There are many explanations for the good, the bad and the ugly threading their way through life. None comes close to the doctrine of Predestination, and its twin –Providence- interwoven throughout the Scriptures. They are rooted in the assumption that God is sovereign over the universe. God reminds us of this through his prophet Isaiah:
9 Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’
If uttered by a human being, these claims would be arrogant and undemocratic. Only a narcissist or delusional person would dare to say, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please!” But God is not human or delusional. If He is truly the Creator of the universe, He is simply stating the facts.
He is unique. He is the only God. He knows everything. His purposes will stand. Other parts of the Bible tell us that God’s character is always a perfect balance of justice, wisdom, love and mercy (Ps 37:28; Ex 22:22; Rom 11:33; Ps 86:5).
My prayer is that you will read today’s text with fresh eyes and an open heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the good work He is doing in your life and plant a seed of confidence in your heart. This is a difficult subject, so be sure to hover over Biblical references to check the texts for yourself. We will read from verse 18 to set the context, but will focus on verse 28-31.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?…
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
While creation ‘groans’
In his letter to persecuted Christians in Rome, Paul exposes the good, the bad and the ugly of life in its gory details. Humanity has rejected God’s rule and chosen to be their own judge of good and evil. Sin and rebellion are let loose with devastating consequences on the whole world (Romans 1-3). Creation is groaning, subject to decomposition and death, waiting to be liberated when Jesus returns as King (Rom 8:18-23).
Paul is describing our reality. Every day, we have painful reminders that life is fragile and transient—a pilgrimage between one state of nakedness to another. Yet, it is equally true that God is sovereign over all. Paul affirms the cruel suffering of his readers, but then sets their suffering against the backdrop of eternity. Instead of addressing them as victims, he treats them as victors (Romans 8:31; 37). They are called conquerors because God has chosen them as his special people. It is God who is ultimately behind everything that happens to them. Even while Creation groans, Paul addresses his readers as those “called to belong to Jesus Christ,” “loved by God and called to be saints” (Rom 1:6-7).
Tethered in turbulent times.
Being called and chosen is a big deal to Paul, and it should be to us if we are Christians. It is a truth that tethers us in turbulent times. It gives us a sense of belonging — a real home. It is a great comfort for believers who feel marginalised or homeless in this world. It is a source of humble confidence.
Predestined from eternity…Called…
Held by the providence of God…For all eternity!
If true, these statements have staggering implications for life. In Romans 8:18-31, Paul gives us eyes to see the invisible hand of God lovingly shaping his children and history on our behalf.
The late Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who endured prison and Ravensbruck concentration camp after harbouring hundreds of Jews in her home during the holocaust, wrote this poem about her life, known as The Tapestry.
“My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.”
Corrie ten Boom wrote The Tapestry because she believed that her destiny was safely rooted in eternity, with the all-sovereign God. Despite Naziism and the horrors she personally experienced, even the death of her family, her view of God did not change. She experienced her God, not as an indifferent Creator, but as the master weaver of his universe, with her life woven into his great purposes. It gave her comfort and confidence to know that no evil scheme could reverse this simple truth—“He knows, He loves, He cares.” Corrie’s life before, during and after Ravensbruck was deeply grounded in the truth of divine predestination and providence, as expressed in The Tapstry. After the war, this conviction enabled her to forgive her enemies and further fuelled her desire to share Christ’s gospel across the world, until she died on her 91st birthday. Can a particular view of God really affect someone so deeply?
I am persuaded that the entire sweep of the Bible affirms the sovereignty of God as the master architect and playwright of history. Neither fate, nor accident, nor karma determine our destiny. God is never taken by surprise. There is nothing random in the past, present or future. God even uses evil schemes and his enemies as agents to achieve his sovereign plans (Isaiah 37:26-32; Isaiah 10:5). If you truly believe this, it will have a profound practical impact on your life.
Your view of God determines how you see your role in the world, how you pray and how you treat people around you. It determines what you put your hope and confidence in. It determines your life’s priorities and trajectory.
Predestination is a doctrine that rests on God’s sovereignty. It points to origins: Before the beginning of time, God, in his infinite wisdom, has chosen people to know, love and care for as his own.
On the flip side of the same coin is providence, which points to the way God keeps, guides and preserves his people: The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives a helpful definition of divine providence,
“God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”
For now, we are living on the underside of the tapestry. Our vision is obscured and distorted as we lack perspective to see how all the threads will be woven together. Only when the loom is silent and God unrolls the canvas, will we finally see how each thread played its part in the beautiful tapestry of God’s story. “For now I see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12).
Only the arrogant or foolish claim to see through a mirror clearly now.
How do mortal, finite human beings feature in God’s sovereign plans? Why does God not always prevent evil if He is all powerful? What about our free choice? Can we be held accountable if God is sovereign?
These are big questions I cannot fully answer, but I will touch on them in the second part of this devotional. Please hang in to the end! But as a starting point, let us list some things we can know about being chosen by God from His Word:
- God has chosen, foreknown and called a people for Himself before the beginning of time, because of his sovereign purpose, good pleasure and will (2 Thess 2:13; Eph 1:4-5). They are called his “treasured possession”, “holy to the Lord”. The basis of this calling is not on merit, but simply because God set his love on them and has entered an everlasting covenant of love with them (Deut 7:6-8).
