The following is a lightly edited transcript.
The worth and excellence of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love, that is, the object of its affections, the object of its delight, its pleasures. Therefore, we are looking at the worth and the excellency of God’s soul through the lens of what he delights in, what he finds pleasure in.
And the reason we are looking through the lens of his pleasures at the worth and excellency of his soul is that Paul tells us that beholding the glory, beholding the excellency, beholding the worth of God, we are being changed from one degree of glory to the next into that likeness. This means that then we would be more effective, radiant, reflectors of the glory of God and the earth would move toward its destiny of being filled with the glory of the Lord like the waters cover the sea. So that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. My prayer, my earnest desire for you and me is that you would see God in fresh ways, true ways, biblical ways and that in seeing his excellency and his worth in fresh new biblical ways, you would be changed.
The first pleasure was the pleasure of God in his Son. We simply talked about the intra-trinitarian joy that flows between the Father and the Son. And the second pleasure was the pleasure of God in his fame or his name or his glory as his intrinsic beauty and holiness and joy goes public for the world to see. Third, now this morning, we look at God’s pleasure in all that he does.
The Pleasure of God in All That He Does
An essential aspect of God’s excellency or God’s glory is his freedom to do all that he pleases. God is not constrained by any forces outside himself to do anything he does not will to do. There are no competing forces that can hold sway in God’s life. His will is absolute.
I just read the conclusion to an article to see where it was going because I didn’t have time. The article came in the mail day before yesterday in Evangelical Theological Society academic journal. And one of the main articles is entitled “Satan: God’s Servant.” And that’s absolutely right. Satan cannot do anything but that he gets permission from God to do. And so God has no constraints upon him from outside him to do anything he does not ultimately delight to do. So he delights to do everything he does, and he does everything. Romans 11:33:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?
The answer to those questions is: Nobody — nobody has ever given a gift to God that puts him under any constraint to pay them back. The point of these verses is nobody counseled him, nobody enriched him, nobody improved him. He owes nobody anything. He’s absolutely free to do what he pleases.
“God delights to do everything he does, and he does everything”
The paragraph ends: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). And the point of that last phrase is: It is glorious to be God. It is glorious to be unbeholden to anybody. We’re all totally beholden to a lot of people, especially God. God is beholden to nobody, he owes nobody anything. He is constrained by nobody but his own sovereign will. And that is a result of his being God between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, totally content in the fellowship of the Trinity so that he’s not got any unmet needs that would make him dependent on you or me or the devil or creation. Therefore, he is the freest of all beings. In fact, he’s the only free being in the universe, absolutely. He delights in all that he does.
For I know that the Lord is great,
and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases,
he does, in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps. (Psalm 135:5–6)
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases. (Psalm 115:1–3)
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.” (Isaiah 46:9–10)
That’s usually translated as “purpose” in Isaiah 46:10: “I will accomplish all my purpose.” You look up the Hebrew word, and it’s that same word showing up again and again — “delights.” “All my joys, I will accomplish.” He is the invisible hand behind everything. This is very controversial and very true.
All That God Does
Children will believe this immediately unless you tell them otherwise. You have to grow up and find problems with this. Children embrace the truth of God’s absolute Godness. He’s God, he can do whatever he wants. Children get that. Well, the Bible gets it also, and here are a few verses. Just let them sink in.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. (Ephesians 1:11)
He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)
Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? (Amos 3:6)
Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? (Lamentations 3:37)
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21)
It’s good to plan your way. You should get up in the morning and have a plan, but God’s plan will happen, yours might not.
Even Birds, Hairs, and Molecules
Here’s the most detailed one of all. People ask me, “Let’s get this right, you’re saying you believe God is concerned with the tiniest things? He governs the molecules, subatomic particles as well as the movement of galaxies?” I say, “Yes.” And I’m not making this up. It’s not my thought. Proverbs 16:33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Translate it as dice: “The dice are thrown on the board and every decision is from the Lord in Las Vegas.” And I believe that with all of my total being.
