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Climbing the Mountaintops of Ephesians

October 31, 2023

-Dr. J. Vernon McGee, from the Ephesians Bible Companion

Many people run for cover when they hear the word predestination. The natural man hates this word, and the average believer finds it difficult to accept at face value. Although the explanation might be clear, the truth it contains is hard to receive.

But let’s look closely at the pivotal verses that are like a walnut—hard to crack, but with a lot of goodies on the inside.

Justas He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. -Ephesians 1:4-5

God planned our salvation in eternity before we were even in this world. The plan initiated “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4) for the Lord Jesus Christ to enter time, and make our salvation possible by His death on the cross. After Jesus’ time on earth, God the Holy Spirit followed. He came to dwell with believers. He brings us to a saving knowledge of God’s grace revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Think about this: God has always been the One who does the saving. Our part has always been the sinning. You don’t find Jesus. He finds you. He is the One who goes after the lost sheep and brings us home.

God chose believers in Christ before the foundation of the world, way back in eternity past. He didn’t choose us because we were good or because we would do some good, but He did choose us so that we could do some good. The entire choice is thrown back on God’s wisdom and the goodness of God alone. The responsibility is on Him. If He did the choosing, then He’s responsible. That makes it quite wonderful!

Let’s look closer at the verse. “Just as” connects these new thoughts to the previous verse. God gives us spiritual blessings according to His purposes. Look how these blessings build: He blesses us “with every spiritual blessing,” which is then wrapped “in the heavenly places,” and finally put in the larger package of “in Christ.” The whole thought is: Open your gift and see what God has done for you, and then move out confidently in faith and live today on the high plane to which God has brought you. He’s made you His child and blessed you with all spiritual blessings. That’s the confidence we should live in today.

This world and this universe will operate according to God’s plan and purpose.

All this was according to His plan. God the Father planned the church, God the Son paid for the church, and God the Holy Spirit protects the church. The source of all our blessings is God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He takes us back to eternity past to help us see our salvation is completely from Him and not about us at all. God did it all.

We are climbing the mountaintops in Ephesians. We’re peeking into eternity past, and God is telling us how He planned the church.

Perhaps you’ve heard the word “election.” This means God chose us to be in Christ. People are not spiritually lost because they have not been elected. They are lost because they are sinners, and that is the way they want it and have chosen. The free will of man is never violated by the election of God. The lost person makes their own choice.

But to the lost sinner, God is prepared to extend His mercy.

These are the heights of Ephesians right now—it demands disciplined thinking. Some skirt the issue by saying they have “intellectual problems” with the Bible. But the hurdles aren’t creation versus evolution or if there was a literal flood or if Jonah was swallowed by a whale. The real problem is the Bible condemns the sin in our lives. God will save you when your heart is willing to turn to Him. He’s planned salvation like this so that He might bring you to heaven someday; and when you get there, you’re going to find out He’s the One who did it all.

Look at our verse again to see the next thing God did for us. The words “in love” really belong with verse five. “In love, having predestined us ….” Some say, Oh no, there’s that word predestination! But don’t be scared of this word—it is one of the most wonderful words in Scripture. These truths are like strong medicine. If you take it, it’ll do you good. You need to know you’ve been chosen in Him in order to stand for Him today. It makes a world of difference in your life.

Some would never imagine that predestination and love could be together in the same verse, but here they are. God’s love is behind this concept so many are afraid of. The word predestination means “to define, to mark out, literally to horizon.” If you live where it’s flat, you can see the horizon. You’re “horizoned”; you’re put in that area. When it refers to God, predestination describes God’s purpose for your life.

Predestination never refers to unsaved people. God doesn’t predestinate someone to be lost. If you are lost, it’s because you have rejected God’s remedy. It’s like a doctor offering a dying man the cure. “If you take this, it’ll heal you and you’ll live.” The man stares at the doctor and says, “I don’t believe you.” Then the man dies, and the doctor’s report accurately says he died of a certain disease. But there was a remedy, and he actually died because he didn’t take the remedy. God has provided a remedy for the lost to be saved. He never predestines anyone to be lost. In your free will, you determine your own choice.

Long ago, God decided to adopt us into His family through Jesus Christ and give us the position of full-grown heirs. He took tremendous pleasure in planning how to lavish us with salvation by the Spirit of God, giving us access to Him in a new way, through a new relationship (see 1 Peter 1:23).

This excerpt is from the Ephesians Bible Companion. Download yours for free.

My Turn

Questions for Thought and Discussion

  1. What does it tell us about God that He isn’t passive, that He pursues us for salvation?
  2. God chose believers before they were ever born, and not because they would do anything to deserve it. How does it make you feel about yourself to know God doesn’t make mistakes in His choices?
  3. What would you attempt for God today if you had more confidence?
  4. How does knowing we’ve been chosen by God enable us to live for Him?
  5. Adoption into God’s family means our position has changed. In your own words, how would you describe the old position of the believer compared to the new position?
  6. God did not elect us merely for us to occupy space; His purpose in electing us revolved around changing us, making us holy and blameless. But those things require our effort and cooperation. In what ways are you cooperating, or failing to cooperate, with the Spirit in those areas?
  7. Imagine you had been a companion of Paul’s when he wrote Ephesians. Would you have advised him to not use words like “predestination” or “election,” or would you tell him to leave them in?