Paul opens the letter to the Ephesians with the doctrine of predestination. A doctrine that a lot of people like to trash. That’s unfortunate because God intended it as a gift.
A gift from his heart.
Paul writes that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,” establishing the timeline. This was before we were born. Before we even had the potential to earn righteousness. And to make clear this point he chose us before the world was even created. And he did it so “we would be holy and blameless before Him.” In other words, righteous.
Next Paul states that predestination, the act of choosing someone’s date of salvation before time began, was an act born out of his love for us: “In love He predestined.”
The most famous scripture in all time (John 3:16) gets a lot of play. But it is grounded in this fact: we would not believe if we had not been predestined. God’s love is on full display in both acts. So why do we disparage one doctrine (predestination) and not another (human responsibility)?
The full verse reads as follows: “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of his will.”
God’s love and kindness is on full display in predestination. And it only gets better.
We are predestined for a lavish inheritance
This act of predestination is achieved through the work of Christ: “In Him we have redemption through his blood, forgiveness of our sins.”
And again the full display of God’s love: “according to the riches of his grace which he lavished on us.” To lavish involves indulgence and excess. And we see exactly what that is in the next phase of this letter.
“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance.”
Not only do we become part of the family, but we also get part of the inheritance. And we are promised this through the Holy Spirit, whom we receive: “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise who is given as a pledge of our inheritance.”
Before salvation we were excluded from the commonwealth of God. We were aliens and strangers. But now we are family. Sons and daughters.
We are predestined because of his great love
And in chapter two of the letter we see the full purpose of Paul’s focus on predestination: foreordaining one to salvation is the only solution to dead people (who can do nothing). This is the condition we are found in: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” In other words, impotent. Destitute. And at odds with the creator of the universe: “children of wrath.” Our case was hopeless.
Then verse four: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us.” We cannot fathom this great love. The immeasurable depth and width and height and length. But we get a sense of it when we realize our true condition: “even when we were dead in our sins.”
Why? Because of his great love.
He took our corpses and “made us alive together with Christ.” Why? Because he loved us.
We are predestined by God’s choice
And Paul makes it clear who’s behind this work: “by grace you have been saved.” There is no boasting. We are at God’s mercy. And it is a glorious thing.
It is glorious for those who he “raised up with him, and saved us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Our salvation rests in predestination and Jesus Christ. Not once are we given credit for anything. Because corpses can’t do anything.
And we see the historical progression of salvation through Paul’s argument:
- we are saved from the penalty of our sin (past – predestination)
- we are saved from the power of sin (present – Jesus Christ, redemption, his blood).
- we are saved from the presence of sin (future – glorification, the Holy Spirit, our inheritance)
Predestination is as beautiful as glorification, our future hope.
Reasons why resist predestination
Yet we resist it because it doesn’t sit well with our human nature. Our distorted belief in fairness. Our fierce wish for self-sufficiency and independence and reward for our good behavior. Our sense that we deserve glorification. And this is Paul’s point.
This doctrine should humble us. It should force us to see that no one is superior or sits on higher ground: “among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath.”
Even Paul. He has earned nothing.
And when we recognize our helplessness and the hopelessness of our case and understand that in love he chose us, we collapse under the relief that we have been saved from destruction and marvel at such an act of grace.
Predestination is a beautiful thing because it ultimately ends with us worshipping him, as God intended. Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:6: “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” But this point is fully driven home in 1:12: “to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of his glory.”
The purpose of predestination is that we might recklessly worship God. So the question is: how can we trash that?