Series Theme: Meditations on the Will of God
This Page: Studies 11 - 20
Meditating on the Will of God: 11: God Knows
Acts 2:22,23 Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
Back in the 3 rd of this particular series we considered Pharaoh's hard heart and the fact that God knows how a person will respond but I realise that we have got this far with these studies without really covering what is possibly the most crucial aspect of God's will – the fact that He knows, and even more specifically, He knows what will be .
When the apostle Peter was preaching for the first time under the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, among the many things he said of great significance as the Spirit gave him revelation and insight, was that Jesus was handed over to be crucified by “God's set purpose and foreknowledge”. What was happening was by the plan the Godhead had devised from before the foundation of the world (as the New Testament testifies over a half a dozen times!) and therefore what was happening was happing with God's foreknowledge or, if you like, God knew beforehand exactly how it would all work out. The Godhead knew that if Jesus acted in certain ways, the sin in men around him would rise up and result in them betraying him, arresting him, falsely trying him and then crucifying him. God knew it and so it all happened exactly as He knew it would happen.
Now for those who may have given little though to these things, they may say, “Well God made those sinners act like they did.” No He didn't; it was the Sin in them and their sovereign choices that responded in the ways they did to the goodness of Jesus. Where there is a heart that is self-centred and godless then it is gong to be open and vulnerable to Satan's suggestions – and God knows that!
Now the apostle Peter seems to have had this specific revelation because at the start of his first letter he writes, “To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:” (1 Pet 1:1,2). The same thing that applied to Jesus, applies to us, and again it was decided upon and seen from before the foundation of the world. That's why the apostle Paul uses the word ‘predestined'. It simply means preplanned with foreknowledge so in that sense it is preordained, so that pre-planning is based upon what God knows will happen given the circumstances.
Paul declares this three time: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,” (Rom 8:29), and “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will,” (Eph 1:5) and “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will .” (Eph 1:11). If you don't like the word predestined, use the word ‘preplanned': “For those God foreknew he also preplanned to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,” (Rom 8:29), and “he preplanned us to be adopted as his sons…..” (Eph 1:5) and “In him we were also chosen, having been preplanned …. .” (Eph 1:11).
Now at this point there will be those who will say the meaning of the word means that He MADE us be like this. Yes, I agree in as far as that is just as we noted in respect of Jesus above, i.e. that pre-planning is based upon what God knows will happen given the circumstances. It's a fine line but I believe if free will is to have any meaning and the words, “God is love” are to have any meaning, it is an important line. In as far as, before the foundation of the world, when God looked into the future He saw all the circumstances, as only He can do, He knew exactly who would respond how, given the circumstances that rolled out in history. You were not MADE to submit to Him whenever it was you came to Christ, but God looked, saw and knew what circumstances would be occurring (including His own speaking and acting) and knew who would come and who would refuse to come, and in that sense, you might say, it was set before the world began that you would come, but the reality is that history had to work out as it did, including millions upon millions of human decisions made with free will, to come to the point where you turned to Christ and God then made you anew by His Spirit.
The alternative, that God so overrode every human decision to bring about the salvation of individuals makes a mockery of so many of God's instructions throughout Scripture for human beings to make their own decisions. Rob every human being of their ability to make decisions and you end up having to blame God for every person in hell – but it isn't like that. It is a mystery why one person chooses one way and another, another way. But having made the choice, if we had been able to time travel and go back before the foundation of the world, to the counsel of God, we would have seen these outcomes being seen. God knew.
|Top of section||
Meditating on the Will of God: 12: God's Pleasure
Eph 1:5,9 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ
There are sometimes verses or words that confront you in scripture and I have the feeling we look at them and think, “Well I expect I know what that means so I'll leave it for the moment,” and we pass on. In the two verses above, it is the word ‘pleasure' which lurks there and we assume we know what it means. The Message version in verse 5 says, “What pleasure he took in planning this!” and then in verse 9, “the plans he took he took such delight in making.”
Jesus himself prayed at one point, “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure .” (Lk 10:21) The Message version concludes those verses, “it pleased you to do it this way.”
In the book of Job we find Eliphaz the Temanite rashly replying to Job, “What pleasure would it give the Almighty if you were righteous? What would he gain if your ways were blameless?” (Job 22:3) Well actually, Eliphaz He gets a lot of pleasure from His children being righteous! In the prophetic Psa 22, we find, “Let him deliver him, since he delights in him .” (Psa 22:8) The Lord delights in His servant and He delights in His Son, and delight implies great pleasure.