People get bankrupted, they can get rich by the design of God in judgment and mercy, and usually judgment since it’s hard for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Does he care about one hair turning white or black? Jesus said so. Does he care about one bird falling in a jungle that nobody sees and he just dies and falls? And Jesus says, that doesn’t happen apart from God (Matthew 10:29–30). Does he care about molecules? If they’d known molecules in Jesus’s day, Jesus would have said molecules, but he said little birds.
Genesis 50:20 is probably, I want to say, the most helpful. There may be one or two others as helpful on this issue. Joseph’s brothers had sent him into slavery, ugly, mean, wicked thing to do to your younger brother, sell him, he’s gone. Put blood all over his coat, take it to his dad. His dad is crying his eyes out because his brothers are lying through their teeth that he’s dead. And they know he’s not dead, he’s sold. What was going on there in all of that wickedness?
In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers twenty plus years later, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” He does not say he used it, he says he meant it. In your meaning, there was another meaning. In your design, there was another design. Your wicked design was God’s saving design to save a people alive at this day. So yes, God takes delight in all that he does and he does everything, and that is a problem.
Delight Or Don’t Delight?
The complexity of God’s emotional life must be reckoned with here. It is mind-boggling because it’s God’s mind.
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23)
For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live. (Ezekiel 18:32)
“Nothing that comes into your life no matter how wonderful or horrible is without divine purpose.”
So do you delight in all you do, don’t you have any control over life and death? The Lord gives and the Lord takes away (Job 1:21). I’m not getting this. And you put over those two texts in Ezekiel 18 against Deuteronomy 28:63:
And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
You either have to throw your Bible out or deal with the complexity of the divine emotional life because you got one set of text that says, “I don’t delight in the death of the wicked.” And you’ve got another text that says, “I will delight in destroying you like I delighted in doing good to you.”
So what do you do? How do you read Your Bible? What’s your way of dealing with these kinds of things in the Bible? Here’s my way. Instead of closing my book and throwing it out and thinking that I can find better truth in another place, like you won’t find things like that on television. Rather I can shut my mouth and I say, “Lord, this is your word, it has won me over. Your Son has won me over. I cannot distrust Jesus. Jesus’s stamp of approval is on this book, I bow before this book. I am puzzled by it, please open it to me. I will let them stand. You do not take pleasure in the death of the wicked and you do delight in destroying wicked people.”
More Than We Can Know
And I conclude that at least there are levels of willing in God. Before I give you the verse where I get that idea, let me make the problem just a little worse. On the one hand, God says he’s angry every day.
God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day. Psalm 7:11
Or have you ever thought about this one?
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
This means you can grieve the Holy Spirit, which means the Holy Spirit of infinite joy is capable of grief. This is getting complicated. And I presume that there are enough Christians in the world that somebody is always disobeying that command. Somewhere in the world, somebody is grieving the Holy Spirit right now. So if he’s sad right now, is he happy also right now. He’s always angry, every day he’s angry with somebody. And every day he’s sad about somebody.
And then you read Psalm 149:4: “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.” Or Luke 15:7 and the parables of the lost coin, lost sheep, lost son, and point of each one is there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over 99 that don’t need repentance. And you’ve got this dignified old man is running than grabbing his son, “Yes, yes, he’s home.” God is doing that every day.
Did you know that right now somebody is getting saved? This very minute somewhere in the world somebody is getting saved. There’s just too many witnessing believers to think that’s not the case, which means every moment of every day God is running around heaven leaping and jumping for joy. And he’s angry as he can be.
I mean, you laugh because it’s so weird, right? He’s broken-hearted over your carnality right now. What’s going through your head this minute makes him sad, maybe. And he is thrilled that somewhere in China or Russia or America somebody just got saved. I mean, all I know to do is put my hand on my mouth and say, “you’re very complex.” Who am I to tell God that at any given moment, and maybe that’s part of the issue, what’s a moment? He is angry, he is grieved, he is thrilled, he is pitying. He’s an empathetic High Priest who can come alongside you, feel everything you feel for ten million people at the same time all feeling different feelings. Amazing God.
