Did God choose to not save certain people?

The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over all things, including salvation. God has mercy on whom He will have mercy. (Romans 9:16, 18) He loved Jacob and hated Esau so that the purposes of His divine election would be accomplished without the work of men but by His own will. (Romans 9:11-13) God is the potter who makes some vessels to honor and some to dishonor. (Romans 9:22) Passages like Romans 9 seem to indicate that God chooses who will be saved.

Jesus said that the way which leads to destruction is wide. The way that leads to life is narrow and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14) This raises a troubling question. If people are saved by God’s choosing, then why are so few saved?

Passages like Romans 9 are only one side of the story. The Bible also teaches that man is fully responsible for his reception of the gospel. Esau made the choice to sell his birthright. He was the one who despised the promises of God. God in no way caused Esau to sin. God does not sin, does not cause men to sin and does not tempt men to sin. (James 1:13) God is the one who draws men to Himself, but none can say God is responsible for their unbelief. God’s sovereign working in salvation is such that it does not negate the responsibility of the individual to respond to the gracious working of God and to receive the legitimate offer of eternal life.

The Bible does not tell us how God does His choosing. Scripture does tell us some things His choosing is not based upon. God does not choose based upon some favoritism which selects people based upon personal qualities that may be advantageous to Him. God is not a respecter of persons. (Colossians 3:25) Nor can it be said that God chose based upon a knowledge of who would believe Him. That is just another form of salvation by works in which the saved merit salvation because God knew they were the only ones who would believe.

None can imagine that God is cruel or capricious in salvation. The Bible clearly says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Instead, God’s delight is in the repentance of the wicked so they can have life. (Ezekiel 33:11) God is not willing that any should perish. He desires the repentance of all. (2 Peter 3:9) God’s choosing is not evil in any way, but is the outworking of His compassion and grace.

These truths of Scripture are hard to understand. We will not have a full answer to this question until we reach heaven. Right now we cannot fathom the wisdom, grace and glory of God. We do not understand how God chooses or how His sovereignty works in man’s salvation. We know God is sovereign and man is responsible. God’s sovereignty is not limited by man’s responsibility, nor is man’s responsibility limited by God’s sovereignty. Both are true though we may not be able to explain how they can be true at the same time. Just like we cannot explain how the Father, Son and Spirit are each fully God and yet God is One God. Difficulty in understanding a truth should not cause us to refuse to believe it.

The proper response to this problem is to worship the God who is so wise His plan of salvation baffles the greatest of minds. The right response is to praise the God who is so gracious His salvation can be received by the simplest of children. Those who are saved must rejoice in their salvation. They ought to preach the gospel faithfully to all and pray earnestly for the salvation of the lost. Each Christian must glorify the God who chose to save him and who invited him to receive His salvation.

Why are my prayers not answered?

In the gospels Jesus gives incredible promises about prayer. One of these promises is, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14) Yet, many people pray and do not have their prayers answered? Why is this? Since Jesus gave broad, sweeping promises about prayer, should not every one who prays get what they ask for? Why are many prayers not answered?

First, the promise of answered prayers is only given to believers. The Bible never promises the unsaved that God will give them what they ask. God may graciously answer some of the prayers of the unsaved, but He does not promise to do so.

Second, every one of Jesus’ promise of answered prayers is conditioned upon the properness of the prayers. The gospel of John contains the most remarkable of Jesus’ promises. The promises in John are all dependent based upon the one praying being in a right relationship with Jesus. This propriety in prayer is described in one place as,“asking in Jesus name.” Asking in Jesus name is more than ending a prayer with “in Jesus name, amen.” Asking in Jesus’ name is asking under the authority of Jesus and in agreement with His character. Sinful prayers or prayers for things opposed to the increase of the kingdom of God will not be answered. The promises of answered prayers are not unlimited promises from God that He will give whatever the person asks for, no matter what. The promises are dependent upon the requests being in submissive obedience to will of Jesus.

James 4 gives another reason prayers are not answered. Requests are not answered if they are never asked.“Ye have not because ye ask not.” A desire for something is not the same as praying for something. To have your prayers answered you must speak to God and ask Him to grant your desires.

Sin in the life of the believer will cause prayer to go unanswered. Sin hinders the Christian’s relationship with God, and if a Christian willfully continues to disobey God he cannot not expect God to grant his requests. God is gracious. He often answers prayers despite our sin and He does not withhold answers because of inadvertent or unnoticed sins. The Christian need not fear that some forgotten sin is keeping God from answering his prayer. Rather, it is when the child of God “Regards iniquity in his heart” (Psalm 66:18) that the Lord does not hear.

