Election: Fact or Fiction

Ephesians 1

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2018

Last week, we began our study in the Book of Ephesians, one of the greatest letters Paul ever wrote.  We said that the first three chapters are all doctrinal.  The last three chapters are all practical.  We are in the doctrinal section.  Today, we are going to slow down a little bit and focus on one doctrine in this chapter.  Ephesians 1 is one of the most important passages on election in the entire NT.  We have to begin with a warning.  Today, we are going to go deep. This chapter is deep.  It deals with advanced material.  We are dealing with meat, not milk in this chapter.

We are going to look at one of the most controversial doctrines in the church today. Christians are split over this doctrine.  Not just Christians, but churches are divided over this doctrine.  In fact, entire denominations come down on different sides of this question.  There are entire denominations on both sides of the issue, with Wesleyans on one side and Presbyterians on the other.

It is not a salvation issue.  You can be a Calvinist and go to heaven.  You can be an Arminian and go to heaven.  There are godly people on both sides.  We can still fellowship with one another, even though we don’t agree with everything in Scripture.  You may not agree with everything I believe.  I may not agree with everything you believe, but we can still have unity.

George Whitfield and John Wesley were famous evangelists in the 1700s.  They were both preachers.  Both were Methodists. They had their disagreements.  They had some theological differences.  Wesley was an Arminian.  Wesley hated the doctrine of predestination.  He called it “blasphemy.” Whitfield was a staunch Calvinist.

On a personal note, they were close friends.  In fact, Whitfield asked Wesley to preach the sermon at his memorial service.  Wesley preached at three memorial services for Whitfield in London in 1770.

Whitfield was asked if he would see John Wesley in Heaven.  He said, “No.  He will be in the front and I will be way in the back.  He will be so close to the throne.  I will be so far away that I will not be able to see him.”

We are going to look at the doctrine of election in Ephesians 1.  Many do not like this doctrine.  In fact, some hate it. It is the most hated doctrine in the Bible, among some Christians.  Many Christians do not believe what Paul says in Ephesians 1.  They act like the word ‘predestination” is a curse word.

If you talk to some Christians, they will say, “You do not believe in predestination, do you?  You are not one of those Christians?”  Of course, I am and you should too.  I believe in predestination, because it is in the Bible.  If you do not believe in predestination, then you do not believe the Bible.  this doctrine was not started by Augustine or Calvin.  It comes right out of the Bible. It is biblical.

Paul uses the word “predestinate” two times in Romans (Romans 8:29, 30) and two times in Ephesians (Ephesians 1:5, 11). That is strange.  Was Paul a Calvinist?

He PREDESTINATED us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:5 ESV)

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been PREDESTINED according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11 ESV)

Calvinists read this passage one way.  Arminian read this passage a completely different way.  Who is right?

Here is the problem.  Most people come to the text with all kinds of biases and assumptions.  We assume that we know what the passage says before we even read it.  We do not read it to see what it says but to prove what we already believe.  That is what most Christians do.  Today, we want to do three things.

First, we will look at what Ephesians 1 teaches about election.  It teaches five things. Second, we will look at some objections to election.  Third, we will look at applications.  We will see how this all applies to us today.  Let’s begin by reading Paul’s statement about election.

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 PREDESTINATED US for adoption to himself 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. (Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV)

Five Facts About Election

Five things are clear from Ephesians 1 about election.  Five things can be proven from this passage.

1. Election involves a SELECTION

He CHOSE US in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Paul says that we were chosen.  The Greek word for “chose’ is ἐκλέγομαι.  It means to pick out or choose something.  The same word is used of Jesus who CHOSE the Twelve Apostles (Luke 6:13).  He could have picked anyone but selected twelve particular people.  It is used of the Church of Jerusalem who CHOSE seven deacons (Acts 6:5).

In the Book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas got into an argument and they parted ways.  Acts 15:40 says that Paul CHOSE Silas to be his ministry partner and it is the same word.  The Greek word is also used in the OT.  Lot and Abraham got into an argument and Abraham let him have anything he wanted to keep the peace.  We are told that Lot CHOSE Sodom (Genesis 13:11) and it is the same word.

What is significant about this first point?  Election involved as selection and the selection involved people.  God’s people were chosen.  Everyone was not chosen.  Only some people were chosen.  This month, we just had an election.  When you went to vote, you did not note for everybody.  You voted for certain people on the ballot.

