“…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).
I have written enough about the first part of this verse. It is now time for me to reflect on what Paul has to say in the second part.
Paul begins this verse by emphasizing our election in Christ. This is important because it brings to light the priority of God’s love and grace. Our salvation and election was not within our power to bring about; it was not something that we could accomplish by our own strengths. Rather, it proceeds from God’s love for us, which is always prior to any merit or worthiness on our part. But more than that, Paul also stresses that this election took place “before the foundation of the world.” Our election was not something that took place in history, strictly speaking, as if Christ had to convince God to forgive us and elect us when He was in the body. We are elect in Christ before the world is even created. This means that the revelation of our election in Christ, through what Christ did for us, was the goal towards which history was headed all along. The world was created so that God might show us His love and mercy in electing us in Christ.
The Apostle also emphasizes that our election has a purpose. We were elected in spite of our sins, but we were not elected so as to remain in our sins. Rather, our election has as its goal our establishment in holiness and blamelessness. We are elected by God so as to be holy and blameless before Him. If a person thinks of herself as elect and makes no effort towards changing herself, towards participating with the grace of God and become holy and blameless, even worse, if a person finds in her election an excuse for remaining as she is, then she has not understood election. We are elect so as to be transformed into holy, blameless children of God.
And in what does this holiness and blamelessness consist? Paul tells us: it consists in love. People may have all kinds of conceptions of what holiness and blamelessness might be. Holiness for some might mean refusing to sully oneself with the presence of sinners and sinful things. Blamelessness for some might mean following the letter of the Law to a ‘T’. But, as Paul tells us elsewhere, if we do not have love, we gain nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). “Love is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom. 13:10). And of course, as Christ teaches, the greatest commandments in the Law are to love God with all of one’s being and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matt. 22:36-40). Consequently, what is most important, what truly makes holy and blameless, is to love.
What does it mean to love? There are a lot of things one could say about this, of course. Especially significant, in light of what I said in the previous paragraph, would be the relationship between love and the Law of God. It would seem that Christian love, insofar as it is the ground of our holiness and blamelessness before God, is not totally unconnected from the Law of Moses. But this provocative topic is best tackled in another post. What I wish to say here is that love, because it is a commandment, is therefore primarily something which we do, rather than something that we feel. If we are commanded to love, that means that it somehow depends on us to do it. Naturally, we cannot make ourselves feel one thing or another towards another person, and certainly we cannot make ourselves feel love towards our enemies, though we are still told to love them. For this reason, I conclude that love is about what we do. It is about the way we think and treat and act towards others — concerned for what is good for them.