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Outmaneuvered by God

In Sunday’s message, we talked about Israel’s demand for a king in 1 Samuel 8:5. In spite of their sinful motivation, God still granted their request. He knew they needed a king—just not for the reasons they thought they did.

We saw how the book of Judges prepared us for this, by helping us recognize that a good king would bring some much-needed stability and leadership to the nation (Judges 21:25).

But if we go even further back then this, all the way to Deuteronomy 17, we’ll discover that God had long foreseen that Israel would ask for a king, and He decreed back then—before they had ever crossed the Jordan—that the king was to have a crucial role in leading the nation in faithfulness to God’s covenant.

Deuteronomy 17:14-15 says, “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you” (Deuteronomy 17:14–15).  

And then after warning them about the kinds of things the king should not do, the Lord says this in verse 18: “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18–20). 

God knew that Israel would eventually want a king, and so He declared that this king was to be a man of His word, a man who knew and kept the covenant—and thus, a man who would lead the nation to do the same. His rejection of Saul and choice of David (1 Samuel 13:14) shows His determination to give Israel this kind of king.

There’s a wonderful irony at work here—Israel’s desire for a king, which was in many ways the capstone of their rebellion against God (1 Samuel 8:7-8), was at the same time the very thing that would secure their obedience to God.

By trying to push God away, they found themselves closer to Him than ever before.

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The Covenant With Adam

On Sunday, I mentioned that God’s covenant with Noah (Gen. 8:20-9:17) is the first covenant explicitly described as a covenant in Scripture, but that this does not necessarily mean it’s the first covenant that ever took place. In fact, there’s some good evidence of a covenant between God and Adam.

What is that evidence? It starts with the language of Adam and Eve being made in God’s image, after His likeness (Gen. 1:26). As we explored in the message on Creation, this language carries the idea of Adam and Eve being God’s representative here on earth. Combined with God’s commands to Adam, this assumes some sort of formal relationship.

And in fact, Hosea 6:7 points to this when it says, “But like Adam they [the people of Israel] transgressed the covenant.” This verse strongly suggests that Adam was in a formal covenant relationship with God.

Probably the biggest evidence for a covenant with Adam is the very language used by God in relation to Noah, when He says, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you” (Gen. 9:9). Every single time that this Hebrew phrase for “establish a covenant” is used in the Old Testament, it speaks of making good on or upholding a previously existing covenant, as opposed to making a brand-new covenant.1See Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum, “Kingdom through Covenant.” p. 155.

All of this points to the fact that God had made a covenant with Adam, and through him, the creation over which Adam was to rule as God’s representative. Adam broke that covenant, and so, with Noah, God comes to (re)establish that covenant: to make good on His pre-existing covenant promises.

Even the covenant with Adam, however, may not be the first covenant in the history of redemption. In the second week of this series, when we talked about everything God was doing before the beginning, we saw evidence of a covenant between the Father and the Son. It’s there in those words from Titus 1:2, which speak of God promising eternal life “before the ages began.” It’s on this basis that some theologians speak of the “covenant of redemption” made between the members of the Trinity before the world was made. (See, for example, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-covenant-redemption/).

What an incredible realization—that God has been building the story of redemption on the framework of His covenants from before the beginning of time itself! And as we’re going to keep learning in this series, these covenants will play an increasingly key role as the storyline progresses.

Stay tuned!

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What Eve Should Have Said

In this week’s sermon, we explored Genesis 3 and the tragic story of the fall. We considered the conversation between Eve and the serpent and the way the serpent led up to his Big Lie in Gen. 3:4: “You will not surely die.”

Now right at that point, right after hearing the serpent flatly contradict the word of God, what should Eve have said, had she been thinking clearly?

She should have said, “Why are you talking to me about this? My husband is the one who heard the command from God. Let me go find him.”

But Eve didn’t do that. Instead, she allowed the serpent to assume leadership over her.

Eve also should have said, “Why should I believe you instead of God? Who are you? You’re an animal. I’m supposed to have dominion over you. Why should I listen to your version of the story instead of God’s? Why would I ever doubt that God has given me the truth?”

But Eve didn’t say that. Eve laid down her charge to have dominion over the animals. And she decided to listen to a source of truth other than God. And then she decided that she could weigh and evaluate the claims of God herself. She decided to consider the possibility that God was either lying or didn’t know as much as this serpent. And she decided to trust herself, instead of God, as a reliable judge of these matters.

