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The Pleasure of His Will

“Predestining us for adoption through Jesus Christ into Him, according to the pleasure of His will,”

(Ephesians 1:5)

The Pleasure of His will… I wonder whether we really take time to think about this phrase very often. God does this work of adoption through Christ not primarily for our good (though it is very much to our good); he does it for His pleasure. His pleasure that is, not our pleasure. How shocking that revelation must be to many people who simply view God as being a senile father in the sky who desperately wishes to give away good gifts but has to wait for us to desire them enough to ask for them. While dominant in much of Christianity, such a view is inconsistent with the Biblical revelation and is shameful at best.

The Greek word that we translate as “pleasure” is εὐδοκία (eudokia). Literally, this word is a noun that refers to a state of being — one that is well disposed toward the actions being taken — actions that are both desired and desirable. Yet, we must make it clear that the one to whom this action is desirable is God. He is not acting out of some sense of need within himself nor is he acting out of some vague beneficence toward mankind. No, he is acting because such an action brings pleasure to his person. 

What other things are described in a similar way? Jesus described the veiling of the Gospel from the worldly wise as a work of God’s pleasure (Matthew 11:26; Luke 10:21), revealing his will to the elect in Christ (Ephesians 1:9), and that in conforming us to His will, we will labor to God’s glory (Philippians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:11). Perhaps, though, the best statement on the this idea of God’s good pleasure (εὐδοκία) is found in the Greek translation of 1 Chronicles 16:10, which reads, “Utter praise in His holy name! The heart that seeks His pleasure will rejoice!”

Adoption through Jesus Christ

“Predestining us for adoption through Jesus Christ into Him, according to the pleasure of His will,”

(Ephesians 1:5)

The doctrine of adoption is a blessed doctrine, indeed. Think about it this way, God’s work in Christ is not simply a matter of delivering us from eternal judgment, which indeed would be a blessed thing, yet God goes further. Indeed, he goes much further and adopts us in Christ Jesus. It is in this context that we can cry out, “Abba! Father!” to our God (Romans 8:15). It permits us to pray, “Our Father,” as we begin the Lord’s prayer and it enables us to be called children of God, assured of our Father’s love (1 John 3:1). 

Yet, it must be noted that this adoption, while assured by the completed work of Christ and is granted to us in our justification, is something that will only be fully realized in the resurrection (Romans 8:23). It is as if the adoption papers have been signed and sealed, yet we, while in our earthly bodies and then have those bodies laid in the tomb, yet wait until we might enjoy the full measure of being in the presence of our glorious Father and King.

And, once more, this adoption is given “in Christ.” All the blessings of God are ultimately mediated to us through Christ; he is the amen of all of the promises of God (2 Corinthians 1:20). How often Christians fall into the trap of thinking that God loves them just the way they are, that they are special in and of themselves in God’s eyes, and that their salvation is because God has some sort of need to be in relationship with them. How far from the truth these notions are! God enters into relationship with believers precisely because we are in his Son. And since the Father has a relationship with the Son, he has a relationship with us as believers. Furthermore, he is not content with the way we are, but only seeks to perfect us into the image of his glorious Son so that we might stand as the church as the pure and eternal bride of Christ. Because of Christ and His work, we are adopted as children of God — we are not children of God by the virtue of our being image-bearers.

Predestination and Man’s Distorted View of Freedom

“Predestining us for adoption through Jesus Christ into Him, according to the pleasure of His will,”

(Ephesians 1:5)

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.