As was mentioned earlier, there are twenty plus verses in the New Testament that contains the word mystery focused upon the specific person and work of Jesus Christ. The verse that caught my attention and motivated me to write this series of lessons was 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 which states, “No, the wisdom we speak of is the secret wisdom of God, (a mystery) which was hidden in former times, though he made it for our benefit before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would never have crucified our glorious Lord.
In Romans, Paul references the mystery as he praises (God) the one who has the power to establish us according to the mystery that was kept secret before the world was created (Rom 16:25). Paul continues that thought in Colossians when he prays that we the followers of Christ might be comforted, knit together in love, and have a full assurance of understanding the mystery of God (Col 2:2).
As we move through this study, I want us to have the same focus as Paul when he states I desire to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him Crucified (1 Cor 2:2). This is the heart of the mystery of God, however as we seek to understand this mystery it will shed new light on many, if not all, of the key Christian doctrines.
Right upfront, we get exposed to some key theological issues such as the paradox of the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. For example, Paul says he speaks the wisdom of God in a mystery, foreordained before the world was created and then kept secret for thousands of years until the cross (Jesus and Him crucified). This is a paraphrase of 1 Cor 2:7-8.
Paul goes on to say that if God had not done this the rulers (and Satan) would have tried to spoil God’s plan by exercising their God-given freedom of choice not to crucify Jesus.
These two verses (1 Cor 2:7-8) about God’s foreordination (His plan) and the need to keep it secret from Satan and man because of their ability (their freedom) to try to defeat His plan magnify our need to wrestle with the understanding of how God’s sovereignty, foreknowledge, foreordination, and man’s freedom all co-exist.
I would like to emphasize the point that God’s sovereignty is absolute. He has the power to do anything at any moment He chooses. Yet He has chosen to limit the use of this absolute power by delegating certain freedom to man which is well defined in His Covenant relationship.
This freedom delegated is sometimes referred to as the “free will” of man. A proper understanding of this term does not negate God’s authority but comes from the authority granted to man when God says let them have dominion over all the earth. God’s Word through His Covenant relationship explains the limits to man’s dominion (freedom).
Some of the verses we have already referenced mention that God established this plan (mystery) before the world was created. Elsewhere in scripture, we see that God foreknew of the rebellion of Satan and man before he created Adam and Eve. Just with these few references, we start to see the “apparent conflict” of God’s foreknowledge, fore-ordination, and God’s delegated freedom to man.
Different views on these concepts have driven not only the separation of the protestant from the Catholic but splits within the protestant movement. This is why we have such a large number of Protestant Denominations. Even today these issues divide local churches when taken to the extreme.
It is not God’s Word that drives these fractions, but man’s interpretation of God’s Word. Theology is the study of God and is critical for gaining an understanding of God and being established with full assurance in our faith, yet our theology clouds our Bible understanding (interpretation).
The Bible says that faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God. In other words, the study of God’s Word is critical in the development of our faith. Yet, we need to be on guard about what we read into the Bible and not out of it. In other words, we need to examine our theology (understanding of God and His Word).
In the history of the church, there have been several great theologians that shared with a man their insights into God and His Word. However, we must remember they are just men, and what they say about the Bible is man’s opinion and not always absolutely correct.
For example, shortly after the protestant movement started, we have two men who published thoughts about the Bible taken from two different viewpoints. John Calvin (1509-1564) viewed the Bible with a strong focus on God’s sovereignty and Jacob Hermann (1560-1609), best known by the Latin form of his last name; Arminius viewed the Bible with a strong focus on man’s freedom and accountability.
Each of these views taken to extremes seems to warp the overall Biblical themes of God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom (free will). Two major schools of thought have emerged from the teaching of these two men. One called Arminianism is the belief that men by their own free will could accept or reject salvation.
The other called Calvinism teaches that God’s choices (foreordains) certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world, and God’s choice rest solely in His own sovereign will and that a person has no freedom in this selection. However, neither of these are questioning God’s sovereignty, but how much authority He has delegated.
In the early days of the Protestant movement, Calvinism was affirmed rather than Arminianism by the Synod of Dort in 1619 as the doctrine of salvation contained in the Holy Scriptures.
However, today the view of John Calvin is in the minority of both the protestant movement and the catholic faith which is now leaning toward Arminianism. These two views are addressed more fully as we proceed with this series of lessons.
As I indicated above neither of these two men questioned God’s sovereignty nor do they not believe in the concept of the elect, being those who God calls His people. Our confusion is in the definitions of words and not the words themselves.
Amid the heated argument of Arminianism versus Calvinism, many neglects the plain statements of the Bible. The underlying concepts of both are taught in the Bible and therefore should co-exist. God is sovereign and nothing is impossible for Him, yet He has delegated certain freedom to Satan, fallen angels, and man and holds them accountable through a covenant relationship that He is faithful to honor for 1000 generations, which have yet to have taken place (20-40 thousand years). Based upon most Biblical scholars that promise in Deut 7:9 was made about 3500 years ago!
The goal of this study is that the understanding of God’s Word is established with full assurance of our faith and by this process, many will be presented completely in Christ. To accomplish this end, our study of the mystery of God is a Christ-centered study using the hermeneutic of the Emmaus Road in Luke where Jesus starts with Moses and the prophets and explains scripture in relationship to Himself.
In this study of God’s Mystery, we will discuss other theological concepts that affect the way one views God and His Word. Our understanding of the Bible is regularly being influenced by theologians; therefore, we must understand the fundamental differences between the theological views of Biblical, Covenant, Dispensational, Liberation, Redemptive, and Systematic Theology. Like Calvinism and Arminianism, these theological concepts are men’s opinions of what God has said in His Word. Therefore, we must verify everything we read and hear with the Word of God. Let us meditate upon the Word of God allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us to the proper understanding.
At all times we should continue to remind ourselves Who God is. We should always remember His divine attributes and character. God’s traits of faithfulness, holiness, righteousness, justice, love, and mercy are unchanging and impartial and neither negate nor overshadow another. When we combine these traits with the divine attributes of His omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, impartiality, and unchanging nature, we get a glimpse of God almighty.
These characteristics of God define Who He is and what He expects of man. God’s Covenant revelation of Himself and His requirements of man forms a two-rail system much like a railroad. Just as a railroad must have a specific separation of the two rails, plus a particular design of each rail, so does God’s Covenant.
God’s rail is defined by His Character and Characteristics and man’s rail is defined by God’s Covenant. God is repetitive in trying to show this relationship when the people of Israel leave Egypt God tells them that this exodus experience will show them that “He is God” (His rail) and that the Israelites must “prove they can keep His Commandments” (man’s rail). When we move or delete our rail, the train (our lives) crashes!
Joshua 1:7 Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.
Man is always trying to move his rail by our interpretation and application of Scripture. The world is crashing around us, and we keep trying to solve our problems instead of acknowledging God and His desires for us!
Therefore, as we wrestle with our understanding of His written Word let us never forget His Word will not contradict His Character. Let us use our knowledge of God to direct our understanding and behavior.
Book Mystery of God