Sovereignty Revisited by Pastor John Samson
Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps. - Psalm 135:6
God's Sovereignty can be defined as follows: God does what He wants, when He wants, the way He wants, without having to ask for permission.
Man in his hostile disposition against God rails against such an idea. Even Christians sometimes have a hard time accepting this very biblical concept. We don't mind God being Sovereign in the Universe, as long as it doesn't impact upon our personal freedom, it would seem.
Then there are the other Christians who define God's Sovereignty in terms of what they perceive as man's freedom. They say, "God Sovereignty extends to every area except the free will of the creature." I don't know if I ever said those exact words, but certainly, for many years, I would have believed them to be true. But if someone thinks clearly about this for just a few seconds, the idea can be shown to be quite ridiculous. If God is Sovereign but only in issues that are unrelated to human will, who then is ultimately Sovereign? Obviously the answer is man with his sovereign will.
The God of Scripture accomplishes everything He sets out to achieve, frustrating not mere individual plans, but the plans of entire nations. When King Nebuchadnezzar claimed glory for himself because of the illustrious empire he had built, God stepped in and as an act of judgment made him mad (see Daniel 4:28-37). In light of just this single incident in scripture (amongst many that could be given), I think we can safely say that the idea of God's Sovereignty being limited by human will is without warrant.
Certainly man has some measure of freedom. However, he cannot do everything He wants to do. He might want to fly to the moon without a spacecraft.. He might want to appear instantaneously in any country to avoid the high price of air line tickets, but what he is limits his "freedom." What I mean by that is a man only has the ability to do what God allows him to do. Man may want to live and breathe forever, but God has limited man's time on the earth. (This is actually an act of mercy on God's part. Think of it. If a man lived 1,000 years as a sinner, commiting the same number of sins each day, his punishment in hell would be ten times greater than if he lived a mere 100 years).
In creation, God didn't give mankind wings and feathers as He did the birds.. why? Because God decided so. Therefore if a man was to fly though the air, he would have to wait until the aeroplane was invented. That was true for everyone until recent times, including the wealthiest amongst us and even those who ruled vast world empires. Nature limits freedom. Man can only do what his nature allows - that's true physically and it is true spiritually.
When man fell, his whole being was plunged into ruin. Every aspect of man was affected - his entire body, soul and spirit. His body would now be subject to decay and even death; his soul would now need to be renewed and restored, and his spirit became dead towards God. Physically man was still "up and about" walking north, south, east and west, yet according to scripture, wherever he went in life, whether it was to the mall, to the sports game, or to the top of Mount Everest.. everywhere he went would be in accordance with a course mapped out for him by the devil himself (the prince of the power of the air). Man could still choose amongst a whole series of options, but one thing he would never choose would be to come back to God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. He would not because He could not. Man is a sinner by nature and loves darkness rather than light. Unregenerate man wants nothing to do with God. As Romans 3:11 says, "there is no one who seeks God." We are not sinners because we sin but we sin because we are sinners. Unless a man is born again he cannot enter or even see the kingdom of God. Unregenerate man is dead towards God, deaf to His voice and blind to His glory (2 Cor. 4:4-6).
So while we were in a state of spiritual death; while we were planning, plotting and implementing our daily scheme of defying His righteous rule.. at very that time, in an act of sheer mercy and grace, God stepped in to save a people for Himself...
The scripture says, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)..." - Ephesians 2:1-5
If people have a hard time allowing for God's Sovereignly rule over all creation in their thinking, the exasperation is magnified a hundred-fold when it comes to God's Sovereignty in salvation. I believe the main issue we have here stems from our very nature. Our total depravity causes us to deny total depravity! Our radically corrupt nature is the problem... for if we are as spiritually dead as scripture says we are, then everyone of the other doctrines of reformed theology are necessary in order for us to be saved; and we, by nature don't like God to be that Sovereign. You see, if we are dead like a corpse in trespasses in sins, we would need for Divine election to be totally unconditional, for spiritually dead people cannot fulfill any conditions.. We would need a Savior who would effectually save us by His death, and who would draw us in irresistible grace to Himself. We would also need our nature changed in such a way that we would endure the storms of life still trusting in the One who saved us.. in other words, we would need the Savior to the great Preserver, enabling those who He has saved to persevere until the end.
The problem we have with all this stems from our very nature. As rebel sinners, we don't like the idea that God is in control; really in control; especially when thatcontrol extends to the decision as to who is a recipient of grace, and who is passed over to receive justice from a holy God. I believe that to embrace this idea, and even more than this, to thrill and delight in it, requires a work of grace in the heart of people. I don't believe that the unregenerate heart could never delight in such a doctrine. In heaven, all the saints will delight in this. We'll have fully renewed minds there. We'll have no wrong thinking or misguided theological ideas. The elect angels already possess this, for there is no rebellion in the ranks stemming from theological problems with the way heaven operates. All the angels are amazed that even one sinner will be found in heaven, for remember, no fallen angel will ever sing of personal redemption. And that's the point isn't it? Heaven's worship has not missed a single beat even though no angel who sinned has or ever will experience redemption. The angels understand this and yet cry "holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." (Isaiah 6)
The issue is plain for each one of us - will we allow God to be God in our thinking? Will we allow for the fact that God wasn't creating people so much for our pleasure as His? Revelation reads, "and for Thy pleasure, they were created." (Rev 4:11 KJV). Will we delight in this or inwardly wish it were otherwise.
