Robert Jeffress - Although the Script's Been Written, You Can Still Improvise
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. As Christians, we believe that God is sovereign: that means he is in control over everything. But sometimes people take that principle to an extreme, and they think it means they're off the hook. They say, "Well, if God is in control, then it really doesn't matter what I do, right? I mean, God can't hold me responsible for sins if it's all a part of his plan, can he"? Well, spoiler alert: that's not the way it works. And in today's study, I wanna show you the true relationship between God's sovereignty and your responsibility. My message is titled, "Although the script's been written, you can still improvise" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Almost as soon as the I dos were over, Missy Chadwick knew that her marriage to Brad had been a tremendous mistake. After two years of constant bickering and extramarital affairs by each partner, Missy decided to end the relationship and start a new life with her eight-month old daughter Ashley. Several months after the divorce was finalized, Missy met Steve Miller at a single adult fellowship at her church. Three months later, Missy and Steve were married. And although they've experienced the normal marital ups and downs over the last 13 years, these years had been some of the happiest of Missy's life.
One day, Ashley, Missy's now 13-year-old daughter, asked her mom a question, "Mom, was your marriage to my real dad a mistake"? Missy said, "Well, it certainly was". Ashley said, "Well, if it was a mistake, does it mean I was a mistake? Since I wouldn't have happened if you and dad had not gotten together"? Missy was stunned. She didn't know how to answer her daughter's question, because in fact she didn't know the answer to the question herself.
Missy's question raises some interesting questions about God's role in our failures. I mean, if God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and he's planned every part of our life, then did his eternal plan for you and me include our mistakes, our sins, our bad choices? And if my failure was actually part of God's sovereign plan, then how can God hold me responsible for my failures? And if God's script for my life has already been written down to the finest detail of my life, then does it really matter what I do or don't do? Obviously, these questions are more than mere theological speculation. They have profound implications to understanding how we can have a second chance and second act in life.
Today, we're going to talk about God's role in our past mistakes. And today, I want to share with you five biblical principles about God's role in your mistakes, the biggest mistakes of your life that admittedly you're going to find hard to swallow individually, but when you put them together, I want you to see if indeed this is not what the scripture teaches.
Today, we're continuing our series Second Chance, Second Act by looking at the question: if the script's been written, can I still improvise? Let's look at these five biblical truths about God's role in our mistakes. Principle number one is this: God is in control of everything that happens. That's the most basic foundational truth. God is in control of everything that happens. Perhaps you've heard the term the sovereignty of God, and you've wondered, what does that mean, the sovereignty of God? That simply means that God is absolutely in charge of everything that happens in his universe. God is absolutely in control of all that happens in his creation.
Isaiah 45:6 says, "That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun, that there is no one besides me, I am the Lord and there is no other". God has no competition in this universe. There's nobody he's trying to wrestle control over this universe from. God is ultimately in control of everything that happens. Now, many people accept that in theory but they have a hard time accepting that truth when it comes to specific situations. For example, every time there's a national disaster or an international disaster, whether it's an earthquake or a tsunami, or anytime there's a mass shooting of a school or a church, I always get called from the media and asked this question: where was God when this tragedy happened? And I always answer the same way: God is still in control and he's ultimately accountable for everything that happens.
Think about this: his sovereignty, his rule over creation includes his control of Satan, who led the heavenly revolt against God. As Martin Luther said, "The devil is God's devil". His sovereignty includes control over Adam and Eve, whose disobedience alienated mankind from God. It includes the nation of Israel that rebelled continuously against God's law. His sovereignty, his control even extends to the Jewish and Roman leaders who nailed the Son of God to a cross. None of these individuals' choice to rebel against God diminished God's control one iota. That if God is in control of everything that happens in the universe, that means he's in control of everything that happens in your life as well. That means your divorce, your affair, your lacks of judgment, your squandered opportunities, your bankruptcy do not loosen God's grip on the direction of your life at all.
