On the Sovereignty of God

Today we’re going to look at one of the key pillars of Reformed Theology, as well as one of the key pillars of Biblical Christianity and that pillar is the sovereignty of God. This pillar has been reduced to a mere stuble, if you will, in the eyes of modern day Christianiry. It’s a doctrine that’s been abused, diminished, and even flat-out rejected. It’s a doctrine that has been controversial in recent times. And today we’re going to discuss it; we’re also going to be looking at the biblical aspect of it; namely, what is the sovereignty of God, according to scripture? Is there any limitations to that sovereignty that God posses? And if so, where are those limitations set? And even, is God sovereign? These are some of the questions I wil atempt to answer today. And I hope that it edifices you, and that you learn something new about God; and if it’s just an overview of what you’ve already learned than I hope it will bring some things back to your memory that perhaps you may have forgotten. Let’s get started and, as always with me, you will need your Bible for this.

In this day in age, many professing Christians do not truly believe in the absolute sovereignty of God; the idea that some one is in control of every aspect and event in their life is irritating, if not infuriating to some; the idea that there is someone who can “violate their free will” is often maddening to some. But what is sovereignty? Charles Hodge once wrote this in his Systematic Theology, “Sovereignty is not a property of divine nature, but a prerogative arising out of the perfections of the Supreme Being.” So then sovereignty is not a characteristic like omnipotence, which stands on its own; no, sovereignty rests upon the perfect perfections of God, so before we deal with the actual sovereignty of God, we must first deal with this question: is God perfect?

Of course any Christian’s natural response is, “Of course!” but I do not want to rely on all of you giving that response, so look at Deuteronomy 32:4.

4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are just. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright in love.” – Deuteronomy 32:4

Here Moses is declaring that “all his ways are just” and that he is “without iniquity” and finally, “his work is perfect“. So then by this one verse we see that yes, God is perfect. But I’d like to go a little deeper, when we say that God is perfect that means Hos love is a perfect love; His power is a perfect power; His holiness is a perfect holiness. It means that everything about God is perfect. 

And now we must answer yet another questuon: can God be perfect and not also be sovereign? I give an emphatic: NO! For if God is perfect that must mean that He has perfect wisdom, perfect goodness, and perfect power; if you combine those with the right of ownership(which belongs to God alone, as it is written: “I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I have commanded all their host.”), and then with all those invested in one Being, that Being [God] has not only the ability but also the right of being totally sovereign. Charles Hodge also wrote this in his Systematic Theology, “If God be a Spirit, and therefore a person, infinite, eternal, and immutable in his being and perfections, the Creator and Perserver of the universe, He is of right it’s absolute sovereign.” which is true and the “immutable foundation of His dominion”, as Charles Hodge put it, is his perfect wisom, goodness, and power combined with the right of ownership. Thus, in the light of all that, God has not only the perfect ability to be sovereign, but also the perfect right to be sovereign. And who are we, mere humans who cannot even add one minute to our life, to mentally try and rob God of that right and ability? Just who do we think we are?

But if there are any reading who still doubt the sovereignty of God I wish to call them to the logical implications that occur if God is not sovereign: If God is not sovereign, how then could we (the believers) have any hope that any promise of God will be kept? For if God is not sovereign, then His promises would, at the end of the day, have the same dignity and reliability as that of a promise of man, in the sense that we do not know for sure without any doubt that we will be able to actually carry out that promise despite anything that may occur. And why is that? Simply because we are not sovereign, because we are not perfect; we also have no power, in and of ourselves, to control the world, other people, or anything else in the way that God does, for the Psalmist declares, “Our God is in the heavens , he does all that he pleases.”; after all not only do we not have any power, in and of ourselves, but we cannot even save ourselves from the slavery if sin and even if we could save ourselves from the slavery of sin, we still couldn’t do all that we please; how then can we exalt ourselves so high, and drag God down so low? And also consider, in the creation account when God commanded the darkness saying,”Let there be light.” And then out of the darkness there was light, with no sun, moon, or stars, for they were created on the fourth day (Genesis 1:14-19), but the commanding of light to come into existence, in the absence of sub, moon, or stars, was uttered on the firs day (Genesis 1:1-5). And while virtually all Christians will accept the clear truth of scripture concerning the Creation acclunt, which is that God created the universe and everything contained therein, many will not accept the logical and necessary implications of the power that is clearly displayed in the creation account: for God to create Ex Nihilo (Latin for “out of nothing”), it naturally follows that out of His perfect, an nearly incomprehensible, power flows forth sovereignty. 

