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The following messages represent a preliminary treatment of the difficult but blessed biblical truth that God is exercises his sovereign control in the salvation of fallen human beings.  This perspective from a Reformed point of view is treated better and in more detail elsewhere.  If you would like a more in-depth treatment on the issues involved here, the church staff would be happy to recommend some resources.  The messages were originally preached as part of Pastor Ross’ sermon series from Paul’s letter to the Romans. 

 

MESSAGE FOR SEPTEMBER 19, 1999 FROM VARIOUS TEXTS

A Parenthesis--“THE CHARACTER OF GOD AND THE GOSPEL”

 

            As we move into verses 29-30 of chapter eight and soon into chapter nine of Romans, we have come to a decisive moment in sharpening our understanding of Paul’s presentation of the gospel in this glorious letter.  When we began our study, we said that the theme of Romans is the gospel.  The book of Romans, better than anything else in the Bible, comprehensively answers the question, “What is the gospel.”  Paul has already addressed several crucial questions about the gospel.  In chapters 1-3 he spends most of his time answering the question, “Why is the gospel necessary?”  Paul spells out in graphic terms the depth of the rebellion against God which all sinners wage against Him.  He vividly portrays lost humanity as having nothing good in them, in full scale rebellion against God, idolaters who spend their energies alternatively running from God, then spitting in His face.

            In the second half of chapter three through chapter four, Paul answers the question “How does God save lost people through the gospel?”  And the answer is, through the atoning death of Christ, He gives people a righteousness not their own, the very righteousness of Christ which enables them to have eternal life. He justifies them by his grace through faith, thus making them acceptable in His holy sight.  He argues that this has always been God’s way of bringing people to redemption by citing Abraham, who God saved, not because of the works of the law, but on the basis of faith.  In chapters five through eight he answers the question, “What does this justifying work of the gospel bring about in the life of a justified person—how does the effect  a person—what difference does it make in their lives?  In these chapters, which we have most recently been examining, we have seen the blessings of the gospel for the redeemed person.  There is freedom from the law, the power of sin and death through being united to Christ.  We saw earlier in chapter eight there is power to kill the sins in our lives and live in fulfillment of the law.  Most recently, we have seen that the gift of the Holy Spirit is ours through the gospel with His many ministries to us.  We should be choking on God’s goodness to us in the gospel.

            Another question that Paul begins answering in this next immediate section of chapter eight is, “How does the gospel relate to God’s Sovereign character?”  If God is totally in control, as we have seen in verses 28-29 in the context of our suffering, how does this “totally-in-control” God work His plans and purposes of salvation through the gospel as He relates to people who have a free will?  How does that work?  How does God’s sovereign will in the salvation of sinners and man’s free will relate to one another in the area of salvation through the gospel?”  “What causes a lost person, who is in total rebellion against God’s will to ultimately surrender himself to God’s will?” “In Christ’s death, did God, through the cross, actually save sinners, or did He only make it possible for sinners to be saved?”  A final question which boils it all down is this: “In this area of the salvation of sinners, who has ultimate, final control, God or the sinner?”

            These next verses in chapter eight and much of chapters nine through 11 answer those questions.  However, how we understand those answers, as Paul lays them out in the coming texts, is largely determined by the beliefs or presuppositions we have about the character of God.  We all know intuitively that the character of the gospel is shaped by the character of God. Just as God would never institute a law that is not consistent with His character, neither would He have a gospel that is inconsistent with His character.  He cannot deny Himself.  That dictates that we examine some of our beliefs about the character of God before we study these texts because these texts presuppose that God has a particular kind of character.  If our presuppositions about the character of God are consistent with Paul, then we will find these next chapters glorious and awe inspiring.  If, however our presuppositions about “what God must be like” are at odds with Paul, then we will find ourselves becoming frustrated and uncomfortable with what Paul says here. The truth is, today, more than ever, evangelicals have traded a biblical understanding of God for a notion of God that is largely shaped by fallen emotion, sentimentalism and philosophical speculation.

            You will be able to see what you really, deep down believe about God’s character by answering some questions.  These questions will force you to draw on those presuppositions in your responses. Here are just a few questions which will begin to help you see what you believe to be the character of God in relationship to salvation.  “Does lost humanity have a right to hear the message of the gospel?”  “Is God’s ultimate reason for sending His Son to earth to save sinners from hell?” “Can Christ’s plan to save someone be frustrated by human unbelief?”  How we answer these kinds of questions help us to see how we view God in relationship to His gospel.

            The overarching truth we want to communicate for the next couple of weeks is this: The Biblical teaching on salvation found through the gospel is GOD-centered from beginning to end.  As we move on, we will see what is meant by that term “God-centered.”  The first point in support of this is this:  God’s ultimate purpose in

 saving sinners through the gospel is NOT delivering people from hell, but showing forth his glory.  To put it another way, salvation through the gospel is ultimately for God’s glory, not the sinner’s deliverance.  God’s jealousy for His glory is one of the more prevalent themes in the Bible.  God says in Isaiah 42:8,  "I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”  We see this truth riddled throughout the Scriptures.

Why did God create us—was it so that we could have life and a chance to experience the joys of life?  No.  Our creation wasn’t fundamentally for us. Isaiah 43:6-7 says, “…Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth-- 7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."  We were created NOT for ourselves, but for God.  Now, as we said last week, what brings Him glory will bring us lasting joy.  But our joy is not His ultimate motivation—God’s motivation for creating us is His glory. 

Why does God forgive sins?  Is it primarily because sin separates us from God and dooms us to hell?  Is God’s forgiveness of our sins primarily motivated by our unspeakable need for forgiveness? No.  Isaiah 43:25 says, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”  God forgives sin to show forth the wonders of his mercy—to manifest what kind of heart He has.  We certainly are forever blessed by that forgiving mercy, but make no mistake, His ultimate concern is not us, but His glory…His Name.

            Does God choose to dispense saving grace to a person fundamentally because that person is in desperate need of grace?  Is His grace given ultimately on OUR account?  No.  Ephesians 1:4-6 says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”  God’s glorious predestining love, his overwhelming, adoptive love is given freely to the praise of His grace!  This grace, this love is ultimately for the purpose of showing forth what a glorious, loving, grace-giving God He is.  Although we are blessed beyond measure by this love and grace, it is ultimately given for His glory, not for our pleasure.

            This is a consistent truth throughout the Bible.  The great Old Testament act of redemption is the Exodus.  God reached down and delivered His chosen people out of slavery and led them into the promised land. What was his primary motive in that?  Was it, bottom line, because he saw his people in need and he wanted to spare them?  If that was the case, then why did He wait 400 years?  Genesis 15 tells us that part of the reason He waited was so that the sins of the Amorites, the then current residents of Canaan would accumulate to a sufficient degree so He could manifest His patience toward them before He judged them.  He allowed His covenant people to suffer four centuries, in part so that He might be glorified in His patience toward the Amorites before judging them.

His ultimate reason for delivering his people from bondage, be it the slavery of Pharaoh or the slavery of sin is NOT to bring people relief from suffering.  Psalm 106:7-8 say, “When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. 8Yet he saved them for his name's sake, to make his mighty power known.”   The Exodus, God’s great Old Testament act of deliverance-that which foreshadows his gospel was done for the glory of God, not ultimately for the freedom of His people. 

Why does God issue His wrath on those who do not repent of their sin?  Is it because rebellious sinners, through their arrogant refusal to repent have repeatedly frustrated His unsuccessful attempts to save them, thus “forcing” Him, “twisting His arm” (as it were) to resort to punishing those who He really would much rather have saved?  In eternity, will God look down on the fires of hell and the countless vessels of condemned, tortured humanity and cry out in anguish, “Why didn’t you repent—why did you force me to do what was against my highest impulses?”  No.

Romans 9:22-23 says of God’s motivation for showing His wrath, “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory…”  Without going into detail about this text, which requires more time to explain, the main truth it communicates is this—God shows wrath against sinners, NOT because sinners have frustrated his repeated attempts to convince them to repent, but ultimately because God is glorified in His wrath against sinners because it highlights his mercy toward those who, in His mercy, He pardons.   Even His wrath glorifies Him.

We see God’s jealousy for His glory in the salvation of sinners by the fact that, because salvation is totally, exclusively by grace alone, there will be no ground for boasting by the redeemed in heaven.  Look at a familiar text through this God-centered lens. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no man can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  That text is NOT fundamentally about salvation, its about God—the GOD of grace who saves –the GOD who gives it away—saints are GOD’S workmanship—those whom GOD has created to do good works, which GOD, being sovereign, has already laid out for us.  There will be no freedom to boast because salvation is of the Lord. 

If salvation were ultimately dependent upon the sovereign choice of our free will, then those who made the “right” decision would have room to boast over those in hell who made the “wrong” decision.  If who gets converted is ultimately dependent on the choice the SINNER makes and NOT GOD’S sovereign choice, then the sinner will have a ground for boasting because ultimately, it was HIS choice that made the difference between heaven and hell and not GOD’S.  Is that consistent with the biblical portrait of a God jealous for His glory we have seen painted this morning?  The first truth about God’s character which must be understood if we are to find blessing in Romans 8:29-20 and into chapter nine is this:  God’s ultimate purpose in saving sinners through the gospel is showing forth His glory.

