Do you believe that God is the ultimate and final power over all things? Is God sovereign?
The way we answer this question reveals the kind of God we worship.
According to Scripture, God is the superior or supreme being.
Describing the God we encounter in the Bible, one has written, “God does whatever he chooses to do, whenever he chooses to do it, wherever he chooses, involving whomsoever he wishes to involve.”
The sovereignty of God answers the question, “Who or What is in ultimate control?”
Many people feel that life is generally a matter of good luck or bad luck. “Que Sera, Sera” — “whatever will be, will be?” But are we really victims of fate or objects of some version of karma? Is God on the sideline wishing things were different, but powerless to do anything? Does God have a plan for this world and for those who live in it?
God’s own description of His sovereignty
“… I am God, and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done. Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all my good pleasure’; … Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isaiah 46:8-11).
God said, “Have you not heard? Long ago I did it; from ancient times I planned it. Now I have brought it to pass …” (II Kings 19:25).
Apparent chaos in history or in my life does not transfer to a God of chaos. “For God is not a God of disorder…” (I Corinthians 14:33). Even if God “let all nations go their own way” (Acts 14:15), He has not “left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17).
Prior to the cross of Christ, God “held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past ” (Romans 3:25-26); He “endured with much patience vessels of wrath” (Romans 9:22-23); He “overlooked such ignorance” (Acts 17:30-31). Thus we are warned not to “show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
How extensive is God’s sovereignty?
The God revealed in the Bible is repeatedly recognized as absolutely sovereign over everything. The Psalmist declared that, “the Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and in their depths” (Psalms 135:6).
According to Scripture, God “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?” (Daniel 4:35).
“The Lord works out everything for His own ends, even the wicked for a day of disaster” (Proverbs 16:33; Ephesians 1:11).
According to Jesus, if the birds are fed, it is the Father who feeds them; if the flowers grow, it is because God grows them. Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29).
God’ sovereignty is also exercised over man’s salvation. Our choice to receive Christ is preceded by God’s choice of us for His salvation — a choice that does not include everyone. Scripture specifically says, “All who were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The apostle wrote, “… God has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Romans 9:18). “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). “He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, (II Timothy 1:9-10).
How do you respond?
It should be encouraging to know that God has a plan that will conquer what feels like the chaos of human history. It should draw us to worship our great God. Although some view a sovereign God as too threatening and humbling, the alternatives are far more discouraging. To say there is no God, or that God does not care or stands helpless on the sidelines, leads to fatalism and despair.
Others reason, “If God has control over everything that happens — is he not a cosmic puppeteer pulling our strings when he wants us to dance?” This is not the way the Bible describes God. Scripture will not tolerate any view of God’s sovereign control that diminishes human responsibility.
Truth in balance
“At no point whatsoever does the remarkable emphasis on the absoluteness of God’s sovereignty mitigate the responsibility of human beings who, like everything else in the universe, fall under God’s sway. We tend to use one to diminish the other; we tend to emphasize one at the expense of the other. But responsible reading of the Scripture prohibits such reductionism.” (D. A. Carson).
“Despite everything it (Scripture) says about the limitless reaches of God’s sovereignty, the Bible insists again and again on God’s unblemished goodness. ‘The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and kind in all His deeds’ (Psalm 145:17). `His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He’ (Deuteronomy 32:4)” (D.A. Carson).
Ezekiel 33:11 – “‘As I live,’ declares the Lord, `I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’ ” (cf. Lamentations 3:33a). Ezekiel 18:32 – “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God, `Therefore, repent and live.’” I Timothy 2:3-4 – “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Like God’s sovereignty, the responsibility of man includes the details of life. “I say to you,” Jesus declared, “that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36).
According to Scripture, our decisions constitute real causes that produce real effects — for which we will be held accountable.
We should consider how Scripture describes God’s permissive agency in handing some people over to their desired deception (Romans 1:18-26a;cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; Isaiah 66:3-4. Notice how they “refused” and God ratified their choice; Psalm 81:11-12). God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8); Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34-35).
The wise teacher wrote, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
According to Scripture, history is linear – it’s moving in a specific God-ordained direction, to a place where “… the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). When I long for a world absent death, mourning, crying and pain, I am longing for things to be on earth as they are in heaven. I desire that, “the dwelling of God to be with men.”
“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (Westminster Confession).