29 For those whom he (God) foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[a] against us?
“Those whom God foreknew he also predestined.” God pre-determines those whom He then transforms into brothers and sisters of His Son, Jesus Christ. In order to transform us, first He has to call us, then He has to justify us and finally He must glorify us. The entire work of salvation is the Lord’s — from beginning to end.
I am not sure why this concept is difficult for seemingly so many Christians, but it is. Some Christians want to take credit for accepting Christ and even for becoming ‘holy’. But the Word contradicts this idea repeatedly.
God makes Pharaoh a vessel for wrath while He makes Moses a vessel for glory. Moses is a murderer, and as such is — at his worst — no more worthy of God’s mercy than Pharaoh at his best. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart repeatedly, each time the Egyptian king decides to let God’s people go, God changes Pharaoh’s mind.
God loves Jacob before Jacob does anything good or bad while He ‘hates’ Esau also before Esau does anything good or bad.
Someone I know told me that God is not a manipulator. God most certainly is! He is the great and ultimate ‘manipulator’! A manipulator is defined as “a person who handles or controls something skilfully”. God is the perfect manipulator, handling us as skillfully as a master puppeteer or gifted potter.
God is in control.
Why does this bother you (assuming it does)? Why do you resist the Master’s control? Don’t you believe He is perfect? Don’t you believe He is only good, that there is no evil intent in His plan?
If God is indeed perfect, then it follows that His control — His manipulations, if you will, are also perfect.
The most straightforward and simple statement of Fanny J. Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance” is Paul’s statement to the church at Rome:
31 What (tis) then (oun) shall we say (legō) in response to (pros) these (houtos) things? If (ei ·ho) God (theos) is for (hyper) us (hēmeis,) who (tis) can be against (kata) us (hēmeis?) 32 He (pheidomai) who (hos) did (pheidomai) not (ou) spare (pheidomai·ho) his (idios) own Son (hyios,) but (alla) delivered (paradidōmi) him (autos) up (paradidōmi) for (hyper) us (hēmeis) all (pas,) how (pōs) will he (charizomai) not (ouchi) also (kai,) along with (syn) him (autos,) graciously give (charizomai) us (hēmeis ·ho) all (pas) things? 33 Who (tis) will bring a charge (enkaleō) against (kata) God’s (theos) elect (eklektos?) It is God (theos) who (ho) justifies (dikaioō).
And if there is any doubt, look at Paul’s delineation of “these things.” The things that he (and we) are responding to are:
1) The glorious freedom of the children of God
2) Our adoption into the family of God as His children
3) The Holy Spirit helping us in our weaknesses and interceding for us, knowing God’s will for us
4) God using all things together for our good, so that we are conformed to the image of our Creator
5) Finally our predestination, calling, justification and ultimate glorification
The Word of God is clear – all people are created by God in His image. The Word is equally clear that people are created a second time “in Christ Jesus for good works.” ( Hence Jesus’ mention to Nicodemus that he must be born again. ) These good works are ones designed specifically for us as individuals; they are “prepared beforehand, so that we may walk in them.” If even our good works are planned, how is it that we are not planned? Of course we are. What creator doesn’t mold his or her work according to plan? Nevertheless, as an artist renders his or her work, spontaneity surely plays its part. Perhaps God, the ultimate Creator, shows a touch of His own creative spontaneity when He allows His creations to stray off plan. Ever played with your car; ever taken your hands off the wheel briefly to see which way it might head? Ever dropped the reins on a horse and allowed it to go whichever direction it will? Yet, you remain in control of your car or your horse. The steering wheel is right there; so are the reins. God is in control; never fear.
For we are his creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we may walk in them.
Recently I’ve had more difficulty with the idea that some will spend eternity in hell. Always bothered me that a god with infinite power to save would then allow some to perish. I know there are Christian sects ( cults? ) that believe all will be saved. After all, God so loved the world – the whole world, it seems. Yet, the Word clearly teaches the reality of a hell, of an eternal separation from God.
