The Mysterious Plan of God
We are looking at a weighty topic today. I dont know how to do a funny humorous introduction. We are looking at the doctrine of election and predestination. A topic that has involved a lot of division throughout history. I hope to help you understand it, what is important about it, and also where we can allow a degree of freedom in understanding it and differing with others.
I will say that understood this doctrine perfectly in my 20’s but as I have read more and more I have learned to admit I know less and need to trust God more.
Last week we saw how God is sovereign over our sufferings and he is at work to redeem all that we go through. And this week in chapter nine another important issue is being addressed: What do you do when people reject the faith?
Setting of the passage
[I am speaking the truth in Christ--I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit-- 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.
Grief and sorrow for his people. Great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart. Why? The reason for this is his people have turned from God. He is an Israelites and that is the people God revealed himself to, made a promise with Abraham, redeemed them for bondage in Egypt, gave the ten commandments, made a covenant that a king and messiah would come and reign over the world in perfect peace. They have turned from God.
Paul is God’s chosen instrument to go to them and share the gospel that God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ. Jesus is the Savior that you must trust. Some turned to Jesus and became faithful followers. Others have not. They have oppressed Paul, debated with him, argued with him, beaten him, thrown him in jail, plotted to assassinate him (acts 20- arguably when Romans was written). These are his own country men whom he has tried to persuade from the Scripture that Jesus is the Christ. So what does Paul make of this. What does he do with the fact people, God’s people are turning away and even attacking him?!
Do you ever wonder about this? What do you do when you see so many professing believers now deconstructing, turning away from the faith. What do you make of it when people you grew up in Sunday school with and they have now turned from the faith. What do you do when world leaders oppose the Christian faith?
You might begin to wonder: How effective is your gospel? Perhaps the message you are sharing simply is not effective (and shouldnt be believed). Perhaps God simply is not able to do the things he said he would do. This is what Paul begins to address, and he goes deep in explaining it.
[6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.
It is not as though God’s word has fallen, failed. Fail for lack of strength or power. Couldnt sustain itself. “For the sun rises with its scorching heat and dries up the grass; its flower falls off” (Jam 1:11). Weak and frail and fell off. That is not what has happened.
[For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named."
Christianity is a religion of the heart. It requires a person to believe in the Lord and desire to follow him. You can be born into a Christian family, born into a people who have the word, born into hearing the word and going to church, and maybe you have been baptized to the point of getting soggy, won the Bible trivia contests at youth group, but you have not put your trust in Christ.
Not all in church are of Christ. Not all who profess his name are his followers. And this is a theme throughout history. Not all Abraham's offspring are children of God.
He gives examples
- Jacob and Essau.
Abraham was old and his wife barren. Yet God promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in heaven, and that through him all nations would be blessed. God foretold his plan before it ever came to pass.
God did the same thing with Isaac’s children. When his wife Rebecca was pregnant and the babies wrestled in her womb she inquired of the Lord why, and he said “Two nations were in her womb, two people will come and be separate, and the older will serve the younger.” Two children, same parents, one will serve the Lord and one will not.
Their son Jacob is an imperfect man, but he is a man concerned about his birthright and the promise given to his father about the birth right. Essau doesn’t care. He sells his birthright for a single meal, and he hates Jacob for it. He is disinterested in God’s promises. They become two nations and symbolic of much more. Esau goes away from God and so will his descendants. How can that be? Two brothers of the family of God, the direct heirs to the promise of God? Did God’s promise fail?
What Paul is enduring from his people is the same as it was from the very beginning. It is no different in Paul’s day, as in Jacobs day, as in our day.
And then Paul goes even deeper. He gets at the issues at hand.
[v11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad-- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls 12 she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
Election v11. election, choice; a. the act of picking out, choosing: to make a special choice based upon significant preference, often implying a strongly favorable attitude toward what is chosen. Elections to choose a president.
Predestined: decide on beforehand, determine in advance. to make a special choice based upon significant preference. pro orizdw: to set a boundary, mark off. before what? before time began, in eternity.
God chose the children before they had done anything. What unfolded was part of his plan.
We have seen these before in Romans, but haven’t dealt with until now.
[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. (Romans 8:28-29 ESV)
[In Him we were also made His inheritance, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, (Ephesians 1:11)
But this also shows God as the first cause in salvation. He elected. He chose. He predestined. What is happening is not outside of his control. He can be trusted.
[11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls-- 12 she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
Your salvation finds its efficient cause in God. It’s not because of how good you are. It’s not because of how wonderful you are. Not how good you have been. It is that God had mercy.
Scripture says you were dead in your sins and transgression in which you lived… but God made you alive. You were dead. God acted upon you. And his decision was rooted in the past.
9:11 before the twins had done anything. Election is not based on foreseen acts, but on God’s sovereign choice. They were twins and as near to the same as possible. What makes one better than the other? They are as close to the same as possible. God’s purpose made them different and even reversed the normal customs of man. God’s purpose was stated before they were even born.
Charles Spurgeon: I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that great Biblical doctrine.
If election is true, then this raises question is there injustice with God? Is he unfair to do elect some and not others? And to this he appeals to Moses and Pharoah.
[14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!
- Moses and Pharoah.
[15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
A repetition, it does not depend on human will or exertion. It is from God. Salvation is by grace/faith from first to last (Rom 1:17). If your work and good decision worked salvation you would have something to boast about. There is no boasting before God.
