Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 77: The Peace of Predestination
June 3, 2012
Scripture reading: Ephesians 1:1-6
Trusting God’s plan
This Wednesday will mark one year working at Starbucks. It has been a wild ride, good sometimes, sometimes frustrating, always challenging.
I am grateful for a job to provide for my family, but it is hard not to put my girls to bed a couple of nights a week. Now that I have a publisher wanting to look at my book, it is very hard having so little time to work on it.
* But I have a bedrock belief that all of this is for a purpose and God is doing things in me that can’t be done else wise.
If you know me, you are probably looking at the title of the sermon and thinking I am being ironic. I am not much of a Calvinist, but that little bit is vital.
* This morning I want to show you the peace that comes from God’s predestination.
First a little background: One of the big debates among Christians is the Calvinist/Arminianist debate. The short version is that Calvinists emphasizes God’s control over everything and Arminianists emphasizes our free will.
* Most of you know I am definitely on the Arminianist side, but I want to talk about the peace I have found on from Calvinism.
A short history
The church I grew up in never talked about Calvinism, so when I moved to Mount Vernon and started going to Mount Vernon Christian, I was in for a shock, surrounded by all these Dutch.
As I studied the doctrine it felt so academic and made God sound so unloving and capricious. I took to referring to Calvinism as “Christian Fatalism,” which my Bible teacher didn’t care for.
But two teachers, Mr. Westra and Mrs. DeMaster gave Calvinism a human face, two gentle loving teachers who loved God in their own passionate, but sedate way.
* I was forced for the first time to look seriously at passage that I had always ignored, such as today’s passage.
The Bible really does talk about God choosing some, it does talk about God hardening others.
Somewhere in there I developed a doctrinal stance that accepts the paradox between God’s sovereignty and our free will. It allows me to read and interpret the Bible unafraid, but requires me to be okay with some ambiguity.
* So this morning you are going to hear me preach a Calvinist sermon; enjoy it while it lasts.
Ephesians is different than most of Paul’s letters in that he isn’t putting out any fires. He simply writing a letter to encourage and teach one of his favorite churches.
It is warm, encouraging, and helpful. I’d encourage you to read it this week (schedules in back). It has passages like the “full armor of God” and instructions for marriage.
Like almost all of Paul’s letters, he begins with prayer of praise to God. In Greek, this is one sentence 11 verse long, which made it a real pain to diagram.
Ephesians 1:3-6 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
The point of the whole 11 verses is “how cool God is.” I more literal translation is “Blessed be God who has blessed us,” and then Paul talks all about how God blesses us.
In these four verses, he basically camps on one blessing, expressed two ways:
1. He chose [elected] us to be holy and blameless.
2. He predestined us to be adopted.
Q How does that strike you?
Some people are comforted by those and others are disturbed.
* Calvinist will look at that and say, “Wow, look at what God is doing and will do for the Elect.”
* Arminianists will say, “I wish that weren’t in the Bible.”
But these verse were meant to encourage and comfort. Paul would probably regret us being troubled by them. I need to help clear away some of that so you can be encouraged by these verses.
* Disclaimer: TG does not have an official position and there are various views here.
Chosen but free
Q Does God choose us or do we choose him? And if God chooses us, does that mean he (by default) chooses others to go to Hell?
* Mr. Lanting’s orphanage analogy.
In other words: if God is in control of the universe and directs the flow of history, does that mean that we are just robots?
On the other hand: If we have free will, does that mean that God is at the mercy of our decisions?
Q Is God sovereign or do we have free wills?
The Bible holds both truths unswervingly, without even trying to explain the apparent contradiction. Throughout Scripture, there are passages side by side describing God’s divine plans and yet calling us to act.
* Calvinist have some very strong verses and Arminianists have every imperative.
In Exodus, the Bible goes back and forth between God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh hardening his own heart.
The writers of the NT obviously believed in both God’s calling and our ability to choose:
2 Peter 1:10-11 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
* To an extent we have to be comfortable with the ambiguity.
As some like to say, engraved on the entrance to Heaven is “come whoever may” and on the other side, “I have chosen you before the foundation of the world.”
* I near as I can tell, the Biblical author were fine with this ambiguity; it was later Christians who had to clarify it.
Foreknown by God
Q How does this work? How can God choose us and give us the freedom to choose?
I think the best explanation come from Romans:
Romans 8:29-30 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. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
God knew in advance who would believe in Christ, and on the basis of that he predestined and called us.
Time for me to geek out a bit:
To us, time is fixed, flowing along and we have no more power to alter it than a leaf floating on the Skagit. To God is it a stream in his hand.
