“…just as [God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4).
In my previous post, I noted Paul’s teaching that we have every spiritual blessing, all things necessary for a blessed spiritual life, in Christ, who is in the heavenly places. In the next verse, Paul paints an even richer picture of the love of God for us by teaching that it was not something which appeared recently in history, but has always been the plan for us from the very beginning.
It is already love enough that God has provided us everything necessary for living a blessed life in Him. But the truer depth of God’s love is made clear when Paul tells us that this was God’s plan even before He created the world. It was not a decision He came to only as a result of what Christ did, as if Christ somehow managed to change God’s mind about us and to win Him over to us. God did not need to be convinced by Christ in order to give us these blessings. Rather, God has chosen us in Christ even before speaking the cosmos into existence. This tells me that God has worked all of history towards this point, namely towards the revelation of His love in Christ and the conferral of every spiritual blessing upon humanity in Christ. This was the goal all along, in spite of how things might have appeared at times.
The world was made so that Christ might be born, as David Fergusson has said, and Christ was born so that through Him and in Him God might give us every blessing necessary for a spiritual life. This is how much God loves us: He made the world for the very purpose of blessing us and showing His love for us in this way.
What does Paul mean when he says that God “chose us in Christ”? Of course, the topic of election is very controverted. Historically, there have been two major opinions on the matter. Some hold that God elected some persons to salvation irrespective of His foreknowledge of what they would do, indeed that His election is the cause of their faith. Others hold that God elected those persons whom He foreknew would respond in faith to the Gospel, so that their foreseen faith is the cause of His election. One thing that both of these points of views have in common, in spite of their significant differences, is that the election of the individual is “direct.”
I would rather propose a different point of view, somewhat inspired by the doctrine of election as developed by the theologian Karl Barth. The Apostle Paul here teaches that God chose us “in Christ.” This tells me that our election is not direct but indirect, being conferred upon us by the mediation of Christ. We are elect because, in the person of Christ who is “the propitiation for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2), God has chosen us for salvation. Our election is “in Christ,” which is to say that Christ and what He has done for us is the basis and proof of our election. Our election is not direct and individual, so that there might always remain a question as to whether we are truly elect or not. Rather, our election is individual in virtue of the fact that it is universal: if Christ died for everyone, and if our election is in Christ, then He died for me, as well, and so I am elect, and thus He wishes me to be saved and provides for me every spiritual blessing necessary to that end.
In other words, when the Apostle Paul says that God has chosen us in Christ, I understand him to mean that Christ is the “mediator” and evidence of this election in virtue of what He did and does for us. If a person wants to know whether she is elect, chosen by God for salvation, she has only to look to Christ and to what He did, offering himself up for sinners so that they may be saved. The election of God, His will in election, is not private and secret but entirely public — it is made evident in Christ, who dies for all and calls all to repentance and faith.