The Sovereignty of God – His Perfections
At the start of this series, we looked at how God is, above all else, a holy God. That is, He is incomparable, unrivaled by any other, and the ultimate object of our affections. We also noted that this uniqueness of God touches every single one of His attributes. Tonight, as we talk about the sovereignty of God, it is my prayer that we might begin to see how God’s holy sovereignty shines as the supreme attribute of the Christian’s comfort in times of distress, confidence in all circumstances, and assurance in God’s ability to fulfill all that He has promised in His Word.
Before we go any further, I recall a poster that once hung on the wall of a Christian education centre. This poster read, “You are required to believe and to teach what the Bible says is true, not what you want it to say.” To put it another way, you don’t get to make up your own understanding of who God is. You are required to understand Him for who He has revealed Himself to be by the testimony of His own Word. I say these things because often the teaching of God’s sovereignty can have a similar effect on the hearer as does the finger on the eye of a snail. That is, often the hearer will retract into their shell at the thought of a God who has complete authority to do with His creation whatsoever He desires.
With this in mind, it is worth adding a second point. If God is the supremely Holy God – the God that alone is all-knowing, loving, merciful, all-powerful, all-satisfying – then any correct knowledge that we can glean about Him must have some positive effect on our lives and on our love for Him! We cannot rightly understand any one thing about God and it result in our seeing Him as being less glorious. Rather a correct understanding of who this sovereign God is will always result in our affections being stirred unto a greater experience of love for, and delight in Him. If this is not the case then you can be sure that either I have failed to teach it clearly, or that you have misunderstood something. Now with these things in mind, let’s turn our attention to the sovereignty of God.
God’s Sovereign Right
So, what do we mean when we speak of God being sovereign? In times past, there were rulers who were known as sovereigns. These were individuals who ruled over particular regions or states with no one ruling above them. The sovereign had no one to answer to, for they were seen as having the greatest level of authority, doing as he pleased within his own kingdom. So, when we speak of sovereignty, we mean that which is of the highest authority, having all power to rule in any and every matter according to the authority’s own will.
But as we noted earlier, the holiness of God touches even His sovereignty. This means that God’s complete authority is unique because He is the only truly sovereign that has ever existed. All other sovereigns had supreme authority in their region, but still they did not have ultimate authority. That is, (knowingly or unknowingly), they still resided under the ultimate authority and rule of God! We might understand this point by a passage found in Proverbs: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Prov. 21:1) This implies two things; 1) God has complete authority over every earthly authority, and 2) God’s sovereignty even extends as far as the human heart and will.
It’s here that people begin to protest, “How dare God touch my free-will! Who does He think He is to intervene in our plans? What right does God have to bring blessing to one but suffering to another?” Such questions are natural to ask! We naturally like to think that we are
the ones who have ultimate control over our own destiny and that God should make no more than mere suggestions. But to such protests, Paul would respond, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like
this?” Has the potter no right over the clay” (Rom. 9:20-21).
We could back this teaching up with God’s bringing judgment upon the whole earthy by a flood, or His hardening the heart of Pharaoh, or His sovereign plan in bringing Christ to die just as the prophets had said would happen, or the softening of man’s heart so as to receive freely the Gospel of Christ! Everywhere we look in Scripture we see the outworking of God’s absolute authority and right to exercise this authority however He sees fit.
God’s Sovereignty over Evil
It should be noted, at this point, that God’s sovereignty isn’t only over the good things that take place. Rather, His sovereignty is also exercised within the evil, nasty, disastrous things that take place too. The Lord says in Isaiah, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create [disaster].” (45:7) This doesn’t mean that we have God to blame for evil, because, by very virtue of His holiness, God is free from sin. But God’s sovereignty does demand that He have complete authority and control over the sins of humanity. Take, for instance, the account of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph’s brothers had become extremely jealous of him and intended to kill him. By an extraordinary sequence of events, Joseph ended up ruling in the land of Egypt and providing food to keep those same brothers alive during a famine. Then, when the brothers of Joseph realized their own sin, they were cut to the heart! But Joseph replied, “As for you, 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.” (Gen. 50:20) Notice Joseph doesn’t see these events as being outside of God’s sovereign rule, but rather says “God meant it for good”. That is, God had purposed these events to all take place because through them He might raise up a mighty group of Israelites, display His power over the Egyptians, and bring to fulfillment His holy purposes!
Another way we might approach the issue of evil is to think back to the start of Job when we read the story that takes place in the courts of heaven. Satan enters the presence of the LORD and desires to torment Job, to take away everything from him and prove that Job will turn against God in response. God allows Satan to torment Job, but Satan is not allowed to lay a finger upon his body. But don’t miss this; that Satan can only do that which God allows! And this means that there is no evil that can befall you that God has no control over!
