Even if Not, No Matter What - Part 6
Series: My Preaching Bucket List
August 12, 2018
Even if Not, No Matter what is a series of messages on one of the most difficult concepts to understand: the sovereignty of God.
Sovereignty means supreme power or authority. Throughout history there have been powerful, sovereign rulers like King Nebuchadnezzar, rulers who could pretty much do whatever they wanted.
But they don’t compare to the One who has supreme power and authority over the universe: the God of all Creation, the God of the Bible.
Psalm 115:3 (ESV) — 3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
But God’s sovereignty extends far beyond the idea that he can do what he pleases. A well-known pastor/theologian has helped us every week with this explanation of what God’s sovereignty means:
“God has the rightful authority, the freedom, the wisdom, and the power to bring about everything that he intends to happen. And therefore, everything he intends to come about does come about. Which means, God plans and governs all things.
When he says, “I will accomplish all my purpose,” he means, “Nothing happens except what is my purpose.” … nothing has ever happened, or will ever happen, that God did not purpose to happen. Or to put it positively: Everything that happened or will happen is purposed by God to happen.”
The ancient Jews and early Christians embraced the idea that God is SOVEREIGN and he works PROVIDENTIALLY in all things to accomplish his will. Modern Western Christians, not so much.
When you go back into God’s word looking for his sovereignty, you see it all over the place. It explains a lot. Such as Acts 12 where Peter was saved and James wasn’t. Or the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (hence our series title).
God’s sovereignty helps us cope with a number of really hard things in the Bible, things that when we first encounter them seem either to not make sense or scare us to death or both. Last week we looked at Romans 9, a chapter chock-full of God’s sovereignty and unsurprisingly also full of hard things.
Romans 9 gave us a bombshell:
God is sovereign over salvation.
You may not have seen it as a bombshell, but when you unpack it, you discover it is.
That’s what I want us to do this morning. As I’ve said before: this will most likely leave you with more questions than answers. In fact, if it doesn’t then I probably didn’t preach it right or you didn’t listen right.
In the end though, if you let it, this will bless you in big ways.
Look with me at what Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus…
Ephesians 1:3–14 (ESV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
Paul was a Christ-follower writing to a bunch of Christ-followers in Ephesus, so the “us” in verse 3 is believers. Believers are (present tense) blessed by God in Christ. We are believers so that “us” is us too.
But did you catch what he said in verse 4? God also “chose” us in Christ before the world ever existed (past tense).
Wait, wait, wait. I thought I chose him! What about that hymn? I have decided, to follow Jesus…You did, but he decided to choose you first.
Listen to what Jesus taught…
John 6:44 (ESV) — 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Who’s taking the initiative here? God. And look at what Jesus revealed to the disciples…
John 15:16 (ESV) — 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
This explains why, when Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel to the Gentiles at Antioch, Luke wrote…
Acts 13:48 (ESV) — 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
In other words, "as many as had been chosen before the foundation of the world." A group referred to in the NT as the “elect.”
Put all this together and what we discover God’s sovereignty over salvation means, is we believe because we’re chosen, not chosen because we believe.
This has to be the way it works with a sovereign God, folks. Remember, his sovereignty means everything that happened or will happen is purposed by him to happen. That includes us deciding to follow him.
Paul keeps it going. Look on…
In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
This isn’t an isolated truth. Look back to the end of Romans 8…
Romans 8:28–30 (ESV) — 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
God’s sovereignty by definition requires predestination, which means to decide beforehand. God decided beforehand whom he would choose for salvation.
We believe because we’re chosen, not the other way around.
This naturally produces burning questions.
How do we reconcile God’s sovereignty with our free will?
Spurgeon was asked this very question and replied that friends do not need to be reconciled. We can’t. It makes sense this wouldn’t make sense when talking about an all-powerful, sovereign God over all the universe.
Somehow, seemingly opposing truths are true. God predestined us to be saved, yet we chose of our own free will to come to him through his Son. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Why can’t it be that God, who knows the end from the beginning, looked forward through the corridors of time before we were created, and saw who would choose him so he chose them?
If that’s the way it is, then on what basis were we chosen? Our works. That makes us our own saviors in a way. Which takes us back to last week. Romans 9 is about God choosing to have mercy on whom he wills not because of a person’s worthiness, but because God is just God.
Does this mean then, that those who didn’t choose him were predestined to hell?
I’ll admit this is really difficult to figure out. Human logic would require this to be true. But, again, we are talking about a God who transcends all human logic. The Bible never explicitly says God predestines folks for hell. That’s all I know.
