GOD IS SOVEREIGN IN BOTH THE PROCESS AND GOAL OF ELECTION – WHICH IS HOLINESS EXPRESSED IN LOVE
Piper: The difference between predestination, which is mentioned in verse 5, and election (or choosing) which is mentioned in verse 4, is that election refers to God’s freedom in choosing whom he will predestine. Predestination refers to the goal or destiny for which he chose them. Election is God’s choosing whom he will, and predestination is God’s determination that they will become his children…
The ultimate goal of God in election and predestination is that God might be praised for his glory. And the highest point of that glory is grace. This is the final goal of our destiny. There is no higher hope, no greater tomorrow, no more meaningful future, no more worthy cause to live for, than to reflect and praise the glory of God’s grace for ever and ever.
Van Parunak: We thus see that election focuses on what we are not. It distinguishes us from those who are not chosen, and sets up the expectation of our future conduct in contrast to them. The next verb, “predestinated,” focuses on what we are: the children of God.
Benjamin Merkle: Paul provides the first of four main reasons believers are to praise God: because he chose us. God’s election is a theme throughout the Bible (Gen. 12:1–3; Deut. 7:6–8; 14:2). In Christ, God chooses a people for himself. Although a corporate element is present, it would be inaccurate to claim that individuals are not in view.
This election is said to take place “before the foundation of the world” (cf. John 17:24; 1 Pet. 1:20). That is, God’s choice in election occurred before time and creation, emphasizing that this choice was based on God’s sovereign purpose, not human merits. Thus the appropriate response is to praise God for such blessing.
God’s election, however, is not without an end goal. Paul continues by saying that the purpose of those chosen by God is “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (cf. Col. 1:22). With the privilege of election comes the responsibility of living according to God’s Word. God desires not only to forgive our sins but also to conform us to the image of his beloved Son (Rom. 8:29–30). “Before him” most likely means before Jesus, specifically referring to the day of our Lord Jesus when we will appear before him in judgment.
Klyne Snodgrass: Election means that God chooses people, and this teaching cannot be turned around to the thought that people choose God. Election means that the existence of the people of God can be explained only on the basis of God’s character, plan, and action, not on some quality in the people who are chosen. The initiative is always God’s based on his “grace”
David Guzik: We dare not diminish what Paul writes here. Believers are chosen by God, and they are chosen before they have done anything or have been anything for God. The great light of this truth casts some shadows; namely, in trying to reconcile human responsibility with divine sovereignty. Yet the purpose of light is not to cast shadows but to guide our steps. The light of God’s selection gives us assurance to the permanence of His plan and His love towards us.
I. SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN THE PROCESS OF ELECTION
Ken Peterman: This “kathos” clasue can be translated “in conformity with the fact that . . . He hath chosen us.” In other words, all our spiritual blessings are in conformity with the fact that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.
Frank Thielman: Paul uses the term καθώς (kathōs, inasmuch as) to link his opening blessing of God with an account of the specific ways God has blessed those who bless him. This adverbial conjunction normally introduces a comparison. . .
Clinton Arnold: The conjunction he uses to introduce this (καθώς) is often interpreted as a comparative adverb, its most common function: “just as he chose us …” (NASB; NRSV) or “even as he chose us …” (ESV). But it makes better contextual sense to take it as a causal conjunction (so the TNIV and NIV, which translate with “for”) and see it as giving the basis for the praise. The force of this “because” carries throughout 1:4–14 with the rest of the passage providing important reasons why God is so worthy of blessing and praise.
A. Sovereignty Demonstrated by God’s Initiation in the Process of Election
“He chose us”
Frank Thielman: Conceptually, Paul considers God’s free choice of his people to be the clearest indicator of the lavish nature of his grace, as the frequent repetition of the theme of God’s gracious initiative in blessing his people shows (cf. vv. 5, 9, 11).
