(Below is the manuscript of the sermon preached on July 5, 2015: “I Never Reconcile Friends: Predestination and Free Will” from Ephesians 1:3-14. Note: if you listen to the sermon, don’t try to follow along with the manuscript. Really. Don’t. Seriously.)
Remember when I said that you all asked major league questions for this Summer Playlist series? Absolutely! If you’re a guest with us, about two or three months ago, I asked our people what questions you have of the Bible that you’d like answered. Here’s what you’ve asked so far:
- What is the Unforgivable Sin?
- Why Should We Plant Churches When We Have So Many?
- How Should a Christian View War?
- How Should a Christian Respond to Religious Liberty Attacks?
The next question? What About Predestination and Free Will?, in which we will look at Ephesians 1:3-14. If we have free will, how can we be predestined? If we are predestined, how can we have free will?”
Whenever this conversation takes place, it’s like oil and water as far as how people deal with this. Those who hold strongly to free will have their verses, and those who hold to predestination have their verses. We then load it up in our theological gun and shoot them at each other. For those who are new to the faith, you may wonder, “What in the world are you talking about?” But for those who may have been in Baptist world for any amount of time know how contentious this topic can be.
But it doesn’t have to be. A few years ago, I was talking to a pastor of an evangelical church in Trinidad & Tobago who never shied away from preaching on this topic. I’ll never forget what He said: “Our people need to see God’s side of salvation as well.” I never forgot that. The Father wants us to see that! Christ explicitly spoke of this. The Spirit inspired the writers to talk about this. So let’s not shy away from what God has spoken. We didn’t last week—nor should we this week.
Turn with me to Ephesians 1:3-14:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight9 making known[b] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
We as Americans trumpet freedom. So when we see that God chooses or predestines or elects, what happens in our hearts when we hear this? If you’re like most Americans or even Western Europeans, you feel this is God infringing upon your autonomy and upon your freedom. Yet, other countries who have a monarch and who endure much persecution have little trouble with this doctrine of predestination.
My aim is to show you that the doctrine of predestination is not only biblical, but is necessary for us to have any hope of holiness, comfort, and perseverance. For the Apostle Paul and all other writers of Scripture, preaching and teaching on this topic was not simply a theological exercise, but a pastoral exhortation. It extols the sovereignty of God—His rule and reign over all things in His creation—including us. Every part of our spiritual lives revolves around two words: “in him” or “in Christ.”
Let’s take a look at this and numerous other passages.
The greatest spiritual blessing He gives: “in Christ.”
Verse 3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Paul starts this off with a prayer: “Blessed be… .” All prayer is grounded in a belief in the sovereignty of God.
So, before he mentions His choosing or predestinating believers, we reminds us that, through Christ, the Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Yet, none of those blessings would be possible without the greatest spiritual blessing He gave—His chosen Son, Jesus. And since God rules and reigns over every molecule, every atom, every electron, He is most able to deliver, even when it seems a tall order.
How did He choose us? In verse 4, it says: “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” This speaks to a number of things. First, we are chosen/predestined in Christ, not in ourselves. One, that God did not wait for us to choose Him, but chose us even before we were born—even before the world began. We even see this in Revelation 13:8 as the beast who would come and many would worship. But who would worship him? “And all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” God has called out a spiritual blessing in Christ for protection and a maintenance of a witness in the world.
It was not based on our obedience. Look with me at Deuteronomy 7:7-8:
7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
It’s not due to numbers. Were chosen not because of how obedient we were or how many we were. In fact, that’s where free will comes in. We were chosen in spite of our disobedience and in spite of our lack of number. He did this because he resolved before one ray of light broke through the darkness of the universe. And as we read through the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, we see that God did not choose them due to their obedience. Repeatedly, God gave spoke of how “stiffnecked and stubborn” they were, but they remained His people through the covenant He made through Abraham:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So us being predestined in Him brings about a great comfort to us. We are chosen in him, therefore, His calling and choosing are what keeps us. This is where the free will comes in. What do we mean by free will? What we usually mean is that we are autonomous individuals who make our own choices and decisions without any coercion from anyone—even God. God may nudge, but ultimately it’s our decision.
