“Just as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, so that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:4)
This is where things get juicy. Paul here begins to talk about the cause, the motive, the source of the fountain and the origins of the blessings of God’s plan towards mankind. Wow! The apostle is attempting to get to grips with stuff that Christians have debated for two thousand years, and Jews have debated even longer. The revelation that Paul received concerning the divine choice of people who become Christians, known by theologians and academics as the subject of “Election,” is one of the most piercing views of the greatness and the comprehensive raft of God’s attributes that any other aspect of Bible teaching can give us. I always think that Paul’s revelation is somehow even more spectacular in this dimension inasmuch as he did not have three years with Jesus as the twelve had, to discuss such issues with the Lord Jesus Himself. What Paul sees was revealed to him in the same modus operandi as every Christian converted after Acts chapter 2. He had to dig and rummage in the mind of God via the Old Testament Scriptures and with the active engagement of the Holy Spirit in prayer and meditation, and strive to get his mind around what he saw and heard. Every body who is a Christian has been chosen by God to be such.
ELECTION IS INSPIRATIONAL NOT MERELY ACADEMIC
Whenever thinking through and attempting to define the biblical truth of election I always find it to be exhilarating and God exalting within my own heart. I find that one cannot discuss the subject intelligently without brooding over the infinite riches of God’s character. If we are to discuss it properly we have to chew much and inhale deeply of the greatness of Yahweh. I claim no expertise or exceptional revelation on Election, only a sense of awe and majesty that something so straight forward to God is so troublesome to the minds of great men.
THE PROBLEM WITH HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
The problematic area that stems debate and sometimes vitriolic argument, is the age old logistical issue of somehow conjoining the fact of man being a free moral agent, and God being absolutely sovereign. In plain English; How and why does God choose who gets saved and goes to heaven, and who is damned and goes to hell? Is that really God’s choice to damn some? Obviously not, for the Bible says that God is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9). Faith is a free choice, as is unbelief. And so it is at the point that these questions are raised in any discussion on election that the debate commences. I believe I am on safe ground when I say that it is utterly impossible to intelligently discuss Election without having to define an answer to this question. Where does God’s sovereign choice end and man’s free choice begin? And vica verca. There we have the whole challenge to the understanding in a single question posed. As the lecturers say at Uni’: “Discuss, and let me have your findings by 10-30 tomorrow morning!” Men of God have been waiting for two millennia for satisfactory findings.
My conviction is that Paul’s solution to the issue is what we normally refer to as the question. Paul stresses God’s sovereignty to excess in some passages of the New Testament, and then in other places leans on human free choice to equal excess. Somehow, therein is the answer. But until God gives Christian people the grace to see through it, it remains a puzzlement.
WAYS OF HANDLING THE TRUTH OF ELECTION
Most Christians I find have a viewpoint on election that is utterly pejorative to any other perspective. Most Christians I know have an opinion that is stated as a conviction on the subject that is more mental and academic than spiritual and revelatory. In the church generally the answers to the questions that surround Election tend to be laboured over and thought through in Christian academia and spoken of very little to the general body of Christ.
Generally speaking (and this is very general) there are three main schools of assumed “conclusive” standpoints. There are those who lean more on the “Sovereignty of God perspective” and seemingly, to the other schools, make less of the issue of free choice in the heart of men. Remaining in the realm of broad brushstroke generalities, these people are referred to as Calvinists. We should not be bullied by the term “Calvinist.” John Calvin was undoubtedly an out and out genius intellectually and that is the main reason his name is a rallying point for certain theological perspectives that he so lucidly wrote of. I have only fought with Calvin’s “Institutes of Religion” briefly in my life, and consider that the vast majority of people who claim to be Calvinists make that claim having read a certain page or two of John Calvin’s Magnus Opus and declare that they believe it all. Like having a drink of fresh water in a small spring that feeds the Atlantic and declaring the Atlantic to be a fresh water zone without having even looked at it. Calvin was an incredible thinker. But do I believe him, wholly or in part?
The second school of Christians who have a settled viewpoint on this subject are those that lean on the emphasis of man being a Free Moral Agent, seeing it in a light that understands God’s sovereign choice as presented by the “Calvinist” persuasion as utterly destroying the issue of man’s free volition. These are again, generally referred to as the “Arminian” theologians.
Then there is the third school of thought – or is it “no thought”? I say this because, to my experience the majority of Christians I have met through the years don’t really care for the Calvinists or Arminians. “I just believe the Bible!” they cry. “I am Chosen directly by God, and I know I have a free will!” they declare, and live happily ever after. Their lives do not seem to be hindered by the fact that they live their lives without a firm opinion about Election at all.
I also have to add that I believe that many minister’s and church leaders seem to me to have made a stance, and chosen one side to stand on simply because they feel it inappropriate as an ordained minister to say, “I just don’t know!” Discussions with some on the subject are strikingly lacking in passion or conviction.
