Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Sovereignty of God (Pt. 1)

    This has been a series I've been turning over in my mind for quite some time now, several months at least. Honestly, I've been putting it off because it's not a simple topic and it would require quite a time commitment to research and write about it to the extent that I want to here, but I've decided to go for it. A couple recent discussions I've seen and a book I read last month both motivated me to go ahead and try and see what I can do.

     I don't know how many parts this will be, but specifically, I want to address God's absolute sovereignty over all things, His sovereignty specifically in salvation, and I'd like to take the time to address many of the common objections to this worldview that I've heard. Hopefully, this will 1.) show you some thoughts in Scripture you may not have considered before, 2.) give you a resource to come back to when you have questions or thoughts about God's sovereignty, and 3.) give you an idea and at least basic understanding of why those of us who believe in sovereign grace believe the way we do.

     I would like to start off by briefly defining what I mean by "the sovereignty of God". Most advocates of even a solely free will position also claim to believe in a sovereign God, so I'd like to articulate what I mean. By God's sovereignty, I mean that God, by the freedom of His will and His power ordains, establishes, and brings to pass His will and only His will on earth. The result of that is that everything that happens on earth is directly within the sovereign will of God.

     My first argument in favor of this position that I would refer to as the absolute sovereignty of God would be the Bible. I believe there is systematic necessity for this position as well, but there are quite a few direct texts that specifically say this. That would be my first line argumentation.

     "For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have you done?'" (Dan. 4:34-35) My 1599 Geneva Bible actually renders it in an even clearer (though more archaic) way when it renders v. 35 (or v. 32 in the Geneva), "And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and according to his will he worketh in the army of heaven, and in the habitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, nor say unto him, 'What doest thou?'"

     In either of those translations, the point is very clear. God's will is described as being done. He doesn't just desire a certain thing in heave and in earth; He does according to that will, and no one can stop it. He does what He desires to do. His will is accomplished, and there is no circumstance or interference that is effective in stopping it. This is not a picture of God eventually bringing good out of a tangled web of man's free will decisions, but rather God working His will on earth in the same manner as in heaven, specific sovereignty.

     "For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. But the counsel of the Lord stands forever, and the plans of His heart from generation to generation." (Ps. 33: 10-11) Notice the parallel. Man's will is directly compared to God's. The nations and the people desire this, God desires that. What happens? It very clearly says. God nullifies what the nations want and what the people plan in order to bring His own will to fruition.

     That Ps. 33 passage is to me the most compelling argument that God does not allow man's free will to go unchecked or that God gives men free will and is working around the free will to bring good in the end. The text is very clear that God does not allow men to do what is not according to His will for them to do. Every single thing that happens here is what God has already decided to bring about.

     "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." (Prov. 16:33) This one is as simple as it gets. Even down to the most random thing, a die being thrown, the outcome is God's. I do not believe Solomon was just grabbing one specific thing God is sovereign over but rather choosing the most random thing he could think of as a picture of God's specific sovereignty down to the smallest detail of our lives.

     Solomon also gives us another powerful argument in Prov. 21:1, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes." Again, I'm going to ask you to let the text speak for itself. After hearing this verse, I see the conclusion to be that no, a king, the most authoritative of people, cannot look at himself and say that by his free will he made a decision. No, in fact, he must admit that while he made a decision with his reasoning and his mind, the ultimate conclusion was the conclusion God ordained he would come to.

     I want to pause for a moment to discuss the results of this. Many people believe that to accept my interpretation of these verses delegates men to mere robots and no longer responsible for their own actions. My first response to that is as long as we claim the Bible to be the Word of God, whatever the results, we are called to base our theology on the Bible. So whether or not you like where the conclusion leads, we must take the Scriptures at face value.

     Secondly, my argument is not that man has no free will. Man's freedom to act (or seeming freedom to act) is what we can see, and to the best of our knowledge, we make decisions and do what we want. We do not realize that we are doing what God destined us to do, because we make the conscious decision to do it. In His sovereignty, He has created a system so intricately designed that He can ordain every single thing that occurs and yet allow us freedom of choice.

     Charles Spurgeon stated it in his famous sermon on Calvinism that free will and God's sovereignty are lines so closely parallel that we cannot see where they intersect, but they do. In a mystery, in a way only God can explain, His sovereignty meets our free will in such a way that God's will always happens and yet I am never forced, kicking and screaming, to do something which I am opposed to doing and thus am not responsible for.

     To return to my original argument, my first line of argument for God's sovereignty would be direct Scripture quotations. The texts I listed above seem to point out a definite idea that God is ordaining not some things or somehow working out what man decides in his free will into something good, but actually ordaining even the trivial details of life to form a much larger plan that brings Himself maximum glory.

     My second argument is to look at Biblical prophecy and certain stories in the Bible and examine the results of the story with both worldviews. Stories like Job and Joseph both reflect staggering amounts of God's sovereign intervention in human affairs, and both offer us a peak into the veiled world we cannot ordinarily see.

     Joseph, in Gen. 45, pronounces that the decision to sell him into Egypt was God's. Twice, Joseph says it was God's plan, and once, he specifically tells us his brothers that they were not the ones that did it, but that it was God who was at work, to the point that he did not even hold them responsible. Joseph's statements cannot be interpreted from a solely free will or limited sovereignty position. If God does not ordain what happens in this world, then Joseph could not have identified Him as the Author of what happened and he certainly wouldn't have told his brothers that they were not the perpetrators.

     Job gives us another glimpse into the sovereign workings of God. Job 1 gives us a staggering picture of Satan standing before God and at God's pointing at Job, Satan even goes so far as to get permission from God to harm Job's family and his wealth. But again, if we do what we want and God just brings good out of it, why didn't Satan just go ahead and do what he wanted? Why did he have to get God's go ahead, and even then, God set parameters on what he could and could not do to Job? Is this not yet another evidence that what happens on earth must be a part of God's will or it will not be allowed to happen?

     The last example of this I want to give is that of Jesus himself, more specifically, the crucifixion. Now, answer this question in your mind. Who was responsible for the crucifixion? The crowds? Herod? Pilate? Judas? Well, the Bible tells us in Acts 4:27-28.

     "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur." So what were the crowds, Herod, Pilate, and Judas doing? They were doing exactly what was ordained for them to do. This was not simply them using their free will (though they were willfully making the decision to do so) to crucify Jesus and God used it for good. From before time (Revelation refers to Him as "The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world" in looking at this event in human history), this was what God had planned to happen, and Judas and the crowds and the Romans were simply playing their part in this great cosmic act of redemption.

     So, the point of today's article is to make the case for God's absolute sovereignty, that every detail of what happens on earth is something God has ordained from the past, and that nothing can stand in the way of that ordaining. In the next few days, I will get more into the specifics of this sovereignty and how that applies in our lives. But for now, I figure this was long enough!

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