Blog Archives

Predestination and Man’s Distorted View of Freedom

“Predestining us for adoption through Jesus Christ into Him, according to the pleasure of His will,”

(Ephesians 1:5)

Predestination is one of those words that often causes people to recoil. The funny thing is that the Bible uses the term six times in the New Testament, so somewhere along the way, people need to wrestle through the word, what it means, and how it relates to God and mankind. The Greek word in question is προορίζω (proorizo), which very literally means, “to decide upon something beforehand.”

One might contest that you and I also decide to do things beforehand. We plan out road trips and vacations weeks or months in advance, deciding that on such and such a day we will go to this place or eat dinner at that restaurant. Yet, we already know from the context of this passage that the choosing, or electing, work of God is something that took place before the foundation of the earth. Thus, the context of this deciding also must be understood as a pre-creation decision. So, before anyone existed, before anyone could do anything good or bad, before the Fall of Adam took place, God had decided to adopt his chosen elect through Jesus Christ and His work. 

Some have suggested that perhaps this pre-deciding is something that took place on the basis of God’s foreknowledge. Given that God knew all things that would or could happen (in philosophical terms, that is what we call God’s knowledge of all “eventualities”), they suggest that God, on the basis of that knowledge, just chose those who would eventually choose him. The nature of God that such a response presents is as unsatisfying as it is unBiblical. It presents God as responding to our actions like a human would respond to the actions of others and it strips God of any claim of sovereignty over history, let alone, over human salvation. He merely knows the things we will do and responds accordingly. It is only the illusion of sovereignty that such a view attributes to God. If you or I could somehow look into the future and discover who won the World Series, would that knowledge imply that we had any control over the victor of those games? No, it would not.

Others have suggested that as God is outside of time, he looks on all time and space simultaneously and similarly elects those who come to faith. While it is true that God is outside of time, this view presents the time and space continuum, as it were, as something that exists in its own right and is thus eternal as God is eternal. That would ultimately be a view propounded by gnostics over the years and is entirely unbiblical once again. The creation owes its very existence to God (Colossians 1:16), so how could it ever be said that it is co-eternal with God? Some would grant the error of Gnosticism, but would say that once God created all things, he took a step back as a passive observer, allowing the creation to run along on its own. This would be the error of Deism and is in contradiction to the very next verse which I cited just above, for Colossians 1:17 speaks of Christ holding all things together — actively engaging in the maintenance of the creation, not passively watching to see what it is that we will do.

Not only is such an idea contrary to the plain reading of Scripture, who would wish to worship such a God, if he could ever truly claim the title of being God at all? Here, he is portrayed as an all-knowing God, but one who is impotent to do anything or ordain anything in history. He is a slave, as it were, to what he knows to take place. In some senses, it makes God subservient to creation and not the Author, Keeper, and Lord of it. Woe to those who present God in ways that are so contrary to the way that God presents himself in Scripture and woe to those who settle for such a lowly God to worship.

Instead, the Scriptures present God as a God who knows all things because he has predestined and preordained all things to take place. The Scriptures present a God who is indeed not bound by time and space, but who has created it for His purposes and who governs it through his works and providence. The Scriptures presents us with a God who is absolutely and unapologetically sovereign over all things that take place, both great and small and who is surprised by nothing not simply because he has perfect foresight, but because he has ordained all things that come to pass (Ephesians 1:11). While many feel uncomfortable with such a depiction of God, that it constrains their free will, they need to recognize that this is the way God has presented himself and the wills that they so celebrate are bent and warped and twisted by sin, constraining them not just to bad behavior but to bad thoughts about their creator. While God may indeed conform our wills to His, his doing so is not a matter of constraint in a negative way, it is a matter of helping us conform to what is True and good for us in the first place. 

Think about it in this manner — it is in heaven that we will be most free, yet we will be unable to sin in heaven and we will only be able to do what is right and good and pleasing to God. So where is your glorious human “free will” in that context? I present to you that what most people champion as a “free will” is nothing short of a will in bondage to sin. A truly free will is not one that can make any choice in any situation, but one that makes a choice in conformity to God’s will in all situations.

Turned Toward My Good

One of the great contributions that the Heidelberg Catechism brings to the table of Reformed confessions is that it is so very much first-person and pastoral in nature. As I have noted before, instead of speaking in the abstract, it uses words like “I” and “me” and “my” to convey spiritual truth. And the language of question 26 is no exception to this rule. 

