The Decrees Of GodErwin W. Lutzer | October 18, 2015
Selected highlights from this sermon
In eternity past, God made some decisions, before we or the world existed. In order to bring about His glory, He decreed all that would take place. Nothing was excluded. The universe, nature, humanity, the death of Jesus, and our salvation were all a part of God’s decrees.
Even though this challenges our thinking, we are encouraged to trust in our sovereign God, for He truly holds all things in His hands. He is in control, working all things out for good.
The mysteries of God! I’m sure you understand that I feel very inadequate to be able to preach these messages, but I do so because God has revealed Himself. And we should probe God to the extent that we can as human beings. What do we hope to accomplish in these messages? Well, that we might know God and find delight in Him, that we might know that we are headed to an eternity where we are going to enjoy Him forever and understand more and more of who He is, and that will be an infinite field of study and worship.
You know, if God had not revealed Himself, we’d be very confused, wouldn’t we? We look at the great calamities that take place in the world - I mean we’re talking about tsunamis and mudslides and floods and earthquakes - and we’d think God was mad at us. And then as we looked at nature, and there were times when it was so beautiful, we’d say, “Well, maybe God likes us after all.” We’d have no clue about God. We wouldn’t even know whether there was only one God or whether there were many gods, and whether or not He cares for us individually. We’d never know that unless God has spoken, and thankfully He has.
Today we’re going to get into some very deep water. There’s no question about it, but I believe that God will enable us to stay focused, take away all distractions, put away all thoughts that are crowding upon your mind at this moment, and let us concentrate together on the greatness and the wonder of our God. If you are a teenager, listen carefully because at the end we’re going to discover that this deep theological message, which I think it’s going to be, has tremendous rewards, and we’re all going to be able to take something home at the end of the message that will be transforming, so stay with me.
Today I’m speaking on the decrees of God. And very briefly, though there are a number of definitions, I’m simply saying that the decrees of God have to do with the decisions that God made in eternity past regarding everything that will come to pass, that has come to pass and will come to pass. Easily said, difficult to understand, but very rewarding to contemplate!
You know, the decrees of God! I’m just going to give you some verses of Scripture. This message is theological in the sense that it’s going to encompass many passages, not necessarily zeroing in on one particular one as we usually do.
Psalm 103:9: “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens. His Kingdom rules over all.”
Isaiah 14:24, 27 and 27: “The Lord of hosts has sworn: ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand. This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth. For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?”
Isaiah 46:8-10: “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” Wow!
Job: “I know that you can do all things and no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
The decrees of God! I invite you today to this message based on the majesty and the greatness of God. Let us expand our understanding of Him and our role in His world and purposes.
Let me give you four characteristics of the decrees of God. Number one is that they are eternal. Very critical! You know, you and I, when we make a decision, what do we do? We try to gather facts. We talk to other people to try to figure out whether or not this is a wise decision. God has never had to do that because all the facts have always been known to Him from eternity past. And therefore, when I talk about the decisions of God, follow this carefully. When I speak about the decisions of God they aren’t decisions like you and I make after He gathered all the facts. These decisions, as it were, have been a part of who He is since eternity past. And do you remember that the first message in this series was indeed on God in eternity past? Breathtaking!
So these have been a part of Him, and as a result of that, think of what this means for you as a Christian. You have been known by God and chosen by God for as long as God has existed. Aren’t you glad He was here before you were born and knew all about you? (applause) You say, “Well, give me a verse of Scripture.” Alright, I’ll give you one. I’ll give you two. They’re free today!
Ephesians 1:4: “You were chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world.” You say, “Well, you know that was long before the world was created, and the universe, but maybe not as far as eternity.” Oh really? Well, then I’ll give you another verse. 2 Timothy 1:9: “God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ before times eternal,” is what the Greek text says. From all eternity!
That’s how long you have been known by God, and that’s why your life contains no surprises to Him. He’s not saying, “Now I wonder if he’s going to live up to all that I’ve given him?” God is noticing you, but there are no surprises to God. He knows you, and do you know what? It’s a good thing that He knew us in eternity past so that when we showed up He wouldn’t reject us. Isn’t that great? I’m glad that He knows us that well. It is an eternal decree as long as God existed.