THE QUESTIONS THAT ARE PONDERED FOR RESOLUTION
To sum up the above, I pose the whole question again. If God lives His life through us, as per Galatians 2:20, what are all the commandments about? I do not just mean the Decalogue, I mean the New commandment that Jesus gave us? How do we reconcile the security of the believer held in the Father’s hand, and the desperate need for persevering faith? How is there a rest of faith that receives God’s blessing without works, and a simultaneous fight of faith that by its very nature demands effort and striving? All the human volitional aspects of salvation must be integrated and conjoined to those aspects of the saving process that are completely dependent on God’s sovereignty, but how and to what degree?
These kinds of questions distract from the glorious truth that should cause every Christian to sing and dance in their praise to the Lord for saving them. Being chosen by God to be a member of His family is no issue with which to start arguments or fall outs. It is a glorious truth that is part of the healing of our souls. Should the whole world have rejected me, God has chosen me. It is a truth to be excited about, not just to prove how academic we are to debate it. No matter how difficult we find it to reconcile how people get on with their lives making their own free choices and their own directions in life with how God is sovereign over us in all things, we should nevertheless praise Him for the freedom to choose as well as worship Him for having chosen us as His.
The resolution of all this spiritual (as opposed to mental) challenge is at the present time known only to the mind of God, and I am not sure anybody will ever find an answer this side of the Millennium. Man’s limited mind that by its veritable finite state inhibits a full resolution to this subject, finds it universally difficult to come to a solid answer.
ELECTION IS TO THE PRAISE OF THE FATHER
But we move on! We are talking of “Revelations of the Invisible,” and not “Intellectual Creations of the Academic,” which the above paragraphs plainly are. I have written the above to make my readers aware that this writer is conscious of the waters he is swimming in when we look at Ephesians 1:4 and I have chosen also to ignore most of what I have read in my lifetime on the subject. Revelation is what we seek, and revelation that creates the stimulation of the mind is always more edifying than issues that come purely by academic injection.
Christians are blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places by God Himself, just as he has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Before the cosmos existed, and before even the foundations of the world were laid (whatever that refers to) in fact before anything else in the universe existed, God knew us and chose us in Christ. That is a statement to cause a sense of awe within us. We have not chosen Him, He has chosen us.
ELECTION IS ONE OF THE BLESSINGS IN HEAVENLY PLACES THAT ARE OURS
This means, outside of time, in fact, before time was created, God had made His choice of every Christian. We have to take stock as we jump into the stratosphere of Ephesians, that God’s eternal being is forever unchanging. He cannot grow old, and was never young. Everything that God knows, He has known forever. Eternity is His. It is His nature to be without beginning and without end. He simply does not change but is now what He was, and what He ever shall be. This rock like immoveable unchanging characteristic of His eternity is the very substance of His name, “Yahweh.” The Ever Living and the All Knowing chose me in Christ.
What are the ramifications of this glorious revelation of Almighty God and His attitude and action towards me?
GOD’S KNOWLEDGE OF THINGS GREAT AND SMALL
Part of this eternal unchangeableness is His knowledge of simply everything. He is omniscient. He was, is and always will be the same. Everything that “is” fills His intellect and mind. There is nothing in the universe that God does not know or is not aware of. If it is possible for knowledge to be infinite, that is, if there were or are an infinite mass of objects of knowledge to engage with in the cosmos, God Himself knows it all. Things seen or unseen, things as huge as galaxies and star systems and as small as microbes and amoebas, He knows everything about it. His infinity demands that this is the reality of things. How glorious is the Lord! I am not making these statements to construct a devotional kind of page, I am going somewhere with these statements. Please bear with me as I explore the issue. There is nothing that can ever be added to His knowledge. He has eternally been, and eternally will be omniscient. If this wasn’t true God would not be eternal, infinite or omniscient.
In the same perspective and vein, we need to grasp that in His rule of the entire universe God exercises a governmental administration over, a knowledgeable engagement with and a personal involvement in everything that has ever happened, is happening, or ever will happen. From this we can see that from Adam and Eve onwards God Himself chose which individual seed of the millions of tadpole looking sperms of each act of intercourse that has ever taken place would break through the wall of which particular egg producing each individual person. Nothing but nothing has escaped His government, His oversight, His knowledge or His engagement. It is all in His hands, even those things that take place beyond His personal will or active agency. And here dwells a problem for the human mind to grasp.