David was able to say, “may they always say, "The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” (Psa 35:27) This man after God's own heart knew the wonder of the relationship with the Lord and knew that God delighted in him. How wonderful! The psalmist was able to write, “ the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psa 147:11) This was something that Eliphaz knew nothing about, a God who delights and takes great pleasure in those who come to Him. Solomon knew this as well as, on a good day, he wrote, “he delights in those whose ways are blameless .” (Prov 11:20) and “he delights in men who are truthful.” (Prov 12:22) Be under no illusion, this word ‘delight' is a strong word for it means ‘great pleasure'.
So what we have been finding is a God who takes great pleasure in those who are righteous and those who are truthful, and who took great pleasure in working out and revealing His plan of salvation for the world. It is difficult to comprehend God being surprised by anything because He knows everything, but at the beginning when the Godhead contemplated the world they were about to bring into being there must have been that realization that if they granted human beings free will, then Sin would come into the world. It was C.S.Lewis who imagined history being a long line and God looks down on it from outside and is able to see it all in one sweep as well as focusing on a particular ‘now moment'. At some point of their consideration they (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) must have seen the awful outworkings of sin as Adam and Eve and then every subsequent human being exercised their free will in self-centred, godless thinking, words and actions that we call sin, and the terrible effects that would have on the perfect world that God had made. And then (?immediately and instinctively?) they knew that for justice to be appeased the Son would have to die in the place of every sinner and again, immediately and instinctively they saw the outworkings of that, of the millions who would receive that salvation and who would be delivered from Sin and from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom or rule of light that the Son would bring, and immediately and instinctively there would be a flood of joy, of pleasure and of delight in the wonder of what could be - and so it was!
God delights and take great pleasure in His will because it brings life and light and freedom and sonship to millions of sinners. Darkness is turned into light. Selfishness is turned into godliness. Evil is turned into goodness. Looking at it from every angle something wonderful was being achieved. How wonderful! No wonder the Father took pleasure in it. No wonder the apostle Paul said to the church at Ephesus, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19) We need the revelation to see the wonder of it and when we truly see it we worship and embrace it. The outpouring of the apostle Paul at the end of chapter 8 of Romans is because he has ‘seen' the wonder of it all. May we also, so that we too can share in God's great
|Top of section||
Meditating on the Will of God: 13: God's Workmanship
Eph 2:10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
I am aware that as we meander around pondering the will of God, there will be times when we will tread the same ground more than once. The more we tread it the more we will understand it. I find at this moment I am being drawn back to this familiar verse which says so much. Let's ponder it and as we do we'll find it opens up a number of other avenues of amazing thought!
First of all it speaks of a God of purpose. We can, in the hurly burly of life forget that we are living in a world where God is working out His specific purposes. Nothing is happening by accident. It is a combination of what we'll call the mechanical working of the world (e.g. perhaps the weather), the workings of mankind, each person expressing their own will in creating their own little world and yet constrained by circumstances and human limitations – and of course the workings of God which may be infinitely bigger than anything we can comprehend.
We'll come back to our starting verse later but the apostle Paul hinted at something of Jesus' working into this world when he writes, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) Those are challenging words. Note that they declare that Jesus IS reigning TODAY and will continue to rule until he winds everything up. There are those tantalizing verses in Psa 110 – “The LORD says to my Lord "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion ; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.” (Psa 110:1,2). Jesus is ruling in the midst of his enemies, those who are self-centred and godless, and they tend to be the ones who catch our attention and fill most of the news. But he is sovereignly working to bring about an end where, eventually when he comes again, every knee will bow before him (Phil 2:9-11). He is working to bring everything and every one back into the perfect will of God where all things confirm to the design of God as He made it perfect at the beginning. The mystery is what Jesus is doing in the world and for that we need prophets and we need the revelation of the Holy Spirit – but he IS working.
Now coming back to our starting verse, what we are today is a product of the will of the Father, the work of Jesus on the Cross, and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. If yesterday was the day we had been born again of the Spirit of God – after He had drawn us to a place of conviction and surrender and then put His Spirit in us and adopted us as His forgiven and cleansed children – today we stand in the world as new entities, God's workmanship, the product of the working of the Trinity.
We are what we are because we have been “created in Christ Jesus”. That simply encompasses his work on the Cross on our behalf, the work of his Holy Spirit (as we noted above) and his work to make us part of his body on the earth today. Thus on one hand we are unique beings with our own unique characteristics but at the same time limited so that we form a body, the church, with all our different characteristics and gifts harmonizing and flowing together to act as ‘the body of Christ' to bring about the will of God – part of the reign of Christ in the midst of his enemies.
