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God's Sovereignty

by André Schwartz last modified Aug 01, 2014 11:11 AM
A seemingly contradictory doctrine (Part 1) – let’s go BBB

When you say to someone, “God is in control,” do you really mean it? Do you understand what you are saying? Or when you say, “I really do not ‘deserve’ God’s grace,” do you really imply that you should be responsible for your actions? You see, we so easily say that God is in control (sovereign) and man is responsible for his actions. But do we really believe it? Or is it even Biblical?

The facts of God’s Word make us face mysteries. These are real mysteries — we do not invent them ourselves. The Bible teaches concepts that appear to be mutually exclusive. In these instances we must appreciate that both truths are friends with God, not enemies. In God’s higher wisdom, things that we think must be either-or are actually both-and.

The Bible clearly teaches that God created all things but he did not only do this, he also pre-planned everything that would happen in his creation. Everything that has happened and everything that is still to happen, he knows. He does not only know it because he is not bound by time, but he actively decreed every detail of his creation. He is sovereign over all. This is exactly where one of the mysteries comes in: even though God is sovereign, man still has real responsibility. The choices we make are ours and we cannot blame God for them. These choices clearly affect and change our lives.

This mystery is closer to us than for example the concept of God being three in one (the Trinity). Because it involves us personally and affects us directly, it is one of the most difficult to accept. When confronted with it, people tend to overemphasise one truth (God’s sovereignty) or the other (human responsibility). This produces a lack of balance.

This mystery shapes many other beliefs we have. The questions of election and faith taught in the doctrine of salvation are directly related to this mystery, and so also the problem of evil — how did evil enter God’s “very good” (Gen 1:31) creation without God being responsible for it? We will look at this problem another time.

Is this mystery of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility really in God’s Word? Or is it only some theologians’ invention? Does the Bible really say that man is completely responsible for what he does even though God decreed everything that would come to pass?

Job 42:2 tells us, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” And Ps 135:6 reaffirms that God does what he pleases. Furthermore, God carries out everything exactly as planned: “Did you not hear long ago how I made it, from ancient times that I formed it? Now I have brought it to pass…” (2 Kings 19:25, cf. Num 23:19). All that God has pre-planned is as good as done. Nothing can change it, for there is no authority above God. As he says through Isaiah, “To whom then will you liken me? Or to whom shall I be equal?” (40:25).

God is totally “other” and because of this and his complete sovereignty, he is able to declare:

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure …’ ” (Isa 46:9-10)

All history follows his foreordained plan. This involves his ability to choose individuals and groups for special purposes in the outworking of this plan. Jeremiah and Paul were chosen for special missions even before they were formed in their mother’s wombs (Jer 1:5; Gal 1:15).

God also elects individuals for salvation. Christ speaks of those elected for salvation (Luke 18:7). Paul and the other apostles endorse this concept (Col 3:12; 2 Tim 2:10; cf. 1 Pet 1:1-2). Those whom God saved/will save, are fast in his election before time (“before the foundation of the world” [Eph 1:4-5, 11]). Election involved love and it was based on God’s kindness. He "predestined us to adoption as His sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”

Also in Eph 1, we see that God’s sovereignty is self-determined. It’s emphasised three times (vv 5, 9, 11). In God’s loving purpose all things have been designed to lead “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (vv 6, 12, 14). When God works in all things everything will ultimately glorify him. (Nevertheless, God will also glorify all believers at the resurrection when he finally will conform us to the image of his Son but even God’s act of glorifying others will bring greater glory to himself).

God’s sovereign decrees do not only involve people, they extend to all things in his creation. They are also not limited by space or time. Proverbs 16:33 announces, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” What an incredible statement! Nothing in this universe happens by chance. Even probability and statistics are controlled by God! There are no real accidents — God is surprised by nothing.

What a great comfort this is to us, his children! Do you rest in this security that God is sovereign? That even when things seem to go wrong, he is working out his purposes according to his decrees? Even though this may sometimes seem a very mysterious teaching of Scripture, it can and it should be a very comforting and reassuring doctrine. It’s clearly in God’s Word. It’s for our security.

Does this mean that we can sit back and do nothing? Or even do whatever we want? Certainly not! More about man’s responsibility next time. Until then: BBB!