The Father’s Glory in Election
Last Sunday we saw from Ephesians 1:3-14 that salvation from eternity to eternity is for the praise of the Triune God. The latter half of verse 3 is the ground why God is worthy to be praised. Then Paul goes on to expound on the specifics, namely the spiritual blessings that God blessed us with in the heavenly places in Christ from verses 4-14. Today we will look at the electing work of God the Father in verses 4-6, and we will try to answer the following questions:
How does the conjunction “just as” in verse 4 work as it relates to verse 3?What is the meaning of the clause “God chose us in him”?
What’s the relationship between election and predestination?
What is being modified by the prepositional phrase “in love”?
How is love for the praise of the glory of God’s grace?
Just as He Chose us(vv. 3-4)
Verse 4 starts with the conjunction “as, or just as, or even us”. Is it working as a comparison? Indeed it can be used that way, just like in Ephesians 4:32-5:2, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you..Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Here it is used as a point of comparison. However, it can also be used as an explanation like in Ephesians 3:2-3. Here Paul explains that what he’s talking about, namely how God made him a steward of grace is that which he wrote briefly. So in Ephesians 1:3-4, Paul is not comparing the giving of spiritual blessings with verses 4-14, but rather he’s expounding on the contents of it.
Every Christian Believes in Election
So first on the list is the Father’s choice and predestination. Verse 4 says, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love”. Now all Evangelical, or at least most will agree that there’s election and that God did it before the foundation of the world. It says so in the text and in other places in scriptures like 1 Corinthians 2:7, and 2 Timothy 1:9. The disagreement is whether election is unconditional or conditional or that election is only corporate and not individual. The issue is not in the phrase “before the foundation of the world”, but on the phrase “in him”, that is God chose us in him. The pronoun “him” is referring to Christ. So we will turn now to the question “What is the meaning of the clause ‘God chose us in him’?”
He Chose us in Him(vv. 4-6)
There are at least three possible interpretations of verse 4:
- Corporate Election Only : The Father chose Christ, not individuals.
- Election Based On Foreseen Faith : The Father chose individuals on the basis of their own self determined foreseen faith(Romans 8:29).
- Unconditional Election of Individual : The Father chose individuals unconditionally.
The first option is not true for the following reasons:
- The grammar of the text will not permit it, because the wording is not “he chose Christ”, but rather “he chose us”.
- Other passages explicitly teach individual election(1 Corinthians 1:26-31, Romans 9:3-12, Revelation 13:7-8, John 17:6, John 6:37, John 6:44-66, John 10:25-26).
The second option is not true as well for the following reasons:
- Knowing in Romans 8:29 is not just mere cognition(Genesis 18:17-19, Amos 3:2, Psalm 1:5-6).
- Golden chain of salvation (Romans 8:29-30)
- Calling enables faith(Romans 8:30, 1 Corinthians 1:22-24)
- Election secures faith(Acts 13:48)
Arguments for the third option:
- The Father’s choosing is in relation to Jesus, that is there is no election without Jesus. The point being made from verses 3-14 is that every spiritual blessing is in Christ. And therefore it is only natural that Paul will include election as being in Christ and not without Christ.
- Purpose of election and predestination:
- God chose us in order that we might become holy and blameless before him in love(vv. 4b)
- He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ(vv. 5a). And we know that adoption is through faith in Jesus Christ, however, predestination’s purpose is adoption. That is to say that the ultimate means to that end is predestination, not faith. Therefore, God’s choice cannot be based on a foreseen faith.
- Ground of election and predestination :
- God predestined us on the basis of the good pleasure of his will(vv. 5b)
- God predestined us according his purpose (vv. 11)
- God works all things according to the counsel of his will(vv. 11).
Therefore both the ground and purpose of God’s election is not found in us but in God and yet it is not apart from the redeeming work of Christ. The ground of election is God’s will and the purpose of his will is the praise of the glory of his grace(vv. 5-6, vv. 11-12, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31). In other words election is meant to silence all boasting in ourselves and exalt the sovereign mercy and grace of God.
