A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians. 1:3-14. b). The doctrine of election is an incentive to holiness, not an excuse for sin.

True, the doctrine of election gives us a strong assurance of eternal security, since he who chose and called us will surely keep us to the end. But our security cannot be used to condone, still less encourage, sin. Some people seem to imagine a Christian talking to himself in such terms as these: ‘I’m one of God’s chosen people, safe and secure. So there’s no need for me to bother about holiness. I can behave as I please.’ Such appalling presumption finds no support in the true doctrine of election, however. Rather the reverse. For Paul here writes that God chose us in Christ in order *that we should be holy and blameless before him* (verse 4). ‘Blameless’ (*amomos*) is the Old Testament word for an ‘unblemished’ sacrifice. ‘Holy and blameless’ as a couplet recurs in 5:27 and Colossians 1:22, where it points to our final state of perfection. But the process of sanctification begins in the here and now. So, far from encouraging sin, the doctrine of election forbids it and lays upon us instead the necessity of holiness. For holiness is the very purpose of our election. So ultimately the only evidence of election is a holy life. F.F.Bruce wisely comments: ‘The predestinating love of God is commended more by those who lead holy and Christlike lives than by those whose attempts to unravel the mystery partake of the nature of logic-chopping.

c). The doctrine of election is a stimulus to humility, not a ground for boasting.

Some people think that to believe oneself one of God’s chosen people is about the most arrogant thought anybody could entertain. And so it would be if we imagined that God had chosen us because of some merit of ours. But there is no room at all for merit in the biblical doctrine of election. The opposite is the case. God specifically explained to Israel that he had not chosen them because they out-matched the other nations in numbers or in any other way, for they did not. Why then? Simply because he loved them (Dt.7:7-8). The reason why he chose them was in himself (love), not in them (merit). The same truth is hammered home in Ephesians. The emphasis of the whole first paragraph is on God’s grace, God’s love, God’s will, God’s purpose and God’s choice. For he chose us in Christ, Paul declares, *before the foundation of the world*, which was before we existed, let alone could lay claim to any merit. So ‘God’s election is free and beats down and annihilates all the worthiness, works and virtues of men.’

Therefore the truth of God’s election, however many its unresolved problems, should lead us to righteousness, not to sin; and to humble adoring gratitude, not to boasting. Its practical consequences should always be that we live on the one hand *holy and blameless before him* (verse 4) and on the other *to the praise of his glorious grace* (verse 6).

Tomorrow: Ephesians 1:5-8. 2). The present blessing of adoption.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.