Calvinism in Ephesians 1
A Detailed Examination of Unconditional Election in Ephesians 1
In my last article I explained the Biblical concept of predestination which entails both election and reprobation. Here is a quick explanation from my last article on the doctrine of unconditional election:
“Election is a concept taught in Scripture, wherein God, before the foundation of the world, chose a certain number of people whom he would save and effectually redeem from their sin. This is often referred to as predestination… election… [is] the choosing of man without respect to any good quality of disposition in man as a condition to their being chosen to salvation. Those who were chosen were not chosen because they were somehow by nature more deserving than others, but rather they were chosen without respect to positive conditions they might fulfill…” (What is Predestination).
I even cited from the Canons of Dort to help define election. I did not, however, give a Biblical defense of this doctrine. The last article was dedicated to defining the doctrine of election as Calvinists see it, not to asserting it from Scripture. It was a mere introduction to the doctrine of election.
Now that I have accurately defined the doctrine of election as I see it, I now set out to prove this doctrine from Scripture.
Ephesians 1 is by far one of the clearest passages on election in Scripture. Paul proclaims that those who are believing were predestined to adoption as sons before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him. We were predestined through our federal representative Jesus Christ to the Spiritual blessings found in his covenant.
The text of Ephesians 1 is full of much substance concerning the truth of election. First, let’s start with verses 1–2, and then we will examine every other verse in the chapter:
Ephesians 1:1–2 (KJV 1900) — “1 PAUL, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As Paul normatively does (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1) he introduces himself by name, stating that he was set apart by the will of God to be an apostle. He addresses this letter to the Christians in Ephesus who were believers in faith and love and were members of the body of Christ and greets them by wishing them grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:3–4 (KJV 1900) — “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:”
The next 2 verses are of particular importance. Paul blesses God, who has blessed us with all Spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. We are delivered Spiritual blessings by means of our federal head who represented us and we were predestined in. These blessings are found through our federal head Christ and not from any other source. Paul then says we have been delivered these Spiritual blessings in Christ according as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.
The words “according as” are important: this is the Greek word “καθώς”. This word expresses the reason that we have received Spiritual blessings through Christ. God chose us to be represented by Christ in his life, death, and resurrection, even before the foundation of the world. When Christians were yet existing, God chose us to receive Spiritual blessings in Christ. We were not chosen because of our believing; before the foundation of the world, you and I did not even exist. God chose us in Christ in order that we should be holy and blameless before him. To be “holy” is to be “set-apart”. We are predestined to be “set-apart” as Christians. We are Christians (set-apart) in contrast to the world by our faith and the blood of Christ. If we were predestined to be set-apart by the blood of Christ from the world, then we were also predestined to faith, one of the defining characteristics that show us to be separate from the world. He did not choose us because we made the holy choice to believe in him, but instead he chose us to be holy. Verse 5–6 elaborates:
Ephesians 1:5–6 (KJV 1900) — “5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
We become holy and blameless before God due to his predestining us to adoption as sons by Christ Jesus unto himself. Paul attributes the reason why God did this to “…the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved…” (Ephesians 1:5–6). The will of man is not involved in God’s election. The passage nowhere attributes election to man’s free-will choices. God chose us purely according to his will, unto the praise of the glory of his grace. Paul attributes this grace to us being made accepted in the beloved, a clear reference to us being accepted on Christ’s behalf. Election ought to bring praise to the mouths of Christians, as it shows his unconditional grace towards us, not based on any condition we might fulfill.
These verses are a clear reference to unconditional election. We were chosen in our federal head Jesus Christ to be holy and blameless before him when we were yet existing and unable to believe. We were predestined to adoption of sons through Christ Jesus. According to Scripture, adoption of sons to God includes many things:
An often-repeated claim by free-willers about Ephesians 1 is that there is no part of the text that says that we were predestined to have faith in Christ. However, the text says that we were predestined to adoption of sons. Part of adoption of sons is belief. Take Galatians 3:26 for example:
Galatians 3:26 (KJV 1900) — “26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”
We are children of God by faith in Christ. If we were predestined to adoption as sons, it naturally entails that we were predestined to believe in Christ, because we are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
At this point, it should be clear to the reader that Ephesians 1 teaches unconditional election, however, there is still more to the text to examine…
Ephesians 1:7–8 (KJV 1900) — “7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;”
Again, we see Paul speaking of more Spiritual blessings in Christ. If you recall, verses 1–3 attribute our receiving of all of the Spiritual blessings in Christ to the predestination of God. Since these two things are Spiritual blessings, it should be clear we were predestined to them. Redemption by his blood and the forgiveness of sins are undeniably parts of salvation, and since it is obvious that these two things are Spiritual blessings, and these two things are parts of salvation, it logically follows that we were predestined to salvation. We can put this all into a simple argument:
P1: We receive all Spiritual blessings in Christ because we were predestinated to them (Ephesians 1:3–4).
