Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Ephesians 1:3-4, ESVThe body to Paul's letter to the Ephesians begins with praise to God and outlines the many blessings he has given his church.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. A declaration of praise to God the Father! Paul is praising God, and wants us to join him in this praise.
Who has blessed us in Christ. Paul blesses God for blessing us. He is about to outline for us in the verses that follow these wonderful blessings. Note that these salvation blessings are only available ‘in Christ.’ While God gives many general blessings to those who are not his people (he sends rain on the just and the unjust – Matthew 5:45), Paul is talking about the special blessings God has for his special people. The saints; his church. “The sphere of the blessings is Jesus Christ” (Stott). Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6), and it is only through Christ that we receive the blessings God has for his people.
With every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
“every.” There is no blessing he has not given us (Rom 8:32)!
‘spiritual’ blessings – ‘pertaining to or belonging to the Holy Spirit’ (O’Brien). So we see a reference to the three Persons of the One God here in this very verse (and then their work in salvation is more fully detailed in the three sections that follow). “Every blessing of the Holy Spirit has been given us by the Father if we are in the Son” (Stott).
‘in the heavenly places.’ Stott defines this word as the ‘unseen world of spiritual reality.’ All these blessings are ours now, though we wait for Christ’s return to fully experience them. But even now we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6) as his people. “It’s like we’re tasting the glories of eternity and heaven now!” (Duncan).
The Blessing of Election (v4).
Even as he chose us. The very first ‘spiritual blessing’ Paul lists is election; that God chose us. This is the blessing that happened to us first, and is the root of all the other blessings! This verse may not be appreciated by all, but it is clear. God chose his people!
This is consistent with the pattern in the Old Testament. God chose Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) as the one he would use to bless the nations. He did not ask others if they wanted this position. He chose! God also chose Israel “to be his treasured possession among all peoples” (Ex 19:4-6 – O’Brien). He did not ask the other nations if they wanted to choose this privilege. God chose! He is God, and this is his right (Romans 9:21).
Now we see in verse 4 that God also chose those who would make up his church. Peter even quotes from Ex 19, using language of God’s choice of Israel, and applies it to the church:
• But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10
In Him. As we have mentioned, all of God’s blessings come to us only in Christ. Here we see that even God’s choosing of his people was done ‘in Christ.’ “God put us and Christ together in his mind” (Stott).
Before the foundation of the world. Before creation, God thought of his people and chose us to be his! O’Brien reminds us that the purpose of this phrase is to show that God’s choosing of his people was based on him, not us (for we did not yet exist).
That we should be holy and blameless before him. God chose us to be his holy people. We can’t say we are part of God’s chosen people, the church, and be careless about holiness. God is sovereign, but we are still responsible!
This phrase also hints at the reason God chose us; it was NOT that he saw something good in us and therefore chose us. If he chose us to BE holy and blameless, it implies that we were NOT holy when he chose us (O’Brien).
Common Misunderstandings About Election
Misunderstanding 1: God chose us because he looked into the future and saw that we would choose him. The real question here is this – is the reason of God’s choice of us found in God or in us?
Foreknowledge. God’s foreknowledge does NOT mean he looks into the future to observe something, like some kind of fortune teller! All of time is before him, and he always knows all things. The foreknowledge of God, rather, speaks of his planning before, not observing before (MacArthur). It also speaks of his choice to initiate a relationship; he KNOWS us BEFORE! We are foreKNOWN.
The reason is in God, not us. God told Israel why he chose them:
• “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Deuteronomy 7:6-8
Why did God choose Israel? Not because of anything in them, but because the Lord loved them and was keeping his promise. He chose them because he loved them. “The reason why he chose them was in himself (love), not in them (merit)” (Stott).
• So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:16
If God had ‘looked ahead’ to see what we would do, what good could he have possibly seen in us? We were dead in our sins (Eph 2:1) and children of his wrath (2:3). Rather, he tells us in 1 Corinthians:
• For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
God chose the rejects so that the glory would be His alone!
But the good news is that God chose us to be holy and blameless before him, and that is just what he does for us through Jesus Christ!
Misunderstanding 2: Election sends innocent people to hell just because God did not choose them.
This objection seems weighty until we realize that it is founded on an unbiblical premise. THERE ARE NO INNOCENT PEOPLE. Some people think election means that God will send people to hell who should have been in heaven, but they can’t go to heaven because God did not choose them. This is not true, and that person does not exist! People will go to hell because of their sins against a holy God. All are under sin. None are righteous. The Bible even says no one seeks God (Romans 3:11). If God had not chosen some to be saved, ALL would have gone to hell, and he would have been just and holy! But the good news Paul is telling the Ephesians is that God chose to save a great host of people for his own glory. God acted!
Misunderstanding 3: This makes us robots and takes away our freedom. God’s choice of his people does not make us robots or render our decisions meaningless.
We still must choose to repent of sin and believe on Christ; but we are not able to do this in our depraved condition (dead in sins – 2:1). God works in the heart of his people and sets us free to willingly choose him. We choose him because he chose us. We love him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
John Stott gives us a helpful imaginary conversation: “Didn’t I choose God and decide for Christ?” “Yes, indeed you did, and freely, but only because God had first chosen you and decided for you.”
Because God chose to save us, he sets us free from our slavery to sin so that we may freely choose him (that we are enslaved in sin and not 'free' to choose is clearly taught in passages such as John 8:34; 2 Timothy 2:25b-26 and Titus 3:3-5a).
• And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48 (Who acted first? God chose and then they were able to believe).
Election does not destroy our choice; Rather, “it gives us a capacity for choosing that we did not possess previously as unregenerate persons” (Boice). If God had not chosen us, we would have remained slaves of sin and Satan, never choosing God. But because God chose to act on our behalf, we have now had our eyes opened to our sin and to God’s solution in Christ. By his grace we are saved!
Election is a great and gracious blessing!
Don’t forget that this verse is in the context of the ‘spiritual blessings’ we have as saints. O’Brien notes that the ‘language of election occurs a number of times in Paul’s letters in the context of thanksgiving…as part of expressing gratitude for God’s amazing grace’ (1 Thess 1:4; Rom 8:29; 2 Tim 1:9).
• who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. 2 Timothy 1:9
Paul writes this verse to the church not to start a philosophical argument, but to show the saints the many ‘spiritual blessings’ they have from God! Receive this as a great blessing!
• Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! Psalm 65:4
We are blessed with election!
Apply God's Word
- Bow before him! Let us humble ourselves before this mighty and sovereign Lord. His word exalts him and lowers us. May our pride be smashed before the Lord.
- Praise God! God has acted on our behalf when we were completely lost in sin. Had he not chosen us, we would certainly have perished! God chose us and has saved us through Jesus’ death and resurrection!
- Repent of sin and trust Christ! These spiritual blessings are only for those who are in Christ. Christ alone is the way to the Father (John 14:6). Repent of your sins and believe on Jesus, who died for sinners and rose from the grave. In him there is life!
- Questions? If you have legitimate questions or struggles with this teaching, or if you’ve never considered it before, please do not dismiss it. Pray for God to help you understand his word. Study the Scriptures! Think deeply about the Lord. Contact us if you would like some resources on this subject.