On Predestination

In a recent THEOLOGY @ SYMPOSIUM event, the question came up about predestination. What is it? Does God’s sovereignty erase man’s responsibility? Does man have free will?

Now before I get into this, let me say that this is not a doctrine that one must agree with in order to be a member who thoroughly enjoys the worship at KW Redeemer.

Common ground …

When man sinned in the garden, God did not fall off the throne, grab a heavenly whiteboard and begin drawing up Operation Redemption. He had it. I should hope we all agree here.

When many Christians think of predestination, the words “exciting announcement of assurance” don’t come to mind, yet that is precisely what the apostle Paul is going for when he opens his letter to the Ephesians in chapter 1. Take a look …

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, 
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful[a] in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us[b] for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known[c] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee[d] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,[e] to the praise of his glory.”

Paul doesn’t even step back to explain predestination in chapter 2. He just flows from our predestination right into our adoption and blessing. [1]

Predestination, for Paul, is an invitation for the church to celebrate that God saved us, though we never did anything to deserve it, with His amazing, scandalous grace.

Throughout history, theologians and philosophers alike have wrestled with the tension between predestination and free will.

Wrestling with what the “alone” in grace alone implies …

One thing I trust we can all agree on, is that the scriptures are clear that we never saved ourselves.

From the moment man sinned, God’s saving grace was on the move in the earth. God chose Noah, then Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, then Moses, then Joshua then … then … then. He didn’t choose the Jews to be His chosen people because they were His favourite people group. He chose them because they were desperate, in bondage and couldn’t possibly rescue themselves. Then He systematically plagued Egypt to show the world there was only one saving God. The Exodus was the occasion God used to demonstrate His saving power to the known world.  He’s a rescue specialist. [2] 

God was intent on saving us and we didn’t even know we needed saving.

My Lutheran friends use two helpful categories when talking about our will, so for the purpose of clarity, I’ll use them here.

1) All things heavenly – our will as it relates to receiving Christ.
2) All things earthly – our will as it relates to all our choices in life.

The scriptures teach in Ephesians 1 that we born dead in sin. We are not born sick, simply needing to make a good choice and choose Jesus. When Paul spoke of being predestined to adoption, he spoke in terms of all things heavenly: our will is not free, hence he describes this as being predestined, chosen and adopted.

Thus when we say grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, to the Glory of God alone: the “alone” is explicitly referring to God’s loving grace coming toward us, apart from us.

Predestination, in Paul’s view, is precisely why the church celebrates: we are chosen, though we don’t deserve it.  We are not co-authors in our salvation by moving first. [3] 

If we say that what initiated our salvation was not God’s grace but our act of faith that released His grace, then the main actor in our salvation is not Christ at all, but us.

If Christ does not choose us, but we choose Christ, then we’ve reduced the death-proof saviour of our souls, who holds the world together with a word of His power, to be like the kid in gym class standing at the wall, nervously hoping He’s chosen. That’s the exact opposite of the picture Paul paints for the church in Ephesus.

We repented because His grace came first.
The faith we have to believe in Him, He gave to us first.
Our repentance is a response.

Our faith is  a gift, our repentance is a gift, God’s grace is a gift and our subsequent salvation is a gift. It’s all grace. Grace alone. Dead people don’t self generate saving faith and choose things – they’re dead.

So are we robots?

At the same time, the scriptures do not teach that we are robots and predestination is not fatalism.

The New Testament is clear that we are responsible for our choices and we do in fact, make choices. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are not competing for space. That is a mystery. I have confidence in how I can speak about it, but not certainty in how I can speak about it – because I’m not God.

In all things earthly, we have free will. We are free to make choices, we are held responsible for our choices and we live with the consequences of those choices. Paul held the tension of predestination and preaching the gospel without apology throughout his ministry and his letters. The second half of Romans and the writer who wrote the book of Hebrews give us great examples of this truth.

Outside the church, Paul preached that God loved sinners & Christ saved.
Inside the church, Paul encouraged believers to live to the glory of the One who saved.

A prime example of this is in his writing to Corinth. Paul said that just as they received reconciliation in Christ through the gospel, God desired to reconcile others as they shared the gospel.

We aren’t spectators in God’s plan for redemption – but neither are we in the drivers seat of His plan. He graciously invites us to be participants in His plan, but salvation is clearly beyond our scope and something only the Father does through the Son, by the power of the Spirit …. by His grace alone[4]

Predestination humbles the church …

Predestination humbles us. It reveals that we are not more humble, more deserving, more teachable, more moral or more anything than our neighbour.

Whoever calls on the name of the Lord gets Christ, and we are sorely under-qualified to determine who those folks are. We rest in the gospel and we minister the gospel.

The news that you have been predestined to adoption by God is incredibly liberating.

You can rest assured that you were chosen by Christ and you are irreversibly in His grasp. To borrow from Spurgeon, “once God pardons a man, there is no end to that pardon.” This is the assurance that Paul wanted the church in Ephesus to celebrate. If we got ourselves ‘in’, then we need to keep ourselves ‘in’. But if Christ saved us by grace alone, then He got us ‘in’ and He is keeping us ‘in’.

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me,[a] is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

We are free to share His gospel knowing that as we do, God will save others, by His grace.

Paul never asked us to understand predestination – he boldly invited us to celebrate that we’ve been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. [5] That’s what Sundays are for.

Press on,


You can listen to KW Redeemer’s series on Ephesians HERE.

I have included a 7 minute Q&A on predestination with Tim Keller. He’s very succinct on this subject and it’s a great thought provoking listen: LISTEN HERE.

[1] In Greek, Ephesians 1:3-10 is one massive sentence. We break up the thoughts in English, but in Greek, Paul keeps predestination, blessing, adoption, unity with Christ and a host of other verbal “celebration rockets” all together in one thought. They aren’t meant to be teased apart from one another, but understood in tandem

[2] Exodus: note that all 10 plagues were targeted to systematically attack the gods that Egyptians worshiped. The ancient world considered the Pharoah to be divine, so when God killed the Pharoah’s son in the final plague, as far as the world was concerned: The God of the slaves killed the “son of god”. Ephesians 1

[3] Ephesians 2, Romans 5:8 emphasis while we were “still” sinners – aka: dead.
[4] II Cor 5:11-21
[5] John 15:16

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