But just think: what if God is not sovereign? That would mean that God could not guarentee that His promises will come to pass despite anything that may occur; how then could we have any genuine and sure trust in Him? If Christ’s words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish, and no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” are a promise and God is not sovereign and therefore not able to bring it to pass without chance of failure, then, tell me, what hope do we have? None! J.C. Ryle once said, “Take away the cross of Christ, and the Bible is a dark book.” which is extremely true, but I say: “Take away the sovereignty of God, and Christianity becomes a hopeless, and therefore worthless, faith.” Without a sovereign God there is no guarantee of anything good, without a sovereign God all we could ever have is doubt. And also consider this: if God is not able to sovereignly bring to pass any and every promise that He makes, this not only robs Him of His majesty, but this also calls into question the general principle characteristics of God; for if God makes us these promises and presents them to us as absolutes, while fully knowing that they are not absolutes, and therefore subject to chance or circumstance, does that not make God a liar? And if not a liar, does that not still call into question His goodness in general?

That is what the logical implications are if God is not sovereign, and truthfully they are terrifying, but thank God that our God is a sovereign God, and that His sovereignty is His forever, regardless of what mortal man says.

However, now that we’ve dispensed with the logical implications that occur if God is not sovereign, let us turn to the scriptures and see what they say concerning His sovereignty: by now, I hope that by now none are opposed to the idea of the sovereignty of God, now that we see the effects that come to be if He is not sovereign; in fact, I expect most to be hoping for scripture to support the sovereignty of God boldly, since the alternative leaves us hopeless.

Firstly, I’d like to be establish the God’s ownership, since out if His ownership comes His sovereignty.

1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, – Psalm 24:1

Here the psalmist is not putting any limits on God’s ownership in away way, in fact, he’s doing quite the opposite: he’s presenting God’s ownership a never ending, all encompassing. He says that “the fullness thereof” is the LORD’s. Under that one word “fullness” is included all the riches that the earth is adorned with. Even we are, in one way or another, belonging to God as the psalmist says, “the world and those who dwell therein”; I do not see any limitations being placed on God’s ownership of this world and what it contains, after all does He not say through His prophet Isaiah, “I made the earth and created man in it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens and I command all of their host.” (Isaiah 45:12)? If God has made the world and everything therein, then by right, God is the owner of literally everything.
Now, in light of His all encompassing ownership, we cannot say, “It’s not fair that God allows this to happen!” Or “It isn’t fair that God controls everything!” Or “It isn’t fair that Hod predestines salvation to some and not others!” But yet, people – even Christians – do say things like that, and when we bring up such statements we must never forget how in the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard – which is found in Matthew 20:1-16 – how they owner of the vineyard, the character of the parable that represents God, says to some of His Laborers, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” You see, we owe God for every breath that we take, and the moment we say to God, “That’s not fair!” we forget His graciousness in that He freely chooses to sustain our existence, when He is absolutely not required to. And not only that but we forget that all on earth and in heaven belongs to Him.

So now that we’ve established ownership, and thus the right of God to be sovereign, let us see to what degree does God exercise His divine right:

3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. 

                          – Psalm 115:3

Firstly, we see God’s divinity described by this verse (“Our God is in the heavens;”); then secondly, we see to the degree that God exercises His divine right: “he does all that he pleases”. Note that it does not say, “some of what he pleases” or “most of what he pleases”;no, it says, “all that he pleases”. “All” encompasses everything; every thing that Godj wishes to do, He does, according to the psalmist. 
Next let us look at Daniel 4:35.

35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?                    

                          – Daniel 4:35

Here I think it is imperative that we take into consideration just who is actually saying these words. And if we look at verse thirty-four if this chapter in Daniel, we see that it is not Daniel speaking here but rather King Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Neo-Babylon, a heathen king; and even this heathen king knew and proclaimed God’s absolute truth concerning God’s absolute sovereignty. And if a heathen king can know and declare God’s absolute sovereignty, then why is it something that is questioned, lessened, attacked, slandered, and degraded? That question I leave to you to meditate on but let’s look closely at what Nebuchadnezzar says: “and he does according to his will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth;”, not ice how he does not say “he does according to others’ will”; no, he says, “he does according to his will”, but among what? “Among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth;”, now what does that leave outside of God’a control? If He does what His will is in heaven and on earth, then what is left outside of God’s sovereign hand? Quite obviously nothing is! Furthermore, he says, “and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” ” None can stay his hand, none can stop God from doing what He wills. And none have the right to question him saying, “What have you done?”; after all, who are we? Mere men who cannot count the hairs on our head, and mere men who cannot add one second to his life than what God has sovereignty determined Him to have. Thus we see a pagan king acknowledging the absolute, all encompassing sovereignty of God with boldness. 

