I am teaching Ephesians in ALTS this quarter, the third time I have done so. Instead of getting bored with it, I find that Paul’s letter is deeper than when I first read it 55 years ago, deeper than when I have taught in congregations the past 30 years, and deeper than the several times I have translated it.
Sometimes a fresh reading and perspective is needed. Here is one verse to whet the appetite for digging deeper.
… just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (Ephesians 1:4 NAS)
Obviously we examine the words and the theological significance of the words: “God chose us in Him.” And we will do that tonight in class.
But there is also the practical side, the living reality, of what this means. In our current situation in the world, “not chosen” comes through words like alienation, abuse, abandoned, and the list goes one. What does it mean for us “God chose us in Him”?
Eugene Peterson, in his book, Practice Resurrection*, helps us dig through this practical stuff.
Everybody I have ever become acquainted with has a story, usually from childhood, of not being chosen: not chosen for the glee club, not chosen for the basketball team, the last chosen in a neighborhood sandlot softball team (which is worse than not being chosen at all), not chosen for a job, not chosen as a spouse. Not chosen carries the blunt message that I have no worth, that I am not useful, that I am good for nothing.
These and a host of other compensatory strategies often work quite well, sometimes spectacularly well, but they don’t have much staying power. [Peterson, 58]
Against this background, common to all of us, of not being noticed, being ignored, being dismissed as of no account, being indistinguishable from the background, the verb “chose” is a breath of fresh air: God chose us.
And yes, God chose us. It wasn’t a last-minute thing because he felt sorry for us and no one would have us, like a stray mutt at the dog pound, or an oprhan who nobody adopted. He chose us “before the foundation of the world.” [Peterson, 58-9]
Such a perspective helps us to relate this powerful text to those who have lived lives “not chosen.” This does not mean teaching people how to be good enough, how to behave. This means that God’s Word can speak into our very own lives, where we struggle often with “not chosen.” And receive what God had intended from eternity past.
God chose us “in Him,” namely, “in Jesus.” God’s choosing is not a “behind the curtain” kind of choosing that we have no clue about. “God choosing” is not left for us to wonder who he chose, or why has He not chosen…?
This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4 CSB)
If we want to know God’s desire for everyone, it is clearly stated in this passage. We look at what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world, not as a life coach, to help us live the good life. Jesus came to be human, to endure the pain and suffering of life, to pay the penalty of our own sins, meaning He takes the punishment we deserve.
And He came to endure the most devastating “not chosen-ness” imaginable when He was on the cross, and gasped these words:
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
In that moment He experienced what we all dread, the forsakenness by God. But prior to that moment, Jesus also received this accolade:
behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:17 NAS)
Paul goes on in Ephesians to expand the horizons of what it means to be chosen in Him. When we believe in Jesus and are baptized into Him, we receive the same declaration from the Father, “My beloved child.” Your chosenness is certain because it is God’s work in Jesus. We cannot undo what Jesus has done. Even more, Paul reminds us that God chose us in Him “before the foundation of the world.”
And Paul ends this section with even more good news:
In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession (Ephesians 1:13-14 CSB)
In our world of brokenness because of sin, the forsakenness of others, our own despondency, this Word comes from God to become a bright beacon of light for all who believe in Jesus. In Jesus is salvation, in Jesus God’s eternal plan comes to fruition and completion, in Jesus is hope, not just for today, but for eternity.
No wonder that Ephesians 1:3-14 divided into three sections (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and Paul includes the phrase at the end of each section: “to the praise of the glory of His grace.”
*Peterson, Eugene H. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.