THE DIVINE DECLARATION on which is based the main heading of this part of our series, "Our Selection in Christ", is found in Eph.1:4: "according as He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world". We would prefer to use the word "choose," instead of elect or select, at all times, but the phrase "our choice" can be easily misunderstood, as if we did the choosing.
These few words show us the love of God in full exercise for us. They are filled with transcendent riches of deepest blessing, and belong to the revelations which set forth the highest peak of the grace that God has given us. In order to apprehend and fully appreciate all the precious features which they contain, we will first have to climb the foothills that lead up to such high altitudes.
We will follow, step by step, on the track in the Pauline epistles, which unveil the continually ascending revelations of God. The apparent size of these letters, compared with the rest of the Scriptures, is very small. The contents, however, raise them to heavenly heights above all other revelation. The depth of their grace is so unsearchable, and they are laden with such a load of divine glory, that they could only be revealed in installments, so that those who received them could grasp and understand them. As it is impossible to reach the top of a high staircase in one step, so we cannot take up the revelation of our election in Ephesians until we have ascended the path that leads up to it. This is done by following the chronological order of the letters brought to us through the ministry of the apostle Paul.
The course of instruction in our election really begins in the Acts of the Apostles. There, at the commencement of this ecclesia, we immediately read of it (Acts 13:46-48). When Paul, in Pisidian Antioch, first turned to real pagans, and some came to believe through his message, God's Word speaks of these firstlings out of the nations as follows: "...and they believe, whoever were set for life eonian" (Acts 13:48). Here the first gleam of our selection beams upon us, as a small section of the powerful revelation. Even if these words give us only an installment, nevertheless, with them the spirit of God has enunciated a principle which is applicable during the whole of the present administration, for this is the way in which all the members of the body of Christ are called. Only so many attain to faith as were set for life eonian. This is a special gift for the ecclesia. Here we have a decision put into execution, and this is an excellent explanation of our selection.
This is the first of the epistles written by Paul. Hardly has he introduced himself and his fellow-apostles and wished the saints grace and peace, and thanked God briefly for their sound growth in the faith, when he brings up the subject of their election: "having perceived, brethren beloved by God, your choice" (verse 4).
This theme is taken up by Paul with very recent believers as a matter of course, and he shows therewith that it belongs to the very earliest stages of instruction in the faith. He speaks of it with the utmost freedom without any hint that it be something dark and mysterious. The way he expresses it shows this saving grace in its earliest stage. With the words, "having perceived," he tells them that once only he and his fellow workers understood about the choice of this ecclesia, but now the Thessalonians, and with them all who are beginning the life of faith, must be taught this truth. How it was that Paul knew that these recent believers were chosen, is shown in the following words: "for the evangel of our God did not come to you in word only, but in power also, and in holy spirit and much assurance, according as you are aware" (vss.5,6). Everyone, then, who hears God's Word and to whom it becomes such a living force that he receives Christ as his Saviour, has, in this experience, the proof that he has God's spirit and is one of the elect. That is a welcome message for all beginners in the faith. A lack of this knowledge often makes room for timidity which does not dare to consider one's self as chosen. This passage shows that such a start is the seal of election. It seems as if our heavenly Father wishes to enlighten His children as to this important aspect of salvation, in order to guard them against torturing doubts.
This, however, is only the outward, openly evident side, from which Paul could conclude that the Thessalonians were among the chosen. His real knowledge concerning the election of believers came from a deeper source. All that he knew concerning the ecclesia which is the body of Christ came to him through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal.1:12; Eph.3:1). Christ appeared to him personally several times (Acts 26:16,17; 22:17) in order to impart to him, the chosen apostle of His ecclesia, the secrets concerning the new corporation, which are not revealed in the Scriptures outside of Paul's epistles.
In this connection we note that the title of the last scroll of God's Word has the same import: "The Unveiling of Jesus Christ," falsely named "The Revelation of St. John the Divine." According to this, there are two characteristic revelations of Jesus Christ between which we must radically differentiate. To the apostle John, Christ appeared to show him His revelation when He comes to His people Israel to establish His kingdom on earth. This will be accomplished by means of many severe judgments. To the apostle Paul, however, He appeared to commission him to found a new ecclesia, and to reveal its high station. In place of judgment-sessions we have a message of deepest and purest grace for the nations, because it makes known that Christ has come to them, in spirit, in order to call out a select company out of them for the highest position in the universe. This knowledge will keep us from coveting the message which the apostle John brought to Israel in the last scroll of the Scriptures.
After Paul finishes writing about the choice of the Thessalonians (1:4) he takes up that which follows it:
"....to be walking worthily of God, Who calls you into His own kingdom and glory" (1 Thess.2:12). In the ordinary affairs of life this is the procedure. A professor who receives a call to a chair in the faculty of a university is first chosen, or elected, by the proper committee, yet he, as a rule, does not know of it until he receives his call. So, also, every human who is called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord (1 Cor.1:9), was first of all chosen by God, without having an inkling of it beforehand.
