Thursday, April 30, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009

Predestination - A Concept We Misuse


I had a big piece of leftover sermon I didn't get to yesterday in week eight of our Exodus series. Thought I'd post it here.

According to Scripture, God predestines. Let that get under your skin for a minute. Don't like it do you? In some ways I don't either but in some ways it's a favorite teaching. Let me take a minute to lay out some of what I've learned from wrestling with this issue for 30+ years and in my study last week.

Arguments Against Predestination
- Argument One goes something like this: "God only foreknew what is/was going to happen - people have an inviolate freewill - and God doesn't decide what happens to people until we chose." Tried that on for years. Sort of cut into God's being all-knowing and all-powerful. Major problem.

- Argument Two says, "Since God predestines everything, I don't have to chose anything (especially things like getting a job, being responsible or all that messy evangelism and missions stuff)." Tried this for a while. It cuts into God's commandments to 'Go into all the world and make disciples...' and makes God seem pretty passive. Major excuse for doing whatever I want.

- Argument Three says, "This whole God thing is bull. I can't believe in any God that would damn innocent people to hell without giving them a chance." A very popular viewpoint. Tried it on with some friends, but by disdaining and dismissing God as an option, fails to engage in a worthwhile dialogue.
Sort of like telling your parents or spouse, 'I disagree with you so I'm cutting you off completely.' Do we really want a god or a spouse or a friend to never disagree with us? Not going to have many friends. Not that I haven't done that before.

Questions Worth Discussing
Do you hope there is a reasonable, plausible option that answers those objections? I think there are a few.

- Would a God whose worthy of following not have a plan that's a LOT bigger and more mysterious than many people want to admit? Do you want to follow a weak or a Strong God?
It helped me to learn that my mental luggage is just too small to put God inside. So it is good that I have some things sticking out the sides. Predestination is one piece that I can't cram in or completely figure out.

- Wouldn't it be a good thing for me (and others who disagree) to get bigger mental luggage? Thinking and reading about it really helped. And I'm talking hard, old books. Long conversations with fellow truth-seekers in my church and with folks who don't follow Christ. Both helped immensely. The best remedy? The preached Word of God (1 Corinthians 1:21). Predestination is one teaching that fits into a whole body of gospel teaching.
Podcasts, blogs, one sermon or two are too limited. It's like getting all your news from talk radio or the Most Popular listing on Yahoo News. Come on, you can dig in.

- Ask, 'What, if any, part of predestination can I experience or control? It helped me get a plausible answer to this conundrum when I recognized that predestination is something we can NOT experience. We can only anticipate predestination.
We can argue about it theoretically all day and night. We can 'What if' till we fall over. We can make fun of it, yell and curse and scream. But I can't experience predestination in this life.

Fact: We are time-bound. We do not know who or what is predestined. From our perspective, every decision is 100% free, human choice. (I am not arguing against the thorough effects of sin in each person - I am describing human experience.)

Fact: Only the God of the Bible knows His decrees. From His view, everything is running 100% according to plan. Even when Christ was on earth, he said he didn't know the time or season of his return (Acts 1:7).

Fallacy: You can't or shouldn't say, 'Well I know I'm predestined to salvation. Or she's so bad, I'm sure she's predestined to damnation.' Really? Isn't that is a statement reserved for a being with total access to God's mind? Careful about overreaching with your theology.

Fallacy: Predestination isn't in the Bible. Scripture says God chooses, predestines. Can't get around that. Quick sample of the top of my head.

'For he [God] chose us in him before the creation of the world...in love he predestined us...'Ephesians 1:4-5. See also Romans 9-10.

I preached yesterday from Exodus 11, where Scripture says, 'the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart' and he wouldn't let the Israelites go. Seems pretty harsh to damn a whole nation when God hardened Pharaoh's heart! But there it is. Talk about uncomfortable and politically incorrect. Whew!

Two So Whats?
1 - You have to choose. All of us. All the time. If you feel convicted or guilty or angry, you have to choose how to act. If you or a friend is prompted or convinced to turn their life around or believe in Christ, you have to choose to turn and believe.
NB: I'd even argue that Pharaoh wasn't aware that God hardened his heart. His experience was to chose to harden his heart 100%.

2 - If you believe in Christ and what Scripture teaches, predestination should make you both fearless and humble about your own salvation and telling EVERYONE else about the gospel. Why? Because the gospel tells you that you aren't any better than anyone else. God chose you because He loved you, not because you deserved to be chosen. NOBODY deserves to be chosen. If you believe in Christ, it is an utter miracle and you should be very grateful, very humble.

And very bold. We don't know who is predestined to what eternal state. (Consider a guy named Saul in Acts 6-9 - now that was a surprise to alot of believers.) We have been given power and authority from Christ to take this good news to Smyrna, metro Atlanta/Southeast and the ends of the world (Acts 1:8). Let's do it!

What to read?
Martin Luther: The Bondage of the Will
John Calvin: The Bondage and Liberation of the Will
These are books, not blogs. If you want a read-along discussion, we can do that if you are in Smyrna.
What to listen to? A faithful preacher of God's Word in the community of a local church.