes." John 6:44, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." Acts 13:48, "As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." Romans 8:30, "And these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." 1 Corinthians 1:30, "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus." 1 Peter 1:1-2, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens…who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit." 2 Thessalonians 2:13, "God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation." 2 Pet 1:10, "Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you." In Titus 1:1 Paul considered himself "an apostle…for the faith of those chosen of God" and in 2 Timothy 2:10 he said he "endure[s] all things for the sake of those who are chosen."
And many more examples could be provided.
Then in my journey I began to understand how God has always worked throughout salvation history. It was never ultimately man's decision, but rather God's sovereign choice. He chose to preserve Noah and his family. He chose to bless Abraham. He chose Isaac and not Ismael. He chose Jacob and not Esau. He chose the nation Israel over all the nations in the world. Why, because of their righteousness or their prior choice of Him? Deuteronomy 7:7-8, "The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you."
Then I began to see all this in a proper understanding of God's character and my sinfulness. He is sovereign over all things. He is perfectly holy. All have sinned against Him. He owes us nothing. All we deserve from Him is hell. In my sin, the Bible declares I am spiritually dead. It's not only that I can't choose God; the bottom line is I don't want to choose God. He first needed to do a miracle in my heart. He first needed to regenerate me. He first needed to make me want to want Him.
And then I started to immerse myself in what the other giants of the faith believed throughout the history of the church on this very subject. They all affirmed my same conclusions. Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, C.H. Spurgeon. Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Bunyan. D.A Carson, A.W. Pink, Wayne Grudem. J.I. Packer, James Boice, Jerry Bridges. R.C. Sproul, John Piper, John MacArthur. I'd say I found myself in pretty good company!
Now understanding the sovereignty of God in salvation didn't lead me to pride. It led me to humility, coming to the realization that if God had not worked in my heart I never would be in Christ. It affirmed that I was no smarter or more spiritual than my friends and countless other who are rejecting Jesus.
Understanding this also gave me the assurance since my salvation is of God it will always be of God and not my flimsy freewill. I am eternally His child having been written in the Lamb's Book of Life before the foundation of the world.
And understanding this aided my confidence in evangelism. I am free from all the cheap tactics used today to get people saved. I can't regenerate a heart so I simply love people, share the Gospel and leave the work completely to Him. This gives me peace with my unsaved loved ones that it isn't my ability to get them saved. And this gives me motivation and hope because God has His people out there and when it's time He will call them to Himself. As God told Paul to keep evangelizing because, "I have many people in this city" (Ac. 18:10). My job is to share. God's job is to save.
So to put it all together, the faith I expressed in Jesus Christ was and still is real. It is my desire to serve Him with my life. However, looking back, I realize the faith I needed to come into God's family was a gift that He bestowed on me that enabled me to believe. This leads me to understand that my salvation is 100% of His grace from beginning to end. I can't take credit for any portion of it. This leads to eternal praise.
So with that as a long introduction, we now dive into the Scriptures to see what the Word of God has to say ourselves on this very subject.
1. The Blessing Declared (verse 3)
We start off in verse 3 with what I am calling, "The Blessing Declared."
Immediately after the two-verse introduction, Paul says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ."
What an incredible way to start off this letter. Right from the beginning, the writer encourages us to bless God (praise God) for the blessings He has given to us. This marvelous letter starts off with how we have been blessed! And what kind of blessings does Paul mention? Not the ones we often think about and thank him for in our prayers, but "every spiritual blessing."
In other words, having children and getting married and financial stability and staying healthy and good weather and nice friends and beautiful houses and reliable cars and satisfying employment and constant protection and fun vacations are the blessings that most often initially first come to our mind. And they are indeed wonderful blessings from God and in a sense therefore spiritual as well.
Yet the blessings that are first mentioned in Ephesians are the deepest spiritual blessings. For the Christian, the other blessings we often think about are not promised. Oftentimes the one who rejects God might actually enjoy more of them then we do. Yet for the believer, we have been given spiritual blessings that the unbeliever will never experience. These blessings are promised to us. These blessings have already been received in their fullest. These blessings are the ones that really matter!
In the verses that follow, Paul will specify those blessings. They start with God's electing grace and go to adoption as His children to redemption and forgiveness to knowledge of God's plan to the gift of the Spirit to the hope of glory. We'll cover these in detail in the weeks ahead.
We have every spiritual blessing from God. So think of it this way. Imagine yourself being an art collector of famous paintings. If we equate that to what God has already given you spiritually, you already have in your possession every masterpiece you could ever desire. You will still come to understand more as time passes about the works you own. You will gain a greater appreciation of them. Yet there is nothing you need to seek after in order for your collection to be complete.
For the Christian, you have everything you need to be secure in God and live out the Christian faith. You are blessed with "every spiritual blessing." There are no worries regarding your spiritual position. There are no excuses as to why you cannot be spiritually victorious. Don't look elsewhere. Just tap into the resources that are already yours in Christ!
2. The Blessing Specified (verses 4-6)
Now (as we move to the second point) beginning in verse 4, Paul will begin to specify and amplify each of the individual blessings. The first one he deals with in God's sovereign call to salvation. This is the first one mentioned on God's incredible chain of blessings. We'll break this blessing down by answering the three questions that I have included in your bulletin.
