Biblical Principles for Christian Maturity

John H. Stoll, Th.M., Ph.D

Copyright 1996, John H. Stoll

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Chapter 6 - The Sovereignty of God

Even though Christians place their trust in a sovereign God, there is a tendency, when things in the world look confused, to wonder, at times, if God really is in control. Granted, we believe that He created and sustains the world, but is He really in control over every little thing, as well as the nations of the world? Does He really number the hairs of our head, and furthermore does care, even when we dismiss our fallen hairs so casually?

If we are to trust Him, not only for our Christian life, but for caring for us on a daily basis, and certainly for our eternal future, it is imperative that we understand what is meant by, and how the sovereignty of God is applied to all our questions. Therefore, we need to start with a definition of the sovereignty of God. By that is meant that God is the creator of all things visible and invisible; that He is everlasting sustainer of all things created; that He is the owner of all, and therefore has an absolute right to rule over all, which He does in exercising this authority in the universe. See: Matt. 20:15; Rom. 9:20,21; Eph. 1:11. This sovereignty is not based on any capriciousness or whimsicality of God, but is the sovereignty of wisdom, holiness, and love. Scripture abundantly teaches that God is sovereign in all the universe. See: I Chron. 29:11; Ps. 115:3; Isa. 45:9; Ezek. 18:4; Dan. 4:35; I Tim. 6:15; Rev. 4:11. Our study of God's sovereignty will be exercised under two aspects: Preservation and Providence.

When one thinks of the word preservation, we believe that it has to do with permanently upholding, and controlling something to keep it for the future. The Biblical understanding of God's preservation is that God, by a continuous agency, maintains in existence, all the things which He has made, together with all their properties and powers. Preservation is distinguished from creation, in that creation had a beginning, and in itself is not self existent nor self-sustaining. God has established an order of natural forces, which we may call the laws of nature, and by which He preserves, sustains, and continuously motivates things through these laws, in the universe. See: Neh. 9:6; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3; Acts 17:28; Ps. 37:28; John 10:28.

When we study scripture we see that God's will is not the only force in the universe (e.g. "Mother nature"), but that God concurs in all the operations, both of matter and mind (I Cor. 12:6; Acts 17:28). He has given mankind a will of his own, which he has used in rebellion against God, and God has allowed him to act in accordance with his own selfishness (Jer. 44:4; James 1:13,14). This rebellion of man against God resulted in separation from God, and this is the reason why God programmed Jesus Christ to come into the world of mankind (i.e. the time/space world), to reveal God and His purpose of reconciliation back to God. The basis of the reconciliation came through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the application of that event to the separated person comes through the individual making a willful acceptance of Jesus Christ. Though God is sovereign over all, He has given to mankind a will of his own, which God cannot override, but has made provision for all to return to the creator, and this comes out of a person's willingness to submit to God's program through Jesus Christ. Thus we see a balance, in human life, between the sovereignty of God and the free will of mankind.

The second aspect of God's sovereignty refers to His divine providence. By that is meant that God has not only created the universe, and has preserved it, but that He also exercises sovereign control. This is what is called providence, in that it is the continuous activity of God whereby he makes all the events of the physical, mental, and moral phenomena to work out His purposes, and that is nothing short of His original design in creation. It is true that God has allowed evil to enter the universe, but by the same token, God does not allow it to thwart His overall purpose.

There are four main areas of existence in the universe over which God maintains sovereign control. The first is over the physical universe. See: Ps. 103:19; Ps. 104:14; Matt. 5:46; Acts 14:17. The second is over the animal kingdom. See: Job 12:10; Ps. 147:9; Matt. 6:26; Matt. 10:29. Thirdly, God is sovereign over the nations of the world. See: Job 12:23; Ps. 22:28; Ps. 75:6,7; Acts 17:26; Rom. 13:1. Finally, He exercises control over all individuals in the following ways: a) Over mankind's birth and lot in life. See: Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15,16; b) Over successes and failures of individuals. See: Ps. 75:6,7; Prov. 21:1; c) Over even insignificant things in life to us (e.g. hairs of our head, and sparrows that fall). See: Prov. 16:33; Matt. 10:30; d) Over the needs of God's children, the Christians. See: Rom. 8:28; Phil. 4:19; and finally, e) over the destinies of both Christians and Non-Christians. See: Ps. 73:24; Ps. 37:23,24; Ps. 11:6.