I also believe the Word teaches that God ultimately is the one who decides. This is so obvious to me I find it hard to understand how others push against this truth. God chose Abel over Cain, Joseph over his brothers, Abram and Sarai over every other couple ( and this despite their age! ), Moses over Pharaoh, Jacob over Esau, Mary over every other young woman in all of human history. That God chooses specific individuals is clear. Yes, I hear you. You argue that God chose these people for specific tasks. I argue God just chose them, period.
Paul writes so eloquently of God’s sovereign desire to save.
3Blessed be that God, that Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us, in Christ, with every spiritual blessing, higher than heaven itself. 4 He has chosen us out, in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be saints, to be blameless in his sight, for love of him;5 marking us out beforehand (so his will decreed) to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ. 6 Thus he would manifest the splendour of that grace by which he has taken us into his favour in the person of his beloved Son. 7 It is in him and through his blood that we enjoy redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. So rich is God’s grace, 8 that has overflowed upon us in a full stream of wisdom and discernment, 9 to make known to us the hidden purpose of his will. It was his loving design, centred in Christ, 10 to give history its fulfilment by resuming everything in him, all that is in heaven, all that is on earth, summed up in him. 11 In him it was our lot to be called, singled out beforehand to suit his purpose (for it is he who is at work everywhere, carrying out the designs of his will); 12 we were to manifest his glory, we who were the first to set our hope in Christ; 13 in him you too were called, when you listened to the preaching of the truth, that gospel which is your salvation. In him you too learned to believe, and had the seal set on your faith by the promised gift of the Holy Spirit; 14 a pledge of the inheritance which is ours, to redeem it for us and bring us into possession of it, and so manifest God’s glory.
We are God’s possession. We have the promised Holy Spirit. We are washed clean and blessed by His Son’s blood. We are chosen out from before the foundation of the world to be saints!
Everything is summed up in Christ, all things in heaven and on earth.
Gabriel doesn’t come to Mary under his own power or by his own decision. He is sent, rather, to Mary by God. God sends Gabriel to a specific town, to a specific girl betrothed to a specific “man of David’s lineage.”
God doesn’t look down through time and see a young girl He knows will choose Him and then say to Himself, “Well, she’ll do.” Rather, He chooses Mary. She, by His choice, becomes the woman blessed above all women by God Himself.
“When the sixth month came, God sent the angel Gabriel to a city of Galilee called Nazareth, where a virgin dwelt, betrothed to a man of David’s lineage; his name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name was Mary. Into her presence the angel came, and said, Hail, thou who art full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.”
Mary does not resist God’s call. She does question Gabriel, asks ‘how can this be?’ But God’s call is irrevocable as the author of Hebrews tells us. And Isaias (Isaiah) muses:
“What a strange thought is this! As well might clay scheme against the potter; handicraft disown its craftsman, or thing of art call the artist fool.” (Isaias 29: 16)
“All who are appointed for eternal life believe.” (Acts 13:48, NIV)
Luke records the truth that Paul and Barnabas “have to speak the Word of God to [Israel] first.” (Acts 13:46) Only Israel’s rejection and their inability to “consider [themselves] worthy of eternal life” open the door for Paul and Barnabas to take the good news to the Gentiles.
Israel is God’s own people. They are appointed — decided on beforehand; designated — for eternal life. Among the Gentile nations are people “appointed for eternal life,” and these people believe when they hear the good news. How can they believe if no one preaches? asks Paul.
How offensive is God’s sovereign choice? How disturbing is the good news? When the Gentiles hear Paul say “the Lord commands us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47) “they are glad.” (Acts 13:48) Those designated beforehand honor the Word of God, and believe just as God decides.
“[Christ] comes to that which is His own, but His own do not receive Him. Yet to all who receive Him, to those who believe in His Name, He gives the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:11-13)
“The Lord of Hosts swears, ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand… This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the Lord of Hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:24,26-27)
God has a plan. He has a purpose concerning the whole earth. No one is able to annul God’s plan. No one is able to turn God back from His intention.
What is God’s purpose?
