I mentioned on Sunday that there seems to way more packed into the text of Ephesians than what we have time to unpack on a Sunday morning. One the the things we skipped over from Ephesians 1 is the intensely debated topic of “Predestination” (cue ominous music). The idea of predestination is prominent in Christians from the Reformed tradition following John Calvin’s influence. This belief, roughly summarized, is that God has a predetermined list of people who will be rescue to eternal life while others are destined to eternal punishment. Proponents would argue that it is an act of grace that God would actually rescue anyone. This question gets raised particularly in Ephesians 1:5. The NIV uses the word “predestined.” The NIV says, “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ…” The NRSV translates it, “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.” What is meant by “predestined”? Who is predestined? Does God really have a list of people who have been predetermined to accept salvation and others who have been predetermined to eternal damnation?
The question of who is Paul is referring to here is somewhat complicated. Paul moves between “us” and “we”, “I” and “you” somewhat freely. Some commentators suggest Paul is referring firstly to Jews. That is, God’s plan first destined that the Children of Israel would be blessed as God’s chosen. It’s possible that Paul is stating that Jews have been the recipients of God’s blessing. In verse 13, then, Gentiles also become the hearers of the gospel of salvation and now also receive an inheritance. God’s initial people of blessing gets expanded to include Gentiles.
Paul is also addressing the community of faith here and not necessarily personal, individual salvation. God had a predetermined plan, through Jesus the Christ, to welcome in those who believe and put their trust in the good news of salvation. So, in verse 4, “just as he [God] chose us [Israel and/or the church] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us [Israel and/or the church] for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.”
The text of Ephesians 1 and 2 is dense and packed with a lot of theological language. Many have constructed deeply held theological positions on predestination, original sin and other systematic beliefs. Some of these may find traction, but I think overall Paul uses expressive language to communicate the grandness of God’s plan and movement through history.
I believe God created free moral agents (that we have the ability to choose for ourselves) and not that we have a predetermined plan that we are unable to choose to follow or not. God seems to want all people to find their way back to relationship with God. In Matthew 18:10-14 we’re given a brief parable about the shepherd going after the lost sheep which concludes, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”
Just some thoughts as I was processing this passage.
What are your thoughts when it comes to predestination? How do you understand our ability to choose or not choose to follow God?