Jeremy Sarber

What does predestination mean?

Paul writes, Having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we might be to the praise of his glory (Eph 1:11-12). I skipped a phrase because I want to follow the order of the original Greek.

I have three points to make here.

1) God predestined us.

Let’s not forget how this passage began: God chose us in him before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3). Predestined, however, is a slightly different term. It’s not a complicated term, and it’s closely related to God’s choosing, but it is different. Pre means beforehand. Destined refers to one’s destiny or destination. When God chose his people before the foundation of the world, he also predestined them or appointed their destination.

It seems strange that Christendom would waste so much energy debating this word. Just the other day, I was talking to a friend of mine about this passage, and he pointed out that Paul was referring to God choosing the Gentiles in addition to the Jews. In other words, God’s choice and subsequent predestination have little to do with individual people. I agreed with him, but only to a point.

A major theme in Ephesians is the unity of Jews and Gentiles together within the body of Christ. But if the end result of God’s choice is redemption and an eternal inheritance, then I fail to see how this passage applies to groups of people without also applying to specific individuals. God doesn’t redeem all Gentiles; he redeems individual Gentiles.

Plus, it’s not as though Ephesians 1 is the only place in the Bible to learn about predestination. Consider, for instance, Romans 8:

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

Who does God predestine according to that passage? Those whom he foreknew, those who love God, those who are called according to his purpose. Those whom God chose before the foundation of the world are also predestined. Their destinations are determined beforehand.

2) God predestined us by his sovereign power.

Paul says, God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11). Works is translated from the same word from which we get energy. It alludes to God’s creative power. Just as God once spoke the world into existence, he uses the same creative force to determine the fate of his people.

Let’s pause long enough to appreciate the magnitude of that statement. Every person, every event, every detail, every prophecy, and every fulfillment that culminated in the death and resurrection of Christ for our redemption was part of a plan which God designed and fixed even before creation. The entirety of history is basically one long sentence flowing from the mouth of God. He speaks, and it is.

One writer described it this way: You’re living in sentences. This world was spoken by God. The collapse of empires are God’s comma splices, and the birds are his quotation marks.”

We occasionally sing a song that I’ve grown to love more and more over the years. This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” In the version we sing, the last line says, In battle we must trod. Jesus who died shall be satisfied. The kingdom turns back to God.”

What is the period at the end of God’s story? He will unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph 1:10). According to the counsel of his will, he is moving history toward that ultimate resolution (Eph 1:11). Like any good author, he knew the end before he penned the first word. Every sentence brings us one step closer to our inheritance as God’s chosen people.

3) God predestined us by his sovereign power to glorify himself.

Are you surprised? God created the world for his glory. Why wouldn’t he also redeem and recreate this world for his glory? He deserves it. He is God. According to Paul, it’s all to the praise of his glory (Eph 1:12).

How many times does Paul say that we have nothing to boast about? When talking about Abraham, he said, For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God (Ro 4:2). Later in Romans, he says, It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy (Ro 9:16). Here in Ephesians, he says, This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8, 9).

Was Paul suggesting that works are irrelevant? Absolutely not. He argues against the tenets of Antinomianism more than once. In Romans 6, he says, Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Ro 6:1, 2).

At the same time, Paul wants to make it abundantly clear that our works flow from the grace of God. First, the Bible says, Work out your own salvation (Php 2:12). But those instructions are typically followed by this important reminder: It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Php 2:13).

Even our salvation is to the praise of God’s glory. I’ve heard it said that the four most important words of the Bible are the first four words of the Bible: In the beginning, God (Ge 1:1). If you want to maintain a proper perspective on just about anything, then remember In the beginning, God.”