By Simon ManchesterSunday 21 Feb 2021Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
When someone says, “good luck” to me and occasionally someone does say good luck to me even in the church, it can be a quite a harmless phrase, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have no faith in God. But it always seems to me to be a revealing phrase because I wonder whether the person thinks that the world is pretty random and that God is somewhere there in the background and He just sort of watches and looks and is a bit helpless and every now and again sort of comes in like an SES sort of worker and fixes something up.
It just slightly concerns me when I hear the words “good luck” and I wanna give you at the end, in a few minutes, a better phrase perhaps to give to the person who says, “Good luck,” to you. The sad outlook that we are ruled by luck, good and bad luck is found in Romans chapter 8. And we’re going to spend four mornings looking at four words and the four words are what are called the “golden chain” of Romans chapter 8 verse 30.
You may have noticed those four words. They are:
And the word today is the word, “predestined”. And if you’d like to turn the passage up you’ll find it on Romans chapter 8. You’ll be surprised to know that I have three points this morning. The first is, the plan of God from eternity to eternity, the second is the subject of predestination which is our word in the text, and the third is the effect of this or the impact on our life.
So the first thing is the purpose of God from eternity to eternity, all wrapped up in verse 30 of Romans 8, that God has a purpose for His people that began before the creation, and goes till after the creation. Think of a man, for example, who plans to breed carrier pigeons. He has no cages, he has no birds, it’s all in his head. Then he builds some cages and he puts in the little birds and he starts to breed and at the end of the program, he releases them. So his plan is bigger than cages and birds, it began before and it finishes afterwards. And so it is with God, His plan is way bigger than people in the creation. It began before and it finishes afterwards. Let’s read Chapter 8 from verse 28, “We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who’ve been called according to His purpose. 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. And those He predestined, He also called and those He called, He also justified and those He justified, He also glorified.”
You see that God’s purpose is for His people and He describes His people in two ways. Those who love Him and those who’ve been called. Now I’ve had Romans 8:28 sent to me occasionally on a card or a note at a difficult time, and I have to say that one of the things that has troubled me as I remember the phrase, remember the verse, is that on a quick reading it looks as though God has a great purpose for those who love Him. Therefore it sounds as though God has good plans for a really excellent type of Christian. And so just at a time where I may be burdened, along comes another burden which says, “Well, God would have a good plan for you if you really loved Him.” And then I reflect on the fact that I don’t really love Him very well. Now let’s put that error aside because God is actually saying something very comforting and very great and very important. And that is that He has called us and He has elicited from us some love for Him. We’re no longer courting just the dead orthodoxy of, “I agree there is a God.”
No, a call has come to us which we have heard, it’s woken us up, it’s got to do with Jesus on the cross and the resurrection. And this call has changed us and it has prompted us to respond in heart to God. And so this is really an excellent definition of what it means to be one of God’s people. You’ve heard of His call, you’ve heard His call, you’ve responded in some way, it’s affected your heart. His heart has reached your heart and because His heart has reached your heart in some way, He’s gonna continue the process and He’s gonna transform your heart. And the aim is that He’s going to cause you, His person, His believer, to be like His Son, conformed to the likeness of His Son.
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God has nothing less planned for the believer than that they would be transformed in character to the likeness of Jesus. It’s an astonishing thing for us to think about, that every believer will eventually have the character of the Lord Jesus, and this is the good which He plans for us. Chapter 8 verse 28, “He works for the good of those who love Him.” So make sure when you think of good, God is working for good, that you remember that God’s good is that you would grow in the likeness of the Lord Jesus. You may think that if He’s gonna work for my good, He’ll work for my comfort and we’ll define good as we define it. But now we must define it as He defines it and His good is that we will be like the Lord Jesus.
Now we may not see the way God works, the things that are in our lives at any particular time but the Scriptures say we can know that He will do that because He’s told us. And He uses all things, therefore good things and bad things, He uses all things for that particular purpose. He says in verse 18 that there are present sufferings. Well He uses present sufferings to transform us and many of us here this morning know that there are experiences we’ve been through, dark times, difficult times, valleys, deep valleys, and God has worked them for our good, either for our salvation or for our growth and progress. We’re also told from verse 35 that there are things like trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, hunger, danger and sword and in all of those things, God works. And that’s why he says we’re more than conqueror’s, not because we escape those things. That would be a great mistake but it’s because in the very thick of those difficult things, we know that God’s power is at work and His love is at work to take His people for His purpose to be like His Son.
