The Elements of the Eternal Forming of the Body
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace. (1:4–6a)
These verses reveal the past part of God’s eternal plan in forming the church, the Body of Jesus Christ. His plan is shown in seven elements: the method, election; the object, the elect; the time, eternity past; the purpose, holiness; the motive, love; the result, sonship; and the goal, glory.
The Bible speaks of three kinds of election. One is God’s theocratic election of Israel. “You are a holy people to the Lord your God,” Moses told Israel in the desert of Sinai; “the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6).
That election had no bearing on personal salvation. “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel,” Paul explains; “neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants” (Rom. 9:6–7). Racial descent from Abraham as father of the Hebrew people did not mean spiritual descent from him as father of the faithful (Rom. 4:11).
A second kind of election is vocational. The Lord called out the tribe of Levi to be His priests, but Levites were not thereby guaranteed salvation. Jesus called twelve men to be apostles but only eleven of them to salvation. After Paul came to Christ because of God’s election to salvation, God then chose him in another way to be His special apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Rom. 1:5).
The third kind of election is salvational, the kind of which Paul is speaking in our present text. “No one can come to Me,” Jesus said, “unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Helkuō (draws) carries the idea of an irresistible force and was used in ancient Greek literature of a desperately hungry man being drawn to food and of demonic forces being drawn to animals when they were not able to possess men.
Salvage yards use giant electromagnets to lift and partially sort scrap metal. When the magnet is turned on, a tremendous magnetic force draws all the ferrous metals that are near it, but has no effect on other metals such as aluminum and brass.
In a similar way, God’s elective will irresistibly draws to Himself those whom He has predetermined to love and forgive, while having no effect on those whom He has not.
From all eternity, before the foundation of the world, and therefore completely apart from any merit or deserving that any person could have, God chose us in Him, “in Christ” (v. 3). By God’s sovereign election, those who are saved were placed in eternal union with Christ before creation even took place.
Although man’s will is not free in the sense that many people suppose, he does have a will, a will that Scripture clearly recognizes. Apart from God, man’s will is captive to sin. But he is nevertheless able to choose God because God has made that choice possible. Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16) and that “everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (11:26). The frequent commands to the unsaved to respond to the Lord (e.g., Josh. 24:15; Isa. 55:1; Matt. 3:1–2; 4:17; 11:28–30; John 5:40; 6:37; 7:37–39; Rev. 22:17) clearly indicate the responsibility of man to exercise his own will.
Yet the Bible is just as clear that no person receives Jesus Christ as Savior who has not been chosen by God (cf. Rom. 8:29; 9:11; 1 Thess. 1:3–4; 1 Pet. 1:2). Jesus gives both truths in one verse in the gospel of John: “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).
God’s sovereign election and man’s exercise of responsibility in choosing Jesus Christ seem opposite and irreconcilable truths—and from our limited human perspective they are opposite and irreconcilable. That is why so many earnest, well-meaning Christians throughout the history of the church have floundered trying to reconcile them. Since the problem cannot be resolved by our finite minds, the result is always to compromise one truth in favor of the other or to weaken both by trying to take a position somewhere between them.
We should let the antimony remain, believing both truths completely and leaving the harmonizing of them to God.
Eklegō (chose) is here in the aorist tense and the middle voice, indicating God’s totally independent choice. Because the verb is reflexive it signifies that God not only chose by Himself but for Himself. His primary purpose in electing the church was the praise of His own glory (vv. 6, 12, 14). Believers were chosen for the Lord’s glory before they were chosen for their own good. The very reason for calling out believers into the church was that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10).
Israel was God’s elect, His “chosen one” (Isa. 45:4; cf. 65:9, 22). But she was told, “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you” (Deut. 7:7–8). God chose the Jews simply out of His sovereign love.
God’s heavenly angels also are elect (1 Tim. 5:21), chosen by Him to glorify His name and to be His messengers. Christ Himself was elect (1 Pet. 2:6, KJV), and the apostles were elect (John 15:16). By the same sovereign plan and will the church is elect. God “has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9). In Acts we are told, “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (13:48).
Paul said, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). His heart’s desire was to reach the elect, the ones who were already chosen, in order that they might take hold of the faith already granted them in God’s sovereign decree.
Paul gave thanks for the church because it was God’s elect. “We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).
In his book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer observes:
All Christians believe in divine sovereignty, but some are not aware that they do, and mistakenly imagine and insist that they reject it. What causes this odd state of affairs? The root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church—the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic. People see the Bible teaches man’s responsibility for his actions; they do not see (man, indeed, cannot see) how this is consistent with the sovereign Lordship of God over those actions. They are not content to let the two truths live side by side, as they do in the Scriptures, but jump to the conclusion that, in order to uphold the biblical truth of human responsibility, they are bound to reject the equally biblical and equally true doctrine of divine sovereignty, and to explain away the great number of texts that teach it. The desire to over-simplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even godly men should fall victim to it. Hence this persistent and troublesome dispute. The irony of the situation, however, is that when we ask how the two sides pray, it becomes apparent that those who profess to deny God’s sovereignty really believe in it just as strongly as those who affirm it. ([Chicago: Inter-Varsity, 1961], pp. 16–17)
Because we cannot stand the tension of mystery, paradox, or antinomy, we are inclined to adjust what the Bible teaches so that it will fit our own systems of order and consistency. But that presumptuous approach is unfaithful to God’s Word and leads to confused doctrine and weakened living. It should be noted that other essential scriptural doctrines are also apparently paradoxical to our limited capacity. It is antinomous that Scripture itself is the work of human authors, yet the very words of God; that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man; that salvation is forever, yet saints must remain obedient and persevere to the end; that the Christian’s life is lived in total commitment and discipline of self, yet is all of Christ. Such inscrutable truths are an encouragement that the mind of God infinitely surpasses the mind of man and are a great proof of the divine authorship of Scripture. Humans writing a Bible on their own would have attempted to resolve such problems.
It is not that God’s sovereign election, or predestination, eliminates man’s choice in faith. Divine sovereignty and human response are integral and inseparable parts of salvation—though exactly how they operate together only the infinite mind of God knows.
Nor is it, as many believe and teach, that God simply looks into the future to see which people are going to believe and then elects them to salvation. Taken out of context, Romans 8:29 is often used to support that view. But verse 28 makes it clear that those whom God foresees and predestines to salvation are those whom He has already “called according to His purpose.” Any teaching that diminishes the sovereign, electing love of God by giving more credit to men also diminishes God’s glory, thus striking a blow at the very purpose of salvation.
We should be satisfied simply to declare with John Chadwick,
I sought the Lord,
And afterwards I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him,
Seeking me! It was not that I found,
O Saviour true;
No, I was found by Thee.
the object—the elect
The object of election is us, not everyone, but only those whom God chose, the saints and “faithful in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). Those whom God elects are those whom He has declared holy before the foundation of the world and who have identified with His Son Jesus Christ by faith. Being a Christian is having been chosen by God to be His child and to inherit all things through and with Jesus Christ.
the time—eternity past
God elected us before the foundation of the world. Before the creation, the Fall, the covenants, or the law, we were sovereignly predestined by God to be His. He designed the church, the Body of His Son, before the world began.
