The Progression of Sin
Lesson 5 in the series
Miscellaneous Lessons
Tim Temple

Introduction

One of the most interesting subjects in the arena of human behavior is the subject of “buzzwords”, words that are unique to and characteristic of some particular area. Every profession and sport and discipline has its own “buzzwords”. In baseball it is words like “earned runs” and “stolen bases” and “batting averages.” In football it is “fourth and long” and “the quarterback sack” and “the winged T formation”. In the world of computers it is “bits” and “bytes” and “ram” and “rom” and “co-processors” and “expansion slots” and “motherboards”, and on and on and on. To those who are familiar with each of these subjects, those words make perfect sense, but to those outside those fields, they are nonsense.

Christianity is no different. It has its own “buzzwords”–“the will of God”, “walking with the Lord”, “the Word”, “Brother” and “Sister”, “taking a stand”, etc. But of all the Christian buzzwords, surely the most common is “prayer” in its various forms. And yet there are Christians in the world today who have decided that there is really no point in praying, although very few of them would tell you that, and most of them wouldn't even want God to know they felt that way! But they feel that way because of a seeming paradox that goes something like this: “If God is really sovereign, and does whatever He decides to do and never changes His mind [and the Scriptures do say that], then why should I pray about anything?” But part two of the paradox goes like this: “Over and over again the Scripture tells us to pray, even saying that we should pray about everything” (Philippians 4:6,7). So the question before us is that one: Why should we pray to a sovereign God who already knows what He is going to do and has promised to do all things well? It needs to be said right here from the beginning that that question cannot be answered to our complete satisfaction. Isaiah, chapter 5, verses 10-11, say that “God's ways are not our ways”, though they are higher than our ways. Deuteronomy, chapter 9, verse 29, says that there are some secret things that belong only to the Lord but many things He has revealed to us. But in answering that question to the best of our ability, we need to think about three things: (1)the importance of the sovereignty of God, (2) the implications of the sovereignty of God, and (3) the possibility of interaction with the sovereignty of God.

Importance of the Sovereignty of God

Let's think first about the importance of the sovereignty of God. This is a subject that scares many people. Passages such as Isaiah, chapter 6, verses 9-11, indicate clearly that God does whatever He pleases. That makes us feel like robots or puppets who have no control over our destiny. But on the other hand, the importance of that sovereignty is that we have a God Who can do anything, and who wouldn't want a God like that? Isaiah, chapter 40, talks about the folly of one who hews out an idol from a log and then prays to it. What a foolish and useless thing that would be!

Although it is a different attribute of God, it is important to mention that sovereignty is coupled with His attributes of absolute love and absolute holiness. So the bottom line is that there is nothing to be afraid of about His sovereignty. He does whatever He wants to do, but whatever He wants to do is only loving and good and holy. But that still doesn't answer the question of why we should pray. Why not just trust His benevolent sovereignty and let Him do whatever He wants to do? That leads to our next point.

The Decree of God

Although the sovereignty of God is very important, it is also important for us to recognize some implications in the sovereignty of God as well. First of all, we need to understand a distinction between the decree of God and the will of God. The decree of God (singular) is a theological term which refers to those things which God decided in eternity past. The creation, sustenance, continuance and conclusion of the universe, the salvation of sinners, the attributes of God, etc.; but the will of God has to do with the implementation of the details of the various areas of that decree. The implication of that distinction is that there is no need to pray about the various areas of the decree of God. For example, He is not going to alter His own nature. He is not going to alter the place of Jesus Christ as the Savior or the Holy Spirit as the facilitator of our salvation. He is not going to change any of the details of the plan of salvation. So there is no need to pray about any of those things. In fact, there is an illustration of this in the life of Jesus Himself. Look at Matthew, chapter 26, verse 39. This is a prayer that Jesus prayed on the very night before His crucifixion. We read:

Matthew 26

39And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

And yet the next chapter goes on and tells us that Jesus did go to the Cross to die for our sins the next day. So here is an instance in which God the Father said “No” to the prayer of God the Son! Why? Because the decree of God included the fact that the Son of God would die for the sins of the world. And even God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ could not change that! Of course, Jesus recognized that in His prayer: “Not as I will, but as You will.”

Implementation of His Decree

Even in the midst of His sovereignty, God has given us the privilege of praying about the various details of His will as He implements the details of the decree. The clearest statement of that truth is I John, chapter 5, verse 15:

I John 5

14And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:

Someone says, “How is that any different from praying about His decree?” Well, that difference is perhaps best illustrated in Matthew, chapter 23, verse 37. This verse comes at the conclusion of the section in which Jesus is telling about the judgment of God coming upon Jerusalem because of their rejection of Him (vv.1-36). But after that scathing denunciation, he looks out over Jerusalem and cries:

Matthew 23

37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

You see, God's decree was that He would forgive the sins of any who come to Him in faith. But His will in implementing that decree was that they had to exercise their own will in coming to Him by faith.

Another illustration of this same principle is in II Peter, chapter 3. The subject of this chapter is the judgment of God. In verses 1-4, he talks about the scoffers who will come in the last days and deny the whole concept of judgment. And one of the ways that we can know that we are in the last days is that that very prediction has come true. People scoff at the very idea of the Lord's return today. If you see something about the Lord's return in the newspapers today, it is in the funny papers, with a cartoon character walking around in a robe and rope-soled sandals and carrying a placard saying, “Repent”.