And that brings us to the “good works” part. That is the outworking of His working to bring us to Himself, that we can become part of Him as He works to bless His world. But there are two levels for this as scripture shows us. Observe. “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16). Very simply by being nice people, good people, kind people, generous people, etc. etc. others will realise that we have something more than they have and will realise it comes from God and will praise Him and even turn to Him. Understand this is simply by being good, and that will flow out of our relationship with Him. If it flows from humanistic self-centred ‘please me' motivation it will always have a rough edge and will simply glorify self, and not God. But that is simply good deeds.
But then there is another level. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:10) To catch that we have to look at Jesus own summary spoken to the disciples of John the Baptist: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) Alternatively, consider Jesus mandate found in Luke's Gospel: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) What we see in both those quotes is divinely supernatural ministry, ministry directed and enabled by the Holy Spirit. This isn't just doing good, this is moving under the direction, guiding and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and bringing about changes that are the will of God through Jesus Christ as he ‘reigns in the midst of his enemies'. These are the good works that God has got for us to do.
|Top of section||
Meditating on the Will of God: 14: God's Preplanning
Eph 2:10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We started the previous meditation by saying that, there will be times when we will tread the same ground more than once. The more we tread it the more we will understand it. Here it is more of a case of stepping off onto new ground – that we have touched on before – but which is an extension of where we have just been.
We have just been considering that God has made us anew, we are new creatures, as Paul said, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) but more than that, we are people who are designed to be good and do good, good works to bless this world, good works as guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
But then comes this tantalizing thought, that not only did God predestine us before the foundation of this world to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus, part of that means He has predestined us to do good works, i.e. God knew the sort of person we would be, He knew the genetic makeup that we would have that meant that we had certain tendencies or dispositions passed on by our parents, and He knew the things that would happen to us from the moment of conception. For some of us, He knew that our mother, carrying us in the womb, would be going through stressful times and that that stress was conveyed to us in the womb so that we were born with those things influencing us negatively, that we would have to struggle to overcome. For others of us, our mother was full of joy throughout our time in the womb and that was conveyed to us so we arrive with a sunny disposition. The combinations of these things – genes and experience – are endless and only God is great enough to know how they will work out for us as an individual.
Jeremiah is the classic in all this when the Lord said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:5) David understood all this when he wrote that amazing Psa 139: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psa 139:15,16) God sees and God knows. He sees and knows exactly what we are like and why we are like we are. So whether it was before the foundation of the world or when we were in our mother's womb, the Lord saw and the Lord knew.
So when we put all these things together, He didn't only know WHEN we would come to Him and the circumstances needed to bring that about, He also knew the sort of person we would be and because He knows exactly what we are like He can match us with the very best role in life where, with His help, we will achieve the things on His heart and the things that will make us feel more fulfilled.
The tragedy of this is that because of freewill and because of sin and because of Satan, these things are often delayed in us and often take a long time to come about because there is a battle going on and from God's side it is a battle to get you to enter into the very best that could be for you. On the other side Satan is trying to stop that happening. In the middle we, with the remnants of that old self-centred, godless nature lurking in the background, struggle with all these forces. Satan tries to keep us ignorant of these things so we settle for less than best, but all the time the Lord is working to educate you so that you come to see the wonder of what He has on His heart for you – but it is a battle! We have our part to play which is why the apostle Paul says, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God,” (Rom 6:12,13) and “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry,” (Col 3:5) and “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22-24)
All these verses - and many more in Scripture – tell us we have a part to play, to put off certain things and put on others, so that we become more Christ-like and are more available to the Lord to work out His purposes in and through us. And there we return to the hub – His purposes. That is what we keep coming back to in these studies: God's will is all about Him working to bring about His purposes which are to rid the world of all that is evil, all that mars and spoils the wonderful creation (including us!) - hence 1 Cor 15:24,25 “ he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” His ‘enemies' are all those things we just referred to that mar and spoil His world, and He knows exactly how we can fit in to this plan, for our blessing, for the blessing of the world and, as we saw in the previous meditation, for His own pleasure.
|Top of section||
Meditating on the Will of God: 15: God's Interventions
Rom 8:28 we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
We have considered in various ways that God has a purpose which He formulated before He made anything and has been working it out ever since – and we are part of it. That purpose embraces the fact that He gave us free will and therefore He works and weaves that purpose taking into account the foibles, failures and outright rebellion of human beings, but nevertheless Jesus reigns in the midst of all else that is going on. Perhaps sometimes we do not understand and therefore do not give him the credit for all he does. The writer to the Hebrews declared, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3) i.e. he is the expressive glory of God revealed to creation, exactly representing God in all things, and therefore he also sustains all things by his word. The implication is that without his word saying ‘keep going' the world would stop if not actually cease to be. That is the might and majesty of Jesus!