If you look at this series of messages, by the way and (I need to throw this in) you say, “Well, which message is most important of "The Mysteries of God?” well they are all incredibly important. But I have to tell you that next week you are going to be absolutely blown away. I’m going to speak about the Trinity, and you know the Trinity has always been a problem to be solved. I’m going to show it’s a blessing to be enjoyed. You are going to understand God the Father as perhaps you’ve never understood Him before. So be sure to be here. Bring your friends because we’re talking about the mysteries of God.
Number one, the decrees are all eternal. Number two, God made them freely. You know, it says in Isaiah 40:13-14: “Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?”
When God decided all these things, and I’m using the word decided because that’s the only way we can talk… When God, in His infinite existence, had all these decisions already made, did He call a committee and say, “You know, I need some handlers; I mean, I need some input there, so let’s get a council together, and let’s find out what other people think about this?” No, the Bible is very clear. Nobody gave Him counsel. He did whatever…
You need a verse! Of course you do! As I say, they are free today. Psalm 115:3: “Our God is in the heavens. He has done whatsoever He has pleased.” Wow! Revelation 4:11: “We give you praise, oh God, creator, for thou has created all things, and by thy will (We could say, “By your own good pleasure.”) they were created.”
You know, you and I talk about freedom of the will, and I’m going to be mentioning that briefly, but we are so limited as human beings, aren’t we? I mean we didn’t choose the parents we had, we didn’t choose where we would be born, and we didn’t choose when we would be born. We could have been born in a different century. We have so many different limitations already built into our nature, which is predominantly sinful, but God, when He decided to create and to choose this plan, was totally free. He could have said, “I’m not creating anything because I’m satisfied with my relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and we’ll discuss that next week. But remember He did it freely.
There’s a third characteristic, and that is that God encompasses all things. The decree includes all things. You say, “Give me that verse.” Alright, I have one for you. I just happen to have one. Ephesians 1:11: “We were predestined,” the Bible says, “according to God’s plan,” and he goes on to say, “according to him who works all things after the council of his own will.”
If this were a three-hour message I could give you verse after verse to show that the decree of God encompasses everything. It encompasses nature. It is God who decided to create and He decided on the number of stars, and there are billions upon billions, but He knows their number, and He keeps track of them, so where did all that come from? God! And He spoke the Word.
You know, He encompasses all the animals. You know, you look at a rhinoceros, and you say, “Now what was God thinking?” Right? What was He thinking? Did He have a sense of humor? And then you think of the mosquito. I often have asked God, “Now what were you thinking when you made the mosquitoes?” You see, it encompasses all of nature. It encompasses all of history. It is God, the Bible says, who raises up people over nations, and then He takes them down. I could give you a verse. “Promotion comes neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south, but God is judge who brings down one and He puts up another.” And Daniel said, “He is the one who chooses for the leaders of men, and sometimes over them puts the basis of men.” And history has certainly borne that out.
And then what do you think about the history of Jesus dying on the cross? The Bible says this in Acts 4:27: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate among the Gentiles and the people of Israel (Now catch this. You are focused. I know you are.) to do whatever your hand and your plan predestined to occur.”
Sometimes people say, “Pastor, do you believe in predestination?” Well, yeah, I’m a Christian. All Christians believe in predestination. The word occurs many times in the New Testament. The debate is exactly over how it should be understood, but here the death of Jesus Christ was predestined to occur, and it occurred at the time that God chose it to occur. All under His sovereign hand history, it has been said, is God’s story.
Now what about salvation? What about salvation itself? Now, I want you to think with me, and I know you are but I just want you to grasp this. Was the fall of man in God’s economy Plan B? Did God say, “Plan A is that Adam and Eve walk with me and they don’t sin, and they live in Paradise. That’s Plan A, but you know what happened is they sinned and so I have to do Plan B. I’m going to send Jesus to clean up the mess.” Is that the way it was? No, redemption was in God’s heart for as long as God existed. He created in order that He might redeem. How could we possibly be chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world if God back then wasn’t already thinking redemptively about Jesus coming to redeem us? Of course, redemption was in God’s heart from the beginning. All things are encompassed by the divine decree. I told you we were getting into some deep water, but isn’t it thrilling water to know that God ultimately has all things in His hands?
