God Predestined Us unto Sonship Through Jesus Christ
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
One of the saddest feelings in the world is the feeling that your life is going nowhere. You're alive. But you feel like there is no point in being alive. You get a little daydream—a little flicker—of what it might be like to be a part of something really great and really valuable, and what it might be like to have a significant part in it. But then you wake up and everything looks so small and insignificant and pitiful and out of the way and unknown and pointless.
Our Need for a Meaningful, Purposeful Future
We were not made to live without a destiny. We were made to be sustained by a meaningful, purposeful future. We were made to be strengthened each day by this assurance, this confidence: that what is happening in our lives today, no matter how mundane and ordinary, is a really significant step toward something great and good and beautiful tomorrow.
When that connection breaks down—between my present life and a great and good and beautiful destiny—I have three choices:
- I can kill myself; or
- I can numb myself (with alcohol or drugs or television or pornography or romance novels or computers or frantic work or frantic play); or
- I can seek to reestablish the connection by finding what my true destiny really is.
An Illustration from a Nazi Concentration Camp
In a Nazi concentration camp in Hungary during the Second World War prisoners were forced to do nauseating work in a sewage plant. But it was work; and something was accomplished. Then the plant was destroyed by allied bombers. So the Nazi officers arranged for the prisoners to shovel sand into carts and drag it to the other end of the plant and dump it. The next day they ordered them to shovel it back into the carts and bring it to where they started. And so it went for days.
Finally one old man began crying uncontrollably; the guards hauled him away. Another screamed until he was beaten into silence. Then a young man who had survived three years in the camp darted away from the group. The guards shouted for him to stop as he ran toward the electrified fence. The other prisoners cried out, but it was too late; there was a blinding flash and a terrible sizzling noise as smoke puffed from his smoldering flesh. In the days that followed, dozens of the prisoners went mad and ran from their work only to be shot by guards or electrocuted by the fence (Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict, p. 68).
We were made to be sustained by a purposeful future. We were made to live in the assurance of a significant destiny.
"Destiny" and Predestination
I use the word destiny simply to connect this tremendous cry of the human heart with the word predestination in today's text, Ephesians 1:5. We began last week with verse 4: "God chose us in him before the foundation of the world." This week we take up verse 5: "God predestined us to sonship through Jesus Christ for himself according to the good pleasure of his will."
I want to establish in your hearts this morning—you who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and count him your Master and Savior and Hope—I want to establish in your hearts an assured destiny, a great and good and beautiful future, so that you don't ever have to sob over empty days or scream over futility or throw yourself on the wires because there is no future worth living for. And the way I want to establish this destiny in your heart and make it firm is by showing you two things in this text: the goal of your destiny, and the ground of your destiny.
1. The Goal of Our Destiny
First, let's focus our attention on the goal of our destiny. What are we destined for?
Predestined for Sonship to Bear the Family Likeness
Verse 5 gives part of the answer: "God predestined us for sonship." Our destiny from before the creation of the world was to become the children of God.
The difference between predestination, which is mentioned in verse 5, and election (or choosing) which is mentioned in verse 4, is that election refers to God's freedom in choosing whom he will predestine. Predestination refers to the goal or destiny for which he chose them. Election is God's choosing whom he will, and predestination is God's determination that they will become his children.
When God chose you, he had a purpose, and so he predestined that purpose to come about, namely, that you would become a child of God. That you would be part of his family. That you would become an heir of all that God owns. That you would take on the family likeness.
Your destiny to be God's children is mentioned in verse 5: "He predestined us unto sonship." And one meaning of that, the family likeness, is mentioned at the end of verse 4: "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world [Why? For what destiny?] that we should be holy and blameless before him in love." That's the practical content of our destiny as God's children. We are destined to take on the character of God our Father, the character of holiness and blamelessness. That's our destiny.
Holy and Blameless "In Love"
Now notice where I am putting the little phrase "in love." I'm making it a part of the end of verse 4, not the beginning of verse 5. My reading is found in the footnote in your Bible if you have an RSV or NIV or an NASB. I'm following the KJV and the NRSV.
Here's the difference: I'm suggesting that verse 4 reads, "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love." "In love" goes with holy and blameless and shows us what holiness is.
The other way of reading it puts "in love" with predestine in verse 5 and says, "He predestined us in love unto sonship." Here it refers to the love of God and tells us the way he predestined us. The order of the words in Greek allows for both of these readings.
