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Free-Will Faith and the Will of God

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Dear Friends,

Below is a further excerpt from part 4B of the Bible Basics series, "Soteriology" (now posted at the link).  As always, your timely input on any typos or grammatical infelicities you may note is greatly appreciated.

Wishing you all a blessed Christmas and a very happy 2011!

Bob Luginbill

 

1. Free-will faith and the Will of God

 

"For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."
Mark 3:35 NASB

 

As explained above, history has been decreed by God as the time and place where we, His moral creatures, have been given the opportunity to adjust our will to His through the exercise of our faith in His chosen object of faith, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

(17) And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. Then He put His right hand on me, saying, "Don't be afraid. It is I, the First and the Last, (18) even the Living One. And although I died, behold, I am alive forever and ever! Indeed, I possess the keys to death and Hades.
Revelation 1:17-18

 

To exercise this choice is the purpose for which we have been created (see section a below):  God desires us to fulfill this purpose (see section b below), has made us with the ability to do so (see section c below), and has sacrificed His one and only beloved Son for us so that we may do so and be thus saved see (section d below). In spite of God's structuring of the universe for us, in spite of His desire that we all come back to Him of our own free-will faith, in spite of the fact that we all possess in abundance everything we need to do so, and, most impressively, in spite of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross in paying the supreme penalty to wash away the sins of all mankind and thereby make possible the reconciliation to the Father of all things in heaven and on earth, many of the angels have and most human beings will refuse God's mercy and grace. This was always an inevitable result of creating men and angels with genuine free will, and a necessary eventuality if we who do love Him were to be created in the first place and then be saved so as to receive eternal life thereafter (see section e below).

 

a. The purpose of God's creation of man

 

God did not have to create the universe. He did not have to create us. Not only was He under no necessity or compunction to do so – He existed before creation in perfect happiness, perfect peace, and perfect unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Before the mountains were born, or you gave birth to the earth and world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.
Psalm 90:2

 

God created the universe for us. God created us for our benefit. It is a wonderful thing to be alive and even more wonderful to be able to anticipate the day not long hence when we shall be liberated from all the negatives of this sin-infested world and united to the Lord we love so much forevermore. As moral creatures, not only can we enjoy our status of existence and long for our coming eternal life but we can also appreciate the goodness of a God who gave us these immeasurable blessings. As believers, we can, or at least we should, stand in grateful awe of a God who sacrificed His most precious possession, His own dear Son, that we might not only exist for a moment, but might live forever in His loving embrace. God is love. And we see His love most perspicuously in His creation of us and in His sacrifice of Jesus for us; for the former necessitated the latter, and the latter was essential if we were to bask in that love forever.

 

Everyone who is called by my Name, for My glory I have created him, I have formed him, indeed, I have made him.
Isaiah 43:7 (cf. Is.60:21; 61:3)

 

God is glorified when we respond to Him. He is pleased with us when we and others come to understand who He really is and what He is really like, appreciate Him for Himself, and respond to Him in the way He would have us to do. That is the reason, that is the purpose for us being here and for us "being" at all. God clearly does not need this response from us. Moreover, we are the ones who benefit from accepting and responding to His truth. That is not only so in the abstract: it is by our free-will faith response to His truth – which is all about who He is and was before time began, what He is in the process of doing here on earth, and what He will do in the eternal future – that we are saved (by responding to the gospel), that we are blessed in time (as we grow spiritually through His truth), and that we shall be rewarded in eternity (for the level of response we have achieved in this life). God not only created us – He created us in order to share Himself with us, and He is pleased, He is gloried, when we do respond to His grace. God loves us: in love He made us, and out of love He sacrificed His one and only dear Son Jesus Christ for us that we might respond to Him, that we might be saved through Him, that we might grow and be blessed in Him, and that we might be rewarded abundantly by Him in time to come.

 

God has always loved us, loved us all, elect and fallen, believer and unbeliever, saved and unsaved. God loves us – God is love! But He does not force us to love Him back. That is true even though He is deserving of more love in response to what He has done for us than the most spiritually advanced among us can presently appreciate. We owe Him all of our love because He created us, because He sacrificed Jesus for us, and because He has prepared an eternity of blessing for us beyond our wildest dreams. Sad to say, however, most human beings and many angels have thrown God's inestimable love right back in His face. Yet this does not detract from His glory; rather, it enhances it. Just as God is glorified here and now even by the resistance of unbelievers (as God says to Pharaoh, "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth"; Rom.9:17: NIV), so also He will be glorified in the case of all His ungrateful creatures at the end of days; for the day will come when "every knee will bow" before Him (Is.45:23; Rom.14:11; Phil.2:10). Those who reject His WILL in life will, in the end, be forced to obey (and will be condemned).

 

Who should not revere you, O King of the nations? This is your due.
Jeremiah 10:7a NIV

 

What God wants, however, is our free-will response here and now in time, when it is possible on account of our limited perception coupled with our 'el–image of God status to wilfully ignore the truth about Him and refuse to respond at all. We who do use our free-will to respond to Him here and now by faith (in accepting the truth of the gospel) and "from faith to faith" (in growing up spiritually through the truth of the Word of God: Rom.1:17) are pleasing to Him, because in responding to Him in this way we reflect His glory.

 

"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
Matthew 5:16 NASB

 

(17) Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord's Spirit is, there is freedom. (18) And everyone of us, if we reflect the Lord's glory with no "veil" obscuring our faces (i.e., with unsullied Christian witness), is being transformed into the same image [of God] (i.e., become more Christ-like as we use our will to respond to Him) so as to reflect an ever greater degree of [God's] glory [as we do so] (lit., "from glory to glory") – exactly what is to be expected with the Lord's Spirit as the agent [of our transformation].
2nd Corinthians 3:17-18

 

As we shall see in section III below, these verses reflect the fundamental Plan of God for everyone of us here on earth, the vital transformation "from faith to faith" (Rom.1:17) and "from glory to glory", that is, our sanctification.1 By using our free-will to respond to God in faith we come to share in His holiness, initially (phase I sanctification: salvation), progressively (phase II sanctification: spiritual growth), and ultimately (phase III sanctification: eternal confirmation and reward). We have all been created "like God" in that we all have this God-given ability to respond to Him in the fulfillment of this plan We all become more like Him in practice when we use that free-will faith in actual response, being then transformed by Him, being drawn closer to Him, coming to glorify Him more and more.

 

[It is] through these [divine blessings] that the great and honorable promises have been granted to us, so that through them we might become partakers of the divine nature (i.e., in contrast with our earthly sinful nature), having [through salvation] escaped earthly corruption and its lust.
2nd Peter 1:4

 

The Greek word for glory, doxa (δόξα, cf. “doxology”), originally meant opinion or reputation, and only later came by extension to mean "good reputation" or "glory". God is who He is and who He is marvelous and perfect. Therefore to know Him truly is to become aware of the wonders of His person. All true information about God and His character reflects the inherent glory of His essence, the brilliant, refulgent, radiant awesomeness of His perfect and holy "being".

