Seven Glimpses of Unconditional Election

I would like to point out seven things about unconditional election that we see in Ephesians 1:4-6. I will include the text below (and verse 3 for context).

(3) Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
(4) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love
(5) He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
(6) to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

In verses 4-6, I believe we are given the following seven glimpses of Unconditional Election: the event, the object, the sphere, the moment, the purpose, the basis, the end. This article is not meant to complicate matters – I simply want to provide a simple, clear explanation of what God wrote through Paul in Ephesians 1:4-6.

The Event of Election

He chose,” Paul writes (exelexato). First, notice who chooses. God is the selector: He actively chooses. The text does not seem to leave room for passivity or indifference on God’s part, in relation to this selection. Second, notice two things about the choice. It is already accomplished (Greek tense is aorist) and on behalf of God (Greek voice is middle). This verb literally means to “pick out.” We could translate it as: “God picked out for Himself.”

The Object of Election

God chose the saints. First, notice a numerical characteristic. The object of election is actually plural – the objects. “Us” should be identified as “the saints” of verse 1, now including Paul. The plural pronoun seems to intend we see multiple cases of election. That is: God chose every saint. The verb is singular because God alone accomplishes it, and the pronoun is plural because He chose multiple individuals. Second, notice a personal characteristic. The objects of election are clearly humans. The text does not say He chose Christ or a plan: He chose people. This choice, then, is of a personal nature.

The Sphere of Election

In Him” (en auto) articulates the close personal association that the saints have with Christ in election. The saints were chosen within the sphere of Christ. Jesus is the context in which they were selected. God did not arbitrarily elect individuals: He chose them in reference to Jesus Christ. It may be helpful to ask, “In what sense are we elected in the context of Christ?” I suggest that the saints were elected in reference to Christ’s obedient life and death on earth. He had not yet been incarnated but God had covenanted with Himself to accomplish redemption. Likewise, the saints had not yet been created but God chose them in light of Christ’s obedience. This grace of election was “freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (v.6). Contemplating the sphere of election reminds us that not even God’s predestination is done outside of the cross of Christ.

The Moment of Election

God completed this action “before the foundation of the world.” This is the temporal nature of election. God’s choice to save certain individuals does not develop over time. He does not start or finish this blessing as history progresses. Rather, He accomplished it prior to Genesis 1:1. Before the act of creation – even before time – He began the work of redemption. Geerhardus Vos said, “The best proof that He will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.”

The Purpose of Election

These certain individuals were differentiated from the mass of wicked humanity for a particular reason: “that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” We could dive into Paul’s particular word-choices, but for the function of this article we may simply call this “salvation.” So: God chose these individuals that they would be saved. This is when the saints are given an eschatology. Verse 5 gives further details: “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” (emphasis mine). We may rightly say that this election is unto redemption.

The Basis of Election

Continuing in verse 5, we read that “He predestined us…according to the kind intention of His will.” The dependent factor in election was not anything within those chosen. God’s intention and will alone determined every facet of election. Words like unconditional should therefore be attributed to God’s selection of certain sinners to salvation. This warrants great comfort to those believing in Christ. We know that God’s choice to save is never hanging on works that we do.

The End of Election

While verses 4-5 give us a purpose of election, verse 6 communicates the great end of election: “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” God’s glory is the ultimate purpose which even our salvation serves. Not only this, but considering the previous six facets of election, it is literally impossible for an individual to take credit for election. We have not pride to glean from this doctrine.


A Brief Confession

In light of Ephesians 1:4-6, I would like to provide a brief confession of Unconditional Election. I pray this article has been helpful to you.

Before He created the world, the Triune God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – covenanted to accomplish the work of redemption. In reference to Christ’s obedient life and death, God chose certain individuals to experience this redemption in order that He would be glorified through such a demonstration of His rich grace.