I believe that’s how we process it. But we need to turn to the Scriptures and look at Romans 3:9-10:
For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
The Bible tells us three chapters later in Romans 6 that we are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. So if we talk about free will in any sense at all like what was up top, how is our will free? It’s not. It’s either coerced by sin and self, or it’s coerced by the Spirit. Who has free will? It’s here we find our greatest spiritual comfort.
The greatest spiritual comfort He gives: “according to the purpose of His will.”
This is first found in verse 5: “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will. What affects God’s will? Nothing at all. This is a big God we serve, dear Christian!
In James 1:17-18:
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
God’s nature, will, and his purpose do not change. He is the only truly free being. And His will
The next place is in v. 9 where he makes known to us the purpose of His will. Set forth in Christ as far as how and when the fullness of time would occur. So God even predestined how long the world would last. He ordained when he would let us know the fullness of his will through Christ.
Lastly in verse 11: Then our inheritance that we have obtained because it was “predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
So you say, how is this comforting? In the same way that so many find comfort in Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” That’s right: purpose. And what’s the purpose? Romans 8:29-30:
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Through all of what God intends for us is found in verse 29 that also connects with Ephesians 1:4: The purpose is to conform us to the image of His Son (the “in him”). When we go back to Ephesians 1:4: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Through God’s work, he seeks to work in us and move in us. Even as we are not righteous, not seeking after him, after all of us going astray—God worked before the foundation of the world to set apart a people (holy), to purchase the sins of those people whom God called out, and then the Father by the Spirit moves in us to conform us to the image of His Son! It’s all of grace! It’s all of God.
- The greatest spiritual response we give: “to the praise of His glorious grace.”
We’ve spent much time talking about God predestining, choosing, and electing. So am I saying that there’s no need for us to respond? No, no, and no! In Ephesians 1:13-14, we read this:
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
So much of the NT, we see that when belief and response come, it’s from the work that God already has done in our hearts.
For instance: Jesus said in John 6:37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” All that the Father gives to me will come to me, which means there’s a certain number that God has called out—and they will respond. Seven verses later in John 6:44, we again see Jesus say, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” God is the great initiator—and give us the gift of faith and belief!
In Matthew 11:28, we read of how Jesus tells us to, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.” But what about Matthew 11:25-27:
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding andrevealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[a] 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Folks come and say, “What about John 3:16?” “Whosover believes.” That is absolutely true! Whosover believes. But who are the ‘whosoever’? Earlier, Jesus said that one had to be ‘born of the Spirit’ or ‘born again.” In John 3:5-8:
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ 8 The wind[e] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
So is the ‘whosoever’ in John 3:16 anyone, or those whom God is working and calling? And those who are born of the Spirit, are sealed by the Spirit—protected and preserved! No emperor, no unbelief, no Satan can take them out of his hand.
In John 1:12-13: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
So one may say, “Then why should we share the gospel if God is working and saving without our aid?” For one, he commands us. For two, it fuels our evangelism to know that we aren’t the ones doing the saving—that’s God’s job. We are called to plant the seeds for which God will bring the growth (1 Corinthians 3:8). When someone asked Charles Spurgeon how he reconciled the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election and predestination with preaching the gospel and calling people to repentance, he said in the way only Spurgeon could:
“I never have to reconcile friends. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility have never had a falling out with each other. I do not need to reconcile what God has joined together. Where these two truths meet I do not know, nor do I want to know. They do not puzzle me, since I have given up my mind to believing them both.”
Do you understand it? Probably not! Do I understand it? I still struggle with it. But I’m not called to preach and teach and embrace that which I understand, but also that which I do not completely comprehend! But God has revealed it in His Word. He has spoken, and we must listen. What a big God we serve to send Christ to continue and complete a work that took place before anything was around, to have a purpose put forth and completed, and to have a big God in Christ worthy of our praise! This is the goal: total glorification and satisfaction in Him! Are we satisfied?