The following sermon was prepared by Cobus Bezuidenhout. Click here: The Sovereignty of God, to download or stream the audio sermon, or click here: The Sovereignty of God, for the video version. Alternatively, you can read the notes below, or follow along as you watch or listen.
Good morning CBC family,
It’s a great privilege for me to bring you the Word of God this morning.
Even if it is via a screen again.
But hopefully things will change soon, let’s hope that after tonight’s presidential address, churches will be allowed to gather again.
Well, I want to ask you to please turn with me in your Bibles to the letter to the Ephesians.
We will be looking at Ephesians chapter 1, and specifically verses 1 through 6.
Just by way of introduction, this letter to the Ephesians along with Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon are known as the prison letters of Paul, since he wrote all of them whilst he was imprisoned. Most scholars agree that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians while he was under house arrest in Rome somewhere between 57 and 62 AD.
Now, in these verses that we will be looking at this morning, we will see that Paul calls on fellow believers to worship God, and the reason being: because God has so abundantly blessed us.
In fact, the text says that He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.
So, please follow along as I read from Ephesians chapter 1, beginning in verse 1. I am reading from the NASB.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love
5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
May the Lord bless the reading of His Word.
Before we continue, let’s just turn to the Lord in prayer.
Many years ago, Johnson Oatman wrote a very famous hymn.
He titled this hymn “Count your blessings.”
Allow me to read you a short portion of this Hymn.
When up-on life’s billows you are tempest toss’d, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you, what the Lord hath done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear? Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly, And you will keep singing as the days go by.
When you look at others with their lands and gold, Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold; Count your many blessings wealth can never buy, Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small, Do not be disheartened, God is over all ~
Are you perhaps in a position where circumstances are driving you up against the walls?
So much so that you haven’t given your position in Christ much thought lately? The only thing on your mind lately is; just trying to find ways to keep your head above water?
If this is you, then I want you to pay special attention to what we will be looking at this morning.
I want to invite you to forget about all that is happening in your life right now, and just stand back with me, take a deep breath, and let’s just gaze upon God for the next few minutes.
Let’s just look at the One who is in control of literally everything.
Let’s meditate on the One who alone is sovereign, and as we do this, let’s allow this morning’s text to remind us of our position in Christ.
Let’s be reminded about who is in control, and let’s be amazed again by the implications and richness of the spiritual blessings that we have been blessed with.
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My prayer is that by the end of this message, everyone who listens to this will be encouraged, and excited by these truths that we will be looking at.
I know that everybody in some way or another are discouraged, whether it is by what is happening globally with Covid, or what has recently been taking place in our own country, whatever it may be, I hope that what we are about to re-discover today will cause you to continue with a joyful heart.
Knowing that God is in control, and that no matter what, if you are in Christ, then your destiny is secured.
Many of us know these things but as I said earlier, we are so overwhelmed with what is happening around us that we do not think on these truths as often as we should, and hence we tend to forget them.
So, I want to propose to you today that because God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, we must worship God with thankful hearts even if the world around us seem to be falling apart.
As the writer of that hymn wrote;
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly, and you will be singing as the days go by.
So, let’s look at some of the reasons Paul gives us, on why we ought to be so joyful and worshiping God.
Paul begins this letter to the Ephesians in the same way he does many of his other letters in the Bible.
He starts by identifying himself as the writer of this letter, and immediately thereafter identify himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus.
Now, I know we often skip over these openings of Paul’s letters, but as a matter of fact, what he says here is extremely important.
Being an apostle is not something insignificant, being an apostle implies that Paul was personally called by Christ Jesus, and sent forth with authority to represent Christ everywhere they go.
Now, in order to qualify as an apostle, one had to meet certain requirements for this office.
Several things had to be true before one could legitimately claim to be an apostle of Christ.
First, they had to have been called by Jesus Christ Himself, in other words ‘personally’.
Let me give you a verse to support this:
It reads as follows:
13 And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.
The second requirement that was necessary was that an apostle actually saw the resurrected Lord Jesus.
To support this, let’s look at what is written in Acts 10:40-41 –
40 “God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible,
41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
The third and final requirement was that the apostle had to be able to demonstrate the ‘signs of a true apostle’, in other words an apostle had to have the ability to work miracles.
To support this, we can turn to 2 Corinthians 12:12 –
12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.
According to 1 Corinthians 15:8 we read that Paul was the last person to be called as an apostle.
