Wednesday, 29 June 2016
…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, Ephesians 1:4
Note: This commentary is rather long, but the wording is important and precision of thought and word is needed.
The words here can be viewed in several ways. One view negates the thought of free-will in man, as if God has made a decision to choose specific individuals regardless of whether they do anything or not.
This is a monergistic view which basically looks at all things as directed by God to an ultimate end in such a way that there is no need to “receive” Jesus; there is no need to evangelize others; there is no need to anticipate that the things we do will affect our eternal destiny in any way. It is basically God’s plan being executed by automatons.
The other view is a synergistic view which says that the free-will of man is included in God’s purposes of election; that man is accountable for the actions and decisions he makes; and that receiving Christ is an active part of the redemptive process. The words of Charles Ellicott help define which view is correct (underlining added) –
“The eternal election of God is inseparably connected with the blessing of the Spirit. This passage stands alone in St. Paul’s Epistles in its use of this word ‘chosen’ in connection with God’s eternal purpose, ‘before the foundation of the world’—a phrase only applied elsewhere to the eternal communion of the Son with the Father (John 17:24), and to the foreordaining of His sacrifice in the divine counsels (1 Peter 1:20). The word “chosen” itself is used by our Lord of His choice of the Apostles (John 6:70; John 13:18; John 15:16-19); but in one case with the significant addition, ‘one of you is a devil,’ showing that the election was not final. It is similarly used in the Acts (Acts 1:2; Acts 1:24; Acts 6:5; Acts 15:7; Acts 15:22; Acts 15:25) of His choice or the choice of the Apostles; and once (Acts 13:7) of the national election of Israel. In 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 (the only other place where it is used by St. Paul), and in James 2:5 it refers to choice of men by God’s calling in this world. Clearly in all these cases it is applied to the election of men to privilege by an act of God’s mercy here. In this passage, on the contrary, the whole reference is to the election “in Christ,” by the foreknowledge of God, of those who should hereafter be made His members. From this examination of Scriptural usage it is clear that the visible election to privilege is constantly and invariably urged upon men; the election in God’s eternal counsels only dwelt upon in passages which (like this or Romans 9, 11) have to ascend in thought to the fountain-head of all being in God’s mysterious will. It will be observed that even here it clearly refers to all members of the Church, without distinction.”
From this study, we see that the meaning of God’s predestination, or choosing us, “in Him before the foundation of the world” speaks of an overall plan for the redemption of man, not the individual details of the plan. In other words, God would do something in the realm of space, time, and matter which He created, and which would bring about the redemption of the creatures He knew would fall from His favor. The plan was laid out and ordained before the creation of anything that existed, and that plan includes God’s petitioning of men to turn back to Him voluntarily; the overall plan includes human free-will. This doesn’t mean He doesn’t know what choices we will make, but it allows for free-will from a human perspective.
In this we see that the details of that overall plan would come by the individual actions of man within the larger concept of “choosing” the elect. In the plan are set parameters which included “that we should be holy and without blame before Him.” These words show us the object of the overall plan of divine election. They imply a synergistic cooperation between the Redeemer and the redeemed. Because of the fall, man is inherently unholy and unrighteous. However, in coming to Christ, man is justified before God. From that point we are to strive toward holiness so that we may be presented to God in holiness (see Romans 12:1).
Albert Barnes provides the following concerning the responsibilities of the elect –
“The tendency among people has always been to abuse the doctrine of predestination and election; to lead people to say that if all things are fixed there is no need of effort; that if God has an eternal plan, no matter how people live, they will be saved if he has elected them, and that at all events they cannot change that plan, and they may as well enjoy life by indulgence in sin. The apostle Paul held no such view of the doctrine of predestination. In his apprehension it is a doctrine suited to excite the gratitude of Christians, and the whole tendency and design of the doctrine, according to him, is to make people holy, and without blame before God in love.”
God’s plan neither directs nor chooses individual salvation apart from the giving of Christ (which in reality is what a monergistic view of salvation implies), nor does it direct individual holiness apart from the process of sanctification, of which the individual clearly participates. If God chose the elect even prior to the fall, then Christ’s work loses its significance. Such ideas conflict with the entire tenor of Scripture and are based on a faulty view of the overall plan. God’s plan does not negate free-will. Instead God’s plan relies on free-will; it anticipates it; it expects it.
And all of this from God is “in love.” The final two words of the verse show us the nature of God’s heart toward the objects of the plan. God would create in love. God knew that man would turn away from Him, but in love He devised His plan even before that occurred; even as He determined to create. Man did fall, and in love God continued with the plan of redemption for man; He chose to send Jesus. There is no other plan because the plan is based on the eternal counsel of God even before creation. Therefore, the use of the words “chose us” indicates all those who would be receptive to the plan, executed in love, which was devised in love by God who is love.
Life application: You may choose to accept this analysis of the doctrine of election or you may reject it. That is your choice. The important point is that as long as you choose to receive Jesus Christ, you will be saved. If you don’t you will not be saved. Choose wisely.
Lord God, it is beyond comprehension that You would step out of Your eternal realm, unite with Your creation, and work within that creation to correct what we have so horribly fouled up. And then, You grant us the choice to believe or reject that what You did is sufficient to reconcile us to You. In the great plan, which You devised before the very foundation of the world, You have left the final decision up to us as to whether we will accept it or not. How wise You are in Your ways. Thank You for granting us this opportunity to participate in Your love through the work of Christ! Amen.