This is the will of God, your sanctification. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
“God Moves in a Mysterious Way”
God tells us everything we need to know to live godly lives (2 Peter 1:3). But sometimes we wonder.
The unexpected, unexplained twists and turns our lives take create all kinds of apparent uncertainties for us. And the profound pain we endure can be so perplexing. There is so much God doesn’t tell us — so much we think we would really like to know.
But as Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.”
This means that as creatures we must learn to live contentedly with what God intends to be mysterious to us and grab hold of the revealed things with everything we have.
“Deep in Unfathomable Mines”
The secrets God keeps from us are a greater mercy to us than we likely realize. We often forget just how thin is the sliver of reality we see and information we can contain at any given time. Humans are not equipped to handle what the Bible calls “the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17).
When we want God to start giving us some answers, we need the Bible to help us get our heads out of the claustrophobic confines of our private worlds and into the galactic greatness of what God is allowing us to be a part of. We need to remember that we’re dealing with God here.
God is a person for whom time, space, and matter present no limitations. He has dimensions accessible to him that we know nothing about. He is Trinitarian in his essence (Matthew 28:19). He holds tens (maybe hundreds) of billions of galaxies together by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). He has created and governs every throne, dominion, ruler or authority (Colossians 1:16) and every being that is invisible to us, whether angel (Romans 8:38) or demon (Luke 4:41). He is orchestrating all of human history (Acts 17:26) with its multiple billions of complex individuals past, present, and future — of which each of us is only one — and multiple trillions of interweaving causes and effects — of which each of us only experiences a relative handful. And he’s working all of these things toward a point when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10–11).
And we wonder why we struggle to understand what God is doing in our difficult circumstances.
“He Treasures Up His Bright Designs”
God is doing ten thousand things in our circumstances! That’s likely a significant underestimate.
We would fall on our faces in awe-filled worship if we saw the chain reaction for our eternal good (Romans 8:28) and that of other present and future believers that God is engineering in just one seemingly random occurrence (Proverbs 16:33) that today might be the source of our grumbling because of the grief it is causing us. Now think of a lifetime’s worth.
God doesn’t explicitly promise this, but I tend to think that one of the glories and joys of the age to come will be God’s unveiling of the bright, extensive designs of his bitter providences in this age and the grace upon grace upon grace that they unleashed while we, not knowing, simply held on to Proverbs 3:5 with all our might.
“His Purposes Will Ripen Fast”
But what God does explicitly promise is that every moment and level of suffering we experience as we live by faith (Romans 1:17) “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
That thing that you don’t want, that you’re weary of, that you plead with God to remove (and might remove at some point unless he says otherwise [2 Corinthians 12:9]) is preparing you for glory.
God’s will for you is your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). He wants you to share his holiness (Hebrews 12:10). And the kindness of God in pursuing this for you is incomprehensively wonderful because without his holiness you will have no real and lasting happiness. Only in his presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11) and only the pure in heart will see him (Matthew 5:8).
You want him to make you holy. You really do. Whatever it takes.
“Ye Fearful Saints Fresh Courage Take”
The God who governs the visible and invisible worlds knows what he is doing in your life. The God who was brutally murdered on a Roman cross knows what it’s like to suffer and how to redeem it. Specifically how he will bring good out of your trials may be mysterious to you now, but that he will bring good out of them is not a mystery. It’s a promise.
And this is where you get to participate with God in your sanctification! You get to act the miracle. You work out your salvation (Philippians 2:12) by believing the promises God makes to you (John 6:29).
And as you believe God’s promises you will bear the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11), which are the attitudes and actions of those who live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). Behavior always follows belief. So your belief will result in faith-filled obedience to God (Romans 1:5) and produce various kinds of faith-fueled works for God (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
The secret things are the Lord’s for a very good reason. Trust him with the mystery. But the revealed things are yours and they are glorious. Believe them and one day you’ll share God’s holiness and all the forevermore pleasures he has prepared for you (Psalm 16:11).
Each of the headers in bold are lines from William Cowper’s beloved hymn, “God Moves In a Mysterious Way.” Acting the Miracle: God’s Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification, edited by John Piper and David Mathis, with contributions from Kevin DeYoung, Ed Welch, Jarvis Williams, and Russell Moore, is now available in softcover and a free PDF.
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