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul says God’s purpose is to bless us — that is, Christians — “in the heavenly places. even as He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless in His sight.” (Ephesians 1:3,4) God’s purpose is also to “put all things under [Christ’s] feet” and to make Christ “head over all things” to the benefit of His church, “which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22,23)
God’s purpose is to “bring many sons to glory” through Christ “for whom and by whom all things exist.” (Hebrews 2:10) God’s purpose is for us — the sons of glory — to “enter His rest.” (Hebrews 4:1) “For we who believe enter that rest.” (Hebrews 4:3)
Now God “desires to show convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable nature of His purpose, [so] He guarantees it with an oath.” (Hebrews 6:17) He swears by Himself in that “it is impossible for God to lie.” (Hebrews 6:18) Therefore, “we have this sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” (Hebrews 6:19,20)
Who can annul God’s purpose; who can turn Him back?
“God chose you for salvation.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13) “He calls you to this through [the] gospel, so you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:14)
“For He chose [you] in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined [you] to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. [You] are justified by faith.” (Romans 3:27,28) “Therefore, since [you] are declared righteous by faith, [you] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) “Rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2)
Odd how we speak of man’s free will while denying God’s sovereignty in all matters. We don’t appear to have any difficulty accepting that God obviously preferred Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s though both offered gifts of significance — after all, Cain appears to be just as sincere as Abel. The big difference is Abel’s sacrifice reflects Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and the shedding of His blood for our sins. Cain’s offering represents mankind’s self-effort, the work of his hands. As such, no matter how good it appears, it is lacking and unacceptable to our God.
We don’t doubt God’s sovereignty in His choice of Abram and Sarai to become a great nation, or His selection of Joseph rather than his brothers or of Jacob rather than Esau — even before either one had done good or evil. And God chose Mary to be the vessel for His Son, Jesus. God even, most especially, chose Judas to betray Jesus with a kiss.
Paul deals with God’s sovereign choice especially well in his letter to the Roman church. Some are destined [not designed] to be vessels of God’s mercy while others show forth God’s wrath — the wrath which remains on them just as it is removed from others. All are born as vessels of wrath. These vessels of wrath show forth God’s great mercy which He has in store for those who are vessels of His mercy.
Many are called; few are chosen. This, I know, on the surface appears extremely unfair. But the reality is that once our DNA was altered by Adam and Eve’s sin, God just as easily could have abandoned us as a worthless project, a project gone wrong. Instead, He sent His Son into the world so that He might save it.
“Examine me, O God, and know my thoughts; test me, and understand my misgivings. Watch lest I follow any path that grieves [You]; guide me in the ancient ways.”
“Lord, [You] examine me and know me. [You] know all, whether I sit down or rise up; [You] discern my thoughts from afar. [You] trace my journey and my resting places, and are familiar with all my paths. For there is not a word on my tongue but [You], Lord, know them all. [You] keep close guard before me and behind and spread [Your] hand over me. Such knowledge is beyond my understanding, so high I cannot reach it. Where can I escape from [Your] spirit? Where can I flee from [Your] presence? If I climb up to heaven, [You] are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, again I find [You.]” (Psalm 139:1-8)
God knows me from before the creation of time and space, before I was conceived and certainly before I was born into the earthly realm. I belong to Him always; there’s never been a time I was not His. “[God] it was who did fashion my inward parts; [He] knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13) “In Christ He chose [me] before the world was founded, to be dedicated, to be without blemish in His sight, to be full of love, and He destined [me] — such was His will and pleasure — to be accepted as His son through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3-5)
God understands “my misgivings.” He tests me every moment to see how much my character is molded to His Son’s; how close I am to being like my brother, Jesus Christ. I pray for Him to continue to “keep close guard before me and behind and spread [His] hand over me.” I am glad that I am incapable of fleeing “from [His] presence;” that wherever I go, God is there. I am always able to find Him because He always knows my location, my thoughts, my weaknesses. And, I know — despite my failings — He loves me just as He loves my brother, Jesus.