- We did not choose God. He chose us because of his undeserved favour and love for us (John 15:16; Rom 11:5). The foreknowledge (Rom 8:29) of God is pregnant with meaning. It goes beyond mere cognition. Foreknowledge is synonymous with the Hebraic expression “jada”, which implies an intimate covenantal love relationship. To foreknow in verse 29 literally means to set his love upon and delight in us. Let the intimacy of this knowing love sink in for a moment. It is the same word used for the intimate love between husband and wife (Hosea 13:5). God addresses his people, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you (Jer 1:5).” “You only have I known of all the families of the earth (Amos 3:2).” Jesus says He knows his sheep and his sheep know him (John 10:14). We are only enabled to love him, because He first set his love on us (1 John 4:19).
- All the days of God’s children were written in his book before even one of them came into existence (Psalm 139:16). God ‘engraves’ his children on the palms of his hands (Isa 49:16). He is not surprised on the day we are born or die!
- We can only understand the truth of the gospel when God shines his light in our hearts (2 Cor 4:6), just as He did when He said, “Let there be light!” We are spiritually dead and helpless until God makes us alive with Christ (Eph 2:1-5). No one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them (John 6:44).
- God grants us repentance, leading to knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:25-26).
- God the Father predestined us to be adopted as sons, holy and blameless like Jesus, our older brother and Saviour (Eph 1:3-5). This is his plan for our lives. God’s purpose in choosing us and his providence in working everything for “good” in our lives, have identical aims: (1) To become more like Jesus in character (Romans 8:29) and (2) to proclaim His greatness in a dark world (1 Peter 2:9).
Walking humbly with our God.
The Westminster Catechism asks the question: What is the chief end of man?
The answer– To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
This is the script God has authored for us from eternity. If I am a Christian, this means that I am not the author of my own story. I am not the Master of my own fate or the Captain of my soul. The poem Invictus, by William Henley, is the direct antithesis of Corrie ten Boom’s The Tapestry. Being a Christian means I have nothing to prove to anyone. This is humbling but also liberating. It gives us the freedom of self forgetfulness. Christianity teaches that we do not make up our own story, but are characters in God’s epic story.
Characters in God’s epic story
A story is a powerful thing. I love listening to stories of how people were saved. They always tell of how God drew them to himself. How they were lost and God stepped in through a string of events to bring them to himself. How they were blind to the gospel and then the mist dissolved. How their hostility turned to receptivity. How they found purpose and direction in their life, not just for now but for eternity.
Solomon said that God has set a longing for eternity in our hearts (Eccl 3:11). Perhaps it is to remind us that His work involves us in an eternal, spiritual purpose beyond ourselves. It is humbling to know we are minor actors on God’s eternal stage.
A scandal of the gospel is that God expressly chooses the foolish, weak and despised people of this world to shame the powerful and self reliant (1 Cor 1:26-29). Those who do not believe they need Jesus do not want to come to Him. They do not think they need to repent and believe. There is only one way to come to God the Father and to walk as a Christian– in humility and trust. We need to abandon our own glory and seek His.
Our security and confidence.
In Romans 8: 28-31, God makes a special promise to those who belong to him. He assures us that his providence will rule over us all the days of our lives. This is the only security and confidence in a turbulent world.
The promise is not that we will be protected from evil or suffering.
God does not promise to always intervene or answer our prayers in the way we think He should.
The promise does not apply to everyone. Sadly, in the normal course of events, things do not always turn out for the best.
The promise is for those that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose. For these people, God guarantees that He will have the final say over the effect of all things in their lives. The God who chooses his people will also preserve his people (John 10:28). He will produce good good harvests even from hail storms. The great Potter places treasure in cracked jars of clay like you and I (2 Cor 4:7; 8; 9-10. He calls us to trust his wisdom and goodness in this. Beyond this we have no claims on God. This is our security and confidence in the turbulent world we live in.
John Piper asks,
“The question is, which world would you rather live in? One where humans or Satan or chance govern what happens to you? Or one where an infinitely good, infinitely wise, infinitely powerful God works everything together for the good of those who trust him and for his glory?”
Who of us would like the job of holding the world together and directing its course?
No matter what life events you may be facing, if you belong to Christ, Paul’s two rhetorical questions are addressed to you,
“For if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:31-32). This is the recipe for confident Christian living in a very insecure country, in a world that is groaning.
Join us in the next devotion to answer 3 important questions about predestination:
- If God’s purposes are supreme, why pray and why evangelise? God will do it anyway.
- If God’s purposes are supreme, how can we be morally responsible beings?
- Is God unfair in choosing some and not others?
Make Colossians 1:9-11, Genesis 50:20 and Romans 8:28-31 your own prayer:
Lord, strengthen me to walk in a manner worthy of your name. Empower my efforts according to your glorious might. Sustain me with endurance, patience and joy even when my life is taking an unwanted detour. I do not always understand your purposes when bad things happen, but you are the King of the universe. You are wise and good and I trust that you are always working good from evil. Thank you that you are the Potter and I am the clay. Make my heart soft and supple so that through every circumstance, you may lovingly cast my character into the mould of your Son Jesus, my Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Meditate on God’s sovereignty as you watch this profound performance by Chris Tomlin.