You know that feeling when you meet someone for the first time, and they remind you of someone else? Previous experiences shape our current perceptions.
Previous experiences also shape what we see in Scripture. We bring with us what we’ve heard and believed over the years. That’s why it’s such a surprise when someone reads it differently.
A practical example: there’s a tradition where words like predestination and election mean God choosing some individuals to save, and others to damn. If you’ve accepted this all your life, you may not see another possibility — that it’s about God pre-planning the rescue of humanity through the Messiah, not pre-assigning individual destinies for heaven or hell.
Election language has its roots in the Abraham story. God chose the descendants of Abraham for a purpose. To save them, and damn the nations? No! The goal was to bless the nations. God chose Abraham’s family as the bearers of the blessing, not the exclusive beneficiaries. God’s plan was to benefit the world, not condemn it. And it worked. It was through a son of Abraham (Jesus) that God’s plan came together for the world, the plan he has been working on all along.
The destination God set from the start — what he had predestined — was the rescue of humanity from oppression under evil, back into his governance, in his Chosen One, Jesus our Lord.
The whole plan God implemented across the millennia comes together in the person of Jesus. When you see the Biblical narrative as God’s story fulfilled in Jesus, then:
- Predestination means God pre-planning the destination for his earthly realm, namely its return to his sovereign management through the ruler he appointed (Jesus Christ our Lord).
- Election means God choosing people to represent him, people through whom he works to restore the blessing of his sovereign authority over the earth in Jesus our Lord.
- The sovereignty of God means God is earth’s rightful ruler, and his sovereign reign (the kingdom of God) is restored in his earthly realm through Jesus, his anointed.
Let’s see how that approach works with a familiar passage about predestination and election. We’ll make three passes through this text.
First, here’s a paraphrase of how it has been misread as God’s sovereign power to save and damn individuals:
Ephesians 1:4-10, paraphrased as God saving/damning individuals
4 When he created the world, God had already elected us as the individuals to save (implying he always intended to damn the non-elect). He chose us to be the ones who are holy and blameless in his sight. 5 He predestined us and adopted us through Jesus Christ for no reason except that it pleased him to do so (i.e. it had nothing to do with our choice). 6 It’s only about his glory, dependent only on his grace freely given to the ones he chose to include in the Chosen One. 7-8 In him, we have been redeemed through his substitutionary blood sacrificed to forgive our guilty acts. Again this had nothing to do with us; it was all the result of the generous grace he extended to the elect on the basis of his own wisdom and knowledge. 9-10 We cannot understand why he chose us and rejected others; it’s purely to do with his purpose (nothing to do with us), the plan he always had to save the elect through Christ at the time he intended to reconcile the elect to himself.
Now the same passage, read as the story of our sovereign faithfully working out his plan to restore his earthly realm under his governance through his designated ruler:
Ephesians 1:4-10, paraphrased as God’s plan for humanity finding fulfilment in Christ
4 When God first fathered humanity in his image, he chose us to represent his devoted and blameless character in his earthly realm. 5 As an act of love, God pre-planned to return us to sonship by incorporating us into Jesus the Messiah. 6-8 How amazing is that! In him, through his death, we humans are emancipated from slavery, released from transgressions against God’s reign, just because God lavishes his generosity on us. 8-10 With all the wisdom in the world, God revealed what his good character had intended all along. It all came to light in the Messiah when the time was right: the reunification of everything in heaven and on earth, under the management of his anointed ruler.
Finally, here is the text from the New International Version. Read carefully, comparing each verse with the paraphrases above. Which story is it telling? A story about God assigning destinies to individuals? Or a story about God achieving what he planned — the restoration of his earthly realm to his sovereign governance, through his Anointed?
Ephesians 1:4-10 (NIV)
4 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 for adoption to sonship 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 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 reach their fulfilment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
Our personal destinies certainly flow out of what Jesus did for us. But don’t shrivel the gospel into a story about me when it’s the story of how Jesus fulfilled God’s plans.
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