But of course we are small human beings who are just tiny specks in the greater plan but because we have self-awareness, we constantly want to see it from our perspective and that is where we sometimes come unstuck because we only have a limited view with a tiny bit of knowledge. The result of this is that we sometimes jump to wrong conclusions about what is happening. From our perspective things seem to go wrong and so we jump to the wrong conclusion that things have got out of hand, things are out of control and, indeed, God has lost control. Banish the thought! Or the enemy whispers in our ear, “He doesn't care about you!” Banish the thought!
Our verse at the top today addresses all such wonderings. Starting from the end of it, it reminds us again that God has a purpose and that nothing is happening by chance. The picture of God that the enemy would sometimes like to convey, that He is like an old man on a warm Summer's day, sitting back, almost daydreaming and certainly not concerned with all that is going on around him. This could not be further from the truth. God is intimately concerned with His plans and purposes and will not forget them or diverge from them.
The psalmist understood it: “He will not let your foot slip - he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Psa 121:3,4. That is actually a familiar theme in the Bible, e.g. “For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous.” (Psa 1:6) But it is even bigger than that: “from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth-- he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do,” (Psa 33:14,15) but He clearly has a special place for His children: “The LORD watches over all who love him.” (Psa 145:20).
And when it says the Lord watches that means that when it is appropriate He acts. When He came to Moses He said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt . I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex 3:7,8) It does seem that sometimes God waits for the appropriate time to act and, indeed, it appears He holds back from those who hate Him but comes and blesses those who love Him: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.” (Isa 64:4,5)
And that echo brings us back to our verse today: “ we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”. Having gone to all the trouble to draw us to Himself and of making us anew by His Spirit, He isn't going to sit back and ignore us for the rest of our lives until we go to heaven. No, we've seen that He watches over us, and as a loving Father He acts on our behalf – because that is all part of His will based on both His character and on His wisdom and the plan formulated from before all things, in the heart and mind of the Godhead.
And so when it comes down to our individual lives we find in difficult circumstances, suddenly He is there. We become aware of Him, we become aware of His word speaking to us, we become aware of circumstances changing before us – He is there working for our good in the midst of all that is going on. What He does and how He does it is often a mystery but He IS there working in the midst on our behalf. As we noted previously it is all part of his ruling in the midst of His enemies (Psa 110:1,2), Jesus reigning “until he has put all his enemies under his feet,” (1 Cor 15:24,25) as he works to bring good in and through us in accordance with His Father's will, the will that had been decided upon from before the foundation of the world. Hallelujah!
|Top of section||
Meditating on the Will of God: 16: Why God Chooses
Rom 9:13,14 it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What then shall we say? Is God unjust?
In chapter 9 of Romans the apostle Paul embarks on a line of argument that appears at first sight to portray God as hard and harsh and so we need to consider the truth of this as we think on the will of God. Our verse above comes, of course, some way into Paul's argument. Seen overall he is speaking about Israel and God's workings with them.
It starts by him denying that God's workings with Israel have been a failure (v.6). The question has to arise, why might anyone think that is so, and the answer has to be because for so much of the time Israel got it wrong, ended up in exile about 587BC and then again in AD70. No, it's a matter of perspective Paul implies, because not everyone born in Israel is a real child of God (v.7) in the same way that not everyone descended from Abraham is a child of faith (v.7-9). It is then that he moves into the contentious area of what happened in Isaac and Rebekah's family (v.10-13). Before they were born, God said of Esau and Jacob, the older will serve the younger, and scripture testifies that He said He hated Esau and loved Jacob.
Now we need to be clear on something here: Paul is defending God's right to make decisions as sovereign God, but he does not look at WHY God might make those decisions. It is not heretical to say that with the whole of Scripture before us we may now be in a better position to see the whole than Paul was, and thus he wrote correctly with the knowledge that he had, but it was limited. His conclusions are right.
Jesus taught us that it is what goes on inside us that is all important, not so much the outward actions, although they will flow from what is inside. When God told Rebekah that the older will serve the younger (Gen 25:23), was He declaring what He would make happen or was He merely foretelling the outworking of the two personalities and where it would take them – with God's interventions? Oh yes, never see it as just the outworking of a human being alone, because God does work into all human circumstances, even if we are not aware of Him doing that.
