Preached: January 2, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us our Savior is Ephesians 1.
Praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ, as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him, in love having predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ for him, according to the good pleasure of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace which he has freely given us in the one who he has loved.
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
As we end one year and begin another, we look ahead to the choices for the coming year. Many make resolutions or set goals. Many pages have been written on making specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely goals. It can all look quite smart. Yet even our best laid plans can be turned upside down as easily as a plow turns up the cozy winter home of a family of mice. The Holy Spirit led Solomon to write: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Psalm 127:1 NIV-1984).
That doesn't mean we simply live life haphazardly. But it does mean that we commend our long-term resolutions as well as our day-to-day decisions into his hands, making our plans, goals, and choices in the light of his revealed Word. What does that mean? How do we accomplish that? Let's contemplate this as we reflect back not to last year but to what happened before all years began. God's choice from eternity changes our choices for the year ahead. That's the theme to keep in mind.
First, God chose you through Christ. Yes, because of Christ he has lavished every spiritual blessing of the heavenly realms upon you. “But I don't always feel all that blessed.” How often doesn't that thought disturb us? We reflect on this past year, and no doubt you can recall several times of struggle, sadness, or suffering. I know that you count your blessings as well, but would you dare to claim that you have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms?
But that's what God's Word reveals here, doesn't it? “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3 NIV-1984). Yes, dear Christian, before time God chose you through Christ. So now in time, he blesses you with every spiritual blessing of the heavenly realms, which Christ has purchased and won for you.
How this changes our perspective! Do our feelings of not being so blessed come because we focus on the earthly? Compared to so many whom we see in our community or on the television, we do lack many of the things of this life that others enjoy. But even the greatest things of this earth are pennies compared to the treasures Christ has won for you, dear friend. I'm not only talking about the material things of this earth. Even the immaterial earthly blessings such as success, family, friendship, and health are only pennies compared to Christ. So who is truly blessed?
Are you now ready to say that you have every spiritual blessing of the heavenly realms? Or does the thought come to you that having a stronger faith or more hope or a greater love would be better spiritual blessings? That question does show we're now thinking about the spiritual, but is our weakness of faith, hope, or love due to a lack of God's blessing? I don't think so. Rather, it's to our shame that despite having every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms through Christ, yet we still show weakness in faith, dimness in hope, and shallowness in love.
So what are these spiritual blessings of the heavenly realms which God has chosen to give you through Christ? Verse seven, right after the text, answers that: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7 NIV-1984). Redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.
What a wonder! Despite our weaknesses of faith and wavering in hope, forgiveness is yours, dear friend, yours in Christ -- not just partial forgiveness, but full forgiveness. Nothing is lacking, note that word every in “every spiritual blessing.” For Jesus paid the redemption price in full for you. Even though our faith is as small as a mustard seed, yet all the spiritual blessings of the heavenly realms are ours, because Jesus has paid for all your sins with his blood.
Because of this forgiveness, dear Christian, you stand before God holy and blameless, for your guilt is taken away through Christ. Because of Christ you have been adopted as God's sons (which we talked about in detail last week.) Outside of Christ, you and I would be lost forever. Outside of Christ we cowered before God in the filth and nakedness of our sin. Outside of Christ we were slaves to sin, enemies of God, the farthest things from being his children. But in Christ all the spiritual blessings of the heavenly realms are yours. So only in Christ, through Christ, because of Christ, did God chose you and me from before the creation of the world. He chose you to receive every spiritual blessing of the heavenly realms, namely, forgiveness and all these blessings forgiveness brings.
How does this change our choices for the new year? See, dear friend, that all your spiritual blessings are centered in Christ. So do we not want our plans, goals, choices, and decisions centered in Christ as well? How many of your choices in life bring you closer to Christ? How many drive you farther from him? And when those choices that place Christ first seem like sacrifices, remember that every spiritual blessing of the heavenly realms our yours in Christ. So even if that choice costs you everything in this life, have you really lost anything when you are in Christ?
But maybe now we wonder: “But why would God choose me to be in Christ? What makes me different? What makes me special?” This takes us to the second point today. But that line of questioning already leads us outside of Christ and into ourselves. For you see, nothing in you or me made us any different. There was nothing special about us. We were born sinners, enemies of God, unable to choose him. Our natural choice was for sin and Satan.
But we're not talking about our choice, but God's choice. And he did not base his choice on anything in us or about us. Listen to what the text says, “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 NIV-1984). Carefully note what moved God to choose you: not anything about you, but his love, his pleasure, his will.
Unlike our natural love that needs something to attract us, God's love reached out to the loveless and unlovable, to you and me. His love loved us because that was what he was pleased to do. It was his good will to save sinners, to save you and me. That's what the angel choir proclaimed to the shepherds: “Peace on earth; good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). God's good will sent his Son. He so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son (John 3:16). And this same love, pleasure, and will has chosen you, despite who you are. God chose us according to his good will. That's the second point.
What a firm foundation this Bible truth gives to our faith! If even a small, insignificant part of God's choice was based on something in us, could we ever be sure? Yet faith is being sure of what we hope for. So God's choice is not based on us, but based on his good will. And he cannot fail, so faith has a firm, uncrackable foundation.
What a firm foundation this Bible truth gives to the choices we make in the year ahead! You can make Christ-centered choices with full confidence that God's good will cannot fail. This is not confidence based on your skills or goal-setting ability. That kind of confidence is arrogance. This confidence is built on God's good will. This confidence goes forward knowing that even if the goals or plans I make fail, God's good will prevails. And that's all that matters. For his good will has chosen me in Christ to be blameless and holy before him, to be adopted has his son, to receive all the spiritual blessings of the heavenly realms.
And with this confidence that God's good will cannot fail, we want to make the choices that bring him the glory. That's the final point to note here. God's chosen us to live for his glory. That's the goal that underlies all our choices as a Christian: What will bring glory and praise to my God and Savior? So the text begins and ends on this note of praise: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:3, 6 NIV-1984).
Throughout the good and the bad of the year ahead keep asking yourself: “How can my words and actions bring praise to my God so that others glorify his saving grace in Christ?” As you care for your family, as you do your daily work, as you interact with your community, let the way you conduct yourself lead others to want to know more about the God whom you serve, so that they too can praise your Father in heaven. Be prepared to give the reason for the hope you have. It's all centered in Christ, isn't it? It's all built on God's good will, not on us.
God's choice changes our choices. Make that true in the year ahead whether it's a year filled with good things for you or a year where your best laid laid plans go awry. God chose you in Christ, according to his good will. Every spiritual blessing of the heavenly realms is yours in Christ. For he has paid the redemption price of his blood for your forgiveness. In Christ you stand before God holy and blameless. In Christ you are adopted as God's own. So make your choices in Christ for the praise of his glorious grace. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.