Today on Renewing Your Mind... One of the most popular passages in the New Testament among Christian people is Paul's statement that he wrote to the Romans that is found in Romans 8.28, and it reads like this, And we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Now one of the things that jumps out at me about this verse is the strength of conviction that the Apostle expresses when he writes these words. You know, it wasn't that he said, I sure hope that everything is going to come out well in the end, or I believe that things will work out according to the will of God. But he says, for we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. I mean, he's speaking here with an apostolic assurance about an idea that is so basic and so fundamental to living the Christian life that I think that we can, from this passage, derive great comfort. But I also am afraid that in this day and age, the strength of conviction that is expressed here by Paul is very much absent from our churches and from our Christian communities. And there's been a striking change in our cultural understanding of the way in which our lives relate to the sovereign government of God. Some of you in recent years had the opportunity to see the series on television, the mini-series on the Civil War. And one of the most moving segments of that series was when the narrator read letters that have survived from soldiers of both sides of the conflict in the war between the states as they would write home to their loved ones, their wives, or to their mothers or fathers on the eve of a battle. And they would talk about their concerns and about their fears and their apprehensions, and yet they would say frequently in these letters, "'But my life is in the hands of a good and benevolent providence, and to Him do I trust myself, body and soul.'"
There was a time when people settled this country, and they would name a city Providence, like the town in Rhode Island. But who in the world would do that in our culture today? The whole idea of divine providence has all but disappeared from our culture. And that's a tragic thing. I think if any way in which the secular mindset has made inroads into the Christian community, it's with a worldview that assumes that everything that happens out there happens according to fixed natural causes. And God, if He is anywhere doing anything, is above and beyond it all, and He's just a spectator up in heaven looking down and perhaps rooting us on and cheerleading for us, but He has no immediate control over what happens here. Whereas the Christians of the church of all centuries have always had an acute sense that this is our Father's world and that the affairs of men and nations in the final analysis are in His hands. And that is what is being expressed here in Paul's letter to the Romans in Romans 8.28, a sure knowledge of divine providence.
We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Then immediately He moves into this predestination sequence again, for whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called, and whom He called, these He also justified, and whom He justified, these He also glorified. Now, I read this further passage here so that we could get to the conclusion, because then Paul says, what then shall we say to these things? That is, what should our response be to the sovereignty of God and to the fact that He is working out a divine purpose in this world and in our lives? What should our response be?
The response of the world is, I don't want to hear that, that's not fair, I don't like that, and all the rest. Here's Paul's answer to his own question, what shall we say to these things? His answer is this, if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.
Who is it who condemns? It is Christ who died and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God who makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine, nakedness, peril, sword? And then he goes on to say, yet in all of these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
So what shall we say? One of the oldest little slogans in the ancient church that sought to summarize the essence of the relationship between God and His people is this phrase, Deus pro nobis, God for us. This is what the doctrine of providence is all about. It is about God's being for His people. What shall we say to these things, Paul says? Well, what we should say is if God be for us, who can be against us?
And who can separate us from the love of Christ? Is it going to be distress? Is it going to be peril?
Is it going to be the sword? Is it going to be persecution? Is it going to be suffering? Is it going to be sickness?
Is it going to be disease? Is it going to be human hostility? He could make that list go on forever. And what he is saying is that all of those points of pain that you have to endure as a Christian in this world, no matter how intense they are, do not have the power to break or to sever the relationship that we have to a loving, kindly, sovereign providence. Now this concept of providence, again, I said when we talked in one lecture on predestination, I made mention of my book, Chosen by God, that said that this is a doctrine that is so heavy that it requires a whole lot more than one lecture.
I'd say the same thing about providence where I wrote a book on that called The Invisible Hand, and we have several series that go into much greater detail on the providence of God than what I can do in one lecture today. But just as a brief introduction and overview to the concept, let's look at the word providence. Again, we have a word made up of a prefix and a root, and the root comes from the Latin widere, or video, from which we get the word video in English, and we remember Caesar's statement, I came, what? I saw, I conquered, and the I saw comes from this Latin widere. So the verb widere means to see.