God is outside of time: To us is a journey, to him it’s a book. He can go backward or forward, observe it, edit it at will.
* I believe God has the ability to sit back and weave it all together according to his purpose, without violating will.
Newspaper from the future
Q Doesn’t his knowledge of the future take away you ability to choose?
If an isolated tribal guy got a newspaper from the future showing who wins the 2012 election, would that change our ability to choose? Of course not.
* But of course God is not some isolated tribal dude, he is actively working in this world.
Scripture is clear that God does harden at times; he actively interferes and directs events. At other times, he seems to allow things to happen.
* Adam and Eve’s fall must be seen as “allows” because otherwise God directed them to sin.
The trick is that we don’t know at what points God directs and at what points he allows, so it is best to approach it all with humility.
* What we do know is that God is good.
The point of all this is that God both knows the end of the story and is working it towards the best possible end, and that is good news. Let’s get back into the passage. I see at least two encouragements Paul is giving:
1. He is making us into something better.
Ephesians 1:4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
Of course, we don’t get to excited by the word “holy,” has a lot of dull connotations, which I believe is one of the enemy’s greatest tricks.
* For the time, insert words like no longer a failure, perfect, unrestrained by our own problems.
Said another way, take you at your best, when you are wanting things that are truly worthwhile, when you most enjoy your life without guilt. Now project that forward to perfection.
Seeing the goal clearly
Q How often do you feel like a failure?
Maybe it is as a parent, an employee, a Christian, a student, an athlete, but you feel like you don’t measure up and never will.
Q Have you ever had someone step in then and encourage you?
* They saw something in you that you didn’t see, and pulled you towards it.
What Paul is saying is, “You don’t need to fret and worry, God will get you there. You will get past all the failures, you will get past your fears, you will know God’s love perfectly. God sees that end perfectly and he is not discouraged.”
Let’s use that newspaper analogy again: Let’s say that you are a tennis coach (in honor of Christa). You have this one kid who doesn’t try that hard, seems distracted, and you are tempted to kick her off the team.
But then one day a newspaper from the future shows up on your doorstep. The first thing you do is look for stocks so you know that to invest in, but the business section is missing. In fact, the only thing there is the sports section.
But the headline says that kid has won the gold medal in tennis, and she credits you with all of their success, believing in her and pushing her farther than she thought she could go.
Q What would you do? Still kick her off the team?
No, you would go back, work her harder than any other player. She might think it is unfair, but you would keep saying, “I see greatness in you, I know you can do this.”
* And when you got discouraged, you would look back at that newspaper to remind you what you are working for.
The Good Coach
God has that newspaper. He’s had it since before he created the universe. He knows exactly what he has called you to, he knows how you will shine in eternity.
He is working you harder than you think is fair. Some things he is allowing to happen to you and showing you how to grow through it. Some things he is bringing to you.
And here in Ephesians he has shown you the headline – you will be amazing. He isn’t showing you the whole article, that would be overwhelming, but he is showing you that you will be amazing.
Said another way, victory is your destiny. Just like in Star Wars, but different.
* You have been destined for greatness, and God is working every angle, using every trick to get us there.
We need meaning and purpose – God has great purpose for us, if we trust him.
2. He is driven by love.
The way it is so often taught, predestination can seem a very capricious doctrine, as if God where playing “He loves me, he loves me not” with a cosmic daisy.
Ephesians 1:5 In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will...
It is “in love” that he predestined us to be part of his family. He has sought us out and wants us. He accepts us as I said last week, not because of our goodness but his.
God wants you, each of you passionately. He wants you to be part of his family, adopted as sons and daughters. Scripture is clear that he loves everyone and wants everyone:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
1 Timothy 2:3-4 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Which is why I believe so firmly in free will – what God wants God gets, unless another higher desire of his overrides it, which is his desire that we freely choose, not be coerced.
The upshot of all this is that since he foreknew us, he his plan to adopt us is rock solid, it cannot be shaken. Not because we are good, but because he is.
Trust God’s purpose and love
We tend to think of Calvinism and all that as theoretical, but looking at it this way, it is very practical.
* If you believe in God’s sovereign hand, in spite of sin, you can trust him in the midst of the storm.
As I look at my life, and the life of many saints, it is because I know that God has predestined me for greatness that I am able to trust him through the ebb and flow of life.
Philippians 1:6 ...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
I have also seen that Christians who do not have this hope can do many stupid things because they don’t trust God to have a plan.
Q Do you believe God is lovingly fulfilling his destiny for you?
Q & A