Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Chosen in Christ for the Unity of All Things

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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.