Because in God’s plan Christ was crucified for us “before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20), we were designated for salvation by that same plan at that same time. It was then that our inheritance in God’s kingdom was determined (Matt. 25:34). We belonged to God before time began, and we will be His after time has long run its course. Our names as believers were “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev. 13:8; cf. 17:8).
God chose us in order that we might be holy and blameless. Amōmos (blameless) literally means without blemish, or spotless. Because we are chosen in Him we are holy and blameless before Him. Because Jesus Christ gave Himself for us as “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet. 1:19), we have been given His own unblemished and spotless nature. The unworthy have been declared worthy, the unrighteous declared holy. It is Christ’s eternal and foreordained plan to “present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27).
Obviously Paul is talking about our position and not our practice. We know that in our living we are far from the holy standard and far from being blameless. Yet “in Him,” Paul said in another place, we “have been made complete” (Col. 2:10). All that God is, we become in Jesus Christ. That is why salvation is secure. We have Christ’s perfect righteousness. Our practice can and does fall short, but our position can never fall short, because it is exactly the same holy and blameless position before God that Christ has. We are as secure as our Savior, because we are in Him, waiting for the full redemption and glorious holiness that awaits us in His presence.
And because God declares us and leads us to be holy and blameless, we should strive to live lives now that reflect the holiness and blamelessness that are our destiny.
God elects those who are saved because of His love. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons. Just as He chose Israel to be His special people only because of His love (Deut. 7:8), so He also chose the church, the family of the redeemed.
Biblical agapē love is not an emotion but a disposition of the heart to seek the welfare and meet the needs of others. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” Jesus said (John 15:13). And that is exactly what Jesus Himself did on behalf of those God has chosen to be saved. In the ultimate divine act of love, God determined before the foundation of the earth that He would give His only Son to save us. “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4–5). He loved us, and will eternally continue to love us, according to the kind intention of His will.
The result of God’s election is our adoption as sons. In Christ we become subjects of His kingdom, and because He is our Lord we are His servants. He even calls us friends because, He says, “All things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). But in His great love He makes us more than citizens and servants, and even more than friends. He makes us children. God lovingly draws redeemed sinners into the intimacy of His own family.
When we become Christians we become children of God. “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear,” Paul says, “but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (Rom. 8:15). Abba was an Aramaic word of endearment somewhat equivalent to Daddy or Papa.
To be saved is to have the very life of God in our souls, His own Spirit enlivening our spirits. Human parents can adopt children and come to love them every bit as much as they love their natural children. They can give an adopted child complete equality in the family life, resources, and inheritance. But no human parent can impart his own distinct nature to an adopted child. Yet that is what God miraculously does to every person whom He has elected and who has trusted in Christ. He makes them sons just like His divine Son. Christians not only have all of the Son’s riches and blessings but all of the Son’s nature.
Why did God do all of that for us? Why did He want us to be His sons? We are saved and made sons to the praise of the glory of His grace. Above all else, He elects and saves us for His own glory. When Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32), He was affirming the delight of God in putting His glory on display. As Paul further explained, “God is at work in [us] … for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
The apostle Paul interceded for the Thessalonians, praying “that our God may count you worthy of your calling … in order that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him” (2 Thess. 1:11–12).
Even the beasts of the field will glorify the Lord, Isaiah tells us (43:20), and the heavens tell of the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). The only rebels in the universe are fallen angels and fallen man. Everything else glorifies its Creator. The fallen angels have already been eternally removed from God’s presence, and those fallen men who will not be saved by Jesus Christ will join those angels in that eternal separation.
God chose and preordained the Body before the foundation of the world in order that no human being could boast or take glory for himself, but that all the glory might be His. Salvation is not partly of God and partly of man, but entirely of God. To guarantee that, every provision and every detail of salvation was accomplished before any human being was ever born or before a planet was formed on which he could be born.
The ultimate reason for everything that exists is the glory of His grace. That is why, as God’s children, Christians should do everything they do—even such mundane things as eating and drinking—to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
It is wonderful to be told, as Paul does tell us in the third verse of Ephesians 1, that God “has blessed us … with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” But as soon as that is said we immediately want to ask how such great blessing actually becomes ours. Paul describes it as “spiritual” blessing “in the heavenly realms.” But we are not in heaven; we are on earth. How can we possess the blessings God has for us?
We can imagine a number of wrong ways. The blessings of heaven might be thought to be possessed by force, which is what Satan tried to do. He tried to conquer heaven; he was conquered instead. We might try to earn these great blessings. But with what would we earn them? Heaven’s blessings must be bought by heaven’s coin. We possess no spiritual currency. Perhaps we can inherit them when the owner dies. Alas, the owner is the eternal God, who does not die. Perhaps God is gracious and is only waiting for us to ask him for these blessings. Even this will not work. For according to Scripture, we are not the kind of persons who, unaided by God, will even ask him for blessings. On the contrary, we despise God’s blessings. We want our will and our way and left to ourselves, we would never ask God for anything.
Then how is it that some people receive these blessings, as Paul says they do? The answer is in verses 4–6. It is the result of God’s own sovereign act, election. Paul says, “For [the Greek word is kathōs, meaning ‘just as’ or ‘because’; it links verses 4 and 3, as an explanation] he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
This teaches that the blessings of salvation come to some people because God has determined from before the creation of the world to give them to them—and for that reason only.
Election and Human Depravity
This doctrine is difficult for many persons, of course. But before we deal with their objections we would do well to consider the various views that people hold about election. There are three of them.
The first position is a denial of election outright. No one is saved because of some supreme hidden purpose of God, these objectors say. We can speak of grace, for God chose to reveal himself to fallen men and women and to provide a way of salvation through the death of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That he did so proves him to be gracious. But having spoken of the grace of God in this sense, we must stop there and turn the entire situation over to human beings. God graciously offers salvation, but people must choose this salvation of their own free will. Election simply does not enter into it.
The strength of this view is that it conforms to what we all naturally like to think about our abilities. The difficulty is that, whether we like it or not, the Bible does teach this doctrine. John R. W. Stott calls election “a divine revelation, not a human speculation.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones refers to this teaching as “a statement, not an argument.”2 In his study of election J. C. Ryle begins by listing eleven texts (including Ephesians 1:4) that teach election in the simplest and most undeniable language and urges his readers to consider them well.
It is hard to imagine anyone doing this and then continuing to deny that election is the Bible’s teaching.
According to the second view, election is taught in Scripture but it is election based on foreknowledge. This is a mediating position, held by those who acknowledge that election is taught but who do not want to admit to a doctrine which they consider unjust and arbitrary. They would argue that God elects some to salvation and its blessings but that he does so on the basis of a choice, a response of faith, or some other good that he foresees in them.
This is patently impossible. One problem is that an election like that is not really election. In such a reconstruction God does not preordain an individual to anything; the individual actually ordains himself.
