The central theme of the passage is that our blessings and salvation are in Christ Jesus. This is clear because the phrase “in Christ” (or equivalent expression) takes place a dozen times in verse 1-14. Redemption is an important aspect of salvation, but there are many other aspects of salvation. Christ is not just the basis of redemption but of salvation in its entirety, including God’s eternal plan.
The Father established Christ as the head of salvation and Savior of those in Him. Christ is central from creation to glory. Those that are united to Christ, are united by grace through faith (2:8) and are considered now as they will be in glory (2:6). God’s plan from eternity to save those that are in Christ is certain and unchanging, therefore those that are in Him are already considered as they will be in eternity.
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. 13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, 16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; 17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.
Chapter 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Verse by Verse Analysis
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
God the Father is truly the Father of Christ. Christ proceeds from the Father, yet Christ is no less eternal or God.
The phrase “heavenly places” is in Ephesians 5 times and nowhere else in the New Testament. (Eph 1:20; Eph 2:6; Eph 3:10; Eph 6:12). It is, in fact, a translation of the word “epouraniois”, a neuter plural of “epouranios” which is a common word for heaven. However, the neuter plural is only used in Ephesians (again 5 times) and twice in Hebrews (Heb 8:5 and Heb 9:23). In Ephesians 2:6 the believer is already seated with Christ.
Eph 2:6 “and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus”
This could be taken as future or now but spiritually. Based on the next two verses, the future seems to be the correct understanding.
We are blessed in Christ Jesus. Our blessings are from and through and in Him. God the Father’s purpose of salvation was in Him. Only through union with Him is the Church blessed.
The “us” Paul refers to is the Church. Paul, a Jew, is uniting himself with his Gentile audience. In Christ, they are united.
4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
God’s choice, from eternity past, was to save the Church, those united to Christ, through Christ’s work. Election is in Christ. Christ is not simply the means to save those the Father elects. Rather, Christ is eternal and the very foundation of election.
We will be holy (positive) and without blame (negative). God will completely forgive those that are in Christ Jesus. God has decided to save those united to Christ. The phrase holy and without blame appears also in Colossians 1:22-23:
Col 1:22 yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and unreproveable before him:
Col 1:23 if so be that ye continue in the faith, grounded and stedfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven; whereof I Paul was made a minister.
Here in Ephesians ending up holy and without blame is certain, unconditional and caused by God. In Colossians ending up holy and without blame is contingent and conditional based on our continuing in the faith. Here in Ephesians the Church is being addressed as a body. In Colossians, the individuals are addressed. The Church will never fail, but individuals may or may not be joined with or remain within the Church.
5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
God pre-arranged that the Church would become His children, through Christ. His plan is certain, and even though we are still on earth, we might as well be in heaven seated with Christ.
Was it necessary for Christ to come and redeem us? Were the incarnation and atonement simply means of accomplishing God’s preexisting plan? This passage teaches that Christ’s role is both instrumental and all-inclusive in election.
The incarnation and redemption were indeed necessary. God’s very character of justice requires that sin cannot be ignored or go unpunished. There could not have been any salvation without redemption through Christ’s blood, which provides the forgiveness of sins. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). God loved the world so much that He gave his only begotten Son (John 3:16), He spared not His Son but delivered Him up for us all (Romans 8:32) and Christ’s death was foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20).
With that in mind, God’s election was based on Christ and His work. Election could not have been otherwise. God could not have chosen to save sinners apart from redemption in Christ Jesus. God’s holiness would not allow salvation through other means.
Christ was established by God’s choice to be the foundation of salvation. By His blood, sinners would be saved. But in the establishment of Christ as the Savior the Church is implicitly chosen. Those that are in Christ and united to Him have been established by God’s plan. All in Christ are elected to salvation and apart from Christ, no one is elected to salvation.
The election is not of certain individuals whether or not they are united to Christ. It is all those and only those who are united to Christ. The election does not unite people to Christ. Rather it adopts them to God through their union to Christ. We are united to Christ by grace through faith.
The Gift of Faith
Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Faith is a gift from God and through this gift, we are united to Christ and thereby saved. 1 A gift implies a giver and a receiver. If the receiver does not want the gifts, they may be rejected and returned. Gifts are never earned or deserved. They are given freely.
So in what sense is faith a gift? First we must understand what faith is. In Hebrews 11 we read that:
Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. For therein the elders had witness borne to them. By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear.
