Monday, July 13, 2015

The Plan

Listen to this sermon HERE

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.  Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.  This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.  So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.  He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.  God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure.  And this is the plan:  At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.  Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.  God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God.  And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you.  And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.  The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people.  He did this so we would praise and glorify him.   Ephesians 1:3-14(NLT)
God loves YOU!  That is the message of Paul in this passage. 

Me?  He loves me?  Yes, and He has done so much for us that we don’t deserve or even know about.  It is His will, His nature. 

Now, another big question is HOW; how does God love us?  Having created everything, does God just sit back and watch us, hoping for the best?  Or did God plan out everything that will happen to us, and everything we will do in our lives?  

In theological discussions those are somewhat competing doctrines.  One is called free will, where everything is up to us in this life.  The other is the doctrine of predestination, where God is controlling everything. 

A popular dictionary[2] defines predestination this way: 

…the doctrine that God, a deity, or fate has established in advance everything that is going to happen and that nothing can change this.

Now that may be consistent with our human rationale that a sovereign God can (and does) do what He wants.  However, I think it is too incomplete to just leave it there; there are other issues to consider. 

Five or six years ago I took a walk around the block with my grandson, Micah.  When we got back near the house he ran up the driveway, touched the garage door and proclaimed, “I won”!  My thought was, “Nobody was racing except you, boy!”  My grandson had “won” his race based upon an incomplete understanding; in order for there to be a race, there must be more than one participant.

We tend to think that way about God; we assume that our understanding must be right, because it works for us. 

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, had strong thoughts about predestination.  But even with very strong convictions on the topic, Wesley treaded very lightly in his doctrinal sermon,[3] calling this what the Apostle Peter mused about Paul’s writings….some things are really hard to understand.

What Wesley pointed out was that we sometimes throw terms around without really applying them correctly. 

The prefix “pre” in predestination indicates some action or event in point of time.  This is not relevant when you refer to God, as He is outside and above time and space.  For God, a thousand years is as one day. 

Does He know our future?  Of course; God sees all time at once, experiences all time as present, past and future.  As Creator it is impossible for him to be less than what He created; He is not hemmed-in by time as we are.

The “other side” of predestination is “free will”.  The equally popular train of thought here is that my relationship to God, and all my actions, thoughts and experiences are all up to me.

The author Isaac Bashevis Singer was once asked whether he believed in free will or predestination.  We have to believe in free will, he replied. We’ve got no choice.[4]

The Debate

The debate is obvious…if God predestined everything, down to the indigestion you had when you added anchovies to that pizza, then nothing will change; it will all happen as He planned, and we are insignificant. 
On the other hand, if there is free will, we are everything, and God is only a spectator.

The Dangers

Just as the debate is obvious, there are obvious dangers in getting too far on one side or the other.  (Everyone has an opinion…just how far you track to one side can have far-reaching consequences.)

Let’s consider the fringes of predestination and free will:

I.                 The foolishness of holding predestination and ignoring free will.

John Wesley[5] said it most simply:  if man were not free, he could not be accountable either for his thoughts, word, or actions.  Without some valid form of freedom to make choices that are consequential, we cannot be held responsible. 

And Scripture indicates plainly that there is human responsibility for our actions.  Paul said, the wages of sin is death; that is plain!

The danger (or foolishness) in ignoring free will is that shedding all responsibility – with the excuse that it is all pre-planned and fate can’t be changed – leads to rebellion; we want to rip the commandments out of the Bible which tell us we must live a holy life before God.

I have been chosen many times.  The first was when a little girl in the second grade decided I was her boyfriend.  Girls were “icky” at the time, so I rebelled against the choice – she hit me with her lunchbox.

Uncle Sam “chose” me too; the letter began…You will report to the induction station at Fort Dix, New Jersey….  I rebelled there too, but Uncle Sam’s lunchbox was bigger than the little girl’s.

The sovereignty of God cannot be questioned by anyone seriously considering the Almighty.  Yet, there is so much in the New Testament about freedom.  Jesus said the truth would make us free.  Paul’s letter to the Galatian church told them that they were set free to live free.  It is foolishness to hold only predestination, to the exclusion of free will.

II.              The foolishness of holding free will and ignoring predestination

Like my grandson who “won the race” which only existed in his mind, we have a freedom that extends only so far.  The moment our “free actions” contradict the sovereignty of Almighty God the contest is over! 

It is like a father who asks his six kids where they want to eat lunch.  They all scream “McDonalds”; then Dad recalls he has coupons for Burger King.  Dad’s commitment to keeping the family out of bankruptcy demands use of the coupons, so the “free will” of the six kids gets vetoed in sovereign favor of flame broiled Whoppers.

If holding to predestination alone leads to rebellion, holding only to free will leads to humanistic thinking – that we humans are the center of the universe.  We can become apathetic to God if there is nothing but self-help and personal growth.  God has never taken too kindly to being ignored.

One writer offered a unique perspective about the sovereignty of God in this Ephesians passage; all of the phrases begin with God doing something…He is the one taking the initiative; that’s what a sovereign God does:
Consider only the grammatical construction, with an eye toward who acts and who is acted upon, who gives and who receives:
  God "blessed us…
  God "chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world"…
  God "destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus…
  God "has made known to us the mystery of his will…
  In Christ, "we have redemption through his blood…
  In Christ, "we have also obtained an inheritance…[6]

God is the one Who is active and in control in this passage.  The writer also suggested that if you had to sum-up these twelve verses in one sentence “you might try this:  ‘Christ Jesus is in charge (and you are not).’”[7]


So, Russell, which is it – predestination or free will? 

For me?  Both! 

You cannot seriously or intelligently hold to one and completely ignore the other.  Since both are valid and important, it is dangerous to ignore either; it’s better, even profitable to embrace the mystery that there is a relationship between predestination and free will…and God is the referee. 

One preacher told of hearing God’s sovereignty and human free will described as “…two ropes going through two holes in the ceiling and over a pulley above.  If I wish to support myself by them, I must cling to them both.  If I cling only to one and not the other, I go down. 
I read the many teachings of the Bible regarding God’s election, predestination, his chosen, and so on.  I read also the many teachings regarding ’whosoever will may come’ and urging people to exercise their responsibility as human beings. 
These seeming contradictions cannot be reconciled by the puny human mind.  With childlike faith, I cling to both ropes, fully confident that in eternity I will see that both strands of truth are, after all, of one piece.[8]
This is a good way to remember that the mysteries presented in God’s Word must sometimes be understood as not being able to be understood…yet; we simply embrace the truth.

The bigger reality which flows out of this passage, (and more important for life and our relationship before God) is that God chose us!  It was His plan! 

He did not have to do anything.  Sovereign God could have refused to create us, forgive us, love us or make a home for us in heaven…but he did!

God loves YOU! 

The appropriate response to love like that is to be people of praise – those who live in loving response to the love of a sovereign God who chose us!

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

[1] Title Image:  By Μηχανικός1, via Wikimedia Commons
[2] Encarta Dictionary
[3] Sermon 58, On Predestination, (1872 edition, Thomas Jackson, editor)
[5]Sermon 58, On Predestination, (1872 edition, Thomas Jackson, editor)
[6] Hans Weirsma, commentary
[7] Ibid.
[8] Paul Fritz quoting R.B.Kuiper on

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