"So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields." Matthew 9:38
You will never uncovered buried treasures by skimming the surface of a field. Digging must take place.
This requires work on the part of the seeker. Not everyone has the patience or the determination to put into the task. But to those who persevere in the hard work, they will reap the rewards of finding the riches. The same holds true of mans search of God though His word. Those who take a lazy approach to the scriptures, never digging for themselves and laboring over the text, will never experience the Lord in a deep, meaningful way. As Luke wrote, there is a treasure in the field to be found that is the Lord, but only dedicated seekers of truth will find Him.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13.
To truly find a treasure, one must put aside all opinions of where they think the treasure is, and submit to the map. Ultimately, it matters not where we think the treasure should be. It will only be found upon looking to the blueprint of the one who buried it.
In the same way, when we come to a text of scripture with preconceived notions of how we think God should operate, we do exactly what the Israelites did in the Exodus. We mold for ourselves an image suitable to our likings. We create a golden calf to worship instead of the God of the Bible. When we refuse to submit to the scriptures, we in essence are telling God that He is wrong and we know better.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” Isaiah 55:8.
Recently our church has embarked on a treasure hunt. Our field is the book of Ephesians. And immediately, the Apostle Paul dives into one of the deepest and most debated areas of theology, the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of a believer. Paul pulls no punches in telling believers who they are in Christ. The depths of the riches we have through the grace of God is immeasurable. However, in order to truly savor and understand the depths of these riches through grace, digging must take place. We cannot simply skim over the text and apply to it what we think or desire it to mean.
It was C.S. Lewis who once said, “A lion does not need to be defended. It must simply be let loose.” Let the animal roar and it can defend itself. In the same way, I believe that the Bible needs no help in defending itself. The Bible must be interpreted as a whole. In other words, we must let scripture interpret scripture. It is a dangerous thing to approach a portion of scripture and attempt to interpret it without considering other parts of the Bible. This is our game plan in approaching Ephesians. We will let the Lion of God’s word loose, and stand in awe as it roars.
This past Sunday, we continued our dig into the book of Ephesians and struck a doctrinal gold mine. So rich and weighty was the text. But because of the weightiness of what was said by Paul, some digging has to be done. In it, Paul begins to expound on the inner workings of the amazing grace of God.
“….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, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:4-6.
These verses contain a portion of the doctrines of grace. This is the doctrine of divine election. And this doctrine is one of the most scandalous and ignored teachings in all of scripture. I once heard of a pastor who was preaching through the book of Ephesians who decided it best to skip over this passage as to not risk offending his hearers. But the Gospel is offensive. At least to our fallen sinful flesh. And if we are true seekers with Christ as our goal, there should be no stone left unturned. Because sometimes, under the heaviest of stones lies the richest of treasures.
Consider Jesus teaching on the new birth in the book of John. Think of the phrase “born again.” Did you cause yourself to be born the first time? Absolutely not. Then why would we think we could cause a second birth? The truth of God being the one who chooses and humanity having no part in the regeneration process is screamed through the scriptures.
Deuteronomy 7:6 “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.”
John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
John 15:19 “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Acts 13:48 “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
Pertaining to the above verse in Acts 13, Pastor Steven Lawson said it best in question and answer form;
“Which comes first – believing or being appointed to eternal life? There is no getting around it, first there is the appointment to eternal life, and then there is the belief. There is a cause and effect relationship. The cause is the secret and unseen heavenly, eternal decree of God – the setting of an appointment; the effect is what is observed on the earth – the people responding in faith to the gospel. The cause of our salvation is the appointment by God; the effect is the exercise of faith by man.” -Steven Lawson.
Much of the evangelical world has deemed this doctrine too heavy. And in order to lighten the load, they’ve begun to chip away at it with man made tools of interpretation. In order to make God more like us, humanity has distorted the doctrines of grace and made the grace of God dependant on the actions of man. But when grace begins to be seen as a reward for something we do, we lose the definition of grace immediately.
Grace by definition is a gift that is unearned and undeserved. Many times when my kids cross the line or break our house rules, we will sit them down and show mercy. “You broke this rule, but because I love you, we are not going to punish you this time.” We let them off the hook without their deserved punishment. Not because of anything they did, but because of our love for them.
God owes us nothing. We are not deserving in any way of God’s grace let alone salvation. Paul wrote in Galatians 3 that all mankind was under the curse of the law if they broke even one of God’s commands. The standard for salvation is not merely to be a good person and try your best. God’s standard for mans salvation is perfection. And because of the fall of Adam, we have inherited his sin nature and all fall extremely short. We are the criminals in the story. We are the cowboys with the black hats. By nature we are enemies of God and deserving of His Holy wrath.
“…among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:3-5.
Our salvation was not activated when we “decided” to follow Jesus. And Jesus never needed us to “Accept” Him, because it is we who desperately need His acceptance. Rather Paul writers in Ephesians that it was God that chose us before the foundation of the world. To understand this supernatural phenomenon takes setting aside our fleshly preconceived notions.
