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, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
You Are Chosen
This is a whopper of a text. It buzzes, jitters, explodes with language. It’s dense, one long sentence with clause after dependent clause. It doesn’t flow according to our expectations. And the author gets repetitive, focusing almost exclusively on what it means that God acts through Christ or in Christ or with Christ.
And it’s theologically dense. Election. Predestination. Adoption. Inheritance. In a few short verses a host of bamboozling tenants are laid out. And what should we do? Perhaps study Karl Barth, argue with John Calvin or struggle with Augustine? A quick three year program in theology? We could, but it seems to me that this text might be more accessible than it appears. Why? Because Ephesians 1 is us. It is our narrative, the most fundamental reality about who we are, how we got here and to whom we belong.
So at the beginning of the text we hear that God is the one who blesses, the one who chooses, the one who destines, the one who adopts and the one who rejoices. But God’s many verbs are not abstracted from us, from this present moment. They are, once and for all, now and forever, for us and for our salvation, as the creed says. God’s acting, never flippant or reactive, has been ordained from before the foundation of time and now, in these days after the resurrection, God’s choosing has been achieved and accomplished in the life of Jesus Christ.
So here’s what I, and Ephesians, have for you: you have been chosen. That, too, is the Easter message. Before you could do a thing about it, before you could succeed, before you could triumph, before you could protest or act out, before it all: you were chosen. Through the obedient life, suffering death and transforming resurrection of Jesus Christ, through his determined agency you no we have been chosen.
So what do we do with that? The text begins with praise, “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” Bless the God who has so richly blessed us. “Spiritual blessing” is a sort of lofty concept, but it seems to me to point not to some richness beyond our lives here and now, but rather to God’s profound action in history, God’s action in sending Christ, God’s action in redeeming and reconciling. God’s spiritual blessings are given to we physical folks here and now. God’s spiritual blessings are the choice, the destiny, the adoption, the inheritance that transforms the stuff of our lies in the present. It’s not money or power. It’s not material in that way. It’s the stuff of the Spirit. It’s a mantle. A name. A claim.
But, lest we get too full of ourselves, mind this caveat: God has chosen us in Christ. Before the foundations of the world God the Father chose God the Son to reconcile the world. Before sin, before time, before it all, God chose Jesus Christ. And by choosing Jesus Christ, by ordaining him to full humanity, God chose each and every one of us. When the church talks about predestination it often gets stuck on who’s in and who’s out. God has chosen me and, of course (naturally!) dammed everyone I don’t like. Clemson Tigers, for instance. And the Atlanta Braves.
But there’s none of that here. Here there’s only pure joy in God’s choice.
This is as simply as I can put it: before the foundation of the time God chose Jesus as the one through whom he would redeem the world. And Jesus was born and in his baptism, in his life, in his never-ending work for justice, Jesus pursued and achieved that reconciliation. That is the “yes” of God. But the “yes” was not only for Jesus, not only for his glory, but for the world. The “yes” that echoed from the waters of the Jordan into the desert of temptation has carried through to the steps of Pilgrim Covenant. Jesus Christ is the one, the one who is chosen. And for Jesus’ sake the gracious choosing, the adoption, is opened up to each of us.
God has chosen that we would belong to the Chosen. God has chosen, not from lack or constraint, not from necessity, but from living, electric, abundant love.
And what has God chosen: God has chosen us for adoption.
Now I don’t have any siblings, but I’ve heard this story a million times. The eldest child, jealous of the attention her younger sibling receives, leans in close with a secret: “you know you were adopted, right?” It’s about the meanest thing a child could say. You don’t belong here, you’re not one of us and when the time comes, you’re out. “Adoption” is often coded as a pejorative. You may hear one person say that they have a “real” sister and an “adopted” one. “Adoption” stands in for the facke. There’s something less about being the adopted one. The adopted child is less deserving, less authentic, less “us”.
You’ll hear the same thing from many adopted children—the internalized feeling that they were fundamentally, primordially rejected, that they didn’t have a fighting chance in the world, that they were alone (this is why I can never get behind double predestination). That they were undeserving, unlovable. It’s a hard thing to overcome, this deep-down feeling of not-good-enough-ness, and though perhaps more palpable in adopted children, I imagine it’s something most everyone feels.
We all worry, don’t we, about our own unworthiness. We worry that we’ll be exposed for the impostors, the fakes that we know ourselves to be. But here’s the thing about being destined for adoption. It doesn’t matter. We were adopted, called and chosen in spite of our blood, not because of our talents, not to carry on a gene, not because we deserved it. We were adopted because God, in Jesus Christ, lives in overflowing, abundant, electric love. We have been destined for adoption because the love that pours from the Godhead covers all the earth. Every last bit of it.
In abundant, rejoicing love, God has destined us, not for hell, not for damnation, but for love. We needn’t worry about having been rejected. God has called us children, and given us all the rights and privileges accorded thereto. God has chosen us according to his good will, the text says. On top of that, our being chosen, enabled through the obedient life of Jesus Christ, is one in which God delights. God does not begrudgingly choose us because we’re the only ones left in the huddle. God chooses us because God has chosen Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ has chosen the world.
It is God’s great joy to gather all things, all things in heaven and on earth, into himself. There is nothing God has not done to accomplish this choosing, nothing God will not transform to make it so. We have been chosen! Jews and Gentiles. Catholics and Reformed Protestants. Gang members in Camden and victims of gun violence in Chicago.
Now to be clear: God’s adoption does not thus erase our identity. I am a proud Southerner, and it’ll likely stay that way till I die. I’m stubborn and jealous and often too lazy for my own good. And “adoption” doesn’t simply erase the things about us that have estranged us from God and one another in the first place. But it does cover them. It covers them in a web of acceptance and love and forgiveness that connects a doorstep in South Plainsfield to a stoop in Lowcountry South Carolina.
It’s a beautiful thing. God’s blessings in Jesus Christ don’t depend on us, on our brains or beauty or brawn. Our blessings, our being chosen, our being adopted depends solely on the wild mercy of God in and through the impossible reality of And all we are asked to do, all we are commanded to do is offer glory and praise and benediction. There will be concrete things that come out of that: practicing justice, feeding the poor, clothing the homeless, taking in the widows. Transforming tax codes and rethinking corporate “ethics”. Eating better and treating folks better. God’s grace will change us into the kind of people who, recognizing our unworthiness, take joy in helping transform this already-blessed unworthy world. But for now, as the Shorter Catechism implores, our “chief end”, our foundation and our future, “is to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever.”
Some folks think this passage is about relinquishing control, about realizing that God has done everything and we can just sit back and watch it unfold. I don’t think that’s right. This is about being chosen, about being adopted before we could do a dang thing about it. This is about God’s extravagant love, not God’s calculating foresight. And for us it’s about living into that love. This is the best news. It’s now. It’s extravagant. It’s work has already been done, before the foundation of time and in that horrible moment on the cross. So for now: rejoice in the God who joyfully chooses us! Amen, Hallelujah.