God’s choice of his people is a traditional Jewish idea, with roots firmly planted in Israel’s Scriptures: “It is you the LORD has chosen out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deut. 14:2 NRSV; cf. Isa. 43:10). Nothing in Israel, such as the size of the nation or its righteousness, prompted God to choose them as his people (Deut. 7:7; 9:4, 6), but only his love for them (Deut. 7:8; Isa. 44:2 LXX; cf. 41:8 LXX). The idea of God’s elective love for his people was important to Paul. Elsewhere in his correspondence, he emphasizes that God did not choose his people because of some merit in them (Rom. 9:11–12; 1 Cor. 1:27–29; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:1–2; cf. Cambier 1963: 68), and he links God’s choice of his people with his love for them (Rom. 8:33–39; 1 Thess. 1:4).
Andrew Lincoln: God’s sovereign purpose in choosing out a people for himself is of course a familiar idea in the OT (e.g., Deut 7:6–8; 14:2), which witnesses to Israel’s consciousness of God’s choice of her in the midst of the twists and turns in her historical fortunes. God had chosen Abraham so that in him the nations of the earth would be blessed, and Israel’s election was not for her own self-indulgence but for the blessing of the nations: it was a privilege but also a summons to service. Christian believers also had this consciousness of being chosen to be the people of God.
Stephen Fowl: Thus to claim that God chose us is not to say that God, having considered all the options and possibilities, selected us from among a variety of lesser options. God’s choice is gracious and not the result of our superior properties. Further, in choosing us, God is not filling up some lack that God has or feels. God’s choice is neither provoked nor coerced by any insufficiency in God. God does not need to elect anyone. Moreover, by claiming that this choosing took place before the foundation of the world, Paul declares that this election is not like our contingent choices, forced on us by opportunity or circumstance.
Harold Hoehner: In the study of the word “to choose” several observations can be made.
- First, in most instances in the OT and NT, as it is here, God is the subject.
- Second, the subject did not choose in a vacuum but in the light of all known options. God chose “us” from the whole human race.
- Third, there is no indication of any dislike towards those not chosen. It is not a rejection with disdain. The choice of Levi for the priesthood does not imply anything negative about the other tribes. Furthermore, nowhere is election contrasted with reprobation. It speaks only of those who are chosen and nothing of those not chosen.
- Fourth, it is in the middle voice, as is in almost every instance, indicating a personal interest in the one chosen. Hence, God chose with great personal interest rather than a random impersonal choice.
- Fifth, the one who is chosen has no legal claim on the one who chooses. In fact, it is clear in Scripture that human beings come short of his glory and do not even seek him (Ro 3:10–11). God did not choose anyone because they were holy and thus had a legal claim to be chosen. On the contrary, all people are sinners and deserve rejection. There was no obligation on God’s part to choose anyone but He freely chose some and this is evidence of His great grace. The point is that if God had not taken the initiative, no one would have His everlasting presence and life. The real problem is not why He had not chosen some, but why He chose any.
No wonder God is to be praised….This should comfort the believer, for he chose “us” from among the whole human race. Yet the chosen individuals are united with one another as a new family unit, the church, the body of Christ (2:11–3:13; 4:1–16; cf. Rom 8:29)
B. Sovereignty Demonstrated by God’s Involvement in the Process of Election
Grant Osborne: Some have taken the choice here to be corporate—that is, God chooses the church as a corporate entity, and individuals enter it by faith decision. While this makes a certain sense, it is probably incorrect. In truth, God’s elect will is both individual and corporate. This is in keeping with the “in him” that qualifies “chose us,” for the “in Christ” motif has two dimensions—union with Christ (the individual dimension) and membership in his body (the corporate dimension). Each of us has been chosen from eternity past to be part of Christ’s messianic community, the people of God’s kingdom. The believer is chosen by the preexistent Christ to be God’s child, part of his family, and a joint heir with Christ. We are first joined with Christ and then joined with each other as members of the messianic community.
R.C. Sproul: But what we see here is that our election is in Christ. Christ is the Beloved and we are chosen by the Father in the Beloved, and for the Beloved. Remember Jesus’ prayer in the upper room, when he thanks the Father for those whom the Father has given him, and his exclamation of confidence that all that the Father has given to him will come to him (John 17).