That's why we call television video. And provideo or providence means to see beforehand, a prior seeing, a foresight. However, we'd still make a distinction in theology between the foreknowledge of God and the providence of God, because even though the word providence means the same thing etymologically as the word foreknowledge, the concept theologically covers a whole lot more ground than the idea of foreknowledge. In fact, the closest thing that comes to this root in our language is the word provision. Again, you see in this English word provision, we see it clearly coming across, to see beforehand. And what does the Bible say about the responsibility of the husband in the family? If a man fails to provide for his own household, he's worse than an infidel. And so responsibility is given to the husband to be the one who provides.
He makes provision. That is, he has to know in advance that his family tomorrow is going to need food, is going to need shelter, and is going to need all of these essentials for life. Sometimes we misunderstand Jesus' teaching on the Sermon on the Mount when He says, be anxious for nothing, you know, take no thought for tomorrow, what you should eat, what you should drink, what you should put on. There our Lord is talking to us about anxiety. We're not to be frightened.
We're not to be nervous and scared. And we're to put our trust in the God who will meet our needs. And yet at the same time, that God that we are to trust entrusts the responsibility to the head of the household to be provident, that is to consider tomorrow and to make sure that there is food and clothing for the family.
So He is the one who provides. Now, the first time we meet the Word for providence in the Old Testament is in the 22nd chapter of Genesis and the narrative account of the offering of Isaac upon the altar by Abraham. You know that story of profound existential anguish when God calls Abraham to take his son, his only son, the son whom he loves, Isaac, and to take him to this mountain afar off and there to offer him as a sacrifice to God and the internal struggle that was going on there with Abraham. And as Abraham is walking with his son, Isaac, to this distant place, you know, Isaac makes the observation, oh, I see the wood and all the things necessary for the sacrifice, but where's the lamb? And Abraham looks at his son.
I mean, you can imagine the pang of conscience that he was experiencing when his son looks at him and says, Dad, you know, where's the animal that's going to be sacrificed? And Abraham doesn't say to him, well, you're it. But instead he says, Jehovah Jireh, God will provide. And so in that episode, we see the first time that the Bible speaks of God's providence, and it has to do with God's making a provision that will meet our needs. And obviously, the ultimate provision that He makes by virtue of His divine sovereignty is the provision of the supreme Lamb who will be sacrificed in our behalf.
Now, the doctrine of providence covers several different areas. First of all, it covers what's called the sustenance of creation. In the Old Testament, we read of God's work of creation, whereby it says, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and it goes on to explain that He creates all things. And the Hebrew word there, to create, bara, means more than the idea that He just makes something and then steps out of the picture and lets it go. But rather the idea that what God creates and brings into being, He sustains, He preserves. And so the idea is that not only am I dependent upon God for my origin, for my beginning, but I am totally dependent upon God for my moment-by-moment existence. Now, you recall that when we looked at the doctrine of God, and I said perhaps the chief incommunicable attribute of God was His aseity, that is that God alone has self-existence. God alone has the power of being within Himself.
You remember that. And also, if you go even further back in our course, you recall that I said that theology is systematic. And here's one of those ways in which we see it. When we're talking about God's power of creation and the fact that He sustains what He makes, that He keeps it existing, that relates immediately back to where we see the relationship between the doctrine of providence and the doctrine of God's own being, that in Him we live and move and have our being. So that the whole idea of sustenance is God creates and preserves. So again, we are dependent not just for our original birth or entrance into life, but for every breath of air we take in this world.
We are dependent upon God who sustains us and preserves us. And I mentioned a few moments ago that our culture has been heavily influenced by a pagan view of the world that says that nature operates according to fixed independent laws, as if the world or the universe were an impersonal machine that somehow came together through chance. And there's a law of gravity, and there's a law of electromagnetism, and so on. And all of these inner powers keep everything operating, that there's a built-in infrastructure to the universe that makes it continue. The biblical view is that there couldn't be a universe in the first place apart from the divine act of creation, and that when God did create the universe, He didn't step out of the picture and let it operate on its own. But what we call the laws of nature only reflect the normal way in which God sustains or governs the natural world. And perhaps the most wicked concept that has captured the minds of modern people is the idea that the things that operate in this universe ultimately operate by chance.
This is the nadir of foolishness. Again, I've written a whole book on that called Not a Chance where I try to expose the rational and scientific impossibility of assigning power to this thing called chance, because chance is simply a word that describes mathematical possibilities. Chance is not a thing. It has no power.
