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Eph 1


How The Bible Defines: Election

Chose: Deliberate Selection

Ephesians 1

The following is an extensive excerpt from a chapter in the book that discusses the meaning of “chose us in Him” from Ephesians 1.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
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 1:3-4

These opening verses in the letter to the Ephesians begin a paragraph of praise which vividly describes the good blessings God has poured out on us.  Although we know these opening verses were intended to be a joyful benediction to our God of blessing, sometimes we may find our joy is tempered because of the central phrase “chose us in Him.”  This is because we are aware that the Greek word for “chose” is closely related to the Greek word translated “elect,” and that relation has often resulted in this passage becoming a theological battleground instead of a field of rejoicing.

G1586: To Choose

Not only was G1586 as versatile as “chose,” but it was also similar in meaning: the act of picking out or selecting from multiple possibilities. However, the lexicons tell us that G1586 indicated a specific type of choice: that of a careful, deliberate selection. It did not indicate an arbitrary or random selection.

As mentioned above, G1586 enjoyed broad use throughout the LXX. It is beyond the scope of this book to examine each and every context in the Scriptures where G1586 occurred. Instead, we will narrow the focus to the contexts involving God’s choosing. Even in this reduced scope, the number of passages is significant, but we can group all of God’s major choices into the following categories of chosen objects: priests, city, ministers, people, and apostles. It is within the scope of this book to briefly look at each of these categories in turn.

As we look at the categories of God’s choosing, we will find there were three or four elements consistently present in each one.

  1. We might readily anticipate the first element of God’s choosing: there was always a clearly defined set of chosen items or individuals. In contrast to a random choice of arbitrary items, a careful and deliberate choice is normally expected to have clearly defined items or individuals.
  2. The second element was a definite purpose or function which the chosen were to fulfill. This element is not surprising since it would be odd to have no purpose in mind for deliberately chosen items or individuals.
  3. The third element of God’s deliberate choice was a certain permanence of choice. This element comes from the character and person of God. He knew the end from the beginning, saw the public things and the secret, and was intimately acquainted with the innermost parts of a man. When God made a choice, He was fully aware of every implication. He was never surprised by a choice which didn’t turn out the way He intended. Therefore, it should be no surprise that when God made a deliberate choice, it was permanent in nature.
  4. The fourth element is that the chosen objects became holy unto God. This was true in most contexts of God’s choice, although there were one or two exceptions. Often, when God made a deliberate choice, He was choosing items or individuals for His purpose and use. Thus, these objects were made holy because, by definition, any object set apart for God’s use is holy.

Noting these elements within each category of God’s choice should help us gain a clear understanding of G1586, and enable us to arrive at a clear interpretation of Ephesians 1:4.

Before returning to Ephesians 1, let us pause and get our bearings by tabulating a summary of our discussion thus far.

As we consider the categories of God’s choosing, we might notice that there were two types of purpose for which God chose people.  The first was for a ministry or service.  Aaron and his sons were chosen to minister as priests; the Levites ministered in the service of the tabernacle; David served as king; the disciples served as apostles.  However, the nation of Israel was chosen, not primarily to serve God but to be His people.  God chose them for Himself, as His special treasure on the earth.  Thus, we see God chose people either for a particular ministry or for Himself.

In each category, God did not make His choice based on merit or ability.  In the riches of His goodness, He chose ones who were unfit and provided what was needed to make them fit and acceptable for the purpose which He had in mind.  The choice of God is truly a demonstration of unmerited grace: there is no one generous like our God.

Ephesians 1

Given the observations above, we should expect to find in Ephesians 1:3-4 a clearly defined chosen object and an expressly named purpose, along with an element of permanence and perhaps holiness.

…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)

Clearly, the chosen object is “us.”  However, who was “us?”  The writers of the epistle?  Or did the apostle intend to include the Ephesian believers?  Or, was the intent to include every believing reader of these words?

Leaving this question for the moment, let us uncover the purpose for which “us” was chosen.  Was it that before the foundation of the world God chose certain ones to be saved?  The answer is clearly in the negative, for the verse does not say, “He chose us to be in Him (Christ)…”  That is, it does not state that the purpose of God’s choosing was for certain individuals to be placed in Christ, i.e., to be saved.  What is stated as the purpose of God’s choice is “…that we should be holy and without blame…”  From this, it should be clear that the purpose for which “us” was chosen is for “us” to be holy and without blame.  In other words, certain individuals were chosen to be holy and without blame before the holy God.

At first glance, being “holy and without blame” may appear to be synonymous with being saved.  However, as mentioned above, there were many categories of people in the Old Testament who were made holy apart from salvation, such as Aaron’s sons as priests, the Levites (including Korah), and the nation of Israel.  Thus, the purpose of God expressed in Ephesians 1 is that certain individuals will be made holy unto Him in the same sense as those made holy under the covenant of Law – they will be separated out from all other classes of people unto God.

Having identified the purpose for the choice, perhaps it is now more easily seen that the verse does reveal the identity of “us.”  As noted above, the verse does not read “…He chose us to be in Him…” – it reads that “…He chose us in Him…”  Surely it is clearly evident that the chosen is not merely “us,” but “us in Him.”  Of course, we readily understand that “us in Him” are people who have been saved and are in Christ.  Thus, the verse is saying God made a selection of the people who are in Christ, for the purpose that they should be holy and without blame.  In other words, God has chosen all those who are saved in Christ to be holy and without blame.

Paul was telling the reader that all people who are in Christ, both Jew and Gentile, were chosen to be holy and without blame before God.  In Ephesians 2, Paul reminded the Gentiles of former times when they were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”  In those former times, the Israelites were chosen to be the holy people of God, and the Gentiles were considered common and unclean.  However, he wrote, now in Christ Jesus:

… you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Notice how Paul took great care to emphasize the point that there was only one body in Christ, made up of both Jews and Gentiles.  He reiterated the point in Chapter 3.

… by revelation He made known to me the mystery…  which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel…  (Ephesians 3:3-6)

Having pressed home his point of one body of believers, he then brought out the truth that this grand work of God was not an alternative plan B.  He wrote that it had once been a hidden plan, but was now revealed as being the master plan from the very beginning.

 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.  (Ephesians 3:8-12)

In this way, Paul brought the train of thought full circle – by coming back to the thought of a plan established before the foundation of the world.  The progression of thought from Chapter 1 to Chapter 3 is that from the very beginning, even the foundation of the world, God had chosen those in Christ, both Jew and Gentile, to be holy and without blame, so that they might be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ.  Thus, Ephesians 1:4 served not only as an introduction but also as a precursor of the climax expressed in Ephesians 3:8-12: the glorious purpose which God accomplished in Christ.

Thus, consistent with its use in the LXX, G1586 was not used here to speak of individuals chosen for salvation.  It spoke of those who had been saved and were in Christ, that they were chosen to be a holy people unto God.  The word was used to indicate God’s purpose for those who have been saved.

Conclusion

When the Scripture used G1586 to speak of God choosing, it spoke of God making a deliberate and unchanging choice of specific individuals (or things) for which there was a clearly defined purpose.  Never was G1586 used to speak of God choosing someone to be saved from the judgment of their sins.  In fact, in the survey of the categories of God’s choosing, we can see that only one category included no unsaved persons: the group spoken of in Ephesians 1:4 – those who were in Christ.


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