A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com

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Presented at Trinity Fellowhip during October 1997

Ephesians 1:5

Predestined to Adoption "He predestined us to adoption as sons, through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the kind intention of his will."

As we continue to study this great affirmation of what God has done for us in Christ, we must remember that its purpose is to inspire us to walk worthily of our calling by enlightening us as to what a great and glorious calling it is. Therefore we have seen God's purpose is to glorify himself through his Son; that the most wonderful way he does this is by saving sinners; that his purpose is not just to save them but also to unite them to himself though Christ in one great Body, the Church, through which he will make his glory known in all of creation; that to this end he chose to bless us before the foundations of the earth by making us holy and blameless before him in love; that to accomplish this purpose for his chosen ones he sent Christ to die for them and raised Him to reign in them; and that no cause is sufficient to account for how sinners come to share in that purpose except for the sovereign will and grace of God himself. Now, if that's not enough to overwhelm you completely, the grand climax comes in verse 5: Those chosen for this blessing have also been predestined to adoption as sons (and daughters) through Jesus Christ to himself.


The word "predestine" literally means "to mark out beforehand." A good analogy would be a forester going through the woods and designating in advance those trees to be cut (or spared) by marking them with a ribbon or blaze of paint. Those trees would be pre-destined, set aside for a specific purpose to be realized in the future. Election is about the act of choosing, of separating out; Predestination is about the purpose for which we were chosen.

Two interpretations of predestination have prevailed among Bible-believing people. The first is that it is based on foreknowledge. It is simply God's declaration that he would make sons out of whoever he foresaw as believing. This is an attractive view because it seems to relieve our uneasiness about God's fairness. Man decides whether or not to believe, and God simply responds to man's response, putting the blame squarely on our shoulders alone if we end up in Hell. Also, this view has some apparent biblical support. Rom. 8:29 says that whom he foreknew he predestined, and 1 Pet. 1:2 says that we are predestined according to the foreknowledge of God.

The other view is that God's predestining is sovereign and absolute, based only on his grace and not on anything (fore)seen in us. Why would anyone want to adopt such a problematic idea? Well, there are scriptural passages which seem to see it that way, such as Jn. 1:13, in which it does not depend on him who wills but on him who calls, and this passage itself, which attributes predestination not to our belief (fore)seen, but on "the kind intention of his will." Also, when you fully consider God's eternality, omniscience, and omnipotence, the first view does not solve the problem of God's fairness after all. If God, knowing before creation that person X would not believe and hence would go to Hell, nevertheless, in full posession of this knowledge, decides to go ahead with creation, he has doomed X to Hell just as effectively as if he were the world's worst hyper-Calvinist. Further, the other view leads to a logical contradiction. It has God predestining us to believe and be saved and adopted because he foresees us as believing. But how could he foresee this if he had not predestined it, since the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit? Therefore, since the Arminian view does not solve the problems it claims to solve, but introduces others, we should go with the stronger view as more in keeping with Sola Gratia, and simply determine to live with those problems which neither we nor our opponents can explain--unless Rom. 8:29 and 1 Pet. 1:2 do teach the other view. But they do not. They say that foreknowledge and predestination are coordinated, but they do not say how; they do not say that God foresees faith and therefore predestines the very faith he has supposedly already foreseen.

Perhaps the best way of understanding foreknowledge is not in the sense of prediction but in that other biblical sense of knowing: foreloved. Before the fourndations of the world were laid, God saw you as you would be, before you had responded in faith or were able to respond, when you were still dead in your trespasses and sins. He not only saw you as you were, he not only chose you for his blessing, he also LOVED you and determined to make you his son or daughter and pay whatever price was necessary to bring you to that destiny--even Calvary.


Adoption is a legal transaction whereby one who by nature is not your son has sonship bestowed upon him, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities appertaining thereunto. The peculiar nature of the divine transaction may be seen in the following story.

There was a king who had one natural son, whom he loved with all his heart. "All that I have is yours," he said, "the kingdom and all its glory." "That's great," the son replied, "but it's too good to keep to ourselves. Let's share it." How could they do that? By adopting more sons and daughters. But how could they do that? "The other children cannot take on my nature," said the son, "so I will take on theirs." And he became a peasant. So now, who to adopt? Do they go to the Agency and pick out the most beautiful, smiling, perfect, princelike baby available? No. Do they have a contest and pick the most worthy? No. Do they choose someone from their own most trusted servants? No. They go out from the castle into the territory of the Father's most bitter enemy. There, surrounded by his children, with the blood of this one who hates them running in their veins, with the genes of this one whose will was ever bent against theirs in their very chromosomes, with the disposition of this Rebel firmly fixed in their hearts so that already in their infancy they futilely shake their puny little fists against this sovereign to pull him down from his throne that they might ascend it themselves--walking among such candidates--seeing them with eyes unclouded by any romantic notions of the goodness of man--contemplating them thus, so mired in the depths of their degradation that no change could be expected from them--contemplating these children of darkness thus, this King raised his sovereign, mighty, destiny-creating arm and said., "This one--this one--this one!" "This one shall be my heir, this one shall be forgiven his sins, this one shall come to share the character of my Son, this one shall come to share my glory for all of eternity, bear my name, and experience my love!" Thus he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the kind intention of his will.


Beloved, let us never be tempted to water this down to make it more palatable to the pride of mere men who covet the dignity of being the masters of their own fate. This--nothing less than this--is the grace of God.

Last week I said that Election was our greatest incentive to holiness. I may have been wrong. There is another at least as great: our Predestination to Adoption. The true son wants to be like his father. When my son Tom was little, we were negotiating about whether he would try the dish being served at dinner, which he was very skeptical about in its unfamiliarity. He'd been learning some elementary biology at school, so at a certain point in the conversation he asked, seemingly out of the blue, "Does it have any proteins in it?" (He had heard that proteins built muscle). We said it did. "Then I'm going to eat it," he pronounced solemnly, "'cause I want to grow up big and strong, just like my Daddy." The ultimate test of your own predestination to adoption is not an outwad profession of belief, it is not church membership or baptism. It is burning and unconquerable desire to be like the Father, to be pleasing to Him, to bear the family name with honor. May He grant us that desire and its fulfillment so that we may know for certain that we were predestined to adoption through Jesus Christ unto Him. Amen.

Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams