The Lord's Day Morning

July 10, 2005

Ephesians 1:3-4

“Every Spiritual Blessing (2): The Blessing of Divine Election”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter one. Last week we began our study of this glorious prayer in Ephesians 1, beginning in verse 3 and running all the way to verse 14. And as we did, we observed that the whole of Ephesians, chapter one, is a prayer. Ephesians 1:3-14 is a prayer of praise; Ephesians 1:15-23 is a prayer of intercession; Ephesians 1:3-14 gives adoration to God for who He is and what He has done. Ephesians 1:15-23 brings a request to the Lord that He would open our eyes to see the fullness of the blessings that He has given to us in satisfying and supplying all our needs, and so the whole of the chapter is prayer. The first part of the chapter is a prayer of praise; the second part of the chapter is a prayer of intercession.

Now, we said that this prayer is a life-reorienting prayer: that if we understand this prayer, if we pray this prayer with faith and understanding that it will literally change the way that we look at the world, the way that we approach life. It will reorient the whole of life. And we said it was a life-reorienting prayer in three ways.

First of all, we said this prayer is designed to remind us who is most important in all of life: and the answer is, of course, God is most important in all of life.

This prayer, secondly, we said, was designed to remind us what is most important in all the world, in all of life: and the answer that it gives is: God's glory is most important in all of life, in all of this world.

And then, thirdly and finally, this prayer is designed to remind us what we are made for: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever; to desire, and appreciate, and to delight in God above all other things.

And so as we studied this prayer last week, we really just focused on the first few words: “Blessed be the God….” And we observed that in that passage Paul is teaching us that God Himself is blessed. In Him is all fullness, all delight, all joy, all satisfaction, all wholeness of life, and so if we are going to experience the fullness of joy and the wholeness that we are made for, we only experience it in Him, when He is the focus and the source of our true delight.

Now this morning we're going to look at the rest of verses 3 and 4 together, and there are four things that I want you to see, even before we read this passage.

Notice how first Paul focuses us on God the Father. It is particularly the reality that God is the divine Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that Paul wants our hearts and minds to fix upon.

Secondly, notice how he focuses us on the Spirit. He will speak of “every spiritual [capital “S”] blessing.” In other words, he will focus on the Holy Spirit as the substance and the conduit of all the blessings that the heavenly Father gives to us.

Thirdly, notice how he will focus us on the Son. It will be “in Christ,” in the Son of the heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus Christ–in Christ, all these spiritual blessings are enjoyed.

And then finally, notice how he focuses us on the Father's choice, or election, of us.

Now, each of those four things is a matter for praise. Paul is giving us things which ought to stoke our praise and our adoration to God. But not only should these things stoke our praise and our adoration of God when we are gathered together to worship Him on the Lord's Day, in the morning and in the evening, but they should re-orient the whole of our lives so that the whole of our life is instructed and ordered and re-oriented by the reality that we worship the Father in the Spirit by the Son, and that the Father's love has been set on us not just in time, but before the world began. And so Paul is giving us four matters for praise which, if understood, will literally change our lives.

Now, let's look to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing as we study His word. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, this is Your word of grace and truth, and so we ask that by Your Spirit You would give us ears to hear, and hearts to understand, believe, and receive through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

This is God's word:

“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, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blame-less before Him.”

Amen. Thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

It is only truth from God and of God that can re-orient life. We are by nature turned in on ourselves. We are self-preoccupied. And the way life is re-oriented is when we receive truth from God — the revelation of God in His word that is focused upon God. It's about God, and it takes our eyes off ourselves and off our situations and off our agendas and focuses our eyes on Him. And that's exactly what Paul is giving us here. It's truth from God about God.

And you see him pointing you to four things here: to God as Father; to the blessings that come to us of the Holy Spirit; to the realization that all the blessings that the Father gives us are in Christ — they are enjoyed in Christ, and in Christ only; and, finally, that the blessings that we experience in time…of the forgiveness of sins, and the knowledge of God, of the law written on the heart…these blessings are blessings that God was conspiring and designing to heap upon us not simply 2,000 years ago at the cross; not simply 2,000 years before that in the days of Abraham; not simply at the beginning of human history with Adam and Eve; but before the foundation of the world. And if we’ll realize that, it will not only change the way we pray and the way we worship together, but it will change all of life. Let's look at each of those together.

I. Father

The first you’ll see in the very first words of verse 3, where Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He's reminding us there that the Christian life is Father-focused because the Christian life is Father-blessed. Our praise is focused not simply upon God generically, but upon our loving and sovereign heavenly Father, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, because that Father is the source of all our spiritual blessings. And so the Christian life is consciously focused on praise to this God from whom all blessings flow, and that God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is an enormously important truth as far as the Apostle Paul is concerned. We will, as we study through this book together, see Paul over and over again pressing home the truth to you as Christians that God is now your Father in Jesus Christ — and understanding that makes all the difference in the world in the Christian life.

