He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4-5, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
Yesterday in our after-breakfast Bible reading time my family and I finished reading the article “Election and Predestination” by Donald C. Stamps. I used the article as it appears in The Full Life Study Bible: The New International Version (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), and the rest of the family used the slightly revised version of the article that appears at Arminian Theology. Although the article is short, we spent three days considering it.
Election is selection by God for salvation. In the article Stamps shows how it involves the following truths:
1. Election occurs only in union with Jesus Christ. “He [God] chose us in him [Jesus Christ]” (Ephesians 1:4).
2. Election is grounded in Christ’s death on the cross to save us from our sins. “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7).
3. Election is primarily the election of a people, “my church” (Matthew 16:18), and embraces individuals only as they become part of that people. “He [God] put all things under his [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
4. Election is certain for the church as a body but conditional for the individuals in it. According to Ephesians 1:4, quoted at the beginning of this post, God’s purpose in election is that we should be holy and blameless in His sight. Fulfilment of this is certain for the church. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her,having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). However fulfilment of it for individuals is conditional on their continuing in the faith. “He [will] present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (Colossians 1:22-23).
5. Election to salvation in Christ is offered to all. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It becomes actual for individuals if and when they accept it by repenting and having faith. “I testified] both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). On doing so they are incorporated into Christ’s elect body, the church, by the Holy Spirit. “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Stamp goes on to distinguish between election and predestination, defining election as God’s choice in Christ of a people for Himself and predestination as what will happen to those people. Paul summarizes what will happen to God’s people in Romans 8:29-30, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Stamp points out that, like election, predestination refers primarily to the church and embraces individuals only as they become part of that body.
On my initial reading of “Election and Predestination” sometime after my wife gave me The Full Life Study Bible: The New International Version for my birthday fifteen years ago, I wasn’t fully convinced of the above after reading Stamps’ presentation of it, still thinking of election and predestination as applying directly to individuals. However I was ultimately persuaded by reading and thinking about his closing summary, which follows:
Considering election and predestination, we might use the analogy of a great ship on its way to heaven. The ship (the church) is chosen by God to be his very own vessel. Christ is the Captain and Pilot of this ship. All who desire to be a part of this ship and its Captain can do so through a living faith in Christ, by which they come on board the ship. As long as they are on board the ship, in company with the ship’s Captain, they are among the elect. If they choose to abandon the ship and Captain, they cease to be part of the elect. Election is always in union with the Captain and his ship. Predestination tells us about the ship’s destination and what God has prepared for those remaining on it. God invites everyone to come aboard the elect ship through faith in Jesus Christ. (The Full Life Study Bible: The New International Version, page 1825).