Doubts have arisen in the minds of many believers as to this inseparable bond between election and calling because of the words of Jesus. "For many are the called, yet few are the chosen" (Matt.22:14). But there is no basis whatever for the doubts which these words suggest, for it applies only to the people of Israel, and is confined to the period of His presence among them. That administration is peculiar and singular because of the fact that the Messiah came to His people, not to be received by them and to set up His kingdom, but to be rejected and crucified, with a view to the reconciliation of all. As a member of the separated kingdom-nation, every Israelite was entitled to be called when the Messiah came. This was accomplished when Jesus called on the whole nation to repent. The twelve also were sent to call the whole nation (Matt.10:6). In reality, in this way, many were called, but only a few were chosen to acknowledge Him as the true Messiah in His humiliation (Luke 6:13; John 15:15,19). Only during that short administration is it applicable, "Many are the called, yet few are the chosen." It casts a clear light upon the double position of the people of Israel, which depended upon the divine method of working. If we force this statement into the present administration, it will introduce terrible confusion among immature believers because it brings the vital connection between election and call into question.
Paul never speaks of these two in this way. In the ecclesia they are indissolubly united, calling, with us, has a much deeper sense. It does not apply to those who have simply heard an evangelist preach. One who is called, that is, has come to believe, is definitely of the elect, or chosen, and need not have the least doubt about it. Only the chosen are called in the present administration, and not a single one of them will be overlooked or forgotten.
Thus this ecclesia is composed only of the called. This method of bringing them together into visible existence has given it the divine name, the ecclesia. That denotes, literally, the OUT-CALLED.
At the same time this name is the simplest explanation of the nature of this body of people: A previously chosen number who have been called out from the sinning, unbelieving mass of mankind.
After the Thessalonians were called out of a life of sin and idolatry, into a life with and for God (1 Thess.1:9), Paul shows them whither this divine call leads: "into His own kingdom and glory" (2:12). What a high and exalted goal! God's kingdom embraces the whole universe, composed of the heavens and the earth. While Israel is predestined for a kingdom on this earth, we are destined for celestial rule. Connected with this is God's own glory, and the heavenly far exceeds the earthly, notwithstanding the humiliating truth, "all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God" (Rom.3:23). Already in Adam we lost this glory and came naked, exposed and as sinners into this world. But at the cross, and through His resurrection, Christ, the last Adam, has regained it, and now we may be glorying in expectation of the glory of God (Rom.5:2).
Paul continues further in regard to the worthy walk of those called: "God calls us, not for uncleanness, but in holiness" (4:7). Then, as now, the life of the peoples was saturated with lustful passions, such as uncleanness and greediness and wantonness (5:6; Eph.4:19). God has by no means called us to such worldly things, that are so defiling. On the contrary, His call comes to us in order that we leave this sort of life and now, as the elect, lead a life of holiness. Paul presents the Thessalonians as models in this regard, and shows by them, in short, sententious style, what constitutes such a life: "you turn back to God from idols, to be slaving for the living and true God, and to be waiting for His Son out of the heavens." This gives, in condensed form, what constitutes a life of holiness.
In this letter Paul refers to selection, or choice, by means of a new term. "Now we ought to be thanking God always concerning you, brethren, beloved by the Lord, seeing that God prefers you from the beginning for salvation, in holiness of the spirit and faith in the truth, into which He also calls us through our evangel, for the procuring of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess.2:13,14).
The literal meaning of prefer consists in this, that, out of a group of people, a number get the preference, in order to be entrusted with a special task. At some beginning God must have had all of mankind before Him and in His purpose, and given the preference to a number, in order to fulfill a great undertaking which brings blessing to the whole universe. To begin with, He divided all mankind into the preferred and the rest. In fact, all believers of our administration are prelates, for this is the proper meaning of this Latin title, although it is now restricted to a high ecclesiastical dignitary.
Preferring is the active operation of God in undertaking election. In believing, the Thessalonians had a practical experience of it, for it consisted in preferring them and drawing them out of the circle of their countrymen who were left in unbelief. This has been the experience of every believer. But the real, causative, divine preference lies far back in the past. "From the beginning," says Paul, it was done in God's purpose. Quite indefinitely Paul points back to a beginning without any exact indication of the time. In the period preceding creation there are several beginnings. Here, however, the revelation concerning the ecclesia is in its first phase, in the stage which Paul describes with the words: "For out of an instalment are we knowing, and out of an instalment are we prophesying" (1 Cor.13:9). The following words look forward to maturity in which we will be able to recognize the truth fully. And this he has introduced in the last, concluding revelations concerning the ecclesia in his prison epistles. In them he brings exact specifications concerning this beginning, of which he gives only a hint to the Thessalonians.
In the first chapter the apostle tells us that God has called us for future glories. Here, however, he speaks of the gifts which follow immediately after the call. The first is "God prefers you... for (literally INTO) salvation" (2:13).
