Is it possible for believers to miss out on the best that God has for them?
Consider these questions: Is it possible that what God intends for us we can miss out on for various reasons? Does God have great plans for each of us, but they perhaps are not realised or fulfilled because of blockages or problems on our end? These sorts of matters are worth exploring a bit.
When it comes to non-Christians missing out, then it seems rather more obvious. Verses like 1 Timothy 2:3-4 come to mind: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Here we see that what God desires is clearly not always happening. Leaving aside hefty debates about the extent of the atonement, this and other passages indicate that what God would like to occur does not always happen – not everyone comes to God in repentance. But here I want to look at the matter in terms of Christians: can we miss out on God’s best, because of disobedience and other reasons?
I recently wrote a piece on the disobedience of Moses, and how he was almost taken out by God because of this, thus nearly missing out on his role as the deliverer of God’s people. Later he did in fact miss out on entering the promised land, also because of disobedience. See the piece here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/01/17/difficult-bible-passages-exodus-424/
On the social media I posted an excerpt from that article:
If God calls us to do a work for him, he does not take lightly our disobedience and refusal to take seriously what he requires of us. God was even willing to give Moses the flick, and find someone else to do the job. Sure, Moses was a great leader and mightily used by God, but he almost missed out on this vital assignment.
A Christian replied to that post as follows:
Really? I read the other day how Sampson missed out on achieving what he could have because of his reckless giveaway of what was sacred. I have always thought because of God’s Sovereignty that we will be what we will be, but yes, there is an obedience too on our part.
To which I replied:
Thanks ****. The fact that God is sovereign does not mean we are mere automatons. Our choices DO matter, and we can choose wrongly and disobey, and forfeit what might have been ours. While God is certainly sovereign, the choices that we make are indeed significant and have very real consequences. So that means we must take the warnings of Scripture seriously. One thinks of Hebrews 12:15-17 for example: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”
But all this is worth exploring in more detail. In both the cases of non-Christians missing out on God’s best, and of believers missing out on God’s best, we have the old conundrum of trying to reconcile two biblical truths: of trying to get God’s sovereignty to fit in with human choices.
That is something we will never fully reconcile this side of eternity. The simple truth is, Scripture fully affirms both: God IS sovereign, but we are also responsible for the choices that we make. How those two seemingly incongruous things work together is hard for us mere mortals to get a handle on.
As to the matter of not everyone being saved, different answers have been proposed. Some theologians for example posit differing types of God’s will, such as his preceptive will and his permissive will, etc. Ideally, God may seek the salvation of all men, but not all are saved. Does that mean God is unable to accomplish what he desires? This is where massive discussions about the extent of the atonement come in: does God will the salvation of all people, or only of those who are in fact saved?
That big debate, and discussions about God’s will, cannot here be entered into. Those wanting to take this further should know that countless books have been penned that discuss these things in great detail. For just one take on the will of God – from a Reformed point of view – see here: https://www.monergism.com/discerning-god%E2%80%99s-will-three-wills-god
But the issue of believers perhaps missing out on all that God may have for them does raise many big questions. So can we miss out on what God has for us? As I said in my reply above, we must take the many warnings found in Scripture very seriously indeed.
Again, the discussion can become rather complex, and there are various errors and extremes to avoid in all this. While certain theological schools (such as the free-will theists, or open theists) will claim that yes, God’s will is being frustrated all the time, and what he desires is constantly being thwarted because of our choices, mainstream theological thought has preferred to say that while our choices are significant and have consequences, that does not hamstring God and make him less than God.
He always is sovereign, and his purposes and plans always do stand. Yes his perfect purposes are always done, but somehow along with our human choices. While some want to argue that human choices of necessity limit God, most orthodox thinkers would say that God is not limited, and his sovereignty is not lessoned even though he created us as morally accountable beings who are responsible for our choices.
Perhaps one way to get a handle on this is to look at other passages like the one I shared above. Many of these are conditional promises. While Scripture has many unconditional promises – such as the promise never again to send another flood to wipe out mankind (Genesis 9:11-13) – it also has many promises which are dependent on us and the choices that we make.
There would be plenty of these to consider. One obvious place to look would be the covenant blessings and curses as found in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. Deut. 28:1-2 for example says this: “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
The next 12 verses go on about all the other conditional blessings. And then we read about the curses which are also conditional. Deut. 28:15 says this: “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.”
The next 53 verses go on to list all the other conditional curses. And just as Israel as a nation could miss out on God’s best for them, so too it seems can individual believers. In the Bible we find plenty of these conditional promises. Here are just a few of them:
Psalm 132:12 If your sons keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit on your throne.
Proverbs 14:26 Those who fear the Lord are secure; He will be a place of refuge for their children.
Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
John 8:31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”
Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
2 Peter 1:8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
2 John 1:8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.
Revelation 3:21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
There are plenty more such conditional statements found in Scripture. Much of what is promised us by way of blessings and God’s favour is clearly dependent on our responses, our obedience, and doing that which God requires of us.
But as I say, it is a mystery how our significant choices fit in with God’s sovereign plans and purposes. Perhaps it is best to let God concentrate on his end of things, while we concentrate on our end. Even if our bad choices do prevent some of the best for us that God may have had in mind, he still is in control and he still is working out his desired ends.
And then we have other promises, such as what we find in Joel 2:25: “I will restore the years that the locust has eaten.” One pastor speaks of how Christians can lose that which they will not get back:
-Lost years are fruitless years.
-Lost years are painful years.
-Lost years are selfish years.
-Lost years are loveless years.
-Lost years are rebellious years.
-Lost years are misdirected years.
-Lost years are Christ-less years.
But he goes on to say that God can restore these lost years “by deepening your communion with Christ. . . . by multiplying your fruitfulness. . . . by bringing long-term gain from short-term loss.” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/god-can-restor-your-lost-years/
So even if you think you have in many ways been unfaithful and disobedient, and brought on yourself – at the very least – the chastening hand of God, that does not mean we are now without hope. God is gracious: he is a God of second chances, and he is a God of restoration.
Thus we need to repent, confess our sins, and ask God for his grace to now live in such a way that is fully pleasing to him, and that brings him glory. This is not about having ‘your best life now’ as some popular preachers claim, but about seeking to put God first in all things.