Full Reading: Ephesians 1. Just. Read. It. Again.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
We have already seen the abundant blessings we have in Christ Jesus. In the last three verses we have seen God’s glory displayed in the abundance of His grace poured out upon all who believe in Jesus Christ. We have seen that God saves with the fullest measure of His grace, abundantly pouring out “every spiritual blessing”. People love this. Ephesians 1:1-3 may be the least controversial of the whole letter. I’m sure debates have been started over these, as some people, like me, will always find something to argue about. For this reason, v. 3 and v. 4 ironically occupy an artificial contrast. We, as fallible, sinful humans have created an artificial tension between vv. 3 and 4. Verse 4 sits at the center of a debate that has been raging for 500 years. The nature of this debate is such that it can be exceedingly difficult not to project your presuppositions upon the pages of Scripture. I’m going to try to avoid this. If you are familiar with me and the debate, you know where I stand. If you are not, forget about it. It’s far more important to understand the letter to the Ephesians than it is to understand the details of this debate.
It turns out that this whole passage, vv. 3-14, are a single sentence in Greek, so as we work through it, I will be including every verse up to the point we are at in the opening text. This will be essential for seeing how all the moving parts of Paul’s teaching work together. This verse opens with the phrase “even as”. Obviously this is not how you begin a sentence, so we need to reference v. 3. Recall, v. 3 teaches us that God has blessed “us” with every spiritual blessing “in Christ”. This phrase “even as” serves to transition in to an explanation of how he has blessed us in Christ. Some alternate translations offered for the Greek word for “even as” (καθώς) are “inasmuch” and “according to”. So Paul is clearly linking the blessings of God with what will follow in v. 4.
Even as what? “He chose us in him”. God chose “us”. The scope of the “us” is very clearly “God’s people”, those who have been blessed “in Christ”. Paul goes on to tell us when God chose us, and that is “before the foundation of the world”. Before the world was made, God chose those who He would bless with every spiritual blessing. Paul continues, asserting that God chose us, so “that we should be holy and blameless before him”. The only way for a sinner, who would stand condemned before God for their sin, to be holy and blameless blameless is for Christ’s righteousness to be imputed to them. This is something of a legal term. This word means that the righteousness of Christ is counted our own. For those who believe in Christ, God counted their sin as Christ’s when He died on the cross. Further, God has taken the perfection of Christ and has counted it their own. This is precisely how God makes us holy and blameless. God chose us to be this way before the foundation of the world. This means that God chose to impute the righteousness of Christ to His people before the foundation of the world. This means that God chose whose sins Christ bore on the cross, and those for whom Christ died, God makes them blameless and holy. The choosing, the effect, and the means are inextricably linked here. Those who are holy and blameless before God are those who believe the gospel, and those people are holy and blameless because Christ actually and effectively took their sin and gave them His righteousness. And all of this happened because God chose.
Paul has taken those blessings we saw in the first three verses, those blessings which we have linked to believing the Gospel, and He has made them personal. Paul has taken the love of God that is in Christ, through the Gospel, and He has made it a personal, meaningful, willful act of God. Paul’s intention was that this teaching would be great blessing for the Church in Ephesus. I’m certain it was. This teaching has been a tremendous blessing for me. In it I have seen God’s glory and Christ’s righteousness. I have seen the grace of God poured out, and the glory of man torn down. But I have also seen man build himself up. I have seen myself puffed up. The man who trusts in his own works to be saved is proud of his own works. It is very easy to see this teaching and, ironically, become proud of it. It is this pride that is the greatest detriment to the teaching of this truth. So often we see a person proud of their own works hopelessly arguing with a person proud that they have no works. I will be the first to admit that this pride has been in my heart. I will be the first to admit that this pride has hurt many people. So if you find yourself today to be one who has believed this doctrine, always be watchful of your pride. If you disagree with what I have taught, just keep reading Ephesians. Over. And over. It’s more important than what I have to say.