[In love] he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.
Mention the word "predestination" among Christians and you're likely to get strong, diverse responses. For some in the Calvinist/Reformed tradition, you'll get a cheer, because predestination is believed to be a core doctrine of the faith. Predestination encapsulates the grace and sovereignty of God. For folks in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, predestination is a doctrine that needs quickly to be modified, lest we turn God into a tyrant and minimize human responsibility when it comes to believing the Gospel. Then, there are a whole lot of Christian in the middle, who aren't quite sure they even understand predestination and don't see why it's such a big deal.
I have entitled this reflection "Predestination," not because I'm eager to stir up a hornets nest of theological debate and confusion, but rather because this idea is central to Ephesians 1:5. This verse states plainly that God "predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ." The Greek verb translated here as "predestined" means "to decide or determine something in advance." The Greek grammar connects "to predestine" to the verb "to choose" in verse 4: "For he chose us...having predestined us..." This is more than divine foreknowledge. It is God's determination before the creation of the world to adopt us as his children through Christ.
As you might expect, Christians differ on what God's predestination entails. For some, this is God's deciding in advance which people are going to be saved and, by implication, which people will not be saved. For others, predestination is God's decision to adopt those whom God knows will freely choose to have faith. And then the argument starts as to what predestination means and does not mean.
No matter how we understand Ephesians 1:5, we must acknowledge that it is not setting out a detailed theological case for a particular view of predestination. Paul leaves many theological stones unturned here because he is not giving a theology lecture so much as summoning us to worship. Remember the whole section we are in is a "eulogy." It begins and ends with praise.
Thus, it's both ironic and sad that Ephesians 1:5 has so often been a cause of distress and argumentation among Christians, when it was meant to offer both encouragement and a reason for worship. Paul's main point is that we belong to God because he has decided in our favor. Far more important than our decision to accept God is his decision to accept us. How encouraging to realize that you and I belong to God, not primarily because of anything we have done, but because of what God has decided and done.
So, no matter how we work out the details of predestination, may God give us the grace to rejoice in the fact that he has decided in our favor. May we offer praise to him for the amazing fact that he has predestined us for adoption as his beloved children.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you understand predestination? What do you learn about predestination from the actual text of Ephesians 1:4-6? What difference does it make that God predestined you for adoption as his son or daughter?
PRAYER: Gracious God, there is so much I don't understand about you. When it comes to something like predestination, I feel as I do when I gaze into the heavens on a crystal clear evening. What I see overwhelms me, and I realize that I only see a tiny bit of what's there. Even as I will never begin to grasp the truth of the universe, so I will never fully comprehend the outworking of your grace.
Yet, I believe what I read in Ephesians 1:5. I believe that you predestined me to belong to you as your child. I believe that you have done this because of your love for me. Thus, I am humbled. I am amazed. And I am drawn into worship. How I praise you for your grace! How I praise you for inviting me into your family! How I praise you that my relationship with you doesn't depend on me, in all of my fallibility, but upon you, in all of your dependability.
All praise, glory, and honor be to you, O God, for deciding that I should be one of your children. Amen.