I. Chosen by the Father
In navigating our way through this dark, confusing and uncertain world, it’s important to have a grasp of the big picture. This is something we learn early on. For example, have you ever tried putting together 1000 piece puzzle without looking at the completed picture on the box? It’s nearly impossible. I’ve learned, as our home fills up with mysterious baby related items, that bringing baby home is really only the beginning of the adventure. When it comes to saving, investing and financially planning for the future – the best advice helps you to keep the big picture in mind. Seeing the big picture helps us keep the proper perspective – especially when it comes to dealing with the ups and downs, the tragedies and victories of life. The big picture is what the Apostle Paul presents to us this morning. More important than a puzzle picture or your personal financial picture, Paul reveals the big picture of salvation formulated by the Triune God.
If these verses sounded like a long, complex, somewhat confusing stream of consciousness – it’s not just you. The 11 verses before us are one long sentence, of over 200 words, in the original Greek. It’s quite likely that the format of Paul’s words reflect the nature of his topic – he takes us from eternity to eternity, to reveal what God is up to in past, present and future, he helps us see the cosmic dimensions of God’s plan. It’s a picture so big that, kind of like these verses, we struggle to grasp it all. But, fortunately, the Trinity provides an outline to guide our thoughts: We are chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sealed with the Spirit.
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 to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
Here we see the work God the Father performed even before the creation of the world. What did God do before creating this universe? He chose you to be holy and blameless in his sight. He predestined you to be adopted as his sons and daughters. Ephesians 1 is where the false teaching of “decision theology” comes to die. Paul pulls back the curtain on how you got to this point; the point of being a baptized, instructed, confirmed Christian – it’s not because you chose God, but because before God created one wave of light or one drop of H20 – he chose you. This is commonly called the doctrine of election and this is good news! This means that even though you were born as God’s enemy, God determined from eternity to bring you into his family. This doctrine confirms that everything in the past, present, and future takes place in line with God’s stated purpose of bringing you to heaven. The doctrine of election takes all the pressure off of us. Salvation doesn’t depend on the strength of our decision or the goodness of our lives. Salvation depends on God. It’s his plan. It’s his work. And he didn’t do it because he knew how cute and adorable we would be – he did it simply because he wanted to, in accordance with his pleasure and will. God chose you, not because you are holy – he chose you to make you holy. That’s grace; that’s undeserved love. Let us praise his glorious grace, which he has freely given us by singing stanza 3 of hymn 194.
II. Redeemed by the Son
We know that even if we have formulated the best, most comprehensive big picture plan for our lives – things often don’t turn out as we planned. I have yet to meet the college student who planned to find a job where his degree was just a worthless piece of paper – but it happens. No one intends to default on their mortgage – but that happens too. We can’t look into the future to plan for the car trouble or hospital visit. Our plans fall apart. But God’s do not. If God makes a plan and a promise, he keeps it. And the responsibility for carrying out God’s plan for your salvation fell on the shoulders of one person: Jesus Christ.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
The root of an awful lot of false teaching and false believing today is the mistaken notion that the Gospel is all about us. It’s not. It’s about Christ. Did you notice how Paul made that undeniably clear? At least 12 times he says that God’s plan for our salvation is “in” or “through Christ.” If heaven is your goal, you need to accept the fact that getting there cannot depend on you or your effort. Why not? Because the Bible reveals the sad truth about humanity: God looked at mankind from his eternal vantage point and determined that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5) David confesses the universal truth: [we] were sinful [from] birth. (Psalm 51:5) Isaiah notes that even our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) We could go on. But the point is that if salvation depended at all, even .01% on our obedience, it would have failed.
