“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him in love” (Eph. 1:3-4).
Since I have commented on the different parts of this verse in separate pieces, let me now take some time to consider the whole in light of the interpretation I have given to its different pieces.
God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is depicted as being totally and entirely merciful and gracious towards us, from the beginning to the end. He is incomparably generous with us, granting us every spiritual blessing and electing us from before the foundation of the world. God did not need to be convinced to love us, nor was His love for us something that came only late in history. It was there from the very beginning, before the world was created. Indeed, the world was created so that He might show us His love and mercy.
Importantly, too, His mercy towards us is somehow “focused” in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the “conduit” of God’s mercy towards His children. Every spiritual blessing is given to us in Christ, and even our election is mediated by Christ, who gave Himself to be the sacrifice of atonement for our sins. Christ, then, is the embodiment of God’s mercy towards us; His entire being consists in nothing else than “dispensing” salvation and grace and blessing to God’s beloved children.
Finally, our election by God, which comes through Christ, is ordered to the end of making us holy and blameless before Him. Our holiness and blamelessness consist in love, in perfect love for God and for our neighbors. In other words, we are elect for the sake of being made holy and blameless in love.
Some persons, perhaps those of a more typically Reformed or Lutheran persuasion, might object to the way in which I am treating the doctrine of election in my interpretation. What I am saying makes it sound as if our election is something we have to participate in, something which we might lose if we fail to become blameless and holy, something which only makes us turn back to ourselves in order to have confidence in our standing before God. The objection, then, is that I am compromising the doctrine of election and the comfort which it can give to troubled consciences by turning it back towards ourselves and our own righteousness.
This objection is worth responding to. It is true that my understanding of the doctrine of election is not connected to any notion of the imputed righteousness of Christ. On my conception of things, our holiness and blamelessness before God is truly ours, and not that of Christ imputed to us. I don’t think there is a biblical or traditional basis for the doctrine of imputation. But I would hasten to add that the doctrine of election, as I have interpreted it, makes a doctrine of imputation superfluous. God, from eternity, has elected us in Christ to be holy and blameless before Him in love. There is no need for imputation in order to be accepted by God, because God from the very beginning has chosen to accept us and make us His. The evidence of this is the fact that Christ has died for our sins and gives us the Holy Spirit and every spiritual blessing by which we can fulfill the righteous commandment of the Law (cf. Rom. 8:1-4).
Indeed, this is the significance of the “every spiritual blessing” which Paul mentions at the beginning of these verses. If God wishes us to be holy and blameless before Him in love, then He has also given us every spiritual blessing in Christ — most preeminently, the gift of the Holy Spirit — so that we can become who He wishes us to be. And this has been His attitude towards us from the very beginning of the world; it is the purpose with which He set out to create the world, so that we are never left trusting in our own strength or spiritual ability. We always and in everything depend on God. But God helps us, because our holiness and blamelessness before Him in love is the goal which He has set out for us, and to which end He will help us in everything.
Why are we not then holy and blameless already? Why do not yet love perfectly? Because, as is obvious, we do not take advantage of the things which God has prepared for us and put at our disposal. We do not pray as often as we should, we do not read His Scriptures, we do not plead the Holy Spirit, we do not do good to those who are in need when the opportunity arises, we are constantly distracted by trivial and mundane matters, and so on. But God does not leave us to our own devices and He stokes the fire within us which burns for the spiritual life and He brings us back to Himself so that we do not wander too far off.