Nothing surprises God. An attribute that makes God, God, and which separates Him from us is His foreknowledge. God is not limited by time. He knows what is going to happen before it happens. When and if you get to heaven God is not going to be surprised you made it or didn’t make it. He knows. God has a plan for the world, for Israel, for the church and for each of us individually.
It is God’s plan for the world that everyone be saved. Peter is inspired to write, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God loves the world and sent His only Son Jesus to make a way for the world to be saved. Salvation comes through faith in Jesus and His redemptive work on the cross (John 3:16). God made it as simple as possible for people to be saved. He provided one way for salvation, Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:10, 12). It grieves God terribly when people are not saved (Ezek. 18:32; 33:11). Hell and eternal separation from God was never God’s intention. Hell was prepared for the devil and His demons, not for people (Mat. 25:41). But if people persist in their sin and reject God’s salvation He will sentence them to eternity in hell (Eph. 5:3-7; Col. 3:5-6; Rev. 20:11-15). Sin is like cancer; it is never benign; it is always malignant. Therefore God will not allow sin into heaven (Rev. 21:27). That too is part of God’s plan. God has a plan for the world, salvation not hell.
God has a plan for Israel. He says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” All Israel has to do is, “. . . call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.” His promise is, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:11-13). At the time of these inspired words God’s people were in captivity. These were words of hope in a time of great despair and disappointment. His promise to Israel was, “I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive” (Jer. 29:14). God was faithful to do this the first time. On May 14, 1948 He did it a second time with the creation of the establishment of the nation of Israel. He did all of this because God has a plan for Israel. He has a plan and purpose for Israel known to Him from eternity. God isn’t finished with Israel yet (cf. Romans 11).
God has a plan for the church. The context of Acts 15:18 is the Jerusalem Council where the church was discussing the transition from legalism to grace, from Old Testament to New Testament, from Israel to the Church. In the beginning the church consisted mostly of Jews who accepted Jesus as the promised prophesied Messiah. But in Acts 10 the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius and his household created a question as to what if any Jewish laws were to be kept by newly converted Gentiles? Some were saying that unless Gentile converts were circumcised they could not be saved (Acts 15:1). They were attaching a work to the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. This led to a great and pivotal discussion for the church. It was decided that it would be wrong and outside the will of God to put “a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10). Instead it was asserted that “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved . . . .” (Acts 15:11).
None of this surprised God. In fact He spoke to Peter three times in a vision telling him that what God was cleaning up should not be called unclean (Acts 10). A letter was drafted with the stipulations that Gentile converts should merely “abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). This was all God’s plan for the church.
The church is where we learn of the riches we have in Christ (Eph. 1). The church is the instrument to bring salvation to a lost world (Eph. 2:1-9). The church was to be the place where Jews and non-Jews, everyone, could be united in Christ (cf. Eph. 2:11ff.). The church is where we learn of the love of God and how He is eager, willing and able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” to His glory (Eph. 3:13-21).The church is the place where people are equipped to serve the LORD and bring Him glory (Eph. 4:11-12). The church is a light in a dark world (Eph. 5). The church is where God helps us put our spiritual armor on (Eph. 6:10-17). The church is where we learn to pray (Eph. 6:18ff.).
But God also has an individual plan for each of us. We are God’s poetry. We are His work of art. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Each Christian is a letter from God to a lost world (2 Cor. 3:2-3). God’s plan for you is to make you like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). When we realize that it helps us understand why we experience some of the things that we do.
We shy away from and try to avoid at all costs anything that causes discomfort. That is our temporal earthly mindset. But God looks at us and ministers to us from an eternal heavenly perspective. The most important thing for us from God’s point of view is that our faith be established and proven genuine (1 Peter 1:6-7). It is in and through trials that we gain the greatest insight into Jesus and who He is and what He is all about (1 Peter 1:8-9). God’s plan for us is to know Him, to know Jesus; that is eternal life (John 17:3). His plan is not only that we know Him through the power of His resurrection, but that we know Him also through the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil. 3:10; cf. also Phil. 2:1-16).
Yes, God has a plan for us. At times that plan will involve discipline and even pain in order to bring us “out to rich fulfillment” (Psalm 66:10-12). Because God loves us He disciplines us (Heb. 12:3-15). God uses everything for good in the lives of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). Don’t ever forget that. God is for us (Rom. 8:31-32). He wants what is best for us. “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” The world, Israel, the church and we are His works. No matter what, trust Him. He knows what He is doing.