August 13, 2006

The Sovereignty of God

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: The Attributes of God


The Sovereignty of God

Psalm 115:3
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Pastor Randy Smith

This morning we find ourselves in our final sermon of the series entitled, "The Attributes of God." Though God is incomprehensible, He has chosen to reveal a glimpse of Himself to us through the Holy Scriptures. So for the past five weeks we have gazed deeply into the heart of God by examining specific aspects of His character.

The first four sermons addressed what we call "communicable attributes." These are the attributes that we are to understand, adore and imitate in our own lives. Just as God is merciful, holy, faithful and loving, we as creatures made in His image and continually recreated into the image of Christ should also be merciful, holy, faithful and loving. Our heavenly Father's character is the example and standard of what He expects in His children.

Now last week's sermon on God's greatness and this week's sermon on God's sovereignty cover two of what we call "incommunicable attributes." These are the attributes that belong to God and God alone. We are to praise God for them, but not imitate God in them. In other words, the more we ascribe to be great and sovereign, the less we respect God's rightful place in these domains. So we are not called to greatness, but humility. And we are not called to sovereignty, but submission.

Now it naturally implies as we consider both these attributes that God must be sovereign in order to be great. If someone or something holds any sway over God, if one atom is rebellious to God's will, one bit of knowledge is unknown to God's mind, one law is forbidding God's desires, if anything prohibits God from accomplishing His universal plans, He is no longer sovereign. And if He is no longer sovereign, that which is able to oppose His will has now become greater than Him.

And this pursuit, to be greater than God, has been the constant aim of God's rebellious creatures. It began with Satan trying to usurp God's authority (Isa. 14). It continued with the devil's temptation of Eve in the Garden (Gen. 3), and it remains to this very day.

We want to be in charge. "We serve no sovereign here" was a slogan of the War of Independence. "Government of the people" really means "government by myself" or at least by those who are basically like me. The King of the universe is banned from our courtrooms and classrooms. The gospel is presented as an "invitation" that we can accept or refuse without any consequences. Rarely do we hear churches stress Christ's lordship, and total submission for biblical discipleship is offensive to many. We are like the "superman" or Uebermensch (the ideal figure) in Nitzsche's work that creates his own values and is answerable to no one. As R.C. Sproul said, "'Modern 'liberation' involves a revolt against the sovereign authority of God as members of Church and State join forces in a mutual act of cosmic treason" (Psychology of Atheism, p. 139).

Yet we must remember in order for God to be great, as we learned last week, He must be entirely sovereign.

I like the way C.H. Spurgeon put it: "There is no doctrine more hated by worldings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on His throne. They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and make stars. They will allow Him to be in His almonry to dispense His alms and bestow His bounties. They will allow Him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends His throne, His creatures then gnash their teeth, and we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter; then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon His throne whom we trust" (Sermon on Matthew 20:15).

A.W. Pink said, "We are living in a day when even the most 'orthodox' seem afraid to admit the proper Godhead of God" (The Attributes of God, p. 33).

How about you? Do you really understand and appreciate the sovereignty of God? Do you believe Psalm 115:3 that says, "But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases?" Let's find out…

QUESTION #1 - Is it all right to complain about the weather?

Well, to answer this question we need to ask ourselves what or who is the source of all weather. Does "mother nature" control the weather? Does God use some impersonal force or is He directly responsible? What about natural disasters, are they really "Acts of God?" Should we say God sends the sunshine, but Satan sends the Tsunami, as I read recently in a Christian article?

I've been told that there are roughly 1,400 references to weather terminology in the Bible, and I have never found any reference that disconnects God as the ultimate source of all weather.

Considering the rain, Jeremiah 14:22, "Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain? Or can the heavens grant showers? Is it not You, O Lord our God? Therefore we hope in You, for You are the one who has done all these things." Jesus said God "sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Mt. 5:45; cf. 1 Sam. 12:17-18; Job 37:6; 38:25-28; Psm. 147:8; Jer. 10:13; Ac. 14:17). God is in control of every bolt of lightning. Job 36:32, "He covers His hands with the lightning, and commands it to strike the mark" (cf. Job 37:15; Jer. 10:13; 51:16). Lightning is referred to as "His lightning" twice in Job 37 (verses 3 and 11). In Psalm 147:18 we read, "He causes His wind to blow" from the gentle evening summer breeze to the devastating tornado.

Yes, the Lord sends all weather under His perfect control. Isaiah 45:7, "The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these." Throughout Scripture, God accepts responsibility for all the events of nature. After considering God's might in the weather, Elihu said to Job, "Listen to this, O Job, stand and consider the wonders of God" (Job 37:14).

So is it all right to complain about the weather? Well, who is ultimately responsible for the weather? As William Law once said, "He who complains of the weather complains of the God who ordained the weather!"

QUESTION #2 - Is God in control of the world events?

More than ever, as we look around today, it seems that the world is spinning out of control. Murderers go free, abortion is rampant, injustice is commonplace and God's people are being martyred. The law of Christ is trampled under men's feet and wrong often seems to prevail. Can the child of God have any hope in the midst of the chaos? Is God in control of this world?