If we observe Esau and Jacob we learn the following things about them. From the outset, Jacob was a twister, a schemer. As the second-born he was not going to inherit everything but he took advantage of the circumstances and got Esau to give him the birthright that was rightly Esau's (see Gen 25:29-34). The other side of that coin was the from early on Esau showed that he did not care anything about his birthright and who he was – part of God's chosen family. He despised his background and was more concerned for his present pleasures. Jacob went on to get old man Isaac to give him the family blessing and afterwards Esau determined he would kill Jacob as soon as Isaac passed away (Gen 27:41). After Jacob had left the family home with instructions from Isaac not to marry a Canaanite woman, Esau went out and purposely married one (Gen 28:8,9)
Now please note that in those accounts we simply see the bad attitudes of both sons coming through. However Jacob, despite his tendencies does eventually obey his father and eventually becomes a man of God. Esau simply despises everything about his background. Esau's family eventually grows and becomes the nation of Edom which was always against Israel (Jacob's family) and continually sought to bring them down. It was in the national context that Malachi (1:2-3) spoke God's words, about loving Jacob and hating Esau. God's reaction to them both was in response to what they had become.
But there is a bigger issue here that Paul now goes on to speak about when he refers to Moses (9:15-18) and to Pharaoh, who we have already considered. The issue is about mercy, and this is where this all hinges. Listen to a dictionary definition of mercy: “compassionate rather than severe behaviour towards someone in one's power ” or as another puts it, “a refraining from harming or punishing offenders, enemies, persons in one's power, etc.; kindness in excess of what may be expected or demanded by fairness; forbearance and compassion.” Mercy is not earned; it is just given because a heart of compassion prevails over a heart of judgment.
The truth is that we are all in God's power and we all deserve His judgment. If you add up all the individuals thoughts, words and deeds throughout our life that fall short of goodness, there is no question about it; we deserve judgment! But then we find this incredible thing – God is looking for reasons and ways to bless us. In Pharaoh that was just not there. Despite being given opportunity after opportunity to repent, he still challenged God and still sought to destroy God's people. He dug his own grave! When it came to Esau he set his heart on rejecting his birthright and God's plans to bless and set himself, and the nation that came from him against God's people. Edom became a thing to be hated by any lover of goodness. So then there is Jacob who to all intents and purposes appears a self-centred schemer and yet in the fullness of time we find a man of God who recognizes and honours his birthright AND God's plans for his people and the promised Land. Yes, was God working with both men? Assuredly but it was only Jacob who responded.
Yes, God chose Jacob over Esau but, we would suggest, it was on the basis of Hs sovereign knowledge: He knew how these two would work out and how they would respond to Him. It is that simple.
|Top of section||
Meditating on the Will of God: 17: More on Pottery
Rom 9:21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
In the early meditations of this series we considered the matter of us being clay and of God being the Potter. Well, perhaps we gave only some preliminary thought to it as we pondered on how God does that, and having pondered some other areas in between, we now come back to this picture again.
Those who portray God as the One who determines all things, the One who thus must be said to create both good and evil, those people love this verse of Paul's and they say about this and the verses surrounding it, “See, God does just what He likes and so He does MAKE all beings as they turn out.”
I know we have touched on some of this before but I did also say that repetition is helpful. I have difficulties with that attitude just expressed because a) it is clear that God is holy and righteous and wants us to be holy and righteous and anything that is not holy and righteous does not conform to His original perfect design for this world. (That is what the Fall is all about). b) God may give human beings the freedom to be unrighteous and, indeed, the freedom to be evil, but He does not MAKE them be that. c) The other associated difficulty is what we are told about God, and which we have touched on once or twice, and it is the nature or character of God – that He is perfect, He is love and He is good. All of those words which Scripture is quite clear apply to God, deny that God can create and make evil human beings. Everything about unlimited love wants the good for every person and the good is that they are returned to their original design, free of sin and free of unrighteousness and free of evil.
Very well, that has established a foundation for approaching Paul's words above. The hard fact is that virtually all Scripture needs interpreting and seeing in the light of the big picture. Our folly is that we start from one set of ideas, which may or may not be preconceived, and we only see the outcome as our (often defensive) stance allows.
So let's come again to Paul's verse: “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”. In as far as we are so NOT like God in so many ways, we are mere clay. God is the Creator of all things and the upholder of all things and as such He alone could be called a Potter, a wielder of the clay
Isaiah brought God's word, “You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "He did not make me"? Can the pot say of the potter, "He knows nothing"?” (Isa 29:16) How foolish of clay to ‘speak' like that to the Potter; the Potter is so, so much greater than the clay! Later on Isaiah said, “Does the clay say to the potter, `What are you making?' Does your work say, `He has no hands'?” (Isa 45:9)
When I look at my life I realise a number of things. First I do not know what I will be like in the years ahead. I do not know how the workings of God in my life will change me, only that I have said, “Lord, do it.” When we put ourselves into His hands when we come to Him through Christ we trust Him for the rest of our lives. We know He wants to make us into the likeness of Jesus, but being only a part of his body, we really don't know how that will work out in detail, but we just trust that He loves us so much that He has something better for us than we are at the present.