It can't do anything. It can't influence anything because it isn't anything. And this, what I said, is so diabolical because we've taken this word chance, which is empty of any significance, and used it as a replacement for the concept of God. And the Bible makes it clear that nothing happens by chance, that all things are under the sovereign government of God, and that is exceedingly comforting to the Christian who understands it. I worry about tomorrow, and that's a sin. I worry about my health, and that's a sin. We're not supposed to be anxious. We're not supposed to worry, but it's natural for us to worry about things that can hurt, about the loss of this or the loss of that. We don't want to lose our loved ones. We don't want to lose our health. We don't want to lose our safety.
We don't want to lose our possessions. But even if we do, the Bible is saying that God is working all things for our good. Even our sicknesses, even our losses in this world come under the providence of God, and it's a good providence. If we could just believe that, if we could just lay a hold of that, but it's so hard because our vision is so short-sighted, we feel the pain now, we sense the loss now, and we don't see the end from the beginning as God does. And God tells us that the sufferings that we have to endure in this world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that He has laid up for His people in heaven. And so the comfort comes when Paul says, we know because of divine providence, because God is in control not only of the universe and its machinations and its operations, but He is the Lord of history.
The Bible says with respect to God's providence, He raises up kingdoms, He brings them down. And the station in life that we enjoy has to do in the final analysis with what God in His providence has ordained for us. Our lives are in His hands. Our vocations are in His hands. Our prosperity or our humility, all of those things are governed by Him and are governed by His wisdom and by His goodness. Now, finally, with respect to providence is perhaps the most difficult part of it, the doctrine of what we call concurrence, where in one sense we have to say that everything that happens in this world, even our sin, in some sense is the will of God. Now as soon as we say that, we could be guilty of making God the author of evil and blaming God for our wickedness. But that's something we're not allowed to do according to sacred Scripture.
God is not the author of sin, but even my sin is worked out under the sovereign authority of God. The clearest example that we see of this is in the Old Testament text where Joseph, after having been radically violated by his brothers in their jealousy, they rose up and plotted against Joseph and sold him to a caravan of traders who were headed down to Egypt. And you know the story how Joseph was then purchased in the slave market and then falsely accused of attacking the Potiphar's wife and then imprisoned for many, many years and suffered unbelievable pain, only then afterwards to be released from prison. And because of his great abilities and because of the hand of God upon him, he was elevated to the level of prime minister of all of Egypt, and then came the great famine. And meanwhile, back at home, the sons of Jacob were starving, and Jacob sent his sons to go down into Egypt to see if they could get relief substance to come back and save them from the famine. And when they got down there, who do they meet but Joseph? And Joseph conceals his identity from them for a period, and you know the story. But then in the final analysis, it all comes out and the brothers realize that they're dealing now with the prime minister of Egypt, who is their brother that they had wronged. And they're terrified that he's going to enact vengeance against them.
But you remember his answer. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. That's the great mystery of providence, that there is a concurrence when two rivers flow together and merge into one. That's a confluence, a coming together of two different currents. There's a current here. There's a current here.
They flow into one. And in the mystery of divine providence, God even works His will through our intentional decisions. And what God is saying to us through Joseph at that point when Joseph says, you meant it for evil, and you're responsible for what you did because you intended, you willed, you wanted something that was evil. But even above your wicked will stood the good providence of God because God was working through your wickedness for the good of the people. Again, you see that in Judas. Judas meant it for evil. But God was using the sin of Judas to bring about our salvation. And that is, to me, the great comfort of the doctrine of providence, that God stands over all things, and He is the ultimate source of our comfort.
God is good, and He's in control of all things. I'm Lee Webb, and we're glad you could be with us for today's edition of Renewing Your Mind. We just heard a message from R.C. Sproul Series Foundations, An Overview of Systematic Theology. There are 60 messages on eight DVDs in this series.
That's more than 22 hours of teaching. R.C. answers a multitude of questions about the origin and authority of the Bible, God, the Trinity, man, sin, salvation, and many other topics. So I hope you'll contact us today and request this series. You can find us online at renewingyourmind.org, and once you've completed your request, we will add the study guide for the series to your online learning library. That will give you access to message outlines, study questions, and suggestions for further reading. By the way, this would be a great addition to your church library or perhaps a homeschool curriculum. So I hope you'll contact us today and request Foundations, An Overview of Systematic Theology. Our online address again is renewingyourmind.org. Well how did God create everything from nothing? Dr. Sproul will answer that question next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind, and I hope you'll join us.
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