Let me just read this verse to you too –
8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
So, just to be clear, in order to qualify as an apostle, you had to meet all three these requirements, not only one or two of them, but all three.
This then raises the question; can there still be apostles today?
Well, according to what we just said there answer is a definite NO!
You may be wonder why am I going on about apostleship.
The reason being, I want you to understand that apostles were appointed by Christ, they were appointed by Christ to deliver a specific message, thus what Paul writes in his epistles isn’t theories or ideas which Paul came up with himself.
He does teach these things from his own authority, but under the authority of Christ, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote down these truths that we will be looking at now.
These are truths that can be somewhat hard to digest for some, and therefore it is of at most importance to understand that these truths aren’t man’s own ideas, but truths conveyed to believers under the authority of Christ, and truths inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Next Paul says that he is an apostle by the will of God.
This implies that he did not appoint himself as the numerous self-appointed apostles we get today.
Paul did not become an apostle because he thought it would be the right thing to do, in fact Paul had nothing to do with him being appointed as an apostle.
He became an apostle for one reason and one reason only – God willed it so.
See Paul understands that he has nothing to boast about, he cannot take any credit for this office that God has placed him in.
If Paul’s life and his future had to depend on his own will, he still would have been a pharisee persecuting the Church.
He still would have been on the broad way leading to eternal death, but it is God’s sovereign will that is always at work, and because it was God’s sovereign will to give Paul grace, Paul went from being the chief of sinners to being saved by grace.
And all of this because God sovereignly predestined Paul to be an apostle, and a sinner saved by grace.
In the same way God also sovereignly predestine our lives, the fact that you were born in a specific country, in a specific city, town, or village was sovereignly predestined by God.
Even the family which you were born into – even the day you came to faith has been sovereignly predetermined by God.
I know that many people are not comfortable with the teaching that God predestined some sinners to be saved. But those who does not necessarily agree with this view, they miss out on one of the most comforting blessings there is in this life.
And that is knowing that you are saved because God sovereignly predetermined that you will be one of those to whom He will give grace.
Understanding that our salvation is dependent on God’s grace, and not on our own merit, offers us that kind of peace that surpasses all understanding.
My prayer is that those of you listening who haven’t found this peace yet, that through God’s Word this morning you too will find that peace.
And that you too will understand how much God has blessed us.
Now, in verse 2 Paul expresses his prayer of blessing upon his readers, and specifically that they’ll experience, and come to grasp enough about God’s grace so that they too can have that peace that surpasses all comprehension.
You see, when you do not understand God’s grace and all the implications of God’s grace, then you will not experience that peace I am talking about. Another blessing that comes as a part of that kind of peace is the assurance of salvation.
Which is something everyone wants, we do not want to be doubting our salvation, no – we want to know for sure that we are saved – don’t we?
So, what I am saying is that God has blessed His children with so much grace, that we too can know for sure that our lives, our future is secure because God is sovereign, and as the Bible teaches us – God predetermined everything.
Hence, understanding that you and I have been saved by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus, and understanding that we cannot do anything do earn grace or faith, that none of this comes from ourselves but is a gift from God – understanding this gives me that peace and assurance that nothing I do can change what God has already predetermined.
Now, I know what I am saying may not make total sense to everybody right now, but bear with me, as we continue, and we look at the next couple of verses then I am sure you will understand what I mean.
In verse 2 Paul refers to God as our Father. This is something else I think we do not give enough thought.
How often do we think of God as someone who is far away, and not really interested, or directly involved in our lives?
This may be something we can expect from our earthly fathers, but not of God. God is not far removed from us, nor is He unconcerned, or uninvolved in our lives.
No – God is very much involved in our lives, and He cares much more than any earthly father could ever care for his children.
… Something else I want to point out here is that in verse 2 Paul refers to God as our Father, in verse 3 Paul says: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This may sound like to common knowledge to most people, but do we really grasp the significance of what is being said here?
Apart from the fact that God the Father of Christ Jesus is also our Father, Jesus Himself is also our Brother, our older Brother so to speak.
So, our older Brother Jesus – the God-Man, who also happens to be The Christ, the Anointed One, the Lord of lords, who has been given all authority according to Matthew 28:18 which reads as follows-
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
And it’s this Lord Jesus Christ, who is our older Brother.
Do you see how much God has blessed us?
Not only is God our Father, but Christ is also our Brother who is Lord over all, meaning everything that exists is His – and we are part of all this, but not because we have done something in order to earn this, but because God has so predetermined it.