God has a purpose for each. Nothing that is happening is outside of his purpose. Even Pharoah raging at God’s people is fully in line with God’s plan. God can do whatever he wants. God raised up pharoah and his hard heart for a purpose that will lead to the redemption of Israel. It will be the same with Paul.
If you have opposition.
Let's pull back just a bit. We are in Romans 9 talking about God’s sovereignty in election. In chapter 10 we will get to human responsibility. These are two truths taught in Scripture. God is sovereign. People are responsible. God's sovereignty and election do not negate the responsibility people have. It does not negate their ability to repent and believe.
[choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15)
Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, (Acts 3:19 ESV)
Who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)
JI Packer. This is an antinomy. Two truths that are held in opposite. He relates it to the two laws of light. In quantum mechanics entities exhibit either particle or wave properties. It was shown light as a wave. But then later people began to notice that light has the ability to displace electrons, which means it behaves as a particle. Both are true and it pushes our understanding and explanation. Both are true even if we don’t know how to explain.
In Scripture, God is sovereign and people are responsible. Like anchors for a theological tight rope. if you deny one you fall to the ground. Let me illustrate this and give some perspective on debates in this category.
Ill: I have been in endless debates on this topic. Ended with exhaustion. Let me boil some things down.
God is Sovereign ------------------- People are Responsible
We see these two poles. Like two ends of a tight rope that you have to be anchored or you fall.
Two main ways to view this are Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinsim has a greater emphasis on God’s sovereignty. Arminianism on human responsibility. Emphasis is ok as long as it doesnt let go of the other side, and you will see people be more balanced than others, and you will see some fall off the biblical grid.
Arminians can’t deny God’s election or predestination and still be biblical. It’s taught in Scripture and you have to see that. Calvinist to affirm human are still responsible and must choose to follow God.
God calling and electing and predestining is all biblical.
I believe we should treat this debate as within the family debates. This is deep and has many ramifications. Can debate if God predestined based on who he foreknew. Can debate prevenient grace awakening before conversion. Doctrine of retribution, God predestined some to hell, which is not stated directly in the text and is a logical extrapolation.
The problem with the church is we treat many professing believers as though they were outside the faith. We need to be careful with that.
We need the discernment to know which is which. We can be gracious with those who are in the family, uphold the Bible and seek to understand complex doctrines. But we need to be clear on where error comes into play.
Fatalism and Pelagianism. God knows everything, predetermined everything so there is no point in me doing anything or making any effort. Denies need to seek and follow. Pelagianism not sinful or fallen, basically good and just need to do good things, keep choosing good over wrong, no we need a Savior! Just a little polishing.
But let me just add something to this. Its a struggle to understand these and those who reject the faith still have to wrestle with determinism or all out do whatever you want. You cant avoid the tension.
Stoicism: Everything that happens is determined by nature, and humans have no control of life. Idea of determinism, and all you can control is your thought and action. Find peace by living according to what fate brings to you. You just need to deal with life, grin and bear it and hope for the best. God does not care for you or respond to your needs.
Epicureanism. All that matters is pleasure, and you need to live in the way that brings you the greatest pleasure. No purpose or order to align yourself with. Marriage. Just have fun.
Christianity holds these together in perfect balance. We are responsible. God is sovereign.
What to land on from this doctrine?
- Trust God.
When things get bad you can rest in him. He is able to save his people. When your brother in Christ turns away and persecutes you, you can rest in God. When your people are enslaved and oppressed for 400 years and a narcissistic despote claims the throne over them, you can rest in God and his purpose. He is good. He is sovereign. His word and his promises do not fail. And the answers to your questions are right here in this book.
Turn to him Completely. Repentance is a gift. Take it and receive it. Don't leave it like an unopened present.
Pharaoh never objected to what was going on. His hardening was fully compatible with who he was. Esau traded the promises of God for a bowl of soup and an afternoon of football. He was responsible. He was disinterested in the promise, in the word, in church, in gathering with others to pray. Greatest threat within the church is no persecution, it is disinterest. That is the great sign of a heart growing cold to God-not interested in the essential practices of the faith. Best thing you can do for others is to pursue God fervently.
If you are concerned about eternal state, turn to Christ. He is God’s chosen and anointed Savior.
If there is a plan then there is a planner. If there is a design then a designer. And if there is a design and a plan then you need to get on board with that plan. Reject his plan, you reject his salvation.
God accepts those in Christ. Trust that. Share the goodness.
2. Be Humble.
We do not save ourselves. God does that. “Your salvation is by grace from first to last” (Rom 1:17). You are not better than others, you are not smarter than others. If he chose you based on works, desires, or even knowing your future works then your salvation has been earned by you. It is not. You are simply one who has been shown mercy. That mercy should overwhelm you. Define you. motivate you to share with others, to love others.
As you look back over your life and see the darkest night set it, what we thought brought life brought death, and he began to bring you back to himself. That is grace!
3. Celebrate Mystery:
[Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" … 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36
I will never fathom all of God. His ways are unsearchable. Doesnt mean they can't be searched but that they will never be exhausted. Be careful of any theology that takes all the mystery out of understanding God. Be careful of any theology can speak clearly of him. The more we know, the more we understand, the more in awe of him we stand.
God has a perfect plan. We dont always understand why things go the way they do, but we trust it will be beautiful. You can rest and worship in the unknown.