Meditating on the Will of God: 4: Who will respond?
2Pet 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
You may be slightly surprised at the tone or direction of this set of studies on the will of God because we have been very much focusing on how people respond to God, but note that, it is how they ‘respond’ which implies that God initiates, and of course this is what the Bible shows us is the case. God is the initiator, the One who starts everything off, whether it be the act of Creation or the chase after your heart.
We have also been verging on the conversation about the sovereignty of God and whether we have free will and just how much He ‘makes’ or ‘brings about’ His desires. Our suggestion has been that He limits His desires and works within what He knows He can bring about within the human heart. In the previous study we saw that He just hardened the already hard heart of Pharaoh and confirmed him in his role as a foolish immovable sinner who was bringing about his own destruction, which he could have easily avoided.
But we would emphasise what we have just said that the Lord limits His desires and works within what He knows He can bring about within the human heart. To deny this is to deny the meaning of the words so clearly seen in Scripture. For instance, to take our verse above, observe the latter half of it: “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” This is the reason, says the apostle Peter, that the Lord appears slow in bringing judgment on sinners, because He wants to give them every opportunity to repent. As we saw in the Ezekiel verses He takes no pleasure in the death of man but would much rather they repented and were saved. But here is the point: not every sinner is saved and many go to hell when they die.
Just a quick aside here. Those who would say that God chooses who is saved by simple divine random choice imply therefore that some HAVE to be saved and others HAVE to be lost, or to take it logically further, those who go to hell, go there because God stops them coming to repentance (because they say [and we’ll look at this in a later study] repentance is a gift from God). Now here is my problem with that. The Bible declares God IS love and in that word it implies God always wants the good, the best for every person. A God who actively stops people coming to salvation cannot be a God of love. A God who allows people to choose their destiny, even though He speaks again and again to them, is indeed a God demonstrating love.
So the truth is that not every sinner is saved, even though God would much prefer that they were, but implicit in salvation as we see it in Scripture is the need for the individual to repent, because without repentance they cannot (with their backs turned to Him) receive all His goodness. It is just logically impossible. Note this, that it is not because God doesn’t want to bless them but they refuse to receive His blessing. Just as Pharaoh refused to heed Moses’ warnings and turn to God, so the unrepentant sinner keeps his back to God and refuses the hand that is held out.
But then we come back to this matter of the Lord knowing what He can achieve with the individual. Consider the case of Nebuchadnezzar that we mentioned before. Here is an ungodly, unrighteous, self-centred sinner set in his ways. He is (unwittingly) being used by the Lord, as the prophets amply reveal, to discipline both Israel and the surrounding nations, but the Lord still holds Him accountable for his attitudes. Now the Lord could have simply had him destroyed (as had happened to Sennacherib king of Assyria – Isa 37, esp. v.37,38) but instead He does something else. The king receives a dream and Daniel interprets it: “this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.” (Dan4:24,25) A year later this was fulfilled: “He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.” (Dan 4:33) His sanity was taken from him and for seven years he was an outcast until, “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.” (Dan 4:34)
The outcome of this experience was a redeemed sinner and he is able to declare, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Dan 4:37) What an amazing story! Here was a man who was every bit as violent and powerful as Pharaoh, but the Lord saw and knew the possibility with this man. Yes, God put pressure on both men but only the one repented. The Lord knows exactly what will bring us to our senses but, and the verse from 2 Peter 3 confirms this, not every one will repent. So is the gift of repentance from God the key to it? We’ll consider that in the next study. For the time being, marvel and wonder at the Lord who knows and works to bring people to Himself, and worship Him.