All of this because of God’s grace.
How does this make you feel, being a brother or a sister of the Lord Jesus Christ?
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This reminds me about Joseph in the Old Testament. Remember when Pharaoh placed everything under Joseph’s rule. Can you imagine what his brothers must have felt like when they discovered that their brother was in charge of everything in Egypt?
Now how much more excited should we be?
Our Brother is not only in control of Egypt, He is in control, and He is Lord over everything!
My life, your life, my future and your future, everything has been placed under His rule.
You may think to yourself, OK, that sounds all good and well, but how can I be sure that my older Brother is really concerned about my life, why would He be thoughtful of me?
Well, my answer to that question is: Jesus Christ cares so much about you that He laid down His life for you.
Not only did He die for you, He also took your sins, your guilt, the wrath of God which you deserve upon Himself.
Now do you still doubt the fact that He really cares about you?
I don’t think anyone can fully comprehend how blessed we are, but let’s continue to dig for more truths from our text.
As we read these verses, we are looking at today, especially verses 3 through 6, have you also sensed Paul’s excitement? It’s almost as if you can feel his excitement.
He is so overwhelmed with excitement that he can’t help but to call God’s children to worship, and then Paul starts layering one blessing upon the other.
So, why is Paul so excited? We tend to read over these first couple of verses without giving it proper thought.
So, let’s stop and think about what Paul is revealing here in this passage.
So, one thing that stands out here in verse 3 is that we are not blessed in a small way, but Paul says God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.
Now the ‘every’ means that we are blessed with all heavenly blessings, not only some of them, not most of them, but every, meaning nothing has been excluded.
So, we know that God the Father is the source of all our spiritual blessings, we also see now that Christ is the instrument through whom all these blessings became ours, verse 3 says “in Christ.” This is extremely significant, you see, if it wasn’t for our older Brother, none of these blessings would’ve been ours. Nothing spiritual, nothing eternal is obtainable apart from Christ.
Like I said earlier, we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ, and Christ alone. There is only one way, one door, one Lord and one Savior – and that is Jesus Christ – full stop.
Something else I want to add here is: “the heavenly places” Paul mentions here.
God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
You may be thinking:
“Well, I am still here on earth, how does spiritual blessings in heavenly places benefit me here and now?
I would like to answer that question in two ways:
First, I suspect that Paul is actually emphasizing the actual origin of the spiritual blessings.
Because if these blessings were from around here, then that would mean that they too would be perishable, but they are not something perishable, they are eternal blessings.
They are of such nature that no moth or rust can destroy it, nor can anyone steal it.
These blessings belong to God’s chosen children for ever and ever.
The second part of my question is, God shares this knowledge about our spiritual blessings in heavenly places, to give us hope.
And Yes, I agree, we have not received every spiritual blessing yet, there are still numerous blessings that will only be ours fully, in the next life.
Scholars actually has a phrase for this; they talk about “Already but not yet.”
So, God shares all these truths with us now, so that we can have hope, it also gives us peace – that peace that surpasses all understanding.
Because we know where our blessings come from, and we know through whom we obtained them.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these blessings Paul mentions here.
But before we do, I just want to recap a bit on God’s sovereignty.
We have already established that God sovereignly rules over everything, He also predetermined everything in His sovereign will.
Even the fact that you and I believe, and have faith has been predetermined by God.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul explains it as follows:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
God is the one who decides to whom He will give the gift of salvation, we cannot ‘work’ for our salvation, otherwise salvation will not be a gift but a kind of payment.
And understanding this truth, understanding that God is sovereign even in electing us unto salvation – removes that enormous burden of one’s shoulders which demands that we have to ‘work’ for our salvation.
We do not work for our salvation – we are being saved by grace, through faith in Christ alone.
And once you grasp this, then it is possible to praise God amidst times of trouble, day after day.
Because you understand that your destiny is secured in Christ.
And you received this blessing as a gift!
Isn’t that wonderful?
Do you now understand why Paul is so excited?
I just want to add this though…
I am not saying that we as Christians can now sit back and do as we please. I am not promoting easy-believism.
We still are accountable for every discission we make, for every action we take, every word we speak.
The Bible is clear, we will one day give an account for how we lived our lives.
No, we will be held accountable, we still have responsibilities, and we must strive towards living holy lives.
We still have to conform to the likeness of Christ.