 

(14) Then God said to Moses, "I shall be who I am. This is what you will tell the sons of Israel: 'I am sent me to you.' " (15) And God also said to Moses, "Thus you will say to the sons of Israel: 'the Lord [the "is"], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob sent me to you.' This is My Name forever, and this is how you are to think about me for all generations."
Exodus 3:14-15

 

(1) God, from antiquity having communicated to our fathers in the prophets at many times and in many ways, (2) has in these last days communicated to us in a Son, [the One] whom He has appointed heir of all things, [the One] through whom He created the universe. (3) He is the shining forth of [the Father's] glory, the precise image of His essence, the One who sustains the universe by His mighty Word . . .
Hebrews 1:1-3a

 

God is light, and in Him there is no darkness.
1st John 1:5b

 

God has also made who He is sufficiently obvious for all who care to consider His creation, for everything He has made reflects Him and His glory (e.g., Rom.1:18-23; see in section II below, "Natural Revelation").

 

The heavens recount the glory of God, and the firmament tells of the work of His hands.
Psalm 19:1

 

However, a large part of the purpose of the gift of the image of God to mankind had of necessity to be the ability not to recognize the glory of Him and so not to respond to Him. That is so even though beyond all argument He is worthy of receiving that recognition from His creatures as the glorious One who created all things (Rev.4:11). This necessity of preserving our ability to choose for Him (by preserving our ability to choose against Him) is the reason why the fullness of God's true and unobscured glory had to be shielded from us during this time of decision of life on earth; otherwise, no mere mortal would be able to deny (even to him or herself) God's existence (which would otherwise be undeniable – even by the most hardened hearts), or God's goodness (which would otherwise be unimpeachable – even by the most jaded cynics), or God's power (which would otherwise be unmistakable – even by the most audacious rebels).

 

(17) And the Lord said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name." (18) Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." (19) And the Lord said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (20) But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."
Exodus 33:17-20 NIV

 

He [the Father] who alone possesses immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen, nor can see.
1st Timothy 6:16

 

God is glory, and perfect glory at that. So while He created us for His glory, no one should take this to mean that He needs anything from us. Nothing anyone could ever do would ever be capable of enhancing God's perfect glory in any way. Therefore by glorification we are speaking first and foremost of the honor and recognition He receives in the eyes of our fellow moral creatures when we respond to Him in a manner pleasing to Him – an eventuality which furthers His overall desire that all who are lost be saved, and that all who are saved draw closer to Him. When we do what God would have us do in spite of the fact that such actions seem like madness to the unbelieving world, those who observe catch a glimpse of who He really is, His goodness, His love, His grace, His glory. By seeing our response, saved and lost, men and angels both, gain some measure of insight into and understanding of His perfect character (1Pet.1:12; cf. Lk.15:10; 1Cor.4:9; 11:10).

 

(14) But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. (15) For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. (16) To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?
2nd Corinthians 2:14-16 NIV

 

Therefore the means by which this glorification-effect is produced is our faith-response to God's truth:

 

(2) For if Abraham really was considered righteous (i.e., in the eyes of men) as a result of the works [he did], then he does have something to boast about – but not in front of God! (3) What does the scripture actually say? [It actually says that] "Abraham believed in God, and [so his faith] was attributed to him for righteousness."
Romans 4:2-3

 

(1) It is faith [in the Living and written Word], moreover, that substantiates what we hope for. [Faith] provides proof of things unseen. (2) For it is by this [very faith] that believers of old received their divine approval.
Hebrews 11:1-2

 

God is thus glorified by what He does for us and by what we do in response to His gracious provision. Glorification does not change God who cannot change, but it does change us: we learn more about who and what He is, and are blessed thereby. This is true of all His moral creatures. The angels, who in many respects have a far better appreciation of His essence than we can ever have while in these limited bodies, and who have been around a much longer time, are nevertheless still learning about Him – through observing us:

 

The prophets diligently investigated and inquired about this salvation, when they prophesied about this grace [that was to come] to you. For they were eager to discover the precise time the Spirit of Christ within them was signifying as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. For it was revealed to them that in prophesying these things, they were not so much serving themselves as they were you – and these same things have now been proclaimed to you through those who gave you the gospel through the Holy Spirit, sent from heaven – even angels want to look into these things.
1st Peter 1:10-12

 

Angels decided their eternal futures "once and for all" before the creation of mankind. In contrast, every good decision we human beings make is resisted and opposed by the world, the flesh and the devil. When we do see through all the clutter and put God first, through believing in His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and through following Him faithfully thereafter by means of a myriad of decisions large and small, the power of the truth of who God really is, His goodness and the genuine value of responding to it, becomes obvious to observers on this earth and above it – and He is glorified. Whenever we respond to Him, it brings Him glory, not an increase in the sum total of who He is (for He is perfect and complete and unchangeable to a degree we cannot yet properly imagine), but an increase in the level of appreciation He receives from His creatures for the astoundingly loving and gracious God He is. In saving us, blessing us in this life, and in giving us our eternal inheritance, God is glorified by the praise He receives from us and from all who observe His grace overflowing to us, and that recognition and appreciation of His character, that "glory", is His purpose in all He has done on our behalf:

 

(5) . . . [God] having foreordained us in [His] love for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of His will, (6) for the purpose of producing (at the point of salvation) praise for the glory of His grace which He has graciously bestowed on us in the Beloved [One].
Ephesians 1:5-6

 

(11) In whom we also have an inheritance, having been ordained according to the design of Him who is working everything out according to the desire of His will, (12) that we who have previously placed our hope in Christ might serve the purpose of generating praise for His glory (in the Christian life).
Ephesians 1:11-12

 

(14) . . . [sealed by the Spirit] who is a pledge of our inheritance for redeeming its preservation, for the purpose of the praise of His glory (for all eternity).
Ephesians 1:14

 

God is the truth, and it is not too much to say that it is the recognition, the understanding, the belief in Him as He really is, the truth about Him who is the truth, that constitutes glorification.

 

(8) To me, the least of all His holy ones, this gracious charge has been entrusted: to proclaim to the gentiles the unfathomable wealth that is Christ, (9) and to shed light on this mystery[, the calling out of the gentiles] which is now being brought to pass (lit., "the dispensation" of it), though it was once hidden from the ages in God who created everything. (10) God [did this with the purpose] that [His] enigmatically intricate wisdom might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms through the agency of the Church, (11) according to His plan for the ages (i.e., history) which He has implemented in [the person of] Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 3:8-11

 

God is glorified, God is pleased when we His creatures of our own free-will faith seek Him out, desirous of knowing Him and His truth, then receive, recognize, and believe it, and in that way come to understand more about Him, His wisdom, His grace, and His love. Even for the most highly motivated and consistent among us, our appreciation of these things at present is necessarily dim. For now we see only a reflection of the glory which will on that great day of days be completely revealed to us.

