Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg | September 25, 2011
8b They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
- Understanding God’s purpose in election (God’s sovereignty)
- Passes over some to demonstrate his justice
- Selects some to demonstrate his mercy
- Finding your purpose in God’s purpose (Man’s responsibility)
- Unbelievers called to repent and believe
- Believers called to proclaim the gospel to unbelievers
Last week we saw that the stone which is Christ is a source of comfort and honor for believers and a source of dishonor and stumbling for unbelievers.
We’re beginning this week’s passage with the end of verse 8 which we didn’t have time to go into last week because it brings up a rather controversial subject. When a few weeks ago I read the phrase “as they were destined to do” referring to those who stumbled over the cornerstone, I swallowed hard and said to myself, “Well, here we go, into the doctrine of predestination already!”
Predestination is the general term for God’s sovereign ordaining of everything that comes to pass, while election is the specific term for God choosing who would receive salvation in Christ before the foundation of the world. Predestination is the broader category of which election is the smaller subset. God’s predestination in Scripture is always balanced with human responsibility. God controls our final destiny, yet each of us is responsible for our actions.
The word Predestination is made up of two parts, pre – meaning before, and destination – meaning objective or purpose. So it’s a divine purpose or objective or end for each person that is determined or decided ahead of time.
I like to joke about the ticket agents at the airports. They often ask about our final destination. They say for example, “Is Myrtle Beach your final destination today? They’re not asking if we’re going to die there, they’re asking if it’s the objective we are trying to reach that day. But why do they call those places terminals? It sounds so final! And if they ask when we decided to go there, and we tell them three weeks ago when we bought the tickets, we can say from a human standpoint it was pre-destined (by us) that we would go to Myrtle Beach today because we chose that particular objective beforehand. However, because we are human, we can’t guarantee that we will ever arrive there. Divine predestination is different. It includes a guarantee that it will come to pass because God is in sovereign control of everything that happens and all the means by which it happens.
Before I attended seminary, I left mysteries such as this in the hands of God and those perhaps smarter or wiser than I. I remember one day in seminary what John Frame said about a similar controversial issue, “Wise and learned men have debated this issue for centuries and have not resolved them, but perhaps one of you will.” If he was speaking prophetically of one of us he must have been referring to someone else! I was impressed with the humility of such a brilliant man, but also his openness to the possibility of finding a definitive answer to such a difficult question. I’ll do my best to explain it from a Biblical perspective according the Reformed perspective in a way that we can understand. I won’t try to cover every base on this passage, but we’ll do a survey of the ball park, so to speak.
This passage tells us two primary things about election:
- God has a purpose in election (Predestination)
- We should find our own purpose in God’s purpose (Human responsibility)
Within the first section – Understanding God’s Purpose in Election – there are two subsections
- He passes over some to demonstrate his justice
- He selects some to demonstrate his mercy
So let’s look first within God’s purpose in election at
God’s passing over some to demonstrate his justice.
This is perhaps the most difficult point to understand, and that has raised the most questions and objections.
Verse 8b says, They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
The logical order of this phrase is according to the syntax is:
They were destined
They disobeyed the word
First, they were destined – this is in the passive voice indicating that it was something done to or for them, not something they did themselves and that it preceded the others. The implication is that God pre-destined them, that is, God decided in advance what would happen to them.
Second, they disobeyed the word – this is in the active voice, something they did themselves.
Third, they stumbled / fell – this is the consequence of their previous action, they stumbled because they disobeyed.
From this we conclude that those who stumble /fall over Christ, do so because God has destined them to do so, and because they disobey the word.
So there are two parts in their falling – God predestined their fall, and their disobedience resulted in their fall. There is a tension between God’s predestination of everything that happens and man’s responsibility for his own evil actions that result in his stumbling and falling.
But half a verse is not sufficient to prove this. Let’s look at several other passages that indicate that he passes over some while holding them responsible for their actions to demonstrate his righteous justice against sin.
Jude 1:4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God…
Rom 2.5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
In the next two verses from Rom 9, Paul says that God’s purpose is “to display his power” which here is a euphemism for displaying his righteous judgment against sin.
Rom 9.17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in the earth.
Rom 9:22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make his power known, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.
WCF 3.7 sums this up when it says, “According to the hidden purpose of his own will, by which he offers or withholds mercy at his pleasure, and for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, it pleased God not to call the rest of mankind24 and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin25 to the praise of his glorious justice.26
So God’s purpose in passing over some for election is to demonstrate his righteous judgment against sin.
But this raises a number of questions, some of which are anticipated by Paul in Romans 9.
The first is found in verse 19, “One of you will say to me, ‘Then why does God still blame us?’ For who resists his will?” The word “then” here refers to the previous question about Pharaoh. Since Pharaoh was hardened, and verse 18 says, “God hardens who wants to harden,” then why should we be held responsible? Aren’t we simply doing what God has ordained we would do?
