I decided to break Paul’s teaching on election into 3 posts–because Paul spoke of election quite often–I hope it has been seen and will be seen in this series that Paul is far from the only Biblical author that speaks of election in unconditional terms. I have already shown that each of the gospel writters cite Jesus speaking of an election unconditioned by anything in man, and we have seen that the apostles bore this same understanding of election in the book of Acts. Before this series is over, I intend to show how both Peter and James articulate that God sovereignly chooses prior to man coming to faith. I will also address some of the verses that are commonly assumed to contradict the doctrine of unconditional election in posts to come.
This post will center in on Paul’s teaching on election in Ephesians 1–again these posts were written with Christians who have not had theological training in mind–I am just shooting for a straightforward reading of the text.
Ephesians 1:3-6 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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
God here has chosen the believers in Ephesus before the foundation of the world. He predestined them for adoption according to the purpose of His will. This is clearly more than foreknowledge because he not only chooses but also predestines. Paul makes no indication that he is talking about Jews here. In other words Paul is not speaking merely of the corporate election of the nation of Israel. He cannot be talking about Jews because he says God chose “us.” Thus he is addressing both himself and his readers who in Ephesus were predominately Gentiles. The vast majority of commentators today understand the church at Ephesus to be made up primarily of Gentiles. See also Acts 18-20–the church at Ephesus was clearly made up Gentiles.
Some have said that these who were chosen were simply chosen to be holy and blameless and not chosen to eternal life, but that doesn’t make sense of the New Testament which clearly teaches that those who are saved must be holy and blameless (Psalm 24:3-4; Isaiah 59:2). You cannot just say that this is a choosing unto blamelessness because all believers are saved in such a way and called to live holy lives upon believing (c.f. Eph. 2:8-10). Further in these verses those who were chosen, were also adopted. Adoption is consummate with salvation is it not?
Again, I want to say that I don’t know why it is that God chose who would believe before the foundation of the world, but apparently He did. In my limited human perspective, I don’t know why God chose some before the foundation of the world and predestined them for adoption through Christ, but I know that Ephesians 1 says he did so. All I know is that he is gracious to do so and that he does so “to the praise of his glorious grace.” In other words, in the wisdom of God, the election of sinners to salvation brings Him glory and magnifies His glorious grace!
These doctrines are difficult and require patience, prayer, and unflinching dedication to the Scriptures. I think, however, they are difficult because they are hard for us to accept, not because they are not clear in scripture Please feel free to ask question in the comment meta–I will be glad to answer them as time allows. If I have been less than clear on anything, feel free to let me know!
*Side Note: For the record, I do not believe in double predestination. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it. I simply want to say that I think that the way that God saves sinners is different from the way that God sends unbelievers to eternal judgment. God soveriengnly and graciously intervenes in the life of the elect to open their eyes to His glorious grace and bring them to faith. The elect didn’t deserve this in any way–salvation is all of grace, it is completely a gift. If everyone got what they deserved we would all be in Hell because apart from the work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts, the Bible tells us we are God-haters and we worship creation rather than the Creator. The unbeliever, is handed over to the lusts of his/her flesh. To understand the difference between how God handles the elect and the unbeliever, you have to read Romans 1-3 and note the phrase God “gave them [unbelievers] over to the lusts of their flesh” etc. This seems to indicate to me that the way God deals with the unbeliever is different from the elect in the fact that God simply sovereignly allows the unbeliever to puruse exactly what he/she wants to pursue, namely more sin. Thus God merely gives them what they want–apart from Christ’s work on our hearts we all want more sin, we all want to be in charge, we want to be “god” and thus for those who die in sin–they are merely left in the state in which they want to be. Grace is the beautfiul reality that God chooses to wake up some of us to the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord and has paid the ransom for our sins on Calvary.