Summary: How is that God knew whom He was going to choose before the universe began? And how does that speak to God's fairness?
o understand Ephesians 1:4 we need this week to head back to the gospels: John’s gospel, to be specific, and chapter 6.
John 6:37-44, 63-65. introduces us to the subject of God making choices. Jesus has just fed thousands of people and also walked on water. The people follow Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They followed Him because He was a meal ticket, but Jesus has other ideas—and He introduces to them the idea that He is actually life-giving food—that His physical body will bring life. At this a lot of folks stopped following, but it gave Jesus the opportunity to talk about just how someone gets from a condition of death to life in God’s kingdom.
Notice a few things:
“37 Everyone the Father gives to Me comes to Me”
“40 And I will raise him up on the last day.”
“44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
63 The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all.
65 “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father.”
What we learn from this section is that the Father makes decisions of whom He is going to give to Jesus. Our human minds cannot make that choice on our own (or not first anyway: “flesh doesn’t help at all”). Coming to Jesus is granted by the Father – but once a part of His family, you are never cast out and will be “raised up” in the resurrection. The section also shows the interplay between the Father “giving” us to Jesus (vs 37) and us “seeing” and “believing” in Jesus (vs 40) and “listening” and “learning” from the Father, then coming to Jesus (vs 45).
So this idea of choices, God’s, and ours, brings us back to Ephesians 1.
What we’ve seen so far is that it’s all about Jesus. In verse 3 Paul begins a very long praise of God for all He has done for us in Jesus. We have received blessings—advantages that are past, present, and future. We were redeemed and chosen, we are given new life, and we will glorify God in everything we do. These advantages are “spiritual” which are actually more important and substantial than advantages in this age.
So now we come to verse 4. Let’s break this down:
Ephesians 1:4 “For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love.”
God does the choosing, God chose with full knowledge of everything that was to happen. The word in Greek has some interesting subtleties to it:
He chose with no “indication of any dislike towards those not chosen” (Hoehner, page 175).
The verb is in the middle voice, which indicates a personal interest in the one chosen. It wasn’t a random impersonal choice that God made when He chose you.
We have no legal claim on God for choosing us. We do not deserve to be chosen (Romans 3:10-11). The problem is not why God chose some and not others, but why He chose anyone at all!
Does it mean we don’t make decisions? Of course not. But our decision follows God’s decision. If we both make decisions, God’s decisions are the most important. Whose decisions might predate the others decisions? That’s all this says. It doesn’t say how it works; this just says that it works. It is not determinism.
The big theological word is: Compatibilism. God’s and man’s choices can work together.
Remember, when God deals with the human race He is dealing with dangerous criminals. He loves us until we love Him. Remember 1 John 4:19? “We love because He first loved us.” The very power of that effort, of that drawing, makes us love Him. So we come to Him. And He makes a choice about us.
The biggest obstacle people have when they think about God’s choices are what about those who are not chosen—why were they not? It seems on the surface to be unfair. We need to be careful not to call God unfair. Psalm 92:15 says “the Lord is just.” God is fair and just, and in the end we will look at the choices He made and everyone in the universe will go – yep – that was fair.
It does NOT mean that anyone who wants to come to Christ can’t. Everyone can come to Christ. 1Tim. 2:4 describes God as One “who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
You have to want Jesus, though, not just to go to heaven without God.