The whole phrase that the catechism uses here is: “whatever evil that he sends to me in this valley of tears will be turned toward my good.” That is a remarkably powerful statement. The bottom line is that this world is filled with awful experiences. There are wicked people both inside and outside of the church and tragic events that take place all around. Yet, as Christians, we can be assured that all these events are under God’s sovereign control (Ephesians 1:11) and as a result, they will be used for our good (Romans 8:28).

The real question that we must ask is, what constitutes our God? Romans 8:29 clarifies this as well — that it is to conform us into the image of Christ. And thus, the evil that we experience has a purpose and it works into God’s plan — even the wicked being tools in God’s hands to refine the elect. That is the result of a sovereign God.

Some would argue that God is not absolutely sovereign over all things. And those who claim this, cannot claim the language found in this catechism question — or the promises that God makes to his people in the Bible. In fact, the only assurance that we can have of any good in our life is based on the premise that God is sovereignly in control…but if he is sovereignly in control, then all things are under his control and in his plan — and will be worked for my good — little by little, conforming me into the image of Christ.

“What, Me Worry?”

I’m a kid of the MAD Magazine era, where their mascot, Alfred E. Newman, was famous for saying this line… “What, me worry?” Of course, in many cases, it was the punchline of the joke and it conveyed the he ought to have been worrying about the state of affairs around him. That, of course, was the sarcastic humor of the magazine that appealed to me during my pre-teen and early teenage years.

Sarcastic humor aside, the statement about not worrying has stuck with me over the years and is frankly quite Biblical for the Christian. Jesus says that we are not to be anxious because our Father in Heaven knows our needs and will provide them…instead of expending energy worrying about this, that, or the other thing, we should pursue building Christ’s kingdom with all our strength. God will make provision for us (Luke 12:22-24).

The implication here is that the only ones who really have a license to worry are unbelievers. These pagans bow down to gods that cannot answer prayers and cannot provide for their needs…they are deaf and dumb and motionless, the creation of the hands of men (Psalm 115:4-8). 

The question that the Christian really needs to ask is, just how extensive God’s design is for his people. Is God in control of the big things that happen but leaves the small things in our own hands or does God sovereignly ordain all things that come to pass, both great and small. To this, Jesus takes one of the most insignificant things that can be mentioned and instructs his disciples that God cares for us so greatly that he even has numbered the hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7) and he goes as far as to assure the disciples that during times of persecution, not a hair on their head will perish apart from God’s design (Luke 21:18) — a promise that the Apostle Paul even extends to those on the ship with him prior to their shipwreck on Malta (Acts 27:34).

One of my professors in seminary used to say that not one hair fell from his head “without the parachute of providence,” and indeed, this is the idea that the Bible communicates to us. The Heidelberg Catechism words it this way: “He also preserves me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven…” In other words, if we take our Bible’s seriously, recognizing that we are in our Father’s divine hand, then ought we not say, with Alfred E. Newman, “What, me worry?” Our God not only ordains the end, but the means by which he brings about the end…and in that wonderful truth there is great hope because I, in my fallenness, will not confound the plans that God has for me…instead, God ordains and uses even my own sin and foibles to bring about his will and to conform me into the image of his Son. In a world where assurances are often fleeting, this is one iron-clad promise in which we can truly rest and hope.

Heber the Kenite?

“Now, Cheber, the Qenite, was alienated from the Qenites, from the sons of Chobab, the father-in-law of Moses. And he moved his tent as far as the holy tree in Tse’anniym, which is Qedesh.”

(Judges 4:11)

What??? Now wait just one minute!!! Where did this come from? Were we reading this account for the first time, our natural response would be to think, “Wait one minute, who is this Heber guy, what is going on with this?” Most of us know the story, so we know of the foreshadowing that this verse provides, but what a nice little tidbit of what is to come, mentioned as little more than an aside here, but becoming an essential element a little later in the chapter…and all because of a family feud of some sort.

Hobab, we know, was the brother-in-law of Moses (Numbers 10:29) and thus was the son of Jethro, the Kenite (Judges 1:16) who was serving as a priest in Midian (Exodus 3:1). We don’t know for sure whether the Kenites all dwelt in the region of Midian or whether Jethro simply chose to sojourn there, but we also know that part of the land promised to Abraham was the land belonging to the Kenites (Genesis 15:19). We do know from Judges 1:16 that these Kenites went up with the sons of Judah to conquer and settle that region of Negev near Arad.