A second presupposition about the character of God that is pertinent to the character of the gospel is this:  God’s sovereign will cannot be violated by sinful man.  We have alluded to this earlier, but this is so central to having a God-centered and not a man-centered understanding of the gospel.  We must get this, if we are to understand the gospel as Paul lays it out in the coming texts.  The Scripture is clear that, although man has a free will, that free will can never violate God’s sovereign choice of who is to be saved.  Indeed, He mysteriously and sovereignly superintends the free will of humanity to accomplish HIS will.  No one is autonomous in their decision making so as to be able to frustrate God’s ultimate plans and purposes. 

There are many texts which make this point.  Perhaps the best known is found in John 6:44 where Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…”  Jesus tells us the only way a person can come into relationship with Him is this activity of the Father which is translated “draws.”  The Father draws people to Jesus.  What is the nature, the character of this “drawing” by the Father?  Is this drawing like a person who is drawn to a hot dog stand by the smell of sauerkraut?  The word in the original language literally means, “to drag.”  The Father drags people to Christ. 

The same word is used in Acts 16:19.  Paul and Silas are ministering in Macedonia.  Paul has just cast a demon out of a slave girl and that will render her useless for earning money for her masters as a fortune teller.  In verse 19 we read, “When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and DRAGGED them into the marketplace to face the authorities.”  When the slave owners seized Paul and Silas, they did NOT say, “Yes, please excuse us.  Would you be so good as to give our complaint against you serious consideration and if you would be so kind, accompany us to the courthouse—but if you don’t want to, we certainly will not compel you to go.”  They were dragging them!  Paul and Silas’ immediate desires were not their concern.  On a human level, these slave owners were in control of the situation.  We see the word again used in James 2:6. James is showing the church the folly of showing favoritism to the rich people who have visited.  He says, “…you have insulted the poor.  Is it not the rich who are exploiting you?  Are they not the ones who are DRAGGING you into court?”  The rich, powerful merchants were dragging people into court.  They were imposing their “sovereign” will upon the poor, period.

            So often today, the way we present the gospel makes Christ look nothing less than insipid.  J.I Packer masterfully relates how this misunderstanding of the character of God results in making so much of our evangelism portray God in a scandalous manner.  He says, “we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in…the enthroned Lord is suddenly metamorphosed into a weak, futile figure tapping forlornly at the door of the human heart, which He is powerless to open…Christ [is presented] as the baffled Savior, balked in what He hoped to do by human unbelief.  Packer says that evangelism in this context can resemble “maudlin appeals to the unconverted to let Christ save them out of pity for His disappointment.”  We mustn’t break Christ’s heart by refusing to come to Him!”  Elsewhere he adds, “…we do not vote God’s Son into office as our Savior, nor does He remain passive while preachers campaign on His behalf, whipping up support for His cause.”

            People don’t realize it, but when they believe that the gospel is ultimately dependent upon the free will of the lost person, rather than on God’s sovereign, irresistible grace, they are presenting a truncated, abridged version of a Savior who is more to be pitied for his lack of persuasive power than worshipped for His sovereign power to save sinners.   If you wonder how rampant this warped thinking is today, all you have to do is open our very own hymnal.  Listen to the words of one of the songs written a popular contemporary Christian musician.  “The Savior is waiting to enter your heart, Why don’t you let Him come in?  There’s nothing in this world to keep you apart, what is your answer to Him?  Time after time He has waited before, And now He is waiting again to see if you’re willing to open the door, O, how He wants to come in.”  This lyric makes the sinner 100% in control of their salvation.  That’s pathetic and to picture the Lord God omnipotent as a pleading suitor trying to get someone respond to His love—to help Him save them-- is an insult of the highest order.

            Christ does not need our help to save us!  It is ultimately all of Him and all of grace.  You may ask, “But we must believe—have faith and we must repent in order to be saved.  That’s our part of the transaction.”  No, that’s Christ’s too.  As for faith, we see this in Phil 1:29 where Paul says, “For it has been granted [that word means “freely given”] to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.”    The faith a sinner exercises to believe does not originate with him.  It has been freely given to him by God.  The faith to believe is a gift from God and it is part of the gift of salvation.  Acts 13:48 says of a group of Gentile converts, “and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”  Those who believed were those who had been previously designated, set, established by God to be saved.  The faith comes as a result of GOD’S work, not man’s.

            The same is true for repentance.  Repentance, like faith, is a gift from God.  We see this in 2 Timothy 2:25.  Paul writes to Timothy, “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant [that is, “to give, to bestow”] them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”   Because salvation is all of grace and God supplies it all, it is therefore impossible for the will of the sinner to frustrate the sovereign will of God to save that sinner.

            This sovereign, omnipotent Lord is the God Paul writes about and the God who authors the salvation through the gospel seen in Romans 8:29-30 and into chapters nine through eleven.  This is the God and gospel of the Reformers, of Luther and Calvin.  This is the God of Augustine, of Jonathan Edwards, of the founders of the Modern missions movement.  This is the God and gospel of the puritans, of Whitfield and Spurgeon and countless other saints now in glory.   Do we see how important it is to have a biblical understanding of God’s character if we are to have a biblical understanding of the gospel?  Next week, we will conclude this parentheses on the character of God and then I trust we will be free to explore the glories of this next section of Romans unencumbered by an understanding of God that is not worthy of Him

MESSAGE FOR SEPTEMBER 26, 1999 FROM VARIOUS TEXTS

“THE CHARACTER OF GOD AND THE GOSPEL—II”

 

            This week, we continue a parenthesis on the character of God and the gospel, taking a brief break from our study of Romans chapter eight in our series on this letter.  We said last week that before we begin giving close scrutiny to Paul’s teaching on issues like election and predestination, its important to first equip ourselves with the same biblical understanding of the character of God which Paul writes with.  The reason is because when issues like predestination and election are discussed, and in particular Paul’s treatment of how a sovereign God relates to free willed humans in salvation in chapter nine, one is liable to hear comments like, “My God would never do that” or, “My God is not like that.”  “My God would never choose one person to be saved and not another—that’s not fair.” “My God would never exercise such control over a person’s life so as to superintend the choices they make as it relates to His Son, Jesus Christ.”  “My God values the free will of humanity more than that because its as people freely choose to love Him, that He is most blessed.” 

            Do you hear that each one of those statements carry with them a presupposition about what their God is like?  There is nothing wrong with having strongly held convictions about the character of God.  God wants all of us to have those convictions.  The crucial issue for God is this—“Our are ideas about what God is like based on His revelation of Himself in the Scriptures or are they based on something else?”  Last week, we began a brief topical study of the character of God as it relates to the gospel to prepare us for the texts just ahead of us in Romans.  If we do not have a right understanding of God, then when we get to texts like Romans nine, which portray God exercising at times almost ruthless control over a person’s will, we will become very confused.  If our understanding of God is somehow incomplete, then our understanding of the gospel will also be incomplete because the character of God shapes the character of the gospel.

We must have a place in our belief system about God which makes room for texts like Romans 9:18—“Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”  We must see that texts like Romans 11:8 which speak of God’s dealing with ethnic Israel are not inconsistent with God’s character.  “…What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did.  The others were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day.”  Those texts say something very powerful and jolting about the character of God and I trust we all agree that it simply wont do to shake our heads and jump over those texts with, “My God would never do that,” on our lips.  In order for us to evaluate those texts and even delight in them, we must first scan the scriptures to see what beliefs we have about God are biblical and what beliefs about God are from somewhere else.

As we examine the sacred texts, it is crucial for us to remember the power of the popular, fallen culture in shaping the beliefs of the church. And the culture, (which has in so many ways invaded the church and had a huge, caustic effect on it,) believes that God’s only manifest character traits are grace, mercy, patience and its warped, self centered understanding of love.  The culture we live in has no place in its understanding of God for His attributes of holiness, His justice, His absolute, sovereign authority, much less the priority He places on showing forth His glory.  To the culture and, increasingly in the church, He is a God who exists to meet the needs of His creatures and to give them pleasure rather than His creatures existing for Him and for His pleasure.  We must be open to the possibility that a man-centered culture has influenced our view of God.  It has influenced virtually every other area of the church.  We are foolish to think that we, who are exposed to the culture far more than we are to the word of God, are not influenced in some way by this.  At best, we are being naïve if we think the culture has in no way effected our view of God, especially in this area of how His sovereign will relates to His creation in the area of salvation.

The theology of the Reformation uniquely and profoundly exalts God’s love and mercy.  It does this, not at the expense of, but by drawing attention to the foundational biblical theme of God’s glory as seen in His holiness and justice and His sovereign authority.  This belief system is for many evangelicals today a curious and distasteful way of thinking.  This theology, which is found at the deepest roots of Protestantism and the modern missions movement, is today more than ever being thrown out as excess baggage.  This theology, which has prevailed in the church for most of its history and which provided the basis for the preaching which ignited the Great Awakening, the greatest move of God in our nation’s history, is either not even known by many evangelicals or dismissed as embarrassing or “marginal theology.”