When were we chosen?
First, if we were chosen by God, when were we chosen? Let's go to the Word. Verse 4 says, "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world"
This goes back before physical creation. It even goes back before time ever existed. Our minds can't comprehend it, but there was a "time" when it was only the Triune God without physical elements and without beginning not bound by space or time. Sometime, during this "time," God chose to set some apart for Himself. God chose that the Son would purchase their salvation at an appointed time (Gal. 4:4). And at another appointed time, God chose to call these specific people to Himself.
You weren't around to assist in that decision. Your future faith was not taken into account whereby God would see that and then make a retroactive decision as some claim. This is God allowing Himself to be God. This is God in His own freewill rightly exercising sovereignty over a creation that belongs exclusively to Him. This is saying God's sovereignty tops man's freewill. This is God in His mercy choosing to not allow the whole world to perish, but rather calling some to Himself entirely on the basis of His grace.
For what purpose were we chosen?
As we go to the second question, the passage answers the purpose for our salvation. Look with me at verse 4 again. "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, [here it is] that we would be holy and blameless before Him."
God did not call you to Himself to simply save you from hell and be totally fine with however you choose to live your life here on earth. God saved you for one distinct purpose. God saved you that you might be holy.
I love the way Peter puts it. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).
We spent an entire sermon on this last week. Let me be brief and state this as clear and concisely as I can. According to the verse, God elected you, called you and saved you for the primary purpose that you would be, according to verse 4, "holy and blameless." Holy means pursuing righteousness. Blameless means not sinning. Put together, the whole goal of your salvation is that you would be set apart for God and made like Him in holiness. Romans 8:29 says the same thing, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son."
Do you realize the extent of this? It wasn't a willy-nilly thing that you on your own volition gave your life to Christ for the sole purpose of going to heaven. Way too man-centered! It's much bigger! This grand overture of blessings stated in Ephesians 1 begins with the fact that your salvation was eternally predestined (a word Paul uses in verses 5 and 11) with a specific driving and divine purpose in mind that you would image forth the very nature of the Lamb of God who is "unblemished and spotless" Himself (1 Pet. 1:19).
So how does this work? At the appointed time Christ goes to the cross. The great exchange takes place. 2 Corinthians 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Thanks to His work, Christ absorbs all of our sin. We receive His perfect righteousness. So if we are in Christ, we have already been declared perfectly holy. When God sees us, He sees the perfect purity of His Son.
Holiness is our new identity. Remember verse 1, we are called "saints." Yet we are saints who still sin. Therefore it is our new ambition though the grace that God supplies, remember verse 2, to see our practice in holiness be increasingly conformed to our position in holiness.
So if we are already declared perfectly holy in God's eyes and our future is a place of perfect holiness and God's goal for us is increasing holiness, it's safe that the clearest sign that we are really saved will be the desire and ability to be more holy. For as Hebrews 12:14 teaches, "Without holiness no one will see the Lord."
Why were we chosen?
Let's go to the final question. Why were we chosen? I mean, if it wasn't God looking forward into the corridors of time and noting our faith or our goodness or what we might be able to contribute to His kingdom, why did God choose certain people to salvation? Was it just a random selection - like the flip of a coin? Although we can't comprehend the deep counsel of God, the Bible does give us a one word explanation. You see it at the verse end of verse 4? "In love." "In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:4-6).
Once again we see it. Our standing with God is not based on anything in us. We didn't somehow cooperate with Him to work out our salvation. It wasn't our wisdom or ingenuity or moral character or decision or good deeds. It was entirely of Him. And why did God do it? It all comes down to one word, "love."
It was God's love that that set you apart, Christian. And it was God's love that sent Christ to pay the full penalty for your sins. It was solely His initiative. It was a purposeful disposition of His heart. It was His delight and pleasure. It was, verse 5, "according to the kind intention of His will." His will, not your will! It was entirely of grace, verse 6. And it was, verse 6, freely given to you as a gift in Christ.
What is there that I can boast about? Nothing! No wonder Paul in verse 6 says everything is "to the praise of the glory of His grace."
Now do you see why early in my Christian life I came to discover this and how it resulted in humility and assurance? What a tremendous truth that everything I have in Christ is entirely a gift that He has lavished on me motivated by divine love as a sole token of His grace.
Now it is also important to note that many good Christians do not ascribe to this doctrine. They would argue that on the basis of their own freewill you can come to God and (to be consistent) also lose your salvation if you fail to maintain your freewill faith.
Personally I disagree, but what we must remember is that this is not salvific in nature. That means, one's salvation is not on the line regarding what you choose to believe as it pertains to God's electing grace.
As leaders at Grace Bible Church, we hold to the position of God's sovereignty in salvation to be core doctrine of this church. Yet we also affirm the words of C.H. Spurgeon toward those who disagree from within our fellowship.
"We believe in the five great points commonly known as Calvinistic; but we do not regard these five points as being barbed shafts which we are to thrust between the ribs of our fellow-Christians. We look upon them as being five great lamps which help to irradiate the cross; or, rather, five bright emanations springing from the glorious covenant of our Triune God, and illustrating the great doctrines of Jesus crucified."