THE PERFECTION OF CHRISTIANS – Ephesians 1

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love

Ephesians 1:3‭-‬4 ASV

Inherent in this is the fact of God’s calling and electing people before the foundation of the world; and very few theological questions have demanded more attention and interest than this.

Clearly revealed in this is the fact that the coming of Jesus Christ into the world for the purpose of taking out of it a people for himself and redeeming them unto eternal life was no afterthought on God’s part.

Before the world was ever created, the divine plan of the Son of God’s visitation of the human family existed in the eternal purpose of God.

That body that Christ would gather from the populations of earth is destined to receive eternal life; because what God purposes is certain of fulfillment. Such a calling and election of those “in Christ” to receive eternal glory, however, is not capricious.

Every man may decide if he will or will not become a part of it and receive the intended blessing.

Before the foundation of the world … All attempts to get rid of the plain meaning of this phrase have been futile; for, as Bruce said:

Whatever be the interpretation of Genesis 1:2, it is certain that [KATABOLE] can mean nothing but “laying down” in the sense of “establishing” or “founding”; the phrase used here and in ten other New Testament passages is unambiguous and denotes the creation of the universe.

In love … standing squarely between Ephesians 1:4 and Ephesians 1:5 may in fact belong to either, scholars being sharply divided as to where, exactly, it belongs.

If it goes with Ephesians 1:4, it would refer to the love of God for those whom he will redeem from sin unto eternal life.

Both thoughts are fully in keeping with the scriptures; and, from the involved nature of Paul’s sentence here, it might even be inferred that he intended a double meaning, true either way it may be read.

Holy and without blemish … The thing in view in this is perfection, and it is incorrect to read it otherwise than as descriptive of the state of being “in Christ.” These words apply to those whom “God chose … in him,” as stated in the first of the verse.

Of course, there is the ethical intention of God to change the moral character of people in order for their lives to conform more and more to the perfect and holy standards of the will of God; but this verse is not an affirmation that Christians achieve such holiness and perfection, but a declaration that they are credited with it!

How?

That is the fundamental question of the ages. See below:

THE PERFECTION OF CHRISTIANS

The requirement of Almighty God was bluntly stated by the Lord himself in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

This is the master imperative demanding perfect faith, perfect love, perfect obedience and perfect holiness.

This eternal demand of the Father upon the part of those who would be his children has never been repealed. Jesus referred to this when he said to the rich young ruler, “If thou wouldest be perfect, go sell … etc.” (Matthew 19:21).

Significantly, the rich young ruler was unable to “keep” all of the holy commandments; and that failure is the highlight of that episode.

Christ found no man upon earth who could keep them all. All of the apostles were weak and sinful men; Christ found no perfection in humanity.

The personal ministry of Christ, the writings of the apostle Paul and the universal experience of man reveal the inability of any mortal ever born to achieve perfection and to stand clothed with his own merit and without blemish before God himself!

This being true, how can the perfection God demands be accredited to people?

There are a number of ways in which it may not be accredited:

(1) It is not accredited by God’s merely scaling down the requirements of holiness and perfection.

The ethical and moral requirements of Christianity are higher and stricter than the Law of Moses, because the intention and motivation of men are considered.

(2) It may not be accredited through any man’s achieving it.

(3) It may not be accredited upon the basis of what any mortal man ever believed or did. Man in his own identity, man as himself, is wicked and sinful; and absolutely nothing that sinful man can ever believe or do can change that.

In his own identity, he can never be anything else except sinful and wicked.

The most preposterous heresy of all ages is that a wretched sinner can “believe in Christ”; and BINGO God accredits that stinking sinner with RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PERFECTION!

The New Testament does not have even a suggestion of such a doctrine in it.

Before any man can be saved, he must renounce himself, get rid of his own identity in the sense of its ever being perfect.

As Jesus put it:

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 16:24,25).

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it (Mark 8:34,35).

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it (Luke 9:23,24).

Deny … This is one of the strongest words in the Greek New Testament.

There is a weaker form, also translated “deny,” but it is [ARNEOMAI]; this word, translated “deny” in the above passages, is [ANTILEGO], a much stronger word; and Vine’s first definition of it is: “To deny utterly, to adjure, to affirm that one has no connection with a person, as in Peter’s denial of Christ.”

The meaning of our Lord is thus clear enough, a man must not predicate his hope of eternal life upon anything connected with himself. The faith that saves is not of sinners but of Christ.

How is the sinner’s identity renounced?

(1) He confesses, not himself, or how saved he is, or how blessed he is, or what God has done for him; he confesses not himself but Christ!

A lot of so-called “witnessing for Jesus” in these times is no such thing.

It is, on the contrary, a witnessing of the prideful egotism of persons who are obviously glorying in how wicked they were and how gloriously they are now saved!

Is the old identity of the sinner renounced or forsaken in such a “confession”?