Eve should have said, “I trust God. I trust He loves me. I trust that He would not withhold anything good from me or command me to do anything not good for me.”

But she didn’t do that. She doubted God’s wisdom and love and care for her.

Eve should have said, “There is no way I can be more like God than I already am through my own attainments. God is the Creator. I’m something He created. It’s ridiculous to think that I could become like Him through things that I would do. And why would I want to? I’m content for Him to be God, and for me to be me.”

But she didn’t say that. She bought into the idea that she and God were equal players, and that she could work up to His level on her own. And that this was somehow a good idea to pursue. She wasn’t content to trust God. She wanted to be God.

Eve should have said, “God said not to do this. I may not understand everything perfectly, but I don’t want to disobey him. I don’t want to hurt my relationship with Him by doing what he doesn’t want me to do. And besides, that tree isn’t mine. It’s his. I don’t get to take something that doesn’t belong to me.”

But she didn’t. She gave no thought to God or how this would impact her relationship with Him. She disobeyed and she stole.

When you lay it out like that, when you really break down the levels of the decision that Eve was making here, it seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? It’s insane that she would survey all of this and say, “Nope, I’m going to do my thing. I’m going to trust this serpent instead of my Creator.”

But here’s the rub: she didn’t survey all of this and come to a logical conclusion. Sin doesn’t work that way. Nobody sins because of a logical assessment of the facts. Like we saw on Sunday, the answer to the question “what was she thinking?” is, “she wasn’t.” Verse 6 tells us that Eve was driven to eat the fruit because of lust. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6).

And so it was Eve’s desire for the fruit which made the serpent’s ridiculous lie seem believable—just like the sluggard of Proverbs 22:13, whose sinful desire to avoid work makes the fantasy of a lion in the street seem plausible. This is what Romans 1:18 calls “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.” It is the illogical, truth-twisting, soul-destroying sin we are all captive to—apart from the saving work of God in our hearts.

May this knowledge of the subtlety of sin cause us to heed the powerful warning of Hebrews 3:12-13: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

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Creation & Science

You may have noticed that in Sunday’s message on creation, I didn’t use the word “evolution” once.

But I also hope you noticed that the biblical teaching on creation is 100% incompatible with the idea that life on planet earth emerged through a slow, gradual process of evolution.

Some people want to soften this point, and try to make the Bible seem less out of step with “science” by arguing that Genesis 1 & 2 are not to be interpreted literally. That’s a discussion worth having, but as I see it, there are two main reasons why the Bible’s teaching on creation is incompatible with the theory of evolution regardless of how we understand Genesis 1 & 2:

1) Adam and Eve. Scripture repeatedly portrays Adam and Eve as real, historical people who were the real ancestors of all of humanity (Acts 17:26). We needed to be saved by a literal Jesus because we are all fallen in a literal Adam (Rom 5:12-21, 1 Cor 15:21-22).

2) Death before sin. Scripture is likewise clear that the sin of Adam and Eve brought death into the world (Rom 5:12). The “futility” we witness in the world around is is a result of God’s curse on Adam and Eve’s sin (Rom 8:18-21). Darwinian evolution, on the other hand, assumes that death itself is the creative force that brought humans into existence in the first place.

That’s how evolution works: everyone is in a fight for survival, and those who develop positive mutations do a better job at survival, and so pass those positive traits on to their children. The entire process is driven by the reality of death.

Put shortly, Darwin teaches that man came into the world because of death, the Bible teaches that death came into the world because of man, and those two views are impossible to reconcile.

Well, then, but what about “the science”? My response is, what about it? We believe that Jesus died and then walked out of his own grave on the third day. If you want a faith that will pass the approval of the scientific establishment, Christianity is simply not going to work for you.

And yet, the issues are more complex—and perhaps more reassuring—than this simple answer can provide. For example, work in recent years by the Intelligent Design community (see the Discovery Institute) amply demonstrates that the science is far from settled. “Scientific consensus” is a public relations term that means less and less the further you probe.

The bigger issue, however, is that science itself is not a neutral exercise, and an honest investigation into the philosophy of science will show this. Scientific inquiry is based upon philosophical presuppositions about the universe which only stem from, and make sense within, a biblical worldview. This 6-minute audio clip from Greg Bahnsen explains this point well.