I’ve heard many Christians ascribe to the fact that God chooses us, but they would say that God’s choice is based on Him looking down the tunnel of time to see who would choose Him, and upon seeing their right action, He in turn chooses them. Basically saying that the grace of God is activated first by a human decision.
But there are many problems with this interpretation of God’s choice. For starters, it completely disregards the meaning of grace as being something that cannot be earned and is not deserved. In saying we have “accepted or decided” to follow Jesus, we turn grace into something that is earned and deserved. Secondly it strips God of His sovereignty and makes us the sovereign agent in salvation. And thirdly, to say that Gods choice is determined by Him looking down the tunnel of time before the foundation of the world to see what choice the sinner would make is in complete denial of the omniscience of God as being all-knowing. Our Lord has never learned any new information, because He determined every aspect of existence before the foundation of the world.
Common text many will use to fight against this doctrine of Gods sovereign choice in election are verses like John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotton Son, that whosoever shall believe in Him should not Perish, but have everlasting life.”
The key word in this text is the word “World.” The question is, “What did Christ mean by “the world?” In any attempt to deny the sovereignty of God, many will say the world means every person in the world. But the problem with that is the book of John as a whole. In order to rightly interpret scripture, the reader cannot rip a scripture out and interpret it without filtering it through the book as a whole.
For example, in John 17:9, Jesus says, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”
Here Jesus defined what He meant by “the world.” Not every person, but those the Father had given Him out of the world. In essence, the world of believers. Also in John 3:16, the word “whosoever.” That word literally means “whoever those believers are. Jew, Gentile, black, white, male, female. The whosoever is whomever the Father had chosen before the foundation of the world.
Another often misinterpreted verse used to dismiss the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace is 2 Peter 3:2. “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.”
God takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. But in this verse of 2 Peter, Peter is writing to the elect of God, the church. “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:” So in the context of the letter as a whole, Peter is talking about Gods patience towards His chosen people. We cannot apply the letter of 2nd Peter to the whole of humanity when the letter was specifically written to a select group of people.
In Ephesians 1, Paul writes that this predestination of God was done in love. Many wrongly view these doctrines of sovereign grace as evil and unloving. They will say, “It is not fair that God chooses some and not others.” But in saying this, they forget their standing before God. Remember, we are the ones on trial. We are the criminals. We have no bargaining chips before our Holy God. We are not crippled by sin and able to do some right things. The scripture says we are dead in sin and deserving of nothing but the wrath of God.
But Paul writes “In Love” He predestined us. The question is not “Why does God choose some and not others?” The question we should ask is, “Why did He choose any?” And more than that, we should take it extremely personally and ask, “Why did He choose me?” To be sure, His choice was based on nothing good He saw in us. Because there was nothing good in us (Romans 3). It was based strictly on His choice of whom He chose to set His affections upon.
“For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Romans 9:15.
This is the beautiful mystery of divine election! This is the most amazing truth in all of scripture. That God would send His only Son to die in the place of those that were once His enemies. How wrong it is to say that God is unfair in any way. What would be fair is that we receive our justice and spend eternity separated from God. How does a person know that they are saved? Paul gives us the answer.
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” 2 Corinthians 13:5.
Are you growing in Holiness? Are you more and more repulsed by the sins of your flesh and more drawn to striving towards the holiness of God? Do you desire to know God in a deeper relationship? Do you have a love for the brother and sisters in Christ? These are all biblical indications that God has is currently doing a work in your heart. Again, Romans 3 tells us the nature of a person who is dead in sin. The have no desire to seek or understand God. And they have no fear of God in their life. These are the reprobate. These are the enemies of God.
God did not predestine anyone to Hell. All of humanity because of our inherited sin nature already rightly deserved separation from God. So God’s sovereign election is not unloving. R.C. Sproul put it best when he said, “God will have mercy on whom He will, and He gives justice to the rest.”
In love, God predestined us. It was the most loving thing God could have done. To save cosmic criminals like us who deserved death. Could God have saved every person on the planet? Absolutely He could have. But consider this question. If every person automatically went to Heaven and there were no such place as Hell, would you know what you had been saved from? Would you view God as savior? God created and prepared vessels destined for wrath so that he could put on display His great mercy and grace and in it receive Glory for Himself.
“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” Romans 9:22-23.
Consider your own salvation, and who you were before Christ. And marvel in the grace and mercy he lavished upon you, for no reason or merit that you deserved. Simply because He set His affections upon you before the foundation of the world, that you would become His adopted child. And let the praise and gratitude fill your heart.
The old hymn does not go, “Jesus paid it all; SOME to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain; WE washed it white as snow.” No. Jesus paid it all. ALL to Him we owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, and HE alone washed it white as snow. All glory be to God.