"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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He predestined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved."
In this article, we shall see that Paul nowhere tells us that God previously determined who would become a Christian. Calvinistic misinterpretations of this passage have led to all kinds of confusion and errors. We will here demonstrate without doubt or reservation that Paul is not telling us that God chose who would become a Christian before the creation of the world but that God's Chosen One is his Son and all those who are united to the son form the body of Christ and being found in him become chosen by virtue of this union with him. God did not choose who would be in the body of Christ. Before the creation of the world, He chose the body of Christ to be holy and blameless before him on the Last Day.
Let us notice several things. First, let us let us carefully observe that Paul does not say "He chose us before the foundation of the world." Rather he says, "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world." Notice how Paul tells us that God's choosing action was accomplished "in him" (in Christ). The inspired words "in him" are not redundant; they have meaning, value and purpose. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Now we need to think about this very, very, very carefully. According to Pauline theology, when is one "in" Christ? Very obviously one is only "in" Christ after one has been converted into Christ. One believes into Christ. Paul tells us in this selfsame chapter that we were only "in him" once we believed (1:13). One is simply not "in Christ" prior to his new birth conversion event into Christ. A person is included in Christ only once he is converted into Christ. Thus we can be absolutely sure that no one was "in him" at the foundation of the world. So when Paul says, "He chose us in him" we must acknowledge that we ourselves we not "in him" at the time God did his choosing - before the foundation of the world.
So we must ask, "How did God choose "us" in him before the foundation of the world?" We know very well that were not in him at the foundation of the world. If we had been "in him" there would be no need to be converted into him at some later point in time. In fact, we souls did not even exist at the time God did his choosing. Adam, the progenitor of us all, did not even exist. So can non-existent people be "in Christ" before the world was created when they neither existed and who furthermore would not be in Christ until their conversion events!? Obviously not! So, what does Paul mean when he says "He chose us in him?" Let us discover what he means rather than apply whatever interpretation might suit our fancies.
Secondly, let us carefully observe that Paul also does not say "He chose us to be in him before the foundation of the world." If Paul had said God chose us to be in Christ, we might rightly conclude that God had predetermined which people would be converted into Christ at a preset time and place. However, Paul did not say, "he chose us to be in Christ." He simply said, "He chose us in him."
Somehow God chose "us" in him. We shall see that the passage intends to tell us how God did his choosing. The passage does not say God chose "us" to be in him. Now also notice what we are chosen "to be." We are chosen to be holy and blameless before him. This means that "we" were chosen to be holy and blameless before God on judgment day. Shortly, we will see how we can know this for sure. Who then is "we"? The answer is quite simple. "We" does not refer to a preselected group of individuals who would become the church. "We" refers to the members of the body which already constitute the church. The church chosen in him is chosen to be holy and blameless before God.
- "I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband." (2 Corinthians 11:2).
- "And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith." (Colossians 1:21-23).
- "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and blameless." (5:25-27).
- "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him." (Ephesians 1:4).
Notice that the above passages reveal that the church is to be presented as holy and blameless on the last day. Hence, at Ephesians 1:4 we can neither conclude that God chose anyone "to be" in Christ before the foundation of the world, nor can we conclude that God chose certain individuals in Christ before the foundation of the world since no individuals existed "in Christ" before the foundation of the world. We do know that God chose "us" in him to be holy and blameless on the last day.
Now if we look at our passage even more carefully we can see that Paul has the church in view. Paul tells us right here in this very passage that "we" were not included "in Christ" until we heard the gospel of salvation and believed in that gospel (1:13). So that tells us that we can know for sure that we were definitely not "in Christ" before the foundation of the world. So it behooves us to find out what Paul means when he says "we" were chosen "in him."
At the foundation of the world Christ was the Elect One of God, not one of the elect ones. He was the Chosen Son for the inheritance of creation. For this reason, the Bible refers to Christ as the Chosen One.
- "He was indeed foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake." (1 Peter 1:20).
- "As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but Chosen by God and precious to him-- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a Chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." (1 Peter 2:4-6).
- "And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!"" (Luke 23:35).
