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Ephesians 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus

Paul wrote to believers in Ephesus around AD 62, while under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28). Ephesus was a leading city in the region of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), and Paul had ministered there for over two years (Acts 19). Paul wrote this letter some time after his ministry in Ephesus, to summarize the gospel of God’s grace, and to explain the nature of the church.

Ephesians 1:4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight

The reason people come to faith in Jesus Christ is not because they are good, wise or better than other sinners. They come to Christ because they were chosen before the creation of the world. The Biblical word for this is election (Romans 9:11), and those who believe are called the elect (2 Timothy 2:10). 

The Bible never places the cause of election in the elect themselves, but in the sovereign will of God. [H]e saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy (Titus 3:5), wrote Paul. The cause of our election is not in anything God foresaw in us, but in his sovereign choice alone. God chooses whom he chooses, because he chooses to do so. He owes salvation to none, but graciously gives it to some.

Ephesians 1:5 [H]e predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will

Believers in Jesus Christ are adopted into the family of God. This is one of the great benefits of belonging to Jesus Christ. Some people adopt beautiful little babies. Fewer adopt older children. And very few adopt older children with disabilities. But God adopts notorious sinners, and makes us his children forever.

A little boy from an abusive background was adopted into a loving Christian home, but he had some issues. He had never experienced love before, so he was very insecure, and afraid of being punished. One day he used his adopted father’s comb and put it into his pocket. When his father asked if he took the comb he said no. But he could not explain how it got into his pocket. 

In a panic, he ran into his room and hid under the bed, afraid he would be forced to leave. But his new mom squeezed herself under the bed, and held him close saying, Nothing you did got you into this family, and nothing you do will get you out of this family. That is how our heavenly Father treats his adopted children (John 8:35).

Ephesians 1:10 [God will] bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ

Heaven is the place where Jesus dwells at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33). It is the place of angels, glory and joy. Earth has fallen under a curse (Genesis 3:17), so it has a few problems, but is not entirely desolate. There are mountains, rivers, meadows and loving relationships. We should not imagine the age to come as heaven only, or merely a glorified earth, but as heaven and earth together under Christ (Revelation 21:2). This will be the best of all possible worlds.

Ephesians 1:11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will

God is not making up the future as he goes along, but has planned out everything from the beginning. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please (Isaiah 46:10), wrote Isaiah. The world is never out of control because God is in control. There are no maverick molecules in God’s universe, and he never says oops. This is a wonderful comfort whenever things go badly.

A young man died in a mountain climbing accident, and his father was devastated. But he found comfort in the fact that God is in control of everything, even his son’s death. This saved him from a debilitating case of the If Onlys. If only his son had been safer; if only he had gone somewhere else; if only he had not gone at all. Since the father believed that God is in control of everything, he could also believe that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), even when we cannot understand it.

God’s control is a comfort to many, but others oppose the idea because it seems to make God the cause of evil. If God is in control of everything, and evil exists, God must be the cause of evil. Or worse, if God created hell, and predestined some to go there, he must be the cause of people going to hell (1 Peter 2:8).

This is a serious problem, and qualifies as one of the great mysteries of the Bible, along with the doctrines of the Trinity (how can God be one and three?), and the two natures of Christ (how can Jesus be God and man, finite and infinite?). 

The solution to the problem of God’s sovereignty, and human responsibility for sin, is not to deny either, since the Bible teaches both. We must hold both ideas together, even though we cannot understand how they can both be true. A theological mystery is not a contradiction, but something beyond our comprehension. God ordains all things that come to pass, but in such a way that he is not the source or cause of evil. 

Ephesians 1:13 When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit

Kings often wore a ring that was uniquely engraved, which served as their seal of ownership. Whatever was marked with the king’s seal was identified as belonging to him. Whenever someone comes to faith in Jesus Christ, they marked with the seal of God: the promised Holy Spirit. The indwelling Spirit is the mark of God’s ownership on all his children.

Many years ago my dad received an engraver as a gift, and he fell in love with it. He went into the garage and put his name on everything: the lawnmower, the snowblower, the chainsaw, all his tools, and anything else he could find. There could be no mistake about ownership, because he put his name on everything. The Holy Spirit is God’s signature, proving that we belong to him.

Reflection and Review
Is it wrong for God to choose some but not others?
What is a theological mystery?
Do you believe God controls everything?