Fatalists think that the future is determined and inevitable. Some of them assume that human actions affect the future, but even those actions are caused by prior events. Others see future events as inescapable, but not necessarily caused; they merely happen by chance. While some of these ideas seem similar to Christian beliefs about the sovereignty of God, a fatalist usually leaves God out of their equations.
When I think about topics like predestination and God’s control and knowledge of future events, I feel a bit mystified. Do the prophecies in the Bible come from His power to make them happen? Or from His ability to see into the years ahead and know what will happen? Or both? Do my choices make any difference in the future? Or are they also preordained and part of the plan?
This is too lofty for my brain. Instead of trying to figure out how it works, I’m satisfied to trust the Lord who makes it work. Today, I’m reading a favorite chapter in the New Testament where the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is described. He is God, yet because of His humility to serve, He became a man and died for our sin.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
The words that interest me in this passage are “should bow” which is translated “will bow” in some Bible versions. After a bit of searching, I found that the verb is “bow” without anything in front of it. The use of “should” suggests this is how people ought to act, while “will” suggests this is prophetic and says everyone will eventually bow. However, the verb form of “bow” is more the former idea. Bowing and confessing is what we ought to do — because of what Jesus did.
These verses are followed by another “therefore” adding more instruction. Because of what Jesus did and because we should bow before Him and confess His name, we ought also do this —
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)
Obedience is the logical response to what Jesus has done. Actually, the chapter begins with how I am supposed to care for others by thinking the way Christ thinks as demonstrated in His humble obedience to death on the cross. He is my example and His eventual exaltation is my hope.
In bowing to Jesus and confessing His name as my Savior and Lord, I am taking steps to “work out my own salvation.” Immediately I think of how many times I fervently pray for unsaved people almost as if I am trying to “work out” their salvation instead of my own. Yet this entire passage does not tell me to “save” anyone but serve others, considering them more significant than myself. I am to be like Jesus to them, caring about their interests and needs. This is not about work to earn my salvation, but about sanctification and the effort I must make to set apart my life to do God’s will.
So what about the future? Is this a promise that everyone will eventually bow? Or that they should bow? I’m thinking it is about what people ought to do, and frankly must admit that I cannot make anyone else do anything. This matter of bowing the knee and confessing His lordship is not about others. It is His “you should” for me as I work out my own salvation.
Besides knowing that in Christ I will be glorified, there is more hope given here. It is in the words, “for it is God who works in you” — meaning that I am not doing this by myself. Jesus lives in me, giving me all of Himself including His mind that I might think His thoughts. From His Word, I’m clearly instructed in how to know and do the will of God. God has given me all that I need. Therefore, I must respond!
God, what You say to me today is core to Your will for my life. As the verses indicate, this is not to impress those in my presence, but done with fear and trembling before You. You want me to live out the life that I have in Christ, the life that is humbly obedient for the sake of others. How You work in me to accomplish that is equally impossible to figure out as predestination and prophecy, but instead of trying to figure it out, I’m simply to trust and obey, realizing that Jesus is with me, for both the saving and the sanctifying.