Is Change Part of God’s Plan?

Last year at this time I was at a church preaching. It was my first Sunday preaching at the church that would become my home. The Church at Sunsites really has become a home for Kati, Elijah, and me. This group of people looking for a preacher has become part of our family and has graciously made us a part of theirs. That has been, perhaps, the most recognizable change for this body of believers. I know it has been in the past year of my own life. That word, change, is an interesting word. Some people embrace it. Others fear it. Even when we aren’t trying to change or when we are trying to keep things the same, change always seems to find us. It is a force that cannot be stopped. I know. I have tried to stop it. It is also a force that cannot be promptly instigated.

It is so interesting to me that God has created such a dynamic world that is always changing and has been from the beginning. Is change a part of God’s plan for His people? Why or why not?

In 1 Samuel, so far, we have seen much change as God works things together in a very dynamic way. Samuel is in the process of restoring Israel under king Saul. After explaining God’s faithfulness in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness, Samuel instructs the congregation.

1 Samuel 12:14-25

“If you will fear the Lord and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the Lord, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God. If you will not listen to the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the command of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers. Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes. Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the Lord, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the Lord by asking for yourselves a king.”

So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.

Then all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.”

Samuel said to the people, “Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. You must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile. For the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has been pleased to make you a people for Himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king will be swept away.”

The call to obedience (v. 14-15)

“If you will fear the Lord and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the Lord, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God. If you will not listen to the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the command of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers…”

One of the most popular claims that is made contrary to Scripture that employs Scripture as its support is the argument that the “If you keep my commandments, then I will…” statements throughout the Old Testament somehow support the theological viewpoint of open-theism (the idea that God has in some way subjected Himself to the will or choices of people).

It is often stated that God has made conditional promises upon the obedience of His people. If these conditional, “if, then,” statements are read by us outside of their context, it might seem as if these conditional promises give credence to some sort of works-based righteousness or works-based definition of faith. Out of context, we can make the Scriptures out to appear to say anything that we want. So, we always observe the context given. So, we begin with considering the use of God’s “if, then” statements in His Law.

The premise of the Torah, or Law, (Genesis-Deuteronomy) is the first three chapters of Genesis. This is the story Moses told before giving the Law. In these three chapters, we see Adam and Eve, even though they exist in a perfect state, choose to disobey the command of God. People, even in creation’s initial perfect state, were unable to choose for themselves what was good. God, in clothing the people and covering their shame (something the people could not do rightly for themselves), showed that for anyone to please Him and satisfy His glory in His own creation, that person must be clothed in His righteousness alone. This not only the premise of the Torah but also that of the whole Bible. The conditional promises in the Torah (or Pentateuch) reflect God’s conditional promise to Adam and Eve. God affords these conditional promises in such a way that if it were possible, people would be able to choose the good and reject the bad. This is not possible and we are meant to realize, by our not being able to meet these conditions, that we all fall short of God’s glory. We will always choose what is in line with our nature and we are not God.

In the conclusion to the Law (Deuteronomy 29-34), God says this through Moses explicitly to the nation of Israel,

“Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more, then, after my death? Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 31:26-29).

At the renewing of the kingdom, in 1 Samuel 12, Samuel is doing exactly the same thing Moses was doing before Israel was established in the land of Canaan. He is reminding the nation of what God was doing through His Law. The bookends of the Law make the same declaration. If it were possible for people to be righteous, they would keep this law. If people would keep this Law, they would in some way achieve the glory of God. By the Law’s own declaration, the people will not meet God’s conditions. So, these conditional statements are not an indication of anyone’s ability to possibly live up to God’s glory, but they are explicitly an indictment against human unrighteousness and depravity. The Scriptures are not self-contradictory. This is why the apostle Paul, a Jew and of the theological conviction of the Pharisees, recognized and taught this Old Testament truth concerning human unrighteousness and depravity:

“The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).

“Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” (Galatians 3:19-22).

If any person, ever, were able to keep these conditions (besides God Himself in Christ), the Law would be self-contradictory because it states that the conditions were placed as a testimony to prove humanity’s unrighteousness and depravity. So, when Samuel says this, here, it serves a purpose- that the people may know their unrighteousness. They have already rebelled against God. In the very next chapter  of 1 Samuel, the Israelites will fall short of God’s glory again. It will be shown, again, that they are deserving of God’s wrath and that they have made themselves enemies of God. The future doesn’t look so bright, does it?

Repentance (v. 16-19)

“…Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes. Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the Lord, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the Lord by asking for yourselves a king.”

Here it is confirmed for us that the specific purpose of this “if, then” statement is that the people will see this great thing that the Lord will do. What God will do is something that is set. It has already been decided. Just as in the Torah, then, this “if, then” statement did not mean that God was subjecting Himself to people or making His actions conditional upon the actions of people. There is something that God will do. The purpose of this “if, then” statement is to cause the people to see what God will do. After Samuel confirms the purpose of this “if, then” statement, He calls on God to send thunder and rain during the time of harvest.