There seems to have been some sort of division amongst the sons of Hobab as they dwelt in the southern regions of Judah. We are not told as to what caused the separation, only that Heber had been alienated. The term that is used is the passive form of dårDp (parad), which means “to be scattered or separated, to be alienated, or to go to the side from the main branch.” While many of our translations presume that this was merely Heber diverging, or moving away from home, perhaps for more space, the fact that the verb is found in the passive implies that this is something that has happened to him, thus the suggestion that he has been alienated or estranged seems reasonable, though again, we do not know why, apart from God’s purposes.

And at the heart of this verse, what we must see is just that…God’s sovereign purposes. God is sovereign even in placing his people where he chooses. In this case, from the southern regions of Judah to the area around Kadesh…not that far from Hazor (where Jabin, the king under whom Sisera served, lived). So, on a human level it would seem that Heber is making a statement, separating himself from the covenant people to live on the border of Canaanite territory, yet God even uses events such as this to bring about his ends, for here, in Heber’s tent, Sisera would eventually be slain, but we get ahead of ourselves…

God Raises up Moab!

“And the sons of Israel continued to do the Evil in the eyes of Yahweh, thus Yahweh strengthened Eglon, the king of Moab, against Israel, for they had done the Evil in the eyes of Yahweh.”

(Judges 3:12)

Thus, despite the deliverance brought about through Othniel, a warning to the people about their lack of obedience. Despite the 40 years of rest given by God through Othniel; the people still chose to pursue their wicked desires and thus, after the death of Othniel, there arose a new threat. This is not because God is sadistic, but because his people refused to learn from his warnings.

Thus, we find Eglon, the king of Moab, being strengthened by God. Eglon’s name means “calf” or “cow” and here we enter into one of my favorite accounts in the book of Judges. The passage is filled with plays on words and subtle humor and one can easily envision this account being told around campfires to the great entertainment of all who were present. What is more important than the meaning of the “Fat Cow’s” name, is the significance that it is God who raised up even this enemy of Israel into prominence. God is sovereign over even the wicked oppressors.

Sometimes people wonder as to why, if God raised them up, he is so harsh in his judgment upon them. Yet, we must remember that while God is empowering them to do what they did, they are still doing what they most want to do and are thus responsible for their actions. Thus, God empowers them to bring punishment on his people, but will ultimately judge them for raising their fists against God’s own.

And so, we enter the second cycle of sin. As an aside, note that this is the only account in Judges where Moab rises up in prominence against Israel. This leads me to suppose that it is here that the book of Ruth fits into the chronology of Judges. We do not know for sure, but it is a suggestion.

Our God is an Awesome God

“But they were persistent, saying, ‘He disturbs the people, teaching through the whole of Judea — starting in Galilee but even here.’ When Pilate heard this, he asked if the man was Galilean.”

(Luke 23:5-6)

 

Those Galileans were always stirring up trouble for the Roman leaders. This is something that the Priests knew and likely threw in to poison the well some against Jesus. At the same time, this created a bit of a loophole for Pilate to extract himself from the false trial. Galilee was not under his direct authority, but was ruled by Herod Antipas, the local king who ruled over Galilee and Peraea. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great (the Herod who sought to kill the baby Jesus) and a Samaritan woman named Malthace. Needless to say that there was no love lost toward this king of Galilee, especially because he was a Roman collaborator, and the shift of authority, Pilate likely thought, would be a nice poke back at these pesky Jewish priests. And, since it was Passover, it so happened that Herod was in Jerusalem … how very convenient.

What I find interesting as I look over these events is how many people were trying to manipulate the outcome. The Jews wanted Jesus to be executed by the Romans. The Romans did not care either way about the man, Jesus, but did not want to become Jewish puppets, and now Herod will be brought into the picture. Yet, in the midst of all of these schemes of men, God is still sovereignly governing these events to a conclusion that he had so ordained from before the foundation of the earth.

