Ephesians Study Part 6: Free Will, Election, Adoption


Last week we studied what Paul had in mind as he spoke to the churches of Asia Minor in what we now call verse 3 and 4 of chapter one.  He was making the point that God chooses Christians; Christians don't choose God.  He was also making the point that each of us as believers was chosen by God before the beginning of time, and that through Jesus we became the recipients of all of God's blessings.

Not bad for two verses.


So this morning we pick up with what is really the beginning of verse 5, although it is shown as two words before verse 5 starts in our modern translations.  Remember that everything about verses three through fourteen  is focused on Jesus.  As we study these next verses continue to keep that in mind.

In these two verses Paul is explaining God's plan.  Any time that anyone gets into discussions of free will vs. predestination, they are in danger of falling off a cliff.  In fact Jesus got into such a discussion and they tried to throw him off a cliff.  Jesus was explaining that God saves who he wants to and does not save others.  That didn’t sell well in Nazareth.  At Nazareth today they can take you to a cliff there from which it is presumed that they tried to throw him off. [That cliff is locally called the Mount of Precipice.  This modern hotel (right) is built there; its address is 2015 Mount of Precipice!]

After Jesus spent 40 days in the desert being tested, he returned to Nazareth, his home town, and proceeded to start teaching in the Synagogue.  During that session, he made the point that God chooses who to bless and who not to, and he does not bless everyone.  He had been reading to then from Isaiah. 

Jesus told them: 

Jesus ignored them and walked away, right through them.  I have to be a little more careful. 

The concept we discussed last week that God choose each of us before the beginning of time and it really wasn't us choosing God but simply our accepting his offer, reminds me of the story that I ran across, purported to have been told by J. Vernon Magee, a famous Christians preacher and writer: 

It seems that there was a young boy who was applying for church membership and was being interviewed by the deacons to judge whether he was a Christian or not.  They ask him how he came to accept Jesus and he told them: I did my part and Jesus did his.  They then ask him what he meant by that and he said “my part was the sinnin’.  I ran away from him as fast as I could, but he run me down”.  He passed the test. 

This question of predestination and election vs. freewill is one of the more difficult concepts in Christianity.  The confusion or apparent contradiction, comes from failing to understand from whose perspective it is being discussed.  It is also made more complex by our inability to understand how God can know everything that will ever happen before time even began.  Since God is outside of time and we are not, he is not just patient and has a lot of time, he is outside time, he does not see any difference between some future event which he already knew would occur and something which we see as a real-time decision, in our concept of linear time. 

Remember back in the Genesis studies, we became aware of the scientifically supported concept that time is not linear.  In fact time is not a constant.  It varies by mass and acceleration.  But we won’t go there now. 

Let me give you an example of foreknowledge and free will: 

In the Old Testament there are predictions that Judas would betray Jesus and in fact for what price.  God knew he was going to do it so it was no big deal for him to cause the psalmist to write it hundreds of years before it occurred.  So you can say that Judas was predestined to betray Jesus -- God know beforehand that he would.  However, Judas' decision to betray Jesus is no less a sin than if it had not been prophesied.  Judas decided to do it, and God knew he would. 

The Greek word translated as predestined is the word  proorizo, which means to limit in advance, to predetermine. The Greek tense used here is the aorist tense which means that it was a specific action done in the past and completed.  This term is only used in the New Testament referring to God's purposes for his people.  Predestination has to do only with God's people and God's purpose for those people; it refers only to those who are saved.   

The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man or man’s free choice are both taught in the New Testament.  Although there seems to be an apparent contradiction, both are valid.  Let's go to John 6. 

(Jesus understands that some, not all will be given to Jesus.) 

    ...and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.  38   For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  39   And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. --John 6:37-39.

If God wants Jesus to “ lose none”  I’m willing to assume Jesus will not lose any.  That is security.  That is good enough for me.  But it is clear that not everyone will be given to Jesus by God. 

    40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." 

If salvation could be lost, then Jesus lied, if he can lose some. 

There are verses in the Bible that say that God’s will is that all will be saved.  But Jesus is telling us that God’s will is that only those who accept Jesus, make the grade.  In fact this verse says that God’s will is that everyone that accepts Jesus will have eternal life, not every one ever born. 

    "… The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me,  26   but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.  27   My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  28   I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand."   --John 10:25-28.

We as believers are in the hand of Jesus, and he does not let go.  No one can snatch us away.

But there is more: 

    29   My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. 

Think of it like this.  You as a believer are in the Hand of Jesus, covered by the hand of God.  Two hands to protect.  That is better than Allstate.

Can’t escape from God’s and Jesus’ hands. 