Listen to this, your failure is no match for God's sovereignty. God is in control of everything that happens. And that leads to our second truth: God has a plan for your life. God has a plan for your life. I'm amazed that the number of Christians who wanna argue about this. They rebel at the though that God has a detailed plan for every part of our life. I mean, when you look at the intricate design of this universe, do you have a hard time believing there's a specific plan for all of God's creation including you and me? God's plan for the universe extends to include every aspect of your life. Isn't that what David said in Psalm 139:16? "Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance: and in my book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them".
Every part of your life is a part of God's plan. In God's book, he wrote every day that you would live. Meaning, the day of your birth and the day of your death are written in indelible ink in God's book. Nobody comes into this world or leaves this world one second before or after God's plan. Our lifespan is a part of God's plan. But now think about this: your lifespan is determined by choices you make every day, aren't they? I mean, we think we choose what to eat and what not to eat, whether to get up and exercise or not, whether to go to the doctor if we feel a pain, or which doctor to go to or no doctor. And yet all of those things contribute to how many days we live on this earth, right?
My point is things I thought were my choices, really weren't my choices: they were a part of God's plan for my life. God has a plan for your life as well. Not only does his sovereignty extend in this plan over our choices, but they also include our failures as well. As somebody said, God not only directs our steps but he directs our missteps and our stumbles as well. God is sovereign overall.
Now, since the Psalmist uses birth as an example of God's intricate plan for our life, let's go back to that analogy for a moment. Just suppose that your conception, your birth was the result of two hormonally-charged teenagers engaging in premarital sex. And suppose that your conception was the result of two people having extramarital affairs. What if your conception was the result of rape or even incest? That doesn't diminish God's plan for your life. He was able to use the moral failures of others to accomplish his ultimate purpose for you and his kingdom, wasn't he? And if God can use the failures of other people, he can use your failure as well.
Again, your failure is no match for the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign over our failures. Now, you may not have any problem, at least theoretically, of agreeing with those two truths: God is in control of everything that happens, God has a plan for my life. But some of you are screaming at least inside and asking this question: well, what if I make a wrong choice though? Doesn't my sin alter God's plan for my life in some way? That leads to our third truth. God has the power to accomplish his purpose for your life.
You know, I've heard this so many times: I bet you have too. People who say, "Well, God has a perfect will but he also has a permissive will". That is God has a plan a but he also has plan B if things don't work out. And when you ask God, people for example of God's perfect will, they say, "Well, that's what God really would like to happen". But his permissive will is what actually happens. And earthquakes and tsunamis and mass shootings or moral failures, all of those are part of God's permissive will but not his perfect will. So his permissive will is kind of plan B. But do scripture really teach that? The scripture teach that God has two wills?
Listen to the words of Ephesians 1:11 that we read just a moment ago. Paul writes, "Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to his purpose who works all things after the counsel of his," what? Will, singular. Not wills, plural: singular. God has one perfect plan for his universe. One secret plan. We can't know what that is. But it is a secret plan that governs everything that happens in his universe. And God's master plan for the universe was big enough to include the fall of Lucifer from heaven. It was big enough to include Adam and Eve' sin in the garden. It was big enough to include Israel's rebellion against God. God's perfect plan even included the torture and the murder of his own son, Jesus Christ.
Principle number four, and that is God's power does not exempt you from your responsibility. God's power does not exempt you from responsibility. We are ultimately responsible for the actions and the choices we make. Write down these two statements that cast further inside on that.
Number one, we must still make wise choices. Scripture says we must make wise choices. Listen to Proverbs 28:26. "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered". We must make wise choices.
Number two, we must still suffer the natural consequences of our choices. The fact is even though God is sovereign, we still have to make choices and we will experience the consequences of bad choices.
A great illustration of that is found in Acts four. Turn over to acts 4:27-28. This is Peter talking about the crucifixion of Christ that had just occurred weeks earlier in Jerusalem. Was the death of Christ part of God's plan? Of course it was. It was part of God's eternal plan and yet to accomplish that plan, God had to use the failure, the sin of other people to accomplish it. And Peter strikes the perfect balance between sovereignty and responsibility here. He says in verse 27, "In fact, this," talking about the crucifixion of Jesus, "Happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will".
Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate, the Jews, the gentiles, they made the decision to reject Christ and crucify him and they will pay eternally for that mistake. And yet, it was all part of God's sovereign plan. We are ultimately responsible in the same way every day, we experience the consequences of wrong choices, divorces, terminations from jobs, bankruptcies, bad health reports. Those are all consequences we experience many times for wrong choices. And yet God is still sovereign.
You may wonder, it still doesn't make sense to me. How can God be in charge of everything and yet I make choices for which I'm responsible. Ultimately, there's no way for finite minds like ours to understand how God can be sovereign and we can be responsible. Somebody once said, "Try to explain predestination and you'll lose your mind. Try to explain it away and you may lose your soul". It is an important truth that we have to leave in the mind of God.
And that leaves to a final truth. And that is God's sovereignty offers me peace from my past, my responsibility offers me hope for my future. You know what God's sovereignty really means especially when it comes to my mistakes? God's sovereignty means that my screw ups won't mess up his plan for my life. Isn't that a comforting truth? My screw ups are not going to mess up his eternal plan for my life. Now, Chuck Swindoll said it much more eloquently than that. Chuck says, "When a man or woman of God fails, nothing of God fails. When a man or woman of God changes, nothing of God changes. When someone dies, nothing of God dies. When our lives are altered by the unexpected, nothing of God is altered or unexpected". That's the comfort that comes from God's sovereignty.
But did you know the truth of my responsibility also offers hope. The fact that I'm responsible for the choices I make means that in spite of my past mistakes, I can make a change right now. I can make decisions right now that will alter the course of my life and my eternity. That's a great hope. We can determine the course of our life and the course of our eternity.
When I think about that truth, I think about the story of J.C. Penney. Do you know the story of J.C. Penney? It's a fascinating story. He experienced his share of failures and mistakes. In 1898, J.C. Penney founded the golden rule store featuring low prices. Associated described him as a bundle of energy and a person in perpetual emotion. His life was guided by the highest of business ethics. However, in 1910, Penney's wife died and he felt abandoned by God. In 1919, he married again, but four years later his second wife died. Penney married a third time, poured his life into his work. And by 1929, J.C. Penney had accumulated a net worth of $40 million. That was a lot of money in, it's a lot of money now, but it was really a lot of money in 1929.
And then came the great depression, and he lost all of his wealth. In fact, he was so devastated emotionally and physically that J.C. Penney entered a sanatorium in Battle Creek, Michigan. The doctors said he wouldn't live, but as he lay in that bed one day, he heard a hymn. A familiar hymn coming from the chapel. And he cried out to God for help, and the Lord answered his request. And he said, as a result of that, his depression lifted immediately and soon he left the sanatorium.
Once again, he rebuilt his great company and his fortune into the company we know today as JCPenney. Over the next years, he made millions of dollars and he gave away millions of dollars to Christian causes. He would tell everybody who would listen about the power of God to redeem a life. And at age 90, J.C. Penney was still enjoying a great second act in his life, why? Because J.C. Penney made the decision that his greatest failure would not be his finale in life. He believed in the power of God to change his life and his eternity.
And you know God can do that for you as well. It doesn't matter at all what you've done in the past, how much you have rebelled against God: God has a plan for your life. Isn't that what he said to the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 29:11? "For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the Lord. "Plans for welfare and not for calamity. A plan to give you a future and a hope". Your failure can be transformed for your good and for your God's glory. But listen, that transformation doesn't happen automatically. Beginning next week, we're going to begin looking at the first of five biblical principles for turning your biggest mess into an incredible success.