2. The selection was made BY GOD

HE chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Many today read Ephesians 1 and say it is a passage about us choosing God but that is not what the passage says.  This verse does not say that we chose God.  It says that He chose us.

We just had an election.  After all, we love our right to vote. Every four years Americans go to the polls and cast their ballots for a presidential candidate.  God held an election but He as the only one who got to vote.  This was God’s election day.

Many do NOT believe that God chooses people. They only believe that we choose Him.  God chose us.  He chose Him.  They believe that God chose Christ and WE CHOOSE whether to be in Christ but that is not what the verse says.  It says that He chose US, not that He chose Christ.

He chose us.  He chose him.  He chose her.  He chose you.  You can personalize it.  Put your name in there.  God chose Anne.  He chose Sammy.  He chose Gary.

3. This selection was made BEFORE creation

HE chose us in him BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, that we should be holy and blameless before him. This is important.  He did not choose us after we chose Him or even after we existed.  He chose us before the world began.  He chose us before Genesis 1:1. He chose us before there was a universe.  This was a pre-creation election.

C.H. Spurgeon used to joke that it was good that God chose him before the foundation of the world because he would never have chosen him afterwards.

Let’s put these together.  Before you chose God, He chose you.  As John Piper said, “Your salvation did not begin with your choice to believe in Christ—a choice which was real and necessary. Your salvation began before the creation of the universe when God planned the history of redemption, ordained the death and the resurrection of his Son, and chose you to be his own through Christ.”[1]

Now many read this passage differently.  They read it, “Before the foundation of the world, God KNEW you” but that is not what the verse says.  It says, “Before the foundation of the world, God CHOSE you.”  What did he choose you for?

4. This selection was for SALVATION

This is where many have a problem.  Many have no problem with the word “predestination” but they do not believe in predestination TO SALVATION.  Some say that in Ephesians 1 we are dealing with a predestination to holiness, not a predestination to heaven, because Paul says, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV).

However, it is very clear that predestination in Ephesians 1 is to salvation.  He did not just choose us.  He chose us IN CHRIST.  What does that mean?  Those who are in Christ are saved.  Those who are not in Christ are lost.  We know that from Romans 5.  Everyone is either “in Christ” or “in Adam” (saved or lost).  This group was chosen to be in Christ and they were chosen before they were born.

If that is not clear, read the next verse.  He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:5 ESV).  Predestination is for adoption to put us into the family of God.  It is a choice to make us sons and daughters of God.  Other passages say the same thing.

II Thessalonians 2:13 says, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God CHOSE you FOR SALVATION through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (NIV).

The Christians at Thessalonica (like the ones at Ephesus) were also chosen for salvation and that took place “from the beginning,” which is very similar to “before the foundation of the world” in Ephesians 1:4.

Acts 13:48 says, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were APPOINTED FOR ETERNAL LIFE believed” (NIV).  The KJV reads “ordained to eternal life.”  The NLT reads, “all who were chosen to eternal life became believers.”

Now, let’s compare this to something else taught in Scripture. The Bible teaches that on Judgment Day, God will open a book, a literal book.  If your name is not in that book, you will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15).  How do you get put in the book?  When you believe, does God then put your name in the book?  The Bible says that people’s names were put in the book BEFORE the foundation of the world (Revelation 17:8).

5. This selection was NOT based on works

Some believe that were chosen because of something WE DID.  They believe that God chose us because of OUR FAITH.  He knew we were going to believe and so He chose us but that is not what the text says.

God did not choose us because we were worthy.  He did not choose us because we were holy.  In fact, the text says, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, THAT WE SHOULD BE HOLY and blameless before him.”  He did not choose us because we were holy.  He chose us to make us holy.  It was an election to salvation and salvation is to lead to holiness.

This election is also “according to the purpose of HIS WILL” (Ephesians 1:5).  The focus here is on “the mystery of HIS WILL” (Ephesians 1:9).  The focus is not on our will.  Election in this chapter is based on God’s free will, not our free will.  We were not even alive yet.

Election is “to the praise of HIS glorious grace.”  Paul says that three times in this chapter (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). If it was based on something we did, election would bring praise to US.  We would get the glory.  This election brings praise to God.  It is an election of grace, not works.

Elections has nothing to do with merit.  It had nothing to do with good works.  It was all about grace.  Salvation is BY GRACE (Ephesians 2:8).  Election is BY GRACE (Romans 11:5-6).