P2: Forgiveness of Sins and Redemption are Spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:7).
C1: We receive forgiveness of sins and redemption because we were predestined to them.
P3: Salvation is forgiveness of our sins and redemption by Christ’s blood.
C2: We receive salvation because we were predestined to it.
Some free-willers attempt to state that nowhere in the Bible does it say that God predestined us to salvation, however, Ephesians 1 implies this very thing.
Ephesians 1:9–10 (KJV 1900) — “9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:”
In verses 7–8, Paul made it clear that we have redemption by Christ’s blood and forgiveness of sins in Christ according to the abundance of grace that God has given us in all wisdom and understanding. Verse 9 elaborates on this by stating that God has made known to us the plan that he had for the fulness of time, to bring together all that had ever happened in history by his will, whether in heaven or on earth through Christ, bringing it all to one climax in the cross. Paul names the cross as the center of history and continues:
Ephesians 1:11–14 (KJV 1900) — “11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. 13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”
Just as through Christ all things and events have been brought together to one central event, so through him as our federal representative we have obtained the rights to our inheritance, being now the Sons of God by adoption. Just as Paul did in verse 5, he attributes of adoption to us being predestined to receive it. Part of adoption of sons is the future inheritance we will receive in heaven as sons of God. We were predestined to this very thing, according to the purpose of God who works all things after the counsel of his own will. He did this in eternity past that we should be holy as he is.
These verses are important because they show how what was predestined in eternity past comes into play in future time. We heard the Gospel, believed in it, and were sealed with the promise of the future redemption of our bodies that we have as Sons of God. The Holy Spirit sealed us as a guarantee of our future glorification in heaven, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:15–18 (KJV 1900) — “15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, 16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; 17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,”
Because of the promise of the inheritance from God towards the Saints, when Paul heard of the faith of the Ephesians, he did not cease from praying for these men, but prayed that God would continue to make clear to them the inheritance that they were called to, and what is the glory of that which the saints will receive.
Ephesians 1:19–23 (KJV 1900) — “19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
In verse 19–20 we find a very interesting statement, a clear indication of God changing men’s hearts logically prior to them believing. We believe “according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead”. Paul says that the same power that effectually caused Christ to be raised from the dead is the same exact power that causes us to believe. In order words, God raises up Spiritually dead men to life by his mighty power, the same power used to raise Christ from the dead, which, in turn, causes us to believe. God gives belief to men. This verse fits perfectly with the context as the next chapter, Ephesians 2, deals with the unregenerate state of man, him being “dead in trespasses and sins” and God having to quicken us and raise us up together with Christ. Indeed, this leads to the culmination of his argument where he states:
Ephesians 2:8–9 (KJV 1900) — 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
All of this is contrary to the common claims of free-willers that nowhere in Ephesians 1 does it say that we are predestined unto faith. According to Ephesians 1:19–23 where Paul talks about his constant prayer that the Ephesians would understand the blessings they have been blessed with in Christ, he also prays that they would understand “the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead”.
If it is true that God bestows belief on men by his power, as Ephesians clearly states, it is also clear that this is a Spiritual blessing. And Paul says that we have been Spiritually blessed “…According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved…” (Ephesians 1:4–6). Paul attributes our receiving of all Spiritual blessings to our predestination, so it must then be true that since faith is a Spiritual blessing as seen by Ephesians 1:19–23, it also must be so that we were predestined to the Spiritual blessing of faith.
Ephesians 1 clearly teaches the truths of Calvinism, as I have indeed proven in this article. It is one of the clearest proofs in the entire Bible of unconditional election.