Alfred Place Baptist Church

1:11&12 God’s Plan – The Church To Be To The Praise Of His Glory

Ephesians 1:11&12 “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

God has a plan, and so Paul returns to this subject again. You may think that this is rather a cerebral matter. I hope that it won’t be. Every Christian here is a part of God’s plan. Imagine your favourite wealthy elderly aunt tells you she’s going to pay you a visit because she wants to unfold her plans for what she is going to do with her fortune after her days. You are the chief beneficiary! If that were the case then your aunt’s plan is not going to be an intellectual matter is it? You are going to be very rich. What’s her plan and how do you fit into it? That is not an academic matter is it? God has a plan and every one of his people are going to become its beneficiaries. What is this divine plan? You can see that this plan is an immensely important idea.

Is there any man who doesn’t have a plan before he acts? We live our lives with some kind of purpose. We take decisions thinking of the consequences, or we are fools. We are going off for a weekend, and we make plans for that. We are involved in a piece of work, and we set out a plan. The architect, the businessman, the security guard, the farmer, the rugby coach of a national team, the surgeon about to remove an appendix, the traffic controller, the housewife with her budget, the husband walking to town with a list in his pocket – everyone works with plans and procedures. Animals don’t: your dog is released and it runs around the park chasing butterflies and sniffing trees. It has no plans, but men in the image of God do, and the larger the enterprise the more important it is that we have a plan, or all our efforts are going to end in failure. Jesus told of a man who announced, “I am going to build a . . . tower!” But tower building is demanding and expensive work. He hadn’t planned it out, and the tower was never finished. He built a folly and he became a laughing stock. Jesus said that a king threatened with war makes plans first. You have a battle plan or a surrender plan, but you must have some plan. When David looked at Goliath he devised a plan to overcome him. Who would build a railway, or a boat, or a mousetrap, without a plan? Who would govern a country without a plan? Think of Stalin’s grandiose Five Year Plans and the millions who died in the dictator’s enforcement of those impossible projects.

The Mighty God of love, the Creator of heaven and earth, has a plan. That is absolutely essential. If men cannot work without first planning how much more is this true of God! A universe without a plan is like a car without lights hurtling along a Welsh road at midnight. There is no certainty that any moment it will be off the road and over the edge of the mountain. We cannot conceive of God bringing into existence a universe without a plan for what will be its future and destiny, or making man in his own image without a plan for such an eternal creation. God has a plan, and therefore it must be the very best of all plans, perfect and good and glorious. O let me know that plan! Let it touch my life. Can it become my plan too? Let me bless God for his plan.

“Hail, sovereign love, that first began
The plan to rescue fallen man!
Hail, matchless, free, eternal grace,
That gave my soul a hiding-place.” (Brewer)

How does Paul describe the divine plan here? It is succinct and very sweet: God has predestined that his chosen people (those who hope in Christ) should be to the praise of Christ’s great glory. That’s it! God has laid out that plan before the angels of heaven and for the church on earth. “This is what I plan to do with the universe. I intend that every single atom in the cosmos will be to the praise of the glory of my dear Son Jesus Christ.” That is the blue print which is laid out in command headquarters around the throne, and everything that happens will further that end. That is the message that the pilgrim church declares to the people of God on their journey to heaven. God is working out everything to fulfil that purpose. All that happens to us must serve the ends of that plan: our gains and our losses; our births and our deaths; our sicknesses and our health; our alienation and our reconciliation, in every single Christian without exception all must be to the praise of Christ’s glory. The Potter has put the work on the wheel and every movement of that wheel must serve that end. So we have the right to complain only about the things that don’t advance the plan of God. But our text is saying that everything advances God’s plan, not only the best things that happen to us but the worst things too.

The great purpose of God’s plan is that every one of his chosen people, the most obscure and anonymous, the people that stumbled like Noah and Lot and Job and David and Solomon and Jonah, and you and me too, are all going to be to the praise of God’s glory both in this world and the world to come. What is their chief end? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever. That is God’s plan. Think of the scene in heaven described for us in Revelation 4 where 24 elders approach the throne of God. They represent God’s people, the church, and they are a holy people, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, but as they see him on the throne they all fall flat on their faces before him and they worship God. They are a true royal priesthood, kings and priests to God, but every one of the twenty-four men in his presence remove their crowns and they put them at the foot of the throne. Then they say these words together, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev. 4:11).