Paul replies first with a warning against an attitude that often comes along with such a question by asking two questions of his own. He writes, “But who are you to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?” The words “talk back” mean “getting in one’s face.” This isn’t a polite question respectfully offered. This is like a teenager sarcastically getting in his parent’s face to challenge his or her authority.
ILLUST: Nothing incites a parent more than an attitude of disrespect coming from one’s teenage or young adult child. For a child – whether young or grown – to assume a position of equality with one’s parent in order to correct her, demonstrates ungratefulness and disrespect for the parent – ungratefulness for everything the parent went through to raise the child, and disrespect for the parent’s significant life experience and wisdom.
It’s not wrong to ask questions of God, but we can’t assume a position of correcting him. Remember what God said in Job 38:2-3? “Who is this who darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you will answer me.” He continues in 40:2, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Job assumes a more humble and respectful attitude in 4-5 saying, “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, But I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more.”
Paul replies second by quoting Isaiah 28:16; 64:8 and Jeremiah 18:1-6 to show that God, as creator, has absolute rights of ownership. Since he owns everything, he can do whatever he wishes with it. “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? He implies the absurdity of a lifeless piece of pottery “talking back” to its creator by asking, “Why did you make me like this?” Have you ever seen a lump of clay stand up and straighten out the potter? Paul is saying that a piece of clay standing up to its creator to ask such a question is absurd as our asking the same question of God, particularly with an in-your-face attitude as though he was our equal. As God’s creation, we are not in position to challenge God’s rights or his actions as though he was our equal.
I loved to play with “army men” when I was a kid. We would position them, make them fight each other, shoot them with BB guns, set them on fire, whatever we wanted to do. They never “talked back” asking us why we were doing this to them. It is absurd to think of those army men standing up to challenge me – only in the cartoons could that happen. Likewise, it is absurd to think of challenging God, our creator.
We were sick to do the things we did as kids, but God is just in passing over some for salvation because we are all sinners. In fact, he would be just in passing over all people. This is what R.C. Sproul calls the “argument from depravity.” Since we are all sinners, God would be just in passing over everyone.
Scripture says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “There is none righteous, no not one.” “No one seeks for God.” Jesus said, “he who is not with me is against me.” James wrote, “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world is an enemy of God.” We all deserve eternal punishment for our sin because we have committed high treason against the ruler of the universe in Adam. We may not believe it, but it’s true. We are born sinners in Adam and we prove it by sinning day in and day out. Our sin is so serious to God that only the death of his only son could satisfy his anger against us. God is not unjust to pass over every one of us because we are responsible for our actions.
Is a parent unjust when, after warning a child – several times – of the consequences of his disobedience, if the parent administers a discipline that is suitable to the offense?
Is a judge unjust when, after a person is rightfully convicted of a serious crime, he or she pronounces a suitable sentence and ensures that it is served?
Are governors or presidents unjust, if at the conclusion of their term of office, they do not commute the sentences of any or all the convicted criminals in their jurisdictions?
Was God unjust when, after Adam and Eve took and ate from the forbidden tree, he sent them from the garden never to return again?
Was God unjust when he passed over Esau who, like his brother Isaac was born in sin?
Would God be unjust if he passed over you and I in view of the sin in our lives?
Fortunately, God’s purpose in election is not only to pass over some, but also
To select some to demonstrate his mercy.
Verses 9-10 serve as a stark contrast to 8b, having spoken of those destined to fall because of their disobedience, it begins, “But you,” speaking to Christians…
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession… who called you out of darkness into marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Most of these terms have appeared in the previous passages – chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, people for his own possession… These are reiterated to serve as a sharp contrast to those who are destined for destruction because of their disobedience to the word. You are not like that… You are chosen, royal, holy, you belong to God. You have received God’s special favor, but through no merit of your own.
And we find two new comparisons that are typical in the NT – “darkness-to-light” and “not-to-now.” The implication is that because of God’s unmerited favor you have been changed as drastically as night changing to day. Similarly, you have been changed from like one who was previously an orphan to one who now has a great family, and from one who had never received mercy to one who has in fact received mercy.
God’s purpose in election is to demonstrate his mercy to those who deserve no mercy. Paul weighs in on this side as well in Romans 9 and Ephesians 1.
Rom 9:23 “what if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory… His purpose is to make his glory know to those who receive his mercy.
Eph 1:6 “to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the one he loves.” His purpose is to demonstrate his glorious grace to us which he has given us without cost in Christ.
God demonstrates his mercy to those who have done nothing – nor will do anything – to deserve it or earn it.
Verse 11, “Yet before the twins were born, or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand.” God chose Jacob before he was born, before he could do anything to deserve God’s favor to demonstrate God’s utter mercy.
And in Eph 1:4 “he chose us in him before the creation of the world… He chose us, like Jacob, as well before we were born so we could not attribute his favor to anything we had done.
Verse 16, “it does not depend on man’s desire or effort but on God’s mercy.”
