4. The Decrees of God
A study of the decrees of God will stretch our minds to the point where we will need to submit ourselves to the revealed Word of God. We won’t be able to understand everything that we’ll see about this wonderful subject, but the hardest part will be to accept it.
Nothing presents more difficulty to the untaught mind than the Bibles teachings about God’s sovereign control of people, plans and things. It is offensive and preposterous to multitudes to imply that God has a plan for the whole universe down to such minute details as the hairs on someone’s head and the ways of a sparrow. But He does!
Matt. 10:29-30 – Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
When we contemplate the eternal counsels and purposes of our great God, we must stand in awe and realize our total dependence upon the Holy Spirit for illumination on the subject. The natural mind views this as total foolishness and even the spiritual mind has difficulty with believing such deep truths. We must not come to hasty conclusions, but allow the Scriptures to clearly speak for themselves.
As this section will demonstrate, God’s government of the world is controlled by a plan. God’s government of His creation is what theologians call providence and the plan that providence executes is called predestination, or the doctrine of the decrees of God.
The decrees of God are His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
The decrees of God may be defined as that just, wise, and holy purpose or plan by which eternally, and within Himself, He determines all things whatsoever that come to pass.
The decree of God is his firm decision by which He performs all things through His almighty power according to His counsel.
The decree of God is that term given to describe His determination of all things according to His eternal and wise purpose.
Eph. 1:11 – In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.
Eph. 3:11 – This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Messiah Jesus our Lord.
No one suggested to God that it might be good to do this or that. It was not only not suggested to Him by anyone else, it was not even suggested to God, as some have supposed, by reason of His foreknowledge whereby He saw that certain people were going to think and do certain things, in consequence of which His own thoughts were determined. Such an idea is a complete denial of what the Apostle teaches here. Everything is according to the counsel of His own will. He thought with Himself, He deliberated and meditated with Himself [in Triune relations]. The whole plan of salvation from beginning to end is exclusively of God, with nothing at all from the outside. Everything originates in God, everything comes out from God. I said at the beginning that we were considering high doctrine. A quote from Lloyd-Jones
A. The Decrees of God and Fatalism
The decrees of God and fatalism are not synonyms. Fatalism views God as nothing more than the workings of natural or unknown impersonal forces which make all things come out in some predetermined way. The Stoic calls it destiny.
One individual explained fate by imagining man as a water beetle caught in a torrent of water. He may struggle, or he may let himself be swept along in peace simply accepting his doom. If we see God’s providence as nothing more than fate, then the best we can hope for is to resign ourselves to the horrors that may lie ahead, and be swept along by blind destiny. That is not the biblical picture of God’s providence. Fate is like the workings of a machine without reason or purpose. The God of Scripture acts personally to carry out His plan to a specific, known goal by directing all things for His own glory and for the blessing of His people. Fate drags us to an irrational destiny with no purpose and does not consider us as real persons.
Predestination has a good purpose and is designed by a loving God to reveal His own glory and to produce benefits for His people. The Biblical doctrine treats us as persons who participate as real beings who reflect the sovereign work of God on our hearts. The Biblical teaching does not let us blame God for our rebellion, yet it will equally not let us take credit for our restoration or for the good we do.
B. The Extent of the Decrees
Nothing in the universe can be considered to be exempt from the decrees of God. If that is true, what about evil and sin?
Eph. 1:11 – In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.
One of the most common difficulties in understanding this doctrine is the presence of evil in God’s universe and the free actions of intelligent creatures. If God has foreordained all that comes to pass so that there is no uncertainty that His decrees will be carried out exactly as He intended them, then how does this relate to sinful acts which are admittedly present?
Again, we are dependent upon God’s revealed Word to solve this apparent dilemma.
God being the cause of sin, is totally contrary to what He has revealed in His Word.
It contradicts His character and His capability as a holy God. He is not sinful nor can He be.
Ps. 92:15 – To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
James 1:13 – Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
I John 1:5 – This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
God in His omniscience knew that sin would enter the universe. For good reasons He included it in His decree, but He Himself did not bring it to pass. It entered the universe by the sin of Lucifer and sins are committed to this very day as sinful humans choose to walk in ways that are contrary to God and His Word. Satan and mankind are held responsible for their evil behavior.
