Christians must talk about predestination, and the Bible provides us with certain ground rules to do so. In addition, we’ve also considered how predestination relates to why some believe in Jesus Christ and some don’t.
But how often have you heard from pious and well-meaning brothers and sisters that predestination is like a cold shower on Christian enthusiasm? How many of you have heard that it is like a dry sponge that soaks up all spiritual zeal? It’s too intellectual, too lifeless, too philosophical, and too sterile of a “doctrine,” they say.
Predestination is a truth given to us in Scripture, therefore we are to adore God for it, be comforted by it, and inspired by it to pray for and desire the salvation of the lost. But what makes election so glorious? Let’s consider five characteristics from Paul’s words in Ephesians 1 that reveal the glory of the triune God in predestination.
1. It Is Unchangeable
What makes the doctrine of election so glorious? It is unchangeable. Nowhere in Ephesians 1 or any other biblical passage do we ever get the idea that what God has determined can be changed by us. Election is “the unchangeable purpose of God” (Canons of Dort 1.7). God’s eternal plans are always described as certain, fixed, and immovable: “the unchangeable character of [God’s] purpose” (Heb. 6:17–18).
But who would ever say that God changes what He planned? In the seventeenth century, the followers of James Arminius taught that there were various kinds of election. Listen to how the divines at the Synod of Dort (1618–19) described and rejected this:
That there are various kinds of election of God unto eternal life: the one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite; and that the latter in turn is either incomplete, revocable, non-decisive and conditional, or complete, irrevocable, decisive and absolute. Likewise: That there is one election unto faith and another unto salvation, so that election can be unto justifying faith, without being a decisive election unto salvation. (Canons of Dort 1. Rejection of Errors 2)
We need to be aware that it is easy for us to judge God on the basis of our personal experience. Dad would make promises and dad would break promises. God is a Father, therefore He, too, changes. We may see people in church and then not, and think that somehow they were genuinely saved but then lost their salvation.
Election is glorious because it is unchangeable.
2. It Is Eternal
What makes the doctrine of election so glorious? It is eternal. Predestination happened “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). We are used to going into the polling station or sending in an absentee ballot. We are used to having a say in things. Yet Scripture reveals to us that before anything was, there was only God. And before He actually made anything, He had a plan. Since He is eternal, so are His plans. His eternal plan for us was a gracious plan, saving us according to “his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9).
This is not only glorious but it should be inspiring. Have you come to realize that the eternal and glorious God had a plan for you in particular from all of eternity and for all of eternity?
3. It Is Gracious
What makes the doctrine of election so glorious? It is gracious. Paul says that at the heart of our praise to God the Father is His love for us. His love is an eternal love “as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). His love for us is the cause of His predestining us (Eph. 1:5). His eternal love for us was that we would know His love in time, as His predestining love was “for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5). And His love for us was rooted in His prior love for His Son, “the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). This is why the Canons of Dort say God elected us “out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will” (Canons of Dort 1.7).
This eternal grace was initiated, executed, and purposed in God himself, and not in us. “He chose us” (Eph. 1:4), “he predestined” us (Eph. 1:5) and this was “according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5). That word “purpose” (eudokian) can also be translated as “good pleasure” (NIV; NKJV) or “kind intention” (NASB). The cause of election is God’s love. It is not arbitrary or capricious, but rooted in a deep love for us. As Moses revealed to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7, it was not because they were more in number or greater than anyone else that He chose them, but it was merely because the Lord loved them.
So why did God choose one person and not another? More personally, why did God choose you and not another? He did not do so because there were prerequisites in you, such as “foreseen faith and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition” (Canons of Dort 1.9). As Ephesians 1:4 says, God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” And then we read why: “that we should be holy and blameless before him.” In other words, it was not because we were holy and blameless. Again, we read that “in love [the Father] predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:5–6). His predestining us made us sons; we were not predestined because He saw us becoming sons.
Have you ever heard a preacher use the illustration of a parade, where God, as it were, was in the broadcast booth watching the entire parade. From that vantage point He could see all humanity pass before Him, believing or not, and then He reacts to this with His choice. Ephesians 1 says otherwise, that it was according to the riches of grace in God before time began that He chose you, not because of your faith in time. So the graciousness of God’s electing work is particularly glorious when we realize that He chose “us” as sinners. And because He chose us of all people, we sing at the top of our lungs and from the bottom of our hearts, “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be!”
4. It Is Definite
What makes the doctrine of election so glorious? It is definite. The doxology of Ephesians 1 is that “we” bless God because He has blessed “us” (Eph. 1:4). This is not an indefinite mass, but real people like you and me. Some believe that predestination is of an indefinite class of people, “those who would believe and would persevere in faith and in the obedience of faith” (Canons of Dort 1.Rejection of Errors 1). But note well that the definitiveness of predestination is personal. Why is this so important to debate over? If predestination were indefinite and impersonal we would ever be in doubt as to our participation in it. On the contrary, because it is definitely of particular persons, John Calvin said Paul’s intention in Ephesians 1 was “to rouse [our] hearts to gratitude, to set [us] all on flame, to fill [us] even to overflowing with this thought.”
5. It Is Christ-centered
Finally, what makes the doctrine of election so glorious? It is Christ-centered. This is one of the areas we as Reformed believers need to grow in appreciation for. We can so often speak abstractly of “predestination,” forgetting that this doctrine is Christ-centered. In Ephesians 1, before he even says a word about predestination, in chapters 1–3 before he even says a word about our doctrine, in chapters 4–6 before he even says a word about how we are live, Paul roots everything in Jesus Christ. How so? We bless “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” who has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (v. 3). He continues, God “chose us in him,” that is, Jesus Christ (v. 4) and “blessed us in the Beloved” (v. 6).
The Canons of Dort summarize the above when it says,
God hath decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His Son” (Canons of Dort 1.7).
In practical terms, this means that Jesus Christ is like the mirror of our election. If the knowledge of God’s good pleasure and powerful love before the foundation of the world still leaves you in doubt, then the only remedy is to gaze upon Christ, as in a mirror. Look at Him and you will see reflected back yourself, being renewed in His image and chosen to be so.
What a glorious doctrine, for it reveals the glory of our wonderful God. As it does, it leads us to respond in praise and in holiness. When we mediate on His glory we burst forth in praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3) and “to the praise of his glorious grace!” (Eph. 1:6) When we meditate on His glory we respond in seeking to be holy. Out of the mass of sinners deserving punishment we were called forth “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). What a God, and what a life He has called us to.
This article is part of the Predestination collection.