Salvation is not confined to the elect, but will eventually come to all, for God is the Saviour of all mankind, especially of those who believe (1 Tim.4:10). The preference of the elect, as far as salvation is concerned, consist only of this, that they are the first, not the only ones. But salvation is a necessity for the elect also. This truth God calls to our attention here especially, because it involves a condition best described by the words perish and lost. Even if election or choice is more than mere salvation, yet we, as the elect, must first be saved before the grace of election can use us as an instrument. We see that the course of instruction as to our election leads us over the deep depths of unbelief and sin and alienation from God, in which we had sunk together with all the non-elect. Yes, indeed! Poor, lost sinners were we, like all the rest, and were no better than they. Quite openly Paul repeatedly describes the life of the elect before they believed. "...for there is no distinction, for all sinned..." (Rom.3:23). "...the sons of stubbornness among whom we also all behaved ourselves once in the lusts of our flesh," etc. (Eph.2:3). Evidently he wishes to show that the others have just as much right to salvation as we, for it is a gift of pure grace to lost sinners, which included all mankind.
Within the compass of salvation there is no difference between the elect and the nonelect. If election, or choice, were exhausted in salvation, and had no other and higher purpose, it would be an unjust show of partiality. But salvation is only the necessary foundation on which our glorious call as fellow workers of God is built.
All will be saved, exclusively through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. But in salvation's operation there is a decided difference between ours and theirs. This preference is expressed in the following words: "God prefers you...for salvation in holiness of the spirit and faith in the truth..." (2:13). The spirit of God which operates in us to believe, is the basis of our salvation. On account of the divine preference, or, as the Galatian epistle describes the act of God: "that He might extricate us out of the present wicked eon..." (1:4), we were separated from mankind, and thus received the gift of holiness. The spirit which is imparted to all when they first believe, and the holiness which it accomplishes, is not due to our own efforts, but the first fruits of the grace which chose us. Even the saving belief of the truth is a gift of God, unmixed with our own works. This faith no one can receive except those whom God has previously chosen. This is expressed in Paul's words: "for not for all is the faith" (2 Thess.3:2). Yes, he describes it as "the faith of God's chosen" (Titus 1:1).
Besides this genuine faith, we have something today which some call "believing" in God. It is based on God's revelation of Himself in creation. This is apprehended through the senses, the soul, not the spirit, and it should not be called "faith," according to the Scriptures. Rom.1:18, etc., speaks of it, and says that God's indignation is due to those who, knowing God, not as God do they glorify or thank Him. God can be recognized in creation by means of man's mind, without the special reception of His spirit. Great scientists have testified that a study of nature leads to God. But this is not a saving "faith," like that which accepts Christ as the one Who was made a Sin offering for us. As this genuine faith is exclusively for the chosen, unbelievers before the great white throne cannot be condemned because they did not accept Christ by faith, as no one can do this of himself who has not been chosen by God beforehand. They will be judged because they have not acknowledged Him as Creator. Therefore, God's judgment will be according to the possibility of salvation, and in God's righteousness, the sentence can never be eternal torment. In verses ten to twelve of second Thessalonians two, the apostle gives us a closer view of this judgment. Unbelievers will perish because, they do not receive the love of the truth and will be judged because they do not believe the truth. Rom.1:25 points out which truth is in view: "who alter the truth of God into the lie, and are venerated, and offer divine service to the creature beside the Creator..." God's Word contains many truths, some high, some low. In this case the subject is not the highest, the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, but that concerned with God as the Creator. This truth is altered into the lie by ascribing the honor and glory due to the Creator to the creature.
And now the apostle gives us further facts as to the manner of our calling (2 Thess.2:14): "He also calls us through the evangel..." The first and principal lesson these words teach is that God alone is the One Who calls, and no one may say that he joined the ecclesia of his own will. Moreover, we are instructed in what form this divine call comes to mankind: through our evangel! In early times God called with an audible voice to Abraham, Samuel, and the prophets. This belongs to the first steps in the plan of salvation which are far behind us. An audible call from an invisible spirit, directed to a believer, comes from the demon world, for God no longer reveals Himself thus. The calling of the members of Christ's body is in harmony with this administration of maturity. The call of God today is contained in the heralding of the word of the cross (1 Cor.2:2), which is "the word of truth, the evangel of your salvation" (Eph.1:13). The holy spirit causes this to live in the hearts of the elect, as a call of God, so that they can respond to it.
It is important also to note that Paul says "through our evangel." Repeatedly he calls his heralding "my evangel" (Rom.2:10; 16:25; 2 Tim.2:8). Of all the glorious truths he was commissioned to make known, justification by faith takes the first if not the highest place. He calls this his evangel because it differs from the pardon of sins, which the apostles of the Circumcision heralded to them in connection with the kingdom, while God graces those who are called to be members of Christ's body with His own righteousness. The call of the evangelist to the world today should consist only of God's words from the Pauline epistles.
After Paul had made known that God has called us to His own glory (1 Thess.2:12), he adds further that "He also calls us through our evangel for the procuring of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess.2:14). Surely God could not give us anything higher! To be sure, this glory of Christ is hidden in us. But when Christ, our Life, should be manifested, then shall we also be manifested together with Him in glory (Col.3:4).