The Election of the Church

September 23, 2012 / No. 3638

Dear Radio Friends,
We are considering together Paul’s letter to the church of Christ in Ephesus. This particular congregation is one of the places in which the body of Christ was manifest. The church, as the body of Christ, is always evident on earth within the church institute. In other words, one cannot be a member of the body of Christ and deliberately live in separation from the church institute. Paul addresses this letter to the body of Jesus Christ by addressing it to the instituted church in the city of Ephesus.
In the verses we consider in today’s broadcast, Paul speaks to the church of her election. Ephesians 1:4-6: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
We have in these verses one of the classic passages that teaches the truth of sovereign predestination. If a person denies the truth of God’s sovereignty in predestination, he must completely ignore or deny this passage of Scripture. The vain attempts of some Bible commentators to twist this passage to say something it does not say are transparent. But there is more here than a mere teaching that you and I as individuals are elected to be God’s people. Paul addresses the election of the church as a whole, as a body. This does not deny, of course, that we are each one chosen in Christ. But we are elected always and ever in connection with the church and never separate from it. In these few verses, Paul lays the foundation for the doctrine of the church. The church, and each member in it, is chosen by God in Christ from eternity.
Many in the church like to talk about the wonderful plan God has for each of us in our lives. But this language, and what is meant by it, is far from what the Scriptures teach us about God’s plan. The term “plan” is synonymous with the word “counsel” in Scripture. This term makes reference to the plan in which God eternally conceived or envisioned all things that occur in time. We bring this up because Paul makes reference to this eternal counsel or plan of God in verse 5 of the verses we consider today. Notice, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself [and now these words], according to the good pleasure of his will.” God’s plan or counsel is the “good pleasure” of God’s will that is spoken of here. God’s plan is His will. Everywhere Scripture uses the idea of God’s will in reference to God’s eternal plan. You see, before time began, in eternity, God determined everything that He was going to do in time. He did so because this was His divine will or desire. And that which God desires, He does. His is also the divine right. So God, in His plan, determined everything that takes place in this world—from its beginning at the time of creation to its end when Christ shall return.
Why? Why was this God’s will to plan all things? We learn in verse 5 that this was His good pleasure. The psalmist teaches us in Psalm 135:6: “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.” God planned all things because, very simply, it was His good pleasure to do so. It delighted Him, it pleased Him. According to that good pleasure, He would fulfill exactly everything that He planned.
Now, all of this may sound abstract and far too complicated for our finite minds. But it is really so, so simple. Imagine this. God planned everything that would take place in this world, from its beginning to its end. Nothing takes place in this world without the sovereign will and good pleasure of God. It all happens, in its minutest detail, according to the counsel of God’s will. That lies at the heart of the instruction that Paul gives us in these verses. Before time began, God determined the birth of every person in this world. No one is born into this world by chance. Every birth is determined by God in eternity. So is every death. Not a person dies before or after the exact time that has been determined by God in eternity for that person to die. God determines everything that will take place in every person’s life. God determines the events of history. History unfolds according to the good pleasure of God’s will. Every event in creation, from the blowing of the quiet, still breeze to the thundering winds of a hurricane or tornado has been planned and determined by God in eternity.
But now God’s Word clearly teaches us in verse 5 what so many men, even in the church, have come to despise. Our eternal destiny—that is, where a person goes when he dies—is also determined by God before time began. It is not simply known by God, it is willed or purposed by God. He conceived of it and determines it according to the good pleasure of His will. There are only two eternal destinations to which a man can go when he dies, that is, heaven or hell, and God determines to which of these a man will go. In fact, as we will find, God chooses men unto one of these two places. He does not leave that choice up to man. God makes the choice. And that is what the Bible identifies for us as predestination.
This shocks, it stuns, and even highly irritates the unbelieving man. He is quick to judge God according to his own standards. In his mind, God would not do that. That would be unfair of God. This makes God cruel and unrighteous. Rather than bowing humbly before God’s Word, the unbeliever vents his frustration on those who teach this truth. The Bible, he says, does not teach that God has determined the eternal destiny of men. Men only try to twist the Bible to say this. That is the accusation that is heard.
