Love of God in Christ
“Blessed is God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; blessing us with every spiritual heavenly blessing in Christ, just as he elected us in Him before the foundation of the cosmos to be holy and blameless before Him in love.”
The last clause in these verses is one that might go by us quickly were we not looking carefully at the text. Depending on the English translation you happen to be using, sometimes “in love” is considered the beginning of a new sentence, thus tying it to verse 5 rather than to verse 4. The argument there is that verse numbers were assigned much later than the text was written and are not part of the inspired text, and so it is not unheard of to suggest that the scholars might have placed verse numbers slightly differently.
The real question has to do with which part of the phrasing that “in love” applies to on a conceptual level. The English Standard Version, along with several other translations, connects the “in love” with verse 5, understanding the “in love” as a description of how God predestines believers for adoption. In contrast, the King James, along with other (mostly older) translations, prefers to connect the “in love” clause with verse 4, understanding the clause to refer to the way that God elected a people to be holy and blameless.
Does it really make a difference? In the big picture, no. God is a God who elects and is a God who is loving. All he does, he does in a way that is perfectly consistent with his character, so both election and adoption are an outworking of God’s love. Indeed, connecting the clause with verse 5 has the advantage of emphasizing that this adoption of God’s elect is an act of God’s divine love. At the same time, God’s predestining and adoption are the natural outworking of his electing work.
Perhaps one may approach the question more clearly by first asking the question as to who is the object of this love? If one weds the phrase “in love” one is presuming that the object of the love happens to be those who God has adopted. If one connects this clause with verse 4, one might instead argue that God’s electing work (and setting apart a people to be holy and blameless) is an outworking of God’s love for us in Christ. Thus, this makes Christ the object of God’s love and the election of God a refection of God’s love for his Son.
Yet, is this not what is taught in the New Testament? Paul writes in Romans 8:38-39:
“For I have been persuaded that neither death nor life, angels nor powers, neither that which has been nor that which will be, neither powers nor heights, neither depths nor any other creature is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Or in the words of Jesus from John 14:23:
“Jesus answered them and said, ‘If anyone loves me, he keeps my word and my Father will love him; we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Approaching the text in this matter does not deny the many places where the Bible clearly states that God loves us (e.g. 1 John 3:1 and 4:9), but it does affirm that the reason for God’s love is not arbitrary. God loves us because we are elected in His Son. Or, one might word it this way: because God loves his Son with an infinite and indescribable love, we who are part of Christ’s body are recipients of that love — the love of God is mediated, as it were, in Christ.