“…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:4, NASB95)
Knowing that I was heading into an area of Scripture over which there is some disagreement and remaining mystery I took extra time to refresh my own studies and affirm my understanding in such a way that I could hopefully explain it without compromising in any way this incredible truth that God chose everyone who would believe and there are none that believe that are not chosen. I poured through pages upon pages of commentaries and what I came to again was that what God said He did He did indeed do. There is no explaining it away or minimizing it in order to suit our own pride or preference. Paul wrote here that these believers as with all believers were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. We were chosen not only before we were born, but before that world that man was created to inhabit itself was created. God chose us before we could prove or disprove ourselves, totally apart from any merit, demerit, or perception of greater need or willingness. Simply put, He chose us for reasons known to Him, and as a result He gets all of the glory.
This truth of Scripture is known as election, and those who are chosen are called by Him as His elect. Being in a campaign season we are used to seeing people talk about how election worthy they are as they seek to prove themselves to the voters. And then on a day certain the voters will consider what they have heard, balance it against their own preferences, and make a choice by either going to the poles or by mailing in their ballot. Following this all of the ballots will be counted and winners will be announced and then inaugurated. They will have been chosen by the people as their elected representatives. This process is all about a popular vote based upon agreement or merit. It is not decided by one individual and it is not decided without the candidate having proved himself in some way.
God chose not to work this way. He chose to elect certain people from before the beginning based on His own totally infinite reasoning such that through us He might be glorified. Simply put from our perspective, if it were based upon us then He would merely be the one who recognized the merit. But because He chose us without merit, He is the one who gets the glory. I guess from man’s perspective that he could claim this unfair or arbitrary as some have argued. But consider this, every single one of us has sinned and to be quite honest we still sin. There is not one of us who is without sin, and there is not one of us who would have any standing before a perfect and holy God. Not one of us has any claim to His forgiveness or any of the blessings which He so freely bestows. What we deserve is the condition in which we are apart from Christ which is spiritual separation and judgment. That is what we deserve. So, for God to choose any of us is a gracious act of love on His part, and one that He determined required Him to sacrifice His own Son to accomplish for us. The Bible tells us that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). This is how God showed His love. And for Him to choose someone specifically is something that rests with Him as well. Scripture clearly declares that God’s wisdom is far above our wisdom, and to impute anything else is to venture into territory in which we are vastly overwhelmed.
How incredibly freeing it is to realize that our salvation came not based upon what we did but because of who He is. God knows everything about us, and He has known it since before we were ever conceived in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), where He knit us together. This means that God chose us with all of our shortcomings, our failings including even those not yet done, and everything else about us so that we might be vessels of His glory by His power working in us. He chose us to be His ambassadors in a world that does not know Him. He chose us as the church to be the bride for His Son—our Lord Jesus Christ. He chose us to demonstrate His great power, and He has given us His Spirit to work in us to do incredible things.
What is not covered in this verse, but is in others is another truth which stands equally in Scripture and that is personal responsibility. Some would say that man is totally responsible for this decision to choose, that salvation is a matter of His own free will and that God takes no role in forcing man’s hand (so to speak). But this argument doesn’t wash with the truths of Scripture such as the one we are looking at today. God chose us. Some would soften this some and say that God looked through time and that those who are chosen are the ones who would one day decide—these are His elect. This also falls short for the same reasoning. The truth of Scripture is that God made these choices. But Scripture does also say that man has to believe to be saved. Jesus Himself said that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). He also said that "everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die" (11:26). Scripture has numerous commands to the unsaved to respond to the Lord. John MacArthur in his commentary on Ephesians listed some of them (e.g., Josh. 24:15; Isa. 55:1; Matt. 3:1-2; 4:17; 11:28-30; John 5:40; 6:37; 7:37-39; Rev. 22:17), adding that these passages “clearly indicate the responsibility of man to exercise his own will.”
So what is it? Did man chose or did God? This is how we tend to think. We think these have to be mutually exclusive for one of them to be true. But this is how we approach things, and not how God does. John MacArthur went on to add, “Yet the Bible is just as clear that no person receives Jesus Christ as Savior who has not been chosen by God (cf. Rom. 8:29; 9:11; 1 Thess. 1:3-4; 1 Pet. 1:2). Jesus gives both truths in one verse in the gospel of John: "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out" (John 6:37). God's sovereign election and man's exercise of responsibility in choosing Jesus Christ seem opposite and irreconcilable truths--and from our limited human perspective they are opposite and irreconcilable. That is why so many earnest, well-meaning Christians throughout the history of the church have floundered trying to reconcile them. Since the problem cannot be resolved by our finite minds, the result is always to compromise one truth in favor of the other or to weaken both by trying to take a position somewhere between them. We should let the antimony [Isa. 54:11; 1 Chron. 29:2, lustrous stones] remain, believing both truths completely and leaving the harmonizing of them to God.”
I stumbled for a bit with his use of the word “antimony.” As I looked at it in Scripture and on the internet I found that antimony was a lustrous stone and not a term that I could easily understand as it was used. So I looked specifically at the two passages in which it is used to find this, “Now with all my ability I have provided for the house of my God the gold for the things of gold, and the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, onyx stones and inlaid stones, stones of antimony and stones of various colors, and all kinds of precious stones and alabaster in abundance.” (1 Chronicles 29:2, NASB95) Could it possibly be that he meant that each of these truths are separate stones shining forth in their fullness in the one setting made by God? It sure made sense to me.
Ray Stedman wrote, “As hard as it is for us to understand and accept, the fact is that we are chosen by God. Jesus said so Himself, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44). That's putting it plainly, isn't it? You can't come to Christ unless you are drawn by the Father. God has to initiate the activity” (Our Riches in Christ, p. 29). But then he added in the next paragraph, "Then why does God appeal to our individual human will? For in Matthew 11:28 we also read, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." That means it's up to us as individuals to make a choice. You cannot become a Christian until you choose to come--yet it is equally true that you cannot choose to come unless God has chosen you. Both facts are true. We can't reconcile them in out puny intellects, but we can accept them by faith.”
And lest I might get boastful in having made the choice, I am always reminded that God chose me before the foundation of the world and that, according to John 6:37, all that the Father had given to Jesus (including me) will come to Him. It is a done deal. Somehow in God’s incredible way I responded, and for that I am so eternally thankful to Him and give Him all of the glory.
How about you? If you are not saved and you are reading this ask yourself, “Why?” Ask God believing that He will hear and do, to give you the same salvation given to so many others as a free gift. The incredible truth of His word is that you will be saved.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95)