Let's see what the Scriptures declare: 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, "Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone." Daniel 4:35, "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven. And among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'" Knowing God's universal control the Psalmist could exclaim: "Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Psm. 46:10).

Why God causes some events and why God allows evil to exist is well beyond our understanding. Listen, God's revealed will is broken on a second by second basis, but His sovereign will is being accomplished to perfection and humans and Satan are powerless to change it. As the great theologian Augustine once said, "Nothing, therefore, happens unless the Omnipotent wills it to happen; He either permits it to happen, or He brings it about Himself" (Quoted in: John Blanchard, Gathered Gold, p. 332).

Therefore we can take confidence knowing that God is in control and all things are working according to His good and wise purposes.

QUESTION #3 - Is God behind the appointment of evil world leaders?

In a nutshell, "yes." As we will see throughout this message, if anything or anyone can thwart the will of God that object or person would be God and God would not be sovereign. It would not be too difficult for God to keep evil people out of leadership positions but for purposes often unknown to us He allows these wicked people to get and retain office.

Again, Scripture is very clear on this one. Romans 13:1, "Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." Even regarding church leaders, Acts 20:28 says, "the Holy Spirit has made (them) overseers."

Not only does God ultimately establish leaders, the Bible also says that we should obey and submit to them (unless they tell us to go contrary to Scripture) out of respect for the One who appointed them. Romans 13:2, "Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves." Titus 3:1, "Remind them to be subject to rulers (and) authorities." Jude and Second Peter tell us a sure sign of false teachers is those who "despise" or "reject authority" (2 Pet. 2:10; Jude 1:8).

God uses all world leaders to accomplish His purposes. Sometimes it is to protect His people. Other times it is to discipline His people. Sometimes it is to punish evil. Other times it is to reward good. Either way, world leaders are instruments in God's hands to accomplish His purposes. Even those who are wicked are used by God to bring forth His glory and good for His people. Remember God's words to wicked Pharaoh? "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth" (Rom. 9:17; cf. Ex. 9:16).

How about the events that surrounded the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? I can't think of any better example of how God used evil rulers to accomplish His glory and our good. Were Jewish and Roman authorities seeking to do the will of God? Absolutely not! They murdered the very Son of God! But God raised them up for that purpose, no different than Judas, to fulfill His objectives. Listen to a portion of Peter's sermon from Acts 4: "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur" (Ac. 4:27-28). Likewise in Acts 2 Peter said, "This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death" (Ac. 2:23).

John Newton, the author of "Amazing Grace" once said, "The kings of the earth are continually disturbing the world with their schemes of ambition. They expect to carry every thing before them, and have seldom any higher end in view, than the gratification of their own passions. But in all they do they are but servants of this great King and Lord, and fulfill His purposes, as the instruments He employs to inflict prescribed punishment upon transgressors against Him, or to open a way for the spread of His Gospel… They had one thing in view, He had another" (Works, v. 4, p. 429).

God is sovereign over all leaders. Proverbs 21:1, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes" (cf. Ez. 1:1; 6:22).

QUESTION #4 - Is God sovereign over the salvation of humans?

Answer: Absolutely! God from eternity past (Ephesians 1) has chosen to call individuals "from every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9) to Himself. Their hearts once "dead in…trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1), but at His sovereign time He regenerates them and allows them to respond to the Gospel. A good example is Lydia, whom after hearing the truth, "the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul" (Ac. 16:40). Ephesians 2:8 even says that the faith we need to believe is a gift from God.

To the best of my understanding, I would estimate that well over 90% of the town in which I live is without Christ. What made me any different? Was I any smarter than the others to choose Christ? Was there something good in my heart that impressed God? Did I enjoy sin any less than the others? Absolutely not! God did something in my wicked heart that moved me to see my sin and flee to Christ for forgiveness (Jn. 6:44). To use biblical terminology, He removed the scales from my eyes and effectually called me to Himself. John 1 describes this God initiated conversion: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn. 1:12-13). I affirm Jonah 2:9 that "salvation is from the Lord" from beginning to end.

A God who is not completely sovereign is not a sovereign God. Just as God chose Abraham (Neh. 9:7) and then the nation Israel (Dt. 7:7-8), Scripture clearly affirms that God is sovereign over the salvation of His children.

QUESTION #5 - What about freewill?

All this talk in the past two questions makes us wonder about freewill. Are we mere "puppets" moved by divine strings? If God is completely sovereign, how can we have any freedom to make our own choices? And if we do, how can they be considered "real?" How do we reconcile freewill and the sovereignty of God?

There is no doubt that humans have the ability to make choices. Every choice people make is what they believe is best at that current time, from the guy who vacations in Hawaii to the guy who drowns his life in alcohol. People choose when to eat and when to avoid food. People choose to murder and when to save a life. Even those who reject Christ do so on their own accord. All of us act freely according to our own voluntary will and are thus held personally responsible for our decisions.

But in the providence of God, each of our decisions are fulfilling God's perfect plan. Ephesians 1:11, "(He) works all things after the counsel of His will." Regardless of what people do, God may be disappointed or pleased, but He is never surprised, taken back or caught off guard.

