He predestined us for adoption

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Ephesians 1:3-6

I can’t believe that I’m in the final week of my holiday! Luckily when I do start back at work on Tuesday it is only four and a half weeks until my next holiday. Mind you, I’ve been so busy this holiday that I feel like I’ll be going back to work for a bit of a break! I’ve published my new book (The Shepherd God: Finding Peace, Worth and Happiness in a Busy World, available from Amazon.com in paperback and for Kindle, and also from Amazon.co.uk in paperback  and for Kindle), and also been hard at work preparing resources for a busy term of teaching history. Often people think that we teachers just turn up in our classrooms and make stuff up, but actually for most of us a great deal of preparation goes into our lessons. I have already determined in advance of term starting exactly what I’m going to teach, and when, to whomever happens to turn up in my classroom.

The verses we’re considering today, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, have proven problematic for many Christians (and non-Christians) over the years. Paul tells us that God ‘predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ’. Surely, some say, if God has already chosen who will follow him he has already consigned many to hell. How can this be fair? How can this be the mark of a loving God? How can this concept of predestination possibly sit alongside the idea of freewill? These are difficult questions, but my personal belief, with regard to this particular passage, is that God predestined people to adoption in a similar way to how I have already determined the content of next term’s lessons. My lessons are planned, and whoever turns up to them has in a sense been predestined to benefit from my knowledge and teaching. Perhaps God has predestined that all of those who follow Christ will be adopted as sonship without specifically predestining us by name. Maybe this is an inclusive predestination, in the sense that God has already decided that all those who follow Christ will be adopted by him as his sons and daughters through the work that Jesus has done for us all on the cross. This is in contrast to an exclusive predestination whereby God has already decided before their births that Robert, William, Sarah and Amy will be adopted as his children, whereas James, Brian, Rachel and Louise have not been predestined and therefore will not ever find Christ in their lifetimes.

Whatever the answer to the difficult idea of predestination might be, we have much to be thankful to God for, which is the overarching point that Paul is trying to make in this passage. Through Christ God has showered spiritual blessings on us and opened the way to heaven. He has done this out of love for all of his people. He has shown us all grace and ensured that we are saved because of his love for us, not as a consequence of anything that we do or do not do. Let’s all resolve to thank God today for his many blessings, and pray for his continued guidance as we strive to understand his word in the Bible.

3 thoughts on “He predestined us for adoption

  1. Hi Simon

    I’ve just written an essay on divine knowledge and human responsibility, so I apologise for coming in on this but I think it’s an important topic 🙂

    Your understanding of predestination seems to me to be basically “things happen; God knows things that happen; therefore he ‘predestines’ them.” I disagree with this view – I think the Bible affirms that God is sovereign over everything, including salvation. However, I do believe the Bible also teaches that mankind bears full responsibility for their sin. The belief in these two things (sovereignty and responsibility) is known as compatibilism and Don Carson talks about this in his book “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” which you can download free (it’s only short and worth reading).

    Also I’d recommend “Behold Our Sovereign God” by Mitchell Chase and “Intended for Good” by Melvin Tinker – both books I’ve found very helpful thinking through the Biblical case and its implications. The first one deals more with the texts and the second is more broad.

    Phill 🙂

  2. Hi Phill!

    “Your understanding of predestination seems to me to be basically “things happen; God knows things that happen; therefore he ‘predestines’ them.” ”

    Hmm, that’s certainly not what I intended to say, and looking back over what I’ve written I don’t think it is what I have said! Mind you, it’s entirely possible that this is what my mangled writing has suggested.

    Can I clarify? Possibly not! My key point though is that I don’t believe that God has already decided who will and who will not gain salvation, only the principle by which we can be saved, namely the acceptance of Christ’s death and resurrection. This marks out two categories of people: category one, those who will be saved, and category two, those who will not be. God has predestined that everyone in category one will gain salvation. This then leaves it open to us to decide in which category we are going to position ourselves using free will. I don’t think, therefore, that there are some people who cannot gain salvation because it has already be predetermined by God that they will not enter category one. They have the freedom to determine for themselves whether to follow Christ or not, and hence can move from category two into category one should they chose to do so.

    Methodists (and I am only loosely of their number) hold that there are four special aspects of the Christian faith which they term the ‘Four Alls’:

    1) All people need to be saved
    2) All people can be saved
    3) All people can know that they are saved
    4) All people can be saved to the utmost.

    I think what I was trying to get at with my reflection was number two – the belief that all people can be saved, as distinct from the Calvinist principle of “unconditional election” (as I understand it, you probably have a much clearer understanding of this than me!).

    Anyway, I shall have a look at the texts that you have suggested. And thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s always good to be challenged to think through one’s statements a little more!

    • Hi Simon,

      Thanks for clarifying! This is a difficult issue and there are of course problems from our limited, finite perspective.

      What I was getting at was the logical implication of what you are saying: categories are made up of individuals. Surely God *knows* who will be in category one or two, unless you hold to an open theist view of God (e.g. God doesn’t know the future – in which case we need to have another conversation…). The question then becomes what is logically prior – God’s knowing or our choosing? I think your suggestion ends up making our choosing first, even though you don’t say that.

      There are many other areas one could talk about, such as – when Jesus died on the cross, was he bearing the punishment for sin in general, or was he bearing the punishment for *my* sin – specific sins?

      Anyway, sorry to jump in again. This is an area I have struggled with over the years but have come to rest in the traditional reformed position, I believe it to be both most biblically faithful and pastorally helpful.

      Phill 🙂

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