 

For at the present time our perception [of heavenly things] is like [viewing] a dim reflection in a mirror. But then [when we meet the Lord] we will see [Him] face to face. Now I have only partial knowledge, but then my knowledge [of Him] will be complete (epi-gnosomai), just as I have always been known completely (ep-egnosthen) by Him.
1st Corinthians 13:12

 

In this passage we see a recurrent theme in scripture which is consistently missed in most such discussions, namely, the importance to God of the process of our response to Him. God is who He is, perfect in every way; we are imperfect, but are charged with changing and adapting ourselves to Him. The way in which we make this transformation of becoming more acceptable to Him is through adjusting our will to His WILL. When we use our free-will to believe His truth, we are changed, first at salvation through being reborn by accepting the truth of the gospel, then throughout our Christian lives as we believe and apply the wonders of His Word of truth, until finally when the day of eternity dawns and we know Him fully as He is in all His glory. God desires these responses from all of His creatures, and He is glorified when they accept the truth about His glorious Person. Thus God's purpose in creation is all about Him the Creator, yet it is also all about us His creatures, and the two cannot be separated. God made us for Himself and also for ourselves, and it is the wedding of the two which explains His purpose. We are blessed to exist, He is pleased to have us exist, and our coming to appreciate His love in making us to be with Him and His grace in paying the price for this to be possible brings Him glory. Without the world as it is, a place where we are at present "groping" to find God (Acts 17:27), and where even the angels still have much to learn from the working out of God's plan of salvation in human history (1Pet.1:12), neither they nor we could really ever have come to fully understand how much God loves us – for the depth of His love is only made fully obvious in His sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins – nor could we or they make a genuine choice about whether or not to love Him back; and without having constructed history as He has done, with the full complement of actual human beings and angels (Gen.1:26-27; Ps.119:96 [Hebrew]) both created and given the historical opportunity to make an uncoerced choice for themselves, it would have been impossible to create us who do wish to be with Him and who do count it our deepest joy to have been able to embrace our Lord Jesus in a grip of faith we intend to hold tight until the end, come what may. For it is fair to say that without our experience of history and the operation of moral choice therein we would, we could never really understand all we need to know about the love and goodness of God. Perhaps we might otherwise have some understanding of it theoretically, but as it is (and as we shall see in eternity in a more detailed examination of all that has passed) we know it deeply and experientially. And God is glorified by our knowledge fully assimilated and acquired by faith, that is, our epignosis (see section II below), our belief, our true appreciation through faith of what He has done for us in Jesus Christ. For we are important to Him, and it is important to Him that we realize just how important to Him we are. That is the critical and often overlooked "flip-side" of our coming to realize in life how important, how all-important, God is to us. We love Him because He loved us first (1Jn.4:19), and He is glorified when we come to appreciate just how much He loves us.

 

That God receives pleasure out of doing all that He does for us and having us appreciate it should not be at all surprising. There is joy in receiving, true, but even among sinful human beings there is also joy in giving, and for those acting in love, the pleasure of giving often surpasses any delight in receiving: it truly is "more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Since God has need of nothing (Acts 17:24-25), the only thing He can "get" from us in any sense of the word is a positive response. Even that response, of course, is absolutely for our own good, because in responding to the gospel we are saved, and in responding to Him and His truth after entering into a relationship of love with Him and our dear Savior we grow spiritually and earn eternal rewards thereby. These rewards, like our salvation, unquestionably do please Him (as scripture everywhere affirms), but without any doubt the blessing and the benefit we receive from our response to Him and His truth in these matters is disproportionately beneficial to us (especially inasmuch as God could never actually need anything from us).

 

Indeed, none of this should surprise us since God has "wired" this emotion of pleasure in giving into all of us as is evident from the joy we feel in nurturing our children and in the positive responses of the things we do for all those we love. It is therefore no accident that God made mankind "male and female", and ordained the family as the means of expanding the human race (i.e., precisely to teach us these lessons so that we might the better come to appreciate our heavenly Father). It is also, moreover, no accident that we the Church are, collectively, the Bride of Christ, the partner for whom our dear Lord died, giving His all on the cross in order to save us from a fate worse than mere physical death: Jesus faced the continual burning of hell to expiate our sins that we might be delivered from that horrible fate. Only someone who loves his partner more than his own life could come close to understanding such a sacrifice, and God has given us human love precisely that we might glean some measure of understanding of His love for us thereby, a love so astounding that He gave up Jesus to death on our behalf. The ability to appreciate sacrificial love is thus part of the image of God, part of what it means to be an 'el. We are capable of giving in love, and even of sacrificial giving. Although we all fall short of the perfect ideal of such self-sacrificing love, even in our observation of those who have opted for complete selfishness instead, the opposite principle of self-sacrifice is all that much clearer to us for the contrast. Confronted with the real thing, the total and completely un-selfish sacrifice of Jesus Christ, because of how God has made us, we do have the capacity of heart to appreciate Him, to respond to Him, to love Him in return – and that is true even in the case of the countless millions in human history who have refused to do so.

 

For a man ought not to wear adorned hair [an effeminate mark of submission] since he is the image and glory of God. A woman, on the other hand, is the glory of her husband.
1st Corinthians 11:7

 

As the Bride of Christ, we are to respond to Him in the precise manner that an ideal wife would to an ideal husband. In this life, of course, there are no ideal husbands (or ideal wives either, for that matter). But we Christians do have an ideal Husband, and He is glorified by our responsiveness to Him (Eph.5:22-33). And how do we respond? We respond by seeking out, believing, and living the truth of the word of God to the glory of Him who is the living Word of God. By our response to truth, we learn more and more about who He really is, His glory, and He is pleased and glorified when we do. That glorification includes the revelation of His glory in our hearts and in the world by our actions which in turn reflect that truth in our hearts, because through this process who He is becomes manifest to others as well as they observe the transformation His truth produces in us. And not only that. As we come to know Him better and better, and as we draw nearer to Him day by day, we draw closer to the glory of which we will one day be fully a part.

 

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
Psalm 73:24

 

For it was fitting for [the Father] to make complete through sufferings Him on whose account all things exist and through whom all things exist, namely, the Captain of their salvation, even Him who has led many sons to glory, [our Lord Jesus Christ].
Hebrews 2:10

 

[It is] through these [divine blessings] that the great and honorable promises have been granted to us, so that through them we might become partakers of the divine nature, having [through salvation] escaped earthly corruption and its lust.
2nd Peter 1:4

 

That is the reason we are here: to be saved and to be blessed, and our salvation and blessing please and glorify God. Or, to put it the other way around, we are here to please and glorify God, which is the only way we can be saved and blessed. Either way, God's purpose for us is to respond to Him. In order to fulfill our purpose for existing, all we need to do is to say "yes" to Him and His truth through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ (and as believers to continue to respond positively to Him and His truth throughout our earthly lives). We only need to say "yes"; or, to put it the other way around, since God has already done everything for us in His immeasurable love in the sacrifice of His beloved Son on our behalf,  all any human being really needs to do to be saved is to "not say no".