They give glory to God, and I am saying that that is our reason for living. That is our chief end in life. We are to consciously devote ourselves to live to the praise of God’s glory. We judge everything as to whether it serves that end. If it doesn’t then we must abandon it and get on with something that does. Life is too short for us to be entangled in stuff that doesn’t bring glory to God. Our chief end is not the good of humanity, that is too man-centred to be our great goal. Our end is to display the glory of God, that is, to recover his tarnished reputation in the eyes of the world, to overcome men’s prejudices about God, to show why he is so glorious, to magnify that glory to the heights of heaven. He is already glorious. He has been infinitely and eternally glorious. No one created by God can make him more glorious than he is already. But God’s plan is that we reflect and display his glory both in this world and the world to come. Jesus said, “I have glorified thee on earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (Jn. 17:4). That is how we can be to the praise of his glory. We all have work to do as, say, Christian students, or as wage-earners, as keepers of our homes, as neighbours, as brothers or sisters, as people involved in our culture, as those who have some influence great or small, and in every place and in all we do we are to glorify God. For example, an industrialist is to be to the praise of God’s glory through good working conditions and man management, fair wages, using some of the profits for the spread of the gospel and for the ministry of mercy. Or consider how many of us live with our families, and our home life is to be to the praise of God’s glory, we are to make drudgery divine. We will sit down and have meals together, and when we eat and drink we won’t goad one another but will sit around our tables in a thankful and loving way, so that eating those baked potatoes or drinking some coffee and donuts together is to the glory of the God who has made us thankful and loving people.

There was once a young man who was a member of this church. He had not had a great start in life financially, though he came from very earnest and moral parents. He became a Christian just before I came here, and I baptized him. He later moved to north Wales for his education. His minister there appreciated the support he gave the pulpit, and when he got a new car he actually gave this young man his old car. The young man was utterly overwhelmed at the gift. No one had ever given him something as generous as that, and he treasured this car. What he did was this, he got a wide Dymo label and he printed a strip with some words on it which he stuck right in front of the passenger seat where I was confronted with it one day when he was giving me a brief ride, and I heard the story of how he had got this car. The words were, “THIS CAR IS TO BE USED FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.” It certainly was a conversation starter when he picked up hitchhikers. We all appreciate that we don’t have to literally stick on our computers and laptops and possessions, “This is for the praise of God’s glory,” but that is our goal in everything, because it is God’s plan, that we in this world and in the world to come, be to the praise of his glory. That is the plan of God. Now let me say some things about it.

1. IT IS AN ORDERLY PLAN.

It is understandable and rational. I have explained it to you, and you have understood much of what I have said, that God is going to praise and magnify his blessed Son for evermore, and so in everything we do we are to live to the praise of Christ’s glory. That is why we’ve been created and redeemed. When Paul exhorts the congregation in Corinth about worship he lays down one indispensable mark of a church that is full of God, that everything we do when we assemble together in the name of the Lord is to be done decently and in order. For example, two people, at the most, are to speak, or on very special occasions, three speakers (I Cor. 14:27) and no more. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets. God is not the God of chaos but peace. “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (I Cor. 14:40). That is the foundation of revealed religion. Let us look at some of the opening words of Luke’s gospel: “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Lk.1:3&4). What is Luke’s gospel? It is a planned gospel. It is an “orderly account” of the life of our Lord. It begins with Jesus’ parents and other people before he was born, and then Luke goes on to his birth, life, death and resurrection. There is a structure and pattern about it, and Luke comments on this fact to his readers. There were hundreds of myths about Greek and Roman gods and goddesses which Theophilus would know all about; fairy stories without any structure at all, a collection of random incidents and fables. The New Testament is not like that. This epistle, and the letter to the Romans and so on, are not like that. They are orderly accounts. So is the plan of God. It is rational. That is the basic call we make to our fellow countrymen. “Come to the Truth,” we say. “Come to reality. Abandon your shadowlands and come to the Light of the world. Let us tell you about the plan of God for you and the creation. Let us tell you how you can benefit from it.”