But such an accusation is puzzling. We do not make of God anything other than what He tells us of Himself in the Bible. We read in Ephesians 1:5: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” “According to the good pleasure of his will,” that is, according to God’s eternal plan, He predestinates us. Destiny—the end of one’s journey. Pre—before. God predetermines the eternal end of the journey of each person’s life. God has determined before time began the eternal state of every person. He determines whether that man’s journey will end in peace or whether it will end in weeping and gnashing of teeth. The eternal destiny of every person is not left up to man. It does not belong to his choice. It is of God’s sovereign choosing.
No, no, no, some will say, you are twisting the meaning of predestination. But this idea of the term predestination is made perfectly clear in verse 4 of Ephesians 1: “According as [God] hath chosen us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” God has chosen us in Christ, we are told, before the foundation of the world. That is, before God created this world we were chosen or elected by God according to the good pleasure of His will, that is, according to His sovereign plan for all things, before God called this present creation into existence.
There is no doubt that this is a mind-boggling truth. We cannot help but stand in awe before God and humble ourselves before Him. God has appointed some to eternal life! Others God has appointed to eternal destruction! How humbling. And as to our flesh that seeks in pride to rebel against this truth, we hear God’s instruction to us in Romans 9:14-16: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” Why has God chosen some as His people and not others? Because so it seemed good in God’s sight. It is the good pleasure of God to do so.
But instead of questioning why, the church of Jesus Christ should rejoice. Paul gives us this instruction to comfort and strengthen God’s saints. The truth of sovereign predestination gives us great reason to rejoice, because God has chosen us in Christ. It is striking how often this phrase appears in Scripture. God’s people are in Christ. We are one with Him because we are never viewed apart from Christ. We are in Christ in His death. We are in Christ in His resurrection. We are mysteriously united together with Him as one body. Well, this applies to our election, too. In eternity, when God chose or elected to Himself His church, it was in connection with Christ. This means Christ was first in the plan of God. Christ was chosen, elect and precious, to be the cornerstone of the church. The church was then elected to be built upon Him. And each of us, as a lively stone, is selected by God to be placed in the building of the church. Now that is security! Never has God viewed His people apart from Christ. We were chosen in Christ by God, according to the good pleasure of His will. It pleased God to choose a church that He loves for Jesus’ sake. That is why we rejoice in this truth.
Because all those who are chosen in Christ are predestinated unto a certain end, the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, we also rejoice. The instruction of these verses comes to all who are saved in the blood of Christ. God predestined us to be His own children through our adoption. We are adopted by Jesus Christ. In other words, we are adopted to be God’s very own children by means of the work that Christ has performed for us on the cross and in His resurrection. We could not be God’s children without the saving work of Christ in His death. By paying the price of sin, Christ has reconciled us to God. He has made us righteous before God. Through His work, therefore, He earns for us our place in God’s household and family.
The point is, we have been chosen unto this end. “That we, through Christ’s work on the cross, might be the very children of God.” We have not only been predestinated to heaven, we have been chosen to be God’s very own children. Before time began, God purposed in Himself to glorify His name by means of a people chosen to be His children for Christ’s sake. In His counsel, God willed our particular place in the church in connection with the death and resurrection of Christ. He views His people together as the body of Christ. He knows us. He loves us. He adopts us because He elected us in Christ. We are His adopted children.
We all know what it is to be adopted. An adopted child is not a natural-born child of his parents. He is an orphan. He is one without the love of a mother and father. He is one who is alone, left behind as it were. His mother and father either have abandoned him or they have died and he is left without the necessary care and nurture of parents. Adoption is an act of mercy and love. It is when another man and his wife decide to take this child and make him or her their own. They go through the legal process known as adoption in order to make this child their very own. He never becomes a natural-born child but his parents now bestow on him all the love and the rights of a natural-born child. He becomes a part of the family and household of his new father and mother. He receives their care and nurture. He basks in their love. Their possessions and their title become his.