Four Parallels with 1 Thessalonians 3:12–13
Here's the main reason I go with the KJV and put it with verse 4 and make love the essence of our holiness. There is a parallel in 1 Thessalonians 3:12–13 that goes like this:
May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men . . . so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father.
To me it is very remarkable that there are at least four parallels with our text:
- the phrase "in love" ("may God cause you
to abound in love"),
- the combination of blamelessness and holiness
("that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness"),
phrase "before our God" ("holiness before our God") which
corresponds to the phrase "holy and blameless before him" in
- and the reference to God as our Father just as we have the focus on sonship in Ephesians 1:5.
Our Destiny to Live in and Walk in Love
All that says to me that just as love is the pathway to holiness in 1 Thessalonians 3:12, so love is the pathway to holiness in Ephesians 1:4. And so to live in love and to walk in love is part of our destiny in Ephesians 1:4–5. God predestined us to be his children and that means he destined us to be like him—to be holy, to be blameless, that is, to live in love to each other and to all men.
John put it like this in 1 John 3:10, "By this the children of God . . . are manifest . . . the one who does not love his brother is not [a child] of God."
Your destiny is to be holy as your Father is holy, and that means that your very essence is to love, for God, your Father, is love (1 John 4:8). You are predestined to be like your Father.
Our Highest Destiny
But that's not your highest destiny. Your highest destiny is described in verse 6. Why has God predestined us to sonship and holiness and blamelessness and love? Verse 6: "To the praise of the glory of his grace." Our holiness and our blamelessness and our love and our sonship are not ends in themselves. They exist for something greater: the praise of the glory of God's grace.
The ultimate goal of God in election and predestination is that God might be praised for his glory. And the highest point of that glory is grace. This is the final goal of our destiny. There is no higher hope, no greater tomorrow, no more meaningful future, no more worthy cause to live for, than to reflect and praise the glory of God's grace forever and ever.
The certainty of that destiny is grounded in the freedom of God and the all-sufficient work of his Son Jesus.
2. The Ground of Our Destiny
So consider finally and briefly the ground of your destiny. We've seen the goal. Now we look at the ground or foundation.
"Through Jesus Christ"
In verse 5 Paul says, "God predestined us to sonship through Jesus Christ." Now to see what that means, look at Ephesians 5:25–27.
25) Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26) that he might sanctify her [that is, "make her holy"] . . . 27) that he might present the church to himself in glory, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she might be holy and blameless.
The same two words from Ephesians 1:4! In other words, the basis of your becoming holy and blameless before God is the loving self-sacrifice of Christ on your behalf. The ground of our destiny to be holy and blameless in love as God's children is the death of Jesus in our place.
This means that when God chose you before the foundation of the world, and predestined you to be his holy, blameless, loving child, he also predestined his Son to die for you. The ground of your destiny is not only that the Son of God died for you, but that God planned it that way from the beginning. "He predestined us to sonship through Jesus Christ." The end was predestined and the means were predestined. Our holiness and Jesus' death.
The Sovereign, Free Will of God
But the ultimate ground, the deepest foundation, of our becoming blameless and holy in love is not the death of God's Son. Verse 5 points to a deeper ground, namely, the sovereign, free will of God.
Verse 5 says, "God predestined us to sonship through Jesus Christ for himself according to the good pleasure of his will." The point of this text is to teach every believer this morning that we owe our adoption into God's family to the "good pleasure of God's will." We were chosen before the foundation of the world; we were predestined to sonship and holiness and love not according to what we had done, or according to what we understood, or according to who our parents were, or according to our race, or according to religious background, or according to where we lived, or according to our work or our status or wealth, or according to what we willed. We were chosen and predestined according to the good pleasure of God's will.
And the point of the double phrase (not just "according to his will" but) "the good pleasure of his will" is meant to communicate to us that God chose us and predestined us without any binding reference point but his own sovereign will.
The sum of the matter is this: the ground of our predestination is the good pleasure of God's will, the goal of our predestination is the praise of God's glory, and the predestined connecting links between the good pleasure of his will and the praise of his glory are the death of his Son and the holiness of his people.
If you are trusting in Jesus Christ this morning, the roots of your life were planted in the eternal counsels of God, and the branches of your life are growing into an absolutely sure and glorious future with God. There are no unimportant days in your life. You don't ever have to go to bed at night feeling that your life is going nowhere. You don't ever have to give in to the lie that you are not connected to an awesome purpose.
For God chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world that you might be holy and blameless before him in love; he predestined you to sonship through Jesus Christ for himself according to the good pleasure of his will to the praise of the glory of his grace. Amen.