Paul isn’t much for slow starts. He comes out with guns blazing and grabs your attention immediately. Though he will build to a doxological climax later (3:14-21), Paul hits a crescendo no later than two phrases into this epistle.
Think about the Star Wars Main Theme:
That’s how Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians.
In part 2, we simply stood in awe that God would offer sinners like us his “grace and peace.” What immeasurable goodness and grace is that for us who deserve nothing but his wrath (2:1-3)!
No sooner do we try to come to grips with that amazing grace does Paul come at us again further detailing the wonderful, unmerited, unexpected, lavish grace that we have in God through Jesus Christ.
We Have It All
After greeting the Ephesian believers with God’s grace and peace, Paul at once turns to bless (or praise) God. The identity of this blessed God is none other than the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What a wonderful and clarifying detail given so that there might be no confusion. Immediately silenced are the ecumenical voices that would have all faiths and religions come together and evangelical Christians lay aside any notion of the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. There is no binding tie between the “God” of the unbelieving Jews, the “Allah” of Islam, or any other impostor that people want so quickly to identify as “the same God.”
Paul clearly identifies this God who so lavishes grace on his people as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” All ambiguity now erased, this truth is made very clear: To know the one true God is to know his only Son, Jesus Christ. If one does not know Jesus Christ nor believe in him as Lord, such a person does not know God at all.
Notice then that under the gracious and merciful God who sent his Son to us, we have been given “every spiritual blessing.” There is no search necessary to discover which of the spiritual blessings we have received; but we have them all. The language communicates having the “whole” of the blessings or “every kind” of blessing. I don’t think this means that there is a certain exhaustive list of “spiritual blessings” that are ours; no, I think it’s better than that.
Notice the locus of these spiritual blessings: “in Christ.” That is to not only clarify that these blessings are for the redeemed; but to remind us that all the goodness, mercy, love, and grace that God gives are found solely and perpetually in and through the one Lord, Jesus Christ. Again, gone are the pluralistic and inclusivist voices that would draw us away from salvation in Jesus Christ alone; as he is clearly identified as the one and only source of all spiritual blessing.
Far from needing a list of the blessings we have in Christ; it is sufficient for us to know that we have Christ himself; and “in Christ” is found the whole of spiritual blessing and favor from God. Again, what marvelous grace this is toward those born under God’s wrath (2:3).
Verse 4 begins with the word “even” or “just as.” This obviously indicates a continuation of thought as it seems Paul is about to delineate at least a portion of the “whole” blessing we have in Christ… Perhaps the biggest and the best?
But this is where the wonderful exuberance and delight ends for many. Because here we are introduced to two frightening words; words that strike fear into the hearts of no small number of believers: “chose” and “predestined.” I know, I know… scary stuff.
For many reasons, these doctrinal issues have been discussed, debated, argued, and even hated from the earliest days of Christianity. What does predestination mean? If God knows everything and has made everything that happens to happen, are we just robots? If God has already chosen who will go to heaven, why do we need to evangelize and share the gospel? Can people be saved that aren’t “chosen”? Can people want to be saved that aren’t “chosen”? The questions abound, as does the debate. But that is not the purpose of this post.
[I am not going give detailed outline of the vast and long-lasting debate on the doctrine of predestination. I will leave you to do that reading and research on your own. I’ll include a list for further reading at the end of this article.]
Suffice it for now to simply say that all Christians believe in the doctrine of predestination… or at least they should. From the most free-will toting Wesleyan-Arminian to the “hard-shell,” hyper-Calvinist Primitive Baptist; all believers are obligated to embrace this doctrine with joy.
Why? Because it’s in the Scriptures. It’s in this Scripture.
Notice that I did not say that we all had to come to the same understanding of the whos, whats, whys, and hows of predestination (that’s where the debate begins); just that we must all see that these concepts are here, acknowledge their presence, and try to deal with them biblically and with understanding.
If we claim to be Christians who believe the Bible; we have no right to say something as simple as, “I don’t believe in predestination.” According to our text here in Ephesians, Paul not only believes in predestination, but places it at the top of the list of the “spiritual blessings” we have in Christ.
