“Predestining us for adoption through Jesus Christ into Him, according to the pleasure of His will,”
The Pleasure of His will… I wonder whether we really take time to think about this phrase very often. God does this work of adoption through Christ not primarily for our good (though it is very much to our good); he does it for His pleasure. His pleasure that is, not our pleasure. How shocking that revelation must be to many people who simply view God as being a senile father in the sky who desperately wishes to give away good gifts but has to wait for us to desire them enough to ask for them. While dominant in much of Christianity, such a view is inconsistent with the Biblical revelation and is shameful at best.
The Greek word that we translate as “pleasure” is εὐδοκία (eudokia). Literally, this word is a noun that refers to a state of being — one that is well disposed toward the actions being taken — actions that are both desired and desirable. Yet, we must make it clear that the one to whom this action is desirable is God. He is not acting out of some sense of need within himself nor is he acting out of some vague beneficence toward mankind. No, he is acting because such an action brings pleasure to his person.
What other things are described in a similar way? Jesus described the veiling of the Gospel from the worldly wise as a work of God’s pleasure (Matthew 11:26; Luke 10:21), revealing his will to the elect in Christ (Ephesians 1:9), and that in conforming us to His will, we will labor to God’s glory (Philippians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:11). Perhaps, though, the best statement on the this idea of God’s good pleasure (εὐδοκία) is found in the Greek translation of 1 Chronicles 16:10, which reads, “Utter praise in His holy name! The heart that seeks His pleasure will rejoice!”
“And God saw their works, that they had turned from their way of the evil, God grieved over the evil which he had threatened to do to them and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10)
Now, before you go running off to burn all of your copies of John Calvin’s Institutes and to declare to me that this verse proves that God changes his mind, let’s stop for just one minute and see what it is that is going on in this passage and place it in the context of the rest of God’s revelation. As well, let us keep Ephesians 1:11 and Job 23:13 before us, being reminded that God has ordered all things (not just some, but all) according to his will. Also, God’s will is perfect and right and he does not need to go back to the drawing board periodically to modify his plan to suit the happenings of the world.
God is infinite, timeless, changeless, and boundless; there is no measuring him or constraining his will and plan. At the same time, we are finite and bound by time. For us, there must always be a chronological sequence of actions and reactions—we understand cause and effect, not infinite design. Thus, God condescends to us within history, not because history in some way binds him, but because he wishes to be understood and this is the only way we will understand his revelation. Thus, at times, when God’s activities are described in manners like this, they are described in terms of cause and effect that we might be able to understand what it is that God is doing.
Thus, the language here is not the language of God changing his mind, but it is describing in terms that we can comprehend, all that is going on. Was God’s threat to destroy the city a real one then? Yes, indeed! At the same time, God intentionally moved on the hearts of the king of Nineveh and the people of the city and brought them to repent of their sins. God is a God of mercy, and in bringing them to repentance, he relented of his threat to destroy the city (at least for a time). This is the mercy of God.
Beloved, this mercy of God is the most important thing that you walk away with from this verse or even this chapter of Jonah. God is merciful and kind and those who repent of their sins and turn to God through his son, Jesus Christ, will find forgiveness—that is not just a nice, theological statement, but this is revealed fact. What God has promised, he will do and he does not change his mind mid way through the process. Friends, cling to the mercy of God that is in Jesus Christ. Remind yourself that if God is willing to forgive even the Ninevites, he will also be willing to forgive you of your sins and even the most vile pagan of his or her sins as well. There is no sin too terrible that the blood of Christ can not wash it clean—this is God’s promise to us, and oh, what a blessed promise it is!
Arise, my soul, arise,
Shake off your guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears;
Before the throne my Surety stands,
Before the throne my Surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.