“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.”
Grace alone—the doctrine that we are saved only by God and not on account of anything we do—was a guiding principle of the Reformation. In opposition to medieval theologians who taught that God’s grace was necessary but insufficient for salvation, the Reformers emphasized the Bible’s stress on the necessity and sufficiency of grace for salvation. Many medieval theologians taught that we must contribute our own merit to achieve final salvation, but Reformation theologians stressed that even our grace-fueled obedience to God cannot be added to grace as a meritorious basis for eternal life. From first to last, salvation is the work only of God’s grace.
Having considered the outworking of this principle in history through our study of God’s covenant of grace, it is now time to look at the out-working of salvation by grace alone in the manner by which we are redeemed individually. First, today’s passage shows us that the Lord’s saving grace begins operating for our salvation long before we are even born. Ephesians 1:3–4a tells us that even prior to the “foundation of the world,” God chose those whom He would save from their sin and His wrath. In eternity past, the Lord numbered His people, choosing to set His saving love not on every human being but only on His elect.
Some people have taught that this election was based on God’s foreseeing our obedience or on His knowing who would respond to the offer of salvation in Christ. Scripture denies these ideas forcefully. Paul tells us that we are chosen “in him,” namely, Christ (v. 4a). We were not chosen on account of what we have done but on account of what Christ has done. We were not chosen apart from Christ and His work for the salvation of His people but in Him as the recipients of the benefits of His work. And Paul also explains that we were chosen not because God knew we would be blameless and holy but in order that we would be blameless and holy. Our faith and growth in Christ are the result of our election to salvation, not the basis of it.
Lest we miss the point that we were chosen for redemption only by grace and not on account of anything we have done or because of our family history, Paul in Romans 9:6–13 uses Jacob and Esau as paradigms of God’s electing grace. Jacob was chosen for salvation long before he could do anything good or bad. Esau, from the same family, was passed over for salvation before he could do anything good or bad. None of our actions, not even our good choice to believe in Jesus, moved the Lord to choose us for salvation.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
That nothing in us moved God to choose us for salvation is hard for many people to accept. But Scripture is clear that God chose us only on account of His good pleasure. We cannot take credit in any way for our salvation. We believe only because God first chose us. This should lead us to great humility and to never consider ourselves more highly than we ought.