The apostle Paul wrote, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose ” (Phil 2:12,13). The Living Bible expresses it, “For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you to do what he wants.” That is what the Potter does and He does it by His Spirit who stirs you from within, who speaks to you and challenges or encourages or comforts you. The ‘hands' moulding the clay are simply the Holy Spirit moving within us and yet – and here is the scary thing – He never forces us. He may speak strongly and He may bring pressure to bear, but at the end of the day the decision making is still ours. How else can you account for people who come to a standstill in their Christian lives, how else can you explain people who backslide and drift away or, even worse, actively turn away from their faith?
But what about, “the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” Back to God's foreknowledge. God knew that Jacob could be moulded into a man of God who would end up prophesying over his entire family, while Esau would continue to reject the whole possibility of being part of the family of God. We might even go as far as to say God sees and knows that within some, for whatever reason (and ultimately it is pride but even there it is a mystery), whatever He says or does they will continue to exercise their free will to be hostile to Him, just like Pharaoh and just like Esau.
So does He continue to speak to them until they depart this earth? We believe so, just as He did with Pharaoh throughout those plagues and down through Edom 's history. The fact that they have set their heart is another thing so, yes, they will appear to miss the target, rejecting God's ‘noble purposes' and end up as ‘common use'. When Pharaoh, Esau or anyone else for that matter who rejects God's purposes for their lives, stand before God on the Last Day, they will never be able to say, “You didn't tell me.” He did, again and again, and they rejected it. Thus they chose their destiny and God complied with that and we see ‘common use'.
In these studies thus far, we have tended to avoid personal conclusions, but may I ask in the light of these things, have you accepted God's salvation in its fullness and are you allowing Him to mould you for ‘noble purposes' or is your life missing the mark so it is not being fruitful and you are just ending up as ‘common use', just filling in time on their earth until the day when you will be called to account? The choice is yours. He will work with whichever you choose!
|Top of section||
Meditating on the Will of God: 18: Things Beyond Choice?
Phil 2:12,13 “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose ”
In an earlier meditation we wrote, “ Of course there are some things we can choose and others that are beyond our choice and we will examine this in the days to come, as well.” Our ability to choose is closely tied to the subject of God's will because, as we have noted a number of times, there is every appearance in both scripture and life that we have free will and the ability to choose which path to take, God's will or not!
As an aside, let's just consider that yet again because it is so important. There are different levels of choice. There is the simple, ordinary choosing between things or people – who to invite to a party today – “Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel , one from each tribe.” (Josh 3:12). No big issue there. But then there is choosing moral or spiritual paths and they may have deep and lasting consequences, for example, “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt , and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:14,15) That was a matter of serious choice with serious consequences.
Now, to reiterate the point we have made a number of times before, unless these verses are pure gobbledygook, then they have to speak of real abilities to freely choose between different options and those options bring different consequences, and the Bible is full of such instances – of choices and consequences.
But what are the things that influence the way we make our choices? Are we always free to make whatever choices we like. Obviously there are restrictions. A five year old cannot go to university. Most of us cannot jump the heights of great athletes or run as fast. We cannot play wonderful music like great musicians or sing like opera singers because we are limited physically, we are the people we are. Yes, there are very obvious things that limit us as human beings. We cannot be in two places at once. We cannot read people's minds (well most of us can't). Some of us are not good at maths, others are poor with languages. We have limited financial resources and so money limits what we can do sometimes. There are, in fact so many things that limit us.
So what ARE the main things that influence us. Well genetic makeup appears to have a strong influence on us but contrary to opinion often espoused in the media when a new gene is found, we are NOT bound by the things we've inherited from our parents. We ARE strongly disposed to act in certain manners like them but we do not have to be bound by those things; we can choose not to be.
Some things children learn from their parents such as manipulative anger, but this has taken us into the ‘nurture' part of the ‘nature versus nurture' discussion and without doubt many of us make choices on the basis of what we have learned as our parents have brought us up.
And then we became Christians and found that God has designed life in a certain way whereby we work best as human beings. We might not have seen it like that initially, just that we had a Bible full of “do this” and “don't do that” things and we slowly began to realise that there was a way of life that was different from the way we had lived it so far – and this was the will of God, what He wanted for us.
And from the moment we realised that, we had a new set of choices to make, but they really all come under the umbrella of ‘surrender to God'. If we truly surrendered our lives to God when we came to Christ, then every else is easy – or relatively easy. The first decision has been made – to go God's way. From then on Paul's injunction to “ work out your salvation” was about learning what God's will was for every aspect of life and then living it.