Another, greater problem is, if what the Bible tells us about the hopeless condition of man in sin is true, what good could God possibly see in anyone to cause him to elect that one to salvation? Goodness is from God. Faith is from God. If God is eliminated as a first cause of goodness or faith or a God-directed human choice (whatever it may be), how could there ever be any faith for God to foresee?
Calvin put it like this: “How should [God] foresee that which could not be? For we know that all Adam’s offspring is corrupted and that we do not have the skill to think one good thought of doing well, and much less therefore are we able to commence to do good. Although God should wait a hundred thousand years for us, if we could remain so long in the world, yet it is certain that we should never come to him nor do anything else but increase the mischief continually to our own condemnation. In short, the longer men live in the world, the deeper they lunge themselves into their own damnation. And therefore God could not foresee what was not in us before he himself put it into us.”
When people have trouble with election—and many do—their real problem is not with the doctrine of election, although they think it is, but with the doctrine of depravity that makes election necessary.
The question to settle is: How far did the human race fall when it fell? Did man fall upward? That is the view of secular evolutionists, that we are all getting better and better. Did man fall part way but not the whole way, so that he is damaged by sin but not ruined? That is the view of Pelagians or Arminians. It affirms that we are affected by sin but insists that we nevertheless possess the ability to turn from it and believe in Christ when the gospel is offered—by our own power. Or did man fall the whole way so that he is no longer capable of making even the smallest movement back toward God unless God first reaches down and performs the miracle of the new birth in him? That is the view of Scripture.
The Bible says that we are “dead in … transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1).
It says, “There is no one … who seeks God” (Rom. 3:11).
Jesus declared, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
It is written in Genesis: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5).
What good could God possibly foresee in hearts that are dead in transgressions and sins and inclined only to evil all the time? What good could God anticipate in people who cannot come to him and do not even seek him unless he first draws them to himself? If that is the situation, as the Bible says it is, then the only way any man or woman can be saved is by the sovereign election of God by which he first chooses some for salvation and then leads them to faith.
The third position is election pure and simple. It teaches that we are too hopelessly lost in sin ever to partake of God’s great spiritual blessings on our own. Instead, God in his mercy chose us and then made his choice effectual. First he made our salvation possible by sending the Lord Jesus Christ to die for our sin. Then he made us capable of responding to him by sending the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the truth and glory of the gospel. Thus, all the blessings we enjoy must be traced back to this sovereign electing purpose of God toward us in Jesus Christ. And Paul does exactly that in these opening verses of Ephesians.
Objections to the Bible’s teaching about election have been around for a long time, and there are many of them. Here I consider two: that election is arbitrary and that it is unjust.
When election is described as arbitrary we need to understand precisely what we are talking about. If we are basing the accusation on any supposed quality in man that is imagined to call forth election, then there is a sense in which election is arbitrary. From our perspective there is no reason why one individual rather than another should be elected. But generally that is not the way the charge is made. Generally the objector means that election is arbitrary, not from our perspective, but from God’s perspective. It amounts to saying that God has no reason for what he does. He is utterly arbitrary in picking one individual rather than another. It could as easily have been the other way around. Or God could have picked no one.
That last sentence indicates the way through this problem. For as soon as we think of the possibility of no one being saved we run against the very purpose Paul talks about in Ephesians 1:6, namely, that salvation is “to the praise of his [God’s] glorious grace.” That is, God purposed to glorify himself by saving some. Since that is so, election is not arbitrary. It has a purpose from God’s point of view.
But why one person rather than another? Why more than one? Or why not everyone? These are good questions, but it does not take a great deal of understanding to recognize that they are of another order entirely. Once we admit that God has a purpose in election, it is evident that the purpose must extend to the details of God’s choice. We do not know why he elects one rather than another, but that is quite a different thing from saying that he has no reasons. In fact, in so great an enterprise, an enterprise which forms the entire meaning of human history, it would be arrogant for us to suppose that we could ever understand the whole purpose. We can speculate. We can see portions of God’s purpose in specific instances of election. But on the whole we will have to do as Paul does and confess that predestination is simply “in accordance with [God’s] pleasure and will” (v. 5).
The second objection is that election is unjust. It is unjust for God to choose one rather than another, we are told. All must be given an equal chance. But is it possible that a person can still so misunderstand what is involved as to think in these categories? An equal chance! We have had a chance, but we have wasted it by rejecting the gospel. And it makes no difference how many “chances” are given, or to how many. Apart from God’s sovereign work no one follows Jesus. So far as justice is concerned, what would justice decree for us, if justice (and nothing but justice) should be done? Justice would decree our damnation! Justice would sentence us to hell!
It is not justice we want from God; it is grace. And grace cannot be commanded. It must flow to us from God’s sovereign purposes decreed before the foundation of the world, or it must not come at all.
Blessings of Election
Election is not the problem some have made it to be. In fact, it is actually a great blessing of the gospel. It is so in at least four areas.
- Election eliminates boasting. Critics of election talk as if the opposite were true. They think it is the height of arrogance, something hardly to be tolerated, for a person to claim that he or she has been chosen to salvation. They suppose it is a claim to be worth more or to have done something better than other people. But, of course, election does not imply that at all. Election means that salvation is utterly of God. As Paul says, “he chose,” “he predestined,” “he has freely given,” and this is “to the praise of his glorious grace” and not to our glory.
Only election eliminates all grounds for boasting. Suppose it were otherwise. Suppose that in the final analysis a person could get to heaven on the basis of something he or she had done. In that case, that individual could claim some part (small or large) of the glory. In fact, it would be the critical part, the part that distinguished him or her from those who were not saved. That is why salvation’s blessings have to be ours by election alone.
- Election gives assurance of salvation. Suppose it were otherwise. Suppose the ultimate grounds of salvation were in ourselves. In that case, salvation would be as unstable as we are. We might be saved one moment and lost the next. As Calvin says, “If … our faith were not grounded in God’s eternal election, it is certain that Satan might pluck it from us every minute.”
Calvin found security of salvation in the “adoption,” which verse 5 says God’s election provides for us. Adoption means that we are taken into God’s family so that we become his children and he becomes our heavenly Father. Calvin points out that when we pray to God we must call him Father, for that is what Jesus taught us to do (see Matt. 6:9). But how can we do that, he asks, unless we are sure that he really is our Father? If not, then our prayers are mere hypocrisy and the first words we utter in them (“Our Father …”) are a lie. “We must be thoroughly resolved and persuaded in ourselves that God counts us as his children. And how may that be but by embracing his mercy through faith, as he offers it to us in his gospel, and by assuring ourselves also that we are grounded in his eternal election?”
- Election leads to holiness. A person might say, “Well, if I am elect, I suppose I’ll be saved regardless of what I do; therefore, I’ll enjoy myself and sin all I please.” Those who say that either are not elect or else are elect but are not yet regenerate. Why? Because, as verse 3 says, election is to holiness. That is, election to salvation and election to holiness go together. They are never separated. So, as John Stott says, “Far from encouraging sin, the doctrine of election forbids it and lays upon us instead the necessity of holiness.” If we are not growing in holiness, we are not elect. We are still in our sins.