The decrees of God do not release man from being held responsible for the evil that they do. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are truths that are taught in Scripture.
Luke 22:21-22 – But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!
Acts 4:27-28 – For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
Acts 2:22-23 – Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
The decrees of God included sin and evil while at the same time man is held responsible for the sin and evil that they commit. God is not the author of sin, nor is He held responsible for the sins that evil and godless men commit.
C. Some Characteristics of God’s Decrees
The most important aspect of the Divine decree is, that it brings all things that come to pass in space and time into a plan. This plan has several characteristics to it. Knowing and understanding God’s plan will help us in countless ways.
The Divine decree is founded in wisdom
Because God exercised His infinite wisdom in forming His decree, we can be sure that He came up with the best plan possible. He never has to revise it, nor will He ever wish that He did things differently.
Rom. 11:33-36 – Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
The Divine decree was formed in eternity, but is manifested in time
The formation of the decree takes us back back in time when in eternity past the Triune God came up with His eternal plan for His universe and all that is in it.
Eph. 1:4 – just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him In love.
II Thes. 2:13 – But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.
Rev. 13:8 – All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.
Acts 15:18 – Known to God from eternity are all His works.
The Divine decree is immutable
Since God is immutable (He does not change), we would expect that His plans would also be unchanging. Also, because there is no defect in God, there would be no need for any adjustments to be made in anything He has ordained.
Heb. 6:17 – In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath.
Ps. 33:11 – The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.
God’s decree is certain
All that God has decreed is certain to come to pass. Even though Satan and all of God’s enemies mount attacks against Him, His decrees will prevail.
Pro. 19:21 – Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.
Isa. 46:10 – Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.
Job 42:2 – I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
Ps. 2:1-7 – Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us! He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.
As we can see, God decree is wisely planned out and it is certain that every aspect of it will be completely fulfilled in His perfect time and for His glory. Though man and Satan will attempt to thwart it, it stands as firm as God Himself.
D. Practical Implications of God’s Decrees
As one would imagine, there are several very practical results of having an understanding of God’s eternal plan. The more we comprehend it, the more we can rest in His will for us as His children.
1. Nothing happens by luck or chance
Even though many use these words to describe a set of circumstances, the ideas that are behind luck and chance do not fit into the concept of God decrees.
Pro. 16:33 – The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD.
Jonah. 1:7 – Each man said to his mate, Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.
Acts 1:26 – And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
2. All of our circumstances have the hand of God in them
All of our circumstances in life fall under His control, poverty or riches, sickness or health, good times or bad times, length of life. Things do not happen in a vacuum.
All of our experiences falls under His providential care.
This doesn’t mean we should not make plans and preparations for the future. We should live like the Lord will return at any moment, but plan as though He may not return for years. When we make plans we do so with the understanding that He may interrupt them.
James 4:13-15 – Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.
Rom. 1:10-13 – always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.
Joseph, who was sold by his brothers is a wonderful example of coming to the realization that all his circumstances were under the providential hand of God.
Gen 50:20 – As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.
Gen 45:5-8 – Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
3. Complaining and murmuring becomes a means whereby we defame the purposes of God
Since all of our circumstances fall under His control, which ones do we have the right to complain about? When we complain about our circumstances, it doesn’t stop there, we are also complaining about God Himself, since He is the one who allowed them to enter our life.
If God wanted to, He could prevent things from coming into our lives. The fact that He doesn’t, means He want us to experience them. The advantage that believers have is that we know that there is a purpose for all things that come our way. Non-believers do not have that knowledge.
Job 40:2 – Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.
Rom. 9:20-21 – On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, Why did you make me like this, will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
4. When we realize that whatever comes our way, comes from our loving Father, we will find rest, comfort and peace in this wonderful doctrine.
It’s a shame that this teaching is often rejected and fought against by so many because of it’s difficulty to accept. I don’t think it is as hard to understand as it is to believe.
If there is ever a time when we need to heed the insights that are found in Isa. 55 the time is now. Just because a teaching is difficult to accept or hard to understand, that doesn’t give us the right to reject it.
Isa. 55:8-9 – For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.