I am well aware that around us today sit numerous different experiences of our earthly fathers. Some of us remember our fathers with joy. We thank God at every remembrance of them. They were loving and tender and kind, and wise and faithful to discipline us and rear us in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But some of us, when we remember our earthly fathers, we remember our earthly fathers with heartbreak and heartache because we did not experience the godly love of a Christian man. Some of us experienced the absence of a father. Some of us lost our fathers before we were old enough to remember them. Some of us experienced fathers who abandoned us. And over and over we're told that the experience that a person has with their earthly father so much informs their heart as to what God is like.

Paul Vitz and Paul Johnson1have done massive biographical studies of the great atheists of the last 150 years, and you know what they found out? That the one thing in common amongst all the great atheist thinkers of the last 150 years is that they had lousy fathers. Bad fathers make great atheists.

But, you know what? There are some in this room who experienced bad fathers who love the Lord God in spite of it, and the Apostle Paul is saying that until we come to a full appreciation that our God is our heavenly Father, that He's the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — until we come to the fullness of experience of that reality, we will not yet be coming to God with the kind of praise or living the kind of life before Him that we ought.

And so he tells us…it's so important, he says in these verses. Notice what he says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.” What is Paul saying?

He's saying that every blessing that you experience in life, and especially every spiritual blessing of eternal value that you experience in life, comes to you from the hands of a Father who loved you. No matter what your experience has been in this world with your earthly father, you have a heavenly Father who gives good gifts. In fact, every good thing you have experienced, Paul says, has come from the hand of the heavenly Father.

Now, that's vital for us to remember, because the work of the Lord Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is not the work of trying to get the Father to love you. The work of the Lord Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit is the expression of a Father who already loves you! Christ is on that tree, not to get the Father to love you, but because the Father loves you. The Holy Spirit is indwelling you, not to get the Father to love you, to make you lovable enough for the Father to love you, but because the Father loves you; and until you realize that, you have not gone far down the path of the adoration of the glorious God.

And Paul starts there, and he says, ‘Christian, the whole of your life will be re-oriented when you understand (no matter what your earthly experience has been with a man) that your heavenly Father loves you; that every blessing that you've received comes openly, lavishly, freely, generously from His hand. And that's the first thing that Paul wants us to realize. And when we go to God in prayer, when we go to God in praise, when we live life before God, it is our heavenly Father that we are living that life before.

II. The Spirit.

But there's a second thing he wants us to see here as well, and you see it also in verse 3. Notice, he says that the Father has blessed us “with every spiritual…” capital ‘S’ “…every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

Now, his point there is that the Father has heaped on us the blessing of the Spirit, and that all the blessings that the Spirit works in us have their ultimate origin in the gift of the heavenly Father; and so, he is drawing our attention to the work of the Holy Spirit, and he is drawing our attention to those spiritual blessings which are given by God and are enjoyed through the work of the Holy Spirit, and which are ours no matter what else is going on in our life. No matter what our situation is, no matter what our present condition is, there are spiritual blessings which are ours to have and to enjoy which no man can take away from us, which are ours by the grant and from the hand of the heavenly Father, and they are ours through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.

Notice how he puts it: that we have been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” In other words, Christians are granted blessings from the Father and of and in the Holy Spirit which are above the riches of this world. It's as if we were already tasting the glories of eternity and heaven now, in Christ, by the Spirit, from the heavenly Father. And again, that is a life-altering reality.

When you realize that in the midst of this life and all its trials and all its disappointments that there are spiritual blessings like the saving knowledge of God, spiritual blessing like the knowledge that your sins have been freely forgiven by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit writing God's law on your heart…there are spiritual blessings that are yours that nothing can take away from you, because they've been granted by the heavenly Father in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They are spiritual blessings, capital ‘S’, in that they can never be taken away. And the Apostle Paul says, ‘Think about that. Think about that right now, wherever you are in your life, with whatever struggle, whatever disappointment that you’re encountering, you think of that: that your heavenly Father has heaped on you every spiritual blessing.’

III. The Son.

But he doesn't stop there. He has a third thing that he wants us to see. He points us to the Son, and he says these spiritual blessings which are heaped on us by the heavenly Father are enjoyed in Christ, and they are enjoyed only in Christ. Notice the very last words of verse 3: that “He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

You see, the point is that Christians understand that all these blessings are found in Christ and in Him only. They’re enjoyed in Christ. They’re only enjoyed in Christ. You see, the Spirit's work and the Father's work and Christ's work are not at odds. They all work together, and so those whom the Father designs to bless also are blessed by the Spirit; and those whom the Father designs to bless with and by the Spirit are all in Christ. There is no way to experience those Fatherly blessings apart from Jesus Christ. It is in Him that we enjoy every spiritual blessing. The Father's blessings are enjoyed in union with the Son, and so Christian praise always come to the Father — how? In Jesus' name. That's not just something that we tack on to the end of a prayer, because the only way to come to the Father is through the Son. The only way to enjoy these spiritual blessings is in the Son; it's in union, it's in trusting, it's in faith in Jesus Christ that we find the sphere, the arena, of these spiritual blessings.

