7. What Does The Sovereignty Of God Mean?
The Sovereignty Of God
We’ve already established that God is omnipotent (Mat 19:26; Luke 1:37; Rev 19:6), so we already know He has absolute power and supreme authority, this is why God is described as being sovereign (English Dictionary: supreme power; autonomy, self-rule, independence; self-governing). His sovereignty describes how He executes His power.
The sovereign execution of God’s power is filtered through His infinite knowledge, His perfect love and His divine Holiness.
We cannot truly grasp God’s sovereignty until we first grasp the fact that God has other attributes equally significant. God is also Loving, Holy and Omniscient. Here’s why this is important to remember:
If God were all-powerful, and that was all, then He could easily become like an evil genie, doing any and everything He wanted just because He could. But because God is also love, He will not do anything that is not motivated by love. His power, therefore, first gets filtered by His love for us.
Because He is also Holy, everything He does, thinks, and speaks must be right, good and perfect. So His power also gets filtered through His Holiness.
Finally, He is omniscient. So He is able to take His power and filter it through His knowledge to determine the best way to execute it.
God Is In Control
You may not understand why God did not do something even though you know He could have (like heal your cancer, or prevent a disaster). Let me try to explain why by exploring a passage in Matthew. Christ when speaking on prayer asks us to pray; “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10).
If God’s will is “done in earth, as it is in heaven“, was God not “in control” when Satan rebelled and when Adam and Eve disobeyed him?
God is in control, and “in all things [He] works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). This doesn’t mean that all things are good. It just means that God can take all things and work them into something good.
This is why God’s sovereignty is the perfect explanation for, “Why bad things happen to good people?” It is because God’s power is behind the scenes, taking all of the bad things, filtering them through His knowledge, His holiness, and His love, in order to make something beautiful come of it.
Paul clearly says that God ‘worketh all things after the counsel of his own will’ (Eph 1:11).” Yes. But the Bible itself contains many examples of men defying God’s will and disobeying Him. In fact, Ephesians 1:11 doesn’t say that everything that happens is according to God’s will, but according to “the counsel ” of His will. Clearly the counsel of God’s will has given man freedom to disobey Him.
NOTE: It is not God’s will (desire) any should perish (John 3:16; 2Peter 3:9) – but it is his desire (will) for man to have choice (Jos 24:15) – Man is not “forced” to love or serve God.
It is one thing for God, in His sovereignty and without diminishing that sovereignty, to give man the power to rebel against Him. This would open the door for sin as solely man’s responsibility by a free choice. It is something entirely different for God to control everything to such an extent that He must effectively cause man to sin.
It is a fallacy to imagine that for God to be in control of His universe He must therefore foreordain and initiate everything. Thus He causes sin, then punishes the sinner.
There Are Things A Sovern God Cannot Do
God is infinite in power, so that means there is nothing He can’t do! Oh Really? The very fact that He is infinite in power means He cannot fail!
There are however somethings God cannot do, not in spite of who He is, but because of who He is. God cannot lie, cheat, steal, sin, etc.
Because of His absolute holiness, it is impossible for God to do evil, to cause others to do evil or even to entice anyone into evil: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted, neither tempteth he any man…” (James 1:13-14)
But what about the many places in Scripture where it says God tempted someone or was tempted? For example, “God did tempt Abraham” (Gen 22:1). The Hebrew word there and throughout the Old Testament is nacah , which means to test or prove, as in assaying the purity of a metal. It has nothing to do with tempting to sin. God was testing Abraham’s faith and obedience.
If God cannot be tempted, why is Israel warned, “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God” (Deut 6:16)? We are even told that at Massah, in demanding water, “they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the LORD among us or not?” (Ex 17:7). Later they “tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust… they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Yea…they provoked the most high” (Ps 78:18, 56, 41).
God was not being tempted to do evil, He was being provoked, thus His patience was being tested. Instead of waiting upon Him obediently to meet their needs, His people were demanding that He use His power to give them what they wanted to satisfy their lusts. Their “temptation” of God was a blasphemous challenge forcing Him either to give in to their desire or to punish them for rebellion.
When Jesus was “tempted of the devil” to cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple to prove the promise that angels would bear Him up in their hands, He quoted, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Mat 4:1-11). In other words, Jesus understood that to put ourselves (himself) deliberately in a place where God must act to protect us (him) is tempting God.
James goes on to say, “but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.” Temptation to evil does not come from without but from within.
The man who could not possibly be “tempted” to be dishonest in business may succumb to the temptation to commit adultery and thus be dishonest with his wife. Eve was tempted by her own lust and selfish desire. Even in innocence man could be selfish and disobedient. We see this in young infants who as yet presumably don’t know the difference between right and wrong.
Additionally, there are a number of other things which God cannot do. God cannot deny Himself or contradict Himself. He cannot change. In other words God cannot go back on His Word (Ref: Does God Ever Break His Promise?).
Obligation Has No Relationship To Grace
God’s omnipotence and sovereignty are irrelevant with regard to forgiveness.
Christ in the Garden the night before the cross cried out, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…” (Mat 26:39). Surely if it had been possible to provide salvation any other way (2Tim 1:9; Rev 13:8), the Father would have allowed Christ to escape the excruciating physical sufferings of the cross and the agony of enduring the penalty His perfect justice (Ro 3:25-28, 16:25) had pronounced upon sin.
Suppose a judge has before him a son, a daughter or other loved one found guilty of multiple murders by the jury. In spite of his love, the judge must uphold the penalty demanded by the law. Love cannot nullify justice. The only way God could forgive sinners and remain just would be for Christ to pay the penalty for sin (Rom 3:21-28)
Because Of God’s Sovereignty, God Does Not Force Anyone To Love Him Or Accept His Gift
There are two other matters of vital importance in relation to man’s salvation which God does not do: He does not force anyone to love Him; and He does not force anyone to accept His gift. By the very nature of love and giving, man must have the power to choose. The reception of God’s love and of the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ can only be by an act of man’s free will.