Last week, we laid a basis for this understanding of God by pointing out that the Scriptures clearly teach that God’s ultimate motive for creating us, forgiving our sins and giving us his grace, is for His glory, not our blessing.  Even though the blessings we receive from those actions are inconceivable.  We saw that God’s sovereign will in salvation cannot be violated by sinful man.  God the Father irresistibly draws people to Christ.  He “drags” them to Himself.  Ultimately, it is God who chooses people to be saved, not people who choose God to save them.  Because God’s sovereign will cannot be violated, as we saw from several texts, when a person refuses to believe that does not put Christ in the position of  a weak, futile figure tapping forlornly at the door of the human heart, which He is powerless to open.” As J.I. Packer says.  We saw that both faith and repentance are not activities originating in the heart of man, but are gifts given by God to those He sovereignly selects.

That was last week.  Next week, we will spend one more week just answering questions related to this issue. Questions like, “Isn’t all this fatalistic—why bother trying to influence someone to Christ if the outcome is already decided by God’s sovereign purpose?  How does this belief system square with scriptures which highlight God’s desire to save everyone, like John 3:16?  Doesn’t this turn people into robots who have no real choices?  Isn’t this just plain unfair to unbelievers who seemingly never have a genuine chance to believe?”  That’s next week, but this week we will examine more truth about the character of God and how that shapes the gospel.  Remember, the goal of this is to make our upcoming study of Romans 8:30 and chapter nine a joy and delight, not a burden.

Another truth about the character of God as it relates to the gospel is this: God, as the Creator of the human race has the authority and right to do with people whatever best suits His sovereign purpose.  If we are in any way not comfortable with this truth, then much of what Paul says in Romans nine will be very hard for us to reconcile with our emotions. As Paul makes a case in defending the faithfulness of God and his word in this chapter, he brings in other truths about the character of God as it relates to people He has created.  One of those truths is that God has the authority as sovereign Creator to do with people whatever suits His sovereign purpose.  He supports this with the example of Pharaoh.

What God did with Pharaoh is stunning when you think about it.  We know that God says to Moses in Exodus 8:1, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, `Thus says the LORD, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”  That text tells us there is a clear desire on God’s part for Pharaoh to release the Jews from their slavery.  The hard part in understanding that command is this: God had already told Moses in Exodus 4:21, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all the wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in your hand; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”  So, on the one hand, God tells Pharaoh, through Moses to let his people go and on the other, He hardens his heart so He will NOT release them.  Why?  He tells us in Exodus 9:16.  God, speaking through Moses says to Pharaoh, “But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 

The reason God did this to Pharaoh was so that His name might be honored and glorified.  Now, this example of Pharaoh raises other questions which we will address when we get to Romans nine, but for our purpose, it proves that God has a right to do with His creatures what will serve his sovereign purpose.  In 9:21 he makes this point precisely when he says, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use.”  God is the Potter and humanity is the clay and the Potter has an absolute right to do with each piece of clay whatever most pleases Him.  God’s creation, humans specifically, exist for HIS pleasure, He does not exist for our pleasure.

This understanding of God as the One with absolute authority can make people, even Christians uncomfortable.  John Piper has said, “Few things are more humbling…than to think of His absolute authority over our lives as His creatures.  He is the Supreme Court, He is the legislature…He is the Chief Executive.  After God, no appeal!  We might not enjoy thinking of ourselves or our unsaved loved ones as God’s pieces of clay to do with what He pleases.  That makes us feel helpless and vulnerable.  And even though we ARE helpless and vulnerable before God, it is very hard for our prideful flesh to accept that. One big reason WE want to have ultimate control is because, to be honest, it is hard for us to trust God ALONE with the ultimate destination of our unsaved loved ones.  We love that “lump of clay” He has in His hand and we want them to know Christ.  One way people may try to ease those feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is to assert that WE humans have the ultimate say as to our final destination.  Its MY choice—its my unsaved loved ones choice, not ultimately God’s.  Because we have a hard time trusting in God ALONE for that person’s soul, we want people with their free wills to have the ultimate say over whether or not they go to heaven.

The fatal flaw with that thinking is this:  If a fallen human being was given the ultimate say in whether they choose Christ or not, NO ONE, NOT ONE of them would choose Christ.  Paul has already made that point in 3:11 when he says, “There is no one understands, no one seeks after God.”  In 3:18 he says of the sinner, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  The power of sin within humanity has so despoiled fallen people that NO ONE would independently choose Christ—the entire human race would be nothing but fuel for hell’s fire, if it were up to OUR decision in this matter.  But even knowing that, we still have trouble trusting Someone outside of us with the soul of a loved one.  Let’s face it, the biggest challenge any Christian faces every day is to trust fully in God and in His good plan for our lives. Our trust is never perfect and it can be exquisitely painful placing someone we love TOTALLY in God’s hands, even though we know that His will is “good, perfect and acceptable.”  Ask any parent of a wayward child.

There is a truth about God which can help us have more faith in His goodness as it relates to His sovereign control in salvation.  It can help us trust Him with our unsaved loved ones.  This truth is very easy to forget about God.  This truth is very simple and yet very profound and it shines an unquenchable light on God’s goodness and mercy and grace.  What is this glorious, profound truth which magnifies the goodness of God?   Simply this, God is under no obligation to save ANYONE.  God doesn’t have to save anyone!  God would be no less God and no less good if He didn’t save one soul.  He is not bound by His holiness to pull one person off the road to hell and torment—not one!  God’s grace is by definition “giving someone what they DON’T deserve” and his mercy is by definition, “sparing a person from what they DO deserve.”  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” according to 3:23.  If all have sinned and fall short, then how many of us DESERVE to be spared the fire of hell?  How many of us deserve eternal life?  We must come to terms with the fact that our unsaved loved ones genuinely and completely deserve hell just like we do.  No one deserves mercy.  If you deserved it, it wouldn’t be mercy.

The challenge to believing that God does not owe anyone mercy is this.  Because God’s mercy is so prevalent—is SO MUCH the norm in our lives, we tend to assume that His mercy is something He owes us, rather than something He may choose to show us if it is for His glory.  We can illustrate this from recent horrible news events.  We have seen horrible devastation in Turkey, Taiwan and the Carolinas, all from natural disasters.  So many people in the midst of those horrific contexts are asking questions like, “How could a good God allow such evil to happen to innocent people?”  Anyone who asks that question has a horribly distorted understanding of man’s sin and God’s holiness.  Let me ask you something, from the perspective of God’s justice as it relates to sinful people, is there anyone effected by any one of those disasters who did NOT deserve what they got?  They ALL deserved it and much worse because they were all sinners.  Sinners DESERVE the fires of an eternal hell from a just and holy God, much less something less severe like an earthquake or a hurricane.  The question asked of those outside the earthquake and flood zones should NOT be, “How could a good God allow that to happen to those people?  It should be, “Why didn’t a natural disaster destroy MY home, MY family, MY life because I too am sinful and have rebelled against God.”

This is precisely the point in the teaching of Jesus in Luke 13.  There had been a small scale natural disaster at Siloam.  A tower of some sort had fallen down and killed 18 people.  Those who were speculating on the event believed God used this disaster to bring his judgment on those who had been killed and Jesus responded to that.  He said in Luke 18:4, “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Notice, Jesus does not correct the assumptions about God’s judgment on these people and its never right for us to make that kind of judgment.  He says, “They were no more guilty of sin, no more candidates for God’s judgment than you—YOU repent or you too will perish.”  Jesus is saying—don’t take God’s mercy in keeping you alive for granted.  All deserve judgment from a holy God.  As one theologian has said, “The question is not, why would God allow a sinner to be killed.  The question is, why does he allow so many other sinners to remain alive?”  We almost never ask that question because we are so drenched with the daily mercies of God, we presume God is somehow obligated to show His mercy.  He is not.  In addition to being a merciful and gracious God, He is also a just and holy God and he can choose to allow those attributes to be expressed at any time according to whatever would be for His sovereign purpose.

Every beat of our hearts is a testimony to God’s mercy.  If we got what we deserve, we would all keel over.  It is God’s mercy that keeps us alive.  God is so good, but we don’t have a profound appreciation for that goodness because we don’t think about the blessings of life in comparison to what we deserve from a holy God. If God were to deal with us according to what we deserve, our lives would be sheer torture in this life and the next.  Psalm 103 says, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”    If we were to consider what we, as those who have rebelled against a holy, just God deserve, and lived our lives in the light of that, we would be overwhelmed with the sense of His infinite abundance of grace and mercy to us.

When we get to heaven and look into the face of a holy God, we can be assured that our response will NOT be, “You know Lord, uncle Ned is not here and I am not the least bit happy with You about that.”  NO!! When we look into his holiness and remember with perfect recollection all the sins of our own life, we will NOT be focussing on those people who we wish could have been there.  We will be amazed at the grace of God to allow ANY sin-drenched creature to be there!  We will fall prostrate at His feet because, in His infinite grace and mercy through the blood of His Son, He has allowed a wretched, undeserving sinner like ME to live in His presence.  God is so good.