The good news is that God’s plan of salvation never relied on what we have done or will do, but on what Jesus has done. The plan God formulated in mist of eternity was put into action in human history, 2000 years ago, in the geographical area of Palestine, under the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius and Pontius Pilate. The work Jesus came to do is called redemption. This is a word every Christian should have imprinted on their memories and included in their regular vocabulary. Redemption means to buy back or set free from slavery or imprisonment. We were imprisoned by sin and enslaved to Satan, utterly unable to free ourselves. But Christ redeemed us. He set us free. He did it by paying the price of his own blood on the cross – a payment price worth more than all the gold in all the world. In stark contrast to the false view of God held by too many – one where God is happy go lucky and unserious about sin – the Triune God, the only true God, could not ignore our sin or sweep it under the rug, so he addressed it head-on, by holding his Son accountable for all of it. Because Christ paid the price for our redemption, we are forgiven. Every last one of our sins was placed on Jesus’ shoulders and washed away by his blood.
Whenever you are tempted to doubt your salvation, come back to these words. For those times when your conscience leaves you restless, when guilt weighs on your heart, when uncertainty has you wondering about God’s plan for your life – hear this today: Christ has redeemed you. Every one of your sins have been forgiven, sent away, never to be heard from again. No matter how big your pile of sin is – God’s grace is bigger. Whether you’ve been a Christian for 40 years or 40 minutes, Jesus’ redemption applies to you. God chose you before you were born and Jesus redeemed you 2000 years ago on the cross – all according to plan. Believe it, because it’s the only true picture of salvation.
III. Sealed with the Spirit
When a plan involves 2 or more people, that plan becomes a commitment. And because our commitments are often fickle and prone to failure, we sometimes have to give proof of our sincerity. Sometimes it’s as simple as a handshake or a verbal agreement. But other times it involves something precious: a diamond ring represents a husbands commitment to his wife, starting a business might involve putting your own assets up as collateral. Maybe the assurance we are most familiar with is that of a down payment on a home. It’s the money you give the bank before you ever move in as proof that the rest of the payment will eventually be made. If the picture of salvation involves not only God’s eternal plan and the Son’s work of redemption, but also includes you and me and the other elect – we would expect some proof of God’s commitment, right? That’s where the third person of the Trinity comes in.
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.
The Father planned from eternity to save us – Jesus did the work of saving us. It’s done, finished. This inheritance is guarded, safe from dust and rust and thieves and taxes in heaven. But the very nature of an inheritance is that we don’t have it yet. Right now we are still subject to disease and disappointment. Right now we still struggle with doubt and sin – and often, with each other. Even if we believe that God has a master plan for our lives, where is the proof that he will follow through – not for Abraham or Moses or Paul, but me and you – in the end? Right here: You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Whether you first received the gospel when a man splashed water on your head in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit or later when you first heard the message of Christ crucified – that was the moment in your life when God’s plan became more than a fuzzy blueprint; that was when God fit you, personally, into his grand picture of salvation.
Your faith is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is God’s down payment, proof that God will follow through on his plan and promise. Faith is just one of the many blessings God has in store for you, and right now, it’s the most important blessing, because it assures you day after day that more is on the way. Possessing faith in God’s plan is kind of like having someone hand you the winning Powerball ticket. If you have that winning ticket you’re going to carry it with you wherever you go, waking and sleeping – it assures you that millions, though you don’t see them, will someday be yours. The Holy Spirit is God’s seal on our hearts. It proves that he owns us. And the Holy Spirit works tirelessly today and every day to keep us steadfast in the one true faith by showing us again and again God’s big picture plan, executed by Christ and revealed in word and sacrament. When doubt or sin linger, come here, for here is where you receive another installment of God’s down payment to you week after week – a down payment that consists of sins forgiven, life and salvation – signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit.
It’s important to regularly step back to see the big picture. It gives perspective. It aids in planning. It helps you deal with both tragedy and success. In Ephesians 1 Paul presents the big picture of salvation. It is a grand and glorious plan – stretching from eternity to eternity. The Father chose you. The Son redeemed you. The Spirit seals you. What is left for us to do? Nothing but to praise his glorious grace with our lips and our lives. Amen.