 

As the rebellious pot of Romans 9:18-21 illustrates, most of humanity has chosen not to accept God and His Sacrifice, but has opted instead to rebuff His unfathomable love in Jesus Christ. Instead of the God-given glory that was theirs for the asking, in the folly arrogance always induces they have instead sold their eternal birthright for a mess of pottage (Gen.25:29-34).

 

(22) Claiming to be wise, they became foolish, (23) for they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for images and likenesses of corruptible men, of birds and beasts and reptiles.
Romans 1:22-23

 

The creation of the perfect sum and perfect variety of human and angelic creatures necessitated as much. The granting of the godlike power of saying "yes" inevitably occasioned many a "no", and without the possibility of "no" there could be no opportunity for those of who do love Him to say "yes". Free-will operating without coercive restraint in time is the mechanism of the Plan of God which sorts out the "no" from the "yes", and in the great wisdom of God it does so in a completely free and self-selecting way. We are who we choose to be for that is how God made us. Time, human history, weeds out the wheat (the "yes") from the chaff (the "no"). In the end, God losses not a single person who purposed "yes" in their heart of hearts, and the salvation of all who do respond to Him brings Him glory now and will do so forever. For we who are of the "yes" in Jesus Christ will sing His praises and proclaim His glory for all eternity, world without end.

 

For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, the One who was proclaimed among you through us, through myself and Silvanus (i.e., Silas) and Timothy, did not become "yes and no", but He became "yes!". (20) For as many promises of God as there are, are "yes!" in Him (i.e., Jesus Christ). And through Him the "amen!" [is said] to God for [His] glory through us.
2nd Corinthians 1:19-20

 

b. God's desire for all to be saved

 

As we have seen above, God has placed the names of all human beings in His Book of Life which was written before the creation of the world, and it is only by rejecting Him and His plan of salvation offered in Jesus Christ that a person's name is blotted out of that book (Rev.13:8; cf. Ex.32:33; Ps.69:28; Dan.12:1; Phil.4:3; Rev.3:5). The universal inclusion of all human beings in God's book of salvation shows unequivocally His desire for all to be saved. For just as the world could not be created without obligating Jesus Christ to become a man and die for its sins, so this placement in the book of the names of even those who would reject Him required our Lord to die for their sins as well – otherwise the offer and possibility of salvation would not be genuine. There is no greater testimony to the Father's desire for all to be saved than that He actually did judge His beloved Son for the sins of everyone – not only for the sins of those who come to accept Him, but also for those who fail to receive Him and even for those who would emphatically and willfully reject Him (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.1:29; 12:47; Rom.5:18; 2Cor.5:14-15; 1Tim.2:4-6; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9; 1Jn.2:2; cf. Lam.3:33).

 

(8) "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? (9) And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' (10) In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Luke 15:8-10 NIV

 

We are all very valuable to God, for He has paid the supreme price for us all in the sacrifice of His one and only dear Son Jesus Christ. Moreover, as the passage above demonstrates clearly, God's love for the entire world is no passive thing. God has not only made salvation possible for all through the cross of Jesus Christ – He is eagerly and continually seeking out His prodigal sons and daughters out of a deep desire for them to repent of their indifference and hostility to Him so as to be saved. God does everything He can do in shepherding and guiding us all towards faith in His Son, everything, that is, except violating our free-will in forcing us to believe in Jesus.

 

(10) "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. (12) "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? (13) And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. (14) In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost."
Matthew 18:10-14 NIV

 

It is thus a testament to the incredible hardness of the human heart that so many reject the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ, resisting God's gracious and insistent efforts to bring them back at every critical turning point in their lives. In addition to providing salvation to those who desire it, therefore, the crucible of history is also designed to demonstrate indisputably not only the resoluteness of the choice of all those who turn away from God, but also the perfect love that He has consistently demonstrated to them in spite of their spurning of His love.

 

(16) For God loved the world so much that He gave [up] His one and only Son, [with the purpose] that everyone who believes in Him should not be lost [forever], but have eternal life [instead]. (17) For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him. (18) The one who believes in Him is not being judged, but the one who does not believe has already been judged on the grounds that he has not put his faith in the Name (i.e., the Person) of God's one and only Son.
John 3:16-18

 

For this reason we toil and strive, for we have put our hope in the Living God who is the Savior of all men, especially believers.
1st Timothy 4:10

 

In this God's love has been revealed in us, that He sent His only Son into the world that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atonement for our sins.
1st John 4:9-10

 

c. The essential nature of mankind

 

(1) The heavens recount the glory of God, and the firmament tells of the work of His hands. (2) One day after another pours forth [His] words, and one night after another declares [His] knowledge. (3) There is no tongue or culture that cannot understand their voice (i.e., of the heavens/firmament). (4) Their design has gone out into (i.e., "is visible throughout") the entire earth, and their words to the end of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4a

 

To whom does creation proclaim "the glory of God", to whom does it "tell of the work of His hands", and to whom does it "declare knowledge" if not to us His sons and daughters? We are all given to understand the message of creation, regardless of our language or nation, our "tongue or culture", for the divine design in making all things has proceeded to the farthest corners of God's world, "their words to the end of the world". The message of God, however delivered, is never delivered in vain. His Word "never returns empty", but always fulfills "the purpose for which" He sends it forth (Is.55:11). The message sent by the divine design, indelibly stamped in bold letters upon every aspect of creation from the subatomic structure of the atom to the awe-inspiring architecture of the universe's galaxies to the intricacies of the human body and the human mind, is incontrovertible: there is a God, and He is eminently wise, powerful, and good. Therefore all who reject this universally proclaimed truth are without excuse:

 

(18) God's wrath is about to be revealed from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness – on men who suppress the truth [in their hearts about God] in their unrighteousness. (19) For that which can be known about God [from everyday experience] is obvious to them, because God has made it obvious. (20) His nature, though invisible, is nevertheless plainly apparent, and has been since His foundation of the world, for it may be clearly inferred from this creation of His – [this is true of] both His eternal power and His divinity – so that they are without any excuse: (21) they knew about God, but they neither honored Him as God nor thanked Him. Instead, they gave themselves over to [the] vanity [of this world] in their speculations, and their senseless hearts were filled with darkness.
Romans 1:18-21

 

Scripture is unequivocal on this point: everyone "knows about God", because He has made Himself unavoidably obvious in all He has made. The message about Him, His true nature, its divinity and power, and His worthiness to be worshiped and thanked for giving us this world and this life are truths which can only be denied through blatant and willful self-deception: all atheists, to the extent they really do not believe God exists, having only "achieved" that state by a consistent hardening of their hearts to point where such patent distortions of the truth can be believed (i.e., they have "exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for [such corruptible false] images": Rom.1:23). But lies of this egregious sort can only be accepted after the truth has first been rejected: they "knew about God", but instead of responding to Him, they blotted Him out of their hearts and gave themselves over to "the vanities of this world", with the result that "their [now] senseless hearts were filled with darkness". "Knowing God" is therefore not an unusual thing but a universal thing, not only because of how He made the universe – to sing His praises day and night – but also because of how He made us.

