Even if Not, No Matter What - Part 7

Series: My Preaching Bucket List

August 19, 2018
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

In this series, we have tackled one of the toughest subjects related to God: his sovereignty. A well-known pastor/theologian has helped us every week with an 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.”

To talk about this, to come to terms with this requires we look at it from a theological side. To do that, we go to the Bible and dig deep into the many Scriptures that affirm it. But theology was never meant to dance alone. It’s partner is practicality. 

The practical side of sovereignty, the side that has to do with everyday life comes into play when we wonder why Peter was saved and James wasn’t. Why God answers some prayers and not others. Why some are healed and delivered and others aren’t. Why our three men left the door open for God not to save them from the fiery furnace.

Taking this doctrine into everyday life is where we must exercise caution.

As with any teaching, if we carry it too far, things can get out of hand. This is especially true of God’s sovereignty. It’s hard enough as it is to figure out, how in the world can anyone spend too much time there? It answers many questions and gives us much comfort if we let it, but we must be careful not to get whoppy-jawed when we live in light of it.

I’ve already addressed the error of evangelism regarding God’s sovereignty. Some go so far as to dismiss the need for evangelism if God has chosen us before the foundation of the world, if we choose to believe in God because he first chose us.

Paul believed and taught the doctrine of God’s sovereignty over salvation (as did John and Peter), but he lived like everyone’s salvation depended on him. 

Here are two other ways we go too far if we’re not careful.

Why pray? If God has foreordained all things, even to the point of choosing me before the foundation of the world, what use is there in praying? A sovereign God doesn’t change his mind, so how can prayer make a difference?

Look at a familiar story in…

Exodus 32:1–14 (ESV) — 1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. 7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

It some translations it actually says God repented of his plans to start over with Moses’ descendants. Say what now?

How in the world do we reconcile this with God’s sovereignty? It all depends on whose perspective you’re looking at it from.

Think back. Who told Moses to go down and see what the people were doing? God did (verse 7). That’s so important! And what did Moses do when God threatened to start over? He reminded God of his promises to those people.

JD Greear says…

“God put Moses in a place so that he would see the problem, perceive God’s anger, remember God’s promises, and petition God to change.”

Moses uses God’s own promises to “change God’s mind.” A sovereign God had chosen these people to make a great nation. He had promised to take them and their descendants into the Promised Land. That had to happen.

From God’s perspective, Moses asked for what was already his sovereign will. From Moses’ perspective, he changed God’s mind.

David Platt says “it is true that the purposes of God are unchanging; but the plan of God, from our perspective, is unfolding… When we pray we take our God-given place and use our God-ordained privilege to participate with him in the accomplishment of his purposes on the planet.”

You can try to figure this out, but you’ll end up at the same crossroads you did trying to reconcile our free will with God’s sovereignty. One is the path to insanity/insecurity/even heresy, the other is the path of surrender. Somehow, they are just both true.

D.A. Carson says…

“There is admitted mysteriousness in all of this. … there is mysteriousness about God and his attributes, things that are above our capacity to perceive.

For instance, all of our personal relationships amongst ourselves occur in time, in sequence. So if I ask a question, then after the question, another person responds with an answer, which may then trigger further reflection, which prompts me to ask another question, followed by further response. If the response is, from my perspective, really bad, I might respond with curtness, anger, or compassion, but in some ways, my personal response is a sequential thing, because both the other party and I are locked in time.

But God inhabits eternity, so what does it mean for God, the God of eternity, to interact with us, his image-bearers… who are locked in space and time? … God discloses himself to us in the personal categories we understand, even while Scripture itself happily announces that God inhabits eternity.”

God deals with us according to the principles of personal prayer, and yet he is still sovereign having purposed all things before time ever began.

The whole idea of prayer and the sovereignty of God is wrapped up in the words of the Apostle John in his first letter…

1 John 5:14 (ESV) — 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

The according to his will part is assumed everywhere else prayer is mentioned. In fact, it’s just another way of expressing what our three men did at fiery furnace: even if not, no matter what. I’m going to pray with all my heart at all times about all things, knowing that even if not, no matter what, God is God.

Some Christians think the closer you are to God, the more likely he is to answer your prayers. Actually, what we pray for changes as we grow in Christ! We tend to better know his will and ask things according to it.

There’s an old story, and it may not be true, of Major Robert Lewis Dabney, a Presbyterian minister who served as chief chaplain to Stonewall Jackson's command....

