TEXT: Eph. 1:3-14; focus on v. 4: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”
Why preach on this controversial topic? (1) To honor John Calvin. This year is the 500th anniversary of his birth. He wasn’t perfect, he did some terrible things (mainly because he was a child of the age he lived in); but over-all he was a great servant of the Word of God. His name is forever connected with the doctrine of election although he didn’t originate it. He simply saw it in the Bible. He deserves to be honored for the service he has rendered to God and his people especially in the matter of teaching and preaching God’s Word. (2) To clarify points of misunderstanding. Some people think Calvinists (i.e., believers in unconditional election, although this is not the only thing Calvinists believe) are heretics or fatalists. Actually, they simply believe and teach what the Bible says. The Bible teaches that God is absolutely sovereign, even in the matter of salvation. Calvinists believe that. The Bible also teaches that human beings are responsible for their actions and decisions and will be held to account for them. Calvinists believe that too. (3) To glorify God. Eph. 1:6 says that election and predestination are “to the praise of his glorious grace”. The doctrine of election glorifies God’s grace and at the same time humbles man’s pride. That is why we must preach this doctrine.
I. WHAT ELECTION IS NOT
A. Election is not merely for service, because it is unto holiness and blamelessness (1:4). We’ll have more to say about this later on.
B. Election is not merely national or corporate. It’s also personal. But more of this later.
C. Election is not conditional. Although some people say, on the basis of Romans 8:29 that God foreknew or foresaw that someday some people will believe in Christ as their personal Savior and that’s why he chose them, the fact is Romans 8:29 is about foreknowledge of persons, not of their faith. (Comp. Jer. 1:5.) In Rom. 8:29 the word “foreknew” is practically synonymous with “elect” or “choose”. Also, the word “know” in the Bible is sometimes used as a synonym for love (Gen. 4:1, Amo. 3:2). Therefore foreknowledge of persons in relation to election amounts to foreloving them, i.e., loving them before the foundation of the world.
D. Election is not temporal. Some people say that since God chose us in Christ, and since we get to be in Christ only after we receive him as our Lord and Savior, and since receiving Christ takes place in time and not before the foundation of the world, they conclude that God elects you not before the foundation of the world, but after you put your faith in Christ, i.e., for them election takes place in time. But what happens now to the words “before the foundation of the world”? We might as well take a pair of scissors and cut them out of the Bible! Titus 1:1, 2 however says that God promised us eternal life before time began. And II Timothy 1:9 says that God gave us his grace in Christ before time began.
E. Election is not hypothetical. According to the hypothetical view God elected a plan, not a people. No specific persons are elected; there is only the setting of parameters (qualifications or conditions for salvation for whoever wants to comply with them) or establishment of a general category or set (i.e., believers in the abstract) which may or may not be filled with individual members someday (i.e., what happens if no one actually believes?). It’s like predestining a boat to heaven. If you decide to board the boat, you’re elect; if you decide not to, you’re not elect. But what if no one decides to be a passenger on the boat? You have an elect boat without any elect passengers! Election is not only about predestining the boat to heaven and waiting for passengers to board (and hope they actually do so), it’s also about electing real people to board the boat to make sure it’ll have passengers! In other words, in the hypothetical view no actual election takes place before the foundation of the world. This view fails to take seriously the force of the word “us” in 1:4. Comp. Jeremiah 1:5 and Rom. 8:29,30 which clearly indicate that particular individuals are in view.
II. WHAT ELECTION IS
A. Election is soteriological. Election is “unto salvation”. We are elected to be holy and blameless. But in the New Testament, to be holy and blameless is to be sanctified and justified (see I Pet. 1:1-2). In fact, to be perfectly holy is to be glorified. Justification (we have been saved from the penalty of sin), sanctification (we are being saved from the power of sin) and glorification (we will be saved from the presence of sin) are aspects of salvation. Therefore, election is unto salvation.
B. Election is personal. The surrounding context of Ephesians 1 points to persons or individuals, whether collectively or singly considered. Besides, the holiness and blamelessness spoken of here are qualities or characteristics that pertain primarily to individuals. Elsewhere we would attach “redemption” to individuals. Why not here?
C. Election is unconditional. Take note of the following phrases in relation to election or election: (1) “according to the good pleasure of his will” (1:5); and (2) “according to the counsel of his will” (1:11), i.e., he consulted no one but himself when he made his decision, no external considerations are taken into account (comp. Rom. 9:11,15,16,18);
Also take note that faith, which is the condition for salvation, is a fruit of election. Eph. 1:3 is a consequence of v.4. God blessed us with every spiritual blessing because he chose us. Spiritual blessings are the result of election. But is not faith included in these spiritual blessings? Surely, it is. Therefore, faith is a consequence of election! Comp. 2:8 and I Corinthians 4:7.
(To be continued)