When I was a kid I used to dread team sports. Don’t get me wrong, I love to play sports and am very competitive. It wasn’t the sports I hated, it was the team selection process! If you ever played group games as a youngster, you know there’s always that one kid who never gets picked first, or second, or in the middle of the pack, but instead is one of the last ones to go.
That kid was usually me.
I wasn’t the fastest, the strongest,and the most agile person. And so it was never all that shocking when the team captain would look at me with a blank expression and maybe a sigh and say, “Ok I guess I’ll take him.” As much as I didn’t like it, I understood it. Only the very best kids are going to get picked first to play baseball, or basketball, or whatever we were doing. Only the kids that had a proven record of excelling and winning get picked first and with enthusiasm. It’s just the law of the playground jungle, and I learned to accept it.
Most of us realize that’s how it works in almost every area of life. In sports, in the business world, wherever. The best, the brightest, the elite, the beautiful… the ones who get picked get picked because of who they are and what they’ve accomplished. Since we’re used to being treated by the world in this way, we sometimes think that’s how God treats us too.
Last week on the blog we launched a brand new series that will take us on a journey through the book of Ephesians. The series is called “Identity Matters” and my prayer is that as Christians get a firm grip on their identity in Christ, they will experience revolutionary transformation in their lives. Wonderfully, our very first step on this journey through Ephesians yields a thrilling discovery. God doesn’t treat us according to the rules of this world, and that’s good news for you!
You were chosen by God the Father
The apostle Paul launches Ephesians with these incredible words that tells you much about God and tells you something about you.
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. (Ephesians 1:3-4)
If you are a believer, you didn’t become a Christian by accident. It wasn’t just some random thing. You are a Christian because God chose you. Now you may be saying, “Well wait a minute! I explicitly remember choosing God. I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I even remember when it happened! How can you tell me I didn’t choose Christ?”
If that’s your response, you didn’t read my statement carefully. I didn’t say you didn’t choose Christ. Of course you chose Christ. I too, explicitly remember the night I chose Christ in the fall of 1991 as a messed up 20 year old desperate and hungry for a changed life. There is no one saved apart from them choosing Christ. But your choice of Christ is not Paul’s focus here in Ephesians 1. There are other Scriptures that do emphasize the importance of you making a choice to trust God and follow Him, but this is not one of those Scriptures.
That’s not where Paul wants you to go as he is leading us to thanksgiving and praise. Paul is not praising you and thanking you for choosing God. In fact, nowhere in the Bible is man praised, thanked, or congratulated for deciding to follow Jesus. Why? Because Paul tells us here that something significant happened before you were born, before you could make any kind of choice. Paul says, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” The reason why God gets the credit for this and not you is because the only reason you chose God is because He first chose you.
You didn’t come to Christ because you were better or smarter or had more willpower or more insight or were holier than anyone else. Paul will tell you in the next chapter of Ephesians that before you came to Christ you were spiritually dead. Paul tells us elsewhere in the Bible that your mind was hostile to God, that you were a slave to sin, and that you would not submit to God.
Simply put, you needed help. And what happened was that God chose to sovereignly work a miracle in your heart. He changed your heart so that you came to a point where you wanted to say “yes” to Christ when you used to say no. Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.
Now I want you to let the ramifications of this sink in. Dr. Ligon Duncan once said that,
There has never been a time in the history of the universe when your name was not on the heart of God as one of His beloved; that God has not existed any time in which His love was not set upon you.
Can we let our minds be blown by that for just a moment? Our problem is that too often we read Bible verses and they become so familiar to us that we just skim right over them and the words don’t hit us between the eyes like they should.
Your identity is anchored in the fact that before you were even born God knew you. He knew you were coming into this world. He knew how messed up and dysfunctional you would be. He knew about all of your sins. He was aware of every bad thing you would do. He knew about all the skeletons you’d have in your closet and all the sinful things about you that if other people knew them you’d be so ashamed.
He knew you would be a sinner and hate Him and rebel against Him and He is privy to all of your deepest and darkest secrets and guess what?
Knowing all those things about you, God nevertheless said, “You’re mine. I want you. I know everything you’re going to do and I’m going to save you anyway.”
God chose you.
One of the amazing implications of this is that what God has done for you had absolutely nothing to do with how good or how bad you were. His election and choosing of you is unconditional. It’s not about your performance. It’s not about your inherit goodness and your ability to do the right thing and thank God it’s not, because if His election was conditional on your goodness then who would be saved? Nobody. Scripture says there is none who do good, not even one.
On the playground, the team captains made their choice based on the past performance of
the individual and an expectation of future performance. That’s why I never got picked first (or even in the middle) for basketball! My past performance stank, and there was no hope that I’d ever turn that around, therefore the team captains overlooked me.
But you know what? That’s not how God operates. God doesn’t choose people based on their ability to be a good person. He doesn’t choose based on how smart you’ll be, how good looking you’ll be, how popular you are with other people, your talents, your religiosity, your holiness, or anything like that. As far as God is concerned we’re all a mess and none of us deserve to be chosen! If that’s true that means that God’s choice of you is not conditional, instead it’s grace. This is why Paul will write in the very next chapter of Ephesians,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The kid who got picked first for the team has something to boast about. He could say, “I got picked because I’m great at basketball, because I’m a good three point shooter, because I’ve worked hard to be as good as I am, because I’m better than that short pudgy kid, Demer Webb.”
That’s how things work in the world of sports but in the Spiritual realm the playing field is level. The Bible says nobody is good enough and we all are like sheep that have gone astray, each of us going his own way. We’re all equally deserving of Hell. Yet God chose you anyway.
As we begin our journey through Ephesians, it is important that we start with the fact that you have been chosen by God. Everything else that the apostle Paul writes will flow from this fundamental fact, and everything about your identity is bound up in the glorious truth that despite your sin and rebellion, despite your flaws and mistakes, God chose you anyway. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? Praise God for His glorious grace!
I’m chosen by God. So what?
In my prior article I mentioned how Christians suffer from “identity amnesia.” We are like spiritual Jason Bournes. We have forgotten who we are, what resources are available to us, and what our mission as a people chosen by God actually is. The book of Ephesians will help to clear away the cobwebs of our identity amnesia. And therefore in my next article, we will begin to consider the practical implications of being chosen by God. God chose you not just to save you from something (Hell), but also to save you to something, (Holiness). You are not just saved and meant to wander around aimlessly until you go to heaven. You have a specific purpose and mission in life. We will begin to consider that next time.
Grace and Peace