the Christian life
Ephesians 1:1-14 -- Class Election or Election to Position?
by Carol Berubee
Who is the elect? Jesus or believers? If believers are the elect, are they elect unto salvation or a position?
Saving Faith Prior to Regeneration?
We should quickly get this issue cleared up before we move on to other discussions. Some people misread Ephesians 1:12, mistaking it for a verse concerning the order of salvation. Those reading v. 12 in the KJV or NKJV may take that verse to mean that a person first has to trust in Christ and then he will be saved. However, one would have to read this meaning into the verse because such an interpretation would conflict with vv. 3-11, not to mention many other passages of Scripture. The verse only means that the Jews who had before, or "at the first," believed in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. The next verse (v. 13) brings in the Gentile believers to whom Paul was writing. The Gentile believers who are now in Christ are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, no different from the Jews who had first believed.
Ephesians 1:1-5 is a passage interpreted by some to mean that Christ is the elect and all those who choose Him become the elect once they are in Christ, the beneficiaries of the spiritual blessings. While Christ is said to be God's elect in the Old Testament, is this how Paul is using elect here? The grammar and flow of the whole of Ephesians 1 and 2 do not allow for such an interpretation. So, we'll see who the elect are in this passage as well as touch on some other issues.
The object of the blessings (v. 3) is "us," those in Christ. Then, track "us" through the following verses and realize that it is referring to Christians, those "in Christ." Verse 3 has God the Father choosing a people "in Christ" before the foundation of the world. It was in His love that He predestined us unto adoption as sons according to His will. Verse 5 is clear that "we" were adopted as sons through Christ; therefore, the elect are those in Christ, not Christ Himself. "We" are the direct object, not Christ, and we were chosen before the foundation of the world. All of this is according to the good pleasure of His will to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in Christ (v. 6).
So far, we've seen that the election of a people unto adoption as sons occurred in the past, before the foundation of the world. In verse 7, we switch to present tense. In Christ, we have our redemption through His blood, where the "we" is the same elect people in the previous verses. This redemption is defined as the forgiveness of our sins according to God's grace.
God works all things, including election, according to His purpose after the counsel of His will (v. 11). It is His will, not man's choices, that determines election. God acts in accordance with His purpose so that we, the elect, should be unto the praise of His glory (vv. 11-12a). And then, finally, at a time in history, the Jews were the first to believe in the fully manifested Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Christ (v. 12b), followed by the Gentiles (v. 13a).
Those who interpret Ephesians 1 as an impersonal class election based on something other than solely the grace of God must assume that either man did not completely fall in Adam, or that he did but God has given an amount of enabling grace to all people so that they are free to choose Christ. This latter view, called prevenient grace, is not supported by Scripture. Romans 8:6-8 and Ephesians 2:1-2 are just two passages among hundreds that make the case for the total inability of man. If prevenient grace exists, it is inconceivable that Paul didn't even allude to it when he wrote Romans 8 and Ephesians 2. Further, the idea that God must give grace to all people completely undercuts the very definition of grace. If God must meet the demands of a fallen humanity, then He is not truly God, the only One Who is truly free. If He must capitulate to the desires of men who justly merit His wrath, then He is not an autonomous Being.
One may go so far as to admit that God has an election in eternity past and that those people will choose Christ, but that this election is based on God having foreseen who will believe in the future. Where is the idea that God has chosen us based on foreseen faith? It's not here; it has to be read into the text. But were it so, how would it be that man could believe unto salvation? Some ability in himself, or an enabling grace from God? God's good pleasure was to be glorified in His grace with which He graced us. Grace that is demanded by the creature is not grace. If the creature believes that God must give an equal grace to all people, it is no longer grace, but something owed. God, however, is not obligated. The basis upon which God elects is the kind intention of His will (vv. 5-6), not obligation.
Predestination Only Unto a Position?
There is another interpretation of this Ephesians 1 passage that is also incorrect. There are those who read v. 4a as pertaining only to the Apostles (and vv. 4b-12 as referring to all Jewish believers, including the Apostles). This interpretation would mean that the choosing of v. 4a is unto the position of apostleship, not salvation. The reason these folks interpret v. 4a this way is to avoid having to face the truth that all believers were chosen in Christ for salvation before the foundation of the world. But what does a narrow reading of this verse do to the passage as a whole?
Verses 3-7 tell us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, that election has the result of us being holy and without blemish before God in love, that we were predestined unto the adoption as sons according to the good pleasure of God's will, and that God has freely bestowed His grace on us in Christ, in Whom we have our redemption through His blood. Does this mean only the Apostles or Jews were the beneficiaries of all these blessings?
All of these spiritual blessings were true of the Apostles and of the other Jewish believers in Christ, certainly, and Paul says as much in v. 12 when he refers to "we [Jews] who had before hoped in Christ." But notice what he says next in v. 13: "In Whom you [Gentiles] also, having heard the word of the truth... in Whom, having also believed [just as we Jews], you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise." Is the sealing of the Spirit for Gentile believers only? If you try to make vv. 3-11 refer only to the Apostles or Jews, then you must concede that the Gentiles have not received the spiritual blessings, adoption, and redemption in Christ (vv. 3-12), but have only been sealed by the Spirit (v. 13). By the same line of reasoning, you must concede that the Apostles or Jewish believers of vv. 3-12 have not been sealed by the Holy Spirit in v. 13. Indeed, to whom would you conclude Paul is speaking in v. 14? If you are only following the pronouns and have determined that vv. 3-12 is all Jewish ("us" and "we"), and that v. 13 is Gentile ("you"), then you run into a major problem in v. 14 in which we have "our." It is obvious that 13 and 14 are to be taken together; it is one doctrine concerning the sealing of the Spirit which is an earnest of our inheritance unto the redemption of our bodies. If v. 13 is only for Gentiles, then so is v. 14.
Paul will go on in the next chapter to make his case that the Body of Christ is one, such that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile in Christ (2:11-22). In 3:1, Paul says that it is for this cause that he was made a minister of the Gospel among the Gentiles, to proclaim that the Gentiles are in full union with the Jews in Christ, all being heirs, members of the Body, and partakers of the promise (3:6). In chapter 4, he reiterates that there is a unity of the Spirit. Therefore, the message of this epistle is unity between Jew and Gentile in the Body of Christ. You cannot separate the spiritual blessings, adoption, and redemption of 1:3-11 from the sealing of the Spirit of 1:13. It is always crucial, of course, to watch the pronouns and determine about whom, and to whom, the writer is referring. In this case, the context tells us that Paul was gathering all, Jew and Gentile, into one common salvation beginning in 1:3.