- "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations." (Isaiah 42:1).
- "Behold, my servant whom I have Chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles" (Matthew 12:18).
When we become Christians we become sons of God (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 3:26-28; 4:6). But at the foundation of the world, Christ was the only Son of God, not one of the sons of God. God chose Christ alone, his Chosen Son and in Christ the church is also now chosen because the church is itself an entity which is in him and formed covenantally out of him, in his body and blood. The church is the body of Christ. Because of this obvious truth, we know that whatever was in Christ must also be chosen along with Christ for whatever is in him belongs to him. When Paul says, "he chose us in Christ" he does not mean and cannot mean, as we have shown, that God chose us to be in Christ. He means that God chose that which is in his Son because it is his Son who is chosen and thus everything in the Son is also chosen. This is why Scripture teaches we are joint-heirs with him (Rom 8:16-17). Therefore, if we are converted into Christ we are "in him" the One who was chosen and therefore we ourselves are become chosen by virtue of being converted into him. We have become united with him as members of his body and therefore are one with him who is chosen before the creation of the world.
Another way to illustrate this is by Paul's phrase, "I no longer live but Christ lives in me." So we see that Paul no longer lives, but Christ who was chosen before the foundation of the world lives "in him." Therefore, Paul having become united with Christ in his death and resurrection now becomes chosen by virtue of the fact that Christ, the Chosen One of God, lives in him. Put another way, Paul said, "I no longer live, but the One Chosen before the creation of the world lives in me."
Now this will not satisfy those Calvinists who do not want to give up their cherished doctrines. They will point to the verses which follow and try to claim Paul is necessarily referring to people who God selected before the creation of the world to become Christians and at a preset a time and place they would indeed become Christians. For example, we read the following:
"He has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him. In love he predestined us unto sonship by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will" (Ephesians 1:4-5).
Does this mean that God predestined people to become Christians? Put another way, does this verse mean that God predestined people to become sons of God in a new birth event? We shall now see that it absolutely does not. The passage is referring not to people who were selected to become Christians, but refers to people who are already Christians predestined to resurrection glory (Romans 8:23). In other words, God predestined that which is in Christ to glory and the church being in him is predestined to that end. The church is certainly and assuredly predestined to glory.
"But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God predestined before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:7-9).
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?" (Romans 8:22- 25).
God chose an ark for salvation. The ark is Christ. Thus all who get in the ark, "in Christ," are also chosen for salvation because they are converted into the Chosen Ark. God is not choosing particular people to become Christians. He has chosen his Son. He has not chosen who will get in the ark. Anyone can get into the ark and thus all those in the ark are chosen to be holy and blameless before him. Verse 5 says God predestined "us" to be adopted as sons. If we read through this passage carefully we will discover that Paul is not saying "God predestined us particular people whom God previously selected to become Christians." Rather, Paul is saying "God predestined us who are already Christians, that is, the church, to resurrection glory at the end of the age." He is saying the same thing he says at Romans 8:23, "we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Christ is our ark of salvation. God predestined the betrothed bride of his Son to the same glory as his Son because the bride is in his Son. His Son's inheritance will also be her inheritance since she is betrothed to His Son and will be wed to His Son and all the sons of this union will share in that inheritance. How do we know this for sure? How can we be absolutely sure that Paul is not referring to God predestining people to become Christians but is referring to the church which is predestined to eschatological glory. Answer: the context tells us without a doubt this is what he has in mind. First let us compare a couple of passages:"Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:23).
Notice that Paul is saying Christians who have the firstfruit of the Spirit are eagerly awaiting to be adopted as sons at the end of the age when they will be resurrected into glory. Note our Ephesians passage:"Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:13).
