Ephesians 1:11

Ephesians 1:11-12 (see also Romans 8:28)
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.

Regarding the God who “works all things after the counsel of His will,” let’s suppose that I told you that a certain woman that I know, accomplishes everything according to the counsel of her will. Would you think that I meant that she causes all things that happen in the universe? Or, would you think I was simply saying that she does everything that she does, just the way that she wants to? Perhaps she manages to get her way in everything that she asserts herself in. “All things” in such a context with God, is unlikely to mean all things without qualification, but all things with qualification [as in, all things that God does]. This would indicate God’s sovereign freedom to accomplish whatever He chooses, such as guaranteeing our “inheritance,” and that’s exactly what the context is talking about. The context assures us that we Christians will certainly obtain the inheritance that God has promised us, just as God accomplishes everything according to the counsel of His will, and He has made known His will, concerning giving believers a glorious inheritance. 

​Question: According to Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” So do you naturally infer that by “all things,” that it means that you can do all forms of sin, evil and wickedness, through God who strengthens you?

Answer: Of course not! A Christian instinctively understands that to refer to the things that God would have you do, and not necessarily a power to do good and evil. So, then, why would any Christian think that the “all things” of Ephesians 1:11-12 would refer to God working sin, evil and wickedness, instead of just the things that God does? (Now a Calvinist could insist that this is a different context, but Ephesians chapter 1 isn’t talking about God predestining all thoughts, words and deeds, for sin and evil, in order to display various divine attributes, but rather, the context speaks of what God does, in terms of laying up vast treasures in Christ.)

To a High Calvinist, for God to “work all things after the counsel of His will,” means that everything is as God wills it, both good and bad, including abortion, incest, rape, murder, ect., having deterministically scripted all that happens, and ever will happen.

Calvinist, Richard Mouw, writes: “There is no denying that a belief that we are predestined to eternal life can lead to a deterministic, even fatalistic, understanding of the Christian life. If it is God who does the choosing, then we may be tempted to think that our own choosing, our own responding to God, is a charade. It is all preprogrammed. But Calvinist theologians go out of their way to deny this implication.” (Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, p.66, emphasis mine)

However, we are not “predestined to eternal life,” unless you are a Christian, because that is a blessing exclusive to being in Christ. Such a blessing is not fatalistic, but simply God’s decree in Christ. The only reason why it would appear as “fatalistic” is because Calvinists see themselves as being predestined to eternal life, over others, because they have a special package of blessings in the Father, which decides that they will become believes in Christ. Calvinists have taken their focus off of what is in Christ, and placed it on a presumption of a special relationship hidding in the Father.

One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians writes: “‘All things’ in such a context is unlikely to mean all things without qualification, but is much more likely to mean all things [that he does]. This indicates his sovereign freedom to accomplish whatever he chooses, guaranteeing our inheritance to us.”  (SEA, emphasis mine)

Even if one inferred that “all things” meant all things, both good and bad, then it could be in the sense of guiding and directing, which is similar to what Paul stated at Romans 8:28: God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” But Calvinists infer that works all things after the counsel of His will” means causes all things, including the very thoughts & intentions that He judges, thus eliminating any basis for judgment. Calvinists will simply then point to the Potter/Clay principle, but while ignoring the foundational Potter/Clay principle reflected at Jeremiah 18:1-13, which shows that although there does come a point in which God does harden a person for destruction, He doesn’t do so until the person or nation has crossed a line with Him, which shows that they originally did have a choice, and which the aforementioned passage shows that God was helping them with, with the result that the wrong choice had led God to forming them, like a Potter, for calamity and destruction. But God does not merely do this unilaterally, just to demonstrate attributes. Instead, God is lovingly interceding for their welfare, and it is the evildoers who throw Total Depravity back in God’s face (Jeremiah 18:12), to which God then turns to the heathen nations to see if they had ever heard of anything so ridiculous as to what Israel had suggested. (Jeremiah 18:13) So there is a difference between understanding the passage as guiding & directing vs. simply causing all things.

Nevertheless, Calvinists object whether it can truly be said that God “works all things after the counsel of His will” if He doesn’t cause all things. Therefore, consider Calvary. Did God work Calvary, or did God cause Calvary? Acts 2:23 states: “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. God’s work at Calvary involved “foreknowledge.” That’s how God worked Calvary. But if God caused Calvary, insomuch as having scripted it, then wouldn’t foreknowledge lose its meaning? (The Calvinist disagrees because he dispatches foreknowledge and renders it, foreordination.)

Concerning The Fall of man, Calvin writes: “If the thing be taken to a higher level and the question be raised about the creation of man, Augustine meets it thus: We make most sound confession of what we most rightly believe, that God the Lord of all things, who made all things very good, foreknew that evil would arise out of this good, and also knew that it contributed more to His glory to bring good out of evil than not to allow evil at all; so He ordained the life of men and angels so that in it He might first show what freewill could do, and then what the gift of His grace and the judgment of His justice could do. (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.66-67, emphasis mine) 

This only makes sense if God does not cause the things that He foreknew. Otherwise it’s not really foreknowledge any more. Most Calvinists believe that God’s foreknowledge is simply the result of what He has already scripted, but again, it would rob the meaning of foreknowledge, and in fact, at Acts 2:23, it makes foreknowledge redundant and pointless.

