by Jeremy Walker/
Read all the posts published to date in this 16-part series on the essential truths of the Christian faith.
ON WHAT BASIS ARE WE SAVED? – PART 1
If we drew only one conclusion from the preceding posts in his series, I trust it would be something along these lines: for men and women like us, by nature being dead in our trespasses and sins, the only possible solution or remedy lies outside mankind. It must, of necessity, lie with God alone.
We can put it another way, in the form of a question. If everyone by nature deserves death and hell, how is it that some obtain life and heaven? If someone has those blessings, where did they come from and how did that person come by them? The beginning of the answer to that question is addressed in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, as well as in a number of other places.
The answer is essentially this: if you have spiritual life in you, it is because you were chosen. This is the second “catechize-point”—to use Gurnall’s language again—that we must address. Here is another spiritual reality to reckon with, another anchor point for our faith. We will take Ephesians 1:3–6 NKJV as our starting point, drawing in other texts from God’s Word as appropriate:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
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, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself,
according to the good pleasure of His will,
to the praise of the glory of His grace,
by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Salvation Involves a Choice
It should be immediately clear from the language of the Bible that salvation involves a choice. The plain sense of Paul’s language in these words written to the church in Ephesus is of selection, of choosing, of gathering out. The apostle is entering into a thankful survey of the blessings of salvation. Here at the front end is this grand declaration of an act of deliberate and personal selection of some from among many. The Ephesians—and, by extension all other believers—enjoy spiritual blessings in the heavenlies because they were chosen to them. Our Lord Jesus says as much when he tells his disciples, “if you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19 NKJV).
It is God who chooses. Election, while not excluding the Trinity considered as the three in one, is here distinctly described as an act of God the Father: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” You will notice it is definitely God the Father who chose us. The initiative, intent, power, and accomplishment of this choice lie with God and are exercised toward “us.” Although we are not addressing in full at this point the issue of our responses to this choice, it is clear that this choosing is a divine act, not a human one. When Paul refers to it elsewhere, he tells the Thessalonian Christians that he knows, “beloved brethren, your election by God” (1 Thessalonians 1:4 NKJV). In this matter of selection, the Christian was essentially passive, operated upon rather than operating.
Who Are Chosen?
Who, then, are the “us” who are chosen? As already indicated, they are ones selected out of a great number. Specifically, in terms of the letter in question, the chosen ones can now be called “the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1 NKJV). They were not so before they were chosen; they have become so by virtue of their choosing and the acts that followed on from it. If we read the book of the Acts, we see the kind of people the Ephesians were by nature. Their portrait emerges in chapters eighteen and nineteen of that history, which you may read at your leisure. They were part of and enmeshed in a society marked by idolatry, sorcery, and carnality. They answered entirely to the description of fallen humanity sketched out in the second post in this series. Indeed, in the second chapter of the letter, Paul summarizes their past state in the bluntest language:
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others…. Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:1–3, 11–13, 19 NKJV)
Paul is now writing to some who belonged to that great mass of sinful people. However, some were chosen, and by virtue of that choice can now be described as saints and faithful (Ephesians 1:1 NKJV). Those who were not a people can now be described as the people of God (1 Peter 2:9–10 NKJV).
And what is true specifically of this letter’s recipients is true generally of all and any who are chosen. The letter to the Ephesians offers a representative microcosm of the people of God considered in any time and place.
In Whom Were They Chosen?
They were chosen “in Christ.” This divine choice is made in connection with Christ with regard to his person and his work. It carries us back into the realm of the divine determination to save, into the inner workings of what many have called the covenant of grace. It gives us glimpses into the heavenly plan and agreement that lies behind all God’s gracious dealings with those whom he saves.
Indeed, any choice of us apart from our being in Christ would be self-defeating, an empty intention and failing promise, for all the substance of blessing entailed in God’s choice of us is secured by and obtained in Christ. It is not possible to know or enjoy any saving kindnesses outside of or apart from Christ. Even the appointment of salvation is bound up with him. We were chosen in connection with Christ the Son of God.
When Were They Chosen?
Those who have been chosen were chosen “before the foundation of the world.” What a marvel! This choice was made before even the world was! As the apostle says to the church in Thessalonica, “we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13–14 NKJV).
The beginning of God’s gracious purposes carries us back before the beginning of the world. This choice was made in accordance with divine foreknowledge. This foreknowledge does not mean that God saw in advance or somehow predicted those who would come to believe in his Son and chose them on that basis. We know this because of such testimonies as that in Acts 13:48 NKJV, where we read that Paul preached the gospel and “when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the Word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” The believing rests upon the appointing, rather than the appointing being a sort of predictive response to the believing. The appointment—the foreordination—came before and secured the believing that must surely follow.
It means that God’s choice has its roots in eternity past and was made—in this particular sense—without reference to what his people would be, though it took full account of and made entire provision for our need as sinners.
In the following two posts we will continue to explore different aspects of the question, “On What Basis Are We Saved?”
Part 5 of a 16-part series drawn from Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith, by Jeremy Walker.
Jeremy Walker serves as a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, England, and is married to Alissa, with whom he enjoys the blessing of three children. He has written several books and has blogged at Reformation21 and The Wanderer.