Now this is much better than the secular optimism that is around us, because you know that Australians are very optimistic and it’s quite an attractive quality in a way, but a lot of is blind and just wishful thinking. And so people are always saying, especially at funerals, you know, “All is well, the best is yet to come, and it’s all got a purpose and it’s all part of a plan.” And we hear this phrase again and again and yet there isn’t a reason, anywhere, in the secular brain, why these things should be true. It’s just wishful thinking, it’s floating up in the air somewhere. And of course if you’ve rejected God and you’ve said no to His call and you have not returned love to Him and therefore you’re not in His hands, you’re not in His plans. But if you’ve submitted to God and you’ve put yourself in His hands, you’re in His plans because His plans are in His hands and His plans are that He will take you effectively forward until you are not only like Christ, but you are with Christ.
Now these verses are extremely important to us because they are realistic They tell us that God is working with “all things for good”. And that’s why Christians will find themselves, like every other person in the world, in the midst of difficulties and sickness and trouble and trials. And it’s a great, great mistake to think that if you become a Christian, you’ll suddenly be transported into another level, which is why we must beware of this kind of one-eyed Christianity which infects the churches and can even infect Saint Thomas’s [SP] and it majors on the victorious Christian life and it borrows even from Romans 8, this kind of idea that because you are more than a conqueror, you’re suddenly being put on a sort of a platform above everybody else. The victorious Christian life, I notice, seeks to exalt the power of God, the victory of God, sometimes even the love of God. And there’s nothing wrong with those things, but it doesn’t have a real place for the testing of God and the wise purposes of God and the use of suffering by God and the fact that Jesus went through the cross to the crown, and didn’t just go straight to the crown.
And so there is a Christianity which is victorious and unbalanced and it becomes very quickly unteachable. It just doesn’t like to think that there is a hard road. It becomes quite superior and it ends up in a sort of a fantasy land where there is this terrible gulf between what is being professed and what is actually being experienced. Some of you here know exactly what I’m talking about, this kind of preference for power and not realistic weakness. There’s a preference that everything would be sort of exciting and not just convinced. There is a preference that everything would be victorious and not cross-carrying. Now Paul’s message is better than one-eyed, one-legged Christianity because the apostle Paul says here that we are able to face the cross and the crown and that God’s purpose is not necessarily to give us all immediate answers, although He may, but He will certainly give us ultimate answers. He’s working through all things, all the time to make His people one day like His Son.
Now let’s take our word “predestined” in verse 30 and this is a tricky word. Somebody said very helpfully a little slogan which is that, “Try and explain predestination and you lose your mind. Try and explain it away and you lose your theology.” That’s good, that’s good, it keeps me humble as I try to explain it to you today. What predestination basically means, simply means, is that God plans the destiny of His people at the beginning. He plans literally the horizon of His people. He’s worked out before the creation where His people will end up after the creation and it’s even clearer in Ephesians chapter 1, which says that, “He chose us before the creation of the world.” And it goes on to say, “He predestined us, guaranteeing our inheritance to the praise of His glory.”
Now “predestined” doesn’t sound too bad if it means that God wants to see who believes and then drives them to glory. It doesn’t sound too bad, does it, if you say God sort of watches, He sees who jumps on the bus and then He drives them all the way to heaven. But it actually says in the Scriptures, look at verse 29, that “God foreknew His people.” And to foreknow people…using that Bible language of what it means to “know” a person, which means to love a person, which means to be intimate with a person, in the Old Testament it often means to have sexual relations with a person…is that God foreloved His people. He chose them, He picked them, He predestined them, He lifted them and put them in the bus. It can’t just mean, you see, that He just looked and saw what would happen because the people that, “He foreknew, He predestined, and the people He predestined, He called and the people He called, He justified and the people He justified, He glorified.” So it can’t be that He just looks and sees everything and everybody He sees is glorified, because not everybody’s glorified.
No, He picks and then the process begins, through to glory. And we’re therefore face to face with a doctrine which is all the way through Scripture, predestination, and as we were reminded this morning, it’s been written for our comfort. It really has been written for our comfort. Romans chapter 8 is one the most comforting chapters in the whole of the Scriptures. I know people who’ve been in terror, on their deathbed, who’ve turned to Romans 8 and found it deeply comforting. So it’s unlikely the Apostle Paul, in the middle of a chapter on comfort, is gonna turn around and say, “Well, now I’m gonna introduce you to a doctrine which will really upset you.” No, it’s a doctrine for our comfort. And what it simply means is that just as Jesus once came to the tomb of Lazarus, who was dead, and Jesus raised him to life, so God must come to a person, spiritually dead, and He raises that person to spiritual life. He has to do it and if He raises people to spiritual life, and most people here this morning, have been raised to spiritual life, He will finish the job.
