Paul’s words in Ephesians 1 are clear. Nevertheless, a story about a letter can perhaps provide a fresh appreciation for his message and what it means for us.
Although I certainly did not graduate with a degree in chemistry and chances are you have not either, let’s pretend we did. Now imagine receiving a letter from our alma mater’s chemistry chairperson: “The president of our university chose us in chemistry before our chemistry program ever began to be educated and prepared for employment.”
Although this style of writing is not contemporary, we understand the message. Experience has taught us to anticipate what is coming next – a fund raising request to support the chemistry program’s new phase of development. After all, this is a forward planning university!
Going back to the chairperson’s statement, what is he or she telling us? We can know several things.
First, the department’s chairperson identifies himself or herself with us as a fellow chemistry graduate. Second, before the chemistry program ever began a clear goal existed. The university president had determined that those in the chemistry program would be well educated and ready to enter the work force.
We might smile and feel grateful that our educational preparation was not an accidental result, but a deliberate goal. Thank you Mr. president for your foresight and planning!
All of this is straightforward and easy to grasp. Now let’s look at Paul.
He wrote that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and unblemished before him” (Ephesians 1:4). What has Paul taught us?
First, Paul has identified himself with us as those who are in Christ.
Second, we can know that before the world even began, God had a clear goal for what would be done for those of us who would be in Christ. We would be holy and unblemished in his sight.
We can know about our standing before our God! This transforms our outlook on life. No guilt. No doubt. We can feel good about who we are as God’s people. We can live with confidence and approach God’s throne unashamed and without fear, not because of what we have achieved, rather because of what God has done for us in Christ. God deserves praise for such a wonderful and gracious plan that so profoundly impacts our lives.
This is where I would like to end this article. However, I cannot because of a circulating idea. Let’s return to the letter from the chemistry department.
Would anyone interpret the chairperson’s statement to mean that the university president had composed a list of who would apply and be accepted into the program in order to be educated and prepared for employment? Of course not.
Why not? There is a huge difference between claiming what the president chose would be done for “us in chemistry” and asserting that the president “chose us to be in chemistry.” The latter statement alters the sentence structure of the former by inserting “to be.” The chairman’s actual statement focused on what the president’s plan determined would be done for those in chemistry.
In a similar vein, does Paul’s words tell us anything about which individuals, that is, who will be in Christ? No.
Nevertheless, some will assert that before creation occurred God chose Jim, but not John. Does it matter whether God chose who would be in Christ? Yes. A tremendous distinction exists between claiming God selected Jim versus God has chosen what would happen for Jim if he enters Christ.
I can imagine someone who insists God created salvation’s roll call prior to creation objecting, “But it says, ‘God chose us in Christ.’ This means he specifically chose you and me. We are the ‘us’.”
On the one hand, this line of thinking subconsciously inserts a verb Paul never wrote. Paul did not write, “God chose us to be in Christ,” rather his clause unveiled that “God chose us in Christ to be holy …”
On the other hand, the “us” points to the group category of Ephesians 1:1, namely the saints and faithful in Christ. “Us” does not determine whether John or Jim might be a saint. Rather, whoever was a saint that person qualified as being a part of “us.” Praise be to God for what he has planned for us.
What can we take away from Ephesians 1? We ought to join Paul in praising God for his marvelous plan! We can rest assured that God sees us as holy and unblemished, and that this is not just some accidental afterthought.
Furthermore, because of what God does for us in Christ, we can live with confidence before God. Yes, from the very beginning God knew what he would do for us in Christ. Praise be to God!
If you belong to Christ, you can turn to another brother or sister in Christ and say, “God has chosen us to be holy and blameless in his sight. Praise be to our God.”