Predestination in Ephesians

Calvinistic predestination is the idea that God has chosen specific persons to be destined for salvation and, consequently, specific persons to be destined for condemnation. Those who hold this doctrine state that God does not look into a person’s heart or future to see what manner of person he or she is or actions that they will take; God arbitrarily chooses those who will be saved. In examining this teaching, we must look to God’s word and ask if predestination is a biblical teaching.

One of the most used passages to defend this teaching will answer this question for us: Ephesians 1:3-14. If you will take notice of a few verses, you will see that this passage says, “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (v. 4), “he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (v. 5), and “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” (v. 11). Three verses in a very short passage that either mention or describe predestination supports the idea that predestination is a biblical teaching; however, we can’t approach this passage by defining predestination on our own terms. We must define predestination as it was intended to be defined in the context of what was written.

Verse 4 simply defines predestination for us: it is God’s choosing his people before the world was made. This sounds like Calvinistic predestination, but let’s look closer at the following verses where we see a very important phrase not emphasized in the quotations. In verse 5, we see that it was “according to the purpose of his will” that we be predestined; again, in verse 11 these things were according to God’s will.

We must ask the question, then: “What is God’s will?” Verse 9 answers this for us: “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.” It was “according to God’s purpose” to make known to us the mystery of his will. Later (in Ephesians 3:6) we learn “this mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” It is God’s will, and his plan from the beginning (the plan he predestined) to give us the gospel by which we are saved and made “members of the same body.”

We see this again evidenced within the passage: It was when the Ephesians “heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” and “believed in him” that they were then “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (v. 13). It was the gospel—the plan that God predestined—that saved the Ephesians. God did not predestine specific persons to salvation or condemnation; he predestined a plan by which we make the decision to either obey or disobey and be saved or condemned, respectively.