 

[God] has made everything beautiful in its [limited] time; but He has also placed [the notion of] eternity in the hearts of mankind – and [He has done this], moreover, without Man being able to discover the work which God has done from the beginning unto the end.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

 

Human beings are God's offspring in a very real sense (Acts 17:28-29). Not only did our physical forms all spring from Adam whose body was constructed by the Lord Himself, but our human spirits, the other part of our dual make-up as human beings, are in each every case directly created by God at birth.2 That is to say, mankind has a spiritual part created and deliberately designed by God to parallel His own Spirit. Not only do we have as an essential facet of our human spirit self-awareness and self-consciousness as a result of the image of God but we also have the inherent ability (and necessity) to choose. Furthermore, until we choose to respond to God and accept the relationship that our loving Father holds out to us in Jesus Christ, there will continue to be a tremendously large "hole" in our soul or inner-person (where spirit and body come together, i.e., our "heart").

 

(9) For in Him (i.e., Jesus Christ), dwells all of the fullness of deity in bodily form. (10) And you have received your complete fulfillment in Him who is the Head of every ruler and [every] power.
Colossians 2:9-10

 

Without the rebirth which can only come from God through response to the gracious gift of His beloved Son, there will ever be a gnawing spiritual emptiness within. This emptiness can of course be denied, coped with, papered over, substituted for and ignored. Indeed, the record of secular history writ large and small is essentially a tale of human attempts to replace this primal need for God through material gain, personal advancement, culture, false religion, pleasure, distractions, intellectual pursuits and what have you. The one thing all such activities have in common is that to the extent that they seek to replace the need for God in attempting to do so, to that same extent they are all in truth a replacing of God with self in the hardened hearts of those who make this horrifically poor bargain. Such efforts cannot bring true happiness, only pseudo or "myth-happiness", and such substitutes can never satisfy the divinely built-in need in our spirits for a relationship with our Creator.3 Just as God made Adam to need a "helper suitable for him", allowed him by personal investigation to see that this was true, then provided Eve, the perfect partner for him,4 so also God has created each of us to need Him, allows us to see this in the world through our personal experiences, then leads us to the perfect Husband, our dear Savior Jesus Christ, all, that is, who set their hearts on seeking Him in order to fill this yawning void in the soul. We know instinctively that God exists, that He is good, and that we need Him as the true focus of our lives. For all who respond to this truth, the gospel is ever forthcoming and salvation inevitably results. The amazing thing about the human experience is that most have persisted in replacing this truth with an elaborate collection of lies.

 

. . . they knew about God, but they neither honored Him as God nor thanked Him. Instead, they gave themselves over to [the] vanity [of this world] in their speculations, and their senseless hearts were filled with darkness.
Romans 1:21

 

In addition to our awareness of God and the inherent need for Him hard-wired into our hearts, God has also equipped every human being with a natural conscience which received an expanded ability to distinguish between right and wrong when our first parents ate of the tree of "knowing good and evil".5 Coupled with the undeniable mortality we all possess and the universal knowledge of the existence of a perfect and righteous God, it would seem that every human being ought early on in life to be overcome by the need to seek a solution to sin, death and the inevitable judgment to follow, especially given the built-in need for God we all possess. It is in the nature of free will, however, that in the absence of immediately impending judgment and in the absence of the completely unveiled glory of God, most human beings have and will continue to make gods of themselves instead, preferring to live the short time of their lives in independence from their Maker rather than to submit to Him in any way.

 

(12) But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. (13) This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
Psalm 49:12-13 NIV (cf. v.6; Prov.28:26)

 

Considering that God made us, that we belong to Him, and that "submission" consists in recognizing through faith the awesome glory He actually does possess and in accepting the inestimable gift He actually has given us in the sacrifice of His own dear Son on our behalf, such self-willed behavior is hardly laudatory. In fact, not only would it appear to be the height of arrogance to refuse so great a salvation offered to us at no cost to ourselves, throwing it back in the process right into the face of the Father who put His own dear Son to death for us, but it would also seem an act of sheer insanity – were it not for the unequivocal fact that all who do so know exactly what they are doing. God allows them to exercise their free will as they truly want to, and allows them to harden their hearts to an ever increasing degree so as to be able to press their arrogance and disdain for Him to ever higher levels – as long, that is, as they remain here in the devil's world.6

 

(11) And for this [very] reason God is going to send upon them an empowerment of error so that they may believe the lie, (12) in order that they may be condemned, [even all those] who have not believed the truth but have [instead] approved of unrighteousness.
2nd Thessalonians 2:8-12

 

In order for the principle of genuine and uncoerced choice to be maintained, therefore, it is an essential if regrettably necessary part of the nature of every one of us to be able to deny the evidence for God's existence, His goodness, His power, and His justice, and to be able to ignore the obvious consequence for human beings who are mortal and must inevitably stand before Him to be judged after death: condemnation for our unrighteousness (absent a Substitute whose person and work we have embraced through faith). Most human beings walk about in a self-induced fog of illusion concerning the true realities of this life and the repercussions of our choices here on our status in the next. In order to save those of us who would choose to put reality over ego and flee to a loving Savior for eternal deliverance, God had to allow unbelievers to be able to ignore this same reality and assert the true intentions of their own hearts instead.

 

(10) When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. (11) He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables (12) so that, " 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!' "
Mark 4:10-12 NIV

 

d. The sacrifice of Christ proof-positive of God's goodwill towards all

 

God is love (1Jn.4:7-8). And there is no greater demonstration of His gracious and kindly disposition towards each and every one of His creatures than His sacrifice on our behalf of the One He loved with a perfect love before the world began, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

(6) For not only did Christ die for us while we were helpless – He even did so at the critical time, [dying] on our behalf, ungodly though we were. (7) For scarcely will someone die on behalf of a righteous person; and perhaps someone might also risk death on behalf of a good person. (8) But God commends His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6-8

 

No greater gift could possibly be given – and to completely undeserving and largely ungrateful recipients at that (2Cor.9:15; cf. Rom.5:1-17; 6:23). No more irrefutable proof could be offered for our Lord's love for us and for His intention that we all be saved than that He died in our behalf

 

(12) My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (13) Greater love has no one than this, than that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:12-13

 

Such love surpasses human understanding, and is a sure guarantee of our God's desire that all His children be delivered from judgment through the price paid in deepest love by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in our place.