Next let us look at Ephesians 1:11.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, – Ephesians 1:11

Generally this verse is used as a proof text to support predestination – which it does and also predestination has been called by many theologians one of the most magnificent example of God’s sovereignty at work – but today I’d like to call your attention primarily to the phrase: “of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” here Paul does not put any limitations on God’s sovereignty but declares it to be over “all things”, here Paul is even more clear and blatant than King Nebuchadnezzar is in Daniel 4:35; and also notice how Paul does not say “orders all things” or “commissions all things” but rather says “works all things”, here Paul is saying that in His sovereignty, God is a working God, He is an active God, not a stale, unmoving God. After all scripture says concerning Him, “But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and everlasting King.” (Jeremiah 10:10a), and a living God is active, not one who sits lazily in the heavens amusing Himself by tossing our destinies around aimlessly and without purpose; rather, on the contrary! God is a living God, a working God, who has a purpose for all of His actions, as Paul declares, “having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Now according to that one verse, God’s actions have purpose and therefore are not arbitrary or based on the throwing of a dice but on actual purpose which is “according to the counsel of his will” not according to just anyone’s will, but His will, according to the will of the God of the universe! And now are we seriously going to question the validity of the God of the universe’s actions? As God questioned Job: “Where you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). 

Lastly let us look at Romans 11:36.

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:36

Here Paul declares that all things are from God, through God, and to God; the end result of those three explicit things is total sovereignty, for if all things are “from him, through him, and to him” the what limit is set on His authority and power? What limit is set on His right to be sovereign? What limit is set on His exercising of that divine right? None, there are no limits with God, for Christ Himself says, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.” (Mark 14:36), and when Christ said “all things”, believe me, He meant it! Indeed, because Christ says that we clearly see, especially in light of Romans 11:36, that there is no limit set on God’s ability to work all things according to the purpose of His will. 
And if there are any who still doubt the sovereignty of God, I leave them to wrestle with Paul’s words:

13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time-he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. – 1 Timothy 6:13-16

However, for those of us who are convinced – by scripture – of the sovereignty of God, we see that this sovereignty is 1.) over all things, the sovereignty is controlling everything thing that ever has happened and everything that ever happens; 2.) it is His absolute right, and therefore we have no right to question God’s doings or God’s reasons, He says to Job, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8); and 3.) it is a just, righteous, and holy sovereignty, not random, not sadistic, not evil, but good, and just, and righteous, and holy sovereignty. 

Now, with the first point above – and also the third point – the question will immediately come from someone: if God is sovereign – and that sovereignty is good, just, righteous, and holy – how then can evil exist? And to be honest it is a good question, it’s been named, over time, the ‘Problem of Evil’. But I have found it has a rather simple answer, which comes in a question: why does God have to make this world perfect for you when all people do is sin against Him? God is not required to make everything perfect for your life, in fact you make you’re own life not perfect – and therefore the world – by your sin. God doesn’t control you like a robot, you have a will – which is in slavery to sin, but it is still there – and your will is to sin, and if everyone sins then you have events such as the Holocaust, legalization of abortion. We – humans – cause the evil to exist by our own actions, and God simply is allowing us to follow the passions of our flesh, which is entirely sinful. Now, would we so misrepresent God by blaming Him for the consequences of our own actions? Would we try to get out of our guilt and place it on to the holy God? Would we condemn God that we may be found in the right? How dare we! How dare we even consider that God is responsible for our sin; no, we are the party that is responsible, not God. So do not blame God for mankind’s sinfulness; no, blame mankind. 