If you want to be secure then you want to be one of the sheep.  It's not the job of the sheep to keep the sheep, but of the shepherd to keep the sheep.  Who's your shepherd?  Is your shepherd Jesus Christ?  Then you're safe. 

Let’s look at the question of predestination from one more perspective.  You might ask, “Why does God choose to condemn some people to Hell, why does de select some to refuse to accept Jesus?”  Does he know that some people just deserve to go to hell?  Is that why he predestines them to refuse Jesus? 

God does not send people to hell because they are bad, sinful, evil.  Every believer that he has predestined to accept Jesus is bad, sinful and evil.  That is not the test.  God offers Jesus to every person ever born.  Many choose to refuse the offer.  It is the unbeliever that makes the choice, not God. 

Do you remember the Ironside paradox? 

A person is walking down a hallway and notices a door with a sign over it that says “Whosoever will may enter.” The person stops and considers it.  He decides to try the knob and finds that the door is unlocked, and he goes into the room.  As he steps in, he sees a banquet table set for a fine celebration, and he notices that there is a place card at one of the place settings that has his name on it.  He was expected. Of course that surprises him.  Then he turns around and sees that over the door, on the inside, is another sign that reads “Foreordained before the foundation of the world.”  --Dr. Harry A. Ironside. 

His entering the room was his free will decision.  But the host knew that he would choose to come in.  That is free will and predestination.  It would be easier for us to understand if we used the word “foreknown” rather than predestined, but the concept is the same. 

God has given you free choice.  If he had not, there would be no action of love.  You would be a robot, an automaton.  God would receive no joy or worship by a robot choosing him because he had been programming with that as the only decision. 

Jesus died for every human.  His salvation is available to everyone. Many say no. Don’t think he died for unbelievers? 

    … Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  2  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."  --1 John 2:1-2.

He died for the unbelievers too! 

Here is a shocker:  This great plan of God, partially fails.  God does not get what he really wants out of the deal. The scripture says: 

    "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."  --2 Peter 3:9.

Will all come to repentance?  Clearly not. So interestingly enough, God does not get what he wants, because he gave man free will and many say no. 

Predestination is never used of an unbeliever.  God does not shut the door on anyone, they shut the door. 

Do you want to know if you are one of the elect?  Do you want to know if you were predestined before the foundation of the world?  It is simple.  How have you responded to the call to Jesus?  Accepted, you were predestined.  Refused, maybe it is time to reconsider. 

God never condemns those who deserve to be saved! 

How many are there? 


Fortunately, he does save some who deserve to be condemned, you and me.  The lost are lost because they chose to be lost.  They are lost by their own choice. 


There is one more aspect of Paul message in these two verses that I want to deal with.  It is not that hard to grasp, but I think it is grossly underestimated. 

    In love  5  he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ… --Ephesians 1:4-5.

Adoption as used by Paul here, is a lot more than we comprehend.  The concept of adoption used here is a Roman concept, not a Jewish one. Under the Roman system, not all offspring were heirs. As a child came of age, if the father chose that child to be an heir, he made that selection by an act of adoption.  It was a formal ceremony.  Even though the child was his child, the election to become an heir was by the act of adoption. Surprisingly, a slave could also be selected by the father to become an heir.  And that was also by the act of adoption.  Adoption was the act of giving adult status and heirship. Prior to the ceremony of adoption, a natural born son had the same status as a servant. 

When a father selected a child or a slave for adoption, the ceremony legally created a new person.  Even the debts and obligations of the person before were eliminated.  If a slave, any baggage before the adoption was gone, abolished as if they never had existed. 

You do not get into God’s family by adoption as we think of adoption; an orphan taken into a family and treated like a natural child of the family.  You get into God’s family by being born into the family, the rebirth that comes with salvation.  The New Testament is full of references to being born again. 

The term "adoption" as used by Paul here, refers to the fact that a believer, having been reborn into God’s family, is given adult status, given the status of an heir, so that we can immediately claim our inheritance and enjoy our spiritual wealth.  An infant cannot legally use his potential inheritance: 

Paul expounds on this concept in Galatians: 

    What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.  2  He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.  3  So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.  4  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,  5  to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.  6  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."  7  So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.  --Galatians 4:1-7.

A child can’t use a potential inheritance, but an adult son, having gone through the ceremony of adoption, can.  The future aspect of the rewards of adoption are shown in Romans: 

    We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  23  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  --Romans 8:22-23.

Our adoption brings us into the ownership of the inheritance and when we are resurrected with our new bodies, we conclude the receipt of the inheritance. 

Paul tells us that God knew we were coming to the party, he had the table set before we arrived.  And he decided to adopt us as full heirs, with adult status and the right to claim our inheritance. 

I told you Paul was going to lay out deep stuff.  We are just beginning. 

Next week:

We will proceed on with Chapter One, verse 7.