God has four distinct ends toward which His providence is motivated.. These are primarily directed toward the eternal welfare of mankind, which He created for fellowship with him, throughout eternity, and for which all creation was made. First, God has an eternal view toward the happiness of mankind. See: Acts 14:17; Rom. 2:4; Ps. 84:11; John 10:10; Rom. 8:28. Then, God's providence has in view the mental and moral development of the human race. In the Old Testament, the Levitical priestly system was ordained preparatory to the coming of Christ. All the types and figures were symbolized toward that end. Along with that came the moral and ethical concepts of Christianity, as illustrated and exemplified in the moral law of Moses.

When Christ came into the world, He provided for spiritual re birth and subsequent spiritual maturity of life in the individual, which has resulted in the re-characterization of life and the fruit of the spirit.

The third end toward which God's providence is directed is with a view to the salvation of all mankind. In II Peter 3:9 it says, "The Lord is - -not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." In I Timothy 2:4 it points out that God, "will have all mankind to be saved." God never created any person to go to hell, but that everyone would be reconciled to Him, so that together they may have fellowship throughout eternity. It is totally inconsistent with God's attributes to ever create anyone and destine that person to eternal damnation. However, because God has given to each a free will, mankind has separated himself from God, and thereby incurred the wrath of God, because God's holiness cannot countenance sin. This is why God had to send Jesus Christ to die in man's stead, so that by one trusting Christ's work on the cross, God's holiness could remain unsullied, and at the same time He extend His love and grace in redemption to any who would believe. See: Romans 3:21-26; Exod. 19:5,6; Titus 2:14; I Peter 2:9; Eph. 3:9,10;5:25-27.

But, some may ask, what about the person who has never had the opportunity to hear and accept the redemption in Christ, that God has provided for the whole world. Will that person go to hell? If God's redemption has paid for the sins of the whole world, and this person has never heard, why should he be eternally judged? To answer these questions from a Biblical perspective, one must always begin with who God is. The Bible tells us that the primary attribute of God is His holiness, in which He is totally set apart from anything that is contrary to His attributes. Thus His holiness.

One of God's attributes is His omniscience, that is, there is nothing that God doesn't know. He knows the innermost thoughts of every individual. If Christ died for the sins of the world, and God is not willing that any should perish (II Peter 3:9), and God knows the heart of every person, I am convinced that God in His omnipotence would see to it that any person whom His omniscience tells Him would accept if given an opportunity, that God will provide that opportunity.

An excellent illustration of this is seen in the life of David Livingston. As a young lad living in England, he desired to become a sailor. He hired himself out to a sea captain going to India. The ship on which he was sailing was caught in a storm around the horn of Africa, and Livingston was cast ashore. Some years later Stanley came from England hunting Livingston, and found him in the heart of Africa, evangelizing many natives of that continent. It is easy to realize that God knew that there were people at that time, and in that location, that given the message of salvation would accept, and that He put it in the heart of Livingston to adventure out to sea; that God caused the storm that wrecked the ship, and saved Livingston, so that God's word might get to them at that time.

If we accept God's omniscience and His omnipotence, then we must also realize that when mankind stands before God in judgment, there will never be anyone standing there sentenced to eternal judgment, that will be able to say that he never heard the message of salvation, and had he done so , he would have accepted. No, God is seeing to it that anyone whom He knows will accept, if they hear, that God will open the door to their understanding. Many more hear than accept, because God has given us a will of our own to accept or reject, but no one will be judged who has never heard, but would have accepted had they heard. God is sovereign, and He rules over all, to the intent that He never created anyone to be sent to eternal judgment, but that all should come to repentance (I Tim. 2:4; 4:10).