We often sing in church that our God is an Awesome God, but I wonder whether we really live it out. We see from history how God has orchestrated even the smallest events and details to bring about his glory and then we worry about things we cannot control in our own lives. Jesus spoke a great deal about our not worrying, but we do anyway. The pagans, whose gods cannot answer them or affect events, have a right to worry. We do not. Trust God and when things seem to fall apart, instead of worrying or wondering “where God went…” ask yourself the question, “what is a sovereign God teaching me in the midst of this crisis?”

Our God is an awesome God

He reigns from heaven above

With wisdom, power, and love

Our God is an awesome God.

-Rich Mullins

Behold the Woman Yahweh has Assigned

“Behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw, to whom I say, ‘Please let me drink a little water from your jar,’ and who will say to me, ‘Not only shall you drink, but I will also draw for your camels.’ Let her be the woman which Yahweh has assigned for the son of my lord.”

(Genesis 24:43-44)

 

This is the first use of the term “virgin” in the text of our story. She has been called a girl and a young woman previously, but here in her father’s household, the language changes slightly, perhaps as a sign of respect. It should be noted that it is this same term that is used in Isaiah 7:14 when the prophesy of Christ was made that a virgin shall give birth. Sometimes people will debate the Isaiah prophesy and choose to render the Hebrew word hDmVlAo (almah) as “maiden” or simply as “young girl.” While the range of meaning for this word allows for such a translation to be given, it should be noted that in the ancient culture, it was assumed that young girls would also be virgins. More importantly, the context of both this passage and the passage in Isaiah implies that something more than a young girl is at question, but that she is a young girl, eligible for marriage, and whose womb had not yet been opened. Virgin is a much better choice in English because that is what the Hebrew is implying. In our passage, everything about this discussion circulates around the question of marriage; Rebekah is being presented as one ready to take that step and be joined in marriage to Isaac.

Note also the emphasis in these verses on the sovereignty of God. It is God who is assigning this woman to be Isaac’s bride and it is God who has led Rebekah to Eliezer in the first place. There are no schemes of men involved; God has done the appointing since before the creation of the earth. Not only is this statement a statement of giving honor to God, but it is a statement that reflects the trust that Abraham’s servant had in God. How often we fail to follow his model.

Loved ones, let us never neglect to take notice that God is sovereign over all of his creation…that means you and me as well. He has ordained; He has appointed; He has governed; and He has chosen all of these events. That does not mean that we are robots, but it does mean that when things go well it is God who ought to get the credit, not us. And it means that when things go poorly, God is teaching (or sometimes rebuking) us. In the end, it is God that is glorified and we are to be servants in his world. Yet, is that how those who know you best would describe you? As a servant of God rather than being a servant of self? Beloved, may we repent where we have gone astray and recommit our lives towards the service of God and of God alone and let God provide those things that we need to get us through the day.

The Sleep of the Beloved

 

“It is vain for you to get up early and go late to your dwelling,

Eating the bread of toil;

For he gives to his beloved sleep.”

(Psalm 127:2)

 

It may be granted up front that there is some discussion as to how to interpret the last line of this verse. Commonly it is rendered as I have done so here, but some would argue that it ought to be rendered, “for he provides for his beloved during their sleep.” Though the nuances of the psalm are changed within that translation, the essential meaning of the text remains the same. God provides for the needs of his beloved — and he does so in an abundantly wonderful way.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus speaks in much the same way. It is expected that the pagans will lay awake worrying all night, working long and thankless hours to provide bread for their families. Their idols are false creations of their own hands and imaginations. What benefit can a chunk of wood give me apart from helping to heat the house when I burn it in the fireplace? If I create something with my own hands, it contains no power to do anything but sit there. It has no life. One can draw no hope or assurance from such things.

But we worship a true and living God — one from whom we can draw assurances. He lives and is the God of the living (Matthew 22:32; Luke 20:38) and not of the dead; he gives us new life (1 Peter 1:3) and he gives us that life abundantly (John 10:10). And thus Jesus says to us, “why do you sit home and worry about what may or may not happen this week or even tomorrow?” Do we forget whom we serve? Our worry seems to betray that we do, yet to the beloved, God gives rest and peaceful dreams at night.

How often my dreams have been haunted by the cares of countless anxieties—anxieties that are projected in nightmarish ways. Yet, in prayer, there is rest for the soul. How often there has been tossing and turning rather than restful slumber; again, trust in God’s provision, believer, and you will find that rest will come. There is no need to fear what may transpire; our God is sovereign over all events (Ephesians 1:11) and has promised to work them all out for our good (Romans 8:28). What comfort there is in those divine promises to us! What rest we can find in that context!

