How The Bible Defines: Election
Chose: Deliberate Selection
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
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
The Greek verb for ‘chose’, represented by the Strong’s number, G1586, was not a narrowly defined word. A broad spectrum of contexts used it throughout the Greek Old Testament (LXX) and the New Testament (NT). In fact, it apparently was as versatile a word as our English word, “chose.” Similar to the English word, G1586 was used to refer to choosing a wide variety of things, such as:
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Category A: Chosen Priests
In the LXX, G1586 was used multiple times to refer to the choice of God regarding who would be priests, although it is perhaps the story of Korah that most clearly draws the reader’s attention to the deliberate nature of His choice.
For the LORD your God has chosen [Aaron] out of all your tribes to stand to minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons forever. (Deuteronomy 18:5)
Did I not choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priest, to offer upon My altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod before Me? (1 Samuel 2:28a)
In this category, the first element of God’s choice (the identification of the chosen), included Aaron and his sons. As we saw in the story of Korah, this was a clearly defined choice of God, and deliberate. It was clearly defined in the sense that there was no mistaking God’s intention about who was chosen. It was deliberate in the sense that no other family could replace the family of Aaron, as Korah so painfully discovered. It was a choice in the sense that Aaron’s family was selected from among the myriad families in the nation.
The second element, the purpose for which they were chosen, was identified as the role and function of the priesthood. It was not that God chose Aaron’s family above everyone else for some greater level of blessing (such as an increased portion of the promised land, or greater riches), but that God intended for Aaron’s family to fulfill the specific purpose of functioning as priests.
The third element, regarding the permanence of His choice, was clearly stated in the above verse, “…the LORD your God has chosen… him and his sons forever.” In other words, as long as there was a priesthood in Israel, the priests would be of the family of Aaron.
The final element, a position of holiness, can easily be shown as true in this context. The priests were made holy unto the Lord, and He gave considerable instruction on how the holiness was to be established and maintained.
Category B: Chosen City
Several times in Deuteronomy, G1586 was used to speak of a specific place where God would set His name, although it was not until the days of David that the city of Jerusalem was revealed as the identity of the place.
“Since the day that I brought My people out of the land of Egypt, I have chosen no city from any tribe of Israel in which to build a house, that My name might be there, nor did I choose any man to be a ruler over My people Israel. Yet I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel.” (2 Chronicles 6:5-6)
In this category, the clearly defined choice was Jerusalem, selected from among all the cities of Israel. God selected it for the purpose and function of being the place where He would set His name. Although it does not specifically say so in this particular passage, from the rest of Scripture we know that Jerusalem was the chosen city forever – there would be no other city where God would set His name. Finally, Nehemiah referred to Jerusalem as a holy city (see Nehemiah 11:1). Thus, similar to the previous category, all four elements were present in this category of God’s choice.
In addition to the choice of a city, there was a second choice referenced in the passage above: David (chosen individual) as king over Israel (purpose). In 2 Samuel 7:16 God speaks of establishing David’s throne forever, but we do not find anywhere that he was specifically called holy unto God.
Category C: Chosen Ministers
While the nation of Israel was in the wilderness, God chose a certain group of individuals for the service of the tabernacle. David spoke of this choice in the following passage.
Then David said, “No one may carry the ark of God but the Levites, for the LORD has chosen them to carry the ark of God and to minister before Him forever.” (1 Chronicles 15:2)
In this category, the clearly defined choice was the Levites, selected from among all the tribes of Israel. God selected them for the purpose and function of performing the ministry and service of the Lord in the Tabernacle. This choice was also permanent and not subject to change. Finally, the Levites were considered holy unto the Lord. As in the previous categories, so in this one we see all four elements present.
Category D: Chosen People
Moses spent a significant amount of time expounding to the children of Israel their status before God, using G1586 to describe them as God’s chosen people.
For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of in the earth. (Deuteronomy 14:2)
For You have made Your people Israel Your very own people forever; and You, Lord, have become their God. (1 Chronicles 17:22)
God’s clearly defined choice was the nation of Israel, selected from all the nations of the earth. The purpose for which God selected them was to be His people, as a special treasure, and His inheritance. The choice was unchanging, as Paul pointed out in Romans 11:1-2. Moreover, they were certainly counted a holy people unto God.
Category E: Chosen Apostles
The New Testament used G1586 in the telling of how Jesus chose twelve disciples as His apostles.
And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: (Luke 6:13)
At this point in the Lord’s ministry, Luke recorded that the Lord had spent the whole night in prayer. In the morning, He called all His disciples to Himself. We do not know how many disciples He had, only that from this group He selected twelve men. Thus, in this category of God’s choice, the clearly defined selection was the twelve men named in Luke 6:14, selected from among all the Lord’s disciples. Christ selected them for the purpose of acting as His apostles. Eventually they were commissioned to go out and preach the gospel of the kingdom throughout all of Israel (Luke 9:1-2). The choice was permanent: they all remained apostles until the day they died. However, regarding the fourth element, they are not referred to as holy in the Scripture until Ephesians 3:5.
Interestingly, when the eleven disciples determined a need to fill the office left open by Judas Iscariot, they employed G1586 when they brought the matter before the Lord.
And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen… (Acts 1:24)
They did not make the same mistake as Korah and attempt to fill the office with a person of their choosing but looked to the Lord to indicate whom He had chosen.
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.
For as often as the idea of salvation is linked to this word, it may be surprising to note that none of the surveyed categories of God’s choice spoke of individuals chosen to be saved. In fact, each of these categories of chosen included unsaved individuals.
In these categories, God’s choosing was not an indication or a determination of the individual’s salvation. Nor was God’s choosing an indication of suitability or competence for fulfilling the purpose of the choice.
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.
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.
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.