Now take the passage from Romans 8:28, where Paul tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The reality that God is sovereign over good and evil ought to produce in us a great spring of joy! It means that no evil can ever come our way unless it has first passed through the hands of our loving, sovereign Father. It means that nothing can ever come which is not working together for the good of those who love God! As previously noted, this very truth has been the source of great comfort in the hearts of those who call God their Father – that there is nothing outside of His sovereign control, power, and authority. Missionaries can leave for foreign, violent countries, knowing that God is in control of all events – even the hearts of man. This fact has empowered evangelists to preach to angry mobs, faithful that God will fight for the furtherance of His Word.
The Response to God’s Sovereignty
Now I’d like to devote a little more time to the way that God’s sovereignty is something that may have a huge bearing on our own lives. There are manifold ways that the sovereignty of God can play out in the life of the believer.
First, God’s sovereignty ought to provoke us to repentance. God’s purposes cannot be overcome, and whenever we sin we are holding something up next to God and saying that this thing is just as glorious and satisfying as God Himself! When we turn from the face of the all-satisfying, Almighty God, we do so to our own detriment, and it is just as though we were shaking our fist at God declaring that He is not truly the supreme object of my joy! We should repent of anything that is in our lives, turning from them and back to the Father who is so ready to forgive.
Second, knowing that there is no stray molecule in all the universe, but that everything that so comes to pass does so through the hand of God, ought to move us to trust in the promises of God! We have promises of peace (Is. 26:3), of rest (Matt. 11:28-29), of God’s Fatherly blessing (Rom. 8:28), of forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9), and of love (Rom. 8:38-39), to name a few. And all of these promises are given by the hand of Him who controls all events through all eternity without exception, and who cannot lie (Heb. 6:18).
Third, we ought to be moved to fear our sovereign God. While we have His promises of eternal security, we also know that God has the right to do whatsoever He desires. If we are deserving of His wrath, then be sure that He may bring His great discipline upon our lives. We have to stand humble under His authority and to fear bringing anything into His presence but our full obedience and reverence.
Fourth, it provides a hope for the salvation of others. God, having power over everything, means that He has power over the human heart (as was briefly mentioned regarding Pharaoh). If someone seems so hard-hearted that they couldn’t possibly come to salvation then we think too little of God. Instead, God wants us to offer up our prayers for the salvation of those who don’t know Him, and we can trust that God is able to save even the hardest of hearts.
And out of this springs a fifth response; namely, we ought to be a people who are bold in prayer! In the book of James, we read that we are to ask of God without doubting, and in faith (Jas. 1:6). We speak to a gloriously sovereign God with whom we now have access to in prayer because of the death that Christ died in our place. Moments before Jesus died, He cried out, “It is finished”, the temple’s veil tore in two, and a way to the Father was formed so that sinful people like you and me could have access to this sovereign God. If God is not sovereign – that is, His authority does not extended to all things – then we have no reason to put one ounce of faith in anything that He says. But if, as the Bible testifies, God is in complete authority, then we have the most incredible and sure salvation that ever could there be!
The Bible presents God as sovereign. This means that God has both the authority to rule over everything, and the ability to do so as He chooses. While this teaching about God causes some to cringe, because it seems that God has no business interfering with our personal lives, it should rather provoke us to praise God that there is nothing – good nor evil – outside of His power. Any good or evil that comes your way will only do so after it has passed through the hands of the Father who promises that all things work together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28)
God’s sovereignty is complete. That is, there is nothing that does not fall under God’s authority. While we don’t completely see or understand how thorough God’s power reaches, we can trust that it does, because God’s Word teaches us so.
How Should this Message Change Me?
God’s sovereignty brought us to at least five responses;
1. Repentance: Knowing that God is the only one who is completely sovereign, our lives ought to be in complete submission to Him! When we fail to do so, we must confess it and be brought back under the joy of forgiveness and cleansing.
2. Trusting in the promises of God: If it is true that nothing is outside of God’s power, then we can have absolute assurance that God will bring His promises to pass!
3. Fear: God’s sovereignty means that He is also able to enact discipline upon us – even though we are forgiven. This is actually a good thing, because God only disciplines His children out of love, and with a goal of bringing them into closer likeness to Christ.
4. Hope for Salvation: Being that God holds the king’s heart in His hand, and turns him wherever He wills (Prov. 21:1), we can be sure that God can soften even the hardest of hearts!
5. Boldness in prayer: The fact that God rules in all spheres of life should lead us to realize who it is that we are praying to! This is the God who can exercise His sovereignty in whatever He likes. Therefore, let your prayers be made according to His Word and with confidence.
Verses Used in the Devotional
Prov. 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.
Rom. 9:20-21 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay
Isaiah 45:7 I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create [disaster]; I am the Lord, who does all these things.
Gen. 50:20 As for you, 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
Rom. 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose
Questions for reflection (small groups)
-What does sovereignty mean?
-How does God’s sovereignty make you feel?
-Meditate on the Promises of God (Is. 26:3; Matt. 11:28-29; Rom. 8:28; 1 Jn. 1:9; Rom. 8:38-39)
-What is something that you find challenging about God’s sovereignty?