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26 thoughts on “Seven Glimpses of Unconditional Election

  1. Does the bible give us any clue on how he selected the chosen ones? Meaning-did he choose at random or was there something special or different about the elect?

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    1. Great question. Three thoughts. FIRST, (staying in Eph 1:4-6) the only thing that seems to have pleased God to choose some and not others is His sovereign will. SECOND, the only other basis we see is “in Him” (v.4) and “which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (v.6). As I briefly explain in the article, I take these phrases to mean “in reference to Christ.” // Those are the only two things that hint at giving a basis for which God chose these individuals.

      I think we can deduce a THIRD thought from “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (v.6). God seems to receive all glory from the blessing of election. If this is so, then I cannot understand how we would contribute anything towards it (similar to how God receiving all glory from justification means that we don’t contribute anything to it – Rom 3:21-31).

      These are the thoughts I have while trying to stay in Ephesians 1. If allowed to go to other passages, I think Romans 9:16 is relevant: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” The context of this is election (vv.6-13; see also 11:1-6).
      ———
      To directly and concisely answer your question, “Did He choose at random or was there something special or different about the elect,” I will say two things. 1) I think the text grants no support for saying that there was something “special or different” about those whom He chose. They were undifferentiatable from others until God chose to save them. 2) I think the text implies that God’s choice was not random, in the sense that all things are worked by God according to His purpose (Eph 1:11). I do not know the mind of God, though, and I cannot explain what His purpose is. All I can do is bow before and confess it to be just and good.

      I hope that is more helpful than not!

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  2. The writer writes “adoption as sons”.
    You stated “the text does not seem to leave room for passivity or indifference on God’s part, in relation to this selection.”
    Does this mean that God only selected male saints?

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      1. Your quote implies there is very little room for questioning what the text says, what I’m asking is, did God only select sons for adoption?

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      2. I implied that there is very little room for questioning what the text says in regards to whether “chose” is an active verb & God cared about whom He chose. That is all I implied.

        It intrigues me that you ask such a question – i never even thought of such a possibility. The text does not say “He predestined sons to adoption,” it says “He predestined us to adoption as sons.” The adoption is qualified to be ‘as sons.’ Sons in Paul’s day enjoyed a special entitlement of inheritance. By saying ‘adoption as sons,’ Paul suggests that those whom God adopts will inherit a rich blessing. This is consistent with 1:7-14 which at least twice talks about the saints’ inheritance.

        So: no. The suggestion that God only adopts men is silly.

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  3. What happened to the inheritance when the man had no sons? I suppose it went to the daughters? Not trying to be controversial with these questions, I just believe in reading the text for exactly what it says. Sounds silly but God chose who he chose and if it is only men as sons who are we to argue?

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    1. I believe in reading the text for exactly what it says too. I appreciate the questions.

      What would have happened in that situation is entirely irrelevant for Paul’s claim. He says that God chose the saints & predestined them to an adoption with a status of sonship equivalent to that of Paul’s day.

      I think you are misreading the text – I’ll point this out again: Paul does not say “He predestined sons to adoption,” but “He predestined us to adoption as sons.” So, “sonship” is not the status of the saints prior to the predestinating work of God – the text, therefore, is not saying that only males were predestined.

      Does that make sense?

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  4. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,
    Eph 1:13

    This verse seems to indicate that God chose only those that heard the gospel and believed. Is that how he elected certain individuals?

    Do you interpret “believe in the gospel” as being saved by works?

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    1. “…having also believed, you were sealed…” Sealing came after faith, not election. This verse is not dealing with God’s pre-creation choice of certain individuals.

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    1. The sealing is dependent on God’s purpose.

      “Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose…you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance.”

      Notice Paul’s word choices. The sealing is “a pledge of our inheritance.” The inheritance is from the predestination, the predestination is “according to His purpose.” So the Spirit is given in order to seal those for whom God has made an inheritance. This is further supported by v.14, “who is given…with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession.”