You consider the diet of cartoons and fast-moving dramatic action that millions of children watch for hours each week year after year. What they are looking at for so long each day is as far from the humdrum routine of the lives we all have to live as you can imagine. My concern is this, that many are living their lives in the virtual world of entertainment. “Last week a friend related a story that demonstrates how completely entertainment does, or at least can come to, dominate a child’s sense and knowledge of reality. His next-door neighbours left their 11-year-old daughter alone in the house for a few minutes and she, growing frightened, suddenly feared that a fire had broken out. She decided to call the fire-brigade, and dialled the emergency number. The number she dialled was 911 – the American emergency number.

“She didn’t know that the emergency number of her own country was 999: she knew only the number of the country in which she truly lived, at least mentally, namely TV-land, which bears a closer resemblance to America than to anywhere else, but it is not, of course, the real, living America, only the screen version of it.” (Theodore Dalrymple, “Wannabe Yanks,” The Spectator, 22 November 2003, p.22). I am saying that millions of people are at this moment as I speak to you sitting in front of the television with a microwaved meal, scanning the screen for guidance as to how to behave, and talk, and feel, and treat members of the opposite sex. It is there they find their values, and enthusiasms, and commitment. They reflect what they see. Their dress is white-trash American. Their habits, such as chewing gum, are American, their language is ersatz American. These consumers of Virtual America look at the affluence of the people they see on the screens and they sulk that it is not theirs. You meet them one evening on the street and you are frightened, for they look depressed and angry young men and women. They have expected wealth to drop from the skies and it hasn’t. Their numbers have never come up. They are embittered, and slovenly. We are living in a nation of angry slobs who inhabit a fantasy land. That has come about because people spend their days reading about film-stars, and TV stars, and sports stars, and watching television, and that world is as far from reality as light is from darkness. What do people do who reject my Saviour? They watch videos and soaps on television by the hour . . . all their lives. We Christians are supposed to be the escapists! We are alleged to be using religion as a crutch, while those people for 5 or 6 hours every day are living in TV-land. Who are the people who can only get by with a crutch? Not us. Who’s walking tall through suffering and loss? God’s plan is orderly and understandable and rational. It is relevant to every single person in our town. We can go to everyone and say, “We have a wonderful plan from God which we can share with you, if you’d like to know about it.” It isn’t a pile of fables and fantasies like the world they live in. It is the crisp living truth.

2. IT IS A MYSTERIOUS PLAN.

In this text Paul says two things that appear to be incompatible. He says firstly that God has chosen us (v.11), in other words, we have been predestined through God’s plan (v.11). He makes the sovereignty of God in our salvation spectacularly clear, and that would seem to make us puppets. Then Paul says something else describing the same people, something which seems to be the very reverse of being puppets, and that is that they were the first to hope in Christ. They put their hope in the Lord. It wasn’t God who was putting his hope in Christ, not even that he was putting our hope in Christ. They did that. They themselves gathered together every bit of hope they could collect when their hearts were breaking, and the foundations of their lives seemed to be destroyed. They felt such guilty and worthless people, but they put their hope in Christ. In other words, they were in a meeting and they heard one of the apostles preaching about Jesus Christ the Saviour, and the speaker quoted the invitation of Christ, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The words gave them hope. Christ’s offer delivered them from despair, and they came to Christ just as they were, and they put their hope in the one who made that promise.

You protest that if God chooses men and predestines men to be to the praise of Christ’s glory then that takes away their freedom. How free are you? Are you ever free from the law of gravity? Are you free to stop breathing, or to stop eating? Are you ever free from mortality? Your freedom is very limited. You can make real choices every day, and real responses about what I am saying now, but that is all quite restricted. I think of the goldfish in the plastic bags that used to be given away as prizes on fair nights. I would see the children walking home holding their fish. Those fish could choose to swim up or down, to the left or right, but all the time their choices were very limited. They were in the hands of the child carrying them. So it is with you. You live and move and have your being in God. Your breath is in his hands – inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. You can hold your breath for a moment; that’s all. If for a moment he takes that breath away you die. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Absolute sovereignty and freedom is his, not ours. But we have a relative freedom, and it is a true freedom. You hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and it says, “Come to Christ” and I am held responsible whether I come or refuse. Am I going to put my hope in Christ or not? I think it is a good thing to put your hope in the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount, on the one who could raise the dead, on the meek and lowly Jesus. I can’t think of anyone better to hope in that Christ. I want you to do that, and I want you to do it today. Don’t delay. Put your hopes in Christ now. Trust the loving Lord Jesus now, where you sit and read these words on a computer screen or in a book. Your heart can move away to the Jesus of the Bible and his invitations and you can say, “I shall put my hope in Christ.” And when you do you will come to discover that before the creation of the world he had loved you and chosen you and predestined you to be to the praise of Christ’s glory, but you will only discover that when you put all your hopes in Christ. A Christian woman near Olney understood this. She said, “I have long settled that point, for if God hadn’t chosen me before I was born, I’m sure he’d have seen nothing in me to have chosen me afterwards.”

Two truths both here in our text, God’s sovereign choice and our real response to him. Both truths found everywhere in the Bible. We see echoes of these truths in creation. I can show you a cold pebble from the beach and it appears to be perfectly quiet and motionless and it is. Yet if we had a powerful enough microscope and went in and in to the stone we would discover that it consisted of a billion billion atoms and electrons and sub-atomic particles moving at incredible speed with apparent random movement. The two apparently contradictory truths are there of inertia and movement in one stone. So too predestination and man’s freedom are like two huge pillars that reach up and up to the heavens, and where they meet is too high for us to see. None of us can make them unite, and no one is able to make them cross each other. Here is the mysterious plan of God. He has purposed what is our great end, and yet he has done it in such a way that our responsibility to hope in God is not taken from us. We are not turned into puppets.

3. IT IS AN INCREDIBLE PLAN.

Think of an island where the people have never heard of Jesus Christ or a Bible. Each one of them has a conscience, and they all see the glory and power of God in the universe around them each day of their lives so that they are without excuse. Yet they are clamping down on the knowledge of God that they possess. When the first Christian missionaries have gone to such a people group have they ever found that those people have developed this plan, that God in his love determines to save from sin a vast company of people, and that he does that by sending his own beloved Son to become the Lamb of God who will bear our blame and shame; that he condemns him instead of us for our guilt, and then he offers pardon and forgiveness to all who put their hope in Christ? Has that plan been devised by men anywhere? Have they placed it before God, and urged him to implement it? No. It is beyond human thought. The plan was wholly God’s in its origin and implementation.

I was reading Alan Rees, a pastor from Swansea, talking about his own journey from unbelief to Christ. He was 37 years of age when he became a believer. He had been given a Gideon New Testament when he was 11 but only half-heartedly tried to read it. Not for 26 years did he meet Christian teaching, but when he was confronted with the plan of God in 1984 at first he didn’t like it. It was such a humbling message, however he’d never heard anything like it! Do you remember when you have become Christians first really heard it, how it blew your mind? It told us something that we could never have worked out for ourselves. That is because it’s a revelation from God. George Orwell wrote a very great book in the year 1948 about the future spread of dictatorships, and he called it “1984”. He reversed the last two digits of the year in which he wrote it, and like all science fiction prophecies about the future it is appallingly bleak, and yet when the year 1984 actually came along it was the best year of his life for Alan Rees because he became another of the million and more people who are converted to Christ each year all over the world. There is no hope in man, and no utopian hopes for the future, but there is hope in Christ.

Alan Rees says, “I remember being in a bar, long before I was a Christian, and a man was trying to chat up a woman. The music was loud and he was trying to engage her in conversation and she didn’t want to talk to him, but he kept pestering her. So she had to raise her voice quite loudly to tell him to back off. At that very moment the record suddenly ended so that very loudly, all around the bar, her words echoed, “Drop dead, you obnoxious creep!” Everyone looked at the man, and he turned puce. How embarrassed he was. She really hurt him.” Alan’s point in recalling that incident was how much we have hurt God. We have offended him by taking his name in vain and cursing him, in disdaining him, and ignoring him, and doing things he hates quite deliberately and constantly. God is ashamed of our behaviour. He says about mankind, “They have forgotten how to blush.” But this God, instead of having nothing to do with the lot of us, and letting us destroy one another, refused to allow us to turn his world into hell. Rather he takes a loving initiative. He sets out on a mission of reconciliation to save us from this destructive lifestyle.