The bottom line is this: there is no guarantee that God will always answer affirmatively when you cry out for your child, your sibling, your parent, your loved one to be saved, but we must understand two truths.  First, He has the sovereign right to do with them and US what He wants.  He’s the Creator and we are the creature.  He’s the Potter and we are the clay.  Second, in light of the incredible abundance of his goodness in sparing us from the torment we daily deserve, we have a good ground of hope that God WILL indeed hear and answer our prayers affirmatively about our loved ones.  It comes down to this:  isn’t it better to trust a merciful, gracious God with our loved ones rather than with their fallen, twisted will which would never, ever choose God from their own sense of reason?  As God said to Abraham, “Will not the God of this earth do right?”  As the Creator, God has a right to do with His creatures whatever is for His sovereign purpose.  And that is good news because we have an infinitely good God.

           

MESSAGE FOR OCTOBER 3, 1999

“ QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CHARACTER OF GOD & THE GOSPEL

            For the past two weeks, we have been examining the sovereign control of God in salvation.  We are studying this issue briefly to prepare us for Romans 8:30 and later on, chapter nine.  These sections make a strong argument for (among other things) the fact that God sovereignly chooses those whom He wants to save.  That it is HE, not the sinner who has ultimate control of a person’s ultimate destiny.  This is obviously an involved and controversial area we are entering and so we are laying the groundwork so that we might have an understanding of the gospel and the God of the gospel that is consistent with Paul.  The motive behind this is so that when we come to some of the hard texts which lie ahead we will have a basis of understanding that will enable us to delight in God’s control, not wrestle against it.  This week, we will address some of the commonly asked questions raised in connection with this issue.  On question which will wait for next week is the question, “how does this teaching of God’s choosing only certain people to be saved fit with other texts which indicate that He desires that ALL people be saved.”  That is an important question and it will fit well next week when we go into our study of Romans 8:30.

            One of the more common questions relating to the issue of God’s sovereign control in salvation has to do with the issue of fairness.  The questions often sound something like this,  If it is God who ultimately determines who is saved, then how can He hold those He has NOT chosen responsible for their sin?  This cannot be fair because they had no real chance to be saved. Doesn’t this reduce people to robots who move according to God’s predetermined programming?  The question has many forms, but it generally comes out sounding something like that.  The issue is really how the sovereignty of God relates to human responsibility. How can God hold people responsible for their sin when ultimately HE decides who is saved?  The first thing to be said is that God NEVER in Scripture says that people are not saved because they were not elected.  He puts the blame squarely on the person who refuses to believe.  In John 5:40, Christ tells the Pharisees the reason they did not have eternal life was because “ you REFUSE to come to me to have life.”   Without a doubt, God holds people responsible for not believing.  That must be said up front.

People are clearly responsible for the choices they make with respect to Christ.  However, for the past two weeks, we have been making the case that God is in control of salvation and deciding who is saved.  Now, let’s briefly look at a couple of texts which indicate, NOT only that God is sovereign in salvation but that He, at one and the same time, does hold people responsible for their sinful actions.  The reason we do this is to emphasize that the Bible does indeed teach BOTH the sovereign control of God and the responsibility of humanity.

            Let’s look first at Luke 22:22.  Jesus is celebrating the Last Supper with the disciples and is looking ahead to his crucifixion.  He says, “The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.”  Here you have in one verse the truths both of God’s sovereign control over the death of His Son and the genuine responsibility Judas bears for his act of betrayal.  We know God was sovereignly controlling the events to ensure that Jesus would go to the cross. The biblical record forces us to see that God the Father intended the death of Jesus and that intention is first revealed as far back as Genesis three.  He didn’t just KNOW that it would take place, He PLANNED that it would take place. The destiny of Christ was to die on the cross according to God’s plan.            Yet, in spite of this inescapable outcome, Jesus curses Judas for his sin. He says, “…but woe to that man who betrays him.” On the one hand, we see the sovereignly controlled event of the crucifixion, but on the other, Judas is clearly held responsible for his free will choice to betray Jesus Christ and these two truths are presented alongside each other!  Notice Jesus doesn’t have a problem with these truths cohabiting with each other.  He doesn’t qualify the statement, making it easier to understand by minimizing either God’s control or Judas’ free will.  He just lays both of them out there without apology or explanation.  We see the same dynamic in the preaching of Peter at Pentecost.

            In Acts 2:23, Peter is preaching and in speaking of Jesus says to the crowd, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  Once again, we see these truths stacked next to each other.  Christ went to the cross as a result of “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.”  This was God’s plan and He executed His plan.  But Peter points the finger at these people for crucifying Jesus.  They were held responsible for this.  And we know  they felt responsible for it because of what is said later.  In verse 36, Peter says, “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”   Here, Peter pins the crucifixion of Christ, NOT on God’s plan, but on these people and notice their reaction to this in verse 37, “When the people heard this [this charge of murdering the Messiah], they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the  other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?  Peter’s audience knew they were responsible for the most heinous crime in history and they are desperate to know what they could possibly do in response to this.

            There was no doubt these people FELT their responsibility in crucifying Christ.  They were cut to the heart by their awareness of what they had done of their own free wills.  Notice, they did NOT say, “Hey, it wasn’t our fault, Peter.  You just said it was God’s plan.  We didn’t have a real choice.  We were just robots, mindlessly and unknowingly following God’s plan.  We had no chance—it wasn’t fair—How can God blame us for this if it was part of His plan anyway?”  No.  These first converts were able to accept that their  human responsibility was in no way muted by God’s sovereign decree.  They didn’t develop migraines trying to figure out how God could legitimately hold someone responsible for their involvement in His sovereignly controlled plan. They just accepted both truths.

            There IS one text in the New Testament which DOES raise the question of how God could possibly hold someone responsible for their choices when they were part of His sovereign plan.  In Romans nine, Paul brings up Pharaoh as we have seen before.  God has just said that in using Pharaoh He, at one and the same time, hardened his heart against obeying His command AND also held Him responsible for his actions.  Paul summarizes God’s dealings with Pharaoh in verse 18, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”   In the next verse Paul says in response to God’s dealings with Pharaoh, “One of you will say to me:  “Then why does God still blame us” For who resists his will?” 

Here, unlike the case of Judas or the first converts, the question IS raised, “How can God hold someone responsible if they are somehow part of  his sovereignly decreed plan?” They obviously did not have robots in Paul’s day, but when he asks the question, “For who resists his will?” He is addressing the issue of robots who have no chance to resist their programming.  In response to this intellectual query, Paul gives the question the kind of “deep,” “nuanced,” “comprehensive” response [at least in God’s mind] such a question deserves.  He says, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?  “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, `Why did you make me like this?  Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”    

The Holy Spirit’s sentiment is well captured in Eugene Peterson’s translation, “The Message.” 20Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn't talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, "Why did you shape me like this?" 21Isn't it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans?  In response to this question about the fairness of God in holding people responsible in the midst of His sovereign plan, he says  in essence, “It is arrogant to ask such a question because it assumes that you have a right to question God’s way of conducting Himself—a clay pot would never do that to its maker, why do you feel the freedom to do this to YOUR Maker?”  We must admit that this answer Paul gives here simply does not satisfy many people in an age where we have solved the mystery of sending someone to the moon and curing small pox.  Paul does not intend that this answer will solve the dilemma posed by the question.  What Paul says here is clear.  That is, this is one question, this is one mystery, we are not even to ask about. Why not?

J.I Packer in His book “Evangelism and The Sovereignty of God” says the reason is because this question, when you boil it down, has to do with how God relates to Himself. What is meant by that is this.  This question touches upon how God can, at one and the same time, be the King who is omnipotent and who sovereignly, absolutely controls the universe and the Judge who is perfectly just and who holds people responsible for the choices they make.  How God relates to Himself as Judge when He is King and vice versa is His business.  God says we have no place there. We can be fairly certain that this information, which so many wish they possessed, would be far beyond our ability to comprehend.  The finite cannot apprehend the infinite.

We must remember the truth, “How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been His counselor?”  God says in Isaiah, “For  my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” We must remember that God is infinite and we are finite and if, in our finiteness, we cannot solve the mystery of how the sovereign will of God in salvation and the free will of man relate to one another, that should not surprise us. This has to do with the internal workings of God’s Person and in order to understand that, we would, in some sense have to be equal with God and we are not.

God is incomprehensible. That is one of his divine attributes.  The old preacher had it right, “you cannot unscrew the inscrutable.”  Spurgeon was asked if he could reconcile these two truths with each other and he said, “I wouldn’t try, I never reconcile friends.”  In our minds, these two concepts may seem at cross purposes and require reconciliation, but in God’s mind they are friends. We must never assume that every difficult issue in the Bible is a mystery, (most are NOT) but when the Bible itself affirms that something is beyond our understanding, it is always best to agree with the sacred text and embrace our ignorance. What is amazing is NOT that we have unanswerable questions about God and how the most complex philosophical tensions are ultimately resolved in His Person.  The amazing thing is that, in His mercy, God has given us feeble minded mortals so much insight into His Person.

One thing is certain, we are NOT free to reject the plain reading of Romans nine in favor of an interpretation which attempts to take the mystery out of the self evident mystery.  Neither are we free to interpret this text in a way which attempts to make the character of God more palatable or user-friendly to us.  So many attempts to preach these hard truths about God are nothing more than attempts to shrink the Lord of the Universe into tasty, bite size pieces.  Such attempts often leave us with a picture, NOT of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, but of a defanged, declawed house cat—a pathetic and often blasphemous caricature of the Almighty.  God does not need us to twist His word so as to apologize for Him or make excuses for those aspects of His personality which make the world and even segments of a self centered church a bit squeamish.  The hymn writer had it right,“God is God and therefore King!”  When it comes to the fairness question in this context, we must remember from last week that God would be perfectly fair in not saving anyone.  He is under obligation to show mercy to NO ONE.