- Finally, election promotes evangelism. Some think that election makes evangelism unnecessary. “For if God is going to save certain individuals anyway,” the argument goes, “then he will save them, and there is no point in my having anything to do with it.” It does not work that way. The fact that God elects to salvation does not eliminate the means by which he calls those elect persons to faith. One of those means is the proclamation of the gospel to sinners by those who already believe (1 Cor. 1:21). The very Paul who wrote this letter was the first great missionary.
Moreover, it is only as we recognize the importance of election that we gain hope in evangelism. Think about it. If the hearts of men and women are as opposed to God and his ways as the Bible says they are, and if God does not elect people and then call them effectively by means of the Holy Spirit so that they respond in saving faith, what hope could you or I possibly have of winning them? If God cannot call effectively, it is certain that you and I cannot. On the other hand, if God is doing this work on the basis of his prior election of some, then we can speak the word of truth boldly, knowing that all whom God has previously determined to come to faith will come to him.
We do not know who God’s elect are. The only way we can find them out is by their response to the gospel and by their subsequent growth in holiness. Our task is to proclaim the Word boldly, knowing that all whom God has elected in Christ before the foundation of the world will surely come to Jesus.
Christ’s Sanctity (1:4)
The apostle says that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph. 1:4). Paul’s wording reveals God’s purpose. God chose us to be “holy and blameless in his sight.” This dual description relates to us the tandem benefits of our union with Christ in terms of our sanctification before God. We have something removed from us and something supplied.
By virtue of our union with Christ we have our blame removed. What shames us and justly condemns us is not held against us any longer. As Christ is without spot, so also we are “blemishless” (the origin of the word “blameless”) by virtue of his work in our behalf.8 Paul will explain this process later in the chapter, but for now he identifies the results of the Savior’s work: our guilt and shame are taken away; we are made blameless.
The effects of shame and blame can be amazingly real and long-lasting. Recently a pastor confided that he discovered that he was great at doing funerals—but he added a strange confession. He said, “I have a knack for being able to distill the character of a person and tie it to the gospel, but I hate visiting the family afterwards. The visit cannot be scripted, and I know that I run the risk of looking bad. This discovery made me realize that I am more concerned with impressing people than helping them.”
The discovery of his need to impress led the pastor to seek wise counsel. And in the course of the conversation with that confidant the pastor said, “The need to impress people became acute in my life after fourth grade. I was always the best student in class, but in fourth grade I got sick and missed material needed for a math quiz. I did poorly on the math quiz, and the teacher wrote my name on the blackboard as one who needed remedial work. When she wrote my name on the board, I got physically sick. My teacher had to take me home, thinking that I was ill, but the problem really was that I blamed myself for being unprepared, and I worked never to be so shamed again.”
Life will not allow any of us to be free of shame. Our weaknesses, the world’s uncertainties, and our sin, all have the potential to shame us before those in earth and heaven. But the glory of the gospel is that our heavenly Father has erased our names from the blackboard—the handwriting that was against us, he took away and nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:14). He no longer blames us for what shames us.
Not only does our union with Christ remove our blemishes; it also supplies his righteousness. We are “holy” and blameless before the Father. The righteousness that was Christ’s through his perfect obedience is imputed to us. The holiness that God requires, he also supplies not by our works, but by our union with his holy Son who shares with us his own status of holiness. This is cause for amazement: God sees me as being as holy as his own Son. Not only do I have my debt wiped away; I have the riches of Christ’s righteousness applied to my account (see also 2 Cor. 5:21). God does not pay our debt and then leave us with a zero balance. Rather than have us destitute, he opens the vaults of heaven to give us the benefits of the storehouse of his grace made full by Christ’s obedience. The Bible says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Having removed our sin, God also supplies whatever is needed out of his entire creation—present or future—to bless us in the best way possible with the riches of the righteousness of his Son. But we question, how could this be since we are so unworthy of such riches? The answer is that God not only gives us the benefits of Christ’s sanctity, he also gives us the status of Christ’s Sonship.
4. According as he hath chosen us. The foundation and first cause, both of our calling and of all the benefits which we receive from God, is here declared to be his eternal election. If the reason is asked, why God has called us to enjoy the gospel, why he daily bestows upon us so many blessings, why he opens to us the gate of heaven,—the answer will be constantly found in this principle, that he hath chosen us before the foundation of the world. The very time when the election took place proves it to be free; for what could we have deserved, or what merit did we possess, before the world was made? How childish is the attempt to meet this argument by the following sophism! “We were chosen because we were worthy, and because God foresaw that we would be worthy.” We were all lost in Adam; and therefore, had not God, through his own election, rescued us from perishing, there was nothing to be foreseen. The same argument is used in the Epistle to the Romans, where, speaking of Jacob and Esau, he says, “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.” (Rom. 9:11.) But though they had not yet acted, might a sophist of the Sorbonne reply, God foresaw that they would act. This objection has no force when applied to the depraved natures of men, in whom nothing can be seen but materials for destruction.
In Christ. This is the second proof that the election is free; for if we are chosen in Christ, it is not of ourselves. It is not from a perception of anything that we deserve, but because our heavenly Father has introduced us, through the privilege of adoption, into the body of Christ. In short, the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of their own; for when he says that we are chosen in Christ, it follows that in ourselves we are unworthy.
That we should be holy. This is the immediate, but not the chief design; for there is no absurdity in supposing that the same thing may gain two objects. The design of building is, that there should be a house. This is the immediate design, but the convenience of dwelling in it is the ultimate design. It was necessary to mention this in passing; for we shall immediately find that Paul mentions another design, the glory of God. But there is no contradiction here; for the glory of God is the highest end, to which our sanctification is subordinate.
This leads us to conclude, that holiness, purity, and every excellence that is found among men, are the fruit of election; so that once more Paul expressly puts aside every consideration of merit. If God had foreseen in us anything worthy of election, it would have been stated in language the very opposite of what is here employed, and which plainly means that all our holiness and purity of life flow from the election of God. How comes it then that some men are religious, and live in the fear of God, while others give themselves up without reserve to all manner of wickedness? If Paul may be believed, the only reason is, that the latter retain their natural disposition, and the former have been chosen to holiness. The cause, certainly, is not later than the effect. Election, therefore, does not depend on the righteousness of works, of which Paul here declares that it is the cause.
We learn also from these words, that election gives no occasion to licentiousness, or to the blasphemy of wicked men who say, “Let us live in any manner we please; for, if we have been elected, we cannot perish.” Paul tells them plainly, that they have no right to separate holiness of life from the grace of election; for “whom he did predestinate, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified.” (Rom. 8:30.) The inference, too, which the Catharists, Celestines, and Donatists drew from these words, that we may attain perfection in this life, is without foundation. This is the goal to which the whole course of our life must be directed, and we shall not reach it till we have finished our course. Where are the men who dread and avoid the doctrine of predestination as an inextricable labyrinth, who believe it to be useless and almost dangerous? No doctrine is more useful, provided it be handled in the proper and cautious manner, of which Paul gives us an example, when he presents it as an illustration of the infinite goodness of God, and employs it as an excitement to gratitude. This is the true fountain from which we must draw our knowledge of the divine mercy. If men should evade every other argument, election shuts their mouth, so that they dare not and cannot claim anything for themselves. But let us remember the purpose for which Paul reasons about predestination, lest, by reasoning with any other view, we fall into dangerous errors.