Notice the similarity of these two passages. Each talk about having the firstfruit of the Spirit in anticipation of our future redemption. At 2 Corinthians 5:5, Paul refers to the exact same idea in reference to the resurrection of the body, "Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit." .Paul says later right here in Ephesians, "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (4:30). Obviously our redemption at the end of the age is the redemption of our bodies which he discusses at Romans 8:23. When Paul says in verse 7 that we have redemption in his blood he does not mean we have a redemption because of his blood and this redemption is a past event for each of us. It says we have redemption "in Him" not "because of Him." In other words, our redemption is not a condition but the reality of union with Christ. He means that our redemption is a truism and reality of being "in Christ." It is not realized for ourselves independently until the end of the age and will not be realized for each of us if we do not abide in him where this redemption is found.. This is rather obvious in both Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30 which say "until the redemption" and "sealed for the day of redemption." The redemption price has been paid for the bride and the bride has been given a token as a pledge, the Holy Spirit, as a seal of that covenant betrothal.. But the bride is not redeemed until she consummates the marriage covenant with her husband and becomes one with him. Thus it is clear here that Paul is referring to a redemption that is yet to come and it is to this the church is predestined. Now we need not stop here. There is much more in this passage which tells us that Paul is not talking about people ("we", "us") who God chose and predestined to become Christians but is talking about people who are already Christians ("we", "us") who have been predestined as a whole to the eschatological reward of heavenly glory. Notice verses 1:9-10, "And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ." Here again we see Paul telling us that God has made known God's purpose of bringing all things together in Christ at the end of the age when he returns in glory. As Paul says in another place: "For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. "For God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "All things are put in subjection under him," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one." (1 Corinthians 15:25-28). Christ is Lord of all. He has been given authority over all creation. This is true right now and has been true since he rose from the dead and was given such authority. But there is still a problem. Not all things under his authority have become subjected to him. He is Lord but the Lord has enemies which have not subdued to his reign. The last enemy to be subjected is death and Paul tells us this will happen at the resurrection of the saints when Christ returns in glory. Notice verses 1:11-12 in our letter to the Ephesians. Here Paul talks about our "hope" in Christ. The word used at Ephesians 1:12 is "proelpizo" and means "to forehope" or "to hope beforehand." "Forehoped" (pro + elpizo) is formed just like our words "foreknew" (pro + ginosko) and "predestine" (pro +horizo). Just as proginosko means to know beforehand and proorizo means to fix beforehand, proelpizo means to hope beforehand. Here it means "previously hoped." Now when we use the word "hope" it does not mean there is doubt that Christ will save us as in "I hope Christ will save me but who knows?" The word is used in the sense that he is our hope, not that we hope but are not really too sure. So here Paul says we have been made heirs and are predestined according to his plan so that we who previously hoped in Christ would be to the praise of his glory. Previous to what? Previous to the end of the age when we are glorified in him and he in us as Paul says in 2 Thess 1. Again we can see Paul is talking about Christians who had laid their hope in God prior to the fulfillment of that hope. Let us look at the hope of Christians. All the following passages use the noun and verb forms of the Greek word for "hope." If we read the Bible, the Christian hope is quite easy to identify. "But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: "`I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay."(Acts 2:24-27). "Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." (Acts 23:6). "However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." (Acts 24:15). "The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?" (Acts 26:4-6). "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you." (1 Peter 1:3). "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure." (1 John 3:2-3) "For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). "But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope." (Galatians 5:5). "Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." (Romans 8:17-25). Now regard Ephesians 1:18 and the passages which follow. "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints-- the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel" (Colossians 12:3-5). "I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness-- the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:25-27). "Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness-- a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time" (Titus 1:2). "We wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). Having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."