Six Facets of Scandalous Grace, Pt 1: Predestination
How a two-angle perspective turns this doctrine into a source of praise and adoration rather than controversy and conflict.
This is Part 1 is our Six Facets of Scandalous Grace series.
Creekstone began as dream to see a church tie and tether everything about its ministry to the cross of the risen Jesus.
Selfishly, I wanted this kind of church for my kids. My deep desire for them was for them to grow up in a context where the gospel would be the defining truth of their lives. I wanted them to be shaped spiritually by a church that taught, preached, lived, and breathed grace—a church that existed to glorify God by helping people come alive to the wonder, beauty, and transforming power of that grace.
What I wanted for them, I’ve wanted for those in the church and for you, my readers. Therefore, over the next six weeks, I want to take you on an epic journey to see and savor six facets of God’s scandalous grace in Jesus that span the horizon from before time to eternity future. Though epic might be an oversell of my ability to communicate, I assure you the topic, if accurately described, is monumental in theological scope and personal application.
The first facet for us to see and savor on the journey is God’s predestinating grace, which Paul describes in Ephesians 1:3-14.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 11 In him we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
A Wellspring for Worship
The first thing you may have noticed is Paul exults in praise to God four times in these verses. For him, the doctrine of predestination is not a source of controversy and conflict but a wellspring of worship and devotion.
You also may have noticed that the analogy Paul uses for predestinating grace is adoption. In the same way that adoptive parents choose a child to bring into their family, God chooses to bring people into his family.
When Jesus reminds the disciples in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, I chose you,” the doctrine of predestinating, or electing grace, says, “You did not choose God, he chose you.” Not because of your goodness or worthiness, but as an act of mercy and kindness.
That is the way adoption works. It is the perfect analogy for grace.
The Foundational Motive
The reason some are chosen and others are not is a mystery. On this side of heaven, we don’t have an answer that is likely to fully satisfy our intellectual curiosity or emotional demands. But we do have a clue because the analogy of adoption reveals God’s heart for the elect. As the end of verse 4 and beginning of verse 5 states, “In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons.”
In the Old Testament, when God set Israel apart from other nations, we read in Deuteronomy 7:7-8,
“7 The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
Whether the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant or the people of God in the New Covenant, the ultimate ground of spiritual adoption and rescue from the oppression of our sin is the same as human adoption. Why do parents adopt? Not because of the child’s worthiness. The most fundamental motive is love—a deep desire to pour out blessing and kindness.
Other than the electing love of God, all we know is we are predestined, as Paul writes in Ephesians 1, “5 in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Verse 11 reinforces the idea, saying, “We were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” 1
God’s sovereign plan for history includes sovereign grace in salvation, where the Lord sets his affection on those whom he chooses. If you trust the blood of Jesus to cancel your sin debt and reconcile you to God as Father, you can know you are of the elect.
Since the doctrine is clearly taught in the Bible, the issue is not whether you believe in the doctrine of predestination but what you believe about it. The issue is interpretation.
I empathize with folks who struggle with predestination. There are Bible passages that indicate grace is available to any who will choose to believe the gospel. There are other texts that indicate that those who choose to believe have first been chosen by God.
Ready for a shocker?
Both are true.
Consider the illustration of a filmmaker. He has cameras on the ground level that represent the view from the perspective of the characters. But he also has sky-view cameras, above the action looking down, revealing a God-like perspective from heaven.
These camera angles represent the two kinds of passages in the Bible. There are ground-level passages such as John 3:16, which sees the gospel from a human perspective, proclaiming, “Whosoever believes shall not perish.” It is an open invitation—a free offer for any and all to receive the gift of grace in Jesus.
Then there are sky-view passages, such as Acts 13:48, which see the gospel from heaven’s perspective, explaining why some people responded to Paul’s preaching with faith while others rejected it. In that text, Luke says, “Those who were appointed to eternal life believed.” The Greek word translated appointed (τάσσω) may also be translated chosen, predetermined, and decreed.
Both ground level and sky-view passages are in the Bible. Rather than see them as competing texts, we should regard them as complementary texts representing two angles of salvation—the human view and the heavenly view.
Maybe a better question for us to ask as we navigate the election controversy is not why the Lord didn’t choose everyone, but why did he choose me?
As I begin to process the wonder of sovereign, saving, electing grace, I’ll begin to consider how the facet of predestination should impact my life. I want to suggest three simple implications. These are by no means exhaustive but more “for starters.”
1. Spiritual Security
Verses 6-7 remind us that God’s adopting grace has been “freely given to us…”1 Since we did nothing to earn, deserve, or gain our status as the beloved and forgiven sons and daughters of God, there is nothing we can do to lose it.
2. Missional Zeal
We read in other places in the New Testament that the elect come from every nation and people group. If that is the case, what greater privilege and joy than to be the means the Lord uses to deliver the gift he has prepared for them to receive? Whether as a goer or a sender, what a blessing to participate in the global advance of the gospel.
3. Genuine Humility
If there is one trait that should describe a follower of Jesus, it is humility. If there is one doctrine that should cultivate that trait, it is predestinating grace. I deserved the cross. But the Father chose to provide the Son as a substitute for this sinner, to make this sinner a son. How can I boast in anyone but Jesus and anything but grace?
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this: whichever interpretation you embrace for how to understand predestination, the bottom line is whether you have believed upon Jesus’ blood to cover your sin and reconcile you to God as Father? If you have, let’s celebrate that together. If you haven’t, you are invited to believe upon Jesus now and receive the gift of saving grace.
Verses 7-8 hammers the gospel nail further, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 *that he lavished on us*…”