One final reason God may not answer your prayer is if your requests are selfish. “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your own lusts.” (James 4:3) This is related to the promise of answered prayer in 1 John, “If we ask anything according to His will He heareth us.” God does not promise to give you whatever you want whenever you ask. He is not in the business of spoiling His children. When the Christian asks for something merely to gratify his own desires, he must not expect God to give it. When the Christian asks for good things, for the glory of God and the increase of the kingdom of God, God promises to give His child the desires of their heart. God answers prayers that are selfless and seeking the furtherance of His kingdom.

Does God Change His Mind?

Theologian Roger Olson says God changes “in relation to creature’s prayers and needs. I have long believed that God does change- voluntarily and only in His experiences and intentions.” How can Christians understand the changeless God described in the Bible who is also revealed to have emotions and answer prayers by intervening in circumstances. Does God change? Does my sin create a new grief in God that was not there before I sinned? Does God start out on one course but change His plans when I pray? These are not easy questions, but understanding God’s relationship with humanity and the Christian’s relationship with God is important.

The Bible teaches that God does not change. In God is no variation or “shadow of turning.” (James 1:17) “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.” (1 Samuel 15:29)

The Bible also says that God repented. “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” (Genesis 6:6) “The Lord repented that He had made Saul king over Israel.” (1 Samuel 15:35) In Exodus 32 God told Moses to leave Him alone and He would destroy rebellious Israel. Moses pled with God to not destroy Israel, “And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” (Exodus 32:14)

How does the Christian make sense of this? Does God repent, or is He unchanging? Do my prayers cause God to change His mind? When the Old Testament says God “repents” the Hebrews word nacham, translated “repent” in English, reflects an emotional state. Depending on the context the same word is used for having pity on someone or for regretting an action. We can legitimately say, as the NASB translates it, “The Lord was sorry that He had made man.” (Genesis 6:6) God’s being “sorry” does not imply God erred. Instead, the repentance of God shows His tenderness and justice. God is moved with compassion by our need and moved with sorrow by our sin.

Examining the passages that describe God as “repenting” reveals that God Himself is not changing, only His dealings with man are. From the beginning of the Bible God is shown to change in the way He deals with men. He dealt with Adam differently afer sin than He did before man sinned. He dealt differently with Abraham than Moses, the apostles or Christians today. God acts in accord with His changeless character in all His interactions with man, but the expression of His unchanging nature does not always stay the same.

The ability of God to respond to the actions of man does not mean God is taking a new direction different from what He planned. Isaiah 46:9-10 says, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” Acts 15:18 says, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” God knows all that He will do and He also legitimately and actually answers the prayers of people. He makes what appear to men to be changes in His plans, but in fact God knows all that He will do. Before He created the world, God knew He would destroy the earth in a flood. Before God called Saul to be king, He knew He would take the kingdom from Saul. Before Moses prayed for Israel’s protection, God knew He would not destroy the nation. God has always known all things He will do.

When the Bible says that God does not change it is emphasizing that God always does what He says. (Hebrews 6:17-19) God does not ever go back on His promises. His character, knowledge, nature and being are eternally unchanging. He is exactly the same God today that He was in the eternity before He created all things.

Does God know what decisions I will make before I make them?

God is all-knowing. He knows all the works of His hands (Acts 15:18). He named every star in heaven and knows everyone of their trillion trillion of names. (Isaiah 40:26). He knows the number of hairs on every human head at any given time. (Matthew 10:30) He knows all the creatures on earth and never forgets one, even the least of birds. (Luke 12:6) God’s knowledge is limitless. He knows all that is and all that has been. Does God know what will be? Specifically, does God know the decisions a man will make?

Not everyone believes in the limitless foreknowledge of God. Some say that if God knows everything that will happen then man does not have a will that is truly free. If God knows all that will happen, then man will always do what has already been known that he will do. Foreknowledge then becomes a form of Divine determinism in which every moment of life is preplanned and predetermined by God and all man can do is what has been decided he will do.

Foreknowledge does not necessarily mean predetermination. A fan of mystery novels may read a book and know exactly how the book is going to end. Such foreknowledge does not mean the reader determined the ending. A reader’s knowledge of the author and the literature allows him to understand the story and correctly foretell the ending. This knowledge does not imply the reader is also the author. Foreknowledge can exist without infringing upon the ability of individuals to freely choose.