Normally we assent to truth as soon as we see and understand the proof. That’s the difference between a belief and an opinion. The proof is the evidence of the truth. Often the truth is its own proof, or rather; it is self evident. In faith, we hold a conviction of something not seen. Faith itself is the assurance. Faith itself is the evidence. Faith acts as the proof in convicting us of a truth we have no other proof for.
Once we understand basic math, believing that 1 + 1 = 2 is not really a choice. Once it’s understood, it can not be rejected. The evidence forbids it. Believing or not believing is not volitional. The evidence, not our will, moves us to assent to the truth.
Faith is like opinion in that we don’t have evidence moving our mind to hold a conviction. Rather, we choose to do so, voluntarily. In contrast to the math equation example where the evidence moves our mind to hold a conviction, our will moves our mind to hold a conviction. Faith differs from opinion in that faith is the substance of assurance. Faith itself causes us to accept the truth.
So faith is a gift from God, in that He moves our wills to assent to the truth of the Gospel, which we have no other proof of. He starts our will moving towards believing the truth, and as long as we don’t resist His grace, He carries us through to fully assent to the truth of the Gospel.
By way of example, let’s say a dog is stuck in a house, unconscious and the house is on fire. Rubble falls on the dog and breaks its legs. The dog will certainly die. A man runs into the house and wakes up the dog. The dog gets scared, but doesn’t know how to escape. The man shows the dog the way out, but the dog can’t follow because of its broken legs. The man picks up the dog and runs to safety.
If the dog had bitten the man when he ran for safety, the man may have dropped the dog and it would have died. But if the dog doesn’t resist, we still wouldn’t say that it saved itself.
In the same way God carries our wills to assent to the truth of the Gospel.
Answers to Calvinist Objections
Based on this passage three arguments in favor of unconditional election have been asserted:
Argument 1: He chose us to be holy, not because we were holy
Argument 2: The choice happened before the foundation of the world and not at the moment individuals come to faith
Argument 3: No further reason was given other than the good pleasure of His will
The Calvinist view breaks down into two major varieties. The first called supra-lapsarian states that God predestined some for glory, others for destruction before considering man as fallen or in Christ. The second, infra-lapsarian states that God predestined some for eternal life and passed by the rest after considering man as fallen and in sin.
The first argument does not support the supra-lapsarian (pre-fallen mankind) position. In fact it opposes it. Those that were predestined were unholy. They were sinners. But Adam, before he fell was not a sinner in need of saving grace. Verse 6 states that predestination is to the praise of the glory of His grace. Grace is given to sinners so a reference to grace here seems to consider man in a fallen condition. Further, the passage states that we are made accepted in Christ, but we must first be considered rejected because of our sin. This is evidence that God considers men as sinners prior to predestination.
The infra-lapsarian (post-fallen mankind) position does not have this problem. They concur that man was considered as sinners when they are predestined to salvation. The mistake is not that the election is made prior to individuals believing, but that the election relates to individuals and not the group. Also the election is in Christ, not unto union with Christ.
Verse 4 describes the individuals as “in Him” but only believers are united to Christ. Because Christ is the foundation of salvation, no one could be predestined to salvation apart from union with Christ.
Further, the “us” in verse 1 is “the faithful in Christ Jesus”. Verses 13 & 23 indicate that the reference is to a group and not individuals. In verses 22 & 23 those that are “in Him” are named the Church, but the Church is a group of believers not “individuals without being considered believers”. In verse 13 only after believing did the gentiles join the Jews who first believed and were officially added to the group by the Holy Spirit who sealed them.
Paul is saying that God before the foundation of the world chose to save believers through Christ and predestined them to heaven. Basically, this is the formulation of the gospel before the foundation of the world. God did not have to choose to save anyone at all. Believers do not earn salvation through faith. God out of the good pleasure of His will, graciously chose to save believers.
Ephesians 1 teaches that God before the foundation of the world chose to save believers through Christ and predestined them to heaven. God does not accept sinners nor does he choose anyone to eternal life except in Christ and for the sake of Christ. “He hath chosen us in Him,” verse 4; “wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved,” verse 6. This demonstrates that man’s condition prior to election was fallen and in need of saving grace. This grace is in Christ and provided through faith which unites us to Him.
1 Some people object that faith itself is not the gift here, noting the gender of it and faith are different in the Greek. They prefer to understand that salvation or the economy of salvation through faith as the gift. The Greek is inconclusive and has been read either way. Though I prefer the understanding that faith is the gift, either read is permissible. But the concept that we need God’s grace to believe is clear from many passages of scripture, such as John 15:5 (without me ye can do nothing), Acts 18:27 (he helped them much that had believed through grace) and 2 Timothy 2:25 (if peradventure God may give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth).