The Gift Of PredestinationErwin W. Lutzer | January 17, 2016
Selected highlights from this sermon
From before creation, God predestined Christians to salvation and instigated a plan to redeem us out of a world filled with sin. He did all of this for the praise of His glorious grace.
God’s will and purpose are continuing to unfold around us. As we declare the Gospel to all we meet, He continues to open hearts, drawing the elect to Himself through Jesus Christ.
Peter Deyneka was a Russian evangelist who was converted here at The Moody Church before this building was built, when there was a tabernacle alongside where the church is today. He left Russia in 1914 and got on a ship and came to America. Before he left, his mother made him a bag, and really a box full of food so that he’d have enough food for the journey. What she did is she took a lot of bread and she dried it so that it wouldn’t rot, and that was part of it. The food was so heavy that someone else actually carried it onto the ship for him.
As the voyage began he looked through the window to see all the people in the dining room and how wonderfully they were eating, and he’d go back to his room and he’d have his bread and his water. The sailors made fun of him and they said, “You know, if you help us in the kitchen, we’ll give you food.” So he helped in the kitchen and got some food, and basically worked for his food across the ocean. He said that it was not until the last day of the voyage that he learned that three meals a day were included in the price of the ticket. I think that’s the way we are as Christians. We forget the fact that “He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” the Bible says, “how shall He not also with Him give us all things?”
The intention of this series of messages is to emphasize those “all things” that come along with faith in Jesus. Sometimes we think we are spiritually poor when God says, “Please understand all that I have given to you in Christ.” And today we’re going to begin with the difficult doctrine of predestination, which means exactly what we think it means, that God predetermines what happens on earth. And He predetermined you and your salvation as a believer.
You know, it’s a very difficult doctrine in some regards, but what we have to do is to remember, as one person said, “Explain it, you might lose your mind. Explain it away, you might lose your soul.” So here we are. It’s a doctrine with a lot of mystery. I’m going to be scaring up a lot of rabbits that I’m not able to shoot, but at the end I am going to answer some questions that will be in your mind.
There is a story about theologians who were having an argument about this, and throughout church history there have been arguments about this. So they decided to get into their various camps. Over here you have those who believed in predestination. Over here you have the people who say, “We believe in free will.” Well there was a man who didn’t know how to make up his mind and so he decided to go over to the predestination crowd, and they said, “Why are you here?” And he said, “I came of my own free will.” They said, “You don’t belong here.” (laughter) They said, “You go over there.” So he went over to the free willers, and they said, “Why are you here?” and he said, “I was sent here.” They said, “You don’t belong here because you’re only supposed to be here by your free will.” So the poor man was left in the cold.
You know, before I begin this message what I want us to do is to encourage every one of you to listen. You may be a teenager here today. Please listen because God may be calling your life, and you may be somewhat skeptical, and we are glad that you are here. We have diverse people watching here, of course, at The Moody Church, and all over the world, and by radio and so forth. Please listen carefully. This is so important that I’m actually going to ask that we pray one more time. I want you to bow your head and let us take a moment to acknowledge God’s help in this marvelous doctrine of predestination.
Father, we ask that You might open our eyes that we might see wondrous things in Your Word. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
The passage of Scripture is Ephesians 1. Years ago I wrote on this doctrine. In fact, one of my books has four chapters on it. I didn’t refer to that as I was preparing this message, and then this week I speed-read a book on predestination. How do you speed-read? You take passages of the book that you think are particularly applicable. But Friday morning I decided to put all of that aside. I’m just going to open the text and see what it says. So here we are.
Ephesians 1, that glorious passage where it says this, and for our purposes we have to actually begin in verse 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (That’s what we intend to do in this series of messages - to isolate some of those spiritual blessings.) in heavenly places (verse 4) even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Just that far for a moment!
That word choose (He chose us in Him.) occurs 22 times in the New Testament. Seven of those times it refers to God choosing people unto life. You look at the text and you realize here that we are talking about two facts that are given to us in this verse. Fact number one is that God made the choice. God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. He’s speaking now about those who either have believed on Christ, or people who are going to believe on Christ.
God chose us. And a second fact is that it was done before the foundation of the world, before God spoke the stars into existence, before angels flew in the courts of heaven and were created. In eternity past God, knowing all things both actual and possible, chose us in Christ because it was never God’s intention to save anybody apart from Christ.
Just think of it this way. Obviously redemption was part of God’s plan from the very beginning. Right? I mean, some people say, “Oh, you know, God hoped that Adam and Eve wouldn’t sin, and then they messed it up, and God said, ‘I’ve got a mess to clean up here. I’m going to send Jesus.’” Well, it was a part of His plan before the foundation of the world. It’s an expression that relates to eternity past.
