Thrust statement: Predestination and election is cause for praise.
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:3-6.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 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.
As one contemplates the richness of what God accomplished on Calvary for us through Jesus Christ, one can only break out in praise. This is exactly what Paul did in his reflection upon redemption. He breaks out into the exclamation that God is worthy of applause for such a scheme of liberation from condemnation. Paul paints a picture of God’s eternal purpose and character and glory through the words predestination and election. He felt that it laid the foundation for eternal adoration. He sensed that it presented a glorious view of God. He considered predestination and election the ground and confidence of hope for the believer. Thus, Paul felt that this understanding of His purpose for mankind should elicit praise from the saints in Christ Jesus. For Paul this knowledge should give every Christian an elevated conception of the glory of God’s divine character.
If you leave out the “in Christ” you will never experience the blessings enjoyed by Christians. Paul is dealing with “particular grace” when he writes about predestination and election. There is such a thing as “common grace” that is applicable to humanity as a whole. For example, Jesus speaks of this common grace in His Sermon on the Mount: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). None but Christians participates in the benefits of particular grace; on the other hand, both sinners and Christians share in common much good that comes to the world at large.
What are the spiritual blessings? A careful analysis of this section (1:3-14) enumerates many blessings. For example, consider the following: (1) predestination and election [1:4, 5, 11], (2) acceptance with God through Jesus Christ [1:6], (3) forgiveness of sins and redemption through Jesus Christ [1:7], (4) revelation of the divine mystery [1:9], and (5) union in and with Christ [1:10]. All of these blessings come in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the beginning as well as the end. He is the Alpha and the Omega. There are no blessings apart from Him. It is as Peter proclaimed to the Sanhedrin: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Again, in this same mind-set, Paul declares, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1 Timothy 2:5).
There can be no toleration for anyone else as savior of the world; it is Jesus and Him alone. Paul, in his letter to Colossae, writes: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). The same concept is presented to the Christians at Ephesus: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Believers must never forget that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).
CHOSEN IN HIM
Paul reminds the Ephesians about their election: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). Paul, in this chapter, begins to explain how all the spiritual blessings in Christ become ours. To begin with, Paul goes right back into eternity—before the creation of the world—and starts with what God accomplished for us through Jesus Christ. This is a staggering thought. In this epistle, Christians are brought face to face with one of the greatest mysteries of all time. It is the business of every believer to deal with the subject of predestination and election afresh, not the traditional views espoused by Calvin and many other devout Christians.
One of the advantages that Christians experience in going through a book of the Bible-verse by verse—is that it compels individuals to tackle every single statement in context. This allows everyone to stand before the text, to look at the text, and to allow the text to speak on its own. An analysis of this text (1:3-14) is not to be approached in an aggressive spirit (I’m right and you are wrong) or in a splinter group mentality (it’s my way or no way). These Scriptures should never be approached with heat, anger, or dogmatism, but rather with reverence and awe. Predestination and election is a subject that should be approached with admiration and with a sense of awe. It would be helpful for every Christian to remember that he/she is on holy ground when they draw near the sacred Word. If God’s people do not move toward this subject in the proper spirit, then it is certain that brothers and sisters in Christ will never begin to fathom something of the greatness of what God accomplished for humanity “in and through” Jesus Christ.
As one approaches Ephesians 1:4, one perceives that Paul is making a statement, not an argument. He simply sets forth the doctrine of predestination and election as having occurred before the creation of the world. But in the making of these statements, he states emphatically that this predestination and election had to do with adoption and holiness. One can refuse to become a part of the elect and thus reject holiness as a way of life that God had before the creation of the world predestined that those who become a part of the elect should choose. Paul frequently touches upon this subject in his epistles. Take, for instance, his second letter to the Thessalonians in which he writes:
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).
God chose the Thessalonians to be saved through (1) “the sanctifying work of the Spirit,” and (2) “belief in the truth.” God did not choose them separate and apart from these two truths. In other words, He did not choose certain individuals to be saved or lost before the creation of the world without respect to the “sanctifying work of the Spirit” and “belief of the truth.” This is a marvelous truth. He chose you to salvation by means of the sanctifying work of the Spirit and your acceptance of the truth, that is to say, your belief in Jesus as God’s way of salvation. Again, one should review the spiritual blessings in Christ (1:3-14). Observe once more the words:
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory (1:11-14).
For Paul, the Ephesian Christians were chosen “in Him.” How were they chosen? Were they included “in Him” without regard to their response to the word of truth, that is to say, the gospel of God? Or were they included when they heard the word of truth and believed? Jesus, prior to His ascension, tells the apostles: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). Repetition is some times unavoidable when one has to set aside particular entrenched doctrines concerning predestination and election that has persisted for centuries.
To help unravel tradition and remove spectacles from the eyes, then another citation, as mentioned earlier, from John is appropriate to set the tone once more for what it is that can exclude or include one in the elect of God. This exact citation is Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus about salvation and condemnation. Listen to Jesus as he relates to Nicodemus what it is that will condemn or save:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:16-18).
God sent His Son into the world to save the world. How? Jesus tells Nicodemus it is through belief in Him as the Son of God. If one does not believe then he/she is condemned. God did not predestinate certain individuals to eternal life before the creation of the world without belief in His Son. Again, Peter says essentially the same truth in his first epistle:
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood (1 Peter 1:1-2).
Who are the elect? According to Peter, the elect are those who are set apart for God through the work of the Holy Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ. This is what redemption is all about. God knew before the creation of the world how he would redeem man through Jesus Christ. Thus, salvation is available to anyone who believes. Man’s redemption was not an after thought on the part of God. According to Paul, the elect are those “in Christ.” For Paul, the elect are those predestined before the creation of the world to be adopted as sons of God through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5). Paul calls attention to the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ as having been predestinated before the creation of the world (1:7).
Are you in Christ? If not, then you are not a part of God’s elect. If you wish to become a part of the elect, then you must believe in Him. Does God choose some to eternal damnation or some to eternal life without respect to acceptance or rejection of Jesus as the savior of the world? Perhaps, Peter’s sermon to Cornelius and his household will help to clarify these questions about predestination and election. Listen to the words of Peter as he speaks to Cornelius and his household about redemption:
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days (Acts 10:34-48).
Peter states emphatically: “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (10:34-35). He also testifies: “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:43). Peter, being conscious of their faith in Jesus, commanded that Cornelius and his household be baptized in the name of Jesus. This command concerning baptism is in response to their faith in Jesus. Peter’s words reflect Jesus’ last words to His disciples before His ascension into heaven: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
Predestination and election occur only in Christ. These two blessings are Christocentric. There is no reference in the Ephesian letter to personal election of certain individuals, separate and apart from faith in Christ, for the election is corporate, that is to say, in the body of Christ. Do you want to become a part of God's elect? Do you want forgiveness of your sins? Then, you must "fear him and do what is right." You must believe in Him to receive forgiveness of sins and become a part of the elect. Do you believe that Jesus is both Lord and Christ? If so, then you must repent of your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus.
 All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless stated otherwise.