Levels of Willing: Not from the Heart
So when I hear him say, “I don’t delight in this death, and I delight to bring that death,” I’m thinking there’s something about this death he doesn’t delight in, and there’s something about it he does delight it. That’s my way of solving the problem. Now, here is a text that points toward that solution. I’m trying not to just make up human solutions, I want to find Bible pointers to work in my way through these things. So Lamentations 3:32–33 says,
Though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict willingly
or grieve the sons of men.
What in the world? I just made a case that he always is free to do what he wills to do. And this text says he does not willingly afflict the sons of men, like who’s making him do it?
So I got out my Hebrew and I look at that word “willingly.” I want to get this. The word is three Hebrew words put together (malevo). It’s all one word, ma (from), lev, heart, and ō (his). So let’s translate it literally: “According to his abundant kindness for he does not from his heart afflict or grieve the sons of men.” My best shot at making sense out of that human way of talking is some things come from part of God’s soul and some things come from other parts of God’s soul. Some are governed by this part and some are governed by another part. And some can be spoken of as coming from down deeper and some can be spoken of as coming from up higher.
And when he says, “when I afflict a person, it isn’t coming from that part of me which is deepest.” Is that a fair way, “from his heart”? That’s my best shot. In other words, when I find this complex emotional life of God delighting to do what in another place he says he doesn’t delight to do, I want to say, “In your huge emotional complexity, there are dimensions of your willing that are diverse.” Some are higher, some are lower, wider way of talking about that seems to help you deal with the inscrutable.
So there we are back at Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” And I say, yes, that’s what I see. I can get my toe in the water of a solution, but I don’t go very deep with my little brain. So my conclusion on this third pleasure, namely, he takes pleasure in all that he does is that it’s a very complex pleasure, and it has very significant implications.
1. Sovereign Control
I want to point out a few of them. First, God has sovereign control over the world, however, he emotionally relates to that so that nothing in your life is meaningless. Nothing that comes into your life no matter how wonderful or horrible is without divine significance, divine purpose.
2. Mercy in Severity
Second, God is merciful in his severity. Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Now, he may be breaking your heart. He took the baby, he took the wife, and he will come in the heart that he’s breaking and be near to the brokenhearted and save the crushed in spirit.
Nothing you suffer in this life under God’s sovereign freedom will be in vain. See, if you don’t infer that from this passage where when Peter said, “See, we have left everything and followed you,” Jesus replies,
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
In other words, you’ve never made a single sacrifice that won’t come back to you, I want to say 10,000 fold. Let me bring this down to the ground because I know of all the things I have to say today, this perhaps is the most controversial and the most painful. So I went to my file cabinet, I went to my filing system and I just typed in suffering. I’ve got 247 pieces of paper on suffering in my files. And I looked up letters to me. I get letters regularly from suffering people who have found in this vision of God, massive help. Not everybody does, that makes me sad. I would like to be helpful to everybody. But some people turn away in anger and don’t find help. But I just grabbed a few maybe read a sentence or two since this is so central to God’s emotional life.
“Life with regard to material things should be a rhythm of feasting and fasting.”
Three years ago, my husband died. He was 59, my best friend since I was fifteen. Three months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Eighteen weeks of chemotherapy and a mastectomy, put my house up for sale because I couldn’t afford it anymore. My ninety-three-year-old mom moved in, and she passed away a month later. My husband’s dog died. It was then that friends began slowly to drift away. I felt pretty much alone, and somebody gave me Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. Now, I see that I’d been crying for the wrong kind of help. I see as pointed out in chapter seven that my worst suffering is my sin, my sin of self-centeredness and self-pity. Thank you so much, I needed this so much. I know that with his grace, his lovingkindness, his merciful help, thoughts can be reformed in my life, conformed me more like his Son.
This is a handwritten one from October 21, 2006:
The complete sovereignty of God over all things, over good and for his glory, meant so much to him, my husband who died of liver cancer, and me as I watched him fade away.