This is the reason that most of the founding fathers of modern science were Christians, at least in a broad sense, and operated from the assumption that the Scriptures are true. As this video describes, their assumptions about the discoverability of the universe were grounded in beliefs about the nature of God as revealed in Scripture.

Therefore, the scientific establishment as we see it today is something of a hijack operation. Christians got this plane off the ground, and now it’s been taken over by a group of people who are using the PA system to loudly deny the existence of flight. It’s that ridiculous, when you look at it properly.

The point of all of this? We should not be ashamed to praise our Creator, in a full-throated-way, the way Psalm 104 tells us to. There’s no need to keep looking back over our shoulders to see if all the people in lab coats are nodding in approval or not.

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Further Thoughts on Being Chosen by God

In this week’s message we discussed election, God’s choice of whom He would save, made before the foundation of the world. We saw this in passages like Ephesians 1:4-5: “…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 to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…”

Many people hear a passage like this and think, “that can’t be right. God doesn’t choose some people and not others. God wants everybody to be saved, and it’s up to us to choose God. So if God is writing names down in His book, choosing people from the foundations of the world, that must be because He looked forward in time and saw those who would choose Him. And so God wrote down the names of everyone who would choose Him.”

But that’s actually not what the Bible tells us. It tells us repeatedly that we choose God because He chose us, not the other way around.

One of the clearest places we see this is in the book of Acts, in chapter 13. The apostle Paul is preaching in the city of Antioch, and had shared the gospel with a group of people. And Acts 13:48 says, “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.”

Who are the ones who believe? Those who were appointed to eternal life. They weren’t appointed to eternal life because they believed; they believed because God appointed them to eternal life.

That’s what the Bible teaches. But we should acknowledge that even in the face of Scripture like this, many people are still uncomfortable with these things. Many people are uncomfortable with words like “election” and “predestination,” even though both of these words are used right in the Bible! Many people are freaked out when they are taught that God is this sovereign.

I used to be one of those people. I used to be uncomfortable with the idea of a God so big and so sovereign that it was His choice, not my choice, that determined the way things were going to be. And I used to go on the internet and argue with people about this.

A part of the reason some of us struggle with this, and I think I struggled with this, is that we’re very used to the idea of democracy. When we think about the word “election,” we think about something we do to choose a leader. We give our leaders power. If we don’t like them, we get a chance to choose a new one.

In our modern way of thinking, we are each self-determining. We get to choose what we do and when. There is nobody bigger than us who has power over our lives to decide our destinies. We are the captains of our own fate, the masters of our own soul.

But in times past, people were far more used to the idea of a king. An absolute monarch, with absolute sovereignty. You didn’t elect Him. He had imperial power, and you bowed before His will.

God is a king like that. He has absolute, unconditional sovereignty. 

In Daniel chapter 4, King Nebuchadnezzar–a man quite used to having imperial power–said this about the God of Heaven:

“His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and 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).

He does according to His will—in other words, whatever He wants—among the inhabitants of the earth, and nobody can second-guess Him.

This is the same thing the Apostle Paul said in Romans 9 when He was defending the absolute sovereignty of God. Listen to this passage:

“So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:18–21).

Now please hear me: there are legitimate questions about how this teaching meshes with everything the Bible says about the offer of salvation and God’s genuine desire for all to be saved. We see some of that tension resolved in passages like the one we just saw from Acts, where the Apostle Paul preaches the gospel freely to all, and trusts that the ones God had chosen will respond.  I’ve been further helped with some of these legitimate questions by John Piper’s excellent essay “Are There Two Wills in God?”, which I would commend to you.

But I think it’s important to start with the Bible’s basic teaching that God is God, and we are not, and we must be okay with that. We have to come to peace with God being the king who has absolute sovereign sway over us.

Because the place we should be at is one of praising and thanking God for His sovereignty. We should realize that if He had not chosen and called us, we would not have come. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God made us alive together with Christ, like Ephesians 2:4 says. We’ve been resurrected, called forth from the grave just like Lazarus.

And that’s why Paul explodes with worship when He writes, “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” (Ephesians 1:3–4).

God choosing us is a breathtaking blessing that we should praise God for. The doctrine of election should be fuel for more than our questions or our arguments-it should ignite our worship.