Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV
Verses 3-14 of chapter one form a single, massive sentence in the original Greek, so the entirely passage needs to be considered together as one big idea. As we will continue to note in the following three weeks, the phrase that litters this sentence (and throughout the remainder of the letter as well) is in Christ. Our union with Christ as a result of His perfect atonement on our behalf is the blessing of all blessings. In many ways, our study of these verses and the letter as a whole is brief gaze at the beauty of being in Christ.
As we focus upon these two opening verses of the letter proper, we should note a distinct progression of thought: first, Paul extols God as being blessed; second, he cites God’s blessing upon us as a specific reason for praising God; and third, he notes the fruit that God’s blessing should produce in us. We will, therefore, divide the sections of this study accordingly.
BLESSED BE THE FATHER // VERSE 3
The first words of the body of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians are praise to God: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The ascribing of blessing to God is not exclusive to Paul. The Psalms are especially filled with cries of Blessed be the LORD and other variations of that theme. However, if being blessed essentially means to be favored by God, how are we able to bless God? To bless God means acknowledging and proclaiming that He is the Blessed One, that He is the God from whom all blessings flow. By our praise, we do not add anything to the glory and majesty of God; instead, we simply affirm the reality that all glory and majesty and blessing belong to Him.
The placement of such praise in Ephesians is a slight break from Paul’s normal structure. In most of his letters, Paul begins the body of his epistle by giving thanks to God for the letter’s recipients, which he did give later in verse 16. Romans, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon all begin this way. Galatians, Titus, and 1 Timothy each begin with Paul launching immediately into his reason for writing those letters. Ephesians and 2 Corinthians, however, both begin with this same benediction to God (even the exact wording of this first clause is the same as in 2 Corinthians). By opening with praise to God, Paul establishes a tone of worship for the entire letter of Ephesians.
We should also note that praise throughout the Scriptures is given to God as He reveals Himself to us. We do not worship God as some kind of impersonal force or as merely the First Cause of the universe. Instead, we worship the God who throughout history has made Himself known to His people. The psalmists repeatedly cry out for the LORD to be blessed because Yahweh (the name for God that is most often represented in our English Bibles by LORD in all capital letters) is the name that God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3. They often praised God as their rock, shield, and salvation as they remember God’s faithfulness to Abraham, to the Israelites of the Exodus, to the ones who conquered Canaan under Joshua, to the kingdom under David’s reign, etc. Paul continues this biblical pattern under the light of the glory of God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. Our primary designation for God is no longer based upon His faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as our ancestors; instead, it is founded upon Him being the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, God the Father is certainly still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and even we who are Gentiles by birth are now considered children of Abraham. Amen! However, God has now been fully (of course, certainly not exhaustively) in Christ. As the Second Person of Trinity, Jesus is God. As Jesus told His disciple Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Crucially, this means that Christians do not worship the same God as those who still hold to Judaism. While there are certainly many commonalities between Christianity and Judaism since both adhere to the Old Testament as the Word of God, the two are not united. By rejecting God’s further revelation of Himself by His Son, they have also rejected the God of their own ancestors.
BLESSED IN CHRIST // VERSES 3-4
Next, we see that Paul expressed the glorious work of our blessed God: who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. It means that the Father has given us Christ. He sent Jesus as our Redeemer and Savior to rescue us from our sin. Even though we continuously rebel against God, choosing to exalt ourselves as gods and kings, God did not leave us to our justly earned damnation, as He did to the angels of Satan rebellion (2 Peter 2:4). Instead, God the Son became entirely human in order to perfectly fulfill all righteousness and then die in payment of our sin debt before God. Indeed, before we can truly under the significance of being blessed in Christ, we must comprehend our accursedness apart from Him. Without Jesus, we are doomed. We are dead men walking, and this life is the closest taste of heaven we could ever get. Yet if we are united to Christ, in Him, His blood erases our sin and His righteousness envelops us into Himself. Because in Christ His righteousness becomes our righteousness, His God also becomes our God. His Father is now our Father. The curse is broken, and blessings now pour forth. We are no longer dead but alive, and this life is the closest to hell we will ever be.
Furthermore, Paul is able to say that we are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing because Christ Himself is our great blessing. As Colossians describes, all things were created through Him, for Him, and by Him. If, therefore, Christ is the one in whom are all things and we are united to Christ, should we not rejoice in Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future— all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-22)?
Christian, soak yourself in the reality that in Christ the Father has withheld no blessing from you. Even what He withholds from us in this life, we will one day see that He did so for an even greater good than what we can presently see.