Indeed no; the last ugly details of the old life are dragged in and made a part of the confession; and the confession itself is not a confession of Christ but a confession that one is already saved!

(2) Identity inevitably involves a name; and a change of identity means a change of name; nor did any man ever deny himself until he had accepted the name of Christ.

The Great Commission as recorded by Matthew required that people of all nations be “baptized into the Name,” there being revealed no other way by which one may lawfully wear it.

In his baptism, the person who would be saved renounces himself to be buried out of sight completely in the water.

It is precisely this that makes the God-given ordinance of Christian baptism repulsive to many people and many churches who have no intention whatever of ever denying themselves!

(3) Through faith, repentance and baptism “into Christ” the penitent rises to walk in newness of life (a new identity), being no longer himself, but Christ.

As Paul stated it: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Here then is the secret of that perfection required of all whom God will receive. It is the perfection of Christ, not of Joe Doakes, nor of any other mortal in his own identity.

What kind of righteous perfection, then, is in Christ?

It is total and complete.

Christ’s life was sinless, perfect, beautiful, holy, undefiled and glorious.

The righteousness of Christ is not relative but absolute like that of God; and that is the only righteousness that could ever save any person. How may sinners acquire it?How may such righteousness be accredited to mortals?

Since true righteousness has never been identified with but one single, unique Person in the history of the whole world, salvation is achieved in the only way possible by identifying the sinful mortal with Christ who is righteous, and upon the prior condition of the sinner’s renunciation of himself.

How may such righteousness be accredited to mortals?

Since true righteousness has never been identified with but one single, unique Person in the history of the whole world, salvation is achieved in the only way possible by identifying the sinful mortal with Christ who is righteous, and upon the prior condition of the sinner’s renunciation of himself.

This is accomplished by transferring the sinner “into Christ,” not by transferring Christ’s righteousness into sinners.

The post-Reformation theory that proposes to make sinners righteous through God’s transference of the righteousness of Christ into sinners is impossible of any intellectual, moral or practical acceptance.

To identify the righteousness of God with any person who had not achieved it would be immoral.

Calling wicked sinners righteous does not make them so (no matter what they believed or did); but the acceptance of Christ (with all members of his spiritual body) as righteous is based upon the sinless perfection of the Son of God. Paul summed it all up in one glorious word:

“That we may present every man perfect in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). It is precisely that perfection that Paul had in view in the above verse where he spoke of being “holy and without blemish”!

Under Ephesians 1:4, it was noted that the phrase “in love” may logically be referred to this verse also, as in the RSV.

The KJV, English Revised Version (1885), and RSV use three different words for the action described in this verse, as follows:

“He predestinated us …” (KJV).
“Having foreordained us …” (English Revised Version)

“He destined us in love to be his sons through Christ” (RSV)

Theologians have tried for ages to make something hard out of predestination; but the meaning is not difficult.

God designed the whole creation to accomplish the fulfillment of the plan which existed before creation.

That is a simple definition of it. It applies to human beings, planets, galaxies, everything God ever made.

Regarding people, God’s purpose in creating man was that he might become a Son of God through Jesus Christ. That is the destiny God intended for every man ever born on earth.

Stars and galaxies may not oppose or thwart their intended destiny; but with people, there is another factor, the freedom of the human will, enabling people to hinder or even prevent the fulfillment of God’s purposes in their lives. See Romans 8:29.

The subjects related to this verse are commented upon much more extensively in Romans than will be necessary here; but one primary truth should be reiterated, namely that God in designing the creation of man with the express purpose of making people his sons through Christ would most certainly not have created people in such a manner that the highest happiness of them could be achieved in the service of Satan rather than in the service of himself!

Adoption … is used here to describe the acceptance of sinners into the family of God. This is thought to refer to a Roman rather than a Jewish legal custom.

It is only one of many words that describe the relationship Christians receive when they are converted.

Thus, they are “the temple of God, the family of God, the bride of Christ, the vineyard of the Lord, the church of the firstborn, and (as here) the adoption.”

Each of these different terms describes some special and significant feature of the “new creation.”

The word adoption seems to stress the fact of the Christian’s privileges in God’s family being totally undeserved and unmerited, just as an abandoned and forsaken child may be taken into a family by adoption, such a legal action bestowing upon the child all of the rights and privileges of that family without regard whatever to any merit of the child.

Also, there is another suggestion in the fact of an adopted child’s being of a different kind (that is, a different family) from that into which it is adopted.

A glimpse of primal truth is here. Adam was created in God’s image; but he begat a son “in his own image” at a time after he had become an outright servant of the devil.

The contamination that has come down from that disaster is extensive and fundamental.

Although any such thing as total hereditary depravity is nothing but a theologian’s nightmare, those unregenerated “Adamites” who descended from the great progenitor are essentially bastards with regard to God’s family, until they shall be “born again.”

The term, meaning the same thing, is here “adoption.”

For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Romans 8:29‭-‬30 ASV
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