Now, there are a few issues in which the sovereignty of God has been abused, which I feel that it is absolutely necessary that we deal with them:  

1. Some forsake the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) because of God’s sovereignty; they say, “Because God is sovereign I don’t need to proclaim the gospel to others.” This is heresy and apostasy, plain and simple. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God commands you to proclaim the gospel to the world and you say, “No, that’s not necessary because you are sovereign, Jesus.” You foolish people! Do you not see that by forsaking the commandment of Christ you prove yourself not to love Him? For Christ says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15), and therefore by not keeping His commandments you prove to all that you do not truly love Christ, for if He gave so much for your own salvation and if He truly is the Lord of your life, doesn’t He then have the absolute right to command you? And that you then must obey His commandments? You see many miss the point when it comes to God’s sovereignty and how it relates to proclaiming the gospel. You see God has sovereignly determined the end, but but He has also sovereignly declared the means to that end! And by His word, we see that proclaiming the biblical – and therefore true – gospel is His sovereignly declared means to His desired end:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20
This is not an optional thing; this is not a request; this is a command from Christ Himself! You can’t say, “No, that’s not really necessary.” because here Christ is saying, “Oh, I say that it is necessary, and if you love me you will obey me!” We are in no position to say that it isn’t required to obey the Great Commission, we are only in a position to obey it! And on a side note, if you are truly saved you will not be able to not keep the Great Commission! If you are truly saved you will shine as lights in the darkness. 

2. Some say that because God is sovereign that therefore they cannot lose their salvation (which is true, I assure you of that), but then they take that as an excuse to live however they want, since that they cannot lose their salvation.this is not Christianity; in fact, this is ANTI-Christ, against everything Christ stood for, for after healing some does he not say, “Sin no more,” (John 5:14; 8:11)?

Firstly, if one does not have a heartbroken remorse over their sin, I question whether they are truly saved, and that relates to this in this way: how can one have a true heartbroken remorse, then later make an excuse for their sin? Truly, if they have true heartbroken remorse for their sin, they will not make excuses for it. Furthermore, before one can say, “I can’t lose it, so I can live however I want,” that same must make sure their calling as the apostle Peter says, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:10). And even once you’re calling is confirmed and sure, even then you cannot live however you wish – by this it is generally meant that one can live in sin – for the apostle Paul declares, “19.) Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20.) for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But let us examine a more explicit text on this subject.

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:1-4
In this passage the apostle Paul is telling us by no means, how dare we even think, that we may continue in sin while being in the body of Christ, for he says that we have died to sin, just as also says, “We know that the old self was crucified with him in order that the body be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6), and with the reality of our death to sin, Paul asks, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2), which is a rhetorical question: it is simply impossible to be dead to something and yet still live in it, we must be either dead to sin and alive to God, or alive to sin and dead to God; there are no other options, for does not Christ say, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)? And we knew that everyone who commits a “sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34), how then can we live in sin, which is to be its slave, and at the same time live in the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, which is to be their servant? Truly, we cannot do such a thing, it is impossible. Thus the sovereignty of God exercised in holding you in His hand (John 10:27-29) is not to make an excuse for living sinfully but to provide assure and this increase our sanctification, for Paul the apostle says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13). The apostle Peter also says concerning this, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:16). 
Now I must clarify this, lest any unnecessarily question their salvation: living in sin and sinning are two different things. Living in sin is being enslaved by it, and controlled by it, living in it and – usually – enjoying it; sinning is sinning, falling short of the glory of God, but yet at the same time taking no pleasure from our sin, but being heartbroken over it, feeling guilt over it, and wishing that we had never committed it. The first (living in sin) – I am convinced – is a mark of a false declaration of sin; the second is a mark of a regenerate person for how can a spiritually dead man feel the weight of sin? Indeed, he cannot. Thus there is a difference between living in sin and sinning.
Now, I am sure that there are many, many other ways which the sovereignty of God could be abused but these are the two most common – at least to my knowledge – however, there still remains a very important question: how should we respond to the sovereignty of God? I once had an atheist say to me how I “always had to have Daddy upstairs watching over me”, he meant it as an insult to me, but it’s true: I have a God looking out for me at all times, a God who is both just and loving, both holy and merciful, a God who gave much for the salvation of men, as Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all,” (Romans 8:32), that’s the kind of love that God loves us (the elect) with, a perfect love, now we not only have a sovereign God but a loving God who is sovereign, a merciful God who is sovereign, a holy God who is sovereign, a compassionate God who is sovereign. So how should we respond? With joy! Why should we have despair as God’s elect because of His sovereignty? There is no reason to have any reaction to God’s sovereignty that isn’t one of joy, comfort, and utter peace if you are one of His elect.
Now may the true peace be given to all my brothers and sisters in Christ,

Michael Hall 

On the Sovereignty of God