Now listen very carefully. God would never have chosen a plan that would go horribly wrong unless He intended to use that plan for His own glory. Do I need to say that again? God would never have chosen a plan where things would go horribly wrong, and clearly things have gone horribly wrong. God would have never chosen a plan like that were it not for the fact that He would use this terrible wrong ultimately for His glory. It has to be that way because everything is for the glory of God.
You say, “Well, explain to me exactly how the terrible events in the Middle East or the terrible mudslide, or the tsunami (and all these dead people)… Explain to me how this brings glory to God.” I can’t do that in detail. We have some hints because… Well, one of the limitations I have is I’m not God, so my explanation fails here, but we do trust that that’s exactly what the Bible teaches. And you know, it does say that His judgments are unsearchable. We should search them out to the extent that we can, but we do have very great limitations.
Let me give you a couple of verses. As I say, they are free today. “Oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out. For who has known the mind of the Lord? Who has been His counselor? Who has given Him a gift, and now He owes a gift to that person in return? For of Him, and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever, Amen.”
Notice this. Everything is from God. Everything is through God. Everything is for God. And so everything has an appointed end, even evil. Wow! He doesn’t do evil but He uses evil.
There’s a fourth characteristic of the divine decree and that is that it is all for God’s glory. I’ve already emphasized that. It’s all for God’s glory. We could go through Isaiah and find out that God says, “I created everything for my glory.” We could go to Jeremiah: “The whole house of Israel was chosen for my glory.” We could go to Ephesians 1:6: “We were chosen to live for the praise of His glory.”
John Piper points out that God is relentlessly self-serving. Everything has to do with Him. You say, “Well, I don’t like that very much. He doesn’t like the ego in us. Why does God have such a big ego?” Well, you have to understand something. Because He is God, He is going to value that which is most valuable in the whole universe, which happens to be Himself. And so obviously because He is God and we aren’t, He has the right to do everything for His own glory.
You say, “I don’t like this God.” I can imagine that somebody who is listening to this is saying that. Well, isn’t that something? You don’t like this God! So you think God is going to change because you don’t like Him? I don’t think so. You could become angry with Him, which is a bad reaction, and a fruitless reaction. You could, on the other hand, submit to His sovereignty and find life eternal.
Now I have to deal with one objection, which, of course, is in your mind, and I can’t do this in detail. I’ve actually written about this because in the history of the church there’s a great deal of debate and discussion regarding free will. It’s a complicated topic and not as easy as you may think. So how does this relate to man’s free will? Well, the point is, first of all, God always works through the human will to bring about His purpose. He never violates the will. There’s nobody out there who says, “Well, I don’t want to do this,” and God says, “Yes, I’ve predestined you to do it.” God will work in their hearts to bring about a disposition to do something, so He never violates the will. We aren’t puppets. On the other hand, the Bible is very clear, and this is where we are on the edge of mystery, and certainly even beyond the edge of mystery, that God does hold people accountable for their actions. There’s no question about it. If you ask exactly how that relates with His sovereignty, nobody has ever been able to satisfactorily figure all that out. We know that both are revealed in the Bible.
And if you are listening to this today, and you say, “Well, you know, the Bible talks about election and predestination; I don’t know whether or not I am predestined, so if I’m predestined, well, then, let Him come and tell me.” I have a better idea for you. Why don’t you find out whether or not you are predestined? You can find out, you know, so don’t argue with God about this. All that you need to do is to come to Jesus. Humble yourself. Admit your sin. Receive Him as your substitute and your Savior, and you will know that you have been welcomed by God because “Whosoever will may come,” and therefore you then know that you are elect. You can’t go wrong doing that, can you? Just receive Christ as Savior, and then you’ll know that you are a child (a son or a daughter) of the Most High. So let us rejoice in the fact that the invitation is open to everyone.