A second question with respect to this truth is often stated something like this, “If God has everything all planned out, then why should I do anything about it?  Why should I pray for my neighbor or evangelize my son or daughter—its all decided anyway—why bother?”  First, let’s point out that this question, so quick to leap into our minds, is not an inevitable one for those who take Romans nine literally.  The founders of the modern missions movement, people like William Carey believed strongly in the sovereign control of God in salvation.  It was no contradiction for them to, on the one hand believe in God’s sovereign control in grace and on the other, devote their blood, sweat and lives to missions and evangelism.  The same could be said of David Brainerd, whose biography detailing his missionary work to the native Americans in the 1700’s has served as an inspiration for countless other missionaries like Jim Elliot.  This fatalistic, “why bother” application of this truth is not something mandated by the facts, but is rather ASSUMED to be a natural implication of them.  It is not.

One reason why the sovereign control of God in salvation does not release us from our responsibility to evangelize is found in a truth revealed in Deuteronomy 29.  Moses has laid down the law and the curses which come from not following the law and says in verse 29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”  In other words, there are secret things—God’s timing in his actions, why He does certain things in the way He does them, the identity of those He has predestined to save and those He has not. Those are the secret things of God.  We cannot know them and they are therefore irrelevant to us in this life.  He has predetermined who the elect will be so that when we see Him, we will glorify Him by seeing that all He has decreed has indeed happened, all those He had called were saved.  His sovereign control over all things will be gloriously revealed at that time, but these questions are in this sense meaningless to us now, because we cannot know those things.

If we are living God centered lives for the glory of God, we will never ask the question, “Why bother to pray or evangelize?”  The reason is because, though we delight in the fact that God will be glorified in the future fulfillment of every element of His sovereign plan in salvation, we can bring glory to Him NOW by praying and proclaiming and being an active, vital part of His plan.  When someone asks the question, “Why bother?”  they are assuming the only important issue to God in the salvation of the elect is the end result that His elect people are saved.  The important thing (people getting saved) is going to happen whether I do anything or not.”  So the thinking goes.  But to God, the salvation of the person is no more important, no more glorifying to Him than the process He sets in motion as His church obeys His command to pray for and evangelize the lost.  And this process is NOT a secret.  It is revealed in the Word and we will be responsible for doing our part to pray and witness to the lost.

This we know.  God calls us to love our neighbor and at the pinnacle of that command is the obligation to pray for their salvation and reach them with the gospel in any way God directs.  If we ask the question, “Why bother?” we are admitting we don’t love our neighbor—we are dismissing out of hand what Jesus called the second great commandment upon which hangs all the law and all the prophets.  This we know also.  Evangelism and prayer are NECESSARY for people to get saved.  Those are God’s chosen methods to draw people to himself.  Paul, in Romans 10:14-15 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”

God’s sovereign plan in salvation must be seen NOT ONLY as the end result of who is the elect, but as all of the component parts of that plan.  He is glorified in each step of the plan, not just when the person finally accepts Christ.  And part of his beautiful plan are the beautiful feet He has commissioned to send His word to the unsaved.  For a person to apply God’s sovereign control in salvation in some sort of fatalistic way only reveals that they don’t know God very well at all.  They may mistakenly THINK they know doctrine well,  but they don’t know the heart of God at all. Woe be unto those who stand before God, having done nothing to win the lost with the excuse on their lips, “Because You were sovereign, you didn’t need me to be obedient to your word.”  We are called to delight in God’s sovereign plan and we are also to delight in the fact that God would USE US to be PART of bringing fulfillment of His sovereign plan in the lives of His people.  That is glorious!!  For a person to apply this teaching by saying, “Why bother!” is to deny their responsibility in carrying out their part in the gospel.  And as we have seen, God’s sovereignty does not exempt people from their responsibility, either the lost or the church that is called to reach the lost.

In truth, the response “why bother?” with respect to evangelism and missions is in one sense a perfectly appropriate response for the person whose theology forces them to depend ultimately on an unsaved person’s willingness to choose Jesus Christ.  THAT is a futile plan.  As Packer says, “The sovereignty of God in grace gives us our only hope of success in evangelism….[it] is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless.  For it creates the possibility—indeed, the certainty—that evangelism will be fruitful.”  We have discussed before the fact that fallen man can never choose Christ independently.  He is “dead in trespasses and sins.”  First Corinthians two says this about the sinner, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  The sinner just doesn’t have the spiritual equipment to accept the word of God and be saved.  Unless there is someone outside himself operating on him, there is no hope.   But if the person has been acted on by God through His call and regenerating power, then He can and will respond to the gospel.  The preaching of the gospel raises from the dead those who called of God and enables them to become Christians.

This understanding leaves the burden to save people where it belongs, on the power of God, not the eloquence of the message or the method of evangelism utilized. And this understanding provides that God and God alone will get all the glory for this miraculous work of making dead men, live.  It is as we come to a person with the possibility that they are called that we can come with great boldness in our evangelism.  We can in love present the truth, the whole truth—the need for repentance and a changed life and give the results to God.  If however, we are trusting in the eloquence or cleverness of our presentation, then we will walk away from our “unsuccessful” evangelistic encounters punishing ourselves for all the things we “should” have said so the lost person would have responded. 

A similar question is answered along a very similar line of thought.  Some people ask the question, “What good does it do me to desire God and to serve God if I am not one of those chosen by God to be saved?”  Some people are deathly afraid they will spend their lives seeking after Christ and find to their horror that they were not elect and it was all a complete waste of time.  Again, we must see what the Scripture SAYS rather than draw FALSE IMPLICATION from a biblical truth.   The Bible NEVER says that seeking after God is futile or a waste of time or ever could be.  Jesus said in John 6:37, “whoever comes to me, I will never drive away.”  That’s His word and it cannot be broken.  We must remember that God’s sovereignty does not cancel out His faithfulness to His word.  His attributes are not at war with each other!  And we can claim this and many other promises that He will not turn away those who are honestly seeking Him.  Bank on it and understand that God’s sovereign control will never interfere with someone seeking after God, but will actually be facilitating it.

That does not address all the questions in relationship to this topic.  If you have more, I will try (or ask Pastor Joel—why should I have all the fun!?) to respond to them. As I close this question-answering time, let me pose some questions.  First, is Your God absolutely sovereign, in control of all things including the salvation of the lost?  Is our trust when we pray for someone to come to know Christ and be transformed in that lost person’s depraved will to somehow decide to invite Christ into their life?  Or is it ultimately in God’s transforming power?  What is the highest priority for your God, protecting the so called “free will” of a person or showing forth His own glory in His absolute sovereignty. 

If you are one who finds some part of this teaching repugnant, how do YOU explain the difficult texts of Romans eight and nine and other texts which clearly point to the fact that our God, before the foundation of the earth elected those who would be saved?  If we believe that every word of the Scripture is inspired by God and there are no direct contradictions in the Bible, then it is our responsibility to come to a solid understanding of what we DO believe about these texts.  It shows no integrity to simply state what we do NOT believe, especially when this teaching, which may seem repugnant to us was what Luther, Calvin and the rest of the Reformers, not to mention some of the other most brilliant theologians in church history have unflinchingly taught.  May God give us the grace to know what we believe and to act on it for God’s glory.

MESSAGE FOR OCTOBER 10, 1999 FROM ROMANS 8:28-30

           

The past few weeks we have been exploring the wonders of God’s sovereign control of the salvation of His church.  We have done this because in our study of the book of Romans, we have come to a text in Romans 8:29-30 where the heavy theological issues of predestination and election are explicitly raised by Paul.  As we look ahead to chapter nine, these issues are fleshed out even more broadly. We want to present these texts in such a manner that we would delight in the truths of the predestination and election of the church.  Because that is true, we must first spend some time wiping away some of the confusion which surrounds these doctrines which hold that God is in absolute control of who is saved and who is not.  That is, He chooses or elects those who are to be saved and it is HIS work in election, NOT the free will of a person which ultimately determines whether a person inherits eternal life.

I had hoped we would be able to get back to the texts at hand in Romans eight this week, while at the same time finishing up the ground work which needs to be laid to best understand them.  It has, however become clear to me that one question about predestination, which we alluded to last week, is so important that it deserves an entire message to itself if we are to be comprehensive and not duck the tough questions surrounding it.

The question we said we would deal with this week is, how do you reconcile biblical texts which teach God desires to save ALL people, with the biblical truth we have been looking at lately?  For the sake of balance, we must also give some texts which indicate God’s desire that ALL people be saved.  We see this in 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  Here, Peter says that God doesn’t want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Paul, who writes so clearly and so powerfully about predestination and election in Romans eight and nine also affirms this other truth in 1 Timothy 2:4 where he says that God “…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” These texts tell us God desires that ALL people be saved.   The question is, how do you reconcile this with our understanding of election?  When you look at these texts and the texts we have been looking at supporting election, that God has decreed that only CERTAIN people, His elect people will be saved, it seems that the Bible affirms BOTH truths, but how can this be?

