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Love of God in Christ

“Blessed is God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; blessing us with every spiritual heavenly blessing in Christ, just as he elected us in Him before the foundation of the cosmos to be holy and blameless before Him in love.”

(Ephesians 1:3-4)

The last clause in these verses is one that might go by us quickly were we not looking carefully at the text. Depending on the English translation you happen to be using, sometimes “in love” is considered the beginning of a new sentence, thus tying it to verse 5 rather than to verse 4. The argument there is that verse numbers were assigned much later than the text was written and are not part of the inspired text, and so it is not unheard of to suggest that the scholars might have placed verse numbers slightly differently.

The real question has to do with which part of the phrasing that “in love” applies to on a conceptual level. The English Standard Version, along with several other translations, connects the “in love” with verse 5, understanding the “in love” as a description of how God predestines believers for adoption. In contrast, the King James, along with other (mostly older) translations, prefers to connect the “in love” clause with verse 4, understanding the clause to refer to the way that God elected a people to be holy and blameless.

Does it really make a difference? In the big picture, no. God is a God who elects and is a God who is loving. All he does, he does in a way that is perfectly consistent with his character, so both election and adoption are an outworking of God’s love. Indeed, connecting the clause with verse 5 has the advantage of emphasizing that this adoption of God’s elect is an act of God’s divine love. At the same time, God’s predestining and adoption are the natural outworking of his electing work.

Perhaps one may approach the question more clearly by first asking the question as to who is the object of this love? If one weds the phrase “in love” one is presuming that the object of the love happens to be those who God has adopted. If one connects this clause with verse 4, one might instead argue that God’s electing work (and setting apart a people to be holy and blameless) is an outworking of God’s love for us in Christ. Thus, this makes Christ the object of God’s love and the election of God a refection of God’s love for his Son.

Yet, is this not what is taught in the New Testament? Paul writes in Romans 8:38-39:

“For I have been persuaded that neither death nor life, angels nor powers, neither that which has been nor that which will be, neither powers nor heights, neither depths nor any other creature is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Or in the words of Jesus from John 14:23:

“Jesus answered them and said, ‘If anyone loves me, he keeps my word and my Father will love him; we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Approaching the text in this matter does not deny the many places where the Bible clearly states that God loves us (e.g. 1 John 3:1 and 4:9), but it does affirm that the reason for God’s love is not arbitrary. God loves us because we are elected in His Son. Or, one might word it this way: because God loves his Son with an infinite and indescribable love, we who are part of Christ’s body are recipients of that love — the love of God is mediated, as it were, in Christ.

Elected to Holiness

“Blessed is God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; blessing us with every spiritual heavenly blessing in Christ, just as he elected us in Him before the foundation of the cosmos to be holy and blameless before Him in love.”

(Ephesians 1:3-4)

It is worthwhile to dwell on this notion that God has elected his people for a purpose. And that purpose is that we be “holy and blameless before Him in love.” In Christian circles, the word “holiness” is one that is used heavily but often misunderstood. People usually think that a “holy” person is a person who is exceptionally godly and spiritual. And while that ought to be the case, such is not what the word actually means.

Holiness refers to be set apart for God’s use and for his purposes. For instance, the clothing that Aaron and his sons would wear in their official capacity was set apart as holy (Exodus 28:2). These garments were for Aaron’s work in the temple. They were not to be worn casually or in his daily routine as it were, but he was to use them for God’s work and for God’s purposes. The same thing can be said of the other items in the Tabernacle and around the altar. They were set apart for God’s use alone and not for common usage. 

Yet, not only were the things of the Tabernacle and then the Temple set apart as holy, so too was Aaron (Exodus 28:36-38) and further, the people of God were also referred to as “Holy to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 7:6). And, if one would be tempted to suggest that this is only an Old Testament statement, the Apostle Peter cites the language from Leviticus 11:44 about the people of God being “holy as God is holy” and applies that to Christians (1 Peter 1:14-16). That means, as Christians, we have been set apart as holy to God — chosen by God and set apart for his purposes. The world may seek worldly pleasures but that does not belong to our being — we are called to pursue the blessedness of God (as Paul already mentioned) which is far greater than anything this earth can afford us.

How often Christians get their minds and priorities turned upside down. How often they forsake their calling to be holy and how often we slip into sinful ways and practices instead of pursuing the blessedness of God. And, how often the “godliness” that we often associate with holiness is seen as something for someone else to strive toward and not for us. Every word, every action, every thought that fills your life and your days is something that should be seen as being used for the glory of God.

This does not mean that every Christian is called to be a pastor, a missionary, or a street evangelist. What it does mean is that every Christian is called upon to point others toward Christ in their daily activities. This does mean that every Christian is called to live their lives deliberately that we may seek to please God in all we do, that we may seek opportunities to point others to faith and repentance in all we do, and that we are to seek to live and act in such a way that the name of Christ is not besmirched by our actions.

How remarkably sad it is when Christians compromise their holiness for worldly things. How remarkably sad it is that many Christians are willing to strive for excellence in worldly things yet compromise eternal things. As Americans, we often celebrate those Christians who are professional athletes in our midst. Yet, how many of them break the Sabbath because it happens to be “game day.” And no, there is no amount of argument that you can give that will convince me that watching or playing football on Sundays is “doxological” in nature. We are called to set apart the day as holy, not the hour. And holy is God’s use alone.

The Christian doctrine of holiness is not a convenient one nor is it an easy one in our day and age. Yet, it is meant to further set Christians apart to a different kind of lifestyle than is the world. Yes, the world may pursue earthly pleasures. Yes, the world might treat the Lord’s Day as the second day of the weekend — a chance to get things done, go shopping, and be busy with things of personal interest. True, it may be relaxing to go to eat on a Sunday, but you are breaking the Sabbath by employing others to provide for your leisure. These are things that Christians rarely ever contemplate. 

God did not elect a people so that people could spend their time however they wanted and then enjoy eternity. May that never be said. God elected a people to be set apart for his use and to find our pleasure in His blessedness, not in worldly things. That does not make us ascetics, but it does mean that we distinguish between worldly and divine and that even when we might enjoy a worldly pleasure, like a good meal or good fellowship, we recognize it as a good gift from God. If you are a Christian, you have been called to holiness; pursue it without reservation, it is what you have been set apart to do.