Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Chosen before the foundation of the world

Predestined for What?
Steve Crouch

from a sermon
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 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.

Ephesians 1:3-14 [NIV]

It’s known by the big fancy word “Predestination.” I doubt that there is a Christian alive who understands Predestination completely – I know I don’t. But I do know that the Bible teaches it. So if nothing else, let’s at least see what the Bible says about it. It might still be a mystery, but it wouldn’t be the only one: we don’t completely understand the Trinity either, but we believe it because the Bible teaches it.

The best place to get started on Predestination is in Ephesians 1, where it’s mentioned several times. First of all, what does the word Predestination mean? The English word is fairly simple:
  • Pre- is a prefix that means “before.”
  • And Destiny is what’s going to happen in the future.
So Predestination is: the future beforehand, ahead of time – maybe even determining the future. That’s oversimplified, yes, but it will do as a starting point.

Now in a way, you and I determine the future all the time, more or less, by making plans. I could say “We will have lunch today.” “I will go to work on Monday.” But whenever we make plans like that, we have to remember the caution in James 4:15 – “Instead you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” It’s really quite presumptuous to believe that all of our plans will happen – because they might not. This is not Predestination.

Only God can really do Predestination. I mean it’s just a whole lot easier to predestine something when you can see the end from the beginning. And God can. The Bible says things like:
  • “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you."
  • Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, …
  • He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
And in Acts 4, when Christians prayed about the people who crucified Jesus, they said,
  • They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
It’s amazing enough that God knows the future. But it also says that he sometimes determines the future.

I can remember when I was growing up, a really hot issue among Christians was Predestination vs. Free Will. I even remember once when there was a debate in my youth group on this issue – Predestination vs. Free Will. Lots of people back then thought these were opposites: either God decides what we will do, or we can choose what we will do. And again I’m oversimplifying the issue – there’s more to it than that.

The fact is, the Bible teaches both Predestination and Free Will, and so both of them are true. The trick is to understand what they mean. Free will we probably don’t have much trouble with. From “Choose this day whom you will serve” in Joshua, to “Whosoever will may come” in Revelation, the Bible encourages us to choose God and his Way, to choose life not death. We all make decisions freely every day – what to eat, what color socks to wear, all that – so we understand that we have Free Will.

But Predestination isn’t quite so easy. So let’s see what Ephesians 1 has to say. This letter is actually pretty easy to read – until you get to verse 4: “He chose us.” Now God has done a lot of choosing over the years:
  • He chose Abraham – and not only Abraham, but he chose Isaac not Ishmael, and he chose Jacob not Esau.
  • Later on he chose Moses to be the deliverer of the Hebrew slaves and lead them out of Egypt.
  • And he chose Jesus before the creation of the world to save us from sin and death.
That’s all fine. But did he also choose us? It says here in Ephesians that he did.

And if he did choose us, then – well, I might as well bring up right now the question that no Christian ever wants to ask – we don’t even want to think about it. But here it is: If God chose some people, then did he not choose all the others?
  • Like the billion or so Muslims – did he choose them to reject Jesus as Savior and Lord?
  • Or all the people who just don’t believe. Some people think all religion is bad. Some think they just don’t need God. Some think becoming a Christian would take away all their fun.
Lots of people who don’t love the Lord, and don’t want him. Did God just not choose them?

Or even worse – this isn’t quite the same thing, it’s even worse: If God chose us to be saved, did he also choose that those people shouldn’t be saved? Did he choose them to be condemned? There’s actually a fancy term for this: it’s called Double Predestination – choosing some to be saved and some not to be saved. I think it’s too horrible to think about. The fact is, Predestination is much clearer in the Bible than any idea of Double Predestination.

So what does the Bible teach about Predestination? I gave this message the title “Predestined for What?” and I did that for a reason. As I have studied this in the Bible, I have seen something consistent in the way it talks about Predestination. The Bible doesn’t really talk in terms of “Am I predestined, or not?” – I don’t think that’s the right question. The right question is, “What am I predestined for – what was I chosen for?

I’ve got four answers to that – three of them in Ephesians 1, and another over in Romans 8. Let’s just read them quickly, and I think you’ll see something similar in all of them:

  • First is in Ephesians 1:4: We were predestined “to be holy and blameless.” Holy doesn’t mean we’re perfect. And blameless doesn’t mean we never sinned. It means that if we’re saved, we’re clean before God. Because of Jesus, our sins are forgiven. And if we died today, God would accept us into his Kingdom. This verse says that God predestined – he determined ahead of time – that believers are acceptable to God.
  • Verse 5 then says we were chosen “to be adopted as sons” – and of course we don’t have to worry about that word “sons”: it also includes girls. Adopted means that God has made us part of his family. John 1:12 says that all who receive Christ and believe in him are given the right to become children of God. Now everybody knows that there are two main ways to get into a family: you can be born in, or you can be adopted in. Either picture is fine. Some people like the birth picture, like when Jesus said “You must be born again” – that’s fine. Some people prefer the adoption picture, probably people who were adopted into their human family. Either way, we’re joining God’s family, becoming his children – verse 5 says that God predestined this for us.
  • Next is in verses 11 and 12 – “having been predestined … in order that we … might be for the praise of his glory.” What that’s saying is that when people are saved, it glorifies God. He gets all the credit and the glory when someone enters God’s Kingdom and family. It’s like what Jesus said about angels rejoicing in Heaven whenever a sinner repents. In God’s plan, he determined that this will happen, that he will be glorified when sinners are saved.
  • Then one more Predestination item is in Romans 8:29 – “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” One of the things God has predestined is that eventually we will become like Jesus. We won’t become him, but we will be like him. We’re already supposed to become like him more and more. But one day the job will be finished.
Okay, what were those four things again?
  • Holy and blameless
  • Adopted as sons
  • For the praise of his glory
  • Conformed to the likeness of his Son
All of these are end result for the Christian. When we put our faith in Christ, these are the kinds of things God has planned for us, that he has predestined for us. And that’s why Predestination is good news for Christians. It’s not just “Are we predestined?” It’s “What are we predestined for?”

I’m sure I’ve probably oversimplified this “doctrine.” Actually, it’s not one of my favorite Bible doctrines – I would be happy if God hadn’t mentioned Predestination at all in the Bible. But he did. So why did he do it – what is the point of teaching us about Predestination?

For one thing, it shows us that God is in charge of salvation. He can choose people to save if he wants to – he didn’t really have to choose any of us. But he did choose us. And that’s good news, because that was his purpose in Creation: to create people, to choose people, and to save people forever in his Kingdom. God is in charge of the whole salvation process from beginning to end.

And then another reason for God teaching us Predestination is: now that we’re in the Kingdom, it’s okay for us to know how we got here. Before we were saved, the Bible says to us “Repent and believe the Gospel. Whosoever will may come.” Evangelism always assumes that people have Free Will. But once we’re in the Kingdom, we find out that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, even predestined to be adopted as sons, to become holy and blameless, like Jesus.

Please don’t think of Predestination as just one of those stuffy old theological words that most “regular Christians” don’t need to worry about. It’s there in the Bible for a reason. And if nothing else, it shows us that God wants to bring us into his Kingdom, and so he decided to do that a long, long time ago. He could have done it anyway and not said anything about it. But instead, he gave us this “doctrine,” to tell us that he really does mean to save us. I hope we’re grateful.

Steve Crouch is the pastor of the Bay Area Seventh Day Baptist Church.
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