Eph 2:8-9, “by grace are you saved through faith, not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.”
2Tim 1:9 “who has saved us… – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”
WCF 3.5 summarizes these passages – “Before the creation of the world, according to his eternal unchangeable plan, and the hidden purpose and good pleasure of his will, God has chosen in Christ, those of mankind who are predestined to life…and solely out of his own mercy…and completely to the praise of his…grace… This choice was completely independent of his foreknowledge of how his created beings would be or act. Neither their faith nor their good works nor perseverance had any part in his selection.”
God’s purpose in election is to demonstrate his mercy to the objects of his mercy. He extends his mercy to us before we are ever born so that we cannot boast about anything we have done to deserve it. Not because of what he forsees us doing at some point in the future.
We began by looking at God’s purpose in election, now let’s turn to
Finding our purpose in God’s purpose – more about human responsibility
There are two points under finding God’s purpose:
- Unbelievers are called to repent and believe
- Believers are called to proclaim the gospel to unbelievers
So let’s look at the first point in finding our purpose in God’s purpose
- Unbelievers called to repent and believe
In spite of the fact that God has and will pass over some for election, unbelievers are called to repent and believe. The Scripture says, “what if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared for destruction …to make known the riches of his mercy, who he prepared in advance for glory, even us, whom he also called… (Rom 9:22-24).
If you’re still sitting here – alive – there’s still time. “Now is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2) As Peter said on the day of Pentecost, “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you…” (Act 3:19-20 ESV).
Charles Spurgeon illustrates this point in a sermon on this subject: “When God’s effective calling comes to a man, at first he may not know that it is God calling. You remember the case of Samuel; the Lord called Samuel, and he got up and went to Eli (the priest), and he said, “Here am I, for you called me.” Eli said, “I did not call you, lie down again. And he went and laid down.” The second time the Lord called him, and said, “Samuel, Samuel,” and he got up again, and went to Eli, and said, “Here am I, for you called me,” and then it was that Eli, not Samuel, first of all understood that the Lord had called the child. So Eli told Samuel that it was the Lord calling him and told him how to answer properly. The third time, when Samuel knew it was the Lord, he said, “Speak; for your servant hears.”
When the work of grace begins in the heart, the man is not always clear that it is God’s work; he is impressed by a particular sermon and perhaps he is more occupied with the impression than with the agent of the impression; he says, “I don’t know how it is, but I have been called; the minister, has called me.” And perhaps he goes to the minister to ask what he wants with him. “Surely,” he says to himself, “the minister knew me, and spoke something personally to me, because he knew my case.”And he goes to the minister perhaps several times, and it is not till afterwards, perhaps, that he finds that the minister had nothing to do with the impression, but that the Lord had called him. [end Spurgeon]
God was working in my heart in high school. Classmates who were believers invited me to their morning prayer meetings in the school library. Several of them shared short testimonies with me and professed their faith in Christ in various ways. After becoming a Christian several years later, I could look back to see how God was calling me and I didn’t know it was him until later.
If you have been an unbeliever or are unsure today, God may be calling for you today to repent and believe in Christ. You could pray with me something like, “….” Also, I would be happy to meet with you and pray with you after the service today.
Finally, to find your purpose in God’s purpose.
Not only should unbelievers repent and believe, but also
Believers should proclaim the gospel unbelievers
Verse 9 says, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
In spite of the fact that God has and will pass over some for election, we don’t know who they are. Nor do we know who the elect are. God knows. Our responsibility is to proclaim the gospel to “whoever.” Scripture says, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
We know from WCF 3.6 that part of God’s predestining some to glory is that he uses means to accomplish his purposes.
WCF 3.6 As God has appointed the elect to glory, so has he, by the eternal and free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means by which this is accomplished. So that, those who are elected…are effectively called to faith in Christ by his Spirit…
God has foreordained the means and this passage tells us that he intends that we serve as one of those means. “…that you may declare the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Did you know that only one in seven people that you speak to about Christ will blow you off completely? Recent research indicates there are about seven levels of readiness or openness to hearing the gospel. And only the last one will stop you before you ever get started. That means on average, six out of seven will listen to what you have to say. So we needn’t be afraid that everyone will blow us off just for beginning a conversation about Christ.
When I did my internship in FL, we went door to door and ran across very few who wouldn’t speak to us at all. Most would at least answer our questions and participate in the conversation at some level. Six out of seven will talk with you. That’s better than selling insurance or vacuum cleaners.
Not only that, remember that on average a person hears the gospel eight times before actually placing his faith in Christ. So don’t be discouraged when someone doesn’t make a profession of faith after you’ve shared the gospel. You may be only the third or fourth time they’ve heard it. And remember, the results are up to the Lord. Paul wrote, I sewed, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” Simply be faithful to share the gospel with “whosoever”, and trust the outcome to God.
Click here for the series of twenty-three sermons on the entire book of 1 Peter.