March 14, 2006:
My husband committed suicide. I find hope in God’s sovereignty in knowing that my present sufferings are not in vain. When you said that Christ has called us to a painful life, but we are to rejoice in tribulation because the love of God is poured out in our hearts during such times, I did not understand. Now, I do. As much as I grieved the loss of my husband, I now walk much more intimately with the Father than I have ever at any time in my life.
Baby born with spina bifida, four-page narration of amazing works of God. Let’s read one part:
In his economy, there is always design, always purpose. There is safety in his will when we find ourself lying on the anvil of pain. He defines himself in overwhelming fullness. He thunders from heaven to defend the righteous in his perfect timing for his greatest glory and for my greatest joy, joy in him, the only source of eternal satisfaction. That is who my God is. He truly does everything well.
And this is the worship folder from my son’s daughter’s funeral. And the letter inside, this is September 26, 2007:
For my daughter, Felicity Margaret Piper, Felicity, your momma and I had been praying for you since you were just a speck, that you’d be saved, that you’d love Jesus. At a very early age, we’d say sometimes, sometimes we would even say, very soon, we did not know what we were asking. Last night as we tried to fall asleep for the first time since we found out you exist, we didn’t ask that God would save you. We thanked him that he had.
The Lord has blessed you and kept you, Felicity. The Lord has made his face to shine upon you and been gracious to you. The Lord has lifted up his countenance upon you and has given you peace.
You don’t respond like that with hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Come You Disconsolate,” one that Abraham wrote, “We Weep in Faith,” “God Moves in Mysterious a May,” “How Firm a Foundation.” This was a singing funeral. You don’t respond like this unless you have a massive sovereign, wise, good God who delights in all that he does.
3. Pleasure in Creation
Third, God’s pleasure in all of creation. Don’t you just love the fact that there’s a world, trees, water, fire, air, colors like blue and green and brown? The material world was made by God not simply to create temptations though in our fallen state, that is uniformly their effect for people who haven’t trusted Christ. They become idols, the image becomes the treasure rather than what it points toward.
I remember when my children were one, and I’d say, “Look at the bird,” pointing out the window. And they would look at my finger. And now my dog does it, “go to your place,” and he looks at my finger. And that’s the way human beings do it with the universe. The universe is not about itself, it’s not about us, it’s about the Maker. The heavens are telling the glory of God, watch it, listen, get through it. Let me read you this great quote by C.S. Lewis. If you’re not a Lewis reader, have a Lewis phase in your life.
There is no use trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why he uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us.
That may be misspoken. I would say, to signify the new life which is in us. Not sure what Lewis meant by that.
We may think this rather crude and unspiritual God does not. He invented eating. He liked matter. He invented it.
I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex or the body or pleasure were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body — which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us in heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, or beauty and our energy. (Lewis, Mere Christianity)
Now, there have always been Christians who had been scared of that truth, including me, I still am. Just because I know the power of my body to do bad things to me, send me bad messages, food, sex, weariness. The body has cravings that are unbelievably powerful, and therefore we tend to start to think the body is bad because it’s tempting me to do bad stuff.
Now, the response to that is tricky. We got to figure this out. So here’s the key text. I’m going to read you 1 Timothy 4:1–4:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.
That’s amazing. Demons are telling people to avoid sex and food, marriage and food. Marriage where you can have sex, food is what you eat to satisfy you belly’s cravings. Demons in the latter days are going to say, “You shouldn’t marry and have that stuff. And don’t eat, appetites are dangerous.” That’s the devil talking according to Paul. And then he says something even more amazing, these foods and marriage were created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe.
Let’s get this. This is amazing. The only people who should have sex is Christians. Is that a faithful paraphrase? I mean, I’ll read it again, you decide. They “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe,” period. The rest are sinning always because Romans 14:23 says, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Drinking tea, having sex in marriage is sin if you’re not thanking God for it, if you’re not a believer, receiving these good gifts as an evidence of God’s grace towards you.