The Bible says God knows everything that is, was, could be and will be. In Matthew 11:21 Jesus told the towns of Bethsaida and Chorazin that if Tyre and Sidon had seen His miracles they would have repented. He then declared to Capernaum that if Sodom had seen the mighty works He did then it would have turned from sin. Jesus’ words reveal a knowledge of what could have been. His words were not mere rhetoric. Jesus is God the Son. He spake the truth of what could have been because He knows all things, including what might be.

God knows everything about a person before that person knows anything about themselves. Psalm 139 describes the infinite, intimate knowledge of God. Psalm 139:2 says, “Thou understandest my thought afar off.” God knows every thought of man while it is still far from fully formed in the person’s mind. While man is still thinking, God knows all that he is going to think. Psalm 139:16 says that when the person is still in the womb, before he has even begun to form, God knows him. He knows all his days before his days have even begun. God knows what a person is going to do and what that person will be long before he makes any decisions. God knows all the possibilities and He knows the choices men will make. The God of the Bible is all-knowing. His knowledge is unlimited and entire, encompassing past, present, future, what will be, what could be and what might be.

How many days did God wait before He created the world?

This little question was asked by a girl at church yesterday. Her simple question raises deeper questions for which good answers are hard to find. What was God doing before the universe began? How long did God exist before He created the universe?

The Bible teaches that God is eternal. “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” (Psalm 90:2) God existed eternally before He created the universe. He did not spring into existence a day before creating everything. He has always been. He has no beginning. He existed in eternity before the universe began. This is simple to state, but hard to understand. Any serious attempt to understand the eternity before space, time, matter or energy were created is more than the mind can handle.

How long did God wait before creating? He waited all eternity and He waited no time at all. He did not wait any days, because days did not exist until He created Day on the First Day. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Genesis 1:5) He did not wait any time because time did not exist until God created it. Though He waited no time before creating, His eternal existence means He existed eternally before anything else existed.

This deceptively challenging question wrestles with the true nature of creation and eternity. Everything exists because God created it. Time exists only because God created it. God’s eternal existence cannot be understood by the finite mind of man. Eternity cannot be measured by the age of the universe. God always has been and always will be. He alone has no predecessor, no creator and no beginning. The Eternal Creator created Day, Night, Seasons and Years. He did so when He chose, and at His choosing time came into being.

With all the other gods in the world, how do we know the God of the Bible is the only true God?

A couple weeks ago a child asked a challenging question as she left the Sunday morning service. Here question was this, “Since many people worship many different gods, how do we know the God of the Bible is the only true God?” She is not alone. Many people struggling to understand the claims of the Bible ask the same question.

Some may be surprised to learn the Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God. Scripture assumes God exists and declares that only the foolish or willfully rebellious deny the existence of God. Though the Bible never offers proofs that God exists, it repeatedly argues that God is the only God and all other deities are fraudulent products of man’s wicked imagination.

The creation of the universe is the supreme proof given in the Old Testament that God alone is God. This author does not possess an exhaustive knowledge of all the gods worshiped in the history of the world, but after extensive research and study of many different religious traditions he is aware of only one other god who claims to have created everything out of nothing. Aside from Allah, no other god claims to have created everything. The great gods of Canaan- Baal, Molech or Dagon- were local deities who ruled over crops or regions. They were never seen as creators. The gods of Egypt were not credited with creating everything out of nothing. The great gods of western mythology- Zeus, Jupiter and Odin-never claimed to be creators. Only in the Old Testament do we find a Deity who claims to have made everything.

God’s uniqueness as Creator is used in passages like Jeremiah 10 to show the folly of worshiping the pagan gods. After a lengthy description of how the gods of the nations are carved by men out of wood, covered in gold, fastened down so they do not fall over and are incapable of seeing, hearing or doing anything at all, God is presented as the maker of all things. He is the only One who rules over all spiritual beings. He alone is uncreated and Creator of All. “Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” (Isaiah 43:21) All other gods are the creation of human imagination.

God’s claim to be the Creator was verified by His displays of power over creation. When God sent the plagues upon Egypt it was so the entire world would know He is God. (Exodus 9:16) When God drove the Canaanites before Israel it was prove He alone is God. (Joshua 3:10) God’s glory was present in the temple of Jerusalem as a testimony to the entire world He is God. (1 Kings 8:41-43)

Jesus is the greatest evidence that God is the only God. Jesus claimed to be God the Son and the God of the Old Testament. (John 8:58) The miracles of Jesus verified the truth of His claims (Acts 2:22). Finally, the resurrection declares Jesus is God the Son. (Romans 1:4) Since His mighty miracles and His resurrection from the dead verify the claims of Jesus, then all the claims of the God of the Old Testament must be true. Jesus is proof there is no other God.

