2004-08-31 - Two Views
Ephesians 1:4, "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love"
There are two interpretations of what is meant by having been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. The first one I explained last week, and intend to discuss this view and the second view further this week. However, good people, recently (since the 18th century), in the church, have taken the second view. The first view is that God chose us before the foundation of the world because it pleased Him to do so, or as Ephesians 1:5 says, "according to the good pleasure of His will." Some of the other verses that support this view are, 1 John 1:2, 1 Cor. 2:14, 1 Cor. 2:8-12, and 2 Cor. 4:3-6.
The alternative interpretation of this passage is that the Apostle is saying that God chose, before the foundation of the world, those who He foresaw would exercise faith, distinguishing them from those who do not exercise their faith. This is a fairly recent view, only coming to prominence in the 18th century, with the teachings of John Wesley. In this view God chooses those who have already chosen and determined themselves to be Christians. There is really no alternative third view.
We are to approach every portion of Scripture with humility. We come to Scripture with reverence, and we do not come to such a question with an argumentative or dogmatic spirit. This passage is not the musings of an Apostle, as useful as that might be. These are God's Words to us. When we come to Scripture, we are visiting holy ground. Take your shoes off. Such a topic as this is also not one to be discussed with an unbeliever. The unbeliever is to be compelled, even begged, to simply come to Christ in faith and repentance. We are not to try to distinguish the subtleties of God's working in salvation with the unbelievers, but rather we present the gospel, those who hold to both views, to whomsoever. The gospel is for all, because we do not know who might respond.
It is a mistake to say that those who hold to the first view don't have missionary zeal because God has predestined some to life and some to death. History shows us that most Foreign Missionary Societies and Bible Societies have all been founded by those who held to the first view. Even the greatest evangelist, perhaps in the history of the Christian church, George Whitefield, held to the first view. To say that to have the view that God has worked salvation out from before the foundation of the world impedes missionary zeal, is to close one's eyes to history. Both views attest that God knows both who has been/will be saved and how they are saved. In His wisdom, He has selected us to represent His message of repentance and faith to the world around us.
As said above there are two views on the interpretation of the doctrine taught in this verse. However, which view one takes regarding this doctrine does not determine their salvation. Both views hold that salvation is a work of God and it is only found through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ as a substitution and propitiation for our sin. We are not saved by understanding things. Faith is childlike trust in eternal things that are far beyond the comprehension of fallen, sinful, finite minds. Which view we take does effect our understanding of Scripture, but thankfully, holders of both views believe that it is not our opinion regarding the interpretation of this doctrine which saves us. We can be as certain that John Wesley is in heaven as St. Augustine and John Calvin are in heaven.
May we never let our convictions and interpretations of the doctrines Scripture teaches become petty, and hinder our fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria,