THE “BEFORE” AND THE “AFTER” OF GOD’S ETERNAL PURPOSE
As a sequel to our two previous essays on God’s eternal purpose, it will be highly informative to observe the contrast of the before and the after of the making known of His eternally purposed scheme of redemption. This involves not only the status of the purpose itself, but also of humanity.
The observant reader of scripture will be struck by the use of such expressions as “once,” “then,” “at that time,” “in other ages,” etc., followed by “but now.” For instance, in Ephesians Paul speaks of “the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:5-6). He speaks of the fellowship of the mystery “which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church . . .” (Ephesians 3:9-10). In Colossians he writes of “the mystery which has been hidden . . . but now has been revealed to His saints” (1:26). In Romans he speaks of “the mystery which was kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest. . .” (Romans 16:25-26). There was the age of mystery when God’s plan was hidden, followed by the age of manifestation when it was made known.
The “before” and the “after” of the unfolding of God’s eternal purpose carries over to the “before” and the “after” of those who enter into that purpose by faith in Christ and obedience to the gospel. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh . . . that at that time you were without Christ, beings aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-13). He goes on to say, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God. . .” (verse 19). Earlier he had reminded them that they had been dead in trespasses and sins when they “once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lust of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind . . . But God, who is rich in mercy . . . even when we were dead in trespasses, has made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) . . . (Ephesians 2:1-5). Later, he said, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8).
To Titus, Paul wrote: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived . . . but when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared . . .” (Titus 3:3-7). Peter reminded his readers that they “once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (I Peter 2:10).
The reality is that all—whether Jews or Gentiles—who have never become participants in God’s eternal purpose find themselves in the “before” situation. Only those who have obeyed the gospel and become Christians are in the “after” situation. Jesus told Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, that he must be born again—of water and the Spirit—in order to enter the kingdom (John 3:3-5). His Jewishness did not automatically make him a part of God’s eternal purpose “which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11). In Acts 2, about three thousand Jews heard and believed the gospel, repented, and were baptized for the remission of their sins (verses 22-41), and thereby became participants in God’s eternal purpose. In Acts 10, the first Gentiles were told of God’s eternal purpose, and wishing to be a part of it, they were commanded to be baptized in the name of the Lord (verse 48).
In Antioch of Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas, in no uncertain words, informed the Jews who opposed their preaching, “It was necessary that the word of God (His eternal purpose to redeem man through Christ, hf) should be spoken to you first; but seeing you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:45-46). Paul declared that “in times past” God “allowed all nations (the Gentiles, hf) to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). However, with the revealing of God’s eternal purpose, idolatrous Gentiles are told that in the past “these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
When we come to comprehend the “before” and the “after” of God’s eternal purpose, key scriptures in the Old Testament will take on greater significance and deeper meaning, e.g.,: Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 18:15-17; II Samuel 7:1-17; Psalm 110; Isaiah 2:1-4; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 53; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Daniel 2:44 (to mention only a small handful). Likewise, landmark texts of the New Testament will be more greatly appreciated, e.g.,: Galatians 4:4-5; Philippians 2:5-11; Titus 2:11-14; John 3:16-17; John 1:1-3, 14, 18; I John 1:1-3; Hebrews 2:14-15; Matthew 1:21; Luke 19:10; I Timothy 1:15; I Timothy 3:16; John 14:6; II Corinthians 5:17; Matthew 16:18-19, 24-27; Luke 24:44-47; Romans 1:16; Jude 3; Matthew 11:28-30; Revelation 22:17 (again, only a handful). No longer will the Bible be a disjointed, unintelligible book, but it will be seen as the systematic unfolding of one grand eternal purpose—God’s purpose to redeem man through Jesus Christ—the Old Testament being preparatory for the New Testament, the former giving way seamlessly to the latter.
By understanding God’s eternal purpose, the songs and hymns we offer in praise to God will move us and be more meaningful to us, e.g.,: Tell Me the Story of Jesus, O Listen to Our Wondrous Story, Amazing Grace, We Saw Thee Not, I Know Whom I Have Believed, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less, Father of Mercies, Love Lifted Me, Years I Spent in Vanity (all four stanzas to get the full “story”), None of Self and All of Thee (again, all four stanzas to see the complete transition), The Church’s One Foundation, ‘Tis Set the Feast Divine, Just as I Am, I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, In Heavenly Love Abiding, Blessed Assurance, Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand, O to Be Like Thee, This World is Not My Home, Victory in Jesus, and many, many others—not the jazzy, “campy,” syncopated songs, but those of significant theological content (though simplicity of language does not mean an absence of serious content)! Those who do not like to sing and those who do not sing in the assembly of the saints miss so much by way of comprehending and appreciating God’s great eternal purpose.
Most of all, when we come to grips with the “before” and the “after” of God’s eternal purpose, our lives will be tremendously impacted and transformed. We will be able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
May 22, 2018