Finally, the primary end of God's government over His creation, is for His own glory (i.e. His moral attributes). He uses a variety of means, to achieve that end. 1) His Word. See: Josh. 1:8; Isa. 8:20; Col. 3:16. 2) His appeal to mankind's reason. See: Isa. 1:18: Acts 6:2. 3) He also uses persuasion. See: II. Cor. 5:20; Jer. 44:4. 4) His use of checks and restraints. See: Acts 16:6-8. 5) His use of outward circumstances. See: I Cor. 16:9; Gal. 4:20. 6) God inclines mankind's heart in one direction or another. See: Ps. 119:36; Prov. 21:1; II Cor. 8:16. 7) Sometimes He guides by dreams and visions. See: Matt. 2:13,19,20; Acts. 16:9,10. In God's overseeing of the world and mankind, He utilizes many and varied elements to ultimately direct everything after the counsel of His own will, for His honor and the ultimate good of all mankind. It is difficult for us, at times, to understand God's program, but as the Apostle Paul states in I Cor. 13:12, "Now we see through a glass darkly", and it is for us just to trust God's overall good. We only see today, He sees the whole of eternity.

It is important for us to realize and understand the necessary balance between the sovereignty of God, and the free will of mankind. In God's creation part of the "image" of God that He infused into us was "will". Originally, Adam exercised his will perfectly in following God. But, Satan deceived Adam/Eve into turning from being God centered to being self centered, which was the original sin. The sin of Adam has translated itself to every individual (Rom. 5:12), so that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). God's sovereignty is still intact, but now He has to work His sovereign will, with needing to take into consideration mankind's self will that is opposed to God's will. This constant conflict throughout the ages has caused the problems seen in the world, and also has kept mankind from seeing clearly, and from submitting his will to that of God's sovereignty.

Some may reflect upon this understanding to then wonder why the Christian needs to pray, if God is sovereign, and in spite of mankind's self will, God's overall will is being worked out in life? Prayer is not for God's benefit, since He is sovereign, and He knows what we will pray for even before we pray; it is for our benefit, as prayer keeps us sensitive to God Himself, it helps us to unload on Him, and it is our way of communicating with God as His children. God's Word is His communication with us, and prayer is our response to Him. This completes the circuit between a loving heavenly Father and us His children, whom He loves. Note: James 4:2,13-15,16

A sovereign God who designed and created the universe and all that is in it, did so for the good and blessing of each individual, created in His likeness and for fellowship with Him. Because of this, God gave to each of us our will, so that we would respond to Him out of our own volition, not because we had to out of a lack of another option. God did not want a robot or a puppet who would follow Him, but one who would do so out of love. The deception of Satan through mankind, with the consequent separation from God, only incited God to pronounce the decree that He would send His Son, Jesus Christ, who would provide reconciliation back to God, through His death/resurrection, and by our receiving what He provided for us in love. Our will, which we act upon freely, projects itself in accepting the provision that was made. God's sovereignty has made this all possible. Heb. 2:9-18; Titus 3:3-7.

In loving kindness Jesus came,
My soul in mercy to reclaim,
And from the depths of sin & shame,
Through grace He lifted me.

From sinking sand He lifted me,
With tender hands He lifted me;
From shades of night, to plains of light,
O, Praise His name, He lifted me.

He called long before I heard,
Before my sinful heart was stirred,
But when I took Him at His word,
Forgiven He lifted me.

Now on a higher plane I dwell,
And with my soul I know 'tis well;
Yet how or why I cannot tell,
He should have lifted me.

From sinking sand, He lifted me,
With tender hands He lifted me;
From shades of night, to plains of light,
O, Praise His name, He lifted me.

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