Clinton Arnold: When Paul says that God chose us “in him” (ἐν αὐτῷ), he is referring to Christ’s participation in God’s act of choosing. Just as Christ was involved with the Father in the creation of the world (“by him all things were created”; Col 1:16; see also John 1:3), so also Christ participated with the Father in choosing people for himself.
Van Parunak: Caution: some would say that since the Father chose the Son, and since believers are “in Christ,” the verse means only that God chooses whoever (later) comes to be “in Christ.” E.g., “God chose Christ, so whoever ends up being in Christ ends up being chosen.” But this avoids the simple meaning of the text, that God “chose us,” and did so long ago. Paul in Rom 9:12,13 makes this precisely analogous with Jacob and Esau in Gen 25:22,23 and Mal 1:2,3, where the selection is directly of individuals, not of corporate relationship with a representative head.
C. Sovereignty Demonstrated by God’s Intention in the Process of Election
“before the foundation of the world,”
Harrison: How far in the past did He choose us? ‘Before the foundation of the world.’ It was no after-thought with God; nor was my relationship to Him. My name was upon His heart prior to any concern for the world. He leads me to believe that but for this preplanned relationship the world would not have been. First the Bride selected for the Son; then the home for her.
II. SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN THE GOAL OF ELECTION = HOLINESS EXPRESSED IN LOVE
Ken Peterman: Transition: Having seen that God blessed us, now we see that God blessed us to be holy:
Grant Osborne: The Christian life contains both privilege (the gift of salvation) and responsibility (the demand to live life God’s way). This reflects the Holiness Code of Leviticus 17–26, whose central theme is “be holy, because I am holy” (Lev 11:44; 19:2; 20:7, 26; see also 1 Pet 1:16). It is important to realize that believers are chosen not just for salvation but for sanctification as well.
Andrew Lincoln: God’s choice of a people in Christ has a goal—that they should exhibit a particular quality of life, described here in terms of holiness and love. . .
In Eph 1:4 holiness, blamelessness, and love are complementary terms. On its negative side, holiness is the absence of moral defect or sin, i.e., blamelessness, while, on its positive side, as moral perfection, it displays itself in love which is the fulfillment of God’s will. Moral separation from the sinful world and active love are qualities which, in fact, provide a good summary of the ethical exhortation to follow in the second part of this letter. In this reference a theocentric perspective predominates, for a life of holiness, blamelessness, and love has its source in and is a response to the gracious election of God and is lived “before him,” that is, conscious that God’s presence and God’s approval are one’s ultimate environment.
A. Holy and Blemishless = the Transformation of the Goal of Holiness
“that we would be holy”
Ken Peterman: Election is an incentive to holiness, not an excuse for sin.
- “holy” implies a relationship with God which is expressed not primarily through the ritual, but through the fact that believers are led by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14)
- “holy” behavior is behavior that relates to the Holy Spirit — Gal. 5:22.
Bryan Chapell: By virtue of our union with Christ we have our blame removed. What shames us and justly condemns us is not held against us any longer. As Christ is without spot, so also we are “blemishless” (the origin of the word “blameless”) by virtue of his work in our behalf.8 Paul will explain this process later in the chapter, but for now he identifies the results of the Savior’s work: our guilt and shame are taken away; we are made blameless.
Ken Peterman: “without blame” — this is not the best translation, it should be “without blemish.” This was a technical term designating absence of anything amiss in a sacrifice. It is used in Ex. 29:2; Num. 6:14 and Ezek. 43:22 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
God’s Goal: HOLY AND WITHOUT BLEMISH
Application: Is this my goal?
Regarding anything, we should stop and ask: Will it blemish me?
Martin Lloyd Jones: God has not chosen us before the foundation of the world in order to create for us the possibility of holiness; He has chosen us to holiness. It is what He has purposed for us; not possibility but realization. I therefore make this solemn assertion, that those who do not appreciate this truth and show some signs of holiness in their lives are not chosen, are not Christian. Being chosen and being ‘holy’ are inseparable.