Men without God can gaze at the stars and be lost in awe for their maker. The Indians of North American could feel the power of the Niagara Falls and know how impressive it was, and how mighty the God who made it. Yet from the stars and from the mountains and cataracts and from the mighty oceans and from our own consciences men would never discover that their Creator is a God of matchless love. You have to go to the Bible to find the plan of God. Here it is, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved” (Jn. 3:16 & 17). You don’t find that through a Congress of World Religions. You don’t find that by living on top of a pole for thirty years. No deserts or Himalayan caves reveal that. The incredible plan of God is freely revealed to all men in the Bible. It comes to us through the apostles of Jesus Christ and today is being preached to the nations of the world. The plan didn’t come from the church. The apostles received it not from man or by men but from God himself. The church recognised that this incredible plan came from God. In the same way Isaac Newton didn’t invent gravity. He saw the force was there, and he defined it and explained it. So the church received this plan from God and it fitted in to all the ways that God has been dealing with men from the time of Moses and the prophets until the Son of God appeared. It is an incredible plan.

4. IT IS AN ABSOLUTELY COMPREHENSIVE PLAN.

There are some blueprints which reveal that the builder will only do part of the work. He will lay the foundations and bring in water and put in the sewerage pipes, but then you are responsible for the rest of the work. You plan which tradesmen are going to do what tasks, and what you and your family intend to do. There are also blueprints for a development which indicate that some of the roads will be private to be surfaced and maintained by the residents, whereas others are the responsibility of the local government. God’s plan is not a partial plan like that. It includes everything. That is the word Paul uses here in the text: it is “the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (v.11). “Everything'” he says. He omits nothing and neither may we. It includes the tiniest things, the fall of the sparrow, and the hairs on our heads. Thomas Gresham was born in 1519 and went on to build the Royal Exchange in London. He never knew who were his parents. The woman who was his mother gave birth to him in a field and abandoned him there, and a little later a boy was walking by. He heard a grasshopper chirruping in the field, so he went along to find it and stumbled across the new born baby. He carried the child home and his life was preserved. He narrowly escaped death during the time of Queen Mary because of his evangelical convictions, and he became the greatest merchant in London in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He built the Royal Exchange, and his crest is placed on the building in a number of places including the weathervane. What was the crest Thomas Gresham chose? It was the figure of a grasshopper. He owed his life to the noise of an insect. The tiniest things are brought into the plan of God – the chirruping of a grasshopper.

More than that, the ‘everything’ Paul writes of here must include sin. It has to, because sin is everywhere and in every action and word and thought of men. If the plan of God only dealt with things that were sin-free it would deal with nothing. Not a single important event would be included. None of what we call ‘history’ would be in the plan of God, the fall of Adam, the crucifixion of Christ, the coming of the Romans to Britain, the battle of Trafalgar, the World Wars, the assassination of Kennedy, the death of Diana the Princess of Wales, the events of 9-11. The Bible makes it clear that when Paul says ‘everything’ he means ‘everything . . . sin included.’

Where does the Bible make that clear? Let us look at two events which show that God’s ordained plan leaves nothing out. The first is the action of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery. His father sent him on a message one day, and when he arrived at his brothers’ base they were full of malice towards him. How could they get rid of him? They were going to kill him, but at that moment slave-traders in a caravan come along, heading for Egypt and they sold him to a life of slavery in a distant country. What monsters! They lie to their father saying that wild beasts had killed him. Joseph in Egypt is bought by Potiphar whose wife desires him. His resistance to her result in her false accusation and he is put into prison. It all seems so bad and yet it is all to the praise of Messiah’s glory. Through a chain of events including dreams and forgetfulness he eventually becomes the Chancellor of Egypt.