 

(16) I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (17) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, (18) may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, (19) and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV

 

e. The inevitability of disobedience if freedom is really free

 

Yes, in spite of God's structuring of the universe entirely on our behalf, in spite of His desire that we all come back to Him of our own free-will faith, in spite of the fact that we all possess in abundance everything we need to do so, and, most impressively, in spite of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross in paying the supreme penalty to wash away the sins of all mankind and thereby make possible the reconciliation to the Father of all things in heaven and on earth, many of the angels and most human beings will refuse God's mercy and grace. This was always an inevitable result of creating men and angels with genuine free will, and a necessary eventuality if we who do love Him were to be created and saved.  For without free will, that essential facet of our spirits which so quintessentially defines our true selves, we would not be who we are, and if all moral creatures were not given genuine choice, none of us could have been created. The existence of rebellious and disobedient creatures determined to be condemned contrary to God's desire and in spite of Christ's sacrifice demonstrates indisputably, therefore, that our will really is free. The opportunity of response to God makes necessary the possibility of refusal to submit to Him.

 

(11) "But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. (12) So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.
Psalm 89:11 NIV

 

2. The Plan of God for the Salvation of Individual Believers

 

Although the word "plan" is never actually used in scripture to describe God's construction of history (despite its occasional occurrence in that regard in some English translations, e.g., Eph.1:11 NIV; Acts 2:23 NASB), the concept is nevertheless ubiquitous and is represented by a variety of Greek and Hebrew words, for example, prothesis, "intent", and boule, "counsel" in the aforementioned passages in Ephesians and Acts respectively:

 

In whom we also have an inheritance, having been ordained according to the design (Gk. πρόθεσις, prothesis) of Him who is working everything out according to the desire of His will.
Ephesians 1:11

 

This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose (Gk. βουλή, boule) and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
Acts 2:23 NIV

 

God is also the architect of New Jerusalem, our home in the eternal state and the culmination of His plan for us towards which all of human history is inexorably moving under His beneficent guidance.

 

For [Abraham] was waiting for the foundation of that city (i.e., the New Jerusalem) whose architect and builder is God.
Hebrews 11:8-10

 

Through Jesus Christ, the Father made everything that exists, and God is in control of everything that happens in human history, having decreed it in eternity past according to a plan so specific and detailed it cannot really be fathomed:

 

(1) O Lord, You have searched me and known me. (2) You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. (3) You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. (4) Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. (5) You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. (6) Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. (7) Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? (8) If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. (9) If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, (10) even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. (11) If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night," (12) even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. (13) For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. (14) I will give thanks to You, forI am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. (15) My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; (16) Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. (17) How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! (18) If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You.
Psalm 139:1-18 NASB

 

The Plan of God comprises everything that has and will be made and done, both by God Himself and by all of the free-will, moral agents He has and will create during the course of history. There are therefore three ways or "levels" on which to consider the Plan of God, and these three levels are analogous to those found in military operations (not at all surprising when we consider that our Lord's conquest of the satanic rebellion is essentially a military operation7): 1) the overarching, unified or "strategic" level (our subject immediately below in section 2.a of this study); 2) the large-scale implementation of strategy over time or "operational level" where in three phases God judges His enemies, restores His people, and replaces the former with the latter (treated in the Satanic Rebellion series, especially part 5, "Judgment, Restoration and Replacement"); and 3) the individual or tactical level (whose initial stages are covered below in section II of this study, "How to be saved"; part 6A of this series, "Peripateology: the Study of the Christian Walk", will focus on the tactical aspects of the Christian life after salvation).

 

(25) It is of this [Church] that I, [Paul], have become a minister according to God's mandate given to me for dispensing [the truth] to you, in order to bring completeness to God's Plan (lit., "word", Gk. logos), that is, (26) [to make known] the mystery hidden from ages and from generations [past], but now revealed to His holy ones (i.e., believers). (27) To all such God desired to make known what wealth there is in this glorious mystery regarding the gentiles, for it is that Christ – your hope of glory – is in you.
Colossians 1:25-27

 

(1) Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for [the purpose of aiding] the faith of the elect and their acceptance of the truth which accords with godliness, (2) in the hope of eternal life which God who cannot lie promised before time began, (3) and [who] has [now] at just the right time revealed His Plan (lit., logos) through the proclamation [of the gospel] with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.
Titus 1:1-3

 

As suggested by our translations of the passages above, perhaps the word which best sums up and communicated the overarching Plan of God in all of its comprehensive power is the Greek noun logos (λόγος). This famous term can span the semantic distance from a single "word" to the entire collection of thought expressed or unexpressed upon which actions are taken. As Colossians 1:25 makes clear, the "Word of God" thus encompasses more than the expressed words of God contained in the Bible; it also embraces the entirety of God's thought and intent in regard to His creation (cf. Rom.9:6; 2Pet.3:5-7). It is therefore highly significant that Jesus is called "the Word of God" (Jn.1:1; 1:14; Rev.19:13; cf. 1Jn.1:2;), for He is the One who embodies God's Plan, the One who fulfills God's Plan, and the One for whom the Plan of God has been decreed.

 

(15) [Jesus Christ] is the exact image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (16) Everything in the heavens and on the earth was created by Him, things invisible as well as those visible – whether thrones, authorities, rulers or powers, everything was created through Him and for Him. (17) And He Himself is before everything, and everything subsists in Him.
Colossians 1:15-17

 

In strategic terms, the Word sums up the objective of the grand design of the Plan of God, a perfect, eternal state populated by willing creatures who have been wed to the Living Word, Jesus Christ, the One who embodies the Father's will and who has fulfilled His plan.

 

(1) The Word [Jesus Christ] existed at the very beginning, and there was reciprocity between the Word and God [the Father]. (2) This One both existed and enjoyed reciprocity with God from the very beginning. (3) Everything came into being through Him, and without Him, nothing has come into being which has in fact come into being. (4) In Him was life, and this life was the light of men.
John 1:1-4

 

(1) What we have seen from the beginning, what we have heard and seen with our eyes, what we have observed and touched with our hands – this is about the Word of life[, Jesus Christ]. (2) And this life appeared, and we have seen [it], and we bear witness [to it], and we proclaim to you the eternal life which was in the presence of the Father and [then] appeared to us.
1st John 1:1-2

 

In operational terms, the Word refers to the central person of History, our Lord Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save it; He is the One who is implementing God's plan in replacing Satan in the three phases of judgment, restoration and replacement; He is the One in whom we are saved when we believe in Him and His work by accepting the truth of the Word of salvation, the gospel.

 

And the Word became flesh and tented among us. And we beheld His glory, a glory like that of a one and only Son from [the] Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

 

(11) And I saw the sky above opened up, and, behold, a white horse, and the One seated on it is called "Faithful and True", and in righteousness He renders judgment and makes war. (12) And His eyes were a flame of fire, and on His head were many [kingly] crowns, with names written [on them] which no one knows except He Himself. (13) And He is dressed in a robe splattered all about with blood, and His Name has [always] been called, "The Word of God".
Revelation 19:11-13

 

In tactical terms, the spoken Word is the truth about the Living Word who has fulfilled God's plan of salvation through His incarnation and work on the cross in dying for our sins.