      “Having also believed, you were sealed” – It would be inappropriate for the Spirit to indwell someone who did not cling to Christ. In the same way that the O.T. tabernacle needed to be holy in order for God to dwell among Israel, so too we must first be sanctified to cling to Christ before it is appropriate for the Spirit to dwell within us.

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      1. Bro. James, so one can be “Regenerated” (saved, new birth) before one is justified by faith? How is that possible that we are saved before we are justified? That is logically impossible?

        I do not ask to be combative, but scripture in no place shows “regeneration” before faith, nor is it a logical in order of salvation to be saved (regenerated) before being justified.

        Thank you sir!

        Well written article by the way!

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      2. Thanks for the comment. Constructive words like this are always welcome, my friend.

        I would say that you are committing the fallacy of Equivocation. “Regeneration” is not the equivalent of “salvation.” Regeneration (just as Election, Justification, Glorification) is a facet of the salvation experience. Of course it is not improper to say that a regenerated individual is “saved.” For example, Paul says in Romans 8:12-25 that though our adoption is not yet complete we still “cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (v.15b-16).

        So we are not saved before we are justified – however, we are being saved before we are justified, because justification is not the beginning of God’s salvific work. For example, later in Romans 8 Paul writes: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…and these whom he predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (vv.29-30). Salvation is not a momentary event.

        Now, I will secondly address your comment on regeneration before faith. John spoke many times of the new birth preceding faith. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 Jn 5:1). Just as the new birth precedes our works of righteousness and love (2:29; 4:7), so it precedes our faith in Christ. The new birth makes the difference between those who accept Christ and those who don’t (Jn. 1:12-13). The new birth is necessary for faith yet is un-manipulatable by human will (Jn 1:13; 3:1-8; 6:63) – “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (6:44). Moving on from John: regeneration is necessary for any true obedience to God (Ezek 36:26-27). Paul understood God’s will to be necessarily effectual preceding faith (Rom 9:1-18). To Jews the gospel is a “stumbling block,” to Gentiles “foolishness” – yet to whom is it “the power of God and the wisdom of God”? Only “to those who are the called” (1 Cor 1:22-24). Paul understood the faith of the Thessalonians to be evidence that God had previously chosen to save them (1 Thess 1:4). We work faith and obedience only as God works it in us (Phil 2:12-13), for until God initiates the relationship we are hopelessly hostile toward Him (Rom 8:6-8).

        The “gift” of Ephesians 2:8-9 could (not necessarily) refer to everything in the preceding verse: grace, saved, faith. This would make sense because God’s grace (vv.4-7) moves us from moral death in unrighteousness (vv.1-3; ie. not simply a death of condemnation). John 6:29 is another verse that could (again, not necessarily) support regeneration before faith: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” “Of God” could be understood as “God’s work” – thus, “This is the work that God does, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” My understanding of these two passages fits perfectly with the Biblical narrative. Acts 11:18, “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'” 5:31, “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to israel, and forgiveness of sins.” 16:14, “A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” 13:48, “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” The rich young ruler could not come to Christ (Mk 10:23-26) only because he was unwilling to (vv.17-22), and that unwillingness is only remedied by God’s power (v.27).

        These are texts explicitly referring to the doctrine of regeneration preceding faith. Two other facets of Biblical support I could call upon would be those that depict mankind as completely unwilling to love God until He first loves them, and those that advocate for a consistent, Trinitarian initiative in salvation.

        Thanks again for commenting. Feel free to respond! I greatly enjoy discussions of this nature – they are helpful, I think.

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      3. Bro. James,

        Thank you for your well written and thought out response. I always enjoy talking to Calvinists who I become friends with in a Grace filled and Christ like manner.

        I would like to probe a little further and ask what is your definition of regeneration?

        Also, do you believe that God is responsible for man to repent and believe the Gospel, or is man?

        Thank you brother for this thoughtful conversation and have a wonderful thanksgiving.