For example, say I am traveling to share Christ with an individual. I make a wrong turn only to be killed by an oncoming semi and never get to the unsaved person. God is not in the heavens saying, "Oh no, how will that person now hear the Gospel?" Or, "I wanted Randy around for a few more years." He is not pressing His forehead into his open hands saying, "Why did he have to go left and not right?"

There is a mystery here between God's sovereignty and our freewill, but neither should be rejected. Our decisions are real, but they are always superceded by God's greater desires so that His goal is always accomplished.

Again, I can think of no greater illustration than the murder of Jesus Christ through the hands of evil men. Though these men did as their hearts pleased on their own accord, God used their wickedness to bring salvation to the world. To coin Joseph's words, what they meant for evil, God meant for good (cf. Gen. 50:20). Do you want proof? The worst event we could ever imagine, the murder of Jesus Christ, is called "Good Friday."

QUESTION #6 - If God is totally sovereign, does that mean we have no responsibilities?

People have grossly distorted the sovereignty of God. "If God is sovereign over salvation, why bother to evangelize?" "If God is sovereign over my friend's heath, why bother to pray?" "If God is sovereign over my child's life, why bother to teach safety rules?" "If God is sovereign over my house, why bother to lock the doors?" "If God is sovereign over my health, why bother to visit the doctor?" I think you get the point.

Yes, God is absolutely sovereign, but in His sovereignty He appoints "means" to accomplish His divine purposes. God's sovereignty does not negate our responsibility. Just as sovereignty teaches us to reject chance and luck, sovereignty also must teach us to reject fatalism.

Acts 27 speaks of the shipwreck the Apostle Paul experienced just off the coast of Malta. Early in the account, despite the apparent hopeless conditions, God made it clear to Paul that none on the ship would perish (Ac. 27:22-25). Yet even with this promise from the sovereign God, Paul encouraged the people to eat (Ac. 27:36) and forbid the sailors from escaping on the smaller boat (Ac. 27:31). For these were the means that God would use according to His sovereign purpose to protect and sustain their lives.

It is very interesting to note that our great God rarely works "miracles," to accomplish His sovereign purposes. Mostly He works behind the scenes through the ordinary actions of sinful humans. I'm sure all of you have countless examples from your own lives in how God worked a situation out for good, without the miracle, often in a way we least expected.

QUESTION #7 - If God is sovereign, why does He allow suffering?

Possibly this is the question that most often begs an answer. Many flawed attempts have been made to resolve this mystery.

Some have proposed a dualism, similar to Gnosticism, between a good god and a bad god. Since both gods are sovereign, good events are attributed to the good god and bad events to the bad god. Others, as is common today, have relinquished God's sovereignty in order to retain His goodness. During the tragic events of 9/11 we heard people say God is the apathetic observer, weeping with us among the rubble. As Rabbi Kushner wrote in his best selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, "God wants the righteous to live peaceful, happy lives, but sometimes even He can't bring that about. It is too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming their innocent victims" (p. 43). You see the dilemma. If God is good and in control of everything, how can bad things happen? Obviously goodness or sovereignty is out of place. One of the two must go. Kushner, like many others, chooses to sacrifice God's sovereignty.

Unfortunately, what people fail to realize is that God uses pain in His perfect love and infinite wisdom to bring about His goals (Lam. 3:38). Job learned this lesson. "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" That may sound blasphemous - adversity from God? Yet in the same verse the narrator said, "In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:10).

Even His own Son was not exempt. Knowing God is in control of pain allows our suffering to have purpose. No tears are wasted. No heartache is meaningless. Therefore we walk by faith not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) knowing "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Because God has good purposes for our sorrow, we can trust Him, honor Him and give thanks in everything (1 Thes. 5:18).

Margaret Clarkson once wrote, "The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident; they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God…All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and of the personal history of every member of His redeemed family" (Grace Grows Best in Winter, p. 40, 41).

Maybe this message opened your eyes to begin thinking through some tough issues and finding your answers on the pages of Scripture. Many struggle with the sovereignty of God. They want to put God anywhere but on His throne. Yet in closing try to imagine the consequences if God were not completely sovereign.

What if God were not in control of the lightning?

What if pain and sorrow were simply the result of meaningless causes?

How could we trust God if major sections of our lives were beyond His control.

What if God's will could be thwarted by the designs of people or fallen angels?

What if God could not overwrite my often flawed freewill?

What if small and trivial things escaped His attention and great things were beyond His power?

What if God were unable to work all things for our good?

What if God had all the wonderful attributes we've covered over the past five weeks but was not sovereign in using them?

Praise the Lord that our good, loving and wise God is in the heavens and sovereignly does as He pleases (Psm. 115:3)!

other sermons in this series

Aug 6


The Greatness of God

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Isaiah 40:25 Series: The Attributes of God

Jul 30


The Love of God

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 John 4:8 Series: The Attributes of God

Jul 23


The Faithfulness of God

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Deuteronomy 7:9 Series: The Attributes of God