Why does this doctrine worry people? Why does it annoy people? Well, it annoys people because it seems to be unjust. How can God choose some, not others? We think we can invent a better God than that, don’t we? How can God leave some people, not choose them, and then judge them? That seems totally unjust. Well, now I’m not going to be able to tie up all the loose ends of predestination for you this morning but I just wanna give you a series of thoughts, a series of truths. The first is, number one is, that as long as predestination is in your Bible, it must be in your theological frame. You’ve got to keep it because the Bible keeps it. If the Bible doesn’t teach it, well you don’t have to think it, but because the Bible teaches it, it’s got a place in your theological framework, it must have.
Second, be very careful before you accuse God of injustice because the Bible makes clear that He is totally just. Absolutely nothing will go past Him. And therefore, somewhere in your framework, as you think about predestination and God, you must say to yourself, “Whatever happens, God is going to be one hundred percent just.” Don’t think, number three, that you can come up with a better plan. People who dismiss predestination will not be able to outdo God in being merciful, that would be impossible. We’re not going to be able to outdo God in being merciful or just. He’s totally, infinitely, perfectly, merciful and just. And therefore, fourthly, if you trace a Christian back to why they became a Christian, it will go back to the mercy of God. If you don’t like predestination, you’ll probably trace Christians back to their own decision, or their own cleverness, or their own worthiness, or their own genius, or their own superiority. I found author Tim Keller very helpful on this. He says, you know, “Ask a person, ‘Why are you a Christian?’ They’ll say ‘Oh, I’m a Christian because, you know, I did a course on Christianity.’ ‘Why’d you do the course?’ ‘I wanted to.’ ‘Why’d you want to?’ ‘Oh, I was feeling keen.’ ‘Why were you feeling keen?’ ‘Well, it was just a certain time in my life.’ ‘Why did you listen? Why did you repent?’ ‘Well, I just did.’ ‘Why did you believe?’ ‘Well, it seemed logical to me.’
You see, you’re talking about your own decision, your own sort of ability, maybe even your own slight superiority. But actually if you trace backwards in a Christian’s life and you say, “Why did you become a Christian?”, in the end what it really goes back to is, “I was dead and God in His mercy raised me to spiritual life.” And that’s why heaven will be marked by praise, you see, because it will go back to the mercy of God.
Now having said all that, what we are left with is that scripture presents us, what is commonly called, two train tracks. One is that God is completely sovereign and He chooses His people, and the other is that we are completely responsible and we are given great opportunity. And the Bible just presents those two as train tracks and says, run on the train tracks and the track which is God’s sovereignty is as long and as strong as you like. And the track which is that you have opportunity and you have responsibility is as long and as strong as you like, but we will never see those two train tracks join in our vision. It will have to be after this life where God explains that to us. But the Bible just keeps on presenting the two tracks and I tell you, if you remove the sovereignty of God and you leave it up to human responsibility, that’s an absolutely terrible burden to carry but if you remove human responsibility and leave it up with just the sovereignty of God you end up with a kind of a robot world.
The bible brilliantly, effectively, clearly, presents us with these two train tracks, biblical train tracks. And therefore, whatever you are facing whether it’s by watching television or seeing other people or in your own life, it fits into the framework that God is sovereign, God is powerful, God is wise, God is loving, and people are responsible. And everything has to be fitted inside that framework. So don’t pick one text and play it off against another, imagining that there is a contradiction when in fact there is not a contradiction, maybe an apparent contradiction, but there is in fact…there is a harmony or a dove tailing of the scriptures into God’s genius. I give you an example from the men’s breakfast yesterday and that is, the Bible says in 1 Timothy 2, that “God wants all to be saved”, and it says in 2 Peter 3, “God wants none to perish”. Well, what do we do with those verses? Will we say, “Well, God wants everybody to be saved but He’s just a bit hopeless, He’s just a bit helpless. He looks on and He rings His hands and He says, “Ah, gee, I just would long for everyone to believe but I can’t do it.” Well, that’s a ridiculous doctrine, isn’t it? If we’re gonna take seriously that He’s sovereign, powerful, loving, and wise. Will we say He wants all people without distinction to be saved rather than without exception? Well, that’s an attractive option but it’s a slightly weakening view of the text, isn’t it?
Well, now I’ve been greatly helped by John Piper on this and he says that we must grapple with the fact that God has at least two wills going on. And this is not unusual because every parent with a sick child has two wills going on. One of the wills of the parents is, “I don’t want my child to suffer, I’m unwilling for my child to suffer.” Absolutely right. And then there is another will which says I’m willing for him or her to have surgery because that’s the way for the future.” And so use subordinates the will which says, “I don’t want them to suffer” to the will which says, “they must have surgery” and the two operate without contradiction. Now we see the same thing in the old testament where God, of course, does not one family’s to fragment and yet He wills for Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery.