But that is where we realise it was not so easy. We had existing relationships and we need God's wisdom to know how to handle them in the light of His will. We find we have prevailing attitudes and habits, things we have learned, accepted and developed over the years and, to our horror, guilt and shame, we find they are contrary to God's will and we struggle to overcome them. It is at that point we find the apostle Paul's instructions to “put them to death” relevant. At that point his teaching about being alive to God becomes relevant. We need the help and power of His Holy Spirit to change, to come in line with His will.
It IS a given in the Christian life that we are to conform to HIS will and that means often overriding our will. I would like to get back at an enemy, but Jesus says pray for them and love them, and there are many such instances of our wills clashing with His. Transformation, or sanctification, is all about our lives changing to conform to His will and as we enter into that process so we face up to the things we have inherited, or the things we have learned along the way and we have to challenge them to see if they fit with His will, and if they don't then they will have to go. For, as we have seen previously, His will is good and pleasant and perfect and that is why He wants us to conform to it, so that we may be blessed by Him.
|Top of section||
Meditating on the Will of God: 19: Resistance is Futile?
Gen 4:7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."
In the Star Trek film and TV series, there is a time when the humans are confronted by an enemy called the Borg who are very powerful and overrun races and assimilate them into ‘the collective' and their dominating and scary cry is “Resistance is futile!” We have an enemy who says the same thing. We are confronted by life, by pain, by difficulties, by sin, by bad habits, by circumstances before us and they seem like a giant or a mountain in front of us and we ‘know' that ‘resistance is futile' because we hear it in our heads. All this talk about God's will, we hear, is all very well but it just doesn't work, you can't break free from this sin, you might as well give way to this temptation, you might as well learn to live with these difficulties, there is no hope. So the lies continue to come and we passively allow ourselves to be dominated.
And then we find a simple little verse like the one at the top today. They are the words spoken by the Lord to Cain about his poor attitude, warning him that that he has choices to make. See the first part of the verse. It shows there IS a choice before him but the danger is that he is being confronted by a temptation to sin and, like a lion at the door, it desires to devour him, but he can overcome it! The warning was there, the choice was laid before him but tragically he ignored it and went out and killed his brother. Sin devoured him. God in His grace did not destroy him but banished him.
Perhaps the classic illustration of all this is that of David and Goliath. At the time David was a shepherd boy looking after his father's sheep. He had a number of older brothers and they went off to war in Saul's army. One day David's father decided to send David to the battle front with provisions for his brothers. When he arrives there he finds a tragic situation. The Israelites are fighting the Philistines but when the two armies line up to fight, a massive giant steps out of the Philistine ranks and challenges the Israelites: “Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us." Then the Philistine said, "This day I defy the ranks of Israel ! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” (1` Sam 17:8-10) This was the enemy laying down the rules and we find, “On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” (v.11)
Now when I read these words I am afraid I wonder at the foolishness that we allow ourselves to be drawn into. There have been times in history when fighting was carried out in an almost gentlemanly, leisurely way when opposing commanders agree the time of the battle and so on, and both neatly lined up their men to fight. And then there have been those who saw the folly of this and just attacked when it was right for them and caught the enemy by surprise. War is not gentlemanly, it is not civil, it is not noble and it always starts from sin, one person or group deciding to hurt, dominate or destroy others. So this giant comes along and says, “This is how we'll fight.” If Saul had anything about him he would have sent ten soldiers to take him down, but he didn't and so all Israel cowered before this terrible threat. ‘Resistance is futile!'
And then David arrives and he is a young man of God. Listen to his language: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26) This is the language of a man or woman of God. Look at it: “this uncircumcised Philistine”. This enemy is not part of the covenant people of God. He is not related to the Lord, he has not got God on his side! We are the army of the living God. The ‘I AM', the Eternal One, is our God and He is on our side! This young man knows who he is and knows who is on his side: “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Sam 17:37). He has a testimony, he knows what the Lord has done for him in the past as He has helped David protect his flock, and this is no different!
On one occasion Isaiah cried, “To the law and to the testimony!” (Isa 8:20) You want guidelines? he said to Israel , then look to God's law and look to what you know of Him and what he has done. Today, when the enemy confronts you with something that just seems too big to be overcome, remember who you are and who He is. Remember that the apostle Paul said we can be “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6) God did not go to all the trouble of sending Jesus to die for you and did not go to the trouble of putting His own Holy Spirit in you, for you to lie flattened by the will of Satan. Remember that other key verse: “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him .” (Rom 8:28) God IS working in your circumstances, on your behalf, to bring good to you. As He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9) so that Paul had been able to say, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8) Note the four ‘all' words!
