Scripture tells us that our Creator has a plan for all of mankind, and that as believers, He has predestined us to belong to Him. It also tells us that we come to Him out of our own free will. Some questions might be asked at this point: “If God is sovereign over everything, why then are we still held responsible for our sin?” “If He is in ultimate control, how do we then explain all the evil in the world?” and finally, “If God is sovereign over my life, then why does He allow me to suffer?” The trail is getting pretty steep, I know. Slow and steady…deep breaths…one step at a time; we’re almost there.
Predestination does not remove human responsibility. Romans 9:19-21 addresses the question of our responsibility against the backdrop of God’s calling:
One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” 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?
According to Scripture, we are all without excuse for the wrong choices we make:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)
We alone are responsible for our own moral failure:
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
God intervenes in the world to restrain evil for the sake of the elect. We read in Romans 9: 22-24, “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” Think of God’s “great patience” here as His upraised arm of restraint, which limits Satan and his constant attempts to totally destroy – especially those of us who belong to Christ. He exercises his arm of restraint through unbelievers as well, such as in the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh. In Exodus 4:21, the Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.” I do not believe that God had to place a seed of evil in Pharaoh’s heart. The evil was present, but restrained until God released his hand and allowed the Pharaoh’s heart to harden completely. Like it says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” (Proverbs 21:1) In the same way that a river runs into the sea, man and his sin—like water—rushes to its ultimate end. God simply restrains, releases or re-directs its flow as He wishes, to bring about His desired result.
God disciplines those He loves like a father disciplines his son. He works directly to bring about His plan in the lives of believers. Everything (both good and bad) that comes our way is sovereignly purposed by God for our ultimate good. To deny this truth is to reject His discipline and miss the lessons He teaches us through it:
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law; you grant him relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked. (Psalm 94: 12-13)
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:11-12)
The concept of predestination can be a difficult one to grasp, but just like the awesome majesty of that high mountain splendor, the rewards are well worth the effort. There is peace in knowing that He has our days numbered and that nothing we go through and nothing we do can take Him by surprise or turn Him away from us. We can rest assured that no matter what we encounter in life, God allows everything for our ultimate good. He uses our hardships to discipline and train us, and to teach us those life lessons that bring about the righteousness and trust that He desires to see in us. Knowing that we serve a Sovereign Lord who is intimately and actively working out His will in our lives is powerful—especially in light of the assurance given us in Philippians 1:6: “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
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