Objections to Predestination

1. If you believe in election, you do not believe in free will

If it is all predetermined, if God chooses your fate, there is no room for free will.  I do not have any choice in the matter.  Is that true?  No.  the problem is that many people only believe half of the Bible.  That is a big problem.  The Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah because they only believed half of the Bible.  They believed the promises about a glorified messiah but not the promises of a suffering messiah.

In fact, on Easter Sunday, Jesus had a conversation with two disciples who had the same problem.  Jesus said to them, “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25 KJV).  Some Christians only believe the verses about predestination.

Some Christians only believe the verses about free will.  People say, “If I go to hell, it is not my fault.  I was not one of the elect.”  That is only reading half of the Bible.  The Bible teaches divine sovereignty and human freedom. You cannot use predestination as an excuse not to believe.  You cannot use it as an excuse not to get saved.

That is taking only half of the Bible. Some believe in predestination but not free will.  Some believe in free will but not predestination.  We need to believe both.  Both are biblical.

2. If you believe in election, you do not believe in evangelism

If you believe in election, there is no reason to tell anybody about Jesus, because they will be saved anyway.  The objection is just as ridiculous.  Ephesians 1 was written by a missionary.  What is the answer to this one?

Predestination results in salvation.  It leads to salvation.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30 ESV).  Jesus said, “All those the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37 NIV).

Many think that God predestinates people.  He chooses them, but we make the final call.  We decide whether to choose Him.  It all boils down to us but everyone predestined will be saved, not some of them or most of them.  Everyone predestined will be saved but predestination is not salvation.

The elect were chosen by God for salvation but they weren’t saved yet.  In fact, when He chose them, they did not even exist yet.  They weren’t born.  There had to be a planet for them to live on. They had to be born on the planet and then come to faith before they actually got saved.

Paul says, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (I Timothy 2:10 ESV).  The elect do not have salvation yet.  They are not justified yet.  They still have to get saved.  They still have to be evangelized. They still have to hear the gospel.  That is where we come in.

3. Election is not fair because God did not choose everyone

Why didn’t God elect everyone? Why doesn’t God choose to save everyone?  This is the wrong question.  God was not obligated to save anyone.  We are sinners.  Sinners deserve judgment for their sins, but he is not obligated to save anyone.  If he saves anyone, it is a matter of grace.  If God chose none and punished everyone, that would be fair.  He would be perfectly righteous to do that.  None of us deserve salvation.[2]

Applications for Today

1) Worship

The whole point of this chapter is to lead us to worship.  Election is to the praise of the glory of His grace.  The verse before it is all about blessing God who has blessed us.  Instead of Christians rejoicing over this doctrine, they argue and fight over the chapter.  Today, it does not cause worship among Christians. It just causes division and arguments.

In Paul’s day, Christians did not argue and fight over the doctrine.  This doctrine caused believers to worship God.  Paul blessed God because of election.  When was the last time that you praised God that He chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world?  Most Christians have never done this, not even once.

2) Holiness

God did not choose us just to save us but to make us holy after we are saved. Ephesians 1:4 says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be HOLY and BLAMELESS in his sight” (NIV).  Holiness is one of the purposes of election.  The doctrine of election is not an excuse to sin. Paul did not teach that you are predestined to salvation, so it does not matter how you live.  People who say that only give evidence that they are not elect, because the purpose of election is holiness, which brings us to the next point.

3) Assurance

It is possible to know right now if you elect.  Many teach that it is not possible and that you cannot have an assurance of your salvation but the Bible teaches that you can have assurance.  It is possible to know that you name is written in the Book of Life.

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2-3 NIV).

How did Paul know that they were in the Book of Life?  He has never seen the book.  He knew because he knew that they were saved.  If you have put your faith in Christ for salvation, you can know your name is in the Book of Life but there is another way to know and that is by your life.  Salvation results in a changed life.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. II Peter 1:5-10 NIV).

The KJV says to do it to make your calling and election sure.  Our calling and election can be made sure and it is made sure by a changed life.  People who do not think it matters how they live because they are predestinated only show everyone that they are not elect.  We can confirm our calling and election by a godly life.

[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/god-has-chosen-us-in-him-before-the-foundation-of-the-earth

[2] https://www.limerickreformed.com/blog/2017/4/20/predestination-thats-not-fair

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