“…just as [God] chose us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4).
There is still more to say about this verse. In my previous post, I focused mostly on the question of our election in Christ and how it is best understood. I am not totally satisfied with the formulations I offered in that post, so I’d like to try to tackle the issue once more.
The phrase “chose us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world” can be understood in a couple different ways. First, it could mean that our election was made by God in the person of Christ, who preexisted the creation of the world. In other words, Christ existed in eternity, before taking on a human body, and in the preincarnate Christ, God chose us. Alternatively, it could mean that Christ Himself was predestined, was chosen to come into the world from eternity, and that our election is somehow tied up with and mediated by Christ.
The difference between these two views has to do with the direct object of God’s election. Are we the direct object of God’s election, which election took place in the person of Christ before the foundation of the world? Or is Christ in history the object of God’s election, which election took place before the foundation of the world, and in which election we participate in virtue of the fact that Christ acts for our sake?
The Apostle Peter also teaches that Christ was “destined before the foundation of the world, but revealed at the end of the ages” for our sake (1 Pet. 1:20). As for Christ as “chosen”, I don’t know whether He is ever described as chosen by God in any explicit way, but the notion of election is implicit in the title of “christ,” the one anointed by God for His purpose. So to describe Christ as predestined and chosen or elect is theologically sound, I should think.
(A brief clarification: It is obvious that Christ is elect and predestined with respect to His human nature. The divine cannot be elect or predestined because the divine is the one doing the electing and predestining.)
How should we then understand Paul’s doctrine of election, as it is expressed in this verse? This is how I propose we do it. Christ, the God-Man, is the immediate object of God’s election and predestination. But since Christ acts on behalf of other human beings, they also participate in that election, and thus are said to be objects of God’s predestination and election indirectly, in virtue of their connection with Christ.
Furthermore, all of this took place in accordance with God’s purposes from the very beginning of history, even from before history, so that in Christ we have to do with who God is from eternity. Christ’s act on behalf of all of humanity is a perfect image and representation of God’s purposes from the very beginning of all. Therefore, we know, through Christ, that God always loves us and wants our good, in everything that He does, regardless of how things might appear to us at any point in time. Christ is the temporal evidence of God’s eternal love for humankind.