Let’s begin the answer by asserting that these seemingly competing truths of election “versus” God’s desire to save all is NOT the only example in the Bible where God appears to have two, seemingly contradictory wills.  In other words, when you study the bible carefully you see God, on several occasions, willing two seemingly contradictory outcomes.  Let’s support that claim by looking at some examples of this.  The first, we have already examined in another context and that is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  It is clear that the Father desired Christ to be crucified so that His death might provide a way for sinners to be made right with Him. 

It is equally clear that those who crucified Him engaged in sinful behavior God hates and forbids in Scripture.  Herod, Pilate, the religious leaders and the Jews they had managed to raise against Jesus were drenched with sin in their involvement with this process.  They lied about Jesus, they hated Jesus, they tortured Jesus, they cast lots for his clothes, they killed Jesus and they pierced Jesus. ALL of those acts are expressly forbidden by God’s Law and all are sinful.  God had issued clear commands against each one of these sinful activities.  Yet they were all done to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies which declared it was God’s will that Jesus would die for the sins of His people. How do you reconcile the seeming contradiction of God’s will seen in His commands AGAINST these particular sins while He also willingly PERMITS these sins in order to accomplish His will?  On the one hand, He has a will of command, “don’t lie,” “don’t murder,” etc…, but on the other, He has another will.  Namely, that His Son, through these sins would be put to death on the cross for the forgiveness of sin.

We see these two wills of God about the death of His Son stated side by side in Acts 4:27-28. After Peter and John had been released from prison for preaching in the name of Jesus, the believers are praying to God.  This prayer is recorded beginning in verse 27 as the people say, “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  Clearly, there is a recognition that what these people did was sinful in conspiring against God’s “holy servant, Jesus.”  But in the next breath they pray in verse 28, “They [these wicked people] did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”  There is an equally clear statement affirming that all of those things which were against God’s will were in some way working to accomplish ANOTHER will, namely to crucify Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.

Another example of this same, two-wills-of-God dynamic is seen in the earthly ministry of Jesus.  In Mark 1:15, Christ tells us the will of God as it relates to His ministry.  He says, “The time has come,” he said.  “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news.”  The will of God was that people, in response to the ministry of Christ would repent and believe the good news. Jesus issues a command here—“Repent.” But look ahead to chapter four.  Jesus had just delivered the parable of the sower. Jesus’ teaching method of choice was through the telling of parables.  Matthew 13:34 says, “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.”    In Mark 4:10-12, after telling this parable of the sower, the text says, “When He [Jesus] was alone, the twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.  He told them, The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.  But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, [quoting Isaiah six,] “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.”  

Here Jesus makes an astonishing statement!  He says one reason he teaches in parables was so that His message would NOT be understood by everyone so that not everyone would repent and receive forgiveness.  The parables, with their veiled quality, were intentionally veiled so that not everyone would understand.  So here in Mark, within three chapters of each other, you have Jesus stating TWO wills of God as it relates to His ministry. One the one hand, He wills that those who hear his message would repent and believe the good news.  On the other, you have that good news intentionally delivered in such a way so as to restrict certain people from understanding it.  Again we have a case where God wills something but he [to quote one scholar] “acts in a way to restrict the fulfillment of that will.”  How do those things fit together?

There is the illustration of Pharaoh which we have repeatedly raised in other contexts.  On the one hand, God tells Moses in Exodus chapter eight that His message to Pharaoh should be, “Let my people go.”  God wills by divine command that Pharaoh release the Hebrew slaves.  But four chapters earlier, God tells Moses in 4:21, “…When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do.  But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”  Again we see God commanding something [let my people go] that He in some way acts to restrict by hardening Pharaoh’s heart.  How does that fit together?

One more example just to drive the point home.  When Samuel was a boy, one of the priests was named Eli.  Eli had two sons named Hophni and Phineas and they were unholy terrors.  As priests, they were so immoral in their conduct they had made a mockery of temple worship.  In First Samuel 2, Eli chastises his sons with a severe rebuke.  In 2:25 we read their response to this rebuke.  It says, “…His sons, however did not listen to their father’s rebuke…  Why not?  The most readily apparent answer if we were to fill in the rest of the verse would be, “because they were exceedingly sinful and would not attend to the words of their father.”  That was doubtless true, but the reason they didn’t respond according to verse 25 was because, (quoting now) “it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.”  God wanted to make an example of them so He in some way superintends in this situation so as to blunt the effect of their father’s rebuke. God hated their sin and in one sense clearly willed that they respond to their father’s rebuke.  But in some way, He restricted their repentance of the sin because he wanted to put them to death.  

Now, we MUST SEE that in all of this God NEVER causes or is the author of sin.  He simply permits sin and directs sin to accomplish His decreed will.  We must also see that this dynamic within election, which shows God having two, different wills about something--on the one hand desiring all people to be saved, but on the other choosing only the elect to be saved—is not unique just to the issue of election.  This is part of how God has worked in many contexts.  How are we to respond to this?  There are at least three options open to us.  First, we can do what many evangelicals do.  We can act as if these texts with their paradoxes simply don’t exist.  We may have read them in our devotions and decided to skip over the difficulties they present. “Why exert the energy to try to find resolution when surely somewhere out there is an answer that will not offend my way of thinking?”  Many in the church today think these kinds of texts cannot actually MEAN what they say and without any basis in fact boldly declare, “Because MY God would never do the kind of things this text says, it must mean something OTHER than what it says.  That enables us to duck the hard issue, but the price we pay for doing that can be exquisitely high!  When we think that way, what we can unknowingly be doing is this:  creating a god who is different from the One revealed in the Bible because the Bible clearly presents a God who indeed DOES do these kind of things.  In so doing, we are asking the God of the Bible to sit down and be quiet while we create another god—a mongrel deity.  By mongrel I mean that part of His character is rooted in the pages of Scripture, but other parts, the parts that seem hard to understand or just plain hard, we re-form into a more user-friendly god.

            A second option is to follow the liberal scholars who say we should not place much stock in the Bible because it is full of contradictions like this one.  Then, having released themselves of any infallible, truly authoritative, external source of truth about God, they are free to create THEIR own god who “understands” and accepts their sin and who mysteriously manages to have the same world view and value system that they do. They have a god who basically agrees with them on all the major issues of the day and when they become enlightened by the popular culture and change their mind about a given issue, God mysteriously moves with them and the culture in that change. The liberal sees NO contradiction in a god who, in 1939 was steadfastly opposed to a certain behavior and called it “sin” but who, in 1999 readily accepts that same behavior.  He always seems to share their current set of beliefs and the Bible, though it has some inspirational value, shouldn’t be considered authoritative over us because it is to them unreliable as an authoritative guide—its full of these kind of contradictions.

            A third and best option is this.  We can make an earnest effort to see God the way the Bible presents Him without caving in to either of the above temptations and realize that God will not fit into the boxes we have so neatly created for Him.  Instead of editing him through self-imposed shallowness or rejection of His sacred text, we can give Him room to be God and embrace the paradoxes His infinite Person presents to us.  This issue we have just presented is not a new quandary or is this a new response to it.  Theologians have been grappling with question since  the apostles died out in second and third centuries.  The response of the Patristic fathers—people like Jerome and Clement, the response of Augustine and the Reformers, Luther, Calvin and the rest is still the best.  This is because it is the only one that allows these difficult texts to speak for themselves.  This approach refuses to attempt to duck the difficulties and does not compromise the inspiration and authority of Scripture.  This response goes something like this.

            In each of the instances we cited where God wills in two different outcomes we see what has been called “a will of command” and “a will of decree.”  Let’s explain.  In regard to the crucifixion, God had issued commands against lying, torturing, killing the innocent—His will of command is clear.  But He also had decreed that He would show forth the depth of His love and mercy and grace by allowing His Son to be crucified.  That was His will of decree.  In the case of Pharaoh, His will of command was, “Let my people go.”  But His will of decree was that He would show forth His power through the plagues and parting of the Red Sea and that required that Pharaoh to resist His will of command.  In the case of the parables, Christ’s command was that people would repent in response to His teaching.  But his will of decree was that His sovereign control over who would respond to that teaching would be manifest by revealing the truth of the teaching to only certain people.  He did this by using parables which would limit the number of those who repented to those who He would cause to repent to in response them.  In the case of Eli’s son’s, God’s will of command was the same as with all sin, that the sons would stop sinning. But God’s decreed will was to show forth His holiness and justice, making an example of them by executing them.

Notice two things about these decreed wills.  First, these instances of God’s decreed will were secretive in a sense.  At the time of Christ’s death no one understood that all of this was coming to pass to fulfill the will of God as seen in Old Testament prophecy about the suffering Messiah.  If this had been clearly understood by the disciples, they would have reacted very differently to the cross.  Instead of being emotionally devastated by it, they would have celebrated it as God’s perfect atoning sacrifice.  God’s decreed will with Pharaoh was secretive as well.  Only Moses (as far as we know) knew that God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart so as to show forth God’s mighty power.  Likewise, no one knew at the time the reason the sons of Eli did not respond to their father’s rebuke was because God wanted to execute them.  And finally, only a few people were told that one reason Jesus taught in parables was because it veiled the truth from people whom God did not want to repent.  This will of decree was secretive in contrast to the will of command which was overtly stated or found in the law.