You see, if we start our thinking with God... understanding that He made this universe for Him - for His name - and for His glory - we will be starting our thinking where the Bible does. If instead we start with man, thinking that we are the reason for everything that exists, then we end up putting God on trial for the way He is seemingly running things... The truth is that God runs His kingdom as the King in His domain. This kingdom of God is not a democracy. God cannot be voted out by a two thirds majority. He is the King of all Kings, the Lord of all lords - always was, always will be.
God does what He does for His name and for His glory, and this is a loving thing, because the glory of God is the ultimate beauty of all beauties, the delight of all delights. The revelation of God's glory is something that will thrill the hearts of the redeemed for all eternity.
He created the heavens to declare His glory (Psalm 19:1), and saves people "to the praise of the glory of His grace." (Eph 1:6). Romans 9 tells us that a man by the name of Pharoah was raised up by God so that God's power would be seen in him and that God's name would be declared in all the earth. (Romans 9:17). Think of this - God raised up a man to the summit of world and political power so that when God hardened his heart, and wrought defeat on his army, the name of God would be known and declared throughout the world... and Paul then under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit concludes by saying, "Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens." Rom 9:18
As I say, God is a King and not a democratically elected official. He was never voted into office, nor can He be voted out. Therefore His only response to those who challenge His fairness in showing mercy to some and passing by others is "who are you o man to answer back to God?" Man is not in charge... God is. God is saying, "I didn't ask for your opinion... I reserve the right to have mercy on whom I will and I will harden whom I will so that in each case, when mercy is shown, it will resound to the praise of My glory, and likewise, when I harden an individual (or leave a man in his own sinful nature of rebellion against Me), that too will result in my justice being glorified. All will see that I the Lord am perfect in the way I dispense justice.
Read on in Romans 9 and you find that God doesn't back down at all... He makes vessels for honor and for dishonor... vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath.
I've heard Hank Hannegraff (radio's Bible Answer Man) suggest that this idea of predestination means that many are "doomed from the womb." This he finds morally repulsive. By using emotional language like this, the issue sometimes becomes clouded for people. As creatures, we feel an affinity with our fellow creatures and it would seem inconceivable to us for God not give innocent people a fair deal. However, a biblical perspective would not view people, even unborn people, as innocent, but instead guilty of high treason because of their Federal head, Adam (Romans 5:12).
We were fully and accurately represented by Adam in the garden. Not only was he one of us, but although it was God who chose him as our representative, hindsight allows us to see that he was the best mankind could put forward - a man who had never sinned. But when he sinned and commited high treason against God, his fall affected not only him but all those he represented - it affected all his descendants. "As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Cor. 15:22).
God has every right to banish all rebel sons and daughters of Adam from His kingdom and execute strict justice and punishment in accordance with their tyranny. But in mercy He decided to save some. This decison was taken before time began. The people He elected to save were "chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4). This leaves some as chosen before birth and others doomed from the womb. That's true. But being "doomed from the womb" is of course is an issue that all Bible believing Christians have to face, for even in the Arminian scheme (where God elects based on forseen faith), there is still the belief that God knows the future exhaustively. God would still be creating people whom He knew would never repent and believe the gospel. Yet He created them anyway. God would know with absolute knowledge that all His efforts in trying to save these people would prove futile. The Arminian idea of foreknowledge does not make a single individual any less doomed from the womb. Mr. Hannegraff's position doesn't alleviate the problem.
So what's the answer? The answer I have found is to start our thinking where God and the Bible does... starting with God as a Sovereign King upon His throne. If we start there, we can then understand that God is under no obligation to change the heart of any rebel and extend mercy to him. Mercy, by its very definition can never be demanded. If we think God is obligated to show mercy to all in the exact same way, or even to anyone at all, we are not talking of mercy anymore, but of justice. And remember, God says that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. The answer to the problem is that from God's perspective, there is no problem at all. No one gets injustice... either a person receives justice (and there's nothing unjust in this) or he receives mercy (and there's nothing unjust with that either). Problem solved! This may not seem "fair" to us but lets remember, if we want what is fair and just, all of us rebel sinners will be sent to hell. We don't want justice, believe me.. we need mercy! We can agree that this is not equal, but at the same time it is perfectly correct for God as the Sovereign King to dispense justice or mercy to whom He wills... and God says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy."
The fact that God passed over Esau should not shock us. Esau got exactly what He deserved. What should absolutely amaze us is that Jacob, for no reason in himself, and because of no actions he had done or would do, received mercy from God. God simply decided to have mercy on Him. Why? Because God thought this would look good for His glory! It would glorify His attribute of grace!
Someone might say, "I am still not sure I like this."
Perhaps the answer to this is that apart from Divine grace, "whoever thought you would?"
Still another might say, "I could never love a God like that."
Again, perhaps the answer here is "I know... really, I do... and apart from Divine grace, none of us ever would."
We as man centered individuals may not like this and might scream "not fair!" as the imaginable objector does in Romans 9.. we may try to build a case against God and summons Him to a hearing to defend the allegation that He is being unfair... but God says, "Excuse me... I am the Judge, I own the court, and I will not be put in the dock... and I reserve the right to dispense justice and mercy as I see fit... court dismissed!"
If the objection of Romans 9 remains in our hearts and minds, remember, our problem is not so much with a doctrine, or even with the Apostle Paul, but God Himself. One day, each of us will stand before the God who inspired Romans 9. On that day, I for one will want to be on His side on this issue. As the old saying goes, "when the Judge comes into the courtroom, don't be found sitting in his chair."