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Predestined to Adoption

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by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith


(Eph. 1:5)

Paul spoke of election before the foundation of the world in verse four and further explains the meaning of that election in verse 5. Election means choice. God chose certain people to be saved. Predestination is a slightly different idea. God has determined the "destination" of the elect beforehand. That destination is defined in the words "adoption as sons." Salvation in Christ is not just the forgiveness of sins and the gift of everlasting life. In addition to these blessings God exalts us to the position of being co-heirs with Jesus Christ. We are made the children of God with the privileges of an heir.


In Love Predestined


Some English versions of the Bible include the words "in love" at the end of verse four. This is a mistake. Verse five should begin "In love He predestinated." Love has a special emphasis here. Predestination is not, like some think, a cold fatalistic doctrine. God is not just flipping a coin to decide which sinners to keep and which to throw away. He determined to set His love on certain sinners "according to the good pleasure of His will." The ultimate cause of His love for us is in Himself, not in us. There is no explanation that reaches higher than the "good pleasure of His will,"


God's election of a certain group of people--the very same people that John calls "the world" in John 3:16-17--was election from love and unto love. Those whom He chose, He set His infinite love upon, determining that they would be brought into a position of blessing and honor. Love seeks to bless. Love rejoices to give. God so loved us that He gave His only Son for us. But His love was not satisfied just to deliver us from death. He so loved us that He determined to make us like His only Son.


This is what predestination is about. It is the doctrine that God has determined that the elect will finally be granted the highest blessing of salvation, conformity to Christ.


Perhaps the most quoted verse in the Bible is actually referring to this same predestinating love: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). It is awesome to think that every single thing in our lives has meaning and that God is working in every detail to bring about a good purpose. This truth enables us to make it through the trials of life.


But our basis for knowing this wonderful working of God is found in the next verse. We know that God is working in all things to bring about a blessing for His people because: "whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29). He has a specific purpose in saving us, that we should become like Christ. Now, if God has a purpose that He determined before the foundation of the world, we may be sure that He will accomplish that purpose. Especially when we remember that this purpose is the purpose of infinite love.




What God predestinated us unto was adoption as sons. Paul uses a special Greek word to designate adoption. It means "to place as a son." This word is used five times in the New Testament (Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). The passage in Galations gives us a good idea of its general meaning. Paul says that we are all God's sons through faith in Christ (3:26). In baptism we put on Christ, we were officially adopted into the Church through a covenantal, legal ceremony (3:27). As a result there are no more distinctions between the Jew and the Gentile, nor between slaves and freeman, or even between male and female. In Christ we are all one and all God's sons. Our legal status before God is the same (3:28). This also means that we are the true seed of Abraham and the heirs of the covenantal blessing (3:29).


Paul goes on to explain that the heir is treated like a slave when he is a child. That is to say, he is not free, but lives under the authority of parents and teachers (4:1-2). This points to the function of the Mosaic covenant. It was a guardian covenant for an immature faith (4:3). But now Christ has come and redeemed us so that we might receive the full blessing of salvation, adoption unto sonship (4:4-5). The Holy Spirit of God is given to God's sons so that we recognize ourselves to be what we are, and so that we will act like what we are. The first act of a son, and in a sense the most important, is to cry out "Abba, Father" (4:6).


In this passage we see that to be a son means to have the status and privilege of an heir. The gift of the Spirit brings us to experience the blessings granted to us in the covenant.


Paul's teaching in Romans 8 is similar. We are told that only those who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God, that is, sonship is not just a position, it is a position whose possession results in a certain lifestyle (8:14). The gift of the Spirit guarantees that we will not remain in bondage to the flesh because the Spirit is the Spirit of adoption who moves us to cry out "Abba, Father" (8:15). The Spirit confirms our sonship by witnessing in our hearts (8:16). To be a child of God means to be an heir and heirship means to be a joint-heir with Christ! But before we inherit the glory, we must walk through the path of suffering (8:17).


What emerges from a comparison of these passages is that God has predestinated us to become sons, which is to say, heirs. Men and women, Greeks and Jews, slaves and freeman are all equal in the sense that we are all "sons" and heirs of the Abrahamic blessing. Heirship also imports joint inheritance with Christ, which means to inherit the glory of God's kingdom together with Christ. This is what Jesus spoke of in His high priestly prayer: "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me" (Joh. 17:22-23).


God loves us so much that He determined before the foundation of the world to bring us into conformity with Christ and to allow us to participate in the glorious reign of Christ over all. And we know that He is working in our lives daily to bring about His determined purpose. We shall become like Christ and inherit all things with Him. Salvation "in Christ" means that we are so united to Him that the glory and dominion that belong to Him as the Son of God also belongs to us as the sons of God.


This exalted conception of salvation should move us to praise God without ceasing. Like Paul in Ephesians 1:1-14, we should overflow with thanksgiving when we think of the great salvation God has granted us. It should comfort us in our trials since we have such an infallible assurance of God's loving care. It should also provoke us to greater efforts to attain maturity in Christ for we know that our prayers for growth in Christ will be answered and our struggle for spiritual growth will be rewarded with success. We cannot fail to become more like Christ, because God Himself has purposed that wonderful end of our salvation before He even created the world.

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