Before him in love. Holiness before God (κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ) is that of a pure conscience; for God is not deceived, as men are, by outward pretence, but looks to faith, or, which means the same thing, the truth of the heart. If we view the word love as applied to God, the meaning will be, that the only reason why he chose us, was his love to men. But I prefer connecting it with the latter part of the verse, as denoting that the perfection of believers consists in love; not that God requires love alone, but that it is an evidence of the fear of God, and of obedience to the whole law.
4 Paul starts with the conjunction kathōs, which means “even as” (NIV, “for”), probably expressing some causal sense. We know that God has blessed us in Christ because he chose us in him and accomplished all the following actions. Paul uses the common word eklegomai (GK 1721), which means to pick out, select, or choose something or someone (cf. BDAG, 305). Of course, it has deep theological meaning in both Testaments, growing out of God’s selection of Israel as his covenantal people: “But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you” (Isa 41:8–9, emphasis added). As with God’s choice of the nation Israel, Paul expresses believers’ election in corporate terms: God chose us in Christ. Or to put it another way, Christ is the elect one in whom the church is included. Paul does not teach that our “souls” preexisted in the heavens with Christ (a Platonic idea), nor that we as individuals were present physically in some mythological sense prior to creation (as in later Gnostic teaching). Rather, as Schnackenburg, 53, puts it, “If God made his plan of salvation in (the preexistent) Christ, he also included us ‘in Christ’ in his plan.”
In keeping with the dominant theme of unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church, Paul sees the entire body of Christ as the object of God’s pretemporal election. This is not to deny that election is personal: certainly every member of the church shares its election. Paul does not, however, assert here particular or individual election, i.e., that God has selected specific individuals for inclusion in the church. He underscores the church’s corporate election in Christ, who is God’s elect one (Lk 9:35; 23:35). Being incorporated in Christ, the church attains its identity, all of its blessings, and its chosen position. God devised this strategy to bless the church in Christ even before he created the world. “World” (kosmos, GK 3180) here means created universe. There is a more sinister meaning below in 2:2, where I discuss its meanings more carefully.
The goal of God’s choosing appears in the next phrase: “holy and blameless in his sight” (cf. 5:27). These adjectives have a rich background in the OT and describe God’s requirements for animals to be used in sacrifices. “Holy” (recall Paul’s description of the readers as “holy ones” in v. 1) implies separated to God for his purposes. By extension, holy connotes moral purity, an idea brought out more clearly in the companion term. “Blameless” (see Ex 29:1, 37–38; Lev 14:10; 23:18) conveys the senses of sound, whole, without defects, innocent, and pure. God determined in choosing the church in Christ to establish a spotless people (see 5:27 of Christ’s bride) who accomplish his purposes.
The final two words in v. 4, “in love,” could go with either the prior affirmation, “he chose us … to be holy and blameless before him in love” (UBS, 4th ed.; NRSV), or with the next one, “In love he predestined us” (NIV, NASB). Both options make theological sense, so it is treacherous to presume certainty. On balance the former is slightly more likely in Ephesians: the goal of God’s election is a holy, blameless people who live lives characterized by love (4:2, 15, 16; 5:2; cf. 3:17–19).
4 It was in Christ, then, that God chose his people “before the world’s foundation.” This phrase (or a similar one) appears a number of times in the NT, but here only in the Pauline corpus.29 It denotes the divine act of election as taking place in eternity. Time belongs to the created order: believers’ present experience of the blessings bestowed by God is the fulfilment on the temporal plane of his purpose of grace toward them conceived in eternity. As the fulfilment is experienced “in Christ,” so it is in him that the purpose is conceived. If, as Col. 1:16 affirms, it was “in him” that all things were created, so, we are here assured, earlier still it was “in him” that the people of God were chosen. He is the Chosen One of God par excellence; it is by union with him, according to the divine purpose realized in time, that others are chosen. Less than justice is done to the present language when it is debated whether Christ is the foundation or origin, or merely the executor of election. He is foundation, origin, and executor: all that is involved in election and its fruits depends on him.
Calvin regards the phrase “in Christ” as a “second confirmation of the freedom of election” (the first being that it took place before the world’s foundation). “For if we are chosen in Christ, it is outside ourselves. It is not from the sight of our deserving, but because our heavenly Father has engrafted us, through the blessing of adoption, into the Body of Christ. In short, the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of themselves; for when he says that we are chosen in Christ, it follows that in ourselves we are unworthy.”
There is a dominant ethical quality about the divine election, as is inevitable in view of the character of the electing God. In 1 Peter 1:15–16, where the wording of our present text is echoed, this lesson is pointed with a quotation from the OT law of holiness: “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ ” No other way of life is fitting for those who are “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ” (1 Peter. 1:2). So here, the purpose of God’s choosing his people in Christ is that they should be “holy and blameless” in his presence, both here and now in earthly life and ultimately when they appear before him. The perspective is the same as in Col. 1:22, where the purpose of Christ’s reconciling work is the presentation of his people “holy, blameless, and irreproachable in his presence.” There they appear in the presence of Christ, while here they appear in the presence of God; but it is one and the same appearance: for Paul the tribunal of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) and the tribunal of God (Rom. 14:10) are the same tribunal. The “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14) is progressively wrought within the lives of believers on earth by the Spirit, and will be consummated in glory at the parousia, the time of the “redemption” anticipated in Eph. 1:14; 4:30. If “holiness” expresses the positive quality, “blamelessness” expresses its negative counterpart: freedom from blemish or fault.
If the phrase “in love” is attached to what precedes (as it is in the Greek text followed in this commentary), then it adds a specific quality to holiness and blamelessness: the consummation of holiness is perfect love. The preposition is best understood as having “comitative” force: the purpose of God is that his people should be marked by holiness and blamelessness, coupled with love.
1:4 / The first specific blessing mentioned is what is known in theological circles as election or predestination. Basically, this doctrine affirms that God has taken the initiative in the “electing” or “choosing” process. In the ot, God chooses Israel from among all the nations of the earth to be his covenant people (Deut. 4:37; 7:6, 7; Isa. 44:1, 2); in the nt, God chooses people to become members of the new covenant, the church (John 15:16; Rom. 8:29; 9:11; Eph. 1:4, 5; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Pet. 1:2); and individuals such as Jeremiah (1:5) and Paul (1 Cor. 15:9–11) believed that even their vocation was destined by God.