Election by Predestination(vv. 4-5)
We come now to question “What’s the relationship between election and predestination?” The main verb here is “chose” “ἐξελέξατο”, and the verb “predestined” “προορίσας” is a participle dependent on the main verb. Basically the Greek verb for “chose” simply means to select. In this instance to select people. And the verb predestined means to choose a destiny or purpose ahead of time. In this text both are aorist which means that they happened simultaneously. So when God elects, he predestines, and when he predestines he elects.
In fact we can already see predestination implied in verse 4, “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love”. Notice that the choosing is for a specific purpose. God not only chose us individually, but he also determined our purpose. So why then Paul added the participle “having predestined”? The answer is that he’s stating the means by which the purpose of election( becoming holy and blameless before him) will be brought about. That is by predestining or predetermining another purpose, namely adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to be chosen in Christ. God chose individuals for the purpose of becoming holy and blameless before him, and the means to its accomplishment is by adoption through Jesus Christ. Romans 8:29 makes this even more clear, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” As we noted earlier, foreknowledge here is synonymous with fore-choosing or election and so it parallels the choosing in verse 4a, and conformity to Christ’s image parallels the purpose of God’s choice in verse 4b, namely to be holy and blameless. Meaning, being conformed to Christ’s image is the same as being holy and blameless. Now notice the purpose of conformity to Christ’s image, it is so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. However, Christ will only become a firstborn among many brothers if we’re adopted to God’s family. That’s where predestination in verse 5 would come in, God predestined us for adoption so that we might be conformed into Christ’s image, that is we become holy and blameless like our older brother. Therefore the relationship of election to be holy and blameless, and predestination for adoption is that of means.
Love That Glorifies Grace(vv. 4-6)
Let me close this exposition with the last two questions. The first question is what is being modified by the prepositional phrase “in love” in verse 4?
Some have argued that “in love” is modifying the verb “having predestined”. That is, God predestined us in love. Some have used this argument to support single predestination, but as I pointed out from the last exposition, even if I grant that the phrase “in love” is modifying the verb predestined, because indeed God’s predestination of the elect is an act of love, but still it cannot debunk double predestination since there are other passages that clearly teach double predestination, like Romans 9.
However, I still don’t think that “in love” modifies “predestined”, rather it modifes chose us to be holy and blameless, that is holy and blameles in love. Here are the reasons:
- Most of the prepositional phrases here in verses 3-14 follow the verbs that they modify and not precede them, with the exception of prepositions that have relative pronouns as their objects. Take note, “bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”(vv. 3), “he chose us in him”(vv. 4), “he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (vv. 6), “set forth in Christ”(vv. 9), “to unite all things in him”(vv. 10). The only exceptions are prepositional phrases that have a relative pronoun as its object, since grammar demands that they be written first in relative clauses.
- This is in keeping with the author’s use of ἀγάπη to refer often to human love in this letter.
- Ephesians 1:15 “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,”
- Ephesians 4:2 “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,”
- Ephesians 4:15-16 “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
- Ephesians 5:2 “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
- Ephesians 5:28 “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”
- Ephesians 5:33 “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
- Ephesians 6:24 “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.”
The last example it seems to me is very clear, holy and blameless in love is the same as loving Christ with love incorruptible.
- You can find this same concept in Paul’s other letters.1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” Notice that the purpose of increase and abounding in love is blameless holiness before God. It says “so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness..” “Before God and Father” corresponds to holy and blameless “before him”.
Philippians 1:9-10 is saying the same thing, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”
Now, how is this love meant for the praise of God’s grace? This is meant to glorify grace because this love is a God predestined love. This love is modeled by Christ and so our love becomes a reflection of his love. Take note of the love commands here in Ephesians, it is grounded and based on Christ’s love. And so this love is a humble love.
Now if you are thinking, “How will I know if I’m numbered among the elect?”, remember that election is with purposes, and if this purposes of God is being accomplished in your life then you’ll know you are one. If you are believing in Christ now, therefore you were also adopted into God’s family, and if you are one of His children, you will be conformed increasingly into Christ’s image, that is, you will grow more and more holy and blameless in love.
Or if you’re thinking, “I cannot accept that interpretation because I’m free! I am the captain of my soul! I determine my own destiny!”, repent and humble yourself before God. This doctrine is indeed horrifying to the proud, but it is a comfort to the weak and lowly. 1 Corinthians 1:27-31 says, God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
So brothers and sisters may we glory in God’s grace alone.