Spurgeon preached a message on Romans 9:13 (Jacob I have loved; Esau I have hated). He began with this…
“Do not imagine for an instant that I pretend to be able thoroughly to elucidate the great mysteries of predestination. There are some men who claim to know all about the matter. They twist it round their fingers as easily as if it were an everyday thing; but depend upon it, he who thinks he knows all about this mystery, knows but very little. It is but the shallowness of his mind that permits him to see the bottom of his knowledge; he who dives deep, finds that there is in the lowest depth to which he can attain a deeper depth still. The fact is, that the great questions about man’s responsibility, free-will, and predestination, have been fought over, and over, and over again, and have been answered in ten thousand different ways; and the result has been, that we know just as much about the matter as when we first began.
The combatants have thrown dust into each other’s eyes, and have hindered each other from seeing; and then they have concluded, that because they put other people’s eyes out, they could therefore see.”
These things are being fought over in our denomination today. I refuse to get in the ring. I refuse to be labeled or label others.
CS Lewis had the right idea. In the preface of his book, Mere Christianity, he very wisely wrote…
[The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between… Christian ‘denominations’. … in this book I am not trying to convert anyone to my own position. Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times. I had more than one reason for thinking this. In the first place, the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology … which ought never to be treated except by real experts. I should have been out of my depth in such waters: more in need of help myself than able to help others.
And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. …
There are questions at issue between Christians to which I do not think we have been told the answer. There are some to which I may never know the answer: if I asked them, even in a better world, I might (for all I know) be answered as a far greater questioner was answered: ‘What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.’ But there are other questions as to which I am definitely on one side of the fence, and yet say nothing. For I am not writing to expound something I could call ‘my religion’, but to expound ‘mere’ Christianity, which is what it is and what it was long before I was born and whether I like it or not.]
Doesn’t believing this dampen our passion for evangelism? If people believe because God chooses the elect before the foundation of the world, then why share the gospel, why do missions?
Do you believe Paul believed in election/predestination?
1 Corinthians 9:19–23 (ESV) — 19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Paul believed, when it came to salvation, all depended on God. But he lived, he ministered as if it all depended on him.
What if I’m not God’s elect?
If you are concerned about being God’s elect, you need not be concerned.
Conclusion: Many have probably already picked up on something in this message. It touches on the teachings of a man named John Calvin. The man who gave us Calvinism. A man worshipped by some and demonized by others (both of which are errors of extremes).
Would it surprise you to know even Calvin wrestled with this? He never pretended to understand it completely, because to do so meant fully comprehending God, an impossibility.
He called the doctrine of predestination a “horrible decree” but even more so he said it was “very sweet fruit.” And he said, “even though … predestination is likened to a dangerous sea, still in traversing it, one finds safe and calm—I add also pleasant—sailing.”
What does he mean by that? How can it be horrible and sweet?
Hidden within this mind-numbing conundrum are comforting truths.
One has to do with our role in winning others to Jesus.
If God chooses people based on their choosing him, then I by default am responsible for their salvation or damnation. This puts all the burden on us. How could heaven be heaven if the reason my parent or child or best friend wasn’t there was because I never shared the gospel with them?
God knew better. If he couldn’t trust us with our own salvation he certainly couldn’t trust us with others’. In the end, salvation is his business.
This doesn’t absolve us from sharing!
The other has to do with our resting in God’s grace.
If God chooses people based on their choosing him, it puts all the burden on us for staying in that condition.
Tim Keller tells of the day he realized this…
[Years ago, it all crystallized to me when a teacher was trying to get this across (this idea of choosing and God’s election). There were a bunch of us young students. We were all in college. There was a girl in particular who was braver than the rest of us guys. She was saying, “This is ridiculous! I hate this idea.” The teacher got down on his knees in front of her on the rug and said, “Let me ask you a question. Why are you a Christian? A lot of people aren’t. Why are you a Christian?”
She says, “Because I believed.” He says, “Right. Why did you believe and so many other people haven’t?” She said, “I guess because I repented.” He said, “Good. Why did you repent and so many other people haven’t?” She said, “Well, because I admitted I was a sinner.” He said, “Right. Why did you admit?”
It dawned on me. I can’t remember if it dawned on her or not, but I remember it dawned on me. I don’t even remember her name. I remember what she looked like. I remember the back of her head.
It dawned on me. If I’m chosen because I believe, that means I’m a Christian because I’m a little better, I’m a little wiser, I’m a little humbler. There’s something in me that’s better. What that means is there is something in me that brought the grace of God into my life that if I lose that, I lose it. But if not I’m chosen because I believe but rather I believe because I’m chosen, then that means the love of Christ has come into my life unconditionally. Unconditionally!]
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