Text: Ephesians 1:3-6 "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. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves."
Today in the second day of the year 2000 God speaks to us of an eternal mystery, of a choice that was once made for us. Just as we did not choose to be born to live on into the third millennium this day, we did not choose to follow Christ as true God, but he chose us to be his people before the beginning of time.
Just after celebrating the birth of Christ last weekend, a story comes to us this morning from Indianapolis. It seems that a mother was to give birth on New Year’s Eve. She did give birth, to twins. One, a boy, began in the twentieth century, and the other, a girl, belongs to the twenty-first century. They came into the world just moments before and after the stroke of midnight. This story points out how the big choices in life are already made for you, if you will be born, what age you will live in, whether you will be male or female, whether you will be born into poverty or richness, healthy or weak. The big choices in life God has made for us. The little choices are up to us.
Along the lines of choice there is a great misunderstanding in much of Christianity today about how salvation takes place. By grace alone, we agree, but how does it come to us? Many people believe that God provides salvation in Jesus Christ, but we must choose to believe in Jesus. This choice idea is found almost everywhere in popular Christianity, from literature in Christian bookstores to the Promise Keepers, Billy Graham Crusades to the lyrics of many modern Christian songs. The idea is that Jesus died for you, but that has no bearing on your life unless you now choose God.
That concern does not strike the apostle Paul as he writes in our text for today, “He, that is God, chose us in him before the creation of the world.” The Bible is much more concerned with God choosing us than us choosing God.
Consider John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” .
Did Adam choose to be created? Did Abraham choose to believe in a God he did not know? Did Moses choose to lead the people from Egypt? No, he complained so much God almost had to force him. Did Jonah choose to go to Nineveh? Did Peter chose to follow Christ when he said to Jesus, “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man”? Did Paul choose Jesus when he was fell to the ground blind, saying, “Who are you, Lord?” Did you really choose to believe in God? Or, like all of these, did God choose to come to you and cause you to believe in him?
The Bible says in Ephesians chapter 2, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. Can someone who is dead choose to come to life again? Can the dog or cat you so loved at one time in life choose to come back to your house and make you happy again? Absurd! It is beyond all reason. No more can we, in the state we held before the Spirit of God came upon us, choose to come to God.
Some will quote Joshua to the people of Israel when he says, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15) But consider where and when in their lives Joshua says this. God has already chosen them and led them out of Egypt. He now asks them if they will choose to continue to remain with the Lord, or if they will fall away from him and worship false gods.
The Scripture is true and its emphasis is clear. God chose us. In his infinite wisdom that sees all things, He looked ahead across the ages and chose us to believe in him. That is for our comfort, to know that it is not mere chance that we are believers in Christ. This is why St. Paul writes, “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” If you believe in Jesus as your savior, then God willed it. All glory be to him! God reached through the depths of darkness and ignorance, across the millennia of time and into our lives and touched us.
What is the purpose of God choosing us? Paul writes in 2 Thess. 2:13 >From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has chosen us to share in his glory.
That is why we were taught the work of the Holy Spirit as confessed in the Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in God or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.”
Though at times it may seem most of Christianity around us has missed this point, we must not think that it is not important. We may feel that this should not be a point of contention in Christianity, interrupting fellowship in the Christian church. But it is a dangerous concession to make, as I can witness from personal experience.
When I was a teenager this issue brought great anguish to me. I wanted to choose Christ, I tried to give myself to Jesus. Again and again I would pray the believers prayer, asking Jesus to come into my heart. I prayed that only he would show me he was there. At a youth retreat or crusade I would give my life to Jesus, and a couple of days later I would find myself mired in sin again. I could not make myself better. My Christian friends were no help, even the adults I confided in were no help. They all told me just to try harder. At times I despaired. Still, somehow I believed that Jesus was my savior.
It wasn’t until after high school that God sent someone to show me what the Bible had said all along. “Jim, you don’t choose Jesus. He chose you. That’s what matters!” He showed me the truth of this chapter of Ephesians.
That day an inexpressible joy was opened up to me. Then I knew that God had chosen me from eternity, like he chose you and every Christian, and he came into my life when I was a child, brought before the altar and baptized. That is where he made his choice known. I have had peace in my soul ever since.
Not only does the choice of God bring us peace, but it keeps the credit where credit is due, all to Jesus. God chose to come down into the world. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. His work was to offer his holy life as the total payment for all disobedience to God. His work was complete, perfect. To say that we must now choose to believe in Jesus on our own is to say that what He did was not enough. This takes away from Christ, and is a departure from salvation by grace alone.
We honor God when we admit that if we were left on our own, we would always choose evil. But since he chose us from eternity, and came into our lives to reveal the savior, and aided by the Holy Spirit, we are now to choose the good from the bad.
One warning: we are not to question whether God’s choices are fair. Why He chooses some and not others. We don’t have God’s perspective. We don’t know why, and we should not speak for him. We do know god loves all, and we know why people are saved. God so loved the whole world, that he gave his only begotten Son.
There are choices to be made. God has already made the big choices. We must make the little choices. Guidance by the Holy Spirit leads us to choose life, closeness to God, peaceful upright lives that are of service to all people.
The miracle of satellite television took yesterday us from New Year’s Day in Red Square to somewhere in Africa, refugee camp outside Ethiopia. There were no electric lights except what the camera crews brought, not because of Y2K problems, but because there are no utilities in the desert. There were only people huddled in make shift tents against the cold. From people rejoicing in the streets to the poorest sleeping on the ground. What difference does a new millennium make to them?
The reporter went on to say that more than half of the people in world have never made a phone call. We are truly blessed with all this technology and wealth, but what are we doing with it all? Are we making a difference? What are we doing with all our riches and opportunities? Are we living for God or for ourselves? Whose purposes matter? The way we answer these questions are the choices that matter.
The way things are going it seems the new millennium will be at time of great hardship. We may avoid war for a time, but if we do not learn to share the good things of life, greed will have its way and war upon war will come. Perhaps then the end of all things will come with it. Lord, preserve us in that day.
God chose to come down and live among us. He came as a baby and lived among us in poverty, in order to die in our place, take our guilt away before the heavenly Father, and give us the riches of eternal life in heaven. That should make a big difference in our choices.
God wants us to use the good life he gives us to his advantage. He gives you the power of how you will spend you time, use your money, and spread your love. Further the kingdom of God. Be a champion of peace and justice. Demonstrate to those around you what it means to be a person chosen by God in acts of care and compassion.
Don’t wait until next year to begin this task. We may have conquered the Y2K bug, but we will not conquer time. Make a difference while you still have the choice, because age can bring with it poverty, poor health, and loss of strength. Use what time you have left in this life to serve the newborn king of Bethlehem with everything. Start in your home with your family, leading them in faithful devotion to the Lord, at work by putting all your energy into making a difference in life for others. In yourself draw closer to God through devotion and study of the word of God. This is the choice you have before you today. Will you serve yourself, or will you serve the Lord?
I can leave you today with no better words than of St. Peter, the first letter, the second chapter:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
God chose Christ to be your redeemer. God chose you to belong to him. Now you choose to follow him each and every day. Amen.
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