by Bob Wheeler


Election & Predestination

Most Evangelicals today think that they understand the gospel – the word “evangelical,” after all, is derived from the Greek word for “gospel” or “good news” (euangelion). In our modern American self-help culture, however, we are naturally led to think in terms of individual freedom and self-initiative. Hence we like to think of salvation as an offer made by God to the human race, and we are free to accept it or reject it as we choose.

There is a sense in which that is true, of course. God does make the offer and we do have to decide and bear the consequences of our decision. But there is far more to salvation than just that. Salvation is fundamentally God’s work, and we are the passive beneficiaries. God saves us; we do not save ourselves.

This is brought out clearly in a passage at the beginning of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. Having greeted the believers at Ephesus Paul then launches into an extended benediction – a kind of hymn of praise to God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3; NKJV). The praise goes to God – “”Blessed be God.” Why? Because of what He has done for us: He “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.”

Paul then goes on to elaborate, explaining what each person of the Trinity does in our salvation: the Father (vv. 4-6), the Son (vv. 7-12), and the Holy Spirit (vv. 13,14).

The role of the Father can be summed up in two words: election and predestination. Some people recoil at these two words. Doesn’t God want everyone to be saved? Doesn’t He give us a free choice? In a sense He does. But according to our text our salvation originates in God’s eternal decree.

Paul begins by saying that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (v. 4). The word “chose” (exelexato in the Greek) bears the clear and unmistakable meaning of selecting some persons or things from out of a larger group. Furthermore the verse says that God “chose us” – not just some general plan of salvation, but “us,” as individual human beings. And He did this “before the foundation of the world,” i.e., before we even existed to make any choices ourselves. In other words, the whole thrust and emphasis of the passage is that our individual salvation originates in the plan of God – he was the One who took the initiative, not we ourselves.

And what is the aim of God’s plan? “ . . .that we should be holy and without blame before Him.” But how can this be? We are by nature fallen sinners. God is perfectly holy and just. How then could we ever be seen by Him as “holy and without blame”? As Paul will go on to explain, it is through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

But God does not just have a plan; He executes it. “ . . .having predestinated us to adoption.” The word “predestine” means to determine beforehand. And in our case what God has predetermined is that we should receive adoption as sons. We are to be brought into a relationship with Him in which He is our Father and we are His children. And again God did not just settle on a plan or method; He predestined “us.” Thus some form of determinism is definitely in the picture, and it is a determinism that affects us as individuals.

All of this is done “according to the good pleasure of His will” (v. 5). God’s “will” is what He wishes or desires. The “good pleasure” is whatever pleases Him. Thus the determining factor in our election and predestination is what pleases and satisfies God. It is God’s will that ultimately determines what happens to us.

At this point all sorts of difficult questions arise. Why doesn’t God choose everyone for salvation? Why did He even allow sin to enter into the picture in the first place? Questions such as these may be impossible to answer, for they require us as finite human beings to probe the infinite mind of God. When Job and Paul were inclined to ask such questions the answer they got was “who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Rom. 9:20; cf. Job chapters 38-41). All we can go by is what has been pleased to reveal to us in Scripture. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law’ (Dt. 29:29).

But our text does give us a clue: God does all of this “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved” (v. 6). What election and predestination do is to shine the spotlight on God’s grace. If we were all innocent bystanders, and God arbitrarily chose some of us for salvation and the rest for eternal punishment, the4n that would make God look like a cruel and arbitrary tyrant. But we are not innocent bystanders; we are guilty hell-deserving sinners. The non-elect simply get what they justly deserve. God metes out His perfect justice. The elect, on the other hand, get what they do not deserve — the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. But they cannot take any credit for themselves for the gift that they receive. There just as hell-deserving as the rest. Their salvation is due entirely to God’s free, unmerited favor. The proper question to ask is “why me and not others?,” and the answer is certainly not anything in me that somehow makes me better than the others.

The condemnation of the non-elect serves to highlight the grace shown to the elect. The condemnation of the non-elect shows us what we all deserve. If all were saved we would no doubt take our salvation for granted, as though it were a kind of government entitlement program. But not all are saved. Some receive the punishment justly due them, thus highlighting God’s justice. The others receive a free gift they did not deserve, thus highlighting God’s grace.

What all of this should do for those of us who are saved is to move us to a profound sense of gratitude toward God for all that He has done for us, who were so undeserving of it.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,

That save a wretch like me . . .”