Text: Ephesians 1
Brother and sisters, God has a plan. It may not seem like it at times, but God has a plan.
It may not seem like it when bills are due, when kids are sick, when your stuck at a a dead end job, but God has a plan. It may not seem like it when your stuck in a cycle of sin, or when you feel no closer to God than you did last year, but God has a plan. It may not seem like it when you turn on the news and see war, famine, climate crises, but God has a plan. To the praise of his glory, God has a plan.
I chose the passage that I did this morning for the purpose of directing us to the plan of God. Regularly when this passage is preached or expounded all focus goes to one topic: predestination. Are you a Calvinist? Arminian? Molinist? Don’t carist? This infatuation is justified as three times in this passage our election or our predestination in Christ is alluded to. But I want to take a different approach to this passage which I believe stick truer not only to the intent of the passage, but helps to make sense of the difficult topics of predestination and election.
1) God’s plan works for our good: “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.” Some of these spiritual blessings:
a. That we should stand holy and blameless before him
b. That we would have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of our sins
c. That we would obtain an inheritance as his adopted sons and daughters.
d. That we would be sealed with the Holy Spirit and know God’s power.
e. That we would be part of his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
2) God’s plan is according to his purposes: “In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will . . . making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, that is to unite all things in him . . . in Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined by the one who works all things according to his will.”
Here we hit the tricky concept of predestination. The word itself is easy enough to take apart and examine. It simply means “to be destined beforehand”. The idea flows naturally out of a discussion of God’s attributes, specifically, that God is all-knowing. Simply put, if God is all-knowing, then he knows everything that I am going to do. Not only does he know it, but he knew it before he even created me – therefore I am “pre-destined” to do it. “Ahhh” some people say “but here is the problem! If God already knows what I am going to do – then I can’t do anything else. There is no such thing as free will! And if there is no such thing as free will, how can God judge me for what I do? I had to do it!”
Here is how understanding God’s plan helps sheds light on the doctrine of predestination. In verses 9 and 10 Paul goes reveals that God chose us “according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ – the things in heaven and the things on earth.” According to these verses we were chosen in Christ for a specific purpose – to bring God joy by summing up all of history in Christ
I picture it like this: in eternity past, before God created the universe, before time began, God considered what kind of universe he would create. God knew all of the possibilities – every possible reality that could come into being if he gave his creatures free will. Think of the trillions of possibilities! In some you decided to go left in the fork in the road, in others right. In some you asked the woman who would become your wife out on a date when you first saw her in high school. In others, you chickened out, but were asked out later by her friend, whom you later married! God not only foresaw the outcomes of every possible choice – He also foresaw the outcomes of every possible chance. In some realities, the coin lands face up - in others, face down. In some the tornado levels your home, in others it hits your neighbors.
Think of all the possible worlds! In one you might have been king! In many, you were never even born. There may have been one in which God chose the Amorites as his chosen people – what would have happened then? There may have been one in which the Jews received Jesus as their Messiah immediately, which brought in the kingdom of God – but then the way was never opened for Gentiles to enter into his grace. In another, Saul the Pharisee tracked all of the Christians down and killed them all – stopping the Christian movement in its infancy. God saw all the potential choices that we would make, along with all the potential coincidences. He saw how every choice would shape each potential history, and he saw how each of His interaction with the world would shape it as well. He saw how changing Adam’s DNA in any one of a billion ways led to trillions upon trillions of different outcomes. He saw himself appearing to Abraham in Ur, Moses in the burning bush, Isaiah and Ezekiel in visions. He saw how every answer to every prayer – and even how the unanswered prayers that we get so upset about – He saw how they would shape history. Think about it – the number of potential futures, potential realities were near infinite! It’s enough to make our minds explode. And God perused each of these potential realities, taking them to their fulfillment in the end of time. He saw them through to each of their ends.
And then he saw it – among all of the muddled realities cluttered with chance and circumstance, choice and coincidence, he saw it. Like a shining light bringing order to all the chaos, he saw it. The one glorious reality in which Christ – Christ! - becomes all in all, to the praise of the glory of his grace – the one reality, out of all the near-infinite possibilities, in which everything is reconciled in Christ. God foresaw it, God saw that it was good, and God chose Christ. He chose the most glorious ending to the story – the story that is only now being written. And when he chose Christ, he ultimately chose us in Christ. We weren’t chosen because of anything have done, we weren’t chosen because God knew we would believe on him. We were chosen in Christ because us believing in Christ was part of the reality that will lead to, in the fullness of times, everything being summed up in Christ. By choosing the end, God established the means.