Notice now what Paul immediately connects to our being blessed in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. Here the apostle is referencing what we call the doctrine of election, the teaching that God has sovereignly chosen to save us. Given the multitude of debates regarding election both today and throughout church history, we by no means have the time for a detailed study of this doctrine. In fact, although the doctrine of election is found throughout the Scriptures, the two most explicit are often said to be Ephesians 1 and Romans 9, but even though both deal strongly with election, they are quite different in tone and intent. Within Romans 9, we find the “argument” for the doctrine, which Paul relatively presents as a bitter pill to swallow. Ephesians 1 is different. Here Paul is not presenting an argument for election; rather, he is plainly stating it as fact. Neither is he presenting election as a difficult doctrine to believe; instead, he joyously declares this to be how God has blessed us. Therefore, like the text itself, we will not now argue for election nor will we address some of the more somber matters of the doctrine.
Paul’s wording here is explicit, and it is glorious: he chose us. All who are in Christ were chosen by God. All true followers of Jesus Christ, all members of Christ’s body and bride, are God’s elect, His chosen ones. Consider the good news of this truth. No one will enter eternal life by accident. Everyone who will dwell with God for all time in new bodies upon the new earth will do so because the Creator almighty picked them. As the unathletic kid who always got picked last for games in PE, this is particularly marvelous. Notice also Paul’s description of when God chose us: before the foundation of the world. Before Genesis 1:1 ever took place, God already chose His people to be His people. How amazing does this make the grace of God!
At nineteen, the LORD gave me a clearer understanding of the gospel for the first time. Since I was seven, I truly believed in the Jesus as my Lord and Savior, but I wrestled for assurance of my salvation. I knew that only Jesus could forgive sin, yet I feared that His forgiveness of my sin was dependent upon my confession and repenting of sin. I began to experience the beautiful assurance of the gospel whenever at nineteen I realized the importance and implications of Christ’s singular death. If He died on the cross once for all and at the time of His death all my sins were future sins, then none of my sins are a surprise to Him. He forgave not only my past sins but all my sins that I have not yet committed. With that realization, I beheld the wonders of grace for the first time.
Coming to terms with God’s election before the foundation of the world was a similar experience. It added further depth to the glories of the gospel. Not only did Jesus for all my sins once for all, but even before the Father created the world through Christ, God resolved ransom me from my sins upon that Roman cross. Millennia before I existed, God chose me in Christ. The hymn is certainly correct: “Here is love, vast as the ocean, loving-kindness as the flood, when the Prince of Life, our Ransom, shed for us His precious blood.”
The great stumbling block of election is the same one as the gospel in general: it requires us to entirely cast merit aside. If this is true, then we truly cannot take any credit for our salvation. It was not of our own doing; instead, we are saved only in Christ. Furthermore, it was already decided by God long before we ever even committed our first sin. This is the glorious grace of God, and if it seems as though we have scarcely begun to discuss it, we do in fact have many more weeks to come of beholding the beauties of this good news.
HOLY & BLAMELESS // VERSE 4
Paul concludes these two verses by noting the fruit that the good news of God’s electing grace should produce in us: that we should be holy and blameless before him. The stereotype of those who hold to a Calvinistic soteriology (or what we may call the doctrines of grace) is that a belief in unconditional election negates any meaningful call for holiness or evangelism. The apostle clearly did not think that to be the case. Here Paul presents holiness and blameless living as the presumed kind of life we are to live after coming to faith in Christ.
This, of course, does not imply that all Christians will live sinless lives after believing in Christ. By no means! Sin is a daily, if not hourly, reality that we will continue to grapple with until we either go to be with the Lord by death or He returns for us here. We will never be fully free from the hold of sin in this life. However, we should yearn to live a life of holiness and blamelessness. While sin is hideous reality, we do not become comfortable with it. In light of God’s grace, we now see with clearer vision the heinous nature of our transgressions, and we are rightly revolted by our continual compulsions to keep sinning. Being in Christ, we long to be like our Lord, holy as He is holy and blameless as He is blameless.
Let us, therefore, bless our God with praise as we cling to beauty of His electing us before the world was made. And let us also devote ourselves to lives of holiness in imitation of our Savior who has redeemed us from all our sins.
 Paul also asks the Ephesians to pray for his bold sharing of the gospel in 6:19-20; therefore, he clearly did not see a contradiction between the necessity of evangelism and the reality of God’s sovereign election.