​Here are examples of Calvinists taking “works all things” to infer Determinism:

John Calvin: “First, the eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam He decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every individual, was fixed and determined.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.121, emphasis mine) 

John Calvin: “We also note that we should consider the creation of the world so that we may realize that everything is subject to God and ruled by his will and that when the world has done what it may, nothing happens other than what God decrees.” (Acts: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.66, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “God had no doubt decreed before the foundation of the world what He would do with every one of us and had assigned to everyone by His secret counsel his part in life.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.20, emphasis mine) 

John Calvin: “…the reason why God elects some and rejects others is to be found in His purpose alone. … before men are born their lot is assigned to each of them by the secret will of God. … the salvation or the destruction of men depends on His free election.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.203, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “At this point in particular the flesh rages when it hears that the predestination to death of those who perish is referred to the will of God.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.208, emphasis mine) 

John Calvin: “...the secret counsel of God whereby He chooses some to salvation and destines others for eternal destruction.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.53, emphasis mine) 

​Hence the Calvinistic application of “works all things after the counsel of His will.”

However, instead of reading Determinism into Ephesians 1:11-12, we would be better off reading Jeremiah 18:1-13 into it, which is a terrific Scripture passage that reconciles the sovereignty of God and the availability of salvation for all men. 

John Calvin: “As Paul says (v.11): According to His purpose who effects all things according to the counsel of His will. Who does not see that the eternal purpose of God is set over against ours? Augustine, too, pondered this passage deeply. He interprets: God so works out all things as to effect in us the very will by which we believe.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.69, emphasis mine)

In other words, God works out all things so as to make certain people Christians. I must say that Calvinists take a lot of interpretive liberty, and they can believe whatever they wish, but what’s really odd is how defiant they become when people don’t buy into their wild assertions of Determinism, in which, allegedly, every single event and every single decision in human history is predetermined by God. A Determinist system would therefore have to conclude that God, indeed, must not only take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23), but also in the wicked themselves who do exactly what he determined for them to do.

John Calvin: “Who worketh all things. We should note the periphrase by which he describes God as alone doing all things according to His own will, so as to leave nothing to man. In no respect, therefore, does he admit men to share in His praise, as if they brought anything of their own. For God looks at nothing outside Himself by which He is moved to elect us, for the counsel of His own will is the only and proper and (as they say) intrinsic cause of election. By this may be refuted the error, or rather madness, of those who, unless they see a reason in God’s works, never cease to attack His design.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.130, emphasis mine) 

That God has a “design,” especially in salvation, there is no disagreement. This issue is whether Calvinists attribute to God’s design, things which God Himself said that He never designed. As an example, consider the following passage on child sacrifice, as per Jeremiah 32:35.

One Calvinist writes: “Finally, if we are chosen ‘according to His purpose’ (Ephesians 1:11), how can it be that it hinges instead on our choice?

Because God’s choice of the predestined inheritance is for Christians. In other words, it’s God’s plan for saved people, though Calvinists have inferred that it’s God’s plan for un-saved people, in order to get them saved. 

Calvinist, James White: “In light of the context, the ‘all things’ cannot be limited to the physical creation but must also include the work of salvation itself. The inheritance, predestination, and all that is associated with it in the preceding verses, must be included in the ‘all things’ that are done in accordance with God’s purpose. The very foundation upon which the certainty of the gospel rests is the divine attribute of sovereignty and active rulership over creationWithout this truth, one is left with the religions of men: God offers, God tries, but in the final analysis, men dispose.” (Debating Calvinism, p.39, emphasis mine)

Who said anything about “physical creation”? This is talking about a Christian’s inheritance. The perspective of this passage is what Christians have in Christ.

Calvinist, John Piper writes concerning the Newton massacre: “If God can’t prevent something like this, then what good is he? Why pray for God’s help if he can’t actually keep murderers from executing children? But, of course, the Bible says more than that God could have prevented it; it says that it occurs ‘according to the counsel of his will’ (Eph 1:11). Indeed, he works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil: Biblical, Philosophical, and Emotional Reflections on a Perpetual Question, emphasis mine)

Piper asks: “Does disaster befall a city unless the Lord has done it (Amos 3:6)? What about a school?”
(Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil: Biblical, Philosophical, and Emotional Reflections on a Perpetual Question, emphasis mine)

Piper concludes: “But I’m not helped at all by removing God from the equation, by making him a spectator watching the tragedy unfold on CNN like the rest of us.” (Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil: Biblical, Philosophical, and Emotional Reflections on a Perpetual Question, emphasis mine)

Note: The author is not John Piper, but it is John Piper’s own website, and which articulates his views.

Question: In other words, according to Calvinist, John Piper, unless God is causing all 100% of it, then God must be a complete “spectator.” But why are those the only two options?

Answer: Calvinists tend to create “false dilemmas,” such as when Calvinists will insist that a particular passage must be taken their way, or else...the only alternative is Universalism. This is how Calvinists will often try to argue their points, but there is no merit in them. The reality is that there is a legitimate third option: God can prevent something like this. God wanted to prevent something like this, and you can pray for God’s help to keep murderers from executing children. All that you need to do is ask Him. However, for the Calvinist, this throws a monkey wrench into their “sovereignty speculations.” Compare with Matthew 23:37. Jesus wanted to gather Israel, but Israel was unwilling.

Although it is true, as Amos 3:6 says, that blessing and curses come from God, it is not true that these these result of any kind of “decree,” which Calvinists errantly suppose, since God acts contingently, which is the clear message of Jeremiah 18:1-13.

One person explains: “It is clear to me that nothing can occur apart from God’s decree. Anything that happens occurs only because he has either decreed to allow it or causes it directly. So when the Scriptures say, ‘does not from my hand come both blessing and calamity... I am the LORD who does all these things,’ I believe he is telling us that neither blessing or calamity occurs apart from his decree.”

Question: As a parent, do you ever decree to punish your kids? Or, do you punish or reward your children contingently, upon their obedience or disobedience?

Answer: God acts the same way, contingently. Calvinists infer decrees where it otherwise does not belong.