Why do you praise God? Why do you worship Him and give Him glory? Why do you sing to Him in church or in your car? Such a question most Christians never consider; it is something that is usually taken for granted, something that we simply do as Christians. Indeed, such is who the Christian is; the Christian is “born again” by the Spirit of God (John 3) and given a new heart of flesh to replace the old stony heart (Ezekiel 36:26). Dr. James Whitmire, my professor for Introduction to Worship while in seminary, was fond of the quote by Allen and Borror, “When a non-singer becomes a Christian, he or she becomes a singer.”1 Succinctly put, we worship God because He has transformed us into worshipers.
The Apostle Paul in the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians says this in a wonderful doxology that is one long sentence in the Greek (Vv. 3-14). In this single sentence, the Apostle praises God for His blessings mediated through Christ (Vv. 3-6) and introduces the letter’s major themes, including God’s plan of salvation (Vv. 5, 9) and the work of the Spirit (V. 14). The Scottish theologian and missionary John Mackay, who became the third President of Princeton Theological Seminary, called this “the mighty symphony of salvation.” The Apostle begins, “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 (Ephesians 1:3, NIV).
Now, it is very important to note that the word translated “Praise” is the noun form of the verb that is later translated “blessed” in this verse. Therefore, we “praise” or “bless” Him because He has “blessed” (or, “spoken well”) of us “in Jesus.” Christianity is the only worldview on earth that begins with God; if one turns to other religions or the media or magazines, the focus is typically on man’s search for God. Yet, the Bible tells the exact reverse; the Bible begins with man hiding from God and God taking the initiative, calling out to man. The Bible says, “there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12; cf. Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20). Yet, the Apostle is not finished, going on to explain the two ways in which the Lord has blessed us “in Jesus,” saying (Ephesians 1:4-6, my translation):
For just as He personally chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without fault before Him, in love He decided in advance to adopt us as His children through Jesus Christ, according to the good purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in His Eternal Beloved.
That is incredible and staggering; the first way in which the Father has blessed us is that He Himself – He personally – chose us as individuals before the world even existed. The word ἐξελέξατο, exelexato, usually translated “he chose,” is in the Middle Voice, representing the subject acting with reference to itself, and therefore, refers to God personally choosing us for Himself. It does not say that God chose a certain type of people, namely those he knew would believe; the Apostle says that God personally chose us, Paul including himself as an individual. Before God had decided to create anything, He knew us personally and He chose us for Himself. The Apostle also says this in Romans 8:29, saying, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” God knew persons before the creation of the world, not merely facts about those persons; he knew us relationally.
Yet, what was the purpose of His choosing us? God makes many choices throughout Scripture; here, He chose us, “that we should be holy and without fault before Him,” that is, that we should be justified and that we live in such a way that reflects our justification. The word “holy” refers to someone or something that is “set apart” for service to God and is the same word translated as “saints” in verse 1 of the letter. Yet, the Apostle also says that God chose us that we should be “without fault,” that we should also walk in the holiness we have been set apart for as saints. We have been “set apart” and we ought to live as people “set apart.” The people to whom the Apostle is writing are “God’s holy people in Ephesus,” those whom God set apart for Himself before the world existed, that they may also live as people set apart. Our election in Christ was not an historical afterthought, but was a divine resolve that goes all the way back into eternity before creation. Paul himself is overwhelmed by this as he unfolds it, that a wretch like him – so smug, self-satisfied, religious, and so convinced he had it right, “the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) who had rebelled against God and disabused His church – had been personally chosen by that God before the world existed.
Of course whenever one comes to this teaching in the Bible someone will inevitably say, “It cannot possibly mean this because I was the one who decided to believe in Jesus.” The answer to such a question is, “Yes, of course you decided.” However, neither you nor I would have been able to make that decision if God had not first decided on us before the creation of the world. The reason any of us are saved is ultimately because of the eternal councils and will of God, not because we decided on our own to believe (John 1:13). We have a personal relationship with God as Christians but how we got into that relationship was entirely God’s doing. If salvation was a personal decision on our part then not one person in the entire human race would make it to heaven because “there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). Those of us who are saved are saved because God interfered with our will to choose so we would believe; those who will ultimately be lost, however, God left to go their own way.
So, does this mean that none of us are responsible for what we do? Do we not have the responsibility to trust in Jesus Christ? Some say that one must either believe in the total providence and sovereignty of God and reject the notion of man’s responsibility, or one must believe in the responsibility and freedom of man and reject the sovereignty of God. Both of those notions are bad ideas, and thus, some say that what must be done is to collapse the two views into one so you sort of believe both while not believing either. Yet, what one is actually left with is a gallimaufry that has no practical value and makes little sense. What must be done is that both things must be believed in their entirety because both things are taught. We cannot partially believe any teaching in the Bible merely because we cannot comprehend it. When the prince of preachers Charles Spurgeon was asked how he reconciles these things, he said, “I don’t; there is no need to reconcile friends,” and the remarkable John R.W. Stott further said, “It is not likely that we shall discover a simple solution to a problem which has baffled the best brains of Christendom for centuries.” This has baffled Christians for centuries because the answer lies in God Himself – it is an antinomy, two self-existent truths sitting side-by-side both entirely true and yet, from a human perspective irreconcilable. Therefore, the Apostle calls for us in verse 3, the beginning of the sentence in Greek, to bow down in wonder, giving Him praise.
The second way in which the Father has blessed us is that “in love He decided in advance to adopt us as His children through Jesus Christ.” Not only did He choose to justify us before the world existed but He decided at that time to set His affection on us individually as His children. The doctrine of election is biblical, it is difficult, and it is profitable, but it should not be a banner under which we march pridefully, nor should it be a bomb to drop on people in debate. The doctrine of election is to be a bastion for our souls, bowing down in the amazing awareness of the fact that we are who we are in Christ because before the dawn of time the Father set His affection on us as individuals in His Son.
My favorite life-verse is Proverbs 3:5-6 which says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understandings. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” The hardest part of trusting in the Lord is to lean not on what we understand; the second hardest part is acknowledging God’s presence in everything that happens in this life. It does not matter what it is that happens; whether you receive a special recognition from your workplace or whether a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, God is the one who is ultimately responsible for the good and the bad. The Apostle writes to the Corinthians, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16b-17). God has a purpose for everything that happens to us in this life; nothing happens by chance; and if we are believers, it is all working together for our good (Romans 8:28).
- Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror, “Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel.” Wiph and Stock Publishers. Eugene, OR., 157.