Now some of us haven’t been chosen for much of anything. Right? I remember how difficult it was for me in grade school, because whenever they were choosing teams to play softball or some other sport, I was always the last to be chosen. I was not a great athlete. And it hurts to be passed over. You may be passed over in your job. But think of this. God choosing us!
Now you say, “Was it arbitrary? Was it like a lottery? Did God blindfold Himself and say, ‘Here’s a big jar with all these numbers. I’m going to go down and I’m going to see who I choose.’” Obviously not! And the reason for that is because God had to create an entire context – where you would be born, who your parents would be, all kinds of contingencies regarding who would share the Gospel with you. It was not an arbitrary choice.
And you say, “Well, it was based on foreknowledge. God foreknew who was going to believe.” Many people think that, but if you look at the word foreknowledge in the Bible (in the New Testament), it never refers to simply knowing ahead of time. It really means to fore-love. Like it says in Amos: “You only have I known of all the people of the earth.” Of course, God knows everyone. Of course, God knows all things. But it wasn’t based on foreseen faith. It was based on God’s choice.
You say, “Well, what was the basis upon which He did the choosing?” Good question! The Apostle Paul, struggling with that in Romans 9, gets to that point and basically says (I’m sure he says it kindly, and this is a paraphrase), “Keep your mouth shut.” That’s the answer. He says, “We’re now at the edge of mystery, and God has not revealed that.” So we have to accept that the potter has power over the clay to make one lump to honor, and another to dishonor, so we stand in the sovereignty of God, and we allow God to be God, and we don’t understand it all.
We also know that the choice was personal. He calls His own sheep by name. Do you realize that God didn’t learn a single thing about you when you arrived here on the planet earth and were born? God didn’t say, “Oh, I was wondering what he was going to look like. It’s sort of a surprise to me that he only weighs seven pounds. I was thinking that he’d be more than that.” Listen, God hasn’t found out one thing about you since you arrived that He didn’t know in eternity past. And He knew your name before your parents decided what to call you. He knows His sheep by name. Imagine that! You know, to know somebody by name is a way of honor. I know that I’ve disappointed many people because I’m not very good at remembering names. Some of you, God bless you, you’ve been so kind. I’ve asked your name many times. Could I just throw in a parenthesis? The reason for that is when I hear a name I don’t remember it. When I see it written I see it in my mind’s eye, and I remember it more easily. But God… So what if Pastor Lutzer doesn’t know your name? I’m sorry about that. But you are known by God from the foundation of the world. It was a personal choice. (applause)
So God chose us in Him that we might be blameless, of course, ultimately blameless in Christ, but we have to hurry now. We get to the word predestination, and that, of course, is there for us. This word predestination occurs six times in the New Testament. Four times it refers to people being predestinated to eternal life. You’ll notice it says in verse 5: “In love He predestined for us for adoption through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of His will (and that actually shows why God did what He did – according to the purpose of His will) to the praise of the gloriousness of His grace with which He has blessed us in the beloved.” Oh, there’s so much in this passage - even that phrase, “blessed us in the beloved.” I wasn’t going to say anything about it, but it is the same expression that Gabriel used for Mary: “Hail Mary, you have found favor with God.” God has graced us full of grace in the beloved one.
But let’s look at that word predestination. It means to predetermine, as we’ve already emphasized, and the fact is that we are predestined to the adoption of sons. Now, in this series of messages I intend to preach an entire message just on sonship – becoming a son and daughter of God – so I’m going to skip that. We’re going to come back to it in a different message.
I’m going to hurry on and notice that the word redemption occurs there in verse 7: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” How much did God pay to redeem us? It’s a slave image here of buying a slave out of the market place. How much did God pay? What about all of the opulence of Rome, past and present? What about the pyramids of Egypt, the gold of the Pharaohs, and you see the crown jewels in Vienna and also in Munich, of all of the great kings and queens? How much did God pay? Well, the Bible says that He paid something else. “For we were not redeemed with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” That was the price of redemption.
Now follow this carefully. It’s very important that we understand that God would have never given us His Son and have Him die on the cross unless God loved us as much as He loved His Son. If God loved us any less than He loved His Son, He’d have never put His Son through that, shedding His blood. But Jesus said, “Thou hast loved them even as Thou hast loved Me,” and it’s that reason that God was willing to pay such a high price. We might argue and say that really He overpaid, but that’s God’s business.