Predestined to What?
Paul’s understanding of predestination (at least in these verses) is two-fold.
First, we are predestined to be holy and blameless.
This is where Paul starts when discussing predestination in verse 4. Notice again the locale of this blessing: “in him (Christ)”. Notice also, the time of this predestination: “before the foundation of the world.” If we can fathom such a wonderful concept, God’s predestination of the believer for blamelessness and holiness took place before creation. That is to say that this predestination occurred outside of the bounds of time and space in the agelessness of eternity past. This eternal love and predestination, then, is something that is eternally fixed in the heart and mind of God. It never began and will never end. From all eternity past, it pleased God the Father to predestine us as believers to blamelessness and holiness. How utterly incorruptible is this kind of plan that has been fixed from all eternity. This is the definition of incorruptible, indestructible, eternal love.
The destination to which we have been predestined is both positional and actual. That is simply to say that we are declared both blameless and holy through faith in Jesus Christ (2:8-9). This is positional holiness. But it is also to say that that we are being made holy by the working and power of the Holy Spirit, who is constantly bringing our actual practical state more into line with our position (2:10).
What a wonderful promise to see that God has already determined that believers will be made blameless and holy. The purpose of God for you as a believer is to conform you into the holy image of his Son Jesus Christ… and HE will do it (Rom. 8:29; 1 Thess. 5:34)!
I love the inclusion of finishing line of this predestination to holiness: “before him” (v.4). Paul is conveying the imagery of being presented as if to say that God has pre-determined that we will stand before him as holy and blameless. That’s good news (see also 5:27)!
Adoption in God’s Family
Lest we be tempted to think that the only part that God has a hand in is helping us to be holy once we are saved by our own initiative; as if the only thing that God has predestined is that believers become holy one day; Paul adds that we were also predestined to be adopted as “sons” of God.
That is to say that God not only sovereignly purposes that we will be holy as believers, he also purposed that we would belong to him in the first place.
[NOTE: Again, whether or not this predestination is caused by our faith OR is the cause of faith is not my point here. See the further reading provided at the end]
Again, so as to clear away any remaining ambiguity; Paul identifies the channel of this adoption as Jesus Christ alone. There is no alternate way into the family of God but Jesus only.
How Paul contains his joy and delight here, I do not know. Perhaps he knows that there is more to write and wishes to maintain continuity, saving the praise for later… I don’t know. But we at least can take step back and marvel at the immensity of the grace that is offered to us not because of any good we have done or anything we could offer God. Far from it. We see that God’s sovereign decree of predestination to both holiness and adoption occurred before creation itself; that is also to say that his decree of election occurred before we had done anything “whether good or bad” (Rom. 9:11) and certainly “while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8). Worse yet, we were “dead in sins and trespasses,” and the only relationship we had with God in terms of offspring was that of “wrath” (2:1-3).
Yet here we see that “in Christ,” those who deserve nothing more than death, Hell, and condemnation from God receive “grace and peace” beyond our wildest imagination as God sovereignly determines that believing sinners will be holy and blameless, adopted into the very family of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:12-13). Can you believe such grace?!
Lest we be tempted to think that this divine rescue mission was an emergency response to the Fall (as if God weren’t expecting it), Paul reiterates that this (God’s predestination of sinners) occurred “according to the purpose of his will” (v.5b).
This was no shortsightedness on God’s part; no lack of clarity concerning the Fall and its effects on humanity. No, but even before that, before creation even existed, God had already decreed these things to be: that believers would be holy and blameless before him and would adopted into the very family of the God they once hated; the God who owed them nothing more than Hell.
Take a moment to shout it out.
We’ll continue with Ephesians 1 next time as we look deeper into the end purpose of God’s predestination, a purpose that is consumed with the glory of God.
Further Reading on Different Views of Predestination and Election
Watershed Differences Between Calvinists and Arminians, John Piper, Desiring God, 2015
Double Predestination, R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries
What is Conditional Election?, gotquestions.org
Calvinism vs. Arminianism: Which View is Correct?, gotquestions.org
Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views, James White & Dave Hunt