The Potter Has Rights Over the Clay
Numerous biblical passages can be cited that plainly teach the divine truth that God predestines men unto salvation. John 6:35-45, Romans 9:10-24, and 2 Timothy 1:8-10 all teach this truth. But I shall focus first upon the classicus locus, Ephesians 1:3-11, for my initial exegetical defense of this divine truth. As space permits, I will then briefly address Romans 9 and John 6. I invite the interested reader to follow along. I shall use as my base text the Nestle-Aland 27th edition of the Greek New Testament. English translations are my own.
Paul begins this tremendous introduction to his letter1 with a word of blessing addressed to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (1:3). All of salvation comes from the Father, its source, and its end. It is the Father who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Immediately we encounter three vital truths: 1) God is the one who has blessed us (we did not bless ourselves); this is seen in recognizing that oJ eujloghvsa" refers to the Father specifically; 2) that Paul is not speaking of all mankind here, but specifically of the redeemed, for he uses the personal pronoun hJma'" (us) when speaking of the scope of the blessing of the Father; we will see this is continued throughout the text; and 3) the phrase ejn Cristw' (in Christ) or its equivalent in Him, is central to Paul's thought. All of salvation takes place only "in Christ."
Verse 4 is central to our subject: "just as He chose us in Him before the creation of the world so that we should be holy and blameless before Him."2 Again the Father is in view, for He is the one who chose us (hJma'", accusative, indicating direct object of "to choose"). This choice is exercised only in Christ (there is no salvation outside of the Son). It is vital to recognize the personal aspect of this choice on the part of God the Father. The passage says that we were chosen by God the Father, not that a mere "plan" was chosen, or a "process" put in place. The choice is personal both in its context (in the Son) and in its object (the elect). Next, the time of this choice by the Father is likewise important: before the creation of the world. This is a choice that is timeless. It was made before we were created, and therefore cannot possibly be based upon anything that we ourselves do or "choose."3 This is sovereignty--free and unlimited.
God does nothing without a purpose. Both the means, and end, are in view. God chooses the elect to the end that they should be "holy and blameless before Him." God is redeeming for Himself a people, and no power in heaven or earth can stop Him from accomplishing His intention.
Paul continues to expand upon the nature of the Father's choice: "In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (v. 5). This is the first appearance of the word "predestined" in the text. The exact same term (proorivzw) is used in verse 11 as well. The meaning of the term is not ambiguous, no matter how hard some might try to avoid its impact. It means "to choose beforehand" or "to predestine."4 In this context, it is unquestionably personal in its object, for again we find hJma'" as the direct object of the action of predestination. This is truly the key element of this [issue], for grammatically there is no escape from the plain assertion here made: God the Father predestined us. He did not predestine a plan, He did not merely predestine a general conclusion to all things, but He chose us and predestined us. The "us" of Ephesians 1:5 is the "we" of Ephesians 1:11 and the "elect" of Romans 8:33 and those who are "given" by the Father to the Son in John 6:37.
Often we are asked "upon what basis does God choose one person, and leave another in their sins?" Paul answers in 1:5b-6, "according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace which he freely gave us in the Beloved One." We note that there is nothing whatsoever here about man doing anything. Instead, we have the good pleasure of God's will, nothing more. And this is perfectly logical, for, as Paul says, this is to result in the praise of His glorious grace. If salvation were the result of man's choosing God (rather than God choosing man), then God's grace would not be the sole and sufficient basis for salvation, and it would not, therefore, be the object of our praise in eternity to come. But Paul here sums it all up for us, indicating that the basis is solely God's will, and therefore all praise and honor and glory will go to God's glorious grace, that grace whereby the elect of God are saved, and will persevere into the eternal state. Such a truth is utterly shattering to human pride, and to all systems of works salvation. But it is the truth nonetheless. And note as well: again hJma'" appears, this time as the direct object of the free giving of God's grace. This is saving grace, efficient grace, that actually accomplishes the salvation of its object. And hence, it is given to the redeemed, to the elect, and they alone. This is no mere "common grace" given to all: this is specific, saving grace. And, as is his constant strain throughout this opening passage of Ephesians, Paul emphasizes once again the fact that this saving grace is only in Christ, here described as "the beloved One."
Having mentioned Christ, the beloved Son of the Father, Paul goes on to assert that it is in Him alone that we (again the elect, this time found in the first person plural ending of e[comen) have, present tense, redemption through His blood (literally, the redemption), which Paul then re-describes appositively5 as "the forgiveness of our sins." The standard of God's forgiveness is said to be "according to the riches of His grace," which surely means that there is no limitation to the scope, nor power, of Christ's redeeming blood. This grace, verse 8 goes on to say, was "lavished" on us, or "super-abounded" toward us (the now almost ubiquitous hJma'" once again); obviously, it has not so abounded toward all, hence, again, the specificity of Christ's work of salvation, including His work of atonement, is seen.6
In the next phrases (1:8b-10), Paul explains the centrality of Christ, both in the work of redemption as well as in the revelation of God's intention, will and purpose. All is summed up in Christ, Paul says. The Father's will is that everything be done in Christ. This "mystery of His will" He has made known to us (here hJmi'n, dative, because of gnwrivsa").
We come then, far too quickly, to the eleventh verse... "In Him (that is, in Christ) also we have been claimed as God's own possession,7 having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the council of His own will."
Note how this passage functions as a "bookend" to sum up the preceding section:
1) The Father's work of salvation takes place exclusively in the realm of the Son, "in Him." It is in Christ that we have "been claimed as God's own possession," that is, have received the promised inheritance, though the emphasis is upon the God-ward side of this transaction, not the human side. The concept of "God's own possession" comes up again in verse 14. The elect are God's people, "a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14).
2) Those who are God's people are so because they were "predestined." Again, no ambiguity exists in the meaning of the term, nor its use in the passage. [Some believe] that God had predestined a plan in this verse. I [point] out to [them] that proorisqevnte" is an aorist passive participle, 1st person plural. A "plan" would call for a singular form, not a plural form. Why is it plural? Because is it referring back to "we have been claimed…." The subject of the participle is found in the plural ending of ejklhrwvqhmen. It cannot be a "plan" but is a people, God's people, the elect, who are here plainly seen to be the object of God's act of predestination.
3) The basis for God's choice is again removed from the human realm and placed squarely and inalterably in the divine. God chooses on the basis of His own purpose (not on the basis of what we do). When Paul speaks of God's purpose, He attaches a clause that describes his God. Literally, it would read, "the all things working according to the council of His will One." The emphasis in the clause is on ta; pavnta, "all things." God works all things after the council of His will. Not some things, not most things, but all things. This is true in all aspects of His creation: the God Paul proclaims is sovereign over all things, is in control of all things, and all things exist at His command, and for His purpose. That is why the Psalmist could say, "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps" (Psalm 135:6).
Paul then applies this eternal truth to his immediate audience, those who were "the first to hope in Christ." Thanks be to God that He has continued to draw His elect over the ages, so that we living in our present day can likewise join with them in hoping in Christ, and hence resound to the "praise of His glory." But I hasten to emphasize: His glory is only praised when His complete sovereignty in salvation is plainly seen and proclaimed. Even saving faith in Christ is a gift of God given to the elect.8 Men dare not intrude upon God's sole glory: and that is exactly what we see in those systems that attempt to place man in control of God, and make God dependent upon man and the puny creature's will in the matter of redemption.