Thrust statement: Predestination and election are only in Christ Jesus.
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:3-6.
There is a tendency among many Christians to abuse the predestination and election passages. The current interpretation among many is to say that predestination and election are fixed concerning certain individuals, thus there is no need of any effort on the part of any individual to respond to the good news of God. The logical conclusion, according to some theologians, is this: if God has an eternal plan of predestination and election, then no matter how men may live, no matter how heinous their rebellion, no matter how much they reject God, they cannot be lost if they were elected to eternal life before the foundation of the world. In other words, they will be saved since He has elected them to eternal life. This philosophy advances the notion that no one can change that plan of eternal damnation or eternal life. Since this condition of eternal life is predestined before the foundation of the world, then one might as well enjoy life by indulgence in sin, at least this conclusion is the logical consequence of such a notion.
A careful reading of the epistle to the Ephesians reveals that Paul held to no such view of the doctrine of predestination. For Paul, one’s apprehension of predestination should excite the gratitude of believers and make men and women holy and without blame before Him in love (1:4). It is true that God has chosen us, but this election is to be found only in Jesus: “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” (1:4-5). One’s adoption and election can only be in the Elect One. The whole choice and purpose of salvation had reference to Him and outside of Him no one was/is chosen.
The election of individuals is Christocentric. In other words, the election of men is comprehended only in Christ. For Paul, when one is outside of Christ, then there is no election. This election is associated with Christ, not apart from Christ. Listen to Paul as he enumerates the various activities associated with Christ: (1) “every spiritual blessing in Christ” [Ephesians 1:3], (2) “chose us in him” [1:4], (3) “freely forgiven us in the One he loves” [1:6], (4) “in him we have redemption” [1:7], (5) “made known to us the mystery . . . which he purposed in Christ” [1:9], (6) “In him we were all chosen” [1:11], (7) “you also were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” [1:13], and (8) “You were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” [1:13].
Christ assumed the Messianic office by the Father’s appointment. Matthew relates an incident in the life of Jesus in which he calls attention to Jesus as the chosen (elect) servant of God:
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope” (Matthew 12:15-21).
Matthew cites Isaiah 42:1-7 to highlight Jehovah’s election of the Servant-Messiah. For Matthew, Jesus is the Servant–Messiah. He is the “servant whom I have chosen, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight” (Isaiah 40:1). Again, Isaiah says,
“I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness (40: 6-7).
John reports an incidence between the religious leaders and Jesus concerning His having come from God: “what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world” (John 10:36)? Jesus was aware of His election and mediatorial office as originating in God. His redemption mission was the express design and will of His Father. In Jesus, who is the Elect from eternity, is located the compassionate election of men.
Election, in eternity past, was predicated on the work of Christ before the foundation of the world. Isaiah spoke of the work of God’s chosen One in accomplishing a way of salvation for all those who put their trust in Him:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6).
Peter praises God for a living hope (1 Peter 1:3-12). This living hope is based upon God’s Elect from eternity—before the foundation of the world. Peter says,
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:10-12).
If one refuses to confess Jesus as Lord, then this one is not a part of the elect of God, because he/she is not in the Elect of God. Paul addresses this issue of salvation based upon confession of Jesus as Lord in his letter to the Romans:
“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:8-13).
According to Paul, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame” will not be lost. Again, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” These statements by Paul contradict the views of election and predestination advanced by many sincere believers. As stated above, this election of individuals has no separate existence independently of the Elect of God (Luke 9:35; 23:35). The election to salvation is only in union with Christ. Yes, Paul does advance the concept that individuals were chosen “before the creation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). But, Paul does not stop with that statement alone. Rather, he adds a prepositional phrase: “in him.” This “in him” qualifies who the ones are that are a part of the elect of God. Christ is the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 1:5). He is the Living Covenant of reconciliation and election.
Matthew, as stated above, cites Isaiah 42 to call attention to Jesus as the elect Servant of Yahweh. Isaiah says, “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people” (42:6). It is in Him and Him alone that men are elected and outside of Him no man is elected. The election to salvation is corporate as well as Christocentric. In other words, the election of Christ involves the election of the church: “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). The New Testament comprehends believers, not in isolation, but as members of the body of the elect. The election of individual men and women cannot be isolated from the church that is His body. Jesus is the Elect of God.
As one peruses the entire epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, one quickly observes that election is corporate, not individualistic, that is to say, it is not separate and apart from Christ. For instance, Paul writes: “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (2:12-13). Again, as Paul concludes his epistle, he calls attention to the role of the church (body of Christ) in the scheme of redemption:
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body (5:22-30).
The election of any man or woman is an election within the sphere of the elect community of God, namely the body of Christ. Election is established and marked out in the election of Jesus Christ. Christ is the true Elect. The election that Paul addresses in his epistles is not in respect to particular individuals—unconditionally elected—but rather, the election is in respect to the body of Christ (ekklhsia). This union with Christ comes about through faith in Jesus. Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, expresses forcefully the method God employs to incorporate one into the Elect of God:
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 “the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth,” God did not select them separate and apart from these two truths. Once more, the words of Paul are to the point in the first chapter of Ephesians: “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” (Ephesians 1:13). Were they unconditionally elected without respect to the gospel of God? No! Paul emphasizes that they were included when they believed, not before. In conclusion, consider the following Scriptures that capture the concept that election is only in the body of 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 (Ephesians 1:4-5).
But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant (Colossians 1:22-23).
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ (Ephesians 1:7-9).
From the above Scriptures, one observes that the election is corporate and comprehends individuals only in association with the Elect body, that is to say, the Body of Christ. Perhaps, one more Scripture is appropriate to summarize this message on “Election of Men is Comprehended Only In Christ.” Listen to John as he calls attention to life and where it is to be found:
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:11-12).
 All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless stated otherwise.