Series on Ephesians
January 16-17, 2021
“The God Who Planned All Things”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
It is a New Year. And I’m going to do something in this year that I’ve never done in my entire life. I’m going to grow hair on my head. (No, that is not it.) I’m going to preach through an entire book of the Bible. I’m not sure if that is a Lutheran thing to do but I’m going to do it anyway.
I have chosen the Book of Ephesians as the book for preaching. Now, this preaching series will take a number of months. So, I want you to be reading Ephesians with me. Each weekend I’ll take about half a chapter and make that study a sermon. If you read and study the portion that I’m going to teach, I believe you will grow deeply in God’s Word from now until the end of May. I’ve titled the series, “The God Who…” Next week it is “The God Who Opens Hearts”, in the coming weeks, “The God Whose Name is Grace” and a month from now, on Valentine’s weekend, “The God Who Makes the Two, One.”
Today the look is at Ephesians 1:1-14, “The God Who Planned All Things”. Today is a hard topic. In church language it is known as election or predestination. There are some topics that I haven’t spent a lot of time on and this is one of them. For some this topic is confusing. Election – not the political one, though that is confusing as well – is what Paul speaks about in his opening verses to this beloved congregation. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5) Then, “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.” (Ephesians 1:11)
Some mistake election and predestination with fatalism. Man has no free will, they think, we are simply puppets and have no say in life. Others think that such a teaching makes God into a villain. God is actually the one responsible for all the evil in the world or when someone turns into a devil, He is the one to blame. On the other side, some who say that they are chosen by God believe they can do anything they want to do. And the things that they want to do are pretty dark and sinister.
But that is not the Biblical teaching of election or predestination. The God who planned all things, what Paul is speaking about here, has His hand, in the best way, in our lives. This teaching is actually a comforting foundational teaching in Scriptures that is filled with grace and faith and gives all praise to God.
Jesus, in a discussion with His disciples says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” (John 15:16a) Romans 9 is known as a chapter about divine election. In this section the birth of the twins, Esau the older and Jacob the younger, to their mother Rebekah, is mentioned. Paul writes, “Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father, Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’” (Romans 9:10-12)
Why are you saved from your sin and hell and the devil? Because of you? Because you have measured up and done what is right? No. You and I are saved only by God’s doing. We are saved by grace. We are saved because God, without our doing, chose us, elected us. He saved us in Jesus alone.
Have you seen the commercial recently from Capital One? They want to tell you that choosing their credit card is the logical thing to do – a no-brainer. In the commercial a number of eight-year-olds are picking teams for a basketball game, 3 on 3. The captains have their choice of 4 players. Along with the eight-year-olds is Hall of Famer, 6 foot eight inch, 300 pound Charles Barkley. The captain looks at the choices and says, “I choose Barkley.” Barkley looks back at the kid who was a third of his size and said in a boasting way, “Told you so!!”
Is that how it is with us? Of course, God was going to choose us. It only makes sense!! Just look at us. No, God’s election is pure grace. “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:5-6)
God recounted His choosing of His Old Testament people in this way, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8b)
John Calvin had this to say about the grace of election, “For if we are chosen in Christ, it is outside ourselves. It is not from the sight of our deserving, but because our heavenly Father has engrafted us, thorough the blessing of adoption, into the Body of Christ. In short, the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of themselves; for when he says we are chosen in Christ, it follows that in ourselves we are unworthy.”
Our election was done before time, “before the creation of the world”, but this becomes ours in time, upon earth. How do you know if God elected you? How do you know if God chose you? Well, have you been baptized? You’re chosen. Can you say that Jesus Christ is your Savior and that you trust in Christ and His death on the cross for your forgiveness and you are convinced of His resurrection from the tomb as your claim to everlasting life? You’re elected. No one is elected as a child of God if they don’t have faith in Jesus. In Romans 8 the connection of God’s predestination and our faith is given, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)
The God who planned all things doesn’t do this in the dark but He brings us into the light through His life giving Word. In Romans 10 Paul asks questions of how this election is made evident and then gives us a magnificent answer, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14-15a, 17)
Do you ever find yourself putting very little effort into some things? They really aren’t a priority to us and so they only get our leftover attention and effort. But that is not how we are to God. “Chosen from the foundation of the world.” “Elected.” “Chosen.” “Predestined.” We are not an afterthought – God has made us a priority.
This is what I’ve said so far – this is all of grace – let’s make sure that is clear. Then, we make this calling our own by faith in Jesus Christ. And then the response to all this is pure praise to God for planning such good things for us. 3 times in these fourteen verses Paul uses the phrase, or something close to it, “to the praise of his glorious grace.” (Verses 6,12,14). Drop your jaw and thank Him. Praise Him. Love Him. God, through Jesus, put much effort into this eternal election. In the middle of this chapter Paul says, “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, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-12) Our faith, our life, is for the praise of God and His amazing grace.
When you seem to find your life with little order to it, I’d like you to look deeper. God’s mind, planning and action, has put a wonderful order into our life, now and even eternally. We have a God who has planned all things very well. Amen!!