I like what Luther said, and I want you to follow it carefully. Luther said, “God loved us not because we are valuable (follow carefully), but we are valuable because God loves us.” In other words, even our value is so high on God’s Dow Jones Industrial Average that He’s willing to send His Son to shed His precious blood. Even our value is conferred to us by God. We do not have it innately.
And so here we have the redemption price. By the way, is there any sin in your life that you love more than God, after all that God has done in our lives and that for which he has paid such a high price? The text tells us that He has lavished grace upon us in the Beloved One. And the Beloved One was willing to die on the cross and shed His blood as the redemption price to buy us out of the kingdom of darkness and put us into the kingdom of light.
So we are chosen. We are predestined. And then also God wills. Now the word predestination occurs again in this passage. It goes on to say that “God has made known unto us (I’m in verse 9) the mystery of His will according to his purpose (There it is again), which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven, things on the earth.” Jesus is sometime going to unite… He’s going to tie all the loose threads together. And He is going to put all of His enemies under his feet. He is going to rule, and all things are going to be under the feet of Jesus.
Now, we don’t see that yet, do we? The book of Hebrews points out that that’s a day that is coming. And so we have been predestined. Again it’s using the Word “according (verse 11) to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” That’s as far as we’re going today because the ministry of the Holy Spirit is the next message in this series, and that’s the text that we’ll be referring to among many others.
And so why all this? We are to be to the praise of His glory. I remember reading that as a boy. In fact, I memorized the book of Ephesians, probably 35 or 40 years ago or more. That sounds like a long time, but it goes quickly. And I always thought in my mind, “Yeah, someday when we are in heaven we are going to be to the praise of His glory.” Yes, of course, but I believe it begins here on earth.
Let me simplify your life a bit, okay? It’s not about a lot of things that you are worried about. You may find that you are promoted to the praise of His glory. You may find that you are demoted. Somebody else has taken a place that you know right well you should have, and you are suffering with injustice. Why? To the praise of His glory!
You look at some people who have no use for God and they are living long lives, and you are young, and you love God, and you find out that you’ve got a disease or some kind of an illness – maybe even a terminal illness. Why that? It’s to the praise of His glory. You say, “I lost some money in the stock market.” Yeah! I know one man who says that he made so many bad investments that if he were to buy a cemetery he’s convinced that people would stop dying. (laughter) “Yeah, so that’s what my life is about – that’s what I’m worried about.” Uh-uh! You exist to the praise of His glory. It’s not about all of these other things that do impinge upon us, and they have their own sense of importance, but at the end of the day, it’s all about God.
And listen to this promise: “Since we exist according to His glory…” And the text talks about the fact that He works all things after the counsel of His own will. I hope that you take out time to read these texts more carefully. It really is all about God, and it says that “all things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” Called according to His purpose! God takes all things. And then do you know what the next verse says, there in Romans 8? It says, “Whom he foreknew, he predestinated.” Do you notice foreknowledge again, but whom he fore loved he predestinated to be conformed to be in the image of His Son, and those he predestinated he called, and those he called he also justified, and those whom he justified, he also glorified . It’s all done. I’m going to be preaching about that in this series, God willing.
But notice that all things work together for good. You say, “Oh no, all things are working together for my bad.” Really? You know, back out on the farm we had a clock – not like the new ones, you know. This one I think has a battery and I haven’t changed it in a couple of years, but there used to be clocks that you had to wind every day, and if you didn’t, it would stop by the next day. And we had a couple of those out on the farm, and one time (I’m not sure exactly why) I took the back off and began taking the parts out. When I put it back together I had some extra parts. (laughter)
One of the things though that I noticed was that, you know, when you took one of those clocks apart, there were little wheels, and some of them were turning in the same direction as the hands, and some of them were turning in the opposite direction, and some were big, and some were little. And isn’t that according to life? There are big wheels and there are small wheels. And some of the wheels turn in the right direction and some of them turn in an opposite direction. But they make no sense – none whatever – as long as you are looking at the back of the clock. But somehow they work, if you look at the front of the clock, to tell time. That’s the way God’s purposes are. You and I look at them and it certainly doesn’t seem as if all things work together for good, but if we trust and believe, and we live to the praise of His glory, which is what it’s all about, God works all things together for good.
If you’ve believed on Christ, you are number one on God’s list of things to take care of in this universe. He’s not going to make that big investment of having His Son die for you and then say, “Well, you know, I kind of forgot about Him for a while. Things are cold in Chicago, the stock market is struggling, and you know when I have some time I’ll get back to My people, My elect.” (chuckles) No, those whom He knew and foreknew, he predestinated. His hand is upon you.
