“For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Do you remember Magic Eye books? They had a brief surge of popularity when I was growing up. Each picture looked like some kind of a random, repeating pattern of shapes and images when you just glanced at it. But if you looked at it just right, all of a sudden, there was something else there. I remember getting a book when I was little and spending hours trying to master the technique of seeing the hidden image. The standard approach is to hold the image right up to your nose and pull it away slowly while trying to look through it. When you got to just the right distance, your eyes would begin to perceive the depth of the 3D image hiding beneath the pattern. I finally figured out my own technique which is to cross my eyes and then slowly uncross them. What got me thinking about Magic Eye images this morning is what Paul wrote here in his opening comments in his letter to the Ephesian church. Most folks who look at it see one thing, but as I was spending some time with it recently, I saw in it something just a bit deeper. Let me share with you what I saw.
Now, maybe this is something you’ve seen before and I’m just late to the party. I’ll also note that this isn’t Paul’s main point. But it struck me as a detail worth not missing. Paul here was sharing with the Ephesian believers the wonderful news of their divine chosenness. This passage is rightly heralded for that reason. Paul lays out in glorious detail how God has chosen His followers such that none of them are there by accident. If you are a follower of Jesus, it is because you were chosen to be so. You are wanted. You are so wanted that God knew and planned for you to be in a relationship with Him before creation even began. That’s incredible!
And the news gets even better. God didn’t just pick us to be on His team, He chose us to be His own children. “He predestined us to be adopted as sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One.” We were chosen for redemption–to be saved from our sins. As those who have been redeemed, we now have an inheritance in Him. “In him we have also received an inheritance, because we were predestined according to the plan of the one who works out everything in agreement with the purposes of his will, so that we who had already put our hope in Christ might bring praise to his glory.”
Of course, this may raise in your mind a question about those who aren’t followers of Jesus. If followers of Jesus are chosen to that position, doesn’t that mean folks who aren’t are chosen to that position by default? Trying to get our hearts and minds wrapped around how God’s divine foreknowledge works is a difficult task to say the least. At the end of the day, it goes beyond our ability to fully grasp. We like to have things completely figured out and perfectly logically consistent as far as we can understand them. The trouble with that natural desire is that when it comes to something like this, if you push for perfect logical consistency, you wind up running into some pretty deep weeds pretty quickly. Ultimately this is one of those places where we have to eventually wave the mystery flag with humility, put this kind of teaching from Paul up alongside other teaching about God’s desire to see everyone saved, and lean hard into God’s character. God is just and God is love. He is all of both. He won’t let anyone be separated from Him unless they have chosen it and done so in spite of His best efforts to convince them to do otherwise. He always does what is right and His right doing is always heavily tempered with mercy.
There’s something else Paul says in v. 4 here, though, that, as I noted, I have honestly not noticed before. It’s been right there in the text the whole time. It’s just overlooked because of the surpassing greatness (and theologically challenging nature) of the rest of what He says. Somewhat to my shame, this thing I’ve overlooked is the kind of thing I regularly tell people to make sure and not miss. It’s the explanation for the teaching. It answers the natural why question we ask after the first part. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. That’s great, but why?
Look at the verse again. We were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world…to be holy and blameless in love before Him. In other words, God chose us for love and to love. Your chosenness is not about how great you are. He didn’t choose you because He thought you were going to bring anything particularly special to the table that He couldn’t find somewhere else. He knew exactly what He was getting in choosing you. After all, He made you. No, your chosenness and mine are all about how great God is. You and I were chosen to reflect that greatness. And what is one of the best ways to reflect God’s greatness? It is to reflect His character. God’s greatness comes from who He is. The more fully we can reflect who He is–His character–in our lives, the more the world will see just how great He is. And what is ultimately one of the chief hallmarks of God’s greatness? Is it not His love? Thus we are chosen to love.
Actually, Paul is more specific than that. We are chosen to be holy and blameless. That is, we are chosen to live in sinless, moral perfection–another fitting reflection of His character. But that particular means of reflecting Him has proven a dangerous road for God’s people to try and take. When we are aiming for sinless, moral perfection, we can begin to become proud of our efforts and how good we are doing. We can ease over into putting into place rules and regulations and restrictions to help others achieve the moral victories we see ourselves as having won. We can begin fooling ourselves into believing our moral goodness is something coming from within us. We become Icarus flying too closely to the sun. Self-righteousness begins to grow. That’s how Pharisees are made. Certainly the Pharisees existed before Jesus and His followers battled with them after He left, but there have been plenty of Christian Pharisees in the centuries since. It is so easy to get a few things right and start looking at ourselves as if we were better than the poor sinners living broken lives all around us. It is our duty to help make them more holy like we are. Perhaps you’ve experienced the terrible fallout from taking that path. Maybe you are still recovering from it. It’s not pretty.
This is why Paul doesn’t simply say we are chosen to be holy and blameless. We are chosen to be holy and blameless in love. We are to be perfect reflections of God’s love in and with our lives. When we get love right, the holiness and blamelessness will come along as a matter of course. When I am committed to seeing the people around me become more fully who God designed them to be, I can’t allow sin to take root in my own life because that could be a distraction for them in that goal. I can’t behave like the people around me who profess no relationship with Jesus because that will just drag them down. I must make certain that my efforts toward them are marked by kindness and generosity and patience and compassion and mercy and humility and gentleness and hope and self-control and so on and so forth. We are chosen in love and for love. This is why Jesus said it is our love for one another that will mark us as His disciples. Let’s make sure we get it right with His help. After all, we were chosen for this.