According to the story, Major Dabney always preached to Jackson's men on predestination. He assured them that the Almighty had planned and predestined everything thing which was ever going to happen. Consequently, he further assured them, if they were predestined to be killed or wounded by a Yankee bullet, they could not possibly escape the bullet; on the contrary, if they were not predestined to be killed or wounded by a Yankee bullet, no Yankee bullet could harm them. He added that for these reasons they ought to maintain absolute serenity in the midst of the hottest battle. 

One day a skirmish occurred while Major Dabney was visiting the front. As the Yankee bullets began to kick up dust spots around him, the major ran as fast as he could and jumped behind a tree. A Confederate private, who had already taken refuge behind the tree, remarked, "Major Dabney, you don't practice what you preach?" The major inquired, "What do you mean, my good man?" The Confederate soldier replied, "You're always telling us that everything that's going to happen has been planned and predestined by the Almighty; that we can't possibly escape our predestined fate; and for that reason we should always be calm in battle. I noticed, however, that when the Yankee bullets began to kick up dust spots around you, you forgot about predestination, resorted to free will, undertook to save yourself, and ran and jumped behind this tree:' 

Major Dabney explained, "My good man, you do not fully understand the doctrine of predestination. You overlook two significant factors. The tree was predestined to be here, and I was predestined to run and jump behind it.”

This leads us to another error we fall into…

If God has foreordained all things, why not be reckless? We’re not going to die until our “time.” Why lock our doors? Why have car insurance?

Ever heard the story of Nehemiah and the wall? That’s what the OT book of Nehemiah is about. God’s people, the Israelites were in exile. The nobles and others of high status had been carried away by the Persians to serve in the king’s court. Nehemiah was one of those exiles. He served as cupbearer to the king.

He got word that the wall around the holy city of Jerusalem was in disrepair and it broke his heart. So he prayed. God gave him a desire and plan to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it.

He screwed up his courage, asking the king permission to go back and get to work. The king said yes! But anytime God’s people get on board with God’s plans, the devil’s people try to knock them off.

There were bullies in the area determined to keep Nehemiah from building the wall.

Nehemiah 4:1–9 (ESV) — 1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders. 6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. 7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. 8 And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. 9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.

Zero in on verse 9. They prayed AND they set a guard as protection.

That wonderfully expresses the balance needed between our responsibility and God’s sovereignty in everyday life. They trusted God but they also exercised common sense.

Jesus himself demonstrated this balance…

Matthew 4:5–7 (ESV) — 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

The devil quoted Scripture. What he said was true. God had ordained before the foundation of the world when and how Jesus would die. We know it was at the end of his three-year ministry, on a cross. So had Jesus jumped angels would have surely swooped in and saved him.

But Jesus knew Scripture too. Don’t test or tempt God. Don’t put him in a position where he has to save you. Jesus trusted God but he also exercised common sense.

JD Greear once again really helps us here…

“Don’t get all messed up on the sovereignty of God—you think about that stuff too long and it will blow your mind. Think on the promises of God. Here’s how I think about it … Does God know the day you’ll die? Has he appointed it? YES. Then why do you wear a seat belt and not text when you drive? Why do you not grab electric currents? Why do you eat …? To live. What happens if you don’t? You’ll die. If you don’t eat and die … is that the preordained day God has set for you to die? Quit asking stupid questions and just eat. Eating is the preordained way God has set for living; prayer is the preordained way God has determined to get his will done on earth.”

God is sovereign. Even if not, no matter what God is God. But we are still expected to exercise common sense.

Conclusion: We have come along way in 6 messages on the sovereignty of God. But Greear is right. Think about it too long and your mind will blow. Preach on it too long and the same might happen too.

Next week I’ll wrap this up. We left our three men standing at the foot of the fiery furnace. They taught us how to frame God’s sovereignty: Even if not, no matter what, God is God. 

They have one more thing to teach us, and I’ll show you what it is next time.

As we close I can’t help but think about Jesus and how he is unique among any man ever to walk this earth. As the God-man, he came into this world knowing when and how he’d leave it.

He knew he wouldn’t die of old age. He knew he’d suffer and die on a cross. And yet he followed God’s pre-ordained path there every step of the way.


John 15:13 (ESV) — 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

1 John 3:16 (ESV) — 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

It would be enough to think he’d die for us, but he did way more than that. He came back from the dead. He didn’t just die for us, he conquered death for us. Death caused by sin.

Romans 6:4 (ESV) — 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Our sovereign God who has purposed all things, purposed that Jesus’ death and resurrection would bring life for us.

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