There’s a lot of sin in the world. God loves the world that he made. All the nitty-gritty, gutsy parts of it. Listen to Psalm 104:31: “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.” And one of the reasons he rejoices in his creation, material bodies, trees, animals, planets, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1–2). The reason he loves his world is because he designed his world to show him. This is an echo of God’s own self-love. He loves his Son, the Son loves the Father, the Holy Spirit carries that love. They spill over in creation in such a creation that will reflect their worth and their excellency and their beauty, and that’s what we’re supposed to see when we look at the world.
Now, this gets interesting because there are many aspects of nature that no human ever sees. Why did God make those? There’s no human to see some things. And so they don’t say, “There’s the glory of God, praise him.” That’s not happening. They’re at the bottom of the ocean, seven miles down, not yet discovered or the top of the mountain or on the other side of Mars. Why did he make those?
Psalm 104:26: “There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.” God made the Leviathan and made a big squid to play in the water. Nobody is watching him except God, and he likes it. Look at that, that’s my squid. Look at that, thirty-foot long tentacles, maybe 100 feet or we don’t know, they live way down there. And he’s watching this tumult in the ocean and enjoying it.
And then along come BBC cameramen and they produce these DVDs called Blue Planet and Earth. You’ve got to get this. I get no royalties for these. I just know that my wife and I and our little girl have worshiped for eight hours watching these unbelievable works of God. And here’s all these pagans producing this worship DVD. I mean, just to give you an example, you’ve got to get this. I would just love to take half an hour and describe the wonders that I was watching. So there’s this little plant that has a top. And in the little cup of the plant, there’s this little juice. And a little bug who wants to drink the juice comes over the edge and they lose their grip and they fall in and die in the juice, and the plant eats these decomposing bugs.
“The Lord delighted to love you freely.”
Now, that’s wonderful, right? That’s wonderful. But that’s not the end of the story. There’s a spider who only lives on the decomposing bodies in this juice in this plant. How did he get in there and not drown? He lets himself down on a little thread into the cup, goes under the water, gets the little corpse, pulls it up out of the water, goes back and he eats it. They can’t be making this up. God thought of that. He thought of that.
I hate evolution. It is so worship-destroying. I mean that. Secular atheistic evolution is worship destroying. The reason that little cup, that little fluid, those little decomposing creatures and that little spider that goes underwater gets his food, comes up back to a safe place, is so that one day BBC cameraman would find this. And you can imagine these guys, look at this. Oh my, caves and mountains. I would just love to talk more. I get so much pleasure talking about what God has done in creation. It’s way better than talking about movies, but that’s another story.
There’s a problem here too. Psalm 73:25: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Sounds like we shouldn’t enjoy anything but God. Pizza, sex, friends. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” Or Psalm 27:4: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” That’s the one thing I seek after.
What do those statements mean in view of 1 Timothy 4: these things were created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. We wouldn’t thank God for something that was not to be enjoyed. I think Saint Augustine got it right when he said, “He loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for thy sake.” I think that’s right. If you put it all together, he loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves, not for Thy sake.
So it is right to love food or right to love sex or right to love friends or right to love jogging if this is a moment and occasion through which our affections are rising to him with, yes, you are that kind of God, yes, thank you for this. Yes, you mean for there to be a material world that doesn’t just become an idolatry for me but becomes a springboard of worship and thanksgiving. Yes, thank you for it, you’re more important than it.
And then you find the lifestyle that signifies to the world, God’s more important than it. There’s the issue. How do you so live that he looks more important than food, looks more important than sex, looks more important than movies, looks more important than friends, looks more important than jogging? How do you find that life? “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). There must be a way for God’s delight in God to be reflected through my delight in God as I eat. Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God. Maybe say like this: Life with regard to material things should be a rhythm of feasting and fasting. Nobody can tell you how much to feast and how much to fast. The Bible doesn’t specify how much to fast and how much to feast. It endorses both because both say true things. Feasting says creation is a gift of God and it’s good, and we should thank him for it and enjoy it for his sake. Fasting says it is not my God.
