Have you ever had someone say something that caused you to react similarly to the dog below?
I know i have. And it never occurs more often than when someone brings up the Doctrines of Grace (commonly referred to [wrongly] as Calvinism) in an effort to undermine them. And today, i would just like to take a few moments and lay out four things that Paul most definitely did not mean when he wrote the following in Ephesians 1:4-5: “For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will.”
God’s election isn’t democratic
The first thing that should be clear just from the first phrase of Ephesians 1:4 is that God alone has electing power. Paul writes, “He chose us.”
Basic English grammar (which has accurately brought out the Greek grammar here) would show that “He” is the subject–referring to God–“us” is the direct object–referring to believers–and “chose” is the verb–the action that God does to believers.
There are not multiple subjects here.
Herschel Hobbs, a famous Southern Baptist preacher from the 1960s preached a sermon entitled, “God’s Election Day,” in which he stated for his main point, “The devil and God held an election to determine whether or not you would be saved or lost. The devil voted against you and God voted for you. So the vote was a tie. It is up to you to cast the deciding vote.”
I’m sorry, but that is not Scriptural.
I hope you can see clearly that in Ephesians 1–the clearest passage on God’s election–there is no mention of Satan. None at all. He is not involved in the election process.
As believers, we were not involved either. Not involved, that is, apart from the simple–beautiful–fact that we are the very ones whom God graciously elected.
The way Hobbs tries explaining it does so in a much too American way. It takes the electing basis of American government and says, “Obviously God elects in the same way.” The problem with his explanation is that the Greek word translated “chose” (or “elect” if using the noun form) is eklego, from the preposition ek which means “out” and the verb lego which means “i call.” When God elected, He called out. He is not voting.
God doesn’t choose those who chose Him first
The second thing that should become clear in the text is that God elected believers regardless of their actions. Paul writes, “before the foundation of the world.”
Grammatically, this is an adverbial phrase that tells us when God chose believers for Himself. He did so before He created the world. Before there were people who needed saving, God said, “I’m going to save her, him, him, her, and her.”
Since God is outside of time it means that He is the creator of time. As such, to say that “God looked down the corridor of time to see who would believe in Jesus and then elected those people” is not at all possible if election occurred before both time and the world were even created.
Rather, God in His infinite goodness just chose those whom He wanted to save, by writing their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life before He even created the world (cf. Revelation 17:8).
Lest that doesn’t convince you that God elects regardless of their actions, Jesus states it pretty clearly Himself in John 15:16a. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.”
God doesn’t choose people so they can excuse sin
The third thing that should be clear in the text is that God elected believers for a purpose. Paul writes, “to be holy and blameless in His sight.”
Grammatically this is an adjectival phrase describing why God elected believers. It was for a specific purpose. It was not so that we would sit around, excuse sin, and get comfortable in our Christian living.
God did not elect believers so they could beat other Christians over the head with “Calvinistic” theology. This is to be prideful, plain and simple. God did not say, “I will take ‘Calvinists’ to heaven, but I am going to send ‘Arminians’ to hell.” Rather, Paul is pretty clear that anyone who pridefully follows a specific teacher in the church, at the expense of love and unity, is acting pridefully, divisively, and ultimately sinfully (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:11-12). Believing the doctrine of unconditional election (as i do) is not an excuse for pride.
God also did not elect believers so that they could say, “Let us sin so that grace may abound” (cf. Romans 6:1). God elected us to be holy and blameless. Excusing sin in the name of, “God chose me when i was dirty so i might as well stay dirty,” is entirely sinful and wrong.
God also did not elect believers so that they would get comfortable in their standing with God. The same Paul who writes, “For it is God who is working in you, ⌊enabling you⌋ both to desire and to work out His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13) in a very God-Is-In-Control sense, also wrote the phrase immediately prior. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12b). But more on this below.
God’s election does not negate evangelism
Finally, the fourth thing that should be clear in the text is that God elected believers so that they would reach out to the lost and draw them to their electing Father. In verse 5, Paul writes, “He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself” (emphasis added).
2 Corinthians 5:20 explains that when we share the gospel with the lost we are speaking as if God Himself is speaking. This is one of the many beautiful truths contained within the phrase “for Himself.”
So if you think, “I’ve been elected; all the elect will eventually be saved by God’s sovereignty; therefore i don’t have to share the gospel with the lost,” you are trying to be comfortable, and you are also in sin. Go out and tell people about the gracious salvation that you have received!
But maybe you have read this whole post and come to the end, and now you are worried that you are not elected.
He came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, and rose from the dead 3 days later. He is the only hope for your soul. Look to Him and His grace, take your eyes off both your goodness and your sin, and believe. Your goodness can’t save you; your badness isn’t bad enough to damn you. Repent and believe!
Soli Deo Gloria
If you’re interested in more, i can’t emphasize enough the helpfulness of this song to this topic: