- Day 57. Ephesians 1-3
- Day 58. Ephesians 4-6
- Day 59. Philippians 1-2
- Day 60. Philippians 3-4
- Day 61. Colossians 1-2
- Day 62. Colossians 3-4
- Day 63. 1 Thessalonians 1-3
The doctrine of predestination is a tricky one. Some want to deny the existence of the doctrine and others want to explain it away. Why?
There are a number of reasons. Some argue that it is because the doctrine is cruel: ‘how could God choose to save some and not others’? Some argue that it is incongruent with the other characteristics of God: ‘surely a loving God would never do something like this? Some say it is incompatible with other doctrines like free will: ‘how could the two: predestination/election go hand in hand with free will and self-determination’?
These are good objections and theologians have possibly spilt enough ink to fill an ocean on this topic. For what it is worth, my assessment is that many seek to deny the doctrine of predestination because it goes against our assumptions about the human capacity. It may be our education system, it may be the ideological air we breath, or it may be the inherent sin that marks each human being – but all of us assume that humans by default i) are born inherently good [or at least morally neutral] ii) are able to choose God if they wanted to and iii) have absolute control over our destiny.
We feel empowered by these assumptions. It gives us the sense that we can do absolutely anything, whether it is bringing about positive good for the world or carving a bright future for ourselves. However, a close examination of the human heart and a broad examination of the world we live in reveals quite the contrary. Extreme examples are obvious. We read the news and many of us can barely believe the kind of evil and atrocities that human beings are capable of. The killing of the innocent, the burning of forests, and the taking advantage of the vulnerable – we’d think that people have moral baselines that guard them from great wickedness. Yet our expectations are consistently crushed. However, if we’re really honest with ourselves, these acts are also unsurprising. Given the right conditions, who knows what our hearts are capable of? And this also assumes that our regular deception, manipulation, and hatred are less guilty before the eyes of God and the world. A sober reflection of our lives and the world we live in should quickly demonstrate that the picture is not as glowing as we’d like to imagine.
The Bible (and particularly, the Book of Ephesians) gives us this sober picture. Ephesians 2 gives us a sweeping image of what life without the Gospel and the Holy Spirit looks like: uncurbed desires, the carrying out of these inclinations and thoughts, and spiritual deadness which leaves us feeling empty, unfulfilled, and destitute. This is a true and honest assessment of our world. And if we read this and then looked at our world, we’d probably say: ‘I get it. Things aren’t so surprising after all’. Indeed, it is upon this foundation – that we are depraved and sinful from the inside out – that the doctrine of predestination is built upon. Many of you will be familiar with the acronym TULIP. T stands for total depravity and it is upon this ‘T’ that U follows. U being ‘unconditional election’. If there was no ‘T’, if humanity was as good as we like to think it is, then predestination would not be necessary. But it is because of the sinfulness and deceitfulness of the heart that it is required for God to penetrate into the human heart to spiritually awaken rebellious people. As those who are depraved – with uncurbed desires capable of all sorts of evil because of our selfishness – Ephesians 2:3 tells us that we are by nature ‘children under wrath’. This means that we are therefore worthy of God’s just punishment and judgment.
Now if we were to stop there, then I don’t know how you and I would wake up in the morning. The clock seems set: all of us are born sinful and rebellious against God, and our destiny for God’s wrath, judgment, and condemnation seems set. What more is there to look forward to?
This is why Ephesians 2:4 is music to our ears, a balm for the wounded heart, and a drink for the parched and thirsty. It says ‘because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved’. That is Good News, isn’t it? Absolutely life changing and life transforming news. But there’s something even greater. Because while this passage speaks of God saving us from our sin, the Bible actually goes even further into history. Verses 4-5 says that God chose us ‘before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will’. God in his great love and mercy did all this before the foundation of the world!
That is absolutely Great News, isn’t it? God’s love for us is not dependent upon our performance, righteousness, intentions, or efforts. It is all because of who He is and who He is never changes. So that even though we have hearts of stone, wills that defy him on a daily basis, and minds that are prone to rebellion, His love is greater still! What a great source of comfort and joy.
- When did you first hear about the doctrine of predestination and how was it taught or explained to you?
- How does a careful reading of the Book of Ephesians reframe or reinforce your understanding?
- How does the doctrine of predestination shape your assurance of salvation?
- How does the doctrine of predestination shape your attitude towards evangelism?
Our gracious and heavenly Father, thank you that you never stopped loving us even though we were dead in our trespasses, following the ways and the course of this world. Indeed, you called us before the foundation of the world. To think that you had us in mind even before we existed is absolutely mind blowing! But we know that this doctrine is not fundamentally about us. All of this points to your infinite wisdom and glory that we can never fully understand or fathom. Thank you that you exist for your glory alone. Amen.