Ephesians 1:3-14: Predestination

Today, we hear about a difficult truth in Scripture: Predestination.  Predestination is God choosing someone for salvation, even before He created the world.  At first blush, that’s sound crazy, doesn’t it?

And so, to learn God’s truths about predestination, we must bind our human reason and let God’s divine Word shape our understanding.  For if we don’t, we will trample on the truths of God.  We’ll assume that if someone goes to heaven because God predestined it, then when someone goes to hell, that’s also because God predestined that.  That’s only logical, right?

But such thinking is the scourge of our reason and not the comforting Word of God.  Scripture tells us that God predestines no one to hell.  Scripture only describes Christians as predestined, never unbelievers.  In other words, predestination only works in one direction, for salvation.  It never works for damnation.  Do you now see why God’s ways are not our ways, or that we can’t always make sense of His ways?

Yet, predestination isn’t simply some abstract, theological issue for professors and pastors to argue over.  For when you correctly understand God’s gift of predestination, this truth of God becomes as precious and welcome as a cup of cold water on a scorching day.

Think of building a house.  If you’re going to build a house, you must pay close attention to the bottom layer, the foundation.  Did you notice how long it took to lay the foundation for our new building?  For if the builders didn’t get that right, the rest of the building would have come out lopsided and crooked.  But if you lay the foundation carefully and correctly, the floorboards to the uppermost eaves will all be properly aligned.

For us to understand predestination properly, we must have a solid foundation, which the Apostle Paul tells us is Christ.  That’s because predestination begins with Jesus, not with us.  By His death and resurrection for the sins of the whole world, Jesus makes predestination a reality.

Predestination begins with Jesus dying for all people of every time and place.  There’s not a single person for whom Jesus Christ did not die.  Jesus gave His life into death for those who hate Him as surely as He did for those who love Him.

We know this truth from St. John, who declared that Christ is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).  St. Paul tells us that the Gospel of God “is the power for salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).  That Jesus shed His blood for the sins of every person is clear in the Apostle’s letter to Pastor Timothy.  There, Paul spoke of God wanting “everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

When Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 20:6), He didn’t mean that God doesn’t want to save everyone.  Instead, their condemnation lies in their not hearing God’s Word, despising it, or plugging their ears and hearts.  That’s how they block the Holy Spirit’s work, keeping Him from carrying out His saving work within them.  So then, the fault lies, not with God and His choosing people to be saved, but with their own wickedness (Ep, Art. XI, para 12).

To understand predestination properly, we have to understand a truth we call “objective justification.”  Objective justification means that Jesus died for all people everywhere, and objectively won salvation for everyone.  That means that God has predestined no one to hell.  Jesus died for all.  There is no one for whom He did not shed His blood.  That’s why no one is predestined to hell.

St. Paul declares, “[God] predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5).  Again, “In Him [that is, in Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined” (Ephesians 1:11).  Because of this objective justification, Jesus does not line us up and say, “I choose you, you, and you.  But I don’t want the rest of you.”  Jesus wants everyone with Him in eternity.  That’s why He offered His life, so everybody could be.

But many refuse.  It’s not that God doesn’t want them; it is that they do not want the true God.  They choose to remain where they are, refusing their Lord’s calling and selection.  Yet, the Lord Jesus still says to them through His Word, “I choose you!”

But many respond, “No!”  They are not predestined because they turn their backs on the heavenly destination that Jesus created for them in His body and His blood.  The objectiveness of what Jesus did for them never becomes subjective because of their unbelief.

But that’s not how the Lord’s proclamation of forgiveness and life worked out for you.  What Paul says here applies to you and to all Christians in the one, true Church: “You also were included in Christ when you heard the Word of truth.  Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13-14a).

Objective justification is a strong comfort.  It allows the Christian to say to himself: “If Christ died for the sins of the whole world, then Christ also died for me and my sins.”  That’s what faith believes.  That’s how faith speaks.  Faith understands that what Jesus did, He did for you!  That’s why you can be confident before God the Father, that He will not condemn you because of your sins.  For Jesus has taken your sins from you and made you holy.

Predestination is a strong comfort.  It allows you to know that God has chosen you, individually, by name, for the beautiful gift of His salvation.  Predestination is something in which you may exalt and glory, for God has made you His own through His baptism and His Word.  “You also were included in Christ when you heard the Word of truth.  Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.”

All God’s Christians are “predestined,” just as they are “chosen,” “enlightened,” “called,” and “sanctified.”  The Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith.

Think of predestination as another way that God expresses His overflowing grace for you in Christ Jesus.  Predestination is simply God’s act of choosing you and saying, “I love you, forgive you, and want you to be with Me forever.”

But some say that when you know that God has chosen you, that He has predestined you, that you’ll get lazy about your faith.  But being chosen isn’t a reason to be lazy; it’s a reason to be zealous about living out the faith.  Why?  Because you have an eternal inheritance.  Christ’s riches are your riches.  Christ’s heaven is your heaven.  Christ’s home is your home.  “The Father has chosen to give you the kingdom!”  Why then would you live like someone who doesn’t have His kingdom?  That makes no sense.

You have an eternal inheritance.  Through faith, it’s already yours.  God chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world.  Why?  Not because you make a better Christian than your neighbor, not because you would accept His forgiveness, but only because overflowing grace fills His heart.  God gives you this glorious and comforting teaching of predestination, not for your fear and terror, but for your care and comfort, both of which will never fail.  Amen.