God is Sovereign, and I’m Not


“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” – Isaiah 46:8-11 ESV

 

“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ 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, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” – Romans 9:14-24 ESV

 

The title of this article is from a t-shirt I had made at Zazzle.com (you can order it here: http://www.zazzle.com/god_is_sovereign_t_shirts-235204492218481395). Many of us who are Calvinists (or those who prefer to describe themselves as “Reformed,” particularly those among the recent upsurge of “young, restless” Reformed people – for more about that, read Young, Restless and Reformed by Collin Hansen) talk a lot about God’s sovereignty. We tend to have a very high view of God and a very great appreciation for the fact that, well, God is sovereign and we’re not. God reigns! He is absolutely sovereign and He is answerable to no one. He has every right to do whatever He pleases with His creation. He has set forth His purpose from before He even spoke Creation into existence, and He will accomplish all of it!

 

We exist for God, not the other way around! We exist for His pleasure; He does not exist for ours! King Solomon rightly concluded after his many years of backsliding, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV). The last part of that passage is perhaps better rendered “this is the whole of man” because the word for “duty” is absent from the Hebrew text and because to fear God and keep His commandments isn’t merely our duty, our obligation, but the very purpose, the end-all-and-be-all, of our existence. It’s the answer to the age-old philosophical question “Why do I exist?”

 

People who become aware of my Mensa-qualifying IQ or of my tendency toward thoroughly studying the things of God immediately become defensive and show the wickedness in their own hearts as they conspire in their hearts to knock me down from some imaginary pedestal or other elevated position they alone think I’m on. They immediately project their own insecurities as they accuse me of thinking I’m better than they are. (Oh, how people seem to have such visceral reactions against imaginary threats to their notion that everyone is equal)! You can talk about musical ability or singing ability or other talents or abilities, but you can’t talk about intelligence or about intellectual pursuits. It’s okay to love God with all your heart and soul and strength, but you’re expected to check your brain at the door. As my then-pastor told me when I was a young Christian back in the late 1970s, “there’s no place for reason” in Christianity, no place for it in the Church.

 

These, of course, are some of the very same people who have, very oddly, congratulated me for my intelligence  – an intelligence I had no hand in causing, an intelligence I didn’t contribute to. I cringe when they do that. (I have a difficult time receiving compliments as it is, but it’s even worse when people try to compliment me about something I didn’t choose and can’t change). I once mentally screamed when someone described me as “brilliant” to an internationally-known Christian author as I was standing there, “It’s not my fault and I can’t do anything about it!” That I – or, for that matter, any of us – have anything at all is entirely by the grace and mercy of God. What was it the Apostle Paul asked? “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7 ESV). Which brings me back to the subject of God’s sovereignty.

 

Perhaps one of the most important things God has allowed me to learn as He opened the eyes of my mind to the doctrines of grace in particular, and to the Calvinist view of God and salvation in general, is God’s sovereignty – that God is in absolute and total control. Not only is it perhaps one of the most important things I’ve learned (by God’s grace), but it brings me an intense comfort and contentment. For me, there is a really deep sense of peace when I read and meditate on what God said in the Isaiah passage I quoted above, when I read “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’…’I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.'”

 

It’s sad the way so many fellow Christians seem to recoil or, at the very least, become defensive when the subject of God’s sovereignty comes up in conversation. More than a few have insisted on the almost supremacy of their “free will” (which doesn’t actually exist). Some of them have told me “God is a perfect gentleman: He will not violate our free will” or “God surrenders some of His sovereignty so that we can exercise our free will.” I won’t get into the whole free will thing except to say that what people often mean by free will (the ability or capacity to make choices) is simply will and that free will means having the right, the freedom, to choose. (God doesn’t give us the freedom, the right, the choose evil; the fact that God punishes sin is proof that we don’t have the right to choose evil because we can’t be punished for exercising rights). Some fellow Christians have an almost visceral reaction to the idea that they are not the masters of their own destinies, that they are not the sovereigns of their own lives – no matter how much lip service they give to God’s sovereignty. They sing about giving all to Jesus or sing “All to Jesus I surrender,” but in their hearts they still hold onto the reins. They’ll allow God to have control of some things, but it’s clear that they remain (at least in their own minds) sovereign over their own lives. (The very idea of “allowing” God or “letting” God or, with specific regard to salvation, “accepting Jesus” suggests that God needs their permission, which is further evidence that they see themselves as the sovereigns).

 

One passage of scripture that often brings a visceral reaction from some Christians is Romans 9:14-24, which I quoted above from the English Standard Version (ESV). Here’s that passage again: “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ 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, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”

 

God alone gets to decide who He will or will not save and, in fact, made that choice even before He spoke Creation into existence. Many Christians recoil at the thought of this. They insist that anyone who wants to come to Christ can (they vociferously quote the non-existent scripture “Whosoever will may come”). They imply that God doesn’t have a choice in the matter and, worse, that He cannot save anyone without that person’s permission. The problem with that wicked thinking is that it sets up man as sovereign over God and that such thinking is erroneous in a way that borders on blasphemy. While it’s true that anyone who wants to come to Christ can (“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16 ESV), the scriptures make it clear that no one, on their own, wants to: “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. ‘Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.’ ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’ ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes'” (Romans 3:10-18 ESV). Salvation is monergistic, meaning that God alone causes salvation to happen: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV) and “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16 ESV). If God did not interfere with an individual’s will and cause that person to want to be saved, if He didn’t first regenerate them (bring their dead spirits to life) and then grant them repentance (which they then find wonderfully irresistible), no one would be saved. Yet, so many Christians recoil at the thought of this and they recoil because of the wickedness in their own hearts that wants to insist on their own personal sovereignty – that it’s they alone who decide whether or not they want to allow God, to grant Him permission, to save them.

 

God is sovereign, and I’m not. He not only knows the end from the beginning, He has decreed it! Again, notice what He said in Isaiah 46:9-10 (ESV), “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'” He is in absolute control. I echo what Job said to God: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 ESV). Yes, it looks like this world is a really bad place and that there are lots of really bad things that happen even to seemingly “good” or “innocent” people (my use of quotation marks there is intentional). We might question (oh, the blasphemy of it!) why God allows evil and suffering to occur, but in so doing we forget our place and presume to elevate ourselves to a place of superiority over God – not to mention that evil and suffering are natural consequences of Adam’s sin in the garden of Eden and of humanity’s fallen state ever since. God is perfectly within His rights to destroy every one of us: that He even allows any one of us to draw breath from one moment to the next is because it serves His sovereign purpose to do so. To reiterate what Paul wrote in Romans 9:20-24, “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, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”

 

God is sovereign, and I’m not. His sovereignty brings me such great peace and comfort and contentment. That He allows me to draw breath from one moment to the next, that He has granted me salvation, that He has given me gifts or talents or abilities (or whatever you want to call them) with which to serve Him, are all by His grace and mercy alone. May He be forever glorified!

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