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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Someone quoted Ephesians 1:4 to demonstrate that every human being was elected for salvation in Christ before the creation of the world. Is that what the text says?
Let me quote the text: “For he [God] chose us in him [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”*
Before I comment on the biblical topic of election, a clarification: Adventists who believe that every human being was elected by God for salvation also hold that all were actually saved at the cross. They correctly reject the idea that God chose some for salvation and others for damnation (double predestination). But they see only two other possibilities: that God elected and saved all (which they support) or that there is double predestination. Those are not the only two options.
1. Contextual Control: Before concluding that Ephesians 1:4 describes the election of the whole human race for salvation, we should examine the context. Is there in the context universal language, e.g., “all,” “the world”? Is Paul discussing the election of some and the rejection of others? Notice the terminology he uses. He writes “to the saints,” “the faithful” (verse 1), those who “praise . . . our Lord Jesus” (verse 3), etc. He is referring to believers. When he says “He chose us in [Christ],” he is describing the experience of believers who are in Christ, not the sinful of the world. The Christ event will have a universal impact because through Him God purposes to unite “all things in heaven and on earth” (verse 10). This is not yet a reality, but evidence of it is observed in the union of Jews and Gentiles in the church (Eph. 3:6).
2. Election From: In the Bible, election is the act of choosing from a group. For instance, God elected Israel from among the nations of the earth (Deut. 7:6, 7), Christ to be our Savior (Luke 9:35), Paul as a missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15); and Jesus elected 12 disciples (John 6:70). In His sovereign will God chooses some individuals to perform a particular task (Rom. 9:14-24).
When the term election is used theologically in the New Testament, it always refers to those who place their faith in Christ, chosen by God for a particular purpose. It could designate individual believers (Acts 1:24) or the church collectively (Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1), but never the world in general, independent of a faith relationship with God. It is universal only in the sense that through the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit God is choosing Jews as well as Gentiles (1 Thess. 1:4). Jesus said, “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). The chosen are those who accept the call. God is doing all He can to move all to accept the call and be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).
3. Pretemporal Election in Christ: Paul says that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). The passage indicates, first, that election is grounded in God Himself without our intervention. This decision took place before we existed; the decision to elect us happened before the creation of the world.
Second, the certainty of our election is expressed through the use of the past tense of the verb (“he elected”). God’s intention for us is not ambivalent, but firm.
Third, in God’s purpose and sovereign will He predetermined that our election will take place exclusively “in Christ.” That is to say, our election is a reality through and in union with Christ. He is the person, the sphere within which election occurs, and this election is the mystery of God’s work for us in His Son.
Fourth, election is not an abstract or a nonhistorical event. It takes place in the Incarnated One, in Christ, and manifests itself in a “holy and blameless” life. In fact, election is not simply election to salvation but to a holy life. The one cannot be separated from the other without robbing election of its meaning and content.
Fifth, nothing in the text refers to double predestination or the pretemporal election of the whole human race. Paul is assuring believers that their election is rooted in God’s inscrutable purpose for them in Christ. The connection between free-will and election is not examined here. He is stressing God’s prior action on our behalf.
*Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version.