So we can say that we were chosen, we were predestinated. We could use the word again or we could say that we were part of God’s will and plan for the praise of His glory. Even someone crossing a street here on LaSalle Street, as happened last week, being killed with a truck, is part of God’s eternal plan. Blessed are those who can see past the tragedy in one of God’s children and see the other side, and God’s purposes. It’s all about the praise of His glory. It’s not about us. It’s about Him.
There are a couple of things that we have to get clear about so that we can understand this, and it may be in your mind – a few things! Number one, be very clear about this: God takes the initiative in salvation. God takes the initiative. There was a poem that I was going to find on the Internet, but forgot, but the emphasis is the fact that I sought God, but actually He was pursuing me. That’s the essence of it. And that’s so true.
I love to read stories of how people came to faith in Jesus Christ, but I have one book that’s entitled How They Found Christ. Well, I know what they mean, but you found Christ? Well, you did, but bless God, you did because God found you. That’s why you found Christ. Yes, God found you!
You know, I’m a very proud grandfather, and when our oldest grandchild was born… His name is Jack. He’s a big boy now, but when he was about three-and-a-half or so, I was playing hide and go seek with him in the back yard where there were about three trees. And I expected that he would hide behind a tree, and then I’d pretend that I couldn’t find him, but eventually I would. But he didn’t do that. He stood beside a tree and cupped his eyes in his hands like this (laughter) because he thought that if he couldn’t see me, I couldn’t see him. And that’s the way we are with God. “Oh God, I don’t see You. I don’t see You.” Do you think that because you can’t see God, and sometimes life is so difficult that we can’t, are you telling me that just because you can’t see God, God doesn’t see you? Listen, His eyes are trained upon you. He knows the number of hairs you have on your head. And some of you could say that you could count your own (laughter) but He knows all of that.
But also when Jack finally… And I, of course, pretended that I couldn’t find him. You know, what else is a grandfather supposed to do at that point? But finally when he took his hands away from his eyes, he looked at me and he said, “I found you, Papa.” Well, yeah, I guess you found me, but you know I was there. I was looking for you, and if you wouldn’t have found me, I can assure you I would have found you.
God takes the initiative in salvation. It is God who comes to Adam and Eve and says, “Adam, where are you?” Adam and Eve aren’t looking for God. They’re figuring out where they can go to get away from Him. “We have to hide our shame. Even if He knows what we’ve done, we need to run.” And so they tried to hide, but God comes into the garden and says, “Here I am. Where are you?” And that’s a question God may be asking you today. Where are you?
So first of all, we have to see that God takes the initiative in salvation. Secondly, very important now, God works through the human will. When we preach on matters of choosing and predestination we should never give the impression that God says, “Now, you don’t want to believe, but boy, you are predestined to believe, so I’ll take you by the scruff of the neck, and you believe!” No!
Nor does the scenario ever happen where someone says, “Oh, I want to be saved but I’m not elect.” That never, never happens! Why? God works in the human heart to bring about His purpose, so people voluntarily receive Christ as Savior, but behind that voluntary decision there is God who has birthed conviction in their hearts. He has shown them their sin. He has shown them why they need Jesus. And then He even gives them the faith by which they need to believe. He does it all. Amen. Boy I’m hearing one or two Amen’s. I could take three or four actually. You see, it’s really all of God. God is the one, you know, who does it.
I think a beautiful example of that is Lydia in Acts 16 when Paul and Silas, and so forth, went to Philippi. It says that they went to the river and they met a businesswoman, a seller of purple goods, whose name was Lydia (now catch this), whose heart God opened. And then it says she listened carefully to what Paul says, and then she was baptized. Well, obviously she believed the Gospel or she’d have never been baptized. That’s a good example.
There are some of you to whom I am speaking today, and even while I am speaking, though you are having problems with some of the things that are taught in God’s Word, you might find that your heart is open to God. Even now listen to that voice because it is God that opens the human heart, and you and I can’t do that on our own. And this leads, I think also, to a very important fact. Of course, whosoever will may come. Of course, if God has worked in your heart you can come. Whosoever! Many are called. This is a general call. Few are chosen. But many are called and few are chosen, and you can find out whether or not you are among the chosen. So don’t complain. I know you’ve got all kinds of questions about the unchosen, but I’m talking to you now, and I want you to understand that if you want to know whether or not you are chosen, predestined, that you are within the will and the purpose of the eternal God who grants life to those who believe, well then find out. Come to Jesus, and He will receive you, and He will welcome you into His kingdom, because “whosoever will may come.” Certainly!
