Friday, October 28, 2016

Faith and Our Inclusion in Christ

In the previous post, we looked at Ephesians 1:3-10 and how God chose all humanity in Christ, “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” This is not just the union of all things with each other but, much more than that, the union of all things with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — through Christ, the God-Man. Elsewhere Paul speaks of this as the reconciliation of the world to God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19; Colossians 1:19-20) so that God may be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28) even as “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Having laid out the universal scope of God’s purpose in Christ, Paul now shows how it plays out at a personal level, where he and his readers dwell:
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, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ* when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you 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. (Ephesians 1:11-14)
“We” refers to Paul and his associates who, as Jews, were among the first to receive the good news of the gospel and then went out to proclaim it to the nations. “You” refers to the believers in Ephesus, who received their message. In both cases, they responded to the good news in faith. Their faith, however, did not make the message true but was how they embraced the truth of it. They were already included in Christ from before the creation of the world and they were already destined for the unity of all things in Christ even before they ever heard the gospel. (*We should note that the words “were included in Christ,” which I have italicized in the quote above, were added by the NIV translators and have no correlation to the words in the Greek text. Paul was not indicating that the faith of the believers at Ephesus was the occasion or cause of their inclusion in Christ.)

We know the beginning of the journey: we were chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world. And we also know the end: the unity of all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. These two are essentially the same thing. As it was in the beginning, so it will be in the end — and is even now in the timelessness of God. Yet there is still a “working out” of God’s purpose that takes place within the time/space reality of our world. Knowing the beginning and end of the journey does not do away with the journey itself, where the unity of all things in Christ plays out in the history of creation.

So the inclusion of all of us beforehand does not make faith unnecessary. Faith is part of how God “works out” his eternal purpose in us. It is by faith that we come to know our inclusion in Christ. This faith is itself a gift from God, as we learn in Ephesians 2:8. It comes to us by the work of the Holy Spirit and through hearing the word of the gospel.

When we believe, Paul says, we are “marked with a seal.” Just as faith does not make the gospel or our inclusion in it any truer than it was in the beginning, but affirms the truth of it, so also the mark with which we are sealed attests that we are truly in Christ. Paul identifies this seal as God himself, the Holy Spirit. This sealing had been very evident in the case of the first believers at Ephesus; when they were baptized in the name of Jesus, “the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:5-6).

We — all of us — are chosen in Christ from before creation because God’s purpose has always been to bring all things into unity under Christ. This does not happen apart from faith, apart from turning to God, which inherently happens through Christ and the Holy Spirit, even though they may not always be explicitly recognized as such by the one turning to God. We may certainly expect that the will, pleasure and purpose of Almighty God will be finally successful and fully satisfied, that all in heaven and on earth will be brought together in unity under Christ.

It would appear, then, that all will indeed finally turn to God in faith, whether in this present age or in the age to come. Let us understand, however, that it will not be by coercion, for God is love, and love does not coerce. The love of God does not ever force us violate our wills but, rather, frees us and our wills from our delusions and unnatural desires, so that we may finally and truly be what God created us to be from the beginning.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Chosen in Christ for the Unity of All Things
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 … With all wisdom and understanding, 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 reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:3-4, 8-10)
It is good to be chosen. When I was a kid, I did not much care for team sports because, when captains were choosing up their sides, picking the fastest, strongest or most skillful players, I was always among the dwindling few at the end (and praying not to be the last). Of course, by that point, it was no longer really about being chosen but about being reluctantly accepted. What good news it is, then, that God has chosen us in Christ — we are chosen, Paul says, not reluctantly accepted.

In the Old Testament, the children of Israel were revealed to be chosen by God. They were chosen in Abraham, whom God promised would be a blessing to all the families of the earth and whose descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. They were chosen in Isaac, who was the child of God’s promise to Abraham. They were chosen in Isaac’s son Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel. They were chosen by God’s great act of deliverance, leading the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the land of promise. They were chosen, mind you, not because they were paragons of goodness or of anything else but purely out of God’s pleasure and purpose. God chose them out of love (for God is love) and in faithfulness to the promise he made to their fathers.

Israel was chosen to be a holy and priestly people, to represent God before the nations and the nations before God. But as it turned out — and this was no surprise at all to God — they fouled up royally, and by their unfaithfulness, idolatry and shedding of innocent blood ended up in exile. Yet they remained ever the object of God’s unfailing love, pleasure and purpose. So God promised them an Anointed King, a Messiah, a Christ who would not only deliver them from bondage but would bring to fulfillment the gracious purpose God intended for them when he first chose Abraham: the salvation of every family, tribe and nation on earth.

In the New Testament, Israel’s Messiah is revealed to be the eternal Son of God who became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the Incarnation. It was not an afterthought made necessary by the brokenness of humanity but was God’s plan all along. In the beginning, God created us in the divine image and likeness so that we could dwell together with Father, Son and Spirit in holy fellowship. But from the beginning of our history, we turned away from God and went our own way. So the Incarnation became a rescue mission as well. God became fully human (yet remaining fully divine) in order to rescue Israel and all the nations of the world — to dwell with us forever.

Christ became human so that we could become divine. In doing so, he joined himself to all of humanity, because all of humanity is connected. See how the apostle Paul demonstrates the truth and depth of this connection in the way he contrasts Adam and Christ:
Consequently, just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people. (Romans 5:18)

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
All humanity is connected in Adam, and what he did affected us all, bringing condemnation and death. Likewise, all humanity is connected in Christ, and what he has done affects us all, bringing justification and life.

It is very significant, then, that we are chosen in Christ. We are not chosen alone, or apart from Christ — or apart from anyone else, for that matter — but Christ is the chosen, who fulfills the chosenness of Israel. By his connection to humanity, all humanity is therefore chosen in him. In Ephesians 1, Paul lays out what that means for us all and how we benefit:
  • In Christ, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (v. 3)
  • In Christ, we have been chosen to be holy and blameless in God’s sight (v. 4)
  • In Christ, we have been irrevocably adopted as children of God (v. 5)
  • In Christ, we have been freely given God’s glorious grace (v. 6)
  • In Christ, we have redemption and forgiveness of sins (v. 7)
In verses 8-10, we see the full reach of this: “With all wisdom and understanding [God] 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 reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

In Christ we have a great mystery revealed, the will and pleasure and purpose of God made known: to bring into unity all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. This was always God’s purpose in creation from before the world began. All authority in heaven and on earth has now been given to Christ, who has ascended to his throne at the right hand of the Father, and we are presently living in the outworking his rule and reign. As John says, “the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). In the end, God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). Yet even now, “Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11).

That is an utterly astonishing thing, a divine grace so amazingly extensive that it is hard even for many Christians to believe: God’s will, pleasure and purpose includes everyone and everything. Nothing and no one are to be left out. All are being brought together in perfect unity in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This does not do away with faith, of course, or with the need for faith. But faith is not what makes it true — it is quite true already, as the Scriptures affirm in several ways and several places. Rather, faith is how we respond to this good news and embrace the truth of it.

In my next post we will look more at the role faith plays in this.