We see this at the crucifixion that God does not will that a person would kill and yet it was the scripture says the Lord’s will that Jesus would be bruised in crucified. And so God, you see, is able to subordinate His secondary will to a primary will, just as a parent would. And we therefore ask the question, “Well, what could be a greater will than that everybody would be saved?” We can’t think of anything more wonderful than that and the Armenian says what of course is the problem is that God must not steamroll people’s free wills. That’s why He doesn’t save everybody because He won’t steamroller people’s free wills. Well, that’s a weak argument because in the end God ought to steamroll people’s free wills, if there was such a thing as a free will, because it’s more important that people be saved than they hang on to their free will.
I would much rather He steamrolled my free will to save me than left me free and perishing. But what we will eventually say, if God is going to have a greater purpose than the leaving of people to their own ends, is that His greater purpose is something which is in His own mind, His own understanding, His own wisdom and if it is not made clear to us in scriptures we’re gonna have to just trust Him. It’s what the Bible calls a secret theme. We stand with our framework which is that He’s sovereign, He’s loving, He’s wise, and He’s powerful. And we understand that He wants people to be saved, we also understand that He predestines people and therefore there is a purpose which we must humbly bow to and will one day discover. Because in the end, you see, as Jonathan Edwards says, God wills what is contrary to excellency in some particulars for the sake of a more general excellency and order, which is a nice neat way of saying, God has a purpose which we may not understand, but we will trust Him.
Now here are some things which will affect us or impact us. This is my last point this morning. First of all, we must be humbled by the doctrine of predestination, not only to realize that God must save us, we need His mercy, but also to realize that His choosing of us is totally unrelated to our deserving. I preached on this and then I was handing out the bread and the wine and I was just thinking, “This is astonishing. You know, if this is not complete rubbish, what I’m saying this morning, and it comes from Scripture so it’s not, the fact that I’m a believer is because God has woken me up. And if God has woken me up, it’s got completely to do with Him.” And therefore I found myself in amazement.
I was reading the story of Henry Martin, the missionary to India, and before he left for the mission field, he caught up with a friend of his, who he calls M, just the letter M and M was not a believer. And this is 200 years ago, Henry Martin says, “M rode with me part of the way but kept the conversation on general subjects. If I brought him to the subject of religion, he spoke with the most astonishing apathy on the subject. His cold, deliberate superiority to everything convinced me that he was grounded in infidelity. Nothing remained therefore, for me, but to pray for him. And though he parted from me probably to see me no more, he said nothing that could betray the existence of any passions in him. What infidelity that freezes the heart’s blood and destroys the soul hereafter. I could only praise the sovereign grace of God which distinguished me from him though everything was alike in us. We have been intimate from our infancy, we’ve had the same plans and purposes and nearly the same conditions but the one is taken and the other is left. I through mercy, find my joy and delight in the knowledge of Christ, he in denying the truth altogether.”
It’s humbling, it’s humbling. It’s also comforting because if as I say the Lord has given you eyes to see that Jesus Christ is Lord and He died on the cross for sin and He rose again from the grave. If He’s given you eyes to see, an eye and a heart to believe, He’s begun a work in you which He will continue right to the end. Remember that God is at work through all things including suffering. As John Piper says, with two lenses, the narrow lens where God is able to look at the suffering and it’s terrible and it grieves Him and it angers Him. And then He is also able to look at the suffering with a wide-angle lens where He sees His purposes and His plans and His goals and amazingly, He is able therefore to delight in what is happening because of the big picture. And we, when we are experiencing deep water, we’ll need to go on trusting that God is the God of the narrow lens and the wide lens. Also, make predestination a spur to your service, because God is not only the God who has plans and purposes but He also uses people to those plans and purposes. So don’t say to yourself, “Oh, it’s all planned, I might as well just watch television.” No, God uses prayers and God uses witnesses for His purposes and therefore we ought to say to ourselves, “It could well be this week that God’s people, that He’s got planned to believe this week, will be the people that I bump into, and therefore I want to pray, and I want to be available.” And you find yourself spurred to participation.
And finally don’t settle for luck. Don’t settle for the idea that there’re some random processes that’s going on around you that are just mysterious forces and God is helpless. The Bible tells us that God works, all things all the good things come from Him and all the evil things come even by permission, because He works to move very great ends. And so when someone says to you, “Good luck”, you ought to think to yourself or perhaps say to them, “I don’t trust good luck, but I do trust Good Lord, because He’s the one, says Romans chapter 8, we know, who “works all things for good, for those who love Him, who are called by Him and who will one day be like His Son.”
Let’s bow our head, let’s pray. Our gracious God, we bow before you this morning. We acknowledge you to be very great, sovereign, control of the universe, totally in charge of time and all your plans and purposes. We thank you for the amazing mercy of waking us to understand and believe, and we pray that you would continue the good process in our lives. And we pray that you would also to help us testify to your mercy and to trust you and to be your instruments for your purposes in your world. We give you our thanks and we commit these things to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.