I can remember the moment that this doctrine of predestination became real to me. My first year of Seminary, I lived about an hour and a half away from Dallas, and commuted there for a Tuesday night course. While I was driving, the song that was sung in our special music this morning came on. My professor had actually played the song at the end of my Introduction to Theology class the week before, so I listened carefully to the words:
Well this day's been crazy but everything's happened on schedule
From the rain and the cold to the drink that I spilled on my shirt
'Cause You knew how You'd save me before I fell dead in the garden
And You knew this day long before You made me out of dirt
And You know the plan You have for me
And You can't plan the ends and not plan the means
It hit me: before I came into being, God knew me. He knew me before creation. Every Christian believes that – that God knew us before we were born. Then I thought of all the billions of chance “coincidences” and personal choices that had to have occurred to bring my “being” into existence. Think about just some of them: my ancestors’ emigrating to America and settling in the right region; my grandparents meeting, falling in love and having children; my parents choosing the college they did, my dad catching a glimpse of my mom at just the right time, him gathering up the courage to ask her out, their falling in love, getting married, and having children; the right sperm fertilizing the right egg; etc. Had any one of those things gone any differently – along with the billions of other chance and happenstance things that could have happened – I would not be here. Literally, every person who is alive today whom God foreknew before the creation of the world is a miraculous testimony to the sovereignty of God. I pulled over the car right there and praised my Lord for his wonderful and unfathomable plan. How could I ever again doubt his sovereign plan and his control over all things? To put it another way, I think about my daughter. God knew Aiko before he created the heavens and the earth. There was no way Aiko could not be born. But in order for her to be born – my wife and I had to get together – had to! Of course, before Jean and I started dating, when we were just friends, we had no idea about this! I believe that I freely chose Jean and she chose me – we were not dragged into it kicking and screaming by God; nothing happened against our own wills. But it had to be.
1) First, I think it is important to understand predestination in this way because it does not deny that we have free will. We each are responsible for our choices and will be judged accordingly. God gave us all free will, but in choosing the final end, he knows every decision we will make. However, all of the decisions we make are made by us – God does not force his will on us. He never forces us to do anything against our will. This means that you must seriously consider the decisions that you make every day – you will be judged according to your deeds. Every single person has the responsibility to accept the Gospel and if someone does not, we cannot blame God. If you make the choice to reject the gospel you will be judged for it. As Hebrews 9:27 states so clearly: It is appointed to man once to die, and after that will come the judgment.
2) God uses our prayers to bring about his purposes. Understanding predestination as it relates to the plan of God reestablishes the practicality of prayer. I really struggled with the problem of prayer for a long time in my Christian life. What is the point of prayer if God already knows what I am praying about? The point is this: God has said that He will answer our prayers. But God won’t answer our prayers if we don’t pray them. We do not live in a mechanical “wind-up-the-clock” universe in which God does not play a role. We live in a universe in which God is always interacting with us to bring about his desired end. And one of the ways God has chosen to interact with us is through responding to our prayers.
3) Finally, We can have hope in our present struggles because we know that God is summing up all things in Christ. This is a source of great comfort. I love what Paul writes in Romans 8:18: I am convince that our present struggles are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us. Not worth comparing. Do you know what that means? It means that whatever happens to you in life, whatever pain you go through, whatever hurt, whatever struggle – your glory will be far, far greater. Don’t give up the struggle. There is an ending far happier than any fairy tail.
3) God’s plan is for his glory: This is the refrain that comes up again and again in this song of praise, “to the praise of his glorious grace . . . to the praise of his glory . . . to the praise of his glory.” Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I pray for you that you might know that God has a plan and that you may worship him for it.
If you do not know Christ today, know that you also are part of his plan, but his plan includes the judgment of those who have not come to him freely for forgiveness. If you die today, without Christ, you will go to hell – an eternity without hope and without Christ. Yet God brought you here today. He knew from eternity past that you would be here today. Who knows? It could part of his great purpose that you be here today and hear the word of truth the Gospel of your salvation and believe on him, becoming part of his plan in Christ.
For those of you who know Christ, Paul prays in this way: That the God of our Lord Jesus, the Father of glory, would give you a spirit of wisdom and understanding of the knowledge of him, that you would know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.”
For our English congregation, the application this year is that we are going to focus on the plan of God. This is the second year of our Rooted series:
1) Ist year: Rooted in the Faith
a. Key book Romans: Gospel and immediate
b. Rooted in Jesus: Gospel of John
c. Rooted in Freedom: Galatians
d. Rooted in the Establishing Process: Thessalonians
e. Rooted in Devotion: Psalms
f. Rooted in Wisdom: Wisdom Lit
g. Rooted in True Religion: James
h. Rooted in Love: Corinthians
2 year: Rooted in the Plan of God
i. Key Book Ephesians: The Revelation of the Plan of God
j. Rooted in the Promise: OT
k. Rooted in the Mission: Acts
l. Rooted in the Church: Ephesians
m. Rooted in the Partnership: Philippians & Philemon
n. Rooted in Prophecy: Revelation
Let us pray that this year God may reveal to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time – that is to unite all things in him, in heaven and on earth, to the praise of his glory. Amen