4: The Provider of Salvation

Lesson 4: “The Provider of Salvation Ephesians 1:4

The story has been told of a college physics professor who asked his class for suggestions as to the greatest invention of the past century. There were a number of suggestions, such as the cell phone and the miniaturization of computer components, and the cruise control for automobiles, but the prize was given to a blond headed girl sitting in the second row, who said, “I believe the greatest invention of the 20th century is the thermos bottle.” And the professor said, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” To which the girl said again, “The thermos bottle.” The professor hesitated for a moment then said “how can you say that the greatest invention of the past century is the thermos bottle?” And the girl said, “Well, you put something cold in it and it keeps it cold, and then if you put something hot in it, it keeps it hot!” And the professor said, “yes, but how does that make it the greatest invention of the century?” And the girl said, “Well, how does it know?”

Now my purpose in mentioning that is to emphasize that very often we don’t understand some things until we can see how they are put together.

One of the most controversial and seemingly complicated doctrines within the body of Christ is the doctrine of election.  And when it is misunderstood or not taught correctly it has been an instrument of Satan to divide churches and friendships and even families in some cases. It is a matter of record that an over-emphasis of this doctrine – let me say that again: an over-emphasis of this doctrine – has brought about the actual dissolution of a number of churches over the years. But I believe that if we can understand the background of this very legitimate doctrine of the scripture we will not have to be afraid of it or “scared off” by it.

As we begin, let’s remember the overview of chapter 3:

In verses 1 and 2 we have “An Extension of Salutations,” (or greetings.) Then in verses 3 through 14 we have “An Examination of Salvation,” and then the last part of the chapter con­tains “An expression of supplication” in verses 15 through 23, which is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians. Now in our studies thus far we have looked at the extension of salutations that Paul gives to the Ephesians in verses 1 and 2, and we have started working our way through the “examination of salvation” of verses 3 through 14. In this study we are thinking about verses 3 through the first part of verse 6 as “the blueprint of salvation.” And in our last study we looked at “the giver of the blueprint” – God the Father – in verse 3. We talked about “the praise that is due Him” in the first part of verse 3, and we started talking about “the provis­ions He has made for us” as described in the last part of verse 3 and going on through verse 5. Finally, in the last part of verse 3 we looked at “the summary of His provisions.” And we found that they are “spiritual blessings (without which our material blessings would mean nothing.)

So out of that background, in this lesson we want to look at “the specifics of those provisions as we find them in verses 4 and 5. And the first detail, or “specific” blessing is His choosing our salvation. “Look at verse 4:

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.

The first word we want to zero in on is the word “chose.” It is a translation of a Greek word which can be translated “to select.” It is used in its noun form in Romans 8:33 and in several other places to refer to Christians in general as “the elect.”

That verse says,

“Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

One of Satan’s most important tools is to twist the scripture in whatever way he can. When you have time, go back to Genesis chapter 3 and look how he used that tool to lead Eve into sin. And this word “elect” is one of his prize attempts. I personally know believers who carry this doctrine to such an extreme that they say, “I could not honestly say to someone “Christ died for your sins”, because that person may not be among the elect.” And there are many other abuses of the true meaning of this doctrine. I will elaborate more on this later, but keep this in mind: even though this verse clearly says that God chose believers to be saved, it nowhere says that He chose anyone to be lost.

But it does say that “whosoever” believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16) and it says that “he that comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” And it says that “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) And it says that “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Tim­othy 2:3, 4). And it says, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Now the problem comes when we try to synthesize these two truths with our finite minds. What we have here is what theologians call an “antinomy” – two things that seem to be contradictory, yet both are true. And the doctrine of election is not the only antinomy in the scripture. Here are some others: the fact that Jesus Christ was completely God and completely man at the same time; the fact that the scripture was written by men but inspired by the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Christian life is to be a life of total yieldedness to Christ by a deliberate act of the human will and yet completely dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit.

We make a serious mistake if we think that just because we don’t understand a particular thing then it can’t be real or true. If you think that way you should stay away from anything having to do with electricity. Deuteronomy 29:29 says that “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever.” Isn’t it a blessing to know that there are some things that God tells us that he has, for His own reasons, kept secret from us? And for some believers (perhaps you!)  the inner workings of the doctrine of election may just be one of those secrets. The Psalmist David in Psalm 139:6 had a good attitude about some of the things that he didn’t understand. He said “such things are high, I cannot attain unto them.” And there is no indication that God reprimanded or corrected him about that statement. And since that is true, we don’t need to use up our time or mental energy trying to understand them either.

But since this continues to be a controversial topic, let me point out some things in this verse which may help you focus your attention on God’s viewpoint of election. The first thing we need to look at is the subject of the verb “chose” or “chosen.” Look at the verse again:

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.

What was the object of His choice? “That we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. The subject at hand is the holiness and loving relationship with Him that He is going to bring us into. Certainly that includes our salvation, but it is referring to the whole process of sanctification (making us more like Him) that is the subject at hand.

The first thing pointed out in verse 4 is that God’s choosing is related to “a point in time” – “before the foundation of the world.” If we go back to Genesis chapter 1 we read about God creating a perfect world and perfect people. But then Satan comes into the picture, leading Adam and Eve into sin, and it looked like everything was ruined. And if you didn’t know that God was doing all of this according to His perfect plan you might think that. But you see, God didn’t at creation and His plan didn’t begin at creation. Before the foundation of the world God knew that Adam and Eve would (and you and I) would sin. And He chose (or elected) to forgive their sin. And by the way, at that point the human race consisted of how many people? Two! So as soon as Adam succumbed to Satan’s treachery and followed his wife into sin, 100 % of the human race was sinful. Now the number of people in the human race has increased exponentially, but the percentage is exactly the same. And later we are going to see that when Adam and Eve gave birth to their third son, he was born in their image. He inherited their “sin nature” – the ability and in fact, tendency to sin. And so have you and I. To use some more up to date terms, sin is in our genes. Now in a setting like that God would have been justified in sending the whole human race to hell. But God is a God of love and he created us so that we could be in love with him and he with us, so he “elected” to save us and remake us in His image.

One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to get Christians all bound up in debating the minute details of some difficult, contentious topic such as election while people all around us are on their way to hell, and many others don’t know the first thing about growing stronger in their faith.
The phrase “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” is an important key to understanding this difficult doctrine. If you keep in mind that God’s choice to save you had nothing to do with you or your “qualifications” for salvation; that it took place long, long before you were born, you  won’t go around bragging about it (even to yourself), instead you will be overcome with gratitude for His grace. And if you remember that that choice was based upon  Christ’s payment for your sin, you won’t need to be worried about the seeming “unfairness” of someone being lost. Remember, from the beginning of the human race 100% of the race has been sinful and therefore eligible for the wrath of God in hell. So why should we get upset if God decides to save some (or many) from that eventuality? And if you are worried that you may not be one of the “elect,” that is a good indication that you are. The “unelect” wouldn’t know or care about it.

You may not understand God’s election; you may not be able to reconcile all of the aspects of it with your finite mind, but the most important thing to remember is that it is based on God’s love – and you never need to fear the love of God.

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