Thursday, August 02, 2018

Finally! An Elected Official We Can Believe In

When I was a little kid, I have to admit I wasn’t much of an athlete. Having been raised with different games and sports than were popular in the country to which my family had returned, I had only opaque knowledge of the rules, and little practice at executing the conventional skills. So I was equally lousy at football, baseball, basketball, soccer and even volleyball, and only marginally competent at hockey.

It would be years before I caught up to my peers who had been raised with those games. Nevertheless, I tried. And I played, whether I was good or not.

Following the Protocol

The protocol for selecting teams was always the same: two of the most skilled players (never me) would be selected to serve as “captains”, and then each in turn were allowed to select from their peers to build their respective teams. They always selected from the most skilled to the least. I confess that often my name was among the last to be called. In fact, I can recall being selected first only once before my fifteenth birthday, which was about the time I finally began to show a few skills.

When teams were selected, the captains would pick ends of the field, or at-bat order, or the goal to defend. Now, by virtue of having been already selected to a particular team, I would end up in one or the other end of the field/rink/pitch to start. It was not as a result of my having been personally or individually sent there, mind you; it was by virtue of already having become a member of the team. My captain had selected me, and since I was on his team, I was where I was. But had he not selected me, I’d have been at the other end of the field.

I was, we might say, “elect in my team captain”.

He had been chosen. And I was chosen by virtue of my relationship to him. My selection was derivative of his choice, and was by virtue of me being a member of his team. I was not chosen for any good in me. Nor was I chosen directly. I was indirectly chosen. My being selected was because of his recognized merits and by his decision, not mine.

Divine Election

Ephesians 1 is a great passage of scripture. It lists all the blessings we have from God the Father through our new relationship with him. But it has often amazed me that people can read it so badly.

In explaining it, they often leave out the most-often-repeated and most important part.

Two little words: “... in him”.

These words, or their equivalents, occur at least eleven times in the span of eight verses, in reference to the source of at least seventeen blessings we enjoy (some small counting variation is possible here: I'm being conservative). Everything promised us is available only “in him”. Take a look:
“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.

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Let’s get the order right: before I ever existed, Jesus Christ existed. He was the Chosen One before I ever was. And before I was ever saved, he was the Savior.

And no one can be a savior without saving someone.

Thank God.

This is what we learn in Ephesians chapter 1: we were “blessed”, “predestined”, “adopted”, “beloved”, “forgiven”, “redeemed”, and so on. But we must not overlook that little phrase: “in him”. It says, “in him” we have forgiveness of sins. “In him” we are the beloved of God. “In him” we have a future and an inheritance. “In him” we have been chosen, adopted, predestined and sealed.

In fact, here God’s whole purpose is said to be “in him”.

Two Little Words

What difference do those two little words make?

Are they informative of something, or are they mere window dressing, mere chatter, noise to fill the empty spaces between the list of wonderful things that we, personally, are promised by God? Does he who spoke all things into existence through his Word stutter? Does he forget what he was saying, and need a moment to gather his thoughts; so that he throws in a few clich├ęs to buy time? Or does he use null phrases, just as people sometimes use “ummm” or “ahhhh”?

Hardly: after all, doesn’t the passage say that the whole point of this exercise is “to unite all things in him”?

Let me suggest that the phrase “in him” is actually crucial to the whole matter. It is the essence of the message of the entire passage. It informs us of the right source of all our blessings. All that we have we have only through Christ — and not from God directly. We were not individually and privately picked for blessing before the foundation of the world. We were not individually picked by God because of some wonderful quality we would eventually have, nor because God wanted to be arbitrary and pick some people and banish others to hell just ... well, just because.

Choosing the Son

God chose the Son. When he did, this made it inevitable that someone would be saved. Thank God, that would be me. And it’s my fervent prayer that it’s also you. When we heard the message of the gospel and responded, embracing our call, and having believed, we were saved. As the passage says, we “listened”, “believed”, “hoped” in him, and thus entered into God the Father’s plan for him. We are “in him”.

Thus also we became eternally secure. For we were never saved because of good God saw in us, so we could never lose our salvation for our faults either. It was purely because of the high esteem he has for his Son. It is in his Son’s nature to be a Savior; and the Father saved us that the Son might be all in all.

Now the Father sees us purely “in him”, clothed in His righteousness, not besmirched with our own sins and shortcomings; and in love the Father sealed us with his Spirit, the downpayment (or “pledge”) guaranteeing God’s intention to redeem us fully. Thus we also became predestined from that time to be fully redeemed to the glory of his grace, and to become conformed to the image of the Son.

We need always to remember that Jesus Christ was the select of God before we ever became the elect of God. He was God’s Chosen One before we were. And we also need to realize that we are “elect” only by virtue of our relationship to him. We became “elect” the moment we responded in faith to the One whom God approved before the foundation of the world.

The Order of Election

This order is hugely important. Just like I was chosen by my team captain, who himself was chosen based on his intrinsic athleticism, and thus became a member of his team, we were chosen because Christ was the Chosen first; and we became members of his “team” by virtue of our new relationship to him through faith in him not — and I repeat NOT — because of our own merits and not by God directly. We were chosen derivatively.

Thus this passage does not teach that we were chosen or elected individually. Rather, it teaches that we are elected to salvation purely by virtue of our faith relationship with the One whom God has proclaimed his Chosen One.

Christ is the official “elect” of God. The truth is that we are “team elect”: elect only in him. He is the One by whose merits we are saved.

Finally: an elected official we can believe in!

His name is Jesus Christ.

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