We remember that Samuel is the first one to hold the Old Testament prophetic office. This means that Samuel is speaking the Word of the Lord. This prayer comes from God through Samuel to God. It is meant to illustrate what God will do with His people.

 So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.

It is the wheat harvest. Commentators write that a thunderstorm would have ruined the harvest. So, the thunderstorm represents God’s wrath. In verse 17, we see that this is to be an illustration of Israel’s wickedness. It is made known through this illustration that Israel has already made itself God’s enemy and is deserving of God’s wrath in judgment. Israel had not feared the Lord and served Him. The nation could not keep God’s Law. As we read ahead to chapter 13, we see that the nation will not be able to keep God’s Law. No matter how many “if, then” statements are given in the Old Testament, it can be shown that people were never able to keep the conditions God put forth.

As a result of God’s illustrated wrath, the people become afraid, or terrified. This isn’t a “holy reverence.” This is a people realizing that they have sinned against a holy God and that they are deserving of God’s just wrath because they have failed to serve and obey God.

Then all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.”

There is confession of sin. The people don’t ask Samuel to ask God to send the thunderstorm away. They ask that God not kill them because of their unrighteous hearts and evil action (disobedience to God). They get the picture, and their only option is to cast themselves upon the mercy of the only holy God.

This is the purpose of the Law that we saw- that it may be revealed to us that we fall short of God’s glory. If our response is the justifying of our own actions or lifestyle, then we do not fear of love God. If our response is repentance and casting ourselves upon the mercy of God, then we have recognized that we deserve death because of our high treason against almighty and holy God. This is His creation, His land, His domain. We have each transgressed His Law. That is more severe than transgressing the highest United States federal Law or any international Law of this world. God’s Law is the highest Law of any land. There is reason for us to be very afraid of the just consequence for our treason. I fear that, in the world today, we don’t recognize the seriousness of our offensiveness toward the only God.

Election and sanctification (v. 20-25)

Samuel said to the people, “Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. You must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile.

Samuel encouraged the people, instructing them not to fear. Though the people had, in their unrighteousness, failed to serve and obey holy God, they are to reorient their hearts and actions. They are no longer to go after futile things which cannot profit or deliver. The great thing that God will do is have mercy. In response to mercy, Samuel is instructing the people to change.

We are always moving- either toward God or away from Him. There is no such thing as a changeless person because we are not immutable as God is. To refuse change is to claim to be God, and I don’t think any of us want to go there. To say that God is immutable is to say that He does not and cannot change. The mutability of God’s creation, including us, is meant to reveal the righteousness, perfection, and strength of the only unchanging God. God is the only one who doesn’t have to change because He is perfect. The challenge that Samuel offers, here, is for the people of God to be ever-changing toward God. This applies to our personal lives, our businesses, our education, and the way we do church. This is what we mean when we use the phrase, Semper Reformanda, or “Always Reforming.” It is the idea that we are always willfully changing in response to God’s good, good word. One of the marks that someone is actually submitted to God is that he or she gets excited about godly change.

For the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has been pleased to make you a people for Himself. 

The Lord does not abandon His people. He is not faithful because we are worthy of His faithfulness. He is faithful because of His great name and He is faithful to what He has already determined. In this, Israel is the physical picture of God’s spiritual work of election, a living parable. All people are depraved, unable to seek God. God determines that Israel will be His people. God fulfills what He has determined. The whole of creation glorifies God. As Matthew writes, many are called, few are chosen. Spiritually for everlasting life, God has chosen and His people are among the nations. This is the great thing that the Lord will do. He will do this great thing in Christ. His justice will be carried out on the cross of calvary so that, in mercy, He may pardon His people whom He has chosen for Himself.

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way.
Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king will be swept away.”

We hear the Law and are unable to keep it. We discover grace and are saved from our unrighteousness. Our new nature causes us to grow in obedience. This is the truth of the Gospel and the function of the Law. The Law serves two purposes, then. The first is to reveal to us our rebellion. The second is that by God’s Law, we would be sanctified after coming to genuine repentance. The truth about being the chosen, or elect, people of God is that God brings us to care about growing in obedience to His Law. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone. We are also sanctified by grace alone through faith alone. God’s work in our hearts bears the fruit of greater, willful, and joyful obedience. If we are unable to reorient our hearts and grow in actual obedience to God’s Law, we show that we are still in sin rather than in Christ..In the end, there will be very real consequences for those who are not in Christ because they have chosen their own treason rather than citizenship in Christ. 

This is why Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:6). Jesus did not say, “You can only get into the kingdom of Heaven by keeping my commandments…” Love is the root. Obedience is the fruit. If all Scripture is breathed by Jesus (cf. Isaiah 48:16), then the fruit growing out of the love we have for Christ is obedience to all Scripture, including the Old Testament Law. This means that we are always joyfully changing the way that we live, work, learn, and do church in response to God’s amazing grace and in the faith that He has so richly provided.

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