Tool or Son, Judas or John: How Even Sin Serves God
We will all serve God’s purpose one way or another. But will it be like Judas or John? Will he use our rebellious sin to serve him or will we delight to do God’s will?
Surely the wrath of man shall praise you.
—Psalm 76:10a (ESV)
God many times gets up in the world on Satan’s shoulders. When matters are ravelled and disordered, he can find out the right end of the thread, and how to disentangle us again; and when we have spoiled a business, he can dispose it for good, and make an advantage of those things which seem to obscure the glory of his name.
—Thomas Manton on Psalm 76:10
No Excuses For Sin, Even Though God Makes Good
But it is never a valid excuse.
To those who know Christ, Paul’s response was an emphatic—”May it never be!” But Paul knew some would talk back and ask, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” You can read his answer in Romans 9. Let’s just say, he didn’t grant it.
C.S. Lewis described this fantastic truth in The Problem of Pain.
The fact that God can make complex good out of simple evil does not excuse—though by mercy it may save—those who do the simple evil. And this distinction is central. Offences must come, but woe to those by whom they come; sins do cause grace to abound, but we must not make that an excuse for continuing to sin. The crucifixion itself is the best, as well as the words, of all historical events, but the role of Judas remains simply evil.
We may apply this first to the problem of other people’s suffering. A merciful man aims at his neighbour’s good and so does “God’s will,’ consciously co-operating with ‘the simple good.’ A cruel man oppresses his neighbour and so does simple evil. But in doing such evil, he is used by God, without his own knowledge or consent, to produce the complex good- so that the first man serves God as a son, and the second as a tool. For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.
Yes, we will all serve God’s purposes one way or another. Judas did it through sin. John, and the other disciples, through loving service to Christ.
But we must not let the divine miracle of working all things for good be our license for doing evil.
When Sampson Wanted A (Philistine) Wife
Reading through the Bible this year landed me in Judges this week. Listening to a sermon by Dr. Robert Rayburn on the life of Samson brought me back to this incredible, mind-bending, who-but-God truth.
Judges 14:4 surprised me. It says that Samson’s sinful, disobedient desire to marry a Philistine and his subsequent command to his parents—”Get her for me as my wife”—were from God. His father and mother didn’t know that and rightly tried to dissuade him. But they “did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines.”
God used Samson’s evil for his good purposes. In this case, it was the deliverance of Israel and the defeat of the Philistines.
God Steers Stubborn Hearts
Samuel and Judas are not the only examples. Scattered throughout Scripture, we find numerous examples of how God orchestrates events through human sin to accomplish the perfect will.
Joseph’s brothers had evil intent when they sold him into slavery, and led their dad to believe Joseph was dead. But by the end of Genesis, Joseph declared to his brothers in those words we hold close,
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.“
In Deuteronomy 2:30 we read:
“But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the Lord your God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands, as he has now done.”
In Joshua 11:20 we find:
“Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally…”
When Solomon’s son Rehoboam foolishly refused to listen to the advice of his father wise counselors, we read in 1 Kings 12:15:
“…this turn of events was from the Lord, to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam…”
In every case, God was steering the outcomes of the sinful deeds. In case you need assurance: “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
God is holy and sinless and God uses human sin. Both and.
3 Things You Need to Know About How Sin Accomplishes God’s Will
The following are lightly paraphrased from Dr. Robert Rayburn’s message on Judges 14 and 15.
1. Man cannot by his sinning escape God’s sovereign rule.
Far from escaping God’s rule, in their sinful rebellion against him, they only further his purposes. Samson violated every sacred rule of his faith and his special calling as a Nazirite. He failed to care about his calling and failed to fulfill it. Instead of doing God’s will as the man set apart to deliver Israel from the Philistines, Samson wanted to do his own thing. He wanted to marry a Philistine and peacefully co-exist with God’s enemies. But led by God’s inflexible will, he found himself at war with the Philistines. Samson’s willful sins led him to do what God intended him to do.
All of the provocations that led to his killing Philistines were the result of his own sinful behavior. Samson fulfilled God’s purpose not because of any holy impulses within his own heart, but because God used him despite himself to deal with the Philistines. That is how subject sinful human beings are to the sovereign rule of God. If we will not serve him in holiness, he will use our sins to accomplish his will. That should send a shudder through every rebellious heart.
2. God’s use of man’s sin to accomplish his will does not in any way excuse the sinner.
Samson is presented as a man going about his business with no regard for God and suffers greatly for his sinful folly. He loses the woman he wanted to marry, is estranged from his own people and ends up alone and thirsty, with no friends and none of the respect that his calling and his great power should have won for him. He has no one to blame for his misery but himself.
God used him in spite of himself. Here and throughout Scripture it is clear that God does not force sinners to act against their will. Samson was a most willing sinner. This is true in every case. Judas made his own bed. The fact that God used his treachery to accomplish the salvation of the world does not excuse Judas. That God used Joseph’s brothers’ envy and hatred to prepare the way for Israel’s deliverance in Egypt in no way excused the sins that sent Joseph ahead to save Israel from famine.
3. God’s use of Samson’s sin does not implicate God in any of Samson’s wrongdoing.
God uses Samson’s sins to accomplish his will but he does not make Samson sin and does not excuse his sinning. This is a mystery. The Bible confesses God’s sovereign control over human sinning. In many cases it even says that God appointed certain sins in a willing sinner’s life, but God remains untouched by the moral stain. He uses sin sinlessly. And so it must be. God is holy and cannot sin.
But he is also sovereign and maintains his rule over a sinful world and a sinful mankind and even a sinful church. We are face to face here with a great deep. The Bible does not teach us how to answer the questions that spring to mind in the face of these facts. It simply tells us that God rules over all, including over the sinful wills and actions of mankind, but remains himself pure and sinless.
Fear and Love Our Great Deus Absconditus
What we have in Judges 14:4—”did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines”— is more a statement about God than about Samson. Samson is taken up with himself. He is a selfish, sensual man. He wants what he wants and sins to get it.
Seemingly unaware, he kills Philistines here and there in self-centered rage. But all the while he is doing what God intended that he do. He is striking God’s enemies.
This, Rayburn notes, “is the God Luther called Deus Absconditus, the hidden God. Our great God often does his will without man’s realization or intentional cooperation. At the end of the day, “God produces the result he sought both through the acts of human beings and in spite of them.”
This is reason both to fear God – for we cannot escape his rule – and to love him – for he acts on his people’s behalf even when they will not. It is far better to do God’s will by being his willing servant than by being his dupe and every human will be one of the other. But while living in a sinful world that seems dominated by the evil that men do, it is a good thing to know that man’s sin, so far from defeating God, is itself the means to the accomplishment of his will.
Robert Rayburn, Sermon on Judges 14-15
Tool or son, Samson or John. Either way—Praise his holy and glorious name!—God’s will will be done.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.
For more about how it is that our great God can use even “spectacular sins” like those of Judas to carry out His sovereign plan: In Isaiah 53 we read, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” Behind the spitting and flogging and mocking and piercing of Jesus, then, was the invisible hand and sovereign plan of God. This is, says John Piper, a truth too big and too weighty and too shocking to be glib about or to be cocky about. But truth, nonetheless.