 

Whenever anyone hears the message (lit., "word", logos) of the kingdom but does not let it [penetrate fully] in[to his heart], the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown beside the road.
Matthew 13:19

 

This is the meaning of the parable: the seed is the Word (logos) of God.
Luke 8:11

 

The one who hears my Word (logos) and puts his faith in the One who sent Me has eternal life.
John 5:24

 

In short, the Plan of God is salvation: its (strategic) declaration (Logos – Plan of the Father), its (operational) completion (Logos – Person and Work of the Son), and its (tactical) fulfillment in the lives of individual believers (Logos – Message of Good News or Gospel mediated by the Holy Spirit). Thus, the Plan of God is the Logos, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, the One who perfectly represents the thinking and the planning of the Father (1Cor.2:16), the One has perfectly carried out the plan (Heb.1:3), and the One who is the message or Logos which must be believed in order to be saved when the Holy Spirit makes this truth of the gospel understandable to the person in question (Jn.3:18-19). As the Word of God, therefore, Jesus Christ has been given a place of honor in the plan even above the hallowed Name of God Himself, for it is only by responding to Jesus Christ that the Father is truly honored and His plan fulfilled for His creatures who possess free will.

 

I will bow myself in worship toward your holy temple, and I will give thanks to your holy Name on account of your mercy, and on account of your truth, for You have magnified Your Word above Your entire Name.
Psalm 138:2

 

While [Peter] was still speaking, behold, a cloud suffused with light enveloped them, and, behold, a voice [issued forth] from the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!"
Matthew 17:5 (cf. 2Pet.1:16-21)

 

(22) For neither does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son, (23) in order that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father.
John 5:22-23a

 

For there is no salvation through any other Person, nor has any other Name on earth been given by which we must be saved.
Acts 4:12

 

(47) For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "I have made you [Jesus Christ] a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth." (48) When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
Acts 1:47-48 NIV

 

As the Logos, Jesus is the Plan of God in action. He is the mystery and the message. Responding to the gospel message which proclaims Him brings salvation and eternal life. Responding thereafter to the further truths our Lord Jesus embodies produces spiritual growth, production, and eternal reward.

 

As salvation is the objective of the Plan of God, and as that salvation has, entirely apart from any effort on our part, been provided to us His creatures in the divine decrees which precede creation, we may call God's plan for His universe "grace". For it is entirely through God's grace or favor that we exist at all, and it is entirely through His beneficence that we have the opportunity to choose to be saved and enjoy an eternal life with Him through the ineffably generous sacrifice unto death for our sins of His one and only Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Before He created the universe, God directed His grace or good favor towards all who would respond to His truth in the person of the Logos, Jesus Christ, and this grace results in salvation and eternal life for all who put their faith (the great divider) in the God-Man who died for us. This is the Plan of God: creatures with free will responding to the Creator's grace through faith so as to be saved.

 

(8) For you have been saved by [God's] grace through faith [in Christ]; and this did not come from you – it is God's gift. (9) Nor did it come from what you have done, lest anyone should boast. (10) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for [the purpose of accomplishing] good works, which [very works] God has prepared ahead of time for us, that we might walk in them.
Ephesians 2:8-10

 

[God] who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not through our works, but through His own [sovereign] choice [of us] and [His] grace [towards us], [that grace] which was given to us in Christ Jesus in eternity past.
2nd Timothy 1:9

 

(3) For we were also once mindless, disobedient, wandering [pointlessly] astray, enslaved to all sorts of lusts and pleasures, living our lives in wickedness and envy, loathsome and hating each other. (4) But [in spite of our prior sinfulness], when the goodness and benevolence of God our Savior appeared [in the flesh], (5) not on account of [any] works which we had done in [so-called] righteousness did He save us, but [He saved us] through the washing [away of our sins which leads to our] rebirth and [to our] new beginning from the Holy Spirit (6) whom He poured out upon us bountifully through Jesus Christ our Savior, (7) so that [now] having been justified [in this way] by His grace, we might become heirs in regard to the eternal life for which we hope.
Titus 3:3-7

 

Just as the overall Plan of God can be considered in three dimensions, the strategic level (i.e., the "big picture" of God's foreordaining of all things which necessitated the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ), the operational level (i.e., the temporal working out of God's plan for the ages over the seven thousand years of human history in His judging of Satan, His replacing of the evil one and his minions, and His restoration for all who are willing of an eternal relationship with Him – all based upon the cross of Jesus Christ), and the tactical level (i.e., God's provision of salvation for individual believers through our free-will faith response to the gift of Jesus Christ), so also in the case of this last dimension we find a similar threefold division whereby the believer "has been saved" (e.g., Rom.8:24; Eph.2:8; 2Tim.1:9), "is being saved" (e.g., Lk.13:22; 1Cor.1:18; 15:2; 2Cor.2:15), and "will be saved" (e.g., Matt.10:22; 24:13; Rom.5:9-10; 1Cor.3:15; 1Pet.1:8; Heb.9:28).

 

(3) May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be praised, who has in His great mercy caused us to be reborn to a hope which lives through Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead, (4) and to an inheritance which will never be destroyed, defiled, or dimmed, but which is being guarded in heaven for us, (5) who are ourselves also being kept safe by God's power and our faith in Him to an ultimate deliverance (lit., "salvation", Gk. soteria, σωτηρία) ready to be unveiled at the end of time.
1st Peter 1:3-5

 

This process whereby those ordained for eternal life come to put their faith in Jesus Christ, live their lives to and through Jesus Christ, and ultimately become One with Jesus Christ in a fully experiential way is called "sanctification".8 Sanctification, literally, the "rendering holy" of those who choose to turn to God, is the process by which God removes us from the realm of this dead, secular world, and transfers us instead into the realm of the living and the eternal (Rom.6:19-22; 15:16; 1Cor.1:2; 1:30; 6:11; 7:14; Eph.5:26; 1Thes.4:3-7; 5:23; 2Thes.2:13; 2Tim.2:21).

 

(9) For this reason we also from the [very] day we heard [of your love] do not cease praying on your behalf and asking that you be fulfilled in regard to the full acceptance (epignosis) of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, (10) that you might walk worthy of the Lord to please Him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing by means of the full knowledge (epignosis) of God, (11) being empowered with all power according to His glorious might for all perseverance and patience, with joy (12) giving thanks to the Father who has rendered you sufficient to receive your share in the inheritance of the saints (i.e., "holy ones") in the light [of eternity], [the very One] (13) who rescued us from the power of darkness and delivered us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.
Colossians 1:9-13

 

In the first phase of sanctification, God superintends the lives of all those who are willing to respond to Him in faith, bringing the gospel message to them at just the right time so as to be saved by responding in faith to His truth about the Person and work of Jesus Christ (1Pet.1:2); as a result, we become holy in principle, being accounted righteous by God through our acceptance of Jesus' acceptable work for salvation over our own unacceptable works (Tit.3:4-7). In the second phase of sanctification, God tests the depth of our faith and calls upon us to develop it (Heb.10:14; 1Pet.1:16), so that we may draw ever closer to Him and to the standard of perfect holiness as we respond to His truth in time (1Thes.4:3; 2Tim.1:9; 2Pet.3:11; Rev.22:11). In the third phase of sanctification, God renders us holy once and for all by resurrecting us in perfect, eternal bodies in which we shall be fit to enjoy sweet fellowship with Him and His Son our Lord forevermore (Rev.20:6; cf. Jn.11:25; 1Cor.15:42; Col.1:12), being thereafter incapable of sin; just as our participation in the resurrection unto life is based upon our entrance into Christ in phase one, so the rewards we shall enjoy for all eternity are based upon our level of responsiveness in phase two to the Logos and the truth of Him who is the Truth (1Cor.3:10-15; cf. Rom.12:1).

