Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even 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 for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:3-6)
The doctrines of election and predestination are an expression of God’s purposefulness. They are often viewed as cerebral, impractical, and contentious teachings. Admittedly, they present us with the mental challenge that is common when the finite seeks to grasp the infinite. The apostle Paul, however, saw them as precious and motivating truths. In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul seems to push the boundaries of sentence construction (it is all one sentence in the original) as he fills his doxology to God the Father with praise for all the spiritual blessings that we have in Christ. Conspicuously prominent in the list is our being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (v. 4) and having been predestined in Christ for adoption as sons (v. 5). These doctrines are for neither the snobbery nor the embarrassment of his people, but for the praise of God’s glorious grace (v. 6). That is God’s ultimate purpose in salvation.
Though it does challenge our mental comprehension, the Bible’s treatment of election and predestination is very practical. The Ephesian believers struggled with fleshly temptations like lying, stealing, anger, and sexual immorality (Eph. 4:17-31). Before addressing these sins, Paul must remind them of the foundation of their hope. “To walk in a manner worthy of their calling” (Eph. 4:1), they must first understand that the ground of their hope in Christ stretches back prior to their own decision to follow him and into eternity past with the immutable decision, unfailing purpose, and unconditional electing love of God (Eph. 1:4-14).
Predestination refers to God determining before time began to bring about all his holy will (Isa. 46:10; Eph. 1:11). In the doctrine of salvation, we can view election as the first expression of the saving work that he predestined. Election refers to God choosing in eternity past to save a specific group of sinners and unite them under one head, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10). That choice was not motivated by any fitness in them (Rom. 9:11-12; 1 Cor. 1:27-29). It was a gracious expression of his unconditional love for a specific (John 10:15-16) but indistinguishable (Rom. 3:22; 1 Tim. 2:4) group of sinners. At the heart of this choice is an indissoluble union with Jesus Christ as their federal head in the sight of God (Eph. 2:4-7; Rom. 5:19), the fountainhead of all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3), and the image to which they are being conformed (Rom. 8:29).
This act of election – or choosing – is referred to throughout Scripture (e.g. Deut. 4:37; John 15:16; 1 Cor. 1:27-28), and the Bible often speaks of God’s elect – or chosen ones (e.g. Matt. 24:22, Rom. 8:33, Col. 3:12). Rather than being an excuse for inactivity, it encourages the believer to persist in evangelistic enterprise (Acts 18:9-11; 2 Tim. 2:8-10). Embedded in the notion of election is the bald-face assertion that God has the right to have mercy on whom he will have mercy (Rom. 9:15). To the would-be evangelist there is also the unshakable confidence that God has the determination to have mercy on whom he will have mercy.
God’s purpose in election rises above deliverance from punishment. It far exceeds merely securing a place in heaven. In his astonishing grace:
- God chose to redeem a band of ruined, rebellious sinners with the precious blood of his Son. (Eph. 1:7)
- He chose to adopt them as sons and daughters. (Eph. 1:5)
- He chose to transform them into the likeness of Jesus Christ. (Rom. 8:29)
- He chose to unite them together in a God-like oneness. (John 17:20-21)
- He chose to sanctify them to holy, universal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9)
- He chose to reward them with the inheritance bestowed upon his Son. (Eph. 1:11)
- He chose to guarantee that inheritance by giving them the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 1:13-14)
From this perspective, the most bewildering aspect of election is not that God chose to save only some, but that God chose to save any. When the Christian begins to truly understand this doctrine, the fitting and irrepressible impulse is humble, lavish, and enthusiastic praise of God’s glorious grace.