Giving man the power to make a genuine, independent choice does not diminish God’s control over His universe.
NOTE: To bestow upon man the Gift of His love precludes any ability to force that Gift upon any of His creatures. Both love and gifts of any kind must be received. Force perverts the transaction. God does not force anyone to love Him or to receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
It would be self-contradictory, that Almighty God should create a free agent capable of loving Him, without also being capable of rejecting His love…without free-will we could not freely love God. Freedom is a condition of love.”
It is the power of genuine choice from man’s own heart and will which God has sovereignly given him that enables God to love man and for man to receive that love and to love God in return “because he first loved us” (1Jn 4:19). It is impossible that the power of choice could challenge God’s sovereignty since it is God’s sovereignty which has bestowed this gift upon man and set the conditions for both loving and giving.
Predestination and Foreknowledge
God’s foreknowledge doesn’t make things happen. To know something in advance is not the same as predetermining that it will happen. Nor does God need to predestine something in order to know it will happen.
God Almighty has shared with us some of His foreknowledge. It is called Bible prophecy. Amos 3:7 states: “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”
Prophecy fulfilled provides us with a great foundation for our faith. In John 14:29 Jesus said, “And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.” Revelation 19:10: “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
There is a vast difference between saying that God fully foresees everything that will happen and allows much that is not His perfect will — in contrast to saying that God predetermines everything that occurs and it is therefore all just as He would have it. The latter view makes man a mere puppet and God the cause behind all wickedness and sin.
Think of it like this: You are sitting on a hilltop looking down on a two-lane road that curves around the hill. Two cars are going in the same direction, one trying to pass the other. Due to the curve in the road, the passing car doesn’t see that a car is approaching from the opposite direction. From your vantage point, you foreknow there is going to be an accident. You didn’t cause it. You didn’t have anything to do with it. Yet you did foreknow it was going to happen. This illustrates foreknowledge as opposed to predestination. It is in this light that God is able to see the end from the beginning, but he does not control or dictate what your actions are. “God puts before us life and death. It is His will that we choose life, but it is our choice.”
Deuteronomy 30:19 emphasizes that human beings have the power of choice. Moses said, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life that both thou and thy seed may live.” God puts before us life and death. It is His will that we choose life, but it is our choice.
Are Some Predestinated To Be Saved & Some Predestinated To Be Lost?
There are some who believe God predestinates some people to be saved, and others to be lost. That is not the case.
While denying that a person is predestinated to be saved or lost, we must acknowledge that the Bible does teach predestination but only as according to God’s foreknowledge. Notice Romans 8:29 “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.” The key to understanding predestination according to foreknowledge is as follows:
To begin with, predestination is never for the lost man, to be saved or to be lost; but rather, predestination is for the saved man. God’s plan of Salvation has never changed, it is a personal matter based upon the “whosoever wills.”
As stated before, Predestination is for the saved man and thus He has predestinated certain blessings for those who are going to get saved by faith. In other words, God draws a circle, figuratively speaking, and says that whosoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will get in that circle. So the believer, upon his faith in Jesus Christ, steps into the circle. Then God says, figuratively speaking, “Whosoever is in that circle by faith, I have predestinated that they shall receive these blessings,” and here they are:
1. “TO BE CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON.”
“For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29a). This is one of the blessings God has predestinated for the believer – that the believer is going to be fashioned, made, transformed, transfigured into the likeness of the image of Jesus Christ. The things you might be suffering at this moment are happening to you (Rom 8:28) to make you more like Jesus. And at the rapture, whether we be dead or alive at His coming, we are all going to be changed and be wholly like unto Christ.
2. “UNTO THE ADOPTION OF CHILDREN BY JESUS CHRIST.”
“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph 1:5). Again we want to state that predestination is the predetermined blessings for the saved man and has nothing to do with salvation. Now, in the above text, we are told that the Christian is predestined unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ. It doesn’t say that the sinner was predestinated to become a child of God; no, but rather the saint has been predestinated unto the adoption of children.
To get a better idea of this great truth, it is well to explain the meaning of adoption. In America and England, when we adopt a child, we go by legal means and take a child of another family and get the court to make it our own. But not so with Jewish family, nor with the ancient Roman and Greek family. These adopted their own children. Adoption simply means “to declare as a son,” or “son placed.” The fourth chapter of Galatians clearly defines the meaning of adoption. It is the time appointed by the father when his boy ceases to be considered a child and becomes a recognized son. According to even present day Jewish custom it is called BAR MITZVAH – declared to be a Son of the Law, Son of Blessing. The boy becomes of age after his thirteenth birthday, on the day selected by the father. So it is with us: we are children of God, but we are waiting our BAR MITZVAH, our adoption, the time when our Heavenly Father will declare us of age and place us as Sons before the whole universe: “even we ourselves groan within ourselves, WAITING FOR THE ADOPTION, TO WIT, THE REDEMPTION OF OUR BODY” (Rom 8:23). This is one blessing that God has predestinated for the saved man, for all who are trusting the Lord Jesus Christ – that we all shall be declared to be of age and as His SONS – at the resurrection!
3. “PREDESTINATED ACCORDING TO THE PURPOSE OF HIM.”
Here is the third blessing for the child of God – “that which God has predestinated for those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ by faith: “Being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ” (Eph 1:11-12). So many fail to read the 12th verse; herein is what God has predestinated – that we should be to the praise of His glory; Nowhere do we find predestination for salvation.
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