I think that old illustration that has been used many times is actually a very good illustration, that as the Gospel goes out across the door and the entry point, it says, “Whosoever will may come.” After you go through that door and you receive Christ, you look back and you’ll notice that at the back of that door are written the words, “Elect from the foundation of the world.” So the invitation goes to everyone.
The reason that I take delight in reading testimonies about people who came to saving faith in Christ is that each story is different. Each circumstance is different. Each person approaches it differently. But at the end of the day it always comes out the same, that people see their sin, they see their need, and they see Jesus meeting their need because He died for sinners.
Let’s take a few people. Let’s take a couple of famous people. Let’s take Martin Luther, for example. Here he is. He is struggling so much with his guilt and his heaviness, and he said, “Day and night I pondered to try to see the connection between the righteousness of God and faith,” because he was troubled by the righteousness of God. “If God wasn’t so righteous I might be able to meet His standards, but He is so holy, and He is so righteous I can’t meet those standards.” That’s what frustrated him until he said, “I saw the connection, that there is not just the attribute of God, the righteousness of God. There is a gift of God given to those who receive it by faith.” And he said, “When I saw this it was as if I was reborn, and I went through the gates of Paradise. The struggle was over. The conscience was silenced.” Jesus was now meeting his need. “Oh Lord Jesus, I am Thy sin and Thou art my righteousness. I accept that.” And he was converted.
Let’s take another theologian. His name is John Calvin who lived in Geneva. Calvin said that God overcame his blindness and his darkness and showed him the light of the Gospel. That’s one way to describe it. And if you would like to have somebody who emphasized free will and find out their story, John Wesley said that he had no assurance of salvation until someone was reading Luther’s preface to the book of Romans where the Gospel is clearly presented. And he said that he found his heart strangely warmed. And he said to himself, “I do believe in Christ. I do believe,” and he grasped that. “I do believe!” And that was the point at which he had the assurance that he belonged to God forever. Everyone’s story is different.
As you know, I usually witness to somebody on the plane who is sitting next to me – not all the time, but almost all the time. I have no idea the number of people to whom I have explained the Gospel on the plane. Most of them receive it graciously. We interact. And I’ve not led many people to Christ at all. I think that I see myself as helping them along the way, and other people are going to reap where I have sown, and so I leave those results with God.
But this past fall I was flying in from God knows where (chuckles). After a while the flights blur just a little bit, but I know that I was coming from the east to Chicago, and I sat beside a businessman who knew all about gold and silver, and which one was going to go up and which one was going to go down. And he had many clients. He had people working under him. Well, we got into the Gospel, and when I asked him, you know, “Where are you on your spiritual journey?” it turns out that he goes to church and does all the right things. But clearly he does not know the Gospel. I explained it to him. And he asked some questions, and I answered them, and then he said, “You know, I want to tell you today that I really get what you are saying.” He said, “I understand what it is that you are telling me.”
Now I should have prayed with him there on the plane. I actually didn’t. I entrusted that to the Holy Spirit, but after we got off the plane at O’Hare we still connected together, and he said again, “I want you to know that I got what you were saying.” He said, “I understood what you were saying.” And of course, I gave him a good book that would help him carry himself through the door with the help of Jesus, of course, and actually the scooping up of Jesus, which is a better metaphor of salvation. And I expect to see him in heaven.
I’ve explained it to many people and they just don’t get it. You know, “Why God, why Jesus? I’m not that bad a sinner. I’m a good person.” You know, it just dawned on me. Of all the people I’ve talked to I don’t think I’ve yet met a bad person. I really don’t. Everybody’s a good person, and they have no sense of conviction, no sense of their need for God, no sense of interest in Jesus. They just don’t get it, but as we sow the seed, we find people like that businessman who told me twice, “I just want you to know, I get what you are saying.” Is that where you are at today?
I hope that there are people who are right now saying, “I get it. I need a Savior.” And if you say that, that means that God is working in your heart to bring you to saving faith, and all of our trust (all of our eggs) is in one basket. All of our trust is in Jesus, and in Jesus alone, the only Savior of the world. Do you know Him? Do you get it?
Let’s pray together.
Father, we ask in the name of Jesus that Your word might go out in such a way that people across this nation who are listening to this message, and here in the sanctuary at The Moody Church, may say to themselves, “I get it,” and believe the Gospel, and thereby prove that they were chosen, they were predestined, they were part of Your will and part of Your plan from all of eternity. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.