Illustrations of Judgments

But then in order to show how foolish that view is, in verses 5-7, he gives illustrations of previous judgments of God. Incidentally, the illustrations that he uses here hold very important implications for our day and for our society. The first illustration he uses is that of the angels who sinned in verse 4. The reason that is so important is that angels are smarter than humans. In Hebrews, chapter 2, it says that when Jesus became a man, he was made a little lower than the angels. That means that the smartest human is dumber than the dumbest angel. Now the significance of that is that today education and intelligence are most important. One of the reasons that people reject the truths of the Word of God is that educated or intelligent people don't accept them. But listen: God did not hesitate to judge the angels who sinned just because they were smart! And when the day comes for Him to judge this earth, those things won't stop Him either.

Then in verse 5, he gives a second illustration, and that is the whole world of Noah's day. That, too, is significant for our day. One of the themes of our day and of our society is the theme of “everybody's doing it”. The idea is that surely God's standards can't be right, because everybody rejects them. But again, let me remind you that God did not hesitate to judge the world of Noah's day even though no one but Noah and his family believed that He would.

Then in verse 6, Peter gives the third illustration. That is the illustration of Sodom and Gomorrah. The details of that story are given in Genesis, chapter 19. A summary of that situation is that in Sodom the perverted had become the norm. Apparent homosexuality was so rampant that almost all of the men in the city were homosexuals. They didn't even think there was anything wrong with that. I'm sure they probably thought, “Well, we used to think there was something wrong with that kind of behavior, but in our advanced society, we know that it's really all right.” And of course, that is sobering for our society, too, isn't it? I'm sure we are all aware of the efforts of the gay community to normalize those kinds of relationships. But let me remind you again that God did not hesitate to rain down fire and brimstone on that society just because they were advanced and enlightened in their thinking. And He won't hesitate to judge our society, either, if we go too far in that direction.

II Peter, chapter 3, verse 9, puts all of this in focus:

II Peter 3

9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

You know, God has waited so long to bring judgment on our society that people are scoffing at the whole concept! Why does He wait so long? Because He is “not willing that any should perish”. And yet the whole context before and after this verse is that there have been in the past and there will be in the future some who will perish in spite of His will that they not do so. What makes the difference? Whether or not they decide to accept Christ as Savior.

Interaction With the Will of God

Now let's see if we can bring all of this together. The third thing we want to think about is the possibility of interaction with the will of God. What have we seen thus far? The decree of God has been settled forever in Heaven. It will not change. But the will of God is a matter that is open to change and implementation. Those are things that we can pray about. Those are the areas of prayer. If it is God's will that people be saved, we can pray about every aspect of that. Our life and testimony, the witness of all legitimate ministries, our unsaved loved ones–these and many other areas of God's will we can pray about.

What are some of those things? Well, James, chapter 5, verse 1, says that we can ask for wisdom from God. The immediate context is the need for wisdom in the midst of testing, but by extension it could apply to any situation. Jeremiah, chapter 33, verse 3, says that we can ask God to show us great and mighty things which we know not. There are hundreds of other things that God tells us to pray about, but a very good summary of God's prayer promises is Philippians, chapter 4, verses 6-7. Those verses say that we can pray about anything that we would otherwise worry about! Look at those verses with me for a moment:

Philippians 4

6Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
7And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Do you see what that is saying? It is saying that we don't have to worry about anything! Now most people's immediate reaction to that is, “Well, that's ridiculous! There are things I have to worry about!” But you see, the verse doesn't end there. It goes on to say, “…but in everything, by prayer and supplication…let your requests be made known unto God.” In other words, pray about everything. And again, there are people who respond, “I can't pray about everything.” In fact, it is interesting that sometimes those are the same people who say, “I have to worry about everything.” You see, what this boils down to is that you can worry to the Lord. When you start to worry about something, just turn those worries into prayer! There is a wonderful promise that goes like this: “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus.” You see, He doesn't say that God will automatically solve every problem that you have, but He does promise unequivocally to give peace in the midst of the problem while He does work it out.

That's a pretty thorough promise, isn't it? But to be even more specific, James, chapter 4, verse 3, even says that you have not because you ask not. In other words, there are times that God is willing to do something for us, but He waits until we ask Him to do it! How many blessings have we missed simply because we haven't taken the time to pray about them?

Assets In Prayer

The last thing that I want to mention to you is that there are some very real assets that are ours in prayer. As background for all of this, remember that we are talking about praying according to the will of God and about the decree of God, and sometimes we may not know the difference. So what do we do? Pray about it anyway! Remember that Jesus Himself prayed about an area of the decree of God that the Father did not change on His behalf. And yet there is no rebuke or negative lesson recorded. In fact, the text goes on to indicate that Jesus continued in prayer and was greatly strengthened by doing so. And this is the first of the many assets of prayer–fellowship with the Father. Your prayer may be one that God says “no” to either because it is a part of the decree that He will not change or because your request would conflict with the accomplishment of some other aspect of His will; but you have still had a time of being obedient to Him and of being heard before the throne of grace. That bolsters fellowship with God.

Then there are those situations such as war in the Middle East in which we have no idea what we are going to do. What do we do? Pray about it, because as we do, we will experience another of God's great assets in prayer which is freedom from fear as we talked about a few moments ago in Philippians, chapter 4, verses 6-7.

Conclusion

So we come back to our original question: Why pray if God already knows what He is going to do? I hope the answer is clear. You can pray about anything you want to because even if it is something that He has already decreed, you will have the asset of fellowship with the Father and freedom from fear.


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