And so, we have a Father who loves us, and we have a Spirit who's heaping on us every spiritual blessing that we need in the midst of whatever we're experiencing in this world, and we have all of these spiritual blessings enjoyed only in Jesus Christ, only as we rest and trust in Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. And so here Paul accentuates the Father's role in our redemption, and the Son's role in our redemption, and the Spirit's role in our redemption. But he's still not finished. There's a fourth thing. You’ll see it there in verse 4.

IV. God's Choice/Election

In verse 4 he says:

“…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless [in] Him.”

You see the flow of the logic. Just as God {verse 3) blessed us in Christ, so also (verse 4) He chose us in Christ. Why is Paul saying this?

Paul is drawing our attention to a biblical teaching called election, God's choosing of His people. And Paul says just as God the Father blessed us in Jesus Christ, so also He chose us from before the foundation of the world.

Now let me say very frankly, normally that is a doctrine that we argue about. It's a doctrine that we debate about, but you see, the Apostle Paul sees it as a matter of praise and a matter of great comfort in the Christian life. Why?

Well, do you remember that fourteen-year-old boy that I told you about last week, who was struggling with assurance; who wasn't, though he was trusting in Christ…he wasn't certain, he wasn't secure in his salvation? It was this realization, a realization that Paul begins to press on us in verse 4 of Ephesians 1 that caused the light of peace to break in his heart. You see, that fourteen-year-old boy thought that there were certain things that he had to do first in order to get God to save him; that his faith or his repentance were the conditions for the things whereby God would visit him with saving love. He thought (though he never would have admitted it out loud) that God would love him if he first loved God.

And here is Paul breaking forth with this message to you and to the Christians who first heard this letter, that just as God blessed you with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, so also you need to know, Christian, that from before the foundations of the world, He set His love on you. Before you existed in space and time, He set His love on you, so that your love to Him is simply the response of His prior love to you. He did not choose you because of something that you would do: you chose Him because of something that He started from before the foundation of the world. And that young boy suddenly “got it!” when he realized that: that he had “sought the Lord, but afterwards he knew” that He had first reached out in saving love, “…seeking me. It was not I who found, O Savior true; no, I was found of Thee.”

You see, Paul's point is that Christians are the objects of an eternal choice. So often this doctrine is explained this way: that God gets a vote, and Satan gets a vote, and you cast the deciding ballot — that's election. Well, (a) That's wrong, and it's never taught anywhere in the Bible; but, (b) Even if it were right, it's not what Paul is talking about here, because Paul is not talking about an election, a choice that you make; he's talking about an election that God makes — a choice that God makes from before the foundation of the world, so it can't be based on anything that you have done.

And furthermore, he says that that election is made “in Christ”, so it isn't about anything in you.

Paul is saying, ‘Christian, the ground of your security in the Christian life is not found by you finding something in there that will make you secure; it's by looking into the face of the Lord Jesus Christ and seeing God's eternal, saving, blessing, choice of you. “We love because He first loved us.” It's not the other way around. But Paul's not finished yet.

God's Ultimate Purpose:

You see, there's another truth that he wants you to see here: “…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.

God has chosen us in order that we would be holy.

Now, in this the order is so vital. He does not choose us because we are holy; He chooses us in order that we would be holy. We are blessed by God to be holy; we do not pursue holiness in order to be blessed by God. We are chosen to, towards, unto holiness, not chosen because of our holiness, and that difference makes all the difference in the world.

If your pursuit of holiness in the Christian life is to get God to love you, is to be assured of God's love for you, then you’ll never proceed far in the pursuit of holiness or in the security and assurance of the Christian life. But, if your pursuit of godliness is because realizing that God has not chosen you because of your holiness but because of His love in Jesus Christ; if your pursuit of holiness is because you realize that God has made you for that holiness, and that He delights in the glory, His glory, displayed in your holiness, it will make all the difference in the world.

You see, my friends…and there's so much more we could say…there is so much more we can say…this is a life re-orienting prayer, because it points us to the Father, and it reminds us of the spiritual blessings, and it tells us that those blessings are only enjoyed in Jesus Christ — and we need to pause right there are say, have you noticed already that the Trinity is all through this prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it reminds us of the Father's prior love from before the foundation of the world.

Well, that's a mouthful, and it's a life full, and it's a life re-oriented. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, grant that we would see who You are and what You've done in time and before it, and grant that as we come to Your table we would see You face to face. In Jesus we ask it. Amen.

Take your hymnals out and turn to No. 378. From 1952 to 1969, at every communion season, Reed Miller would have us sing Here, O My Lord, I See Thee, Face to Face. Let's sing it to God's praise.