For the believer, rest means more than sleep during the evening hours. Rest also includes rest from one’s enemies—the greatest of which are the spiritual powers of wickedness that roam this world like a roaring lion. They may roar, but we are held secure in the hands of our loving Savior (John 10:28-29); of what shall we fear? No, we are loved of God and true love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

Loved ones, sleep well and dream well of the glory of our God. He will provide for your needs because he loves you (Matthew 6:31-34); the pagans eat the bread of their sweat and toil—enjoy the restful sleep that your Father provides.

Ego Custodiam

The fourth of the relational statements that the early church fathers made reflected God’s relationship to the church. “I will guard them,” says God of his people. At first, we might be inclined to think that this statement could be fuller or more involved. We might expect God to say Ego Redimam (“I will redeem”) or Ego Amabo (“I will love”) or even Ego Sanctificabo (“I will sanctify them” or “I will make them holy”). At the same time, if we explore this idea of guarding something, we can argue that it contains at least an element of each of these statements. One guards those things that they love or hold to be valuable and one must have something in one’s possession to guard it, thus God redeems his people from the sin that once held us captive. Also, those things that we guard and cherish, we choose to refine, removing those imperfections that we can find in the object of our affection. Thus the language of Ego Custodiam includes all of the above comments.

So, why does God choose to guard his church? Certainly it must not be assumed that God places his affections upon us because of who we are or because of what we have done. All of our works, we must affirm like the Apostle Paul, are naught but dung (Philippians 3:8). No, he places his affections upon us because of whose we are—his own—and as a revelation of his glory. What we all deserve is eternal condemnation because of our sins and the guilt of sin we have inherited from our forefathers, yet he has chosen us since before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), before we had done anything good or bad (Romans 9:11), and sent his Son to pay the price to redeem us from our just judgment, substituting himself in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21). As the value of an item is based on the price that one is willing to pay for it, our value to God is without measure, for his Son, Jesus, being eternal God, paid an eternal price for our souls. And because of that price paid, he will never let one of his own slip from between his fingers (John 10:28-30).

Beyond redemption is the idea of his guardianship. God does not save us to leave us saved but to our own devices. No, God preserves us and guides us through life. The Psalmist writes of God’s guardianship:

“For his angels he will command regarding you— 

To guard you in all of your ways.”

(Psalm 91:11)

The picture here is self explanatory; God is a jealous God (Deuteronomy 5:9) and he will not share us with any other. We are guarded, kept, and held secure for this great purpose and he will not revoke his calling upon us (Romans 11:29). Indeed, nothing on earth or in heaven can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).

But what does that mean for us? It means that there is no reason for us to despair. How often we go through life and feel as if we are standing as one person against a host of enemies and that the world’s sole goal is to tear apart the things that we have sought to bring together. How often we feel lost, confused, and abandoned when confronted by tragedy in this world. How often we feel as if God is not listening to or responding to our prayers. How often chaos seems to dominate our lives and the world around us. Yet, all of these perceptions miss the mark. Because our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and from our hearts flow all sorts of vain imaginations and sin (Mark 7:20-23), we miss the glory that God has prepared for us even in the challenges of this world (1 Corinthians 2:8-9).

You see, we often get so wrapped up in the events of the moment that we forget that we do not see the big picture. Indeed, even when we begin to try and focus on the big picture of God’s redemptive history, because we are finite and grounded in this world, we still do not see with the scope and breadth that our Lord sees it. Indeed, compared to the immensity of God’s vision, our vision is minuscule to be generous. The sad thing is how often we take our minuscule vision as the whole of God’s vision and then wonder why God is permitting things to take place, all-the-while questioning his character and his goodness. There is none like our God (Psalm 77:13) who calls us not to be anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34), but instead to cast all of our cares before him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

Reflect on what God speaks through the psalmist as Psalm 91 is brought to a close:

“Because he clings to me in devotion, I will save him;

I will make him untouchable because he knows my name.

When he calls me I will answer him,

With him, I will be in times of distress.

I will rescue him and honor him.

With long days I will satisfy him,

I will reveal myself to him in my salvation.”

(Psalm 91:14-16)