This is what has become true of the members of Christ’s church. God has, by His grace, chosen us unto that adoption of children. We become accepted in the beloved. That is to say, we become a part of those whom God loves from all eternity. We are chosen to be the adopted children of God by Christ Jesus. We are chosen to be loved by God our Father. So, not only are we elected unto heavenly glory, not only is our destiny determined for us in God’s plan, but let us not forget the whole picture. Each step of our life in this world is determined by God. And that life is within the family of God, His church. We are predestinated to be God’s very own children. And He makes us a part of the body of the church.
That is the idea also of verse 6 of Ephesians 1. “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” God has elected His people by grace to be accepted as His own beloved children in His family. There is no doubt about it. This election takes place according to God’s grace. It is a gracious election. It is not that we have somehow proved to God that we are deserving of a place in His family. We did not merit anything that would work toward our election. It is not as some would have it, that somehow God saw before time began that we would be worthy of our election, that we would accept Him by faith or perform some great deeds that earned us our eternal election. Predestination was decreed before the foundations of the earth. God freely, sovereignly, that is, according to His good pleasure, chose us to be His children. God shows us His unmerited favor, His grace by electing us unto the adoption of children by Christ Jesus. So, by grace, we have become accepted in the beloved.
The term “beloved” refers to Christ’s church. The church, after all, is beloved of God because Christ is beloved of God. And the church is the body of Christ. For Christ’s sake, God loves His church with love unspeakable. Loved with a deep, affectionate love by which He holds her to His bosom as His most precious child. The church as a whole, the church as a body of Christ gathered from the beginning of time to the end, is God’s beloved. And Paul reassures the saints and faithful of Ephesus that, by the sovereign grace of God, He has made these saints, this church, the church there in Ephesus, acceptable in His beloved.
These people who were no people, this body of believers who in themselves were not worthy of a place in God’s kingdom, these men and women and children who at one time were lost in the world of unbelief and sin, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, these saints in Ephesus God had chosen to be accepted in His church. And now, they too were numbered among God’s beloved. They need not worry about that, they need not doubt that. This is the mystery of God’s church. These Gentiles have become fellow heirs of the same body of God’s saints, His beloved. They have become heirs with the saints of the promise in Christ by the gospel. That is the beauty of this passage for believers today.
You are not a believer? Then the command of the gospel is repent and believe! It is only in this way that you will become a member of the church of Jesus Christ in this world. This is what happened to the Ephesian believers. And this still happens today. Then all that we have spoken will be true of you, too.
Believers? Here is the beauty of this passage of God’s Word: men and women, young people, children, all unworthy in yourselves, God has chosen you by His grace to be numbered among the assembly of elect. We were chosen by God to be accepted in the beloved.
As individuals? Oh, yes. But always together with our fellow saints in the church. We are the church and we are the beloved of God for Christ’s sake. We have been adopted as God’s very own children. We are of the same body with the Ephesians and the Old Testament church. We are heirs to the promise of the gospel, chosen as such in Christ Jesus.
Why? Why would God be so gracious to elect us? Why us, O Lord? Paul answers this question: to the praise of the glory of God’s grace. That is the only answer. God elected us in order to show forth His grace to His glory. How does God do this in you and me? God chose us in Christ to be holy and without blame. God’s elect have been chosen in the blood of Christ to be holy and without blame (that is, without fault) before God. God’s election of some does not result in a people who will deliberately walk in the ways of sin and bring slander upon His name. God does not elect people who will, because of their election, become careless and profane. He does not predestinate unto the adoption of children those who say they believe yet live like the wicked world. He chooses people whom He sanctifies in the blood of Christ and who, therefore, strive to live a holy life before Him.
His chosen ones labor to walk without blame in this world. This is exactly how God has chosen to bring glory to His name—through the praises of His people. Do you praise God by the way you live? Is your holiness seen by men to the praise of the God who chose you and saved you? Then praise be to God for the work of His grace. He has taken sinners and, by His grace, has made them holy.
We bow before the counsel of God, before His inscrutable wisdom, before the good pleasure of His will, and we thank Him for the wonder of His grace.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee that Thou hast given unto us a word of assurance and comfort. Thou art a God who has chosen us unto Thyself in all eternity and has bestowed upon us the blessed gift of faith so that we might indeed believe in the truth of Thy Word and be assured of our place within Thy church and within Thy kingdom. Wilt Thou continue to watch over us in this week. Forgive us of all sin, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.