Paul said, speaking about food, I will not be enslaved by anything. We are free in Christ, nothing is to enslave us, not sex, not pornography, not the praise of man, not food, nothing. We are free. So if you want to signal the value of God over food, fast from the things that tempt you most to be god to you. Periodically, just fast from television, fast from sex. The Bible says that. Do that if you’re married. Fast a little from sex just to see if it’s got an undue grip on you. Fast from food, fast from whatever is starting to loom up too big in your life as something that’s gripping you, it’s taking you. Just back off, do a fast. Say, “Lord, you’re more important, I’m showing you that by this little fast here and then I’ll come back in a proper measure.”
God’s Pleasure in Election
We move to the next theme, God’s pleasure in election. I’m going to start with Deuteronomy 10:14–15: “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet,” that “yet” there meaning he owns everything. He could do whatever he wants here, he can choose anything he wants or not. Verse 15: “Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.” Literally, God desired, the Lord desired, the Lord delighted to love you. When it says in the ESV verse 15, yet the Lord set his heart in love on you. Literally, it’s the Lord delighted to love you freely from all the peoples that are on the earth. So in the overflow of God’s joy towards now sinful creation in people, he sets his affections and chooses Israel from self of all the peoples.
Now, why did he do that? What was it about Israel that attracted him? That’s a wrong question. If you know what grace is, that’s the wrong question. The question is why did he choose them? What moved he to choose them? Now, here’s the key answer in Deuteronomy 7:6–7:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples.
Now, collapse that down. The Lord loves you because he loves you. That is the answer. If you look for an answer in you, you turn the gospel upside down, you nullify grace. Grace means he comes to me when he’s finding nothing in me to make me attractive. He’s free, he is not driven or forced to take me as his own.
Do you remember how the Jewish people in Jesus’s day were starting to get that a little bit wrong, maybe a lot wrong? And John the Baptist said something that just blew them out of the water. He said, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).
And what’s going on there? Jews read their Old Testament in Jesus’s day and they read they’re chosen from all the peoples of the earth, Abraham chosen and his heirs chosen. And so they start to feel like I’m a Jew. And because I’m a Jew, I’m chosen. And John says, “Do you think God is locked into Jewishness in order to fulfill his covenant promises? I’ll tell you about God. If he needs a Jew, bring him a stone, he’ll make one.” This means, I think very simply, God is free. God is not bound to save any individual because of covenant made with Abraham. God can raise up from the stones children for Abraham. You can’t corner God and say, “I’m a Jew. You have to bless me.” And you can’t say that either. God is not bound to bless anybody. He freely takes us.
Let’s read Romans 9:6: “It is not as though the word of God has failed.” Now, he says that in relationship to the fact that so many Jewish people were unbelieving and rejected the Messiah. And it looks as though the covenant has collapsed. So Paul has to respond to the fact that God made a covenant with Abraham, a covenant with the Jewish people. Thousands of Jewish people are saying, “No, crucify him, crucify him. We don’t want him.” When Paul goes to the synagogue, a few people believe and most don’t. So the chosen people are rejecting Messiah Jesus. They still do today. There’s a hardening that has come upon Israel, Paul says until the full number of the Gentiles comes in. That’s a big problem for Paul.
So how does he address it? He says in Romans 9:6–7, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” So something more goes into making you a child of Abraham than being born of Abraham. And then he illustrates what he’s talking about. “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named” (Romans 9:7), meaning you tried to do this with Ishmael. You didn’t have a seed, you knew that God had said you would be a blessing to the nations. You have no child, your wife is barren, you’re old. And so you go get Hagar pregnant and have a baby. And God says no, we don’t do it that way, through Isaac. Who’s Isaac? I’m 100 years old, my wife is 90, and she’s barren. And you’re saying there’s going to be an Isaac.
“You are chosen in order that praise might rise to the glory of grace.”
