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4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In loveEphesians 1:4 New International Version (NIV)
Chosen in Christ
One of the most controversial doctrines of the Christian faith is election – the belief that God has chosen some for salvation and not others. ‘That’s not fair,’ many say. ‘Why doesn’t he choose everybody?’ is a frequent question. Some of the questions cannot be answered – we are, after all, dealing with an infinite God whose ways are often beyond our understanding. There are vital things about election that we can understand, however, because God has revealed them to us.
For the Christian, election is in fact a doctrine that is full of encouragement – a source of joy and thanksgiving, not a perplexing puzzle. Let’s consider some of these great truths as we turn to Ephesians 1:4 Chosen in Christ
1. The nature of election
In v3 Paul gives thanks to God the Father for ‘every spiritual blessing in Christ’. Salvation is rich and wonderful. Why do we receive such bounty? The answer is given in v4 ‘For he chose us in him…’ The origin of salvation is not in us but in the God who elects. Note 4 elements:
(i). It is sovereign. ‘he chose us’. The reference is to ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v3). This does not exclude the Son and the Holy Spirit since all the persons of the Trinity are involved in all God’s works, but it is particularly the Father to whom election is ascribed.
By its very nature, this action is an exercise of sovereign authority. The Father selects, sets apart for himself, a certain group of people. From start to finish this is God’s work. It is a bestowing of grace – love to the utterly undeserving. It is something done freely by God, not conditioned in any way by the objects of his choice. This is underlined by Paul in Romans 8:29 ‘those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son’. There ‘foreknowledge’ indicates the inauguration of a relationship of redeeming love that will result in salvation.
(ii). It is personal. ‘he chose us’. Who is in view? This cannot be confined to Paul and his original readers. The whole description is cast in terms of the universal church and the reference is clearly to all believers. But the choice was exercised before they were believers. Indeed most of those to whom Paul refers had not yet been born. The biblical evidence forces us to conclude that it is sinners whom God has elected. This fits with Romans 5:8 ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. This is the wonder of grace – it is for the unworthy.
God’s gracious election does not apply to a faceless multitude but to specific individuals. Those saved can delight in the personal love of God that they experience. Notice Paul’s reference in Galatians 2:20 to ‘the Son of God who loved me’. Election is not a cold, impersonal decree.
(iii). It is Christ-centred. ‘he chose us in him’. The identity of the one in whom we are chosen is clear from v3. It is in Christ. He is the foundation of election.
What does it mean to be chosen in Christ? We find in the New Testament clear evidence of a people being given to Christ in eternity. As he prays to the Father, he refers in John 17:6 to ‘those you have given me out of the world’. He says that he will ‘give eternal life to all those you have given him’ (v2). We also have a reference in Revelation 17:8 to names ‘written in the book of life from the creation of the world’.
For those given to him, the Son of God undertook to do all that is necessary for their salvation. In the plan of God laid before creation he took on the role of the Representative and Surety of his people – ‘he is the surety [or ‘guarantee’] of a better covenant’ (Hebrews 7:22). Christ assumes our debt of sin and at the cross discharges that debt fully. The whole of salvation centres on the person and work of Christ.
(iv). It is eternal. That is the significance of the words ‘before the creation of the world’. Before ‘time’ even existed, only the timeless God existed. Election is an eternal decree of God that is not dependent on any of his creatures. As a result, it is certain to be fulfilled. That is a great source of reassurance to his people. Our sins and failures, and there are many of them, do not thwart his purposes.
This statement also underlines the fact that election is not due to any merit in us. Think of the contrasting examples of Jacob and Esau: Romans 9:11 tells us that God chose Jacob ‘before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might stand’. Election is entirely by grace.
2. The purpose of election
Our all-wise God does all things for a purpose – nothing is random or by chance. We can therefore be sure that election is purposeful. The ultimate purpose of all of God’s works is the manifestation of his own glory. He does, however, also have other purposes in what he does. In this verse, Paul indicates what we could call the proximate purpose of election. He mentions two aspects of it:
(i). Holiness. ‘he chose us to be holy’. The outworking of the decree of election is the redemptive work of Christ which transforms those God chooses into holy people. We are changed from sinners into those who increasingly share in the holiness of God. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ‘It is God’s will that you should be holy’. At conversion sinners are declared to be holy in God’s sight. That is the justification that changes our standing in relation to God’s law. Following on from that, sinners are throughout their lives made holy in thought, word and action. That is lifelong sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit in us as we use the means of grace that God has provided. Ultimately, beyond this life, our holiness will be complete as we experience glorification. All this flows from election.
(ii). Fellowship. ‘in his sight’ or ‘in his presence’. This indicates that those who are made holy are also brought into personal fellowship with our gracious God. That is the supreme privilege conferred by election. We have living communion with the Lord. As John states in 1 John 1:3 ‘our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ’. As our holiness grows, so does the closeness of our fellowship. That is a great cause for thanksgiving and a stimulus to seek greater holiness, as we anticipate the day of perfection in glory.