Unfortunately, the Christian church has become polarized into theological camps over this doctrine. Some (namely, the Calvinists) have placed all the emphasis upon the sovereign grace of God in matters of salvation; others (namely, the Arminians) have emphasized human free will in the salvation process. Since the Bible does not attempt to harmonize this apparent paradox, it continues to remain one of the more divisive and speculative “mysteries” of the Christian faith.
When dealing with this issue, one should avoid the extremes in theory and practice that so often characterize adherents of one view or another. Election to salvation does not imply that God, therefore, predestines the rest of humanity to damnation; nor should election lead to spiritual pride among the elect. Election simply affirms that personal faith rests upon the prior work (grace) of God, so that, with respect to salvation, God has taken the initiative to claim a people for himself. An individual is free to choose God only because God has already decided for such a person from eternity. Likewise, election should not lead to spiritual complacency; it is a privilege and responsibility that is unto holiness of life and for good works (1:4; 2:10).
The author indicates that God’s intention for the salvation of humanity precedes the creation of the world and the historical process (for he chose us in him before the creation of the world). When Paul, a member of the church and a chosen apostle to the Gentiles, reflects upon the doctrine of election, he may be reasoning in the following way: “How did I, a Pharisee and a former persecutor of Christians, get to be what I am? How is it that the Jews—and now the Gentiles—have become part of God’s family? Surely it is not because of some national merit or personal attainment through faith or good works! This had to be God’s doing. He knew from eternity how he would work in me and in the world; it was not a last-minute decision that the Gentiles were to become heirs of salvation” (3:6). When the apostle writes to the Corinthians about their new existence in Christ, for example, he states: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17–19).
Stott makes a helpful comment by drawing attention to the relationship of the three pronouns in the phrase he chose us in him. God chose us, even before we were created, to be redeemed through the work of Christ that had not yet taken place (Stott, p. 36). Such, however, is the marvel of God’s elective grace toward the human race.
The goal of election is that the believer be holy and blameless before God. This phrase is similar to Colossians 1:2 and may be part of the ot sacrificial language that the nt uses on other occasions (cf. 5:27; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 1:19; Jude 24). In some cases, the doctrine of predestination has led to moral license rather than personal holiness. Not a few believers have reasoned that since they are “eternally secure,” their ethical life is no longer of concern to God or to other people. This reasoning, however, is unfortunate, because the believers’ standing before God and election (the indicative) are demonstrated by the kind of life that they live ethically (the imperative).
4. hath chosen us—Greek, “chose us out for Himself” (namely, out of the world, Ga 1:4): referring to His original choice, spoken of as past.
in him—The repetition of the idea, “in Christ” (Eph 1:3), implies the paramount importance of the truth that it is in Him, and by virtue of union to Him, the Second Adam, the Restorer ordained for us from everlasting, the Head of redeemed humanity, believers have all their blessings (Eph 3:11).
before the foundation of the world—This assumes the eternity of the Son of God (Jn 17:5, 24), as of the election of believers in Him (2 Ti 1:9; 2 Th 2:13).
that we should be holy—positively (De 14:2).
without blame—negatively (Eph 5:27; 1 Th 3:13).
before him—It is to Him the believer looks, walking as in His presence, before whom he looks to be accepted in the judgment (Col 1:22; compare Rev 7:15).
in love—joined by Bengel and others with Eph 1:5, “in love having predestinated us,” &c. But English Version is better. The words qualify the whole clause, “that we should be holy … before Him.” Love, lost to man by the fall, but restored by redemption, is the root and fruit and sum of all holiness (Eph 5:2; 1 Th 3:12, 13).
Ver. 4.—Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world; literally, he chose us out, or selected us (ἐξελέξατο) for himself (middle voice). The Father chose the heirs of salvation, selected those who were to be quickened from the dead (ch. 2:1) and saved. He chose them in Christ—in connection with his work and office as Mediator, giving them to him to be redeemed (John 17:11, 12); not after man was created, nor after man had fallen, but “before the foundation of the world.” We are here face to face with a profound mystery. Before even the world was founded, mankind presented themselves to God as lost; the work of redemption was planned and its details arranged from all eternity. Before such a mystery it becomes us to put the shoes from off our feet, and bow reverently before him whose “judgments are unsearchable and his ways past finding out.” That we should be holy and without blame before him in love. This is obviously the design of God’s electing act; εἶναι ἡμᾶς cannot denote the ground, but the purpose, of the choice. God did not choose some because he foresaw their holiness, but in order that they might become “holy and without blame.” These two terms denote the positive and negative sides of purity: holy—possessed of all the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23); without blame, or blemish—marked by no stain or imperfection (see ch. 5:27). The terms do not denote justification, but a condition of sanctification which implies justification already bestowed, but goes beyond it; our justification is a step towards our complete final sanctification. This renewal being “before him,” must be such as to bear the scrutiny of his eye; therefore not external or superficial merely, but reaching to the very heart and centre of our nature (1 Sam. 16:7). The expression further denotes how it is of the very nature and glory of the new life to be spent in God’s presence, our souls flourishing in the precious sunshine which ever beams out therefrom. For, when thus renewed, we do not fly from his presence like Adam (Gen. 3:8), but delight in it (Ps. 42:1; 63:1). Fear is changed to love (1 John 4:18); the loving relation between us and God is restored. It has been much disputed whether the words ἐν ἀγάπῃ ought to be construed with the fourth verse or with προορίσας in the fifth. The weight of authority seems in favour of the latter; but we prefer the construction which is given both in the Authorized and the Revised Version, first, because if ἐν ἀγάπῃ qualified προορίσας, it would come more naturally after it; and second, because the scope of the passage, the train of the apostle’s thought, seems to require us to keep ἐν ἀγάπῃ in ver. 4. We never could come to be holy and without blemish before God unless the loving relations between us were restored (comp. ch. 3:17, “Rooted and grounded in love”). The spirit of love, trust, admiration, directed to God helps our complete sanctification—changes us into the same image (2 Cor. 3:18).
4 καθὼς ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” For the force of καθώς see the comments under Form/Structure/Setting. In elaborating on and grounding the thematic statement of v 3 the great theme of God’s electing purpose is introduced. The writer asserts that God has blessed believers both because and to the extent that he elected them. The number and variety of words used in this passage to describe God’s purpose is impressive: ἐξελέξατο, “chose” (v 4); προορίσας, “predestined,” εὐδοκία, “good pleasure,” θέλημα, “will” (v 5); θέλημα, εὐδοκία, προέθετο, “purposed” (v 9); ἐκληρώθημεν, “appointed,” προορισθέντες, “predestined,” πρόθεσις, “plan,” βουλή, “purpose,” θέλημα (v 11). God’s sovereign purpose in choosing out a people for himself is of course a familiar idea in the OT (e.g., Deut 7:6–8; 14:2), which witnesses to Israel’s consciousness of God’s choice of her in the midst of the twists and turns in her historical fortunes. God had chosen Abraham so that in him the nations of the earth would be blessed, and Israel’s election was not for her own self-indulgence but for the blessing of the nations: it was a privilege but also a summons to service. Christian believers also had this consciousness of being chosen to be the people of God. The new element is signaled by the ἐν αὐτῷ phrase. Their sense of God’s gracious choice of them was inextricably interwoven with their sense of belonging to Christ. God’s design for them to be his people had been effected in and through Christ. They saw him as God’s Chosen One (see below on “in the Beloved,” 1:6). Indeed, Paul in Gal 3 treats Christ as in a sense fulfilling Israel’s election. Christ is the offspring of Abraham par excellence (3:16), and in Christ the blessing of Abraham has come to the Gentiles (3:14) so that they too, because they are Christ’s, are Abraham’s offspring (3:29). The notion of being chosen in Christ here in Ephesians is likely then to include the idea of incorporation into Christ as the representative on whom God’s gracious decision was focused. In respect to that merciful decision of love, which governs God’s plan for his creation, the believing community is aware of its solidarity with Christ. It is by explicitly linking the notion of election to that of being “in Christ” that Ephesians takes further the discussion of election found in the undisputed Pauline letters.
