“Predestining us for adoption through Jesus Christ into Him, according to the pleasure of His will,”
Predestination is one of those words that often causes people to recoil. The funny thing is that the Bible uses the term six times in the New Testament, so somewhere along the way, people need to wrestle through the word, what it means, and how it relates to God and mankind. The Greek word in question is προορίζω (proorizo), which very literally means, “to decide upon something beforehand.”
One might contest that you and I also decide to do things beforehand. We plan out road trips and vacations weeks or months in advance, deciding that on such and such a day we will go to this place or eat dinner at that restaurant. Yet, we already know from the context of this passage that the choosing, or electing, work of God is something that took place before the foundation of the earth. Thus, the context of this deciding also must be understood as a pre-creation decision. So, before anyone existed, before anyone could do anything good or bad, before the Fall of Adam took place, God had decided to adopt his chosen elect through Jesus Christ and His work.
Some have suggested that perhaps this pre-deciding is something that took place on the basis of God’s foreknowledge. Given that God knew all things that would or could happen (in philosophical terms, that is what we call God’s knowledge of all “eventualities”), they suggest that God, on the basis of that knowledge, just chose those who would eventually choose him. The nature of God that such a response presents is as unsatisfying as it is unBiblical. It presents God as responding to our actions like a human would respond to the actions of others and it strips God of any claim of sovereignty over history, let alone, over human salvation. He merely knows the things we will do and responds accordingly. It is only the illusion of sovereignty that such a view attributes to God. If you or I could somehow look into the future and discover who won the World Series, would that knowledge imply that we had any control over the victor of those games? No, it would not.
Others have suggested that as God is outside of time, he looks on all time and space simultaneously and similarly elects those who come to faith. While it is true that God is outside of time, this view presents the time and space continuum, as it were, as something that exists in its own right and is thus eternal as God is eternal. That would ultimately be a view propounded by gnostics over the years and is entirely unbiblical once again. The creation owes its very existence to God (Colossians 1:16), so how could it ever be said that it is co-eternal with God? Some would grant the error of Gnosticism, but would say that once God created all things, he took a step back as a passive observer, allowing the creation to run along on its own. This would be the error of Deism and is in contradiction to the very next verse which I cited just above, for Colossians 1:17 speaks of Christ holding all things together — actively engaging in the maintenance of the creation, not passively watching to see what it is that we will do.
Not only is such an idea contrary to the plain reading of Scripture, who would wish to worship such a God, if he could ever truly claim the title of being God at all? Here, he is portrayed as an all-knowing God, but one who is impotent to do anything or ordain anything in history. He is a slave, as it were, to what he knows to take place. In some senses, it makes God subservient to creation and not the Author, Keeper, and Lord of it. Woe to those who present God in ways that are so contrary to the way that God presents himself in Scripture and woe to those who settle for such a lowly God to worship.
Instead, the Scriptures present God as a God who knows all things because he has predestined and preordained all things to take place. The Scriptures present a God who is indeed not bound by time and space, but who has created it for His purposes and who governs it through his works and providence. The Scriptures presents us with a God who is absolutely and unapologetically sovereign over all things that take place, both great and small and who is surprised by nothing not simply because he has perfect foresight, but because he has ordained all things that come to pass (Ephesians 1:11). While many feel uncomfortable with such a depiction of God, that it constrains their free will, they need to recognize that this is the way God has presented himself and the wills that they so celebrate are bent and warped and twisted by sin, constraining them not just to bad behavior but to bad thoughts about their creator. While God may indeed conform our wills to His, his doing so is not a matter of constraint in a negative way, it is a matter of helping us conform to what is True and good for us in the first place.
Think about it in this manner — it is in heaven that we will be most free, yet we will be unable to sin in heaven and we will only be able to do what is right and good and pleasing to God. So where is your glorious human “free will” in that context? I present to you that what most people champion as a “free will” is nothing short of a will in bondage to sin. A truly free will is not one that can make any choice in any situation, but one that makes a choice in conformity to God’s will in all situations.