Second, the purpose of the will of decree was and is always the same.  That is, that God might be glorified in some way.  That is, that God might display something glorious about His character.  In the example of the cross, the will of decree was given so that God might be glorified as He manifested the depth of his mercy and grace and love in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  In the case of God restricting what He had commanded by hardening Pharaoh’s heart, this was done so that God would be glorified as Moses, through the plagues and parting of the Red Sea displayed the wonders of God’s power.  With Hophni and Phineas, God decreed that the sons would die so that He might be glorified through the manifestation of His justice as He later executed both of these wicked men on the same day.  And the parables were veiled by the decree of God so that God would manifest that it was HE, not the people who decided who would respond to the teaching of Jesus and thus display God’s glory in his sovereign control over salvation.  The bottom line is the glory of God.

In each of these instances there are two divine wills at work.  One, his will of command is in each case explicitly found in Scripture.  God’s other will was part of His then undisclosed agenda to show forth His glory through the sins of others.  New Testament scholar, I. Howard Marshall puts it this way, “We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what He actually does will to happen, and both of these can be spoken of as God’s will.”  God is truly compassionate and merciful and in a very real sense wants all people to come to repentance.  But he values something more highly than the salvation of everyone.

In a brilliant essay on this topic, John Piper brings out a profound truth.  Piper’s point is this:  in truth, whether you are reformed in your theology or not, you believe God has two wills.  Think about it. If you believe that God wants all to be saved, how do you explain why all are NOT saved?  If God wants all to be saved and has the power as the omnipotent Creator to save everyone, why doesn’t He?  There must be something He values more highly than saving everyone. Whatever side you are on, you must admit that God has two wills.  There are those who believe that God doesn’t save everyone, in spite of His desire to save everyone because He refuses to trample on a person’s free will to coerce them to “decide” to become a Christian.  Even though God wants everyone saved, He will not force anyone to be saved.  There are two wills there.  One, that God wants everyone saved and two, that God will not force anyone to be saved.  He wants all to be saved, but what He wants more is to preserve a perfectly free will to choose NOT to be saved.

The reformed belief system also admits that God wants everyone to be saved, but to the reformed, what God wants more is NOT the preservation of so called “free will,” but the manifestation of His glory in exercising sovereign control over everyone who is saved.  In both cases, God has a higher agenda than saving everyone even though at one level He does want to save everyone.  No matter what you believe about this, you believe God has two wills.  The question is, do you think the reason that God does not choose to will everyone saved even though He wants to save everyone is because He places supreme worth on human self determination or His glory.  Everyone in this room has had two wills about something.  The classic illustration has to do with parenting.  No parent wants to discipline their child.  It is an unpleasant task.  The will of the parent is to spare their child a spanking (or whatever).  But in spite of their desire to spare their child, they go ahead and do the discipline.  Why?  Because though they want to spare their child pain, they value something more highly than that.  They value that child’s character development more highly than they value sparing him from pain, so they discipline.  Saying that God has two wills is not theological double talk.  It is supported by the Scripture and the necessity of having two wills on some issues is seen in our own lives as well.

That concludes this brief series on the character of God and the gospel.  For those who have been encouraged and convinced by it, our prayer is that the remainder of Romans eight and nine will be a glorious blessing as it should be.  For those who still don’t buy into this system of theology, please know two things.  First, being reformed in your theology is no litmus test for fellowship in the church of Christ and certainly not in this church.  We can agree to disagree on this issue and still love the stuffing out of each other as Christ would have us do.

But the second question for those who still don’t buy into this is, why not? If you have made a careful study of the pertinent texts and have simply come to a different conclusion, bless you.  But if you haven’t studied the issues but just FEEL that it is wrong, make sure your theology comes out of the book and not your feelings.  Having a God who controls your salvation and the salvation of your loved ones is ALWAYS going to be counterintuitive because our intuition, our culturally conditioned feelings will always tell us that for God to be fair, He has to give everyone a free will choice to be saved.  But know this—God is not bound by our fallen understanding of fairness.  He is bound only by Himself and His character is revealed in His word.  That is the only place we have a right to go to determine what He is like and what He will do in salvation and in any other context.  May God give us grace to search the Scriptures and exult in Him.    

 

MESSAGE FROM ROMANS 8:28-30 FOR NOVEMBER 7, 1999

 

            This morning we return to our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The last text we dealt with was Romans 8:28-29.  Let’s read that along with verse 30 because, even though they are often separated in our day, in Paul’s mind they form one unit.  Paul says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”  We said that Paul’s main message in verse 28 was that everything in our life conspires for good because of God’s good, sovereign rule and plan for believers.  As we move into verses 29-30, we see that Paul is only expanding and supporting that message.  Notice in verse 29, the first word is “For.”  That means  Paul is giving additional support to the truth in verse 28.  Also, in the original, verses 29-30 are one sentence and communicate one big idea. That means that both verse 29-30 support Paul’s claim in verse 28.

            We said that verse 28 and its glorious promise shoots an arrow into the heart of two of Satan’s most potent lies.  In those moments of trial and tribulation as our head is spinning from how out of control everything feels, Satan comes and whispers to us, “There’s no one a the controls of your life—you’re spinning hopelessly toward a fiery crash.”  When our lives feel like we have been caught up in a tornado and everything is whirling around us in a futile, chaotic cyclone, God’s word in the face of our feelings and Satan’s lies is clear.  God is sovereign and he is not only in control of every detail, he is using His sovereign power to work through the apparent chaos to achieve a very good thing, make us more like Christ.

            Secondly, when our lives are filled with pain and hurt and disappointment and Satan slinks in through the back door of our mind and asks us, “How can your God be good and allow you to go through this?”  When it seems that so much of life’s circumstances have conspired together to communicate to us that we will end up a complete shipwreck under the scowl of a disgusted God, the word of God is clear in verse 28.  God’s purpose in our lives is good, not ill.  In the midst of the sometimes exquisite pain, God is merely showing us something of the depth of His power and goodness, by using wretched, rusty, bacteria-laden instruments like pain and suffering to make something beautiful, mature saints of God.  God is good and His plan for us is a good one, not a bad one.  Satan is not in control and neither are the circumstances as much as we are tempted to believe those lies. God reigns over all of it and says, “I’m right in the middle of this, will you trust me?

            As we move into verses 29-30 which are so tightly packed with theological truth, we must never lose sight that when Paul wrote this text, his primary intent was not to fill the chapters of yet-to-be-written systematic theology textbooks.  No, he writes these verses to support his claim that God is sovereign and God is good to work in the lives of his children.

            Having said that, we DO have to move into some theology here if we are to understand Paul’s point more fully.  For those who are visiting, we have spent four weeks giving a background to the truth of election and predestination so that when we come to verses 29-30 and later into chapter nine, we will be able to more deeply appreciate Paul’s message.  If you would like that treatment of what has been called “reform theology,” a few manuscripts from those four messages are available in the foyer.  We will, for today assume that we have a working knowledge of the basic truths of election with one exception.  There is still one issue on our plate.  Verse 29 says, “for those God foreknew…”  We have not yet discussed in any depth what the New Testament means when it speaks of God’s foreknowledge and so we need to briefly address that issue.

            This whole issue of God’s foreknowledge is an important biblical truth which has enormous capacity to bless God’s people when it is properly understood.  Many believe that when the New Testament speaks of God’s foreknowledge, it means that God looks ahead in time and sees whether a particular person will make a decision to believe in Christ.  God’s foreknowledge is understood to be God’s capacity to know in advance what a person will decide about Jesus Christ.  This highlights God’s omniscience to know the events of the future and is very common in the church today.  That understanding of foreknowledge, which is often supported from this text, for all its popularity, just doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.  Let’s look at three reasons why God’s foreknowledge cannot mean simply that He is able to know in the future what decision a person will make, but in fact relates to the truth that God actually elects or determines those who will be saved.

First, the word in the original which we translate “know” in foreknowledge in the Bible means more than simply to have mental awareness of fact.  This word connotes relationship, not simply an awareness of future events.  First Corinthians 8:3 says, “But if one loves God, one is KNOWN BY HIM.”  Do you hear how God’s knowledge of someone is placed in the context of relationship with Him?  God knows this person in a special, not just a general sense—in a personal way.  In that sense, God KNOWS those who love Him. That speaks of relationship.  God knows everyone in the sense that He has factual knowledge of them, but this is more than factual knowledge.   Jesus, speaking of the judgment says there will be many he will tell, “…I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers.”    What does He mean, “I never KNEW you…?” God knows everyone.  That is, He knows all about them.  But this verse is clearly not talking about that kind of knowledge.  These people didn’t know Christ in a personal, covenantal, way.  To know God, to be in personal relationship with God is what it means to BE KNOWN by God.  Or, in the case of Romans 8:29 to be “foreknown” by God.

When the Jews translated the Old Testament into Greek, we see this same Greek word used in “foreknowledge” to convey the idea of relationship. In First Samuel 2:12, we read, “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men;  they did not KNOW God.”  Now, Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas were priests—they knew all about God, but they didn’t KNOW him in the sense of relationship. When God says to Jeremiah at his call to be a prophet, He says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you…;” Clearly, God is saying more than simply, “Jeremiah, before you were in the womb, I knew all the facts about you---the decision you would make to become a prophet.” 