When Joseph meets his brothers, years later, when they have come to Egypt for food he says to them, before they can open their mouths, “You didn’t do it” (Gen. 45:8). They were just going to say that, one by one, “I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me. I didn’t do it,” but then Joseph himself says it to them first: “You didn’t do it.” Of course his brothers did it. They quite deliberately sold him into slavery and broke an old man’s heart by their lies. “You did not do it,” says Joseph as, in the most striking way, he is declaring to them that they were merely fulfilling God’s superior plan that he go to Egypt to be a slave. “God did it,” he says to his brothers. But then he says it in another way which confirms them of their wickedness: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). You meant it . . .God meant it. The same verb, but two different subjects and two different motives, one to kill and the other to bless – by the very same action. God’s intention was that there would be plentiful food available from a friend for the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel to keep them from being destroyed through the long years of famine. So the sin of the brothers was in the plan of God for the good of his church, but it was wickedness on their part for which they would have to make confession and seek God’s mercy.

You too have sinned against those who love you most, and you too will be held responsible, even though God may take it up and use it for good, no thanks to you. What is coming out of your life is what you’ve been putting into your life across the years. When people on our street put their rubbish out too soon the local cats have a field day. They extend their sharp claws and they slice their way through the black plastic bin liners in a trice and all the disgusting rubbish comes flowing onto the street. Rubbish was put in, and so rubbish came out. What comes out of our lives? What came out of the mouths of Joseph’s brothers when he arrived all alone in the country? Bitterness and envy and resentment and murder all poured out because they had let such wickedness seethe in their hearts for years. What was in, finally came out, and God held them accountable. This is a moral universe.

The second example of sin being caught up into God’s plan is the crucifixion of Christ. This was the most heinous wickedness the universe has ever witnessed, because it displays the enmity in men’s hearts towards God. And yet, as my old teacher, Ed Palmer taught me, forty years ago at Westminster Seminary, “This sin was ordained by God. God did not leave the death of his Son – and thus the salvation of his people – up to sinful men. Suppose Judas and the Jewish leaders had had a change of heart and decided not to kill Jesus. Suppose Jesus had grown old and had died a natural death or had never died. Then there would be no atonement for sin and no heaven. Then God’s plans of election and salvation would have been thwarted. God did not leave to chance the salvation of the world. So, as Peter said at Pentecost, Jesus was ‘delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23). And later the church, speaking of the killing of Jesus, confessed to God that Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews had been ‘gathered together to do whatsoever your hand and counsel foreordained to come to pass’ (Acts 4:28). In other words, sin is ordained by God.” Thus, once again, we confess with full force the absolute sovereignty of God. He chooses, predestines, and plans everything, including our sins, while this, we insist, in no way takes our own personal responsibility away from us. Judas and Pilate and the Jewish leaders and the mob all meant evil against Jesus in his death.

So the plan of God is an utterly comprehensive plan, embracing all things. You say, but where is God’s holiness if God is involved in such wickedness? Isn’t God to blame? Or you say, Where is man’s freedom if God is just manipulating him all the time? Doesn’t this make man a mechanical toy with a big wind-up handle at the back to make him go? One answer given in the Bible is, “Who are you to answer against God?” God is holy. That is taught in the Bible. God is sovereign. That is taught in the Bible. Man is not a puppet; he is a responsible human being who makes his own choices. All of that is taught in the Bible, and how you reconcile all those truths is not taught in the Bible. It is one of the secret things that belong to God (Deut. 29:29). So God’s plan comprehends everything.

5. IT IS A PLAN THAT IS CENTRED IN CHRIST.

Don’t let your eyes slide over the opening two words of our text, “In him . . .” that is, in Jesus Christ. When God made the choice of us he did so in his oneness as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But that is not what this phrase is saying. We know that the Father gave us to Christ before the foundation of the world to save and keep us, but that again is not what this verse is referring to. When God chose us it was not as a bunch of individuals but as a body, as those who are united to Christ and so safe in Christ. That is the only way God has ever seen us, joined to Christ. God chooses freely to love his only begotten Son moment by moment, and he has united all of us to Christ, and so we are embraced by that same love. You began in Christ. You had no existence apart from Christ, and you never will, because you are going to be for ever to the praise of Christ’s glory. Your eternal reference point will be Christ. God chose us in Christ; he purposed that we would be the people who have hope in Christ; he planned that we would be to the praise of Christ. The plan of God keeps coming back and coming back to Jesus Christ.