And God says, that’s the way I do it, that’s the way I bring about my elect. Miracles happen. And so she gets pregnant, they have a baby. And then he illustrates it again, not with Sarah and Abraham having Isaac, but Isaac and Rebecca having twins. Not this time by two different parents, Hagar and Sarah, but one set of parents, twins in the womb, hadn’t done anything good or evil, and God chooses Jacob, not Esau before they were born. I’ll read it, this is what the promise said:
And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ (Romans 9:10–13)
The Purpose of God’s Chosen People
What is God’s purpose in free unconditional election? Nobody deserves to be chosen by God. Everybody in this room is a rebel — at route and by nature a God-usurper. You want to take his place. You want to run your own life. Everybody deserves the penalty of treason because we’ve all committed treason, and that’s capital punishment forever — hell. God doesn’t owe us anything. If every one of us in this room dropped dead or were blown up by a terrorist’s bomb, God would have wronged nobody in this room. And some, I hope all, he has now chosen for his own in everlasting relationship. Why would he do that so freely? Ephesians 1:3–5:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace”
There’s the reason. You are chosen in order that praise might rise to the glory of grace. Now, what is grace? Just make sure you get it here, a lot of people water down this word grace. We might want to look at Ephesians two. I want to define grace by a strange, interrupted sentence. In Ephesians 2, it’s talking about how dead we are in our trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2:4–5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” And my Bible has a dash because Paul interrupts the flow of his thought to stick something in. He’s going to say it in verse eight. Beginning of verse 8 he says, “by grace you’ve been saved.” You don’t need to say it in verse 5, why mess up your grammar?
Oh, the importance of messed up grammar. I mean, leave it out and you see how wonderfully smooth and grammatical it is: He made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him. I left it out. And he sticks it in. And the question is, why here, Paul? Why here? Look at it again: “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him.”
Confidence in God’s Effectual Call
He put that in there to make sure we understood grace. Grace is the power of God to do the humanly impossible. Dead men live. And dead man like Lazarus who are in the grave do not make themselves live? What makes Lazarus live? Lazarus come forth. The sovereign word of Christ creates what it commands.
When God chooses us before the foundation of the world, he comes to us with a sovereign effectual call, “John, live!” And suddenly my dead unspiritual disinterred bored-with-church heart quivers. Oh my God, there might be reality here. I might be in big trouble, Jesus. Everything changes. That’s the way all of you got saved if you’re saved because he chose you so freely. It brings all praise to him, that’s why he loves it so much. It bestows on us a covenant relationship that’s different than if you believe God has kind of threw out salvation and waited to see who would get saved. It assures us of the success of evangelism.
Do you ever wonder what God said to Paul in Acts 18:9? He was very much afraid in the middle of the night. The Lord said to Paul one night in a vision in Acts 18:9–10, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
What is that? “Evangelize Corinth, I’ve got people in Corinth.” Now, Paul doesn’t know who they are, you don’t know who they are. What’s your job then? Speak the truth, sow the seed, and scatter indiscriminately. Say to everyone, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. You who have no money, come buy and eat. Whosoever wills, let him come and drink at the fountain of life (Isaiah 55:1). That’s the way we preach. God knows who are his, and they are drawn effectually. What an encouragement to find your evangelism successful. And it also gives great assurance to believers.
I suppose for most of us, Romans eight is our favorite chapter in the Bible. There’s a reason for that. “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:30–31)?
In other words, in that golden chain from predestination to calling, to justification, to glorification, nobody drops out. Those whom he called, he justified not those whom he called he waited to see if they would believe so that he could justify them. The call secures the belief. If you wonder why once upon a time in your life there was no faith, and today there is faith, the answer is the call of God. We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called, the power of God and the wisdom of God. You see what that means, that means when Billy Graham used to stand up and preach to 50,000 people and say, “Come, come.” Some would hear that as a foolishness, some would hear that as a stumbling block, and some would hear it as the wisdom and the power of God.