GOD RULES OVER GOOD AND EVIL MAKING THEM ULTIMATELY SUBJECT TO HIS PURPOSE
God has a will, and there are things that take place in the universe – as well as in our own world, that are effected by His personal agency, effort and engagement for no other reason that He chose to do so. There are events and occurrences also that take place that He does not approve of and yet He rules the universe with His providence in issues that are even against what He wills. In plain English there is stuff that happens that He permits or allows rather than actively willing it. He permits some things rather than interrupting or stopping them from happening. There must be some sense in which God’s purposes extend to all events and motives, good or bad. To understand that “the Lord reigns” we have to see that His rule, government and Lordship is neither denied nor ignorant of those things that He hates. Just as there is human free will, there is satanic free will. The Christian is called to fight against and resist the free will choices of evil that the devil makes. We are here talking of sickness, poverty, war and philosophical choices that cause rottenness and mould in the human situation. Sin and evil is an abomination to God. It is this writer’s conviction that atrocities that are not intervened on by God Himself are still overseen by His intimate presence to whatever degree each heart opens to him. His government must hold ultimate sway overall that is both good and evil. He must, in some sense impact the righteous and unrighteous in His providential guidance of the entire universe. The presence of evil in the world is by no means demeaning of the divine government. It cannot be argued with that the character and nature of God, as presented by the Bible, is infinitely good and filled with infinite love and generosity towards man, but with a legal restriction caused by the presence of evil, sin, corruption and death. And in the midst of this corrupt world He chose us.
GOD EFFECTS THE ENTIRE PROCESS OF SALVATION
Wherever we go with the issue of election and our convictions about who is called and who is chosen, we cannot and will not move from the solid conviction that God is morally immutable, and that in all His attributes is utterly incapable of lying, failing or changing. We also choose to be incapable of moving from the belief that every person that is converted, saved and sanctified are in such a status by God’s own effective engagement and agency. In other words, He has done it all. It was Divine activity that convicted me of my sin, gave me faith, converted me and sanctified me to whatever degree that may be. The direct hand of God has effected all that in each Christian, and yet at the same time, the lack of perfection in my development in God is not to His blame in the slightest.
Whatever choices or activities God puts into effect in order to convert and save people, He does it with a plan and design to achieve the end of His purpose. It is an elementary and self evident universal truth that whatever God does to save people’s souls He must do it with divinely created events and circumstances in place to win all who ever will be saved, and of all those of whom He is aware will accept His offer of salvation. Therefore He acts with the sure and certain knowledge that they shall be saved.
We have to note also that He does the same for those whom He knows are the non-elect. Mankind of course, living in their time – space linear existence have no knowledge of the future end of people places or things. In giving them the same opportunities and circumstances that could and should bring them to faith, God acts righteously and justly. God would save them, but they would not. The opportunity is given to all, even though in His foreknowledge He is already aware that He shall not succeed in winning their hearts of the non-elect over to Him simply because of their voluntarily chosen and persevering godlessness and wickedness. This is not done lightly or falsely at all as if by God’s choice He was acting as in a game. His foreknowledge knows who shall choose Christ and who shall not, yet it is vital to the integrity of God Himself to fully and sincerely manifest a readiness to save them.
His omniscience knows who shall repent and who shall not. His omnipotence ensures that He will indeed save all who call on His name. His omnipresence ensures that He hears us all and sees us all no matter what the state of our heart is. His love is ever pleading that we turn to Him in faith. His justice will ensure that Christ’s blood speaks for a person once repented. Oh the wisdom of God! He predestines those to be converted, sanctified and saved. His foreknowledge informs Him of who shall reject Him. God’s foreknowledge of evil acts and Christ rejection is not the same as predestined and planned righteous acts. Righteousness is predestined and foreknown in God’s infinity. Evil is foreknown but never predestined.
CHOSEN BY CHRIST HIMSELF
Jesus said to the twelve, “You have not chosen me. I have chosen you.” Those whom He has chosen have been selected for the purpose of exhibiting the fruit of Christ’s character. In this way I assert that each true Christian is a directly chosen vessel. I cannot accept the impersonal manner in which some preachers and teachers claim that the believers are vaguely chosen simply because they chose to align themselves with Christ, who is the “only one” truly predestined and chosen of God. I disown that thought altogether. God sought me out and did a work in me. Every single human being who has been, is, and will in the future be saved was chosen by God to eternal salvation through the sanctification of their hearts and minds through faith in Christ. God sees the end of all things first, having chosen them to be glorified and that, by the means of sanctifying them – a process that is first introduced by justifying them. In this process He chooses those that He knew would believe. The entire process is effected by God in the lives of those He has chosen. All are called, less are chosen.
The blessings of being saved, according to the Apostle Paul are all the consequences of God having chosen us. This means that he picked us out and selected each Christian to be His. This is something for Christians to humbly exult in. No quality that dwells within us or upon us qualifies us for such a choice. It is utterly and completely by the mercy of God. God has chosen us to be imbibing recipients of every blessing He has in heaven, and that we might enjoy them to the full in all their length, breadth and depth.
There is no other source of these blessings of any kind whatsoever. It is all of God. Those that are saved have been chosen to be utterly separated from the unsaved world, not only in the future day of judgement in the resurrection, but in the here and now. This is a matter of fact.
Whatever may be the solution of the question, or difficulties connected with it, there is no denying or concealing the fact itself, that there has been, is, and will be, a distinction among men, a difference and a separation concerning their state and character before God, and their ultimate destiny. The only reason this subject is up for debate is because God Himself has raised the subject in His word. Being chosen is nothing whatsoever to do with being worthy, superior or qualified in any way whatsoever.