August 15 – Predestination


Series Intro
As you read through the Bible you’ll notice that salvation is described with a lot of terms. To be saved is to be adopted by God (Eph. 1:5), to be justified before him (Rom. 5:1), to be in the process of sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18), to be destined for eternity with him (2 Cor. 5:18), and more. And notice that not all of that occurs at once; though a Christian has already been justified (cleared of guilt before God), they are in the process of sanctification, and will one day be glorified in his presence. Theologians call these different steps the order of salvation or ordo salutis, but saying it in Latin makes you sound like a snob.

There are a couple different ways you can break down this order, but our series will progress through it this way:

  • Week 1 – Predestination
  • Week 2 – Calling
  • Week 3 – Regeneration
  • Week 4 – Repentance and Faith
  • Week 5 – Justification
  • Week 6 – Transformation
  • Week 7 – Glorification

That’s right, week one we’re coming in hot with predestination. You’ll notice the order is somewhat chronological, starting with God’s actions in eternity past, predestination, and ending in our eternal future, glorification. All the steps in between, weeks 2-6, happen at the point of someone’s conversion; God calls us out of darkness and into the light of the gospel (1 Pet. 2:9), and all of a sudden we’re made alive (Eph. 2:4), we accept Jesus’ work in faith (Eph. 2:8) and repent of our sins (Acts 2:38), we’re made right with God (Rom. 5:1), and the Holy Spirit indwells us to transform our hearts, minds, and affections (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; John 16:13). Though, to be fair, transformation has both an initial aspect in our salvation and an ongoing aspect in our sanctification, which progresses through the rest of our life.

Our hope for this series is that from seven points of view we’ll see the panoramic grandeur of God’s work in salvation, and that we’ll leave with at least seven reasons for being utterly, eternally grateful for God’s loving kindness towards us in Jesus. Ephesians 1:3-14 tells us the ultimate purpose of salvation is to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:14). And may we finish knowing that God sent Jesus into the world to save sinners, such that 1. we proclaim God’s infinite goodness for saving our poor, needy souls and 2. we are full of every hope that he desires the salvation of our lost neighbors, coworkers, and friends too.

Passage Intro
To be brief, Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians gushing with praise over what God has accomplished for his people through Jesus, and one aspect of that work in Christ is predestination. The topic of predestination is an ancient battle zone—folks have been fighting about it at least since Augustine taught on it in the 300s AD. But we’re reading Ephesians 1 to make it clear that we’re talking about predestination because the Bible talks about predestination. And, as you can tell in this passage, the Bible talks about it as an outworking of God’s good plan of salvation and, astoundingly, an overflow of God’s love. “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons.” All our discussion about predestination should stay in tight orbit around this central message, that God predestined because he pre-loved.

A component of understanding predestination has to do with assessing the human capacity for goodness, so we’ll turn to Ephesians 2:1-10 to help us navigate it. One of the primary objections people raise to predestination is that it interferes with free will, proposing instead that God offers salvation to all equally, without choosing any, and those who come to faith do so because they themselves choose God. First off, you can’t get away from God’s choice, since “he chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”(1:4a) But second, what does Ephesians 2 say about our capacity to choose God? “And you were dead in your trespasses and the sins in which you once walked.”(2:1-2a) Elsewhere Paul calls us “salves to sin.”(Rom. 6:17) Dead people don’t cry for help; slaves don’t have any say in choosing a new master. So we have to be regenerated, “made…alive together with Christ” as 2:5 says (we’ll look more at regeneration on week 3). Before we can respond in faith we have to be made alive, so we simply can’t choose to follow God outside his sovereign work of resurrecting our natures. Simply put, we can’t choose God unless he first chooses us.

And what the concept of predestination describes is God’s sovereign decree, in eternal past, that he would work salvation. That time frame, “before the foundation of the world,” shows God’s perfect knowledge and control. For eons and eons he knew every terrible thing that awaited his creation following Adam and Eve’s rebellion; for all time the Son knew what awaited him on the cross. And yet God still created, still bore with the rebellion of humans made in his image, still continued to weave the strands of human history to bring about the means by which people could be saved through Jesus. Predestination reminds us that salvation wasn’t God’s contingency plan. It was the original plan, and it was made in love. We might puzzle over how predestination could be fair, or why God would pick some but not all, and interestingly, the Bible pursues similar questions with Cain and Abel (Gen. 4) or Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25). Ultimately, our conclusions about this rest on whether a God who predestines is also a God who loves, and whether or not we can trust his decisions.
Questions for Discussion
• Could someone read Ephesians 1:3-14 for us?

• What stands out to you in this passage?

• How does this passage describe God?

• According to this passage, why did God predestine?

• Could someone read Ephesians 2:1-10?

• How does this passage help us understand our need for God choosing us?

• What do these two passages stir up in you?

• Looking back at 1:3-14, what are some of God’s goals in salvation?