Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Ephesians. Day 1, Predestination Or Free Will? Part One

We begin our study of the Book of Ephesians today. It is believed that Paul penned this letter in around 62 A.D. while he was a prisoner in Rome. He wrote the letter not to straighten out any problems in the church, as he did with some of his previous letters to other churches, but to talk about God's glorious plan for the church as a whole. This letter contains beautiful passages regarding the future that is ahead of us and it contains valuable encouragement and advice for living in the here and now. I believe we will be blessed by our study of this book and that we will grow in the faith as we take the words of this book to heart.

"Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, To God's holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 1:1-2) We find here Paul's typical greeting in the letters that he writes. He reminds his readers of who he is (not a self-appointed apostle but an apostle appointed by God) and he bestows a benediction of grace and peace on the believers.

"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." (Ephesians 1:3) Everything we will ever need for our spiritual growth has already been deposited into our bank account. It is available for us to withdraw it as needed. We don't have to beg and plead and cry for these spiritual blessings; they are already ours through Christ. Sometimes I think we are so used to the ways of this world (scratching to make a living, having to practically beg for a raise at work, having our efforts go unappreciated by those who are in a position to bless us materially) that we begin to believe we have to approach God as if He is a cold-hearted master who (if He listens to us at all) is going to listen impatiently and with the intention of saying "no". This may be the way the world handles our requests, but it's not the way God handles them. We are not beggars in His sight; we are His dearly loved children.

God had these spiritual blessings saved up for us before He created us, just as an expectant parent might start a college savings fund for a child that's still in the womb. God looked forward to the birth of every one of us in the same way parents look forward to the birth of their children. He lovingly stored up blessings for us ahead of time. Will a Father who has done this refuse us the use of these blessings? Of course not. "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 for adoption to sonship 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." (Ephesians 1:4-6)

To paraphrase the passage above, we might say, "God chose to make us His children through Christ before He ever created the world. Before a cell of our bodies was ever formed, God had already decided to redeem us through His Son. Through Christ, God intended to adopt us into His family and to give us all the rights and privileges that belong to the children of God. We did not choose Him, but He chose us. We did not make ourselves acceptable in His sight, but He made us acceptable. Salvation is something for which none of us can take any credit. God did all the work that led to our salvation."

Just as Paul did not appoint himself to be an apostle, we did not appoint ourselves to be the children of God. Did we choose our parents? No, we had no control over which family we were born into. In the same way we did not have the power to make ourselves God's children. We were weak in the flesh, prone to wandering far from our Maker, weighted down by the cares of this world, and shackled to our sins. We could never have done anything to make ourselves the children of God, so He did the work for us.

Paul has used the word "predestined" in verse 5. This word is the Greek "proorizo" which means "to decide beforehand, to decree from eternity, to foreordain". Some have taken this to mean that God decided way back in eternity which humans He would save and which He would reject. This could not be further from the truth. What a disservice we do to the holy and righteous name of a merciful God when we entertain such an idea! If this is true then Christ did not die for everyone; He only died for a select group. If this is true then a vast number of human beings never had any hope to begin with, not in Christ or in anything else. Is that what God's word says to us? If so, then when Jesus made this invitation, "Let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life," then He didn't really mean "everyone" who wanted to come was welcome to come. (Revelation 22:17) If so, then Jesus didn't mean "all" when He said, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) If so, then Jesus didn't really mean "anyone" when He said, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with Me." (Revelation 3:20)

If we look at Paul's words in our passage today, we can clearly see by the sentence structure that it is the adoption that is predestined---adoption that is available to everyone through Christ. "In love He (God) predestined us (those who have accepted the gospel) for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ (in Whom we have believed for salvation) in accordance with His (God's) pleasure and will." What Paul is saying is that just as a human couple purposely decides to adopt a child that is not theirs biologically, God purposely decided to adopt children that are not His biologically. People don't accidentally adopt children; they plan ahead for it. God did the same when He formed His plan of salvation before He ever spoke the universe into existence. He decided beforehand that He wanted a large family made up of the human race, and so He decided before He created us that He intended to adopt all who were willing to be adopted. It is the adoption that is predestined. It is the large family that is predestined. It is the method that will be used to form the family that is predestined. We will get into this subject in more depth tomorrow, but for now we need to settle firmly in our minds the idea that God never at any time sat down His throne with a a pen and a list of every human being who would ever exist and that He marked through the names of those He didn't want in His family. The offer of salvation is made to everyone. The opportunity for adoption is offered to everyone. It's up to us whether our names are in God's family tree.

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