Mention of ‘predestination’ evokes different responses. Some want to avoid discussion of what they think is a difficult and divisive subject. Others are ready for battle, to combat what they consider to be a thoroughly unbiblical idea. Still others relish a debate about a doctrine they believe is the heart of biblical theology. What we need to do is examine carefully and humbly what the Bible actually says. Consider Ephesians 1:3-6 God’s sovereign choice.
1. The nature of God’s choice
Paul begins with resounding praise to the Triune God for ‘every spiritual blessing’ (v3). He comes to a focus on God’s sovereign choice of unworthy sinners for the glory of redemption: ‘he chose us in him [Christ] before the creation of the world’ (v4). Salvation originates in eternity, when God made provision for the salvation of a people for himself. The key is ‘in him’. This is covenant language – in the Covenant of Redemption Christ acts as the representative of those the Father has given him, undertaking to do all that is necessary for their salvation. Thus in 1 Corinthians 15:22 we read ‘in Christ all will be made alive’.
2. The motive for God’s choice
There is nothing in sinners to attract God’s choice. As with his choice of Israel, ‘it was because the Lord loved you’ (Deuteronomy 7:8). So here, ‘In love he predestined us’ (v4-5). We must trace salvation to the undeserved love of God (see 1 John 3:1). This love led to action – the sending of the Son (John 3:16). It is all about ‘the glory of his grace’ (v6, lit). Thus the Father ‘did not spare his own Son’ (Romans 8:22). No deeper explanation is possible than ‘the good pleasure of his will’ (v5). Salvation is a gift of grace (2:8).
3. The effects of God’s choice
- Holiness. The outworking of grace in our lives is to enable us to be ‘holy and blameless in his sight’, joyfully keeping God’s law. God calls us to Spirit-enabled holiness.
- Adoption. We are brought into God’s family, adopted as his sons’ (v5). We have ‘the Spirit of sonship’ (Romans 8:15). We share the father’s love for his beloved Son (v6).
4. The goal of God’s choice
The final goal of election is ‘the praise of his glorious grace’ (v6). Every aspect of salvation manifests God’s glory. Redeemed sinners will eternally demonstrate the grace of God that has transformed them (2:7). They will be living testimonies to his work in and for us.
5. The response to God’s choice
The ‘praise of his glorious grace’ is not confined to the world to come – our present response should be one of praise to God’s name. Paul is filled with rejoicing as he contemplates what God has done for his people (v1). The doctrine of election does not feed our pride, but leads to humility and praise, filling us with a desire for greater holiness and faithful service.