 

Thus the actual process of salvation, otherwise known as sanctification, is a progression which begins even before the believer first accepts Christ and ends only at the resurrection.  And just as the Plan of God in its strategic sense may be represented by a circle (for in this respect it encompasses all things), in its operational sense by a straight line (to represent its implementation over time), and in its tactical sense by a set of simple points (standing for each individual believer), so it is with the Plan of God for individual believers:  our positional sanctification has always been encompassed by the Plan of God; our experiential sanctification tracks our Christian lives from the point of salvation to our entrance into the presence of God; our ultimate sanctification will be a solid-state point in infinity, together with all who have called upon the Name of Jesus Christ for salvation.  At present, we believers stand between the purposed initial phase sanctification which has already been accomplished and the wondrous eternal holiness we shall possess forever in the presence of our Savior; responding to the grace of God and the truth of God here in time furthers the process of our temporal, experiential sanctification, a process which furthers the Plan of God as it results in His Glory.

 

Now this is God's will, namely, your sanctification.
1st Thessalonians 4:3a

 

(1) Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for [the purpose of aiding] the faith of the elect and their acceptance of the truth which accords with godliness, (2) in the hope of eternal life which God who cannot lie promised before time began, (3) and [who] has [now] at just the right time revealed His Plan (lit., logos) through the proclamation [of the gospel] with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.
Titus 1:1-3

 

But just as He who has called you is holy, you too should be entirely holy in your behavior. For the scripture says:  Be holy, for I am holy.
1st Peter 1:15-16

 

If grace is the name of the Plan of God and salvation-sanctification its objective (with free-will faith being the great principle which divides those who will respond to God from those who will not), the result of the Plan of God is God's glory.  For who He is in all His wondrous love and mercy has been, is, and will be made thoroughly manifest by the working out of His plan in creature history.  While this is true in all three dimensions (strategic, operational, and tactical), it is particularly true that the Plan of God for individual believers inevitably results in His glorification as we not only respond to Him but also become part of Him in Jesus Christ, an ineffably wondrous development that reveals so vividly His inexpressibly great goodness in "bringing many sons to glory" through the gift of His one and only dear Son our Lord (Heb.2:10).  Further, it is through our responsiveness to Him and His truth that He brings us to become a part of Him and of the glory He is, has won, and will soon fully reveal at the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, He who is the very "shining forth" of the Father's glory (Heb.1:3).

 

[It is] through these [divine blessings] that the great and honorable promises have been granted to us, so that through them we might become partakers of the divine nature (i.e., in contrast with our earthly sinful nature), having [through salvation] escaped earthly corruption and its lust.
2nd Peter 1:4

 

God is glory, and the gaining of glory in which we believers are encouraged to share through our response to His Son in time is in actuality really the revelation of this truth to an ever greater degree until we all in resurrection with unveiled faces are capable of seeing Him as He really is. This progression of the gaining and revealing of the glory of God which comes through the salvation, growth and eternal reward of believers (the corresponding purpose and result of the Plan of God in all three phases of the believer's life) is intricately woven into Paul's Ephesian doxology:

 

(3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing heaven has [to offer], (4) seeing that even before the world was founded He chose us in Him to be sanctified and blameless before Him. (5) Having foreordained us in [His] love for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of His will, (6) for the purpose of producing praise for the glory (at salvation) of His grace which He has graciously bestowed on us in the Beloved [One]. (7) In whom (i.e., Christ) we possess our ransoming [from sin] (i.e., "redemption") through His blood, the forgiveness of our transgressions according to the riches of His grace, (8) which He caused to superabound towards us in all wisdom and understanding (9) [God] has made known to us the mystery He has willed (according to His own benevolent purpose which He determined in [Christ]) (10) for administering this [present] fulfillment of the epochs: namely the incorporation of all things in Christ, things in heaven, and things on earth – (11) In whom we also have an inheritance, having been ordained according to the design of Him who is working everything out according to the desire of His will, (12) that we who have previously placed our hope in Christ might serve the purpose of generating praise for His glory (in the Christian life). (13) In [Christ] you also when you heard the Word of truth, the good news of your salvation, in whom [I say], when you believed, you were sealed by the Spirit of promise, the Holy [Spirit], (14) who is a pledge of our inheritance for redeeming its preservation (i.e., safeguarding our resurrection and reward in every way), for the purpose of the praise of His glory (in eternity).
Ephesians 1:3-14

 

As this passage tells us, through the Plan of God we believers were blessed with salvation before God made the world (v.4), were foreordained for adoption into the family of God (v.5), and were ordained to eternal reward (v.9), all of which benefits stand firm through having been determined by God's decree pronounced before time began (v.11) and guaranteed by the seal of the Holy Spirit from the moment we believed (vv.13-14). This is the plan of salvation, our deliverance from death and judgment by God's grace in the provision of Jesus Christ in whom we have come to believe, and the ultimate outcome of these wondrous events is God's ever increasing glory, in planning and effecting our salvation (v.6), in providing for our spiritual growth, progress and production, the basis for our eternal rewards (v.12), and in bringing us safe through to the day of resurrection when we will begin to experience our eternal life and rewards to His praise and glory forevermore (v.14).

 

Notes:

1. See also Peter's Epistles, lesson #13: "Sanctification".

2. See "The Human Spirit" in section II.3 of part 3A of the Bible Basics series, "Anthropology".

3. See part 4 of The Satanic Rebellion, section I, "Strangers in the Devil's Realm".

4. See "The Creation of Eve" in section II.5 of part 3A of the Bible Basics series, "Anthropology".

5. See "The Conscience" in section I.3 of part 3B of the Bible Basics series, "Hamartiology".

6. For the process and effect of this hardening of the heart, see "Exodus 14: Hardening Pharaoh's Heart".

7. Christ's successful expiation of the sins of the world on the cross is described in terms of a military victory (Col.2:15; Rev.4:4-5), and that is what His conquest of the beast at Armageddon certainly is (cf. Rev.19:11-21).  Compare also the fact that the ark of the covenant is a representation of the heavenly throne of God which in itself a "battle chariot".  See "The Throne of God" in section I.3.b of Coming Tribulation part 2B.

8. See in part 3B of the Bible Basics series, “Hamartiology”, section V.2, "The Principle and Process of Sanctification", and Peter's Epistles, lesson #13: "Sanctification".

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