The doctrine of election could be the doctrine of grace that is the most controversial or has a bad reputation. What is election? Many people equate this with predestination, and many avoid talking about it because God appears unjust and unfair by “choosing” one group over another. Today, we'll use Eph 1:3-10 to help us understand this doctrine as God intended for it to be.
(A) The doctrine of election is a divine revelation with God as the sovereign actor
Eph 1:3-10 is actually one long sentence in Greek. Paul was excited and he was breathlessly and jubilantly declaring all that God has done. The process of election involves a choice: someone gets to choose what someone else becomes. When you elected your student council, you excercised this choice too. Let’s use our understanding of election in this way to unpack this passage. This passage could be familiar to some of us, and the temptation to skim and gloss over it is real. But let's read this closely, paying attention to the pronouns and possessive nouns.
Before we go on, we need to remember that this is what the Word of God tells us. God revealed this to Paul and he passed to the church. The doctrine of revelation is divine revelation and not human speculation. It wasn’t thought up by a theologian in seminary, and it certainly was not concocted by Martin Luther or John Calvin. In Mark 13:19-20, we read the words of Jesus. Jesus is with the disciples on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and he was responding to their curiosity about the signs of the end times. In part of his explanation is a tiny detail that is easy to miss. Jesus tells us that there is an elect that God has chosen. Paul's writings here in Ephesians was consistent with what Jesus has taught.
As we unpack this passage, we are told that God has blessed us. God has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” “in Christ” and it can be found “in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). So, what does it mean? Simply, we are meant to see that there is a fullness in Christ that is now ours. All Christians who have repented and placed their faith in Christ are in Christ, and if you are in Christ,
this verse tells us we have all spiritual blessings. Note the tense. The blessing has already taken place. Every blessing we receive from God, we receive in and through Christ. This is not merely speaking of things on earth, material blessings. Yes, we know that all good gifts come from God (c.f. James 1:17), but we know that Paul is not merely talking about these things. He is talking about infinitely better, more secure blessings that are in Christ. He is not talking about a promotion, or new phones, and certainly not about things we can instagram as #blessed. God has already decided that He will pour out His blessings, blessings such as:
- Chosen by God (Eph 1:4)
- Holy and blameless before God (Eph 1:4)
- Adopted as sons and daughters (Eph 1:5)
- Recipients of the glorious grace in His son (Eph 1:6)
- Redemption through the blood of Christ (Eph 1:7)
- Riches of his grace that He has lavished upon us (Eph 1:7-8)
- Knowledge of the mystery of God’s will (Eph 1:9-10)
These are eternal blessings that are priceless, rare and most enduring of all treasures. God’s blessings and resources are for us and on us. This give us certainty and assurance when we are in Christ.
Not only is the Christian the recipient of all spiritual blessings in Christ, Paul also says that Christians are adopted the same way we become holy and blameless — through the blood of Christ (Eph 1:4-5). The table below summaries God's actions and initiative in our adoption.
This was God's plan from before this world began! Have you ever wondered how old the oceans and skies are? The sheer age of the world continues to amaze us, and many scientists are still working on this. Paul is saying that this adoption was predestined, that God chose us even before anything we know of this world existed, and certainly before we all did anything. "What about free will?", some might ask. This represents the free will of God. He chooses outside the limitations of time and space, outside cause and effect. And, why should the will of the Creator be limited by the will of the Creature? More importantly, if you are a Christian today, this passage is calling us to see how wonderful it is to be chosen by this God, and for a specific purposes — to be holy and blameless. Is this how you think about God and who you are in Christ?
(B) The doctrine of election shows God’s unconditional love for us: the broken, lost and undeserving
We also learn from Eph 1:5 that God’s will is a function of the Father’s love for the Son, in that in our adoption, it also takes place through the Son. Paul doesn't just tell us what God does, but also why he does it. Ultimately, God acts for the purpose of his will and to the praise of his glorious grace. We also see that God intended to adopt us to Himself. This is evident from the word “predestined”. It shows us what God wants to do, but also what God wants. Can you see how God wants? This is the desired outcome of the predestination that He decided on "in love". Don't forget that we are not lovable or deserving of this grace shown by God. Only a loving, merciful and gracious God would desire a relationship with children of wrath, and make this possible. God doesn’t merely pardon us like a judge would do to a criminal. He goes a step further to bring us into His family, and make us joint heirs to His kingdom through Jesus Christ.
Adoption for us means giving up our previous identity, one in death and as children of wrath, and taking on a new one of life in Christ. Paul writes of 2 things that we obtain by virtue of being ‘in Christ’ (Eph 1: 7).In Christ we have redemption and forgiveness. We were redeemed at a price, because His blood was spilt. Redemption in Greek means to set free with the receipt of a payment. In Christ was have been ransomed and set free in full. With forgiveness, we have also been pardoned and set free.
How did we receive this? It was “according to the riches of his grace”. It wasn’t a grudging gift of God and it wasn’t an afterthought. God poured out and lavished on us! Jesus’ death is immense in magnitude and immeasurable in gratitude. God's grace was given in excess to those who are utterly undeserving! What does this mean practically for you and me? Your broken past doesn't matter. Your current struggle with sin doesn’t change your status in Him. The price has already been paid through the blood of Christ. God has already made His choice, and He set His heart upon you before you were even born. What should we do with this knowledge? Unconditional election actually means a strong eternal security in Christ, because there is no shadow of turning with thee. His grace is not dependent on our action or how good we are, because He chose us before all things came into being. Election should lead us to humility, because we have nothing in ourselves to merit it. We have nothing to boast of, and we were utterly undeserving (c.f Rom 5:8). The only boasting we can and should do, is in God who has showered His glorious grace and mercy on us! Do you struggle with the weight of you sins and guilt today? Pause, and consider this truth of God;s glorious grace!
(C) The doctrine of election assures, humbles and calls us to worship
There is also a mystery of God’s will that has been made known to us (Eph 1:9). The mystery is that salvation can be made available to all, Jew or Gentile, that place their faith in Christ (c.f. Eph 3:6). God’s plan from all eternity is to bring the Jew and the Gentile and to resolve all things in Christ. What is the pattern? All the blessings are based on what God has done, is doing and will do. God has the right to judge. At the same time, He has the right to show mercy on whom He wishes.
This doctrine of election is not just an intellectual exercise. There are some implications for us. We need to be clear that election is not the working an unfair God. It can lead us to assume that God is unfair because He chooses to save some and not others. We know that God is not a God of injunctive. We need to consider justice from God’s perspective and not ours. All man have sin and none have done good (Ps 53). Justice should be due, and we ought to pay. When God therefore chooses to show mercy, is God being unfair or unjust? One group receives grace, the other receives mercy. If you are a Christian today, let this drive you to worship again and again! God's love is not a transactional one. His grace is always greater than our sins.
Election is also not a license to sin, or to live frivolously. We've already read about our purpose in election. It is to live holy and blameless before God. God chose us for this purpose. We are called to follow Christ and to put on His righteousness. How are we living today? What are our priorities?
Election is also not a guessing game. God has not only elected certain individuals, but has also ordained the means of salvation — through the preaching of the gospel. A proper understanding actually empowers and encourages evangelism. We can preach boldly and persevere even through suffering and persecution because we know that the power lies in the message and not in how we convey. We can share the gospel freely, knowing that any one of the, can be Christ’s sheep. It is not up to us to decide who we should share it with. Therefore, share to all, knowing that God will use it to call His sheep.