Now it’s time for some take-home truths. Many of you, I’m sure, don’t know that my lovely wife, Rebecca, is the chief cook, and has been for years for our Christmas staff party – for all of the staff of The Moody Church. And that’s all of the staff, so she goes shopping. Occasionally I have helped her, but sometimes I recognize the fact that she knows exactly what she needs to buy, but she always likes to… And of course, once she begins to prepare the food she gets lots of help, and so forth, but the thing that she likes to do is to make sure that there is more food than we need, and she delights in having leftovers, because what she does is she takes containers, and some of the staff know that, and she loves to fill those containers so that people can take things home with them from the dinner.
Well, we’ve had quite a dinner here, looking at the sovereignty of God, I would say. And so you’re asking, what’s the take-home? Well, I’m going to give you three words that you can take home today, and you’ll see their transforming power.
The first word I want you to take home is the word acceptance - the ability that God is giving to you to accept your circumstances and who you are, because after all, He is God, and He has determined some things about you that you can’t change. For example, your appearance! You may look into a mirror and wonder where God was when you were put together. You say, “You know, So-and-So is beautiful. So-and-So is handsome and here I am.” Well, it’s God who gave the raw material. You can do some things maybe to get spruced up, but the fact is that your DNA, your “who you would be,” the members of your body as we noticed when we spoke about God’s omniscience, were known to Him from the beginning, and you are who you are. Could I invite you to accept yourself, to say, “I don’t have to look like somebody else?”
You also have to accept your limitations. Not everybody has the same abilities. There are people who have more abilities than we have. There are people who have more success than we have, and you don’t have to become envious of them if you are willing to accept who you are within God’s great providential scheme.
I’d also encourage you to accept your parents. Yes, of course, they may not have been perfect. Maybe they were even abusive, but I’m here to tell you today that God is so sovereign and so loving that if you let Him, He can even redeem evil that has been done to you – if you let Him. Because He is a loving God, He’s a God who cares about us, and His vast scheme of redemption includes even the evil in the world. And we sang about it today. Don’t ever underestimate God’s ability to work all things together for good to them who really do love Him, and stop trying to fight against Him. Don’t be angry with God. Don’t be angry. You’ll hurt yourself but you’ll never hurt Him. Submission to Him and His purposes is absolutely critical because He loves you and He cares about you. “Draw near to Him and He’ll draw near to you.” Come in Christ’s name.
You know, a woman whose name is actually escaping me now (and someone whom I know quite well) made the statement that “In acceptance there is peace.” It’s Elizabeth Elliott, who went home to glory some time ago. She said, “In acceptance there is peace.” There are some of you who don’t have peace because you refuse to accept certain realities, but those realities have been given to you by God. The first word to take home is the word acceptance.
There’s a second word that I want you to take home, and that is the word trust. He really does have everything known and He does have everything in His hands, including you, so what we need to do is to just simply say, “God, You know the future infallibly, so we trust You, because You know all things. I don’t have to inform You. I can just trust my life and my future to You.” How detailed is God in relationship to you?
You know, this is in Matthew, chapter 10. You can look at it later, but Jesus said this: “Don’t fear those who are able to kill the body, and then after that there’s nothing else they can do (because they can’t do anything beyond that). But fear him rather who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” We know that verse very well. What we sometimes forget is that Jesus continued that verse and then he said this: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” And the penny may have meant more than simply our penny, but you know, sparrows are everywhere. You go to Chicago and pigeons are everywhere. We’d like to sell a whole bunch of them for a penny. In fact, I saw a bumper sticker years ago that said, “Help keep Chicago clean. Eat a pigeon tonight.” (laughter)
“Are there not two sparrows that are sold for just a penny, and yet not one of them falls without your Heavenly Father noticing?” I mean, you walk out on the street (and you’ve done this) and you notice there’s a dead sparrow along the sidewalk? Maybe a dead sparrow flew into a window in your building and didn’t realize it was a window, and dropped down dead. When you look at that sparrow, what you say is, “God was here last night, and He saw the sparrow fall.”
