Several weeks ago a visitor came to our church for the first time. After coming to faith, he had become more and more uncomfortable with his church’s teachings that you can ‘lose your salvation’ if you don’t keep up morally or spiritually. He didn’t know anyone from our church but had visited after finding our church web-site. That morning I taught on the security of a believer from Ephesians 1:11-14, a great passage that explains how God seals and guarantees the salvation He offers. It had been many months since I had taught anything on this theme. What are the chances that he would just randomly walk into our service on the day I was teaching on the very topic he had been struggling with? And yet it happens again and again.
According to the survey LifeWay Research published this fall, 60% of people believe that God knows everything, but doesn’t necessarily determine it. Another 11% were unsure. In the case of the newcomer, they feel that God was aware of the amazing coincidence ahead of time, He just wasn’t responsible for it. While that sentiment feels attractive, the Bible paints a very different picture of God. You may be surprised to learn the extent of God’s rule taught in the Scriptures.
The Bible says that God “declares” the end from the beginning, not just that he knows it (Isaiah 46:9-10). In fact, not only does God order “a man’s steps” (Proverbs 20:24) and turn a king’s heart “wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1), but He even has authority over animals. When Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29), He was not only offering some real comfort of God’s tender care and concern, but showing that God’s rule extends to tiny, seemingly insignificant things. The Bible teaches that even “the lot,” the very symbol of randomness, is determined by God (Proverbs 16:33). I think there are two reasons that people want to explain away God’s sovereign authority over all things.
1. If God is sovereign, doesn’t that mean that He’s responsible for the world’s evil?
One of the reasons that I think we try to limit God’s sovereignty, is that we don’t like to think of Him being involved in the evil and tragedy of the world. But here again, the Bible is very clear, asking for instance, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6) or quoting God as saying “I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). Even Satan is on God’s leash and can’t move a step beyond that which God permits (Job 1:12). But to say that God controls even the evil of the world is not to say that He’s responsible for it. It was humans that spoiled paradise and chose a world of sin and evil instead. And so God has the realities of sin, sickness, dying to work with because of the fall. But even here, God uses the evil we brought upon ourselves for His good purposes (Romans 8:28-29). It can be a great comfort to a Christian to know that God limits the extent and controls the impact of even the tsunamis of life. There is no purely random disaster.
2. If God is sovereign, doesn’t that mean that we’re not responsible for our sin?
The second reason that we try to limit God’s sovereignty is that if God determines all that the Bible says He does, it would seem to follow that we’re off the hook. We don’t even have to say that ‘the devil made me do it’ anymore, we can say that ‘God made me do it.’ But this misunderstands what the Scriptures teach. The Bible teaches that no one should say, “I am being tempted by God,” because “he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). When you sin, it’s not God’s fault. We’re responsible for what we do, and so we will each give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:12). But even when we commit sin for which we’re held responsible, God guides the circumstances and extent of it to accomplish His good and wonderful purposes. So Joseph could look back on the jealous actions of his brothers in selling him into slavery and declare, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).
Where all of these things can be seen most clearly is at the cross: a terrible act of injustice, planned by Satan, brought to pass by wicked men, and yet all under the clear purpose and plan of God who brought salvation and blessing through it. In this life, we may not see God’s purpose in all of the trials and injustices we face, but we can trust that God has a good and perfect plan in the midst of all of them.
In awe of Him,