Summers: The end of that choice is a cleansed believer or worshiper. In the New Testament the doctrine of election is not a dry theological bone at which people gnaw. It is, rather, a living, vital doctrine which man sees in operation every day of his experience. The end of that elective choice is an individual cleansed of his sin, remade in the spiritual likeness of God, and, hence, a fit object for God’s fellowship.
B. God = the Standard of the Goal of Holiness
C. Love = the Expression of the Goal of Holiness
Van Parunak: Our Lord’s new commandment is that we love one another as he loved us, and a spirit of love toward our brethren must characterize all of our efforts to holiness and blamelessness.
Frank Thielman: How Paul intended his readers to take the next phrase is not entirely clear. Many interpreters believe that ἐν ἀγάπῃ (en agapē, in love) does not describe more specifically the holy and blameless behavior that should characterize God’s chosen people (“holy and blameless before him in love”) but is an adverbial qualifier of προορίσας (proorisas, having predestined), the participle that begins verse 5 (“having predestined us in love”). A simple pause for breath in the right place would have easily resolved the ambiguity in the original dictation of the letter, but the ambiguity remains in the written text.
Those who take ἐν ἀγάπῃ with προορίσας point out that Paul’s focus in the benediction is on God’s action of blessing his people, not on human obligation, and that a sudden, brief admonition to live in a holy and blameless way would disrupt this focus (Caragounis 1977: 85). They also argue that the terms “holy” and “blameless” are cultic terms describing the consecration and condition of a sacrificial animal placed “before” God. These terms refer not to the conduct of believers, therefore, but to the status believers have in God’s sight (Best 1998: 123).
Two considerations, however, weigh against these arguments. First, although it is true that Paul conceived of God as conferring a status of holiness on believers when he chose them to be his people, the biblical passages that form the background to Paul’s concept view the gift of holiness as, at the same time, a call to act in the holy ways that God prescribes. The two ideas were tied together in Deut. 7:1–6 and 14:1–2, and they were tied together for Paul. He could tell the Corinthians, for example, that they were “sanctified [ἁγιάζω, hagiazō] in Christ Jesus” and that they “had been sanctified [ἁγιάζω, hagiazō],” and yet he could call on them to “bring about” their “sanctification [ἁγιωσύνη, hagiōsynē] in the fear of God” (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11; 2 Cor. 7:1). It is likely that this understanding of holiness also lies beneath his use of this language in Eph. 1:4.
Second, the sentence structure of verses 3–14 makes it likely that ἐν ἀγάπῃ does not qualify the participle that follows it. Wherever Paul uses a verbal form in the benediction to describe the action of God and then qualifies that verbal form with a prepositional phrase, the qualifying phrase always comes after the verbal form, not before it. This makes it unlikely that ἐν ἀγάπῃ would qualify προορίσας, which follows it.
None of this means that God did not predetermine believers “in love” for adoptive status as his children. As we have seen, the biblical background of the concept of election is steeped in the notion that God loves those whom he chooses. Paul expresses that idea in this passage, however, through the language of God’s “good pleasure” (εὐδοκία, eudokia) in predetermining the adoptive sonship of his people (v. 5) and in planning in advance to sum up all things in Christ (vv. 9–10).
The attachment of the phrase ἐν ἀγάπῃ to “holy” and “blameless” means that in this benediction Paul anticipates the concrete ethical exhortation that he gives later in the letter (4:1–6:20). Paul begins that part of the letter by urging his readers to live in a way that is “worthy of the calling [κλήσεως, klēseōs] with which you were called [ἐκλήθητε, eklēthēte]” and then specifies that they should bear with one another “in love” (ἐν ἀγάπῃ; 4:1–2; cf. 4:15–16; 5:2, 25, 28, 33; 6:23). Although the focus of the benediction lies on what God has graciously done for his people, then, here Paul hints at what he will say more fully in the letter’s second half: God’s action on his readers’ behalf has implications for the way they should live.