Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

The doctrine of God’s providence is the theme of Pastor John’s new book, Providence (you can now preorder the title from our friends at Westminster Books for just $19.99). To see and savor God’s providence makes a very definite impact in our lives. We cannot live properly if we fail to understand how God governs over his creation and how he governs our lives. On the past two Wednesdays, and in the several ahead, Pastor John is celebrating the real-life impact this doctrine makes on our lives. There are a total of ten implications. Last time, in episode 1574 we looked at how providence confronts our lethargic worship. That was implication number one. Here now with implication number two is Pastor John.

My second answer to the question “What are the real-life effects of knowing and loving the all-pervading, all-embracing providence of God?” is this: seeing and savoring (which is just another way of saying knowing and loving; I love them both) this providence makes us marvel at our own salvation and humbles us, yes, with trembling joy — humbles us because of our sin.

Tale of Providence

By his providence, from eternity to eternity, God chose us, his elect. He chose us from eternity. When he saw that we deserve nothing but condemnation, he predestined us to be his children, and share the likeness of his Son, in spite of our unworthiness and treason and recalcitrance. He purchased us at the cost of his Son’s life — his only Son’s infinitely valuable, precious life. He called us the way he called Lazarus out of death (John 11:43–44). He “caused us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3). And he did all of that before we thought anything, felt anything, believed anything, did anything — indeed, before we even could think anything, feel anything, believe anything, do anything. This is why the apostle Paul said all of it was to the praise of the glory of his grace (Ephesians 1:6).

“Providence makes us marvel at our own salvation and humbles us with trembling joy.”

And then he gave us freely the will to believe, the will to repent (2 Timothy 2:25). And through that believing and repenting, he justified us, declaring us to be righteous, perfectly righteous in the presence of the all-holy God (Romans 5:19), forgiving all our sins (Colossians 1:14), and becoming one hundred percent for us and not against us — one hundred percent for us in every experience of our lives, no matter how painful or pleasurable (Romans 8:31).

And he gave us his Holy Spirit as a seal (Ephesians 1:13), so that we would be infallibly kept “for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). And he is working in us now what is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:21). And he will keep us: he will keep us from falling and bring us safely to glory (Jude 24).

He has taken away the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:54–55), and he will bring us through it into the all-surpassing presence of Christ (Philippians 1:23). He will perfect our souls (1 John 3:2); raise us from the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17); give us new bodies like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21); present us with a new world, a new heavens and a new earth for our eternal habitation (Revelation 21:1), where his glory will be the light, and the Lamb will be the lamp (Revelation 21:23).

‘Kept by the Power of God’

It is a great tragedy that millions of Christians do not know that this is true about them — that all of it is owing to the all-pervading, all-embracing providence of God. They have been taught a salvation with themselves as the decisive cause at the point of their believing, their conversion. This view of their own decisive power obscures the glory of what God has actually done for them. It strips them of stunned thankfulness for the gift of faith. It dulls the intensity of their amazement that they were raised from the dead. It takes away the wonder of their perseverance. They think it’s owing to their own steadfastness, instead of the omnipotent, moment-by-moment keeping of God.

When my mother was killed in a bus accident in Israel, my father almost died in the same accident. He flew home on the same plane with the body of my mother, and after nursing him to the point where his injuries could take it, he and I drove alone to the cemetery to pick out a grave marker. We discussed what it would say, and both of us were very happy to settle on 1 Peter 1:5. And on her grave marker, which is made out of brass, are the words, “Kept by the power of God.” I have stood over that grave many times in the last 46 years and praised God for his sovereign, providential majesty in keeping her believing, and in keeping me, to this very moment, a believer — I mean, keeping me from making shipwreck of my faith. He is the reason that hasn’t happened.

It is a glorious thing to see that the sovereign God chose me, predestined me, purchased me, raised me from spiritual death and helplessness, gave me faith and adopted me, forgave me for all my sins, justified me, gave me his Holy Spirit. And I say it is a glorious thing to see that it is by God’s invincible providence that he is keeping me. The older I get, the more amazing it becomes.

Marvel at Your Salvation

I think that must have been what moved Jude, in the second-to-last book in the New Testament, to close his book with the greatest doxology in the Bible. And all of it is to celebrate the keeping power of God — that God keeps his own people from making shipwreck of their faith and being lost. Perseverance, eternal security, is not automatic; it is the work of God’s sovereign providence. Here’s what he says:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25)

That’s just the greatest doxology in all the Bible, and all of it was drawn out of Jude’s heart by this: “You keep us from stumbling.”

“Perseverance, eternal security, is not automatic; it is the work of God’s sovereign providence.”

Oh, that we could see and savor this providence. Oh, how we would exult in the freedom, and the fullness, and the sovereign effectiveness of our salvation. If we see God’s providence as it really is, we will be glad that it is all from God and through God and to God; we will be made humble and happy and hopeful; we will give all glory to God. The lowliness we feel because of our unworthiness will be accompanied by and tempered by the wonder of God’s merciful and infinitely loving providence. I love the way Jonathan Edwards describes this experience. This is what he says, and I have quoted it so many times:

The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is a humble, brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior.

This lowliness goes hand in hand, or maybe I should say hand in glove, with an amazed, joyful marveling that we are saved, and marveling at how God saved us, how he is saving us, how he will save us from eternity to eternity, by his all-wise, merciful, all-embracing providence. So, the second effect of seeing and savoring the providence of God that I want you to enjoy is this: it makes us marvel at our own salvation, and humbles us with a kind of trembling joy because of our sin.