So, God does share these truths with us so that we can sit back and think, “oh well, I am saved any ways, so I might just as well do as I please.”
No! As I said God shares these truths with us to give us hope, to encourage us, to help us understand where we heading, so that while we are going through all kinds of trials we can know: “this is only temporary, I know what lies ahead, I know where I am heading.”
This reminds me – shortly after Ronel and I got married, we went for a 3-day hike with friends of ours there at Magoebaskloof.
Now, the first day was OK, the hills weren’t to steep, the distance we had to hike wasn’t so bad.
But the next day was not so pleasant at all.
The trail was a lot harder, and the distance we had to cover was something out of this world, or at least it felt like it. At one stage I thought we are never going to make it to the cabin.
I felt discouraged, I felt hopeless!
And as I started thinking to myself, I whish we never even considered this hiking trip, I saw something shiny there down in the valley.
I realized it the cabin’s roof reflecting the sun.
Man, was I glad to get a glimpse of hope. Just seeing the roof of the cabin gave me all the hope and encouragement I needed to finish the rest of the trail with a joyful heart.
Because I knew, the cabin is just around the corner, I knew for sure that I will be able to kick off my boots, and enjoy a nice shower soon.
And it is for this same reason God shares these wonderful truths that we find in Scripture with us.
It’s to give us hope, to encourage us to continue to fight the good fight until He takes us home.
Listen to what David wrote in Psalm 31:24 –
24 Be strong and let your heart take courage,
All you who hope in the Lord.
Now, remaining strong, taking courage, and holding on to one’s hope in Christ isn’t always easy – is it?
Just imagine how hard it would be if you did not understand anything about God’s sovereignty, nothing about His grace.
Do you see how blessed we are just by being in a position where we may know these wonderful truths?
Just the fact that we may know that God the Father has blessed us, He has chosen us in Christ, and nothing or no one can snatch us from His hand – just the knowledge of this is such a huge blessing.
Do you see how this loosens you up to worship God for all that He has already done, instead of worrying about your future destiny?
This gives you as a Christian that peace that I was talking about earlier, and it is a peace that the world cannot, and will not experience.
Let’s quickly go through the last 3 verses of our text.
Now in verses 4 through 6 Paul basically takes these truths that we have been looking at so far, and he drives them in deeper and deeper like someone who drives a nail into a piece of timber.
These are truths that Paul wants his readers to fix securely on the tables of their hearts.
Verse 4 says that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
This passage is so clear, we are NOT saved because somehow – we have done something to earn our salvation.
It says that God chose us.
We did not choose Him.
I just want to read you a few verses from Ephesians chapter 2, we have already looked at a portion of it, but listen to what Ephesians 2:1-9 says:
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Now – based on what we just read, we clearly see that we were DEAD in our sins.
How can a created being who is dead, whilst in that condition chose to live? That is impossible, it is only possible if God sovereignly chooses to make certain individuals alive.
If God doesn’t choose to save a person, then that person will not be able to do anything from his or her side to cross over from death to life.
So, God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.
We know that none of us are perfectly holy, nor even close to blameless before God yet.
But this again is one of those “already, but not yet” situations.
We haven’t arrived yet, but we are on our way, this is the purpose of our lives – apart from glorifying God – the purpose of our lives is sanctification – the process of being formed, and moulded into the image of Christ.
In verse 5 we find that word that makes certain people’s hair stand up. Predestined – but we cannot argue against what the Word says, can we?
It means that before the foundations of the world God already predestined some people to be adopted as His children. This is simply reaffirming what we just discussed a moment ago.
We did not, we cannot, we will not choose God, even if our lives depend on it – we are saved because God took the initiative.
The rest of verse 5 is clear, we were adopted through Christ, not through any other way – Christ alone.
And according to the Father’s will, not according to our own will.
And now in verse 6 we find the reason why God chose to do all these things; the blessings, the choosing, the predestination, the adoption – all of this – to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
Who is the Lord Jesus Christ?
You see, everything God does, He does for His own glory.
And therefore, God saves by grace, through faith in Christ, not of ourselves, but as a gift, so that no one can ever boast – except in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the work He has accomplished on the cross on our behalf.
Not of ourselves, but through Christ alone.
Beloved, do you see how blessed we are? My prayer is that what you have seen here today will bring you to that place where you are so overwhelmed by God’s grace – that you too – like Paul will say – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – For He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.
Let’s pray –