So the key to being a part of this glorious plan of God is for you to be joined to Jesus Christ, to believe into the Lord Jesus Christ. If any man is in Christ he is embraced in God’s plan. This is the plan that delivers us from sin. Don’t you want to be saved from your sin? It is a mountain of filth getting bigger all the time, and one day it will come down on you like the Aberfan tip came down on those 144 people. The only deliverance is through Christ. The mountains of our sin buried him on Golgotha and it took him down and down into the bottomless pit and that’s where he’s left the sin of all his people. Is yours there or is it still on you? That deliverance can be yours if you are repenting of your sin and entrusting yourself to him. Christ promises, “He who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. He who does not believe in me is condemned already.” That means that some of us, perhaps many of us, are condemned already; you’re really in trouble. The plan of God was written in the blood of Jesus. That blood does one of two things: it cleanses us – praise God – but, if it’s rejected, then it cries against us. Does it condemn you tonight or testify to your deliverance? This congregation is split into two groups; those involved in the plan of God, and those who have their own plans.

The plan of God is that those for whom Christ has made atonement shall be to the praise of Christ’s glory. Dying in him they shall be glorified together with him. Do you have an interest in the Saviour’s blood? Can you see him on the cross? Can you see him dying for your sin? Can you see him wincing in pain for every time you’ve rejected him, every time you’ve heard the gospel and done nothing about it, every prayer you’ve prayed, but you’ve never followed the God who has determined, “I will make a distinction.” One thing is needed to be involved in the plan of God, to believe on Christ, to trust him, tell him how ashamed you are of your sin, and ask him to save you, and go on asking until you know he’s heard you.

We take things so lightly. Alan Rees says, “I remember a man who was a good mate of mine. He was a big, strapping rugby player. I hadn’t seen him for about two years, and when we met again it was obvious that he had been on a very strict diet. He’d lost two or three stone . . . though he was still huge. I said, ‘You’re looking fit.’ He made a really sick joke in reply ‘I’ve got cancer’ he said with a laugh. What a comedian! Three weeks later, a tyre burst on his car, and it overturned killing him and his wife, leaving their four children as orphans.” We speak so lightly – “I’ve got cancer” – what a joker, but many do it. Their tongues run away with them, they say, but for every idle word we will give account. You hear people saying, “I’m not afraid of death, but I don’t relish dying.” It is certainly a solemn business to die. John Betjeman describes the stark terminal despair of those who die without hope in his poem, “Song of a Night-Club Proprietress.” The woman is recalling a lifetime ago and saying these things:

“There was sun enough for lazing upon beaches,
There was fun enough for far into the night,
But I’m dying now and done for,
What on earth was all the fun for?
For I’m old and ill and terrified and tight.”

Dying is a serious business, but after dying there is death. Have you thought about death? Have you thought about standing before the Almighty God on your own, with no-one to say a word for you? God knows everything about you, and you will have no advocate with him. Any day now, there could be a lump, a weakness in a vein, a loose wire, a bad connection, a burst tyre, some other driver on the road who is not concentrating or goes off to sleep, and your life will be over like Alan Rees’s friend. As soon as your life is over, immediately you will be in the presence of God. What will you plead? What shall I bring him, poor as I am? What will he say to you? “You wouldn’t come to me to have life”? That was God’s plan to bring you and Christ together. The Bible says you must come to Jesus, and I beg you to do it. Don’t play around any more. See your sin as it is, and if you don’t feel it, then beg him to show you, or better still, just tell him you want to believe, and you want to go to heaven, not hell. Talk to him, ask him, go to him, but whatever you do, don’t just walk away, thinking you’re all right, because you’re not all right. If you’re not sure whether you’re all right or not, then sort it out. Make sure you know how it is with you and the plan of God.

7th December 2003 GEOFF THOMAS