(Titus 3:7). "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23). "Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:13). Clearly the hope Paul is discussing in verse 18 is a reference to the hope of resurrection glory. This is our hope of our calling, the glorious inheritance of the saints at the end of the age. God has revealed this truth to us by the Spirit in our hearts. But this truth is but a promise and has not come to reality yet for us. "No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God predestined [proorizo] for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" -- but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit." (1 Corinthians 2:7-10). The Christian hope is eschatological. Everything tells us that Paul is referring to eschatological glory. Therefore, we can know for certain that Paul is talking about predestining the church to the glorious inheritance of the saints in verse 5 and is not referring to God predestining people to become the church. In fact let us notice what it says, "in love he predestined us." By definition this necessarily refers to God predestining those who are in his love. We shall see in the next two chapters following that it is only those who are in union with Christ who are in the love of his Son. God's love is in his Son which is why Paul says, "in the One he loves." We are talking here about God predestining those who are in a personal love relationship with him to glory, not those who are not yet in such a relationship to Christianhood. Those who are not yet in a relationship with God are his enemies. Now God loves his enemies just as he asks us to love his enemies. But his enemies are not "in his love." His enemies are not (at least yet) in a love relationship with him. No one is reconciled to God until they are converted into Christ. Carefully notice what Paul says in Romans 9: "As he says in Hosea: "I will call them `my people' who are not my people; and I will call her `my loved one' who is not my loved one," and, "It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, `You are not my people,' they will be called `sons of the living God.'" (Romans 9:25-26). A personal love relationship with God is a two way street. Now God knows everything abouteveryone. But he does not "know" everyone in a personal relationship. This is what it means to know God and to be known by him. Those who love God are known by God. (1 Cor 9:3). Prior to our becoming a covenant people of God we did not know God and God did not know us. God knew everything about us but did not know us in a personal relationship. Thus when Paul says, "in love he predestined us" we know that he means those who are already in Christ his beloved Son are predestined to something. The church is predestined to resurrection glory. Ephesians 1:3-18 is not difficult to understand if we see two things. The "us" in verse 4 is the bride of Christ who is "in Christ" who was chosen before the creation of the world, not that we as individuals who did not yet exist were there at the creation of the world, but that we became members of the church which was there. Secondly, if we see that Paul is not referring to people who were chosen and predestined to become Christians but discussing the Christians election by virtue of being in Christ and chosen to the end of the age. Let us interpretively amplify Ephesians 1:3-18 to make the point clear. Please read carefully. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us [the church] in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing [that is] in Christ. For he chose [us the church] in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight [on judgment day when he presents the church to himself in splendor]. In love he predestined [us, the church,] to be adopted as his sons [in the redemption of our bodies at the end of the age] through [the life of] Jesus Christ [in whom we now live], in accordance with his pleasure and will-- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us [Christians, the church] in the One he loves [Jesus his Son]. In [the resurrection life of] him we [Christians, the church,] have redemption through his blood [of his cross], the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will [to bring the church to glory] according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment [when Jesus returns for his bride]--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we [the people of the church] were also [made heirs] having been predestined [to the inheritance which the church will receive at the end of the age] according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who previously hoped in Christ [prior to the Eschaton], might be for the praise of his glory [when he comes to be glorified in his saints]. And you also were included [in the church], in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were [then] marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the [Day of] redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory. For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the [resurrection] hope [of glory] to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints [which is kept in heaven for you and which you will receive when Christ returns, our hope of glory]." There is not one thing in Ephesians which should lead us to believe that God predetermined who would become believers in Christ. There is nothing which tells us that God chose who would eventually become a Christian. Nothing. What we have here is Paul telling his audience that they who are already Christians, those who had already believed the gospel, were predestined to the glory of eschatological inheritance when Jesus returns for his bride. God chose his Son and therefore all that ever comes to be in his Son becomes chosen by virtue of Christ's election. And God predestined all that is in his Son for glory and the church is in his Son. The choosing and predestining here are not a choosing to become Christians nor a predestining people to become Christians. God chose the church to be holy and blameless in Christ and predestined that holy church to the inheritance of glory at the end of the age. Key Point Summary Christ is the Chosen One of God. He was the One chosen before creation. The church is chosen because the church is by definition "in him." Since Christ is chosen everything that is in him must also be chosen. He is the chosen ark of salvation. "We" and "us" in Ephesians 1 always refers to the church. Nowhere do we find a clue that "we" and "us" refers to a group of people God elected to be in the church which would means some are not yet in the church by definition. "We"and "us" in Ephesians 1 always and only refers to people who are already in the church. Paul tells us in verses 13 that people were not included "in him" until they were converted into Christ. They were not yet in the ark of salvation. The predestination to which Paul is referring in verse 6 is a predestination of those which are in God's love which by definition is his covenant people.