by J. D. Watson
Ephesians 1:4 declares the first of eight great riches we have in Christ: "According as [God] hath chosen us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, in love."
The doctrine of "election" is a subject that has caused great debate, but that's the last thing it should do. It is actually one of the most soothing doctrines of the Bible. The Greek word behind "chosen," eklégo\, is a wonderful word indeed. It means "to pick or choose out for one's self." It's also in the past tense, yielding the idea "once for all." The full meaning in this verse is that we have been chosen once-for-all out of the world to be God's own as His special treasure.
And why has He chosen us? So we can be holy. It is God's election of us that is the beginning of our salvation. As the prophet Jonah declares, "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9). From beginning to end, salvation is the work of God, and that work begins with Him electing us in Christ before He even created the building blocks of the universe.
A fascinating conversation took place on December 20, 1784, between Charles Simeon and John Wesley. These two men were on opposite ends of the controversy about election. Simeon was what has been called a Calvinist, and Wesley was an Arminian. The conversation went like this:
Simeon: Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have sometimes been called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature-so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?
Wesley: Yes, I do indeed.
Simeon: And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
Wesley: Yes, solely through Christ.
Simeon: But, sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
Wesley: No, I must be saved by Christ, from first to last.
Simeon: Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?
Simeon: What, then? Are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?
Wesley: Yes, altogether.
Simeon: And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly Kingdom?
Wesley: Yes, I have no hope but in Him.
Simeon: Then, sir, with your leave, I will put up my dagger again. For this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance. It is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it. And therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.
Why is there such a debate over election? Instead of arguing over terms and phrases, let us all unite over one Truth: Salvation is of the Lord.
That beloved preacher, J. Vernon McGee, who is now in glory with the Lord, told this story: "A black youth in Memphis, Tennessee, wanted to join a conservative, fundamental church and the deacons were examining him. They asked him, "How did you get saved?" He answered, "I did my part, and God did His part" The deacons thought they had him, so they asked him what was his part and what was God's part. He said, "My part was the sinning. I ran from God as fast as these rebellious legs would take me and my sinful heart would lead me. I ran from Him. But you know, He took out after me til He ran me down.' My friend, there is nothing in a theology book that tells it as well as that. God is the One who did the saving. Our part was the sinning."
When questions arise over this doctrine, consider Harry Ironside's illustration. That dear pastor of Moody Church in Chicago from 1930 to 1948, had a way of making difficult truths easier to understand. He described a door where the sinner is standing outside the door and reads above it, "Whosoever will, let him come." The sinner believes God's promise, steps through the door, and is saved. He then turns around and reads above the inside of the door, "Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world."
Dr. Watson is pastor-teacher of Grace Bible Church, Meeker, Colorado
His full exposition of Ephesians and other resources are available on-line at www.TheScriptureAlone.com