What is the Shekinah Glory?

The Old Testament mentions many times the glory of which God appeared visibly to the nation of Israel. When the Israelites fled from Egypt, God’s presence was seen by the entire nation. He led them from Egypt to Mt. Sinai in the form a great cloud and a pillar of fire. At Mt. Sinai the glory of God covered the mountain in fire and smoke.

The shekinah glory is the visible manifestation of the presence of God. The phrase is not found in the Bible, but was coined by ancient Jewish teachers long before the birth of Christ. In the Shekinah Glory, God presence was made evident to His people. God told Moses that His glory can not be fully seen, “No man shall me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) Yet, in His mercy God gave a visible evidence of His presence with His people.

Once the tabernacle was built, God’s presence in Israel became directly connected with the tabernacle and the temple. Exodus 40 tells how God’s glory filled the completed tabernacle. When Israel committed idolatry God told Moses to move the tabernacle outside the camp because He would not be in the midst of a wicked people. Later, when King Solomon built the temple of God in Jerusalem the glory of God entered into the temple. God’s presence in the place of worship was a constant reminder that He was with His people. Much later the book of Ezekiel describes the glory of God leaving the temple because of the Jew’s continual disobedience against God. After the book of Ezekiel there are no other historical references to the glory of God visibly present with His people.

Several of the minor prophets promise that one day the glory of God will again be visibly present with His people. In Haggai God promises, “I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of Hosts” and in Zechariah He says, “For I, saith the LORD, will be unto (Jerusalem) a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.” Habakkuk prophecies. “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” In the future, God’s glory will fill the earth. His Shekinah glory will be eternally present among His people.

God’s presence is not seen today, but He still dwells with His people. The Christian today is the temple of God. He dwells just as truly within Christians today as He did in the temple in Israel. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1Corinthians 3:16) “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16) God’s glorious presence is still with His people today.

If God is real, why do terrible things happen to innocent people?

One of the great problems many people struggle to address is the presence of terrible evil in the world. Why does God allow tragedies to happen to innocent people? Why do so many evil people go unpunished through life? Why do little children in Africa starve while pedophiles die at a comfortable old age?

These kinds of questions are not contrary to the Bible. Scripture asks and answers them. In Psalm 73 the Psalmist wrestled with why the wicked prospered. He said, “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no (pains) in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.” The Psalmist was tempted to think serving the Lord to be a waste of time, but he says, “then understood I their end.” The problem of evil cannot be answered without considering the future of wicked people. The prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the innocent is very brief. This does not mean suffering is insignificant. This means the wicked will never get away with their wickedness. The time of evil is going to come to end. The time of judgment is coming. No one ever gets away with anything. The murderer who dies in his sleep at an old age does not get off the hook. He will be judged by God and will pay the full penalty of his heinous sins. God’s justice never fails. Every sin will be fully punished.

But why do evil things happen in the first place? Evil happens because man rebelled against God. Man sank so deeply and so thoroughly into sin that only 1,500 years after the first sin, God wiped the Earth clean with a huge flood. Noah’s flood shows the severity of the problem of sin, and also points to the problem of God’s judgment.

The holiness of God is not limited to hatred of the really bad sins like murder and rape. God hates all sin. Murder is no more deserving of judgment than lying. If God were to remove evil from the world today, all evil would have to be removed. Gossips and rapists, angry men and genocidal maniacs, drunkards and murderers, all will be judged. Which is also the reason God has not yet removed evil from the world.

Why doesn’t God just punish sin now? What is He waiting for? The answer given repeatedly in the Bible is that God will punish sin, but not yet. God delays judgment so some will have the chance to repent. When God judged the world in the flood, the waters did not just destroy the most violent. The flood took away all but the 8 on the ark. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah did not spare those who were not as bad as the rest. God’s judgment will be upon all evil.

Most people do not actually want God to remove all evil from the world. They want Him to remove the really bad sorts of evils, but leave us with the evils we are comfortable with. Sin is not a minor a problem, like a sprained finger. Sin is a cancer that corrupts all creation. The terrible things that happen remind us that sin, all sin, is a horrible curse afflicting the world. God is not overlooking any sin. He will punish all.