No, Before he was born, God consecrated Jeremiah, He set him apart to serve as His prophet.  He is telling Jeremiah that his prophetic call and ministry were in HIS mind long before Jeremiah was born.  In that personal, relational sense God KNEW Jeremiah. The meaning of this word translated “know” forces us to see that when God foreKNOWS someone, he is not just aware of a decision they will make.  In truth, He actually thought of them in a saving relationship to himself.  He set his affection on them.  Its more active than simply being aware of the decisions a person will make.

Second, the text says that “those whom foreknew…”  Does that say that God knew the facts about a person, the decisions they will make about Christ?  Or, does it say that God knew the persons themselves? The answer is, God knows the persons themselves. Yet, many people consistently interpret this to mean that God knows what a person will decide about Christ.  That’s not what it says.  It is a personal relationship God establishes before the person is born.  God personally relates to them in His mind.  I don’t know how He does that any more than I know how He consecrated Jeremiah to be a prophet before he was born.  But He is God and its not a stretch for Him.

Finally, this understanding of foreknowledge is the only one which preserves God’s sovereign control over salvation which we spent so much time establishing lately.  If, as we have claimed, salvation is God’s idea and God’s decision and not fundamentally humanity’s, then this relational idea of foreknowledge is the only consistent one.  If God is sovereignly choosing who is saved before the world began, then it makes sense that He would, before that, set His love on those who would He would predestine to be saved.  There is the decision to love the person before the ACT of love is performed, predestining them to be saved.  This is the message of Romans 8:29-30.  Those whom God foreknew…he also predestined.” Do you see the beautiful continuity there!?  God looks at you before the foundation of the earth and says, “I choose to set my love on you in a personal way—I choose to know you within the context of the New Covenant of my Son.”  The relationship comes first; the Divine Person God, relating to the human person, you before you were born.

Think about how healing this truth can be to us.  So many Christians spend so much energy trying to earn God’s love—trying to perform up to a certain standard so as to convince God that they are worthy of His love.  They spend their lives on what Jerry Bridges calls “the performance treadmill”—always running to get God’s approval, but getting nowhere.  This truth of God’s foreknowledge, when it is correctly understood, fatally pierces this entire concept of trying to earn God’s love.   God’s love can’t be earned, it is unconditional for His children.  How unconditional?  So unconditional that He chose to set His love on us before we were conceived in eternity past, before we had the chance to do one thing for Him.  In fact, He chose to set His affection on us before we were conceived, having a perfect knowledge of every evil, wicked act of rebellion we would throw in His face.  His love was given to us with perfect knowledge of all our sins against Him.  What a liberating concept that is!  God’s special, relational, covenantal love was given to His elect BEFORE they were born.  This truth of God’s foreknowledge should be a cause for celebration in the church, not confusion.

Having said that, let’s move into the rest of the text.  There are so many theological terms in this text, we will briefly explain and comment on them and then when we understand what Paul means, we will make some application.  Verses 29-30 say, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”  Do you hear all those theological terms?  Foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified—that’s a theological smorgasbord!  We’ve already seen the logical and sequential tie between God foreknowing someone, setting his affection on them in a special way and then predestining or predetermining them to be conformed to Christ’s image.

The next link in what has been called this “golden chain of salvation” is those God foreknew and predestined, He called.  What does Paul mean here when he says “He [God] called?”   It’s not like the call of a father to a little boy to come and wash up for dinner.  Its more like a summons by an all powerful judge calling someone to respond—it is irrefusible.  One commentator says this calling activity of God is “a summons that overcomes human resistance and effectually persuades them to say yes to God.”  No one whom God has ever called in this saving sense has ever said “no” to Him.  You cannot resist a decree of God.  As we’ve shown from the Scriptures in recent weeks, when it relates to this issue of the call of God to someone, no one can resist.  All respond to the sovereign Lord of the universe.  He calls his foreknown, elected people through the gospel.  He uses the truth of the gospel to call his people to Himself.

Again, notice the sequence here.  In the distant past before the foundation of the earth, God foreknew us and predestined us to be saved.  In the much more recent past, God called us to come into the relationship which he had already determined eons ago in eternity.  The call of God is part of the outworking in THIS dimension, this world, what He ordained to come into being in eternity past.  God’s predetermined, eternal plan is here stepping into time through the words of the missionary, the evangelist, the believing neighbor or through the word of God read or received in some way.  What a humbling thought that when we lead someone to Christ, we are part of the fulfillment of a plan worked out in the mind of God an eternity ago.  It helps us see what a privilege it is to bear the good news of the gospel.

The call of God is fused with the next link in this chain,  those he called, he also justified.  We’ve taken a long look at justification back in chapter three. In justification, we are pardoned of the wretched sin which separates us from God, but we are not left in that spiritually pardoned, neutral state—neither good nor bad.  We are not only pardoned, but we have been given extravagant spiritual credit we could never have earned.  God has declared us to be legally right in his eyes.  He has taken the very righteousness of Christ which he lived out when he was on earth and placed that same righteousness on our account.  Again, notice the sequence, God calls someone through the gospel and when they place their faith in Christ, He justifies them—gives them what they need to be acceptable in His sight.  God could never enter into covenant with someone unless their sin had been taken care of.  To do so would be to compromise His holiness.  And so in justification, God  not only heals the breach in the relationship caused by their sin, he sets them right with Himself and takes another step in fulfilling His glorious plan for them predetermined in eternity past.

Finally, “those he justified, he also glorified.”  Remember, to be glorified is to, in heaven, be made to look just like Jesus.  The flesh with its indwelling sin will be dead along with these fallen, physical bodies.  When we stand before Him and see Christ we will be like Him.  All remnants of indwelling sin will be gone.  We will totally reflect the glory of Christ as the first born of the Father.  This will bring this long process of the redemption of sinners to a close.  This will be the complete fulfillment of God’s plan for us.  A plan that began with his foreknowing us, that is, setting his affection on us, predestining us that we would come into that relationship of love, calling us into that relationship in a way in which we could never say no to his love, justifying us so that, through Christ, we could be worthy of that love and finally, in glorifying us, totally obliterating the final effects of the power of sin on his children.  That is glorious!

Now, two points of application and both of these points you’ve heard, but are worth reemphasizing.  First, salvation is fundamentally a process authored by God, not a decision made by a person.  We must never fall into the trap of thinking that our salvation is fundamentally about what WE DO and it all started with US when we prayed to received Christ.  That robs God of glory and reduces His eternity-long, glorious redemptive plan for us to one moment in time.  What a cosmic insult to God!! Notice something all the elements of our salvation process Paul mentions have in common.  Paul intentionally chooses those elements of our salvation process which emphasize God’s action.  Notice, there is nothing here about sanctification.  In sanctification, we cooperate with God through obedience to bring us into conformity with Christ.  There is no mention of perseverance here.  That element of the process where the saint, by God’s grace remains faithful to the end.  Those and other elements aren’t there. Why not?

Because Paul’s point in this section which stresses the sufficiency of God is to highlight GOD’S initiating, overarching, sovereign role in saving us from beginning to end.  This means, even though there is a sometimes vicious fight for us to fight to see it through, God is ultimately controlling our salvation.  The crucial factor in this salvation process is NOT our white knuckled grip around God’s hand, but His Almighty, inviolable decrees and purposes to bring a people to Himself.  He holds on to genuine redeemed people and He will never let go.

A second point of application before we close.  A person truly saved WILL remain faithful till the end—none will be lost.  This text just screams this.  Notice, it does not say at any point in this chain, SOME of those he called, he justified, or SOME of those he justified, he glorified.  NO.  All of those who he set his covenantal affection eons ago will be those who stand before Him as His glorified church.  Not one will be lost.  Notice, he makes this point by saying, “he also glorified.”  Notice that Paul speaks of our future glorification in the past tense.  He is using a literary device to show that the certainty of a true believer’s glorification is so assured, he can write of it in the past tense.  If you sit here a true believer in Jesus Christ, in the mind of God you have already been glorified. He knows precisely what you will be like when all your sin is gone and stand before him, a perfected saint.

This is so important and is so much at the heart of what Paul began in verse 28.  The major point of the text remember is to show that we can be assured that everything works together for good because God is in complete control of every aspect of our salvation process.  So often, people see their salvation as their idea—rooted in a decision they made when they first prayed to receive Christ.  They then spend the rest of their lives trying to dodge all the bullets that come into their life that would, in their mind, cause them to lose their salvation.  That’s horrible bondage.  We are not targets on the wrong end of a satanic shooting gallery, we are pieces of clay on God’s potter’s wheel.  What God is saying is that those obstacles, the trials, the temptations, the tribulations, the afflictions, the pain, the grief are not only NOT going to derail the true saint.  But because God is sovereign over this salvation process from beginning to end, God will actually use all those things to accomplish His saving purpose in our lives.  We don’t need to live our lives in fear of slipping off some sort of performance tightrope.  The true believer is, in the midst of the worst storm, held safely by the same mighty hand that penned our names in the book an eternity ago.  Glory be to God!

 

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