And who are they? They are the called. Well, wasn’t everybody called? Yes with a general call. But with the effectual Lazarus come forth, the elect are called, and they came. And here we meet the complexity of God again. You can ask me this afternoon. First Timothy 2:4: He “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” Second Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
“Grace is the power of God to do the humanly impossible.”
I will preach that. I love the sovereignty of God, and I believe in unconditional election and I believe what I just read there is true because just like with that other complexity, this one also is complex. There is a level of God’s willing where he says, I desire all people to be saved, but he doesn’t save all. There are factors in the world that he takes into account in making his electing choices, and they cause him to choose some. Not wishing that any should perish. I don’t delight in the death of the wicked. I don’t wish that any should perish. I will take delight in destroying you, and I do not effectually call everybody.
God is very complex. He is both, he is not either or. So when I preach the gospel, I don’t try to sniff out who the elect are, that’s not my business. I try to preach the gospel and persuade all men to come, come, come. Why would you die? And whoever comes is left. My dad used to quote Moody who said that on the gate of heaven, there was a sign on the outside and a sign on the inside. And the sign on the outside said, “Whosoever will may come,” which is absolutely true. And on the inside you turn around and look, it says, “Elect before the foundation of the world.” That’s true, that’s helpful, simple and helpful when it comes to practical living out of our lives. I’ll stop here closing within illustration of just how this truth about unconditional election helps me in a couple of areas.
Pray for the Lost
First, it helped me with my son. The son who lost a baby also walked away from Jesus some years ago, he’s back now. I praise God for the work that he’s done in his life. But in those four years, I shed more tears over that than all of my prior 50 years, period.
How do you pray for your loved one who is not walking with Jesus? How do you pray? Do you really pray, “God, now I know you don’t have absolute power, he’s got free will and you can’t make him believe, so make suggestions to him, or give them a little nudge, but don’t push him all the way over because then you wreck his free will”? Does anybody pray like that? No.
We pray, “God, you’re God, take him, save him, block him, hinder him, corner him, take out of the heart, out of his chest the heart of stone, put it in the heart of flesh. Write your Law on his heart, cause him to walk in your statutes. Don’t let him go, grab him. Make him your own.”
That’s the way this daddy prayed. So if you say to me, how can your doctrine of the sovereignty of God yield prayers? What else would it yield? Confidence that God all mighty can do as he pleases and has ordained that he answer prayers so that my prayers become the God-ordained means of the salvation. And my son, would that be mind-boggling? No, that makes sense. Don’t use your human intellect to cancel out biblical truths because in your mind another biblical truth cancels it out. Take the whole Bible and embrace it.
Spectacularly Good News for Sinners
One last application: I’m sitting in my office with a person, let’s say he slept with eighteen prostitutes. This is a semi-true story, I don’t want to give all the details. Just you picture somebody in your office convicted of sin and a lifetime of the most raunchy life you want to paint. And they say, “I don’t think there’s any way I could be elect given what I’ve done.”
Now, I’ll tell you at that moment the doctrine of unconditional election is pure gold. Because you take him by the collars, and you say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, you wait a minute, you just said there’s nothing, there’s no way you could be elect because of this, this, this, this, these hundred thousand sins. Who do you think you are telling God whom he can elect? He elects freely, he doesn’t consult with your background when he’s contemplating you before the foundation of the world in order to decide whether you somehow measure up to be elect. He is unconditional in his election, which means there is no objection to your election that you can possibly bring up that will hold any water.”
That’s really good news. I mean, for philosophers who like to toy around with philosophical ideas of free will, that’s bad news. But for sinners who have been living like the devil for 43 years and think they’ve sinned themselves out of the possibility of being elected, that is spectacular that God might have chosen me before the foundation of the world without any respect to my sin, opens up a door of hope to me and you tell me, all I have to do is find this Christ beautiful, embrace him as Savior, Lord, and treasure my life and he cancels it all out and I’m elect. I said, “absolutely, that’s all you have to do.”
Right now in this room, you could validate your election. So I find both in regard to prayer and in regard to evangelism that the doctrine of unconditional election is spectacularly useful and spectacularly good news.