God’s choice of his people in Christ is said to have taken place “before the foundation of the world.” This phrase indicates an element in the thinking about election which cannot be found in the OT and occurs only later in Jewish literature, e.g., Joseph and Asenath 8.9 (A); Midr. Ps. 74.1; Midr. Ps.93.3; Gen Rab. 1.5 (cf. also Hofius, ZNW 61  125–27). Elsewhere in the NT the phrase “before the foundation of the world” is used of God’s love for Christ (John 17:24) and his purpose for Christ (1 Pet 1:20), but in regard to believers passages elsewhere in the Pauline corpus provide the closest parallels. In 2 Thess 2:13 the best reading is probably “from the beginning” and its best interpretation is probably as a reference to God’s choice from the beginning of time. In 2 Tim 1:9 grace is said to have been given to believers before eternal times, while in Rom 8:29 the prefix in προγινώσκειν, “to foreknow,” is usually held to indicate that God’s electing knowledge of believers precedes not simply their knowledge of him but the creation of the world. In comparison with Rom 8:28–30 and its eschatological focus, the language of Eph 1:4, by making the pretemporal aspect of election explicit, sets salvation in protological perspective.
Such language functions to give believers assurance of God’s purposes for them. Its force is that God’s choice of them was a free decision not dependent on temporal circumstances but rooted in the depth of his nature. To say that election in Christ took place before the foundation of the world is to underline that it was provoked not by historical contingency or human merit, but solely by God’s sovereign grace. It is the notion of preexistence which makes this formulation possible. If God’s election of believers took place before the foundation of the world in Christ, this could well presuppose the existence of Christ before the foundation of the world (cf. Col 1:15, 16). Schlier (49) speaks of the Christian adaptation of the Jewish theologoumenon of the preexistence not only of the Messiah but also of the people of salvation, but there are grave difficulties with dating the evidence for either concept in Jewish writings before 70 c.e. (cf. J. D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making [London: SCM, 1980] 70–82; Hofius, ZNW 62  123–28). Probably then the notion of the election of believers in Christ has been combined with that of the preexistence of Christ. This does not imply the preexistence of the Church, an idea which can be found later in early Christian writings (cf. 2 Clem 14.1; Herm. Vis. 1.1.6; 2.4.1). It is not the Church but the choice of the Church which precedes the foundation of the world. So if there is to be any talk of the preexistence of the Church, it can only be of “ideal” preexistence, i.e., in the mind or counsel of God (cf. Barth, 112; Gnilka, 70, 71; Hamerton-Kelly, Pre-existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973] 180–82).
It is significant that the language of election before the foundation of the world occurs here in the context of thanksgiving (cf. also 1 Thess 1:4; 2:13). It is part of an expression of gratitude for God’s inexplicable grace, not a logical deduction about the destiny of individuals based on the immutability of God’s decrees. And, unlike the language of Rom 9:13, 18, 22, Eph 1:4 provokes absolutely no speculation about the negative side of election, reprobation. Overwhelmed by the blessing of being chosen in Christ, the writer does not attempt to find explanations but can only praise the God who is the source of such blessing.
εἶναι ἡμᾶς ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ, “to be holy and blameless before him in love.” God’s choice of a people in Christ has a goal—that they should exhibit a particular quality of life, described here in terms of holiness and love. For the reasons for connecting “in love” with the goal of election, see the discussion under Form/Structure/Setting above. In Phil 1:9, 10 and 1 Thess 3:12, 13 Paul prays for these same features to characterize believers’ lives—love in the present and holiness and blamelessness in view of the Parousia. The actual wording of the latter qualities in Ephesians, ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ, is taken from Col 1:22, where, as here, there is no clear connection with the Parousia and the words describe believers’ present lives. If ἅγιος in 1:1 denoted primarily status, here in 1:4 it indicates the moral condition that belongs to such a status. It is closely connected with ἄμωμος and both have a cultic background. That which is separated to God, such as a sacrificial animal (cf. LXX Exod 29:37, 38; Num 6:14; 19:2) must be without defect. Already in the OT such terminology is also used for ethical purity (e.g., LXX Ps 14:2; 17:24). In Eph 1:4 holiness, blamelessness, and love are complementary terms. On its negative side, holiness is the absence of moral defect or sin, i.e., blamelessness, while, on its positive side, as moral perfection, it displays itself in love which is the fulfillment of God’s will. Moral separation from the sinful world and active love are qualities which, in fact, provide a good summary of the ethical exhortation to follow in the second part of this letter. In this reference a theocentric perspective predominates, for a life of holiness, blamelessness, and love has its source in and is a response to the gracious election of God and is lived “before him,” that is, conscious that God’s presence and God’s approval are one’s ultimate environment.
4. Paul continues, just as he elected us in him before the foundation of the world.
(1) Its Author
The Author is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” as has been indicated (see on verse 3). This, of course, by no means cancels the fact that all the activities which affect extra-trinitarian relationships can be ascribed to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, it is the Father who, as here shown, takes the lead in the divine work of election.
(2) Its Nature
To elect means to pick or choose out of (for oneself). Although the passage itself does not indicate in so many words the mass of objects or individuals out of which the Father chose some, this larger group is, nevertheless, clearly indicated by the purpose clause, “in order that we should be holy and faultless before him.” Accordingly, the larger mass of individuals out of which the Father chose some are here viewed as unholy and vile. This interpretation suits the context. It supplies one of the reasons (see Synthesis at end of chapter for more reasons) why the soul of the apostle is filled with such rapture that he says, “Blessed (be) the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who … elected us.” He means: us, thoroughly unworthy in his sight! He does not try to explain how it was possible for God to do this. He fully realizes that when men are confronted with this manifestation of amazing grace their only proper response is adoration, not explanation.
(3) Its Object
The object is “us,” not everybody. This pronoun “us” must be explained in the light of its context. Paul is writing to “saints and believers” (verse 1). He says that the Father has blessed “us,” that is, “all saints and believers” (here with special reference to those at Ephesus) including Paul (verse 3). Therefore, when the apostle now continues, “just as he elected us,” this “us” cannot suddenly have reference to all men whatever, but must necessarily refer to all those who are (or who at one time or another in the history of the world are destined to become) “saints and believers”; that is, to all those who, having been set apart by the Lord for the purpose of glorifying him, embrace him by means of a living faith.
