The Ark of Salvation
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies with Christ just as He chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him, in love He predestined us to sonship through Jesus Christ to Himself according to the good pleasure of His will." (Ephesians 1:3-5)
Ephesians 1:4 is read by Calvinists to mean that before creation God had chosen certain individuals to become Christians. This is plainly evident by the fact they read the very next verse to mean that God predestined these individuals to that end. The Calvinist perception of Ephesians chapter one is a severly naive misconception of Paul's message. In this entire chapter Paul is referring to those things Christians share by virtue of their resurrection union with Jesus Christ.
Paul says the God and Father of Jesus Christ has blessed "us" with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. Who are "us?" In verse 3, Paul had just reminded the group in question that God has blessed them with every spiritual blessing. If we look ahead just a little we find Paul revealing who he has in mind. He tells us that God raised Christ and seated him at His right hand in the heavenlies and set him as head of the church which is his body. Then Paul says they were dead in their trespasses and sins but God made them alive together with Christ, and God had raised them up together in the heavenliess in Christ. The "us" are those who who are enjoying the blessings of being in Christ, the church, the body of Christ. The "us" refers to the church.
"Holy and blameless before Him"
Here Paul refers to the end of the age when the church stands before God. Later in this same letter, Paul reminds the Ephesians of the great mystery that the church is the body of Christ his bride.
"Christ also is the head of the church and he is the the Savior of the body.... that he might present to himself the glorious church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing but that she would be holy and blameless.... since we are members of His body. For this reason "a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined with his wife and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is great but I am speaking with respect to Christ and the church." (5:23-32).
Paul makes a similar statement in Colossians, sister letter to the letter to the Ephesians, "in order to present you before him holy and blameless and beyond reproach, if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel" (1:22-23). He also makes a similar statement to the Corinthians, "I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin" (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Thus we can see clearly that Paul is saying that the church was chosen to be holy and blameless before God on judgment day when Christ comes in the glory of his Father. This is the mystery of God's will which he purposed in Christ (1:9)
Now we turn to a very crucial term in our passage in question, the words "in Him." Calvinists tend to read right over these words and then can be commonly seen when they repeatedly say that God chose them before the creation of the world. If the words "in Him" were not in the passage it would make very little difference to the Calvinist. For him, these words do not need to be there and all they do is explain how God did his choosing and do not serve to explain what actually happened. So we must ask ourselves what these words mean and what purpose they serve.
In Pauline theology, the words "in Christ" mean "in the body of the risen Christ." They refer to those who have been converted into Christ by sharing in Christ's death and resurrection. It is a positional term describing where one is placed. One shares heavenly blessings "in Christ" (1:3). Once anyone is "in him," they have forgiveness of sins (1:7). One is sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise once one is "in him." (1:13). God's love and power is located "in him" (1:19-20). One is seated at the right hand of God if one is "in him" who is seated at the right hand of God (1:20; 2:6-7). The term "in him" means that one is in the risen Christ, the body of Christ, the church. It means one has died to being "in Adam" and raised up to being "in Christ." It means one has died to the death of the old humanity and the realm of the world and been born anew into the resurrection life of tne humanity of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven. Before a person is converted into Christ they are sinners and enemies of God (Rom 5:8,10) and dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1-3) from not being a people of God to being a people of God (1 Peter 2:10) from not being love to being loved (Rom 9:25). One is simply not "in Christ" until one dies with him and is raised with him. One is not in Christ before he is converted, one is not in Christ when he is born, one is not in Christ before he was born and one is not in Christ before the creation of the world.
The Chosen One
Peter tells us that Christ was foreknown before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20). Jesus is the living stone Chosen by God (2:3). He is the Chosen one of God (Luke 9:35; 23:35; cf. Mt 12:18; Is 42:1) who was chosen before the foundation of the world.
He chose us in him
God chose. God chose before creation. God chose for the purpose of being holy and blameless before Him. God chose "us," the church to be holy and blameless before Him. Does Paul say God chose us to be a member of the church? No. Does Paul say God chose us to be "in Christ?" No. Does Paul say the place God was doing his choosing before creation was "in Christ?" No. Paul said God chose us "in him." A person is not "in him" until they are a Christian. Paul is saying God chose us in His Son to be holy and blameless. In Jesus Christ Christians are chosen to be holy and blameless before God on the Last Day. Christ is God's Chosen One, foreknown before the foundation of the world. In His Son, God was choosing, before the foundation of the world, the place where we would be holy and blameless before Him.
God purposed the mystery of his will "in him" (1:9). God was choosing the Ark of our Salvation in whom we would be found holy and blameless.
The Calvinist cannot seem to hear or does not wish to hear Paul's words. He only seems to hear an idea where God was specifically choosing him to be a Christian before the foundation of the world. He can only hear one message: Before creation God chose me to become a Christian. The words "in him" play no signficiant role in his interpretation of the passage. For the Calvinist, the words really don't really need to be there and in his mind they are only there to add another dimension to the meaning of the passage. Whether they are there or not does not change the central meaning of Paul's words. Calvinist repeatedly betray this fact when they simply say, "we were chosen before the foundation of the world" and completely abandon the words "in him" as if they bear no weight on the intended meanining of the Scripture.
"The answer will be constantly found in this principle, that he hath chosen us before the foundation of the world." (John Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians).
"How then shall we understand that which is much higher, namely, that God elected us before the creation of the world?.... In fact, God elected us before the creation of the world, and what could we then bring to him?.... he had elected us before the creation of the world.... God elected us before the creation of the world.... Since God chose us before the creation of the world, he thereby shows sufficiently that one man is not more worthy or excellent than another. (John Calvin, Second Sermon on the First Chapter of Ephesians).
"God has elected us before the creation of the world.... he elected and chose us for his children before we were born into the world....How do we know that God has elected us before the creation of the world? By believing in Jesus Christ....For why does God give us faith? Even because he elected us before the creation of the world.
(John Calvin, Third Sermon on the First Chapter of Ephesians).
Notice how the John Calvin totally ignores the words "in him." This is very, very typical for Calvinists. In fact, the Calvinist is not clear why those two words are there and he cannot be clear for if he was fully aware he would realize the impact of those words. And this is where he errs. Paul does not say God was specifically choosing us before the foundation of the world. Paul says God was choosing us in him before the foundation of the world.
The passage literally reads, "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be us holy and blameless before him." God's choosing was purposeful and His purpose was that "we" would be holy and blameless before him and Christ's coming. We are holy and blameless "in him." Put another way, Paul said, "He chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in Christ before God." The chronological point of reference is not God choosing who would be Christians but God choosing that Christgians would be holy and blameless in His Son on the Last Day.
"to be us"