“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.”
~ The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 1:11-12 (The Message)
Ephesians 1:3-14 is one of those passages that I have a sort of love/hate relationship with. But before I even get to that let me step back an open this thing properly like Paul did.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I feel like it’s important to start this way. We need grace. We need peace. And it’s with grace and peace that Paul enters into a conversation that has become one of the stickiest conversations related to Christianity today. Yep, we’re talking about predestination.
The predestination conversation is one that separates large portions of the Church. Please note that this is my over-simplified version of the issue, but on one side you have the Calvinist perspective that essentially states that God predestined some for Heaven and others for Hell. To some people outside of the Church point to this as a major problem with God and Christianity. How can a loving God predestine people to burn in Hell? And if He’s already decided what my fate is, then why should I even try? It doesn’t matter what I do or say anyway, right?
On the other side of this issue is the Arminian perspective of free-will, meaning that none of this life is mapped out for us. Rather we have the freedom to choose which path we will travel, thus determining where we’ll end up for eternity.
Here’s where I get stuck with all of this.
Does the Bible teach predestination? Yes.
Does the Bible teach free will? Yes.
So while these two positions seem like they may be at odds with each other, somehow they both remain true. The great theologian J.I. Packer talks about this kind of antinomy between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. He discusses how the same thing happens in physics. For example, in the study of light there is evidence that light consists of waves, and other evidence that light consists of particles. Technically speaking, those two truths contradict each other, but science has proven both to be true. How? Scientists don’t know that part, so they live with seeming contradiction while accepting the truth of both.
It’s the same thing with predestination and free will. Both being true doesn’t make sense in my finite mind. But I have confidence that an infinite God knows exactly how they can both be true.
One perspective that I try to understand as it relates to the term “predestined” is what it really means. It means “decided or ordained ahead of time.” In the context of this passage it means that God determined ahead of time that He wanted to adopt us and give us spiritual blessings. But I don’t know if that means we have to take it.
Think about it this way…
Let’s say that I have a young friend who has nowhere to go. In fact, without anywhere to go, I can easily see how his life will continue in the direction of a downward spiral. Because I care for my friend, I decide to open up my home to him. I clear out a spare bedroom and make a place for him to sleep at night. I make a place at my table for him to eat with my family. And I even make time to spend with him to be a friend and to bless him with whatever I have. I’ve decided (beforehand) that I want to extend the benefits of what I have to him.
But then let’s say that my friend refuses my offer. Maybe it’s stubbornness. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s just that he doesn’t like what he thinks I stand for. Regardless, he passes on the opportunity to accept my free gift to him. That’s his choice, and he has every right to make it. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that I still chose ahead of time (predestined) to bless him.
That’s kind of how I see this part of Paul’s letter. And that’s why I have a love/hate relationship with it. Too often we get hung up on the whole predestination conversation, and miss the point that it may not matter as much as the reality that God wants to shower us with spiritual blessings. He’s already determined that He has a place for us in His house. He’s already ordained our place in His family.
It’s up to us to accept that gift, and walk in the spiritual blessings of adoption into His family.