It is for this contextual reason (and for others also) that I cannot agree with the contention of Karl Barth that in connection with Christ all men whatever are elect, and that the basic distinction is not between elect and non-elect but rather between those who are aware of their election and those who are not.
(4) Its Foundation
The foundation of the church, of its entire salvation from start to finish, hence surely also of its election, is Christ. Paul says, “He (“the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”) elected us in him.” The connection between verses 3 and 4 hinges on this phrase. One could bring this out in the translation as follows, “God the Father blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as in him he elected us.…” In other words, in time the Father blessed us in Christ, just as from all eternity he elected us in him. Though some maintain that this “just as” denotes no more than correspondence, in the sense that there is perfect agreement between the blessings and the election, for both are “in Christ,” it may well be asked whether this interpretation exhausts the meaning of the word used in the original. Aside from a point of grammar (for which see the footnote), it is the teaching of Paul that election from eternity and the further steps in the order of salvation are not to be considered as so many separate items but rather as links in a golden chain, as Rom. 8:29, 30 makes abundantly clear. Election, then, is the root of all subsequent blessings. It is as Jesus said in his highpriestly prayer, “… that to all whom thou hast given him he might give everlasting life” (John 17:2). See also John 6:37, 39, 44; 10:29. Hence, since election is from eternity, and since it is the foundation of all further blessings, and since it is “in him,” Christ is not only the Foundation of the church but its Eternal Foundation.
The question must now be answered, “How is it to be understood that it was in Christ that saints and believers were chosen?” The answer that is often given is this, that it was determined in the counsel of God that in time these people would come to believe in Christ. Though, to be sure, that, too, is implied, it is not a sufficient answer and fails to do justice to all that is taught by Paul and other inspired writers with respect to this important point. The basic answer must be that from before the foundation of the world Christ was the Representative and Surety of all those who in time would be gathered into the fold. This was necessary, for election is not an abrogation of divine attributes. It has already been established that in the background of God’s decree is the dismal fact that those chosen are viewed as being, at the very outset, totally unworthy, having involved themselves in ruin and perdition. Now sin must be punished. The demands of God’s holy law must be satisfied. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does not, by means of election, cancel his righteousness or abolish the demands of his law. How then is it ever possible for God to bestow such a great, glorious, and basic blessing as election upon “children of wrath,” and to do so without detriment to his very essence and the inviolability of his holy law? The answer is that this is possible because of the promise of the Son (in full co-operation with the Father and the Spirit), “Lo, I come; in the roll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O my God; thy law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:7, 8. Cf. Heb. 10:5–7; Gal. 4:4, 5; Phil. 2:6–8). “In Christ,” then, saints and believers, though initially and by nature thoroughly unworthy, are righteous in the very sight of God, for Christ had promised that in their stead he would satisfy all the requirements of the law, a promise which was also completely fulfilled (Gal. 3:13). This forensic righteousness is basic to all the other spiritual blessings. Therefore,
“To thee, O Lord, alone is due
All glory and renown;
Aught to ourselves we dare not take,
Or rob thee of thy crown.
Thou wast thyself our Surety
In God’s redemption plan;
In thee his grace was given us,
Long ere the world began.”
(Augustus M. Toplady, 1774; revised by Dewey Westra, 1931)
(5) Its Time
This election is said to have occurred “before the foundation of the world,” that is, “from eternity.” Moreover, since it occurred “in him,” this is altogether reasonable, for he is the One who and whose “precious blood as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” were foreknown even before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19, 20). The fixity of God’s eternal plan with respect to his chosen ones was not a Pauline invention. It was the teaching of Jesus himself. It was he who referred to those whom he loved as the given ones (see John 6:39; 17:2, 9, 11, 24; cf. 6:44). The fact that from all eternity he had promised to make atonement for them may well have been an element that entered into the Father’s love for him; cf. the words of the highpriestly prayer, “Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, in order that they may gaze on my glory, which thou hast given me, for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). In such and similar passages (see also Matt. 13:35; Heb. 4:3) the universe is viewed as a building, and its creation as the laying of the foundation of this building.
The point that should be emphasized in this connection is the fact that if already before the foundation of the world those destined for everlasting life were elected, then all the glory for their salvation belongs to God, and to him alone. Hence, “Blessed (be) the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” See 2:5, 8–10.
(6) Its Purpose
The purpose of election is found in the words, that we should be holy and faultless before him. It is worthy of special note that Paul does not say, “The Father elected us because he foresaw that we were going to be holy,” etc. He says, “that [or: in order that] we should be holy,” etc. Election is not conditioned on man’s foreseen merits or even on his foreseen faith. It is salvation’s root, not its fruit! Nevertheless, it remains true that man’s responsibility and self-activity are not diminished even in the least. When the divine decree unto salvation is historically realized in the life of any individual it does not operate by means of external compulsion. It motivates, enables, actuates. It impels but does not compel. The best description is probably that which is found in Canons of Dort III and IV. 11, 12:
“Moreover, when God accomplishes this, his good pleasure, in the elect, or works in them true conversion, he not only provides that the gospel should be outwardly preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by the Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern what are the things of the Spirit of God, but he also, by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the innermost recess of man, opens the closed, softens the hardened, and circumcises the uncircumcised heart, infuses new qualities into the will, and makes that will which had been dead alive, which was evil good, which had been unwilling willing, which had been refractory pliable, and actuates and strengthens it, that, as a good tree, it may be able to bring forth the fruit of good works.… Whereupon the will, being now renewed, is not only actuated and moved by God, but being actuated by God, itself also becomes active. Wherefore man himself, by virtue of that grace received, is rightly said to believe and repent.” See Phil. 2:12, 13 and 2 Thess. 2:13.
From the stated purpose it is evident that election does not carry man half-way only; it carries him all the way. It does not merely bring him to conversion; it brings him to perfection. It purposes to make him holy—that is, cleansed from all sin and separated entirely to God and to his service—and faultless—that is, without any blemish whatever (Phil. 2:15), like a perfect sacrifice. Nothing less than this becomes the conscious goal of those in whose hearts God has begun to work out his plan of eternal election. It is their goal in this present life (Lev. 19:2), and it attains ultimate realization in the hereafter (Matt. 6:10; Rev. 21:27).
The absolute and undiminished perfection of the ethical goal is given added emphasis by the phrase “before him,” that is, before God in Christ. Not what we are in the estimation of men but what we are in the sight of God is what counts most.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 10–16). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (pp. 14–19). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.
 Chapell, B. (2009). Ephesians. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 22–24). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (pp. 197–200). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 48–49). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (pp. 254–256). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 151–153). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 341). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Ephesians (p. 2). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
 Lincoln, A. T. (1990). Ephesians (Vol. 42, pp. 22–25). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, pp. 74–78). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.