Sunday, February 01, 2009

Cain, Sin, & the Will of God: A Plea

When I was about nine years old, a neighbor invited my family to church. My life has never been the same since then. Although I never knew it then, God was working things out to draw me to Him, to redeem me from my sins.
Through that church I was taught to “let go and let God.” The best way to be fully sanctified was full submission to God’s will. Does He call you to Africa, then submit. Does He move you to marriage, then marry. Thus, I strove through my teen-age years to fully comprehend God’s will for my life and submit to that will. Part of that was avoiding sin, and the other part was finding my place in this world, to submit to God's will.
It was not until I was a Calvinist did I understand the meaning of submit. Reading such comforting passages as Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” I finally realized that all meant all. It used to mean mostly or only the “good stuff”. It was not until I submitted to the truth of God’s sovereignty that the passage became alive. It grabbed me, forcing me to acknowledge the truth of God’s providence and care over me. As an infant depends upon the Father for protection, food and care, so I was totally dependent upon God—whether I admitted it or not.

A flood of passages opened up to me:

"But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, "Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife." But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, "Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? "Did he not say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she, even she herself said, 'He is my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this."
And God said to him in a dream, "Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. “ (Gen. 20:3ff.)
"But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Gen. 50:20)

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom… Then the heads of the fathers' houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem. (Ruth 1:1, 5)
The preparations of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.
A man's heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.
The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD.
(Proverbs 16:1, 4, 9, 33)
There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand
(Proverbs 19:21
The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. (Prov. 21:1)
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know -- "Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts. 2:22ff.)
Thus, we see something that offends human nature. God is clearly shown to be in charge. God’s power moves peoples and events according to His inscrutable plans (Eph. 1:3ff.). God’s sovereignty is an awesome doctrine indeed!
Yet, if this were all, then fatalism would be a Biblical doctrine: the ends happen regardless of the means. This is what Islam believes. However, this is not what the Bible teaches. It teaches that the means do affect the ends; that what one does impacts those around him. That responsibility is placed in man’s hands although sustained by God’s plans. This is the doctrine of secondary causes. God’s plan validates man’s responsibilities. Again, once God’s absolute sovereignty over His creation is accepted by faith, a plethora of verses will open up:
The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But deliverance is of the LORD. (Prov. 21:31)
Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain. (Psalms 127:1ff)
Then Micaiah said, "Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by, on His right hand and on His left. And the LORD said, 'Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?' So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, and said, 'I will persuade him.' The LORD said to him, 'In what way?' So he said, 'I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' And the LORD said, 'You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.' Therefore look! The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the LORD has declared disaster against you." (1 Kings 20:19ff).
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.(Phil. 2:12ff.)
From the Old Testament into the new, the Bible consistently declares that we are responsible, that we are given means to accomplish ends—but only insofar as it is part of God’s plan. These truths are humbling. I ask: why? how? But the human mind cannot fathom it. I just know that I must not be a petulant child, deriding my Father, claiming that I do not need Him.
Such a doctrine can change the world. It did during Augustine’s time. It toppled Rome during the Reformation. And it brought about the greatest revivals in America.
I could quote a host of Protestant fathers on this topic, but I think one of our political fathers said it best:
"Duty is ours; results are God's" John Quincy Adams

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