A week ago, I was asked to study Ephesians 1 and then focus on what stood out to me. Ephesians 1 is filled with lingo used to support the doctrinal standpoint on predestination, which is understandably contentious in any discussion on the finer points of Christian doctrine, or honestly any discussion at all.
Let’s look at Ephesians 1. I have underlined the portions in which I will be focusing on. (‘destined’ in my translation is written in ‘predestined’ in other translations. Both words have, for all intents and purposes, the same functional meaning.)
(Ephesians 1.1-14, New Revised Standard Version)
1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory
(Ephesians 1.1-14, New Revised Standard Version)
Now, let’s break this down. Look at verses 4, 5, and 11, leaving out verse 13. This asserts that we are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, destined for adoption as children of the Father through Jesus’ atonement on the cross, and been made heirs to the inheritance of eternal life. This is a tricky successive string of assertions, as one could easily make and back up the inference that predestination – the argument that a person does not and cannot truly choose their own salvation as they were predestined to be saved and thus were saved from the moment they were born – is the biblical position on salvation. After all, listing the successive terms in this argument does seem to be hammering in the proverbial nail: ‘chosen before the foundation of the world, destined for adoption, so as to obtain an inheritance’
However, leaving the argument at that would be premature; jumping the proverbial gun, if you will. Notice that I have underlined verse fourteen. Although it doesn’t contain the predestination lingo common to all the former underlined verses, it is an immensely important contribution as it unravels the aforementioned argument of predestined salvation. Notice the conditional statements in the following snippet: “when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” The term ‘inheritance’ is post-mortem bequeathment terminology; put more simply, writing a will. This changes the entire doctrinal perspective of this argument.
Put simply, if my father were to die, and left me a share of his belongings in my inheritance, the inheritance would have existed before he died: the moment he penned it down in his will, it became reality. If I choose to accept the prerequisite conditions asserted in his will, I will receive my inheritance. If I do not accept the prerequisite conditions asserted in his will, I will not receive the inheritance that was portioned out to me.
The statement made in Ephesians 1, then, is not whether or not you are destined to be saved. The statement is that once you choose to be saved, you immediately meet the prerequisite conditions imposed upon the reception of your inheritance and thus are immediately, for all intents and purposes, the rightful heir to the ‘kingdom of god’. You now glory in Christ and he in you. You can now receive the love of Christ and redemption through his atonement. You are now sanctified and anointed in the Holy Spirit; chosen by God to be a vessel of his divine love. However, you still had to choose to believe before you could receive the inheritance that was yours.
In summary, if you did not take the time to truly read these paragraphs; ‘destined’ or ‘predestined’ is used to emphasize that our inheritance is already written in God’s will – however, we must hear and believe before we can receive our inheritance.