The God who Predestines

The God who Predestines December 14, 2015

Paul begins the substance of the letter to the Ephesians by “blessing” God (1:3). As is well known, in Greek, verses 3-14 form a single long sentence, with one verb, “Blessed” (v. 3). This reflects a form of Jewish prayer, called the Berekah. It is not a request for God to bless, but an act of worship, offering God praise, honor, and glory. Paul’s first large statement in Ephesians is an act of worship. 

He does not investigate the work of Christ, or the doctrine of election, or predestination, or the goal of redemption in a speculative, scientific, objective fashion. Rather, he celebrates God’s plan now realized in Christ, a plan in which Paul participates. The whole letter grows out of this act of worship, this doxology, and our efforts to form Christian culture must be undertaken in the same mode, this same doxological mode. He declares the Christian mystery from within that mystery.

What does Paul celebrate? One thing he celebrates and praises God for is His sovereign rule over the creation. Ephesians 1 is one of the great passages in Scripture about God’s sovereignty and rule over all things, and is beloved among Reformed Christians. Paul emphasizes that our salvation depends on God’s choice, made before the world ever was (1:4), and Paul uses that unpopular and contested word “predestine” (1:5). For Paul, God’s choice and predestination does not pertain only to our salvation, but to all things. God’s purpose is to “sum up all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth” (1:10). God not only chooses His people before the foundation of the world, but also “works all things after the counsel of His will” (1:11).

In other words, Paul believes that our salvation, and the formation of the church, and the course of history, and the realization of God’s purposes for history, depend entirely on God. God predestined us before the foundation of the world, and He works all things according to His will. Nothing can thwart His will or overturn it.

But Paul does not celebrate God’s sovereign rule and power in abstraction from the way God uses His power. Paul does not teach that God’s sovereignty is some kind of “naked sovereignty,” that He has all power and authority, and uses it indiscriminately, arbitrarily. God is not a God of sheer or mere power. Instead, he employs and directs all His power toward a particular goal. He chose us before the foundation of the world so that we would have access to His presence, as a holy and blameless people (1:4). Not merely “He chose us” but “He chose us to be holy and blameless.” God predestines us to receive the “adoption as sons” (1:5), that is, that we might be the true Israel and the true Adam that God intended humanity to be from the beginning. Not merely: “God predestines” but “He predestines us to the adoption as sons.”

When Paul blesses the choosing, predestinating God, He is blessing God for the story that God is working out in history. What has God chosen to do before the foundation of the world? God does all things according to the counsel of His own will: But what is it He is doing according to the counsel of His will? Paul tells us: The sovereign, choosing, predestinating God, the God who does all things according to His will, the God whose will cannot be resisted, has determined that He is going to adopt us as sons (v. 5), to forgive us our sins (v. 7), to prepare us to be “holy and blameless before Him” (v. 4), to give us “every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ” (v. 3). God’s choice and predestination has a goal, a purpose: And that is to secure for us all blessings in His Son.

Even that is not quite all of it. We are tempted to think about all of these things in purely individual terms – as if God chose individuals for salvation and forgiveness and blessing and that was the end of it. No, Paul works the other way round. God’s big story is the story of the universe, and individual we believed find our individual stories by seeing them in the light of the big story. 

What is that big story? The big story that Paul celebrates embraces everything, literally everything, and every moment of history and even from before history. The story that he celebrates is the story that begins before the creation ever was, a story that arises from God’s own being and life. The story is shown in verse 10: What is God up to in history? He has purposed to give the administration of the fullness of times to His Son Jesus, and to sum up all things in Him. He has chosen us; He has adopted us; He is making us holy and blameless, for a greater purpose – the purpose of bringing everything in the universe under the one head, Jesus. So that all things might be to the praise of His glory, the glory that IS Jesus (v. 12).

For Paul, God is never simply a generic deity; a god who is simply powerful and all-controlling is an idol. The sovereign God that Paul praises and blesses in this passage is the Triune God, the God and Father of Jesus. Grace and peace come not only from God the Father, but from Jesus Christ (v. 2). The God Paul blesses is the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul prays that the “God of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory” would open the eyes of the Ephesian Christians, and he ends the chapter by saying that Christ has been exalted above every ruler and authority and power.

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