Some point to Ephesians 1 as a proof text highlighting God’s initiative in individual election. This article will look at the text to see what it is that Paul is saying to the church in Ephesus and to the church today.
“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us.”
Who is the “us” that Paul is referring to? The church at Ephesus. He is speaking to the “we who are saved.”
“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us (the redeemed, the saved, the church) with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us (the redeemed, the saved, the church) in Him before the foundation of the world, that we (the redeemed, the saved, the church) should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us (the redeemed, the saved, the church) to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us (the redeemed, the saved, the church) accepted in the Beloved.
One must understand that this passage itself has nothing to do with individual election. This does not negate any significance in individual election but this text itself does not demand it. In this light, that which was ordained before the foundation of the world was not the names of the elect but rather the blessings for the elect or those who are redeemed and have been saved. When Paul writes, “having predestined us” he is simply saying God made provision for our salvation in Christ Jesus.
Notice the last phrase in verse 6, “He made us accepted in Christ Jesus.” When does this “accepted” take place? Was it accomplished on the cross? Was it accomplished at repentance? WHEN does one move from the unaccepted to the accepted? This is an essential question. Calvinism contends individual election was settled actually PRIOR to the cross, before the foundation of the world. When Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin, He died for the sin of the elect and their sin alone. According to the postulates of Calvinism, the elect are NEVER the non-elect and are in fact, accepted before the foundation of the world. Now, this position is not negated by this passage but the terms of being accepted must be defined because the timing of this acceptance is crucial in the varying theological positions.
Verse 7 describes those who are accepted in the Beloved.
7 In Him we (the redeemed, the saved, the church) have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us us (the redeemed, the saved, the church) in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us us (the redeemed, the saved, the church) the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.
What is Paul saying here: Simple; Human history is pointing to eternity. That is what verse 10 is saying. One could argue that in this particular text, everything that God has foreordained and predestined is with eternity in mind; not individual election.
11 In Him also we (the redeemed, the saved, the church) have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, (provisions for eternity) 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
Verses 11 and 12 the “we” changes some. Notice verse 13. Paul writes, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.”
So it must be understood that the “we” in verse 11 and certainly verse 12 does not include the “you” in verse 13. It could be argued that this would be true of every “we” in chapter 1 to this point. So what is it that Paul is saying? Paul is saying that God has gone to great lengths to bring salvation to the gentiles. That is it. Personally, I am actually inclined to believe that the “we” and “us” in all the verses mentioned above, reference not the (the redeemed, the saved, the church) but rather they are a direct reference to him and those Jewish believers that are co-laborers together who are bringing the gospel message to the gentiles. In this foreordained and predestined work of God is all of Israel’s storied history from which Christ came and became the fulfillment of the law and sacrificial system.
Now note what Paul says about the gentiles who have received this inheritance that has been foreordained and predestined by God.
Paul writes, “13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”
The gentiles trusted AFTER they heard the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Note a couple of things. It is the Word of Truth that had power to save them; they trusted AFTER they heard the Word of Truth. Paul does not say anything about them being regenerated so that they could THEN trust or believe. The Word of God has power to save them that believe. (Romans 1:16) To further clarify this redeeming process, he wrote, “after you believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” It is clear that new life comes AFTER one believes, not before. The Spirit is life. (John 6:63-70)
Ephesians 1 is not a proof text on individual election.