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      4. Regeneration is a Divine work of creation. In it, a person is recreated into one that loves Christ. The stony heart that hated God is done away with – in its place, a fleshly heart bursting with affections for the Triune God. It is often called “being born again” (Jn 3:1-8) or the beginning of our resurrection (Eph 2:1-6).

        Man is responsible for repenting of sins & clinging to Christ in faith.

        Yes I find such conversations very helpful. Further, there is no reason why disagreement has to bring enmity.

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    1. Yes

      Which you will likely follow, “Then receiving the Spirit depends on believing?”

      Which I will follow, “In what sense? In the sense that belief produces a sealing – no. In the sense that God will not seal someone until they believe – yes.”

      Which you will likely follow, “God will not seal someone until they believe… Sounds like God doesnt force Himself onto people.”

      Which I will follow, “You are drawing conclusions not depicted in the text. Still more, Paul later writes that faith is a gift (Eph 2:8-9). Still more, such a conclusion ignores what you have yet to disprove: that God elects to save certain individuals (1:4-6) & only seals those individuals (v.14).”

      —> Sorry…just trying to cut to the chase 🙂

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  5. Actually I was asking what I asked. My response to your yes or no was going to be, Can you give me an order of operation for salvation. Including but not limited to calling predestined election sealing beilieving adoption justification sanctification glorification etc

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    1. I know you ‘asked what you asked’. I provided a specific template in case the conversation went that direction. It is not going that direction, so my apologies.

      I do not have perfect knowledge or understanding of God’s work, but from texts like Ephesians 1 & 2, Romans 8 & 9, it seems evident to me that the following outline is appropriate:

      1. God selects certain individuals to receive the benefits of redemption (Election & Predestination).
      2. God atones for the sins of those individuals on the cross, securing redemption (Atonement)
      3. God calls these individuals, taking out the heart hostile to God & giving a heart that loves Him (Calling & Regeneration/initial Adoption)
      4. This new heart then gladly & freely clings to Jesus, repenting of sin & believing the gospel (Belief & Repentance).
      5. God declares the individuals guiltless & credits them w/ the righteousness of Christ (Justification) and seals them w/ the Holy Spirit (Sealing).
      6. At the last day, these individuals are raised physically and ‘saved to sin no more’ (completion of Adoption/Glorification).

      Again, the main texts I’m thinking of for this are Eph 1 & 2, Rom 8 & 9

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  6. Your previous comment did invoke some thought though. Eph 2:8-9 apears to me that salvation through faith is the gift not faith itself. Thoughts?

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    1. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” — I understand “that” to be pointing to the sum & every facet of the previous phrase. So: ‘grace’, ‘saved’, & ‘faith.’

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  7. Also why would anyone want disprove that God elects to save certain individuals? It’s written in the text. The questions I have are related more towards did God elect those who he foreknew would believe? Or did he elect people and make them believe? Or is that fine line a mystery of God?

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    1. Opposition to election, i think, has to do w/ the fact that mot hardly any other doctrine so rubs against our prideful hearts. Because unconditional election says that salvation hinges solely ok God’s will to be merciful.

      Those are good questions, Luis. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. No, I dont think that is too fine of a line to draw. Eph. 1 seems to give no basis but God’s good pleasure – so nothing to do w/ foreseen faith. Romans 9:6-18 is even more clear: i encourage you to read it sometime.

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  8. I read both, I can’t find anything that says God gives a new heart that HAS NO OPTION but to believe. Where do you see that?

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    1. There are of course other options. Every believer sins and at times misplaces faith. Yet the heart of the true Christian is no longer hostile to God & is naturally inclined towards Christ. Here are a few texts:
      Ezek. 36:25-27 (New Covenant promise)
      Jn 6:29 (God works our faith)
      Rom 8:30 (every individual who is called is then justified – in some sense, then, calling ensures faith)
      1 Jn 5:1 (Faith is rooted in regeneration)

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