If you are being dominated by the enemy, confronted by life, by pain, by difficulties, by sin, by bad habits, by circumstances before us and they seem like a giant or a mountain in front of us, remember who you are and, even more importantly, remember who He is, and that He is there for us. Satan's will is bad for you; God's will is good for you! Reach out and receive His power to overcome, child of God! That is His will for you.
|Top of section||
Meditating on the Will of God: 20: Finding God's Will
2 Thess 2:13 from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
In Christian circles there are always people who worry what the will of God is for them. They assume God has a plan for them – they have got that far – but they don't know what it is and they are unsure how to find it. I know someone who had this fear as a child – who had “given their heart to Jesus” at the age of five – that God would send them to be a nurse in Africa and for some reason that appeared a terrible thing to them. The outcome, many years later, is that the Lord never did that but called her (very clearly) into teaching where she became a great influence for Him and felt very fulfilled.
Now for some of us this is going to appear very obvious because we have covered a sufficient number of things that by now they ought to be falling into place like a jigsaw puzzle, but for others they still have this concern verging on worry about what God wants for them. So let's look at our verse above.
The first truth about your life if you are a Christian is that God chose you. To emphasise things we've said before, God knew from the foundation of the world that you would come in this time in history and He knew exactly what you would be like. The apostle Peter understood this. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, anointed by the Spirit, he found himself saying about Jesus, “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) God knew how the religious leaders and others would act to bring about the death of His Son. Later Peter wrote, “To God's elect ….. who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 1:2,3) So God saw your receptivity and so He chose you and His Holy Spirit started prodding you and raising questions in you, and getting you to face your plight and then convicted you, and you surrendered to Him.
So the bringing about your ‘new birth' was His work and in that He placed His Holy Spirit within you. Now that Holy Spirit speaks to you, prompts you and teaches you. You may not be aware of the source of your thoughts sometimes but they will be Him, He will be communicating with you. So, the second thing is that not only has He chosen you but He has placed His means of communicating within you.
The third thing is that He IS love and love means wanting the best for us. Understand that God wants you to be blessed and fulfilled more than you do! God wants you to enjoy what you do, far more than you want it, because He sees the possibilities. On one occasion when I was feeling very low, the Lord spoke to me through a well-known prophet and said, “I will bless you and you will wonder how it can be that good when you minister.” About a year later I was ministering abroad and the Lord was blessing what was going on and I suddenly felt guilty that I was enjoying what was happening so much – and then the Lord reminded me what He had said. Dare you believe that the Lord wants to lead you into life and service in such a way that you thoroughly enjoy it all. Yes, there will be difficulties, there always are, but overall the Lord wants you to feel good about your life, where you are, what you are doing and how you are being led by Him. Those are His intentions for you!
Do you remember those words to the church in Laodicea : “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20) It's what Jesus does again and again. It's what happened to Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-) when Jesus came into his life. He thought he was just observing Jesus but Jesus knew he was there, knew the sort of person he was, knew everything about him – including the inner hunger he had – and so called him out of the tree and invited himself to Zacchaeus' home for a meal. You can't have a more intimate time with a stranger than over a meal. That's what Jesus does with each of us. He says, ‘I want to come in and sit and eat with you so we can chat together and get to know each other. I know all about you and I want you to know about me.'
How does that happen? Sometimes we just start getting thoughts in our mind. Sometimes things just happen in our life that catch our attention in a new way (a burning bush – Ex 3), sometimes He gets other people to say things to us and He uses their words to nudge you or encourage you. Sometimes someone might bring you a specific word of prophecy from Him. In all these ways He breaks into our daily complacency to communicate with us. Sometimes His Holy Spirit will stir a spiritual hunger with us. I know a man at the present who I see as one of the most hungry men I know at the moment. That says to me, how exciting, God is getting him ready for something. Hungry and thirsty people are on the edge of something new and wonderful. It's just another way God works to bring about His will, His good for us.
Of course in our starting verse it not only speaks about the work of the Spirit but also of our believing the truth. You want to know the truth, you want to know the will of God? Then spend time reading His word. Spend time praying or worshiping. Spend time waiting on Him. In these things you are putting yourself in a place where you can be more open to Him, a place where He can share His heart with you. Perhaps as you read His word, a verse or verses come alive and He speaks a truth into you or provides guidance for you. The same thing may happen as you pray or worship. A thought or words suddenly cross your mind, or you see a picture, catch a sense of something; in all these ways He communicates His heart to you. Do not fear what might come. Remember, His will is good, pleasing and perfect. (Rom 12:2) so everything He has for you is good, you will enjoy it and it cannot be improved upon! Isn't that great!