Continuing his adoration of our Father for granting us many spiritual blessings, Paul in today’s passage explains that “he chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). The apostle is asserting divine election unto salvation — we owe our redemption ultimately to God, whose choice of His people in eternity past ensures they will believe in His Son Jesus Christ for life eternal (Rom. 9:1–29).
Even though predestination is typically associated with Calvinism or Reformed theology, all Christians affirm divine election, as Dr. R.C. Sproul has often said, because there is no escaping the Bible’s many references to God’s choice of a people for Himself. The real issue involves the type of election we affirm. Do we affirm God’s election of specific individuals to salvation, or do we believe He chose to save the church without necessarily selecting each member of this body? Did the Father choose people in order that they would believe or did He look into the future, see who would trust Jesus alone, and choose to save these people, basing His decision on their actions?
Regarding the first question, it is true that there is a corporate aspect to election, for God has chosen to save a people (1 Peter 2:9). Yet the Lord forms this people through His choice of particular persons. Individuals make up groups, and our Father could not have chosen that the corporate body of Christ would certainly be saved if He had not also chosen who would be united to Jesus by faith. Furthermore, since both groups and individuals commit sins, the promise that sins are forgiven in Christ found in Ephesians 1:7 makes sense only if the election of a group and individuals to salvation is in view. Therefore, Ephesians 1:4 cannot be used to affirm that divine election is exclusively corporate just because God chooses a people “in Christ.”
As for the second question, let us suppose that God did, in eternity past, look ahead to see if anyone would trust Jesus. Had He done this, He would not have seen living souls but individuals dead in sin, wholly unwilling and unable to believe in Christ (Eph. 2:1–3). The Father could not have chosen anyone based on His foreknowledge of their faith, for no one would have believed without His gracious initiative. No, our Father saw fallen humanity, choosing to elect some unto salvation and to give them faith. We believe because He chose us, not the other way around.