And then Jesus said, “Are you not worth more than many sparrows?” Are you telling me that if a sparrow falls to the ground and your Heavenly Father notices the sparrow, you could drop dead of a heart attack and God wouldn’t a) know about it far in advance, obviously from eternity past, and that this would come as a surprise to Him even though it would be a surprise to you and your family and others? Are you thinking that God would kind of overlook that and say, “Well, I guess that’s what happened to the guy?” No! Your Heavenly Father watches over you, and if a sparrow cannot fall, believe me you are in the Father’s hands. (applause)
And then Jesus isn’t finished. He said, “The very hair of your head is numbered.” You know I read that and we have some people on the staff that could number their own actually. (laughter) You know there’s a story about a guy who had one hair. He washed it every morning. He sprayed it. And then one morning he woke up and he saw the hair on the pillow, and he woke his wife and he said, “My Lord, I’m bald.” (laughter) But God knew exactly when he became bald. Was it at 2:30 in the morning when he was sleeping? Was it at 2:35? Was it at 3 o’clock when he turned around in the bed? He didn’t know exactly when he was bald. God does!
Now the reason that that illustration is so powerful is because it is something that is so trivial that you and I never think about. When we wash our hair we don’t go into the sink later, or the tub, and count the number of hairs that we lost last night. I mean, maybe some people do, but most of us don’t. And Jesus said, “I know the number, and after you’ve washed your hair, I have to change the number on my computer, but that’s how detailed my knowledge and care is of you.” How do you like that for a Father in heaven? (applause) So the second word is trust.
There’s a third word I want to leave with you, and that is the word praise. You know, “Whoso offers praise, glorifies Me.” You know that it’s all about the glory of God. You know that for you it is all about the glory of God. And so the question is how do we give God glory? Good discussion! I’ll tell you how. We offer Him praise. We offer Him praise when we are going through a bad day. And we offer Him praise when we are going through a good day because now we begin to see that everything that happens to us is coming through His hand. Some things that are bad are allowed. Some things that are good – usually a mixture! Things that aren’t anticipated! Sorrows that you didn’t dream about! All of these things come to us from the hand of a sovereign God, in whose hands we find ourselves.
And so you begin to praise, and you praise Him for physical limitations. You praise Him not for sin, but what He’s going to do as a result of the sin. And you begin to sing the praises in the book of Revelation: “We praise you, oh God, for Thou are worthy. Thou has redeemed us by thy blood from every kindred, and tongue and nation.” And you become a praising person. And you’ll discover that that’s your prayer life. You’ll discover then that God is so great and so marvelous and has included you in His plan, and you’ll be bringing Him glory every day because you are tired of just continually praying and beseeching Him, though there’s a place for that, but that’s all. And when you leave you are just as frustrated as when you began because there’s no faith, there’s no praise. No! Now you begin to praise and suddenly your whole day changes, and God draws near because He is near to those who praise His name.
I can’t help but close this message without also stressing the fact that those of you who do not know God (And I spoke to you briefly a few moments ago, those of you to whom God is an idea, a concept - and you may even believe in Him but there’s no personal relationship with Him. You don’t know Him personally. You may even recite prayers that you memorized as a child somewhere along the line.) would you know that through Jesus Christ, God can be personally known? That’s why Jesus said in John chapter 17, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.” And when you get to know Him, you’ll lean hard into Him so that you begin, yes, to praise Him, but you take delight in Him. And life doesn’t have to go too well for you without you offering Him praise. You receive Christ as Savior because He died so that you and I might be reconciled to a holy God.
And the emphasis of the New Testament is not how can sinners be right with God. The emphasis, especially in the book of Romans, is this: How can we as sinners be right in the presence of a holy God who can’t tolerate sin? The only answer is Jesus. Thank you for Him, Lord.
And the Bible says that as we learn to trust, we learn to wait, and God is glorified in our lives.
Be still, my soul, for God is God. Aren’t you glad He is?
Lord, we pray that You will help us to receive these words no matter where we are. For those who are backslidden today, bring them back to the Father who cares about them. For those who are going through times of huge anxiety help them to cast their care upon You, and know that the very hair on their head is numbered. And for those who do not know Christ, draw them to Yourself, oh God. Give them the disposition to believe. And we stand in awe of You. And we worship You. And we do confess we love You, but we wish we loved You more. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.