What does it mean when the Bible tells us in Ephesians 1 that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world? Does that mean that God picks people out for eternal life before they are even born? Does it mean that God looks at all of the people that will eventually live, and choose to save some but not others? If you have ever wondered about this, then hopefully this post will be helpful to you.
Note: This post is very closely related to my post on Election. If this interests you, I encourage you to read that next.
Here is the passage:
Ephesians 1:4-6 – …He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Let us look very closely and very carefully at what is being said here. Please stay with me here, pay attention to details, and look at every word in that verse. I want to point out something that seems to be misquoted or misunderstood very often.
It says “He chose us in Him…”
The “He” in this verse is God the Father. And He (God) is choosing some people for something.
Who did He chose? He chose those that are in Christ.
What did He choose to do with them? He chose to make them holy and blameless
The people that are in Christ are chosen to be recipients of some things from God. God will view them as holy and blameless, and He will consider them a part of His family, fully accepting them. God decided that He would do this before the foundation of the world. He made a decision that for anyone who is in Christ, He would treat them in this way.
We know from many other places in the Bible (including later on in this chapter) that you only “get in Christ” by believing in Christ and receiving salvation. Anyone that has believed will become “in Christ.” Anyone that has not believed will not be “in Christ.”
This passage tells us that anyone who is in Christ will receive some other benefits, and that God decided this long ago. Long ago, God chose to do some things for anyone that would choose to believe in Jesus.
However, this passage does not anywhere say that people outside of Christ were chosen to be in Christ. It does not say that “He chose us to be in Him before the foundation of them world.” That is not in the text. This is where someone’s religious tradition will cause them to “fill in the blanks” and add things to the text that are not actually there.
This passage does not say that individuals were chosen to be believers. Read it again slowly. It says that God chose to view those who are in Christ (believers) as holy and blameless.
What this verse IS saying: God decided long ago that for anyone who is in Christ, He would make them holy and blameless.
What this verse IS NOT saying: God decided long ago to make some people be in Christ, but leave others out.
Again, the people involved in this transaction are those that are already in Christ…those that put their faith in Jesus and received salvation. Those are the people that God has chosen to make holy and blameless. God did not choose to do this for people that are not in Christ. He chose to do it for people that are in Christ.
Consider this imperfect analogy. Suppose a school teacher decides in advance to give a special reward to every student who brings in a completed homework assignment. That teacher has decided what will happen to the students, but it will be based on the choices that the students made the night before. All those who chose to do the homework will receive a special reward. But those who did not bring in their homework will not receive it. The teacher did not decide which individuals would do the homework, but the teacher did decide to bless anyone who did it.
In the same way, God does not decide who will believe in Christ and receive salvation. But God does decide what happens to those that made the choice to believe.
Because God is sovereign, He could have chosen people to be in Christ…He could have forced people to believe. If He wanted to do that, then He could have done that. God is the boss, and He gets to do whatever He wants to. But if He doesn’t decide to do that, then He is still the boss, and He can decide to let people choose for themselves.
This verse is telling us that God decided in advance what He would do for those that would choose to put their faith in His son. That is a sovereign act by our sovereign God. He made this sovereign decision.
It is up to you whether or not you are in Christ. If you choose to believe in Jesus as your savior, then you will be in Christ, and therefore you will receive the benefits that God decided about long ago before the foundation of the world. But if you choose to reject Jesus, then you will not receive those benefits.
But do not let anyone use this passage tell you that God chooses some people to be saved, and some people to be condemned, with no regard to the choices of each individual in question. That position is not supported by this passage. In fact, it is saying the complete opposite. God does not choose individuals to believe in Jesus. Rather, He chooses what happens to those individuals.