“Word for Today” – Ephesians 1 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

October 29, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Cross 4Our reading for today from Ephesians 1 addresses one of Scripture’s most infamous doctrines:  predestination.  As with other difficult theological questions, many people have a tendency to fall into one of two traps: a trap of anger or a trap of avoidance.  Those tending toward the former trap become fixated on the controversial doctrines of Scripture and angrily decry anyone who would disagree with them, even if a disagreement has some Scriptural merit.  Those tending to the latter trap offhandedly dismiss the tough doctrines of Scripture, no matter how salutary they might be.  Of course, both responses to difficult doctrinal questions are unhelpful and, finally, ungodly.  For we are called to engage with Scripture both humbly and intently.  What follows is an attempt to do just that with the doctrine of predestination.

Because of the complexity of this doctrine, I thought it might be helpful to offer my best definition of predestination, gleaned from Ephesians 1, and then comment on the individual components of this definition.  Here, then, is my definition of the doctrine:  Predestination is when, to his praise, God chooses, by his grace, you for salvation.

“To his praise…” Predestination is doxological.

In the face of a doctrine which all too often invokes self-righteous anger on the one hand and timid avoidance on the other, Paul offers a different response to predestination:  the response of praise. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (verse 3).   This doctrine is so precious to Paul that it makes him burst out in a song of celebration.  The Greek word for “praise” is eulogia, meaning, “to speak well.”  In Greek, Paul uses this word twice more in this one verse.  Thus, Paul’s intent in speaking of predestination is to speak well of this doctrine.

“God chooses…” Predestination is unilateral.

Predestination is not of ourselves.  It is wholly and unilaterally God’s work.  God chooses us.  We do not choose God.  This becomes clear when one considers the timing of predestination: “God chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (verse 4).  Before we were born – yes, even before the world was created – God chose us to be his own.  This stands contrary to those who hold to Arminiasm, which teaches that the human will cooperates with the divine will to choose salvation.  As Augustine pointedly says:  “God chose us according to the good pleasure of his will, so that nobody might glory concerning his own will, but about God’s will towards himself” (On The Predestination of the Saints, Ch. 37).  Predestination finds its beginning and end in God’s will, not in humanity’s.

“By his grace…” Predestination is evangelical.

By saying that predestination is “evangelical,” I mean to say that predestination is of the gospel.  Indeed, the Greek word for “gospel” is euangelion.  That predestination is of the gospel seems to be precisely Paul’s assertion in this chapter.  For Paul lumps predestination together with other terms commonly associated with the gospel:  “love,” “adopted,” “grace,” “redemption,” “blood,” “forgiveness of sins” (cf. verses 4-7).  Predestination, then, is simply another way to describe God’s good news:  that God saved us when we could not save ourselves.  He chose us to be his own.  As Gerhard Forde aptly states: “Justification by faith and predestination are simply two sides of the same coin…Predestination is merely the article of justification stated with respect to God” (Justification by Faith:  A Matter of Death and Life, 67).

“You for salvation…” Predestination is personal.

People’s problems with predestination often center on the doctrine’s philosophical corollaries rather than on the actual doctrine itself, as it is given to us in Scripture.  Here’s what I mean.  If predestination is wholly God’s choice, decree, and work, then that means we are trapped in a divinely wrought determinism, headed for either heaven or hell, helpless and hapless in the face of God’s whim.  All we can do, then, is cry, “Que sera sera.”  For we are merely puppets in the hands of a mysterious and capricious God.  Indeed, this is the stance of Calvinism, which teaches a “double predestination” – that God, in his mysterious sovereignty, chooses some for salvation and some for damnation.  Which one are you?  Que sera sera.

This is not the way Paul speaks of predestination.  As I have already mentioned above, predestination is connected to salvation, not to damnation.  “Yes,” someone might protest, “But if God chooses some for salvation, but not everyone is saved, doesn’t that mean that God has, by default, chosen some for damnation?”  Paul dispenses with such questions in short order by declaring:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory. (verses 13-14)

Paul, rather than quibbling over the philosophical difficulties of this doctrine, simply says, “Predestination is not a philosophical theory, it is a theological and personal reality!  You are included in salvation!  God has chosen you!  How do you know you are God’s predestined child?  You have the Holy Spirit.  He is your guarantee of salvation.”

Predestination, then, is not meant to be a doctrine which sends our heads spinning and our hearts worrying; rather, it is meant to be a doctrine which comforts us in our salvation and assures us of God’s love.  For God loves us so much that he has taken care of every detail, even the detail of our choice.  Rather than leaving our salvation up to our choice, God went through the trouble of choosing for us.  And the best part is, God has chosen you.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Acts 28 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – Ephesians 2 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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