Part 1: Election (1:4)
To understand a work of writing, one has to understand the themes and major issues of the work to aid in understanding the whole text. The theme of the Bible is straightforward enough: pointing to the cross and the Messiah in the Old Testament and exposition of the cross in the New Testament. Further, this is done so that God receives the glory for His work at Calvary. Coming up with the theme for Ephesians is a little more difficult than it is for Galatians. For many reasons, I have settled on the theme of “The Church and God’s Grace in the Gospel.” One of these reasons is context: in Paul’s first letter to Timothy he counseled the young pastor to “remain at Ephesus” to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3). He counseled Timothy to counter these “teachers of the Law” (1:7), who misused the law, teaching that they could gain salvation if they kept the law. In short, Paul wrote Ephesians to a church that had strayed from the truth of the Gospel, namely that it is God who is responsible for the blessings of salvation (MSB 1801). Thus,
The apostle’s design is to settle and establish the Ephesians in the truth . . . In the former part he represents the great privilege of the Ephesians, who, having been in time past idolatrous heathens, were now converted to Christianity and received into covenant with God, ch. 1-3. In the latter part (which we have in the 4th, 5th, and 6th chapters) he instructs them in the principal duties of religion, both personal and relative, and exhorts and quickens them to the faithful discharge of them. (MHC6 1205).
The first issue Paul brings up is the doctrine of election, apt in its placement at the beginning of the letter due to its prehistorical nature. Paul writes,
3 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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Election demonstrates God’s sovereignty. In these four verses, the only person who acts is God. All the verbs are undertaken by Him: “[He] has blessed” (v.3), “he chose” (v.4), “he predestined” (v.5), “he blessed” (v.6). There is a sense of inability, of dependence, on our behalf, because in these verses, man does nothing. The one thing that we can do is “be holy and blameless” (v.4), but even this is contingent on the fact that “he chose us.” Notably, we are the recipients of God’s actions: the object of every action that God takes is “us.” From the very beginning, it is God who determined to work in us, for us. Despite our feebleness, God is incredibly gracious. God has all the power, we have none; He chooses to us that power on our behalf. He certainly does not have to. We are weak, unable, dependent. Nothing about us merits any of His actions.
The truth, then, is this: God acted because we cannot. In chapter 2, verse 1, Paul writes that we are “dead in . . . trespasses and sins.” God had to act because we are dead. No life whatsoever. So infinitely removed are we from His holiness by our sin that we are, in essence, dead. We cannot choose God or want Him because we are by nature lovers of sin and doers of evil. We cannot even respond to Him, either in the cross or in His revelation in creation (Ps. 19:1), without Him first working in us, so far removed from and rebellious toward God are we. There is nothing we can possibly do to reconcile ourselves to God. So God, in His incomprehensible grace, did. God, in His vast love, acted on us. He chose us.
According to verse 4, God chose us to be “holy and blameless before him.” This is a clear depiction of salvation: Christ’s holiness, blamelessness, guiltlessness, righteousness is credited to us by His death on the cross. And He did this “before the foundation of the world” (v.4). God knew that we would sin and that we would fall far from His necessary standard of perfection, and so He appointed His Son to descend to earth to live in the body of a man like us, to live perfectly and die horribly and unjustly. Says Matthew Henry:
We have here the date of this act of love: it was before the foundation of the world; not only before God’s people had a being, but before the world had a beginning; for they were chosen in the counsel of God from all eternity. It magnifies these blessings to a high degree that they are the products of eternal counsel. (MHC6 1207)
Why would God do this? Why would God send His Son to die? Why would God chose us to be saved by Christ’s atonement? The end of verse 4: “In love.” It is due to His incredible love that He would select rebellious sinners to benefit from the death of His own Son.
We as the elect should be incredibly thankful to God. He did not have to choose us, and He did not have to send His Son to earth to die in our place. It is by His great grace that He elected us to be the beneficiaries of atonement. But in addition to the thankfulness we have to God for selecting us, choosing us for salvation, we should be extremely humbled before Him. God is the one who saves because we are utterly unable to respond to Him. When think upon our salvation, let it be a reminder of our inability and dependence on God. From beginning to end, election to glorification (Phil. 1:6), it is God who is completely responsible for our salvation. He is the “author and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2, NASB). Election is an indication of His sovereignty, but He is also sovereign in every area of our lives. Just as we are not able to save ourselves from His wrath, we can do nothing apart from God. As I recognize my lack of ability and God’s total power, I am humbled, and He is glorified.
The apostle John writes, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), because apart from God’s love, we have no way of knowing what true love is. Both “love” and “loved” are the Greek word “agapao,” the verb form of the noun “agape” (TSBD, “agapao”). This love contains emotion, yes, but more than that, it is a conscious decision to act for the other’s benefit; it is unconditional and sacrificial (Gee). God showed agape toward us in sacrificing His Son on the cross despite our sins, and in doing so, He restored us and gave us the ability to fight sin. He showed us what love truly means. Therefore, let us make a conscious effort to love others the way Christ loved us (1 John 3:11), which glorifies God because our agape would not be possible without His. And let us proclaim the Gospel, that which we heard for our salvation, by which we became aware of God’s great, predetermined, eternal love for us.
Gee, Chris. “The Christ-Centered Family.” Grace on Campus at UCLA. Broad Art Center 2160E, Los Angeles, CA. 13 April 2012. Sermon.
MHC6: Matthew Henry Commentary, Volume 6
Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Whole Bible. CCEL ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Public Domain. 6 vols. Web. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc6>.
MSB: The MacArthur Study Bible
“Bible: New King James Version.” The MacArthur Study Bible, Revised and Updated Edition. Ed. John MacArthur. N.p.: Word Publishing, a division of Thomas Nelson, 1997. Print.
TSBD: Thayer and Smith’s Bible Dictionary via studylight.org
Thayer and Smith. “The New Testament Greek Lexicon”. Web.