Sovereignty is Practical

Ask Pastor John (Piper): Is Knowing God’s Sovereignty Important to My Daily Life? (original source here)

Audio Transcript

As you know, Pastor John, new listeners are continually coming to the podcast every day, and many of them do not know what lies behind your answers to the questions people send in. For example, your view of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Bible, of the human condition, of the future. We thought it would be helpful now and then to include a podcast about the foundations of everything you say — those deepest convictions that shape the way you think and approach all the many questions about life that we get. So, Pastor John, you have said many times that you believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. That he finally and decisively controls everything, from the farthest galaxy to the smallest subatomic particle, including all the actions of human beings. I think what our listeners would like to hear is not only why you believe that, but mainly, how does this truth make a difference in our daily lives?

Well that’s right. That is precisely one of the foundational, pervasively influential convictions that I have behind everything I do and think. Let me give just one passage of Scripture as to why, and then four really practical ways this makes a difference in our lives.

Dead or Alive

I recently spoke to the new students at Bethlehem College and Seminary. I shared with them what difference it would make in their lives as students as they pursue rigorous studies if they believe in the sovereignty of God. So this is fresh on my front burner.

The text that gives a glimpse into why I believe this is from the book of James:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. (James 4:13–16)

So, there it is. You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live.” So I conclude that if the Lord doesn’t will for us to live, we die. If he does will, we live. The Lord is absolutely in control of everything that determines our life and our death.

We don’t live a second longer than he wills. We don’t die a second sooner than he wills. I believe this brings amazing stability and strength and courage and boldness and risk-taking into the Christian life if we believe that God is good and sovereign. Continue reading

God’s Sovereignty and Our Responsibility

Dr. Derek Thomas (original source here)

God is sovereign in creation, providence, redemption, and judgment. That is a central assertion of Christian belief and especially in Reformed theology. God is King and Lord of all. To put this another way: nothing happens without God’s willing it to happen, willing it to happen before it happens, and willing it to happen in the way that it happens. Put this way, it seems to say something that is expressly Reformed in doctrine. But at its heart, it is saying nothing different from the assertion of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” To say that God is sovereign is to express His almightiness in every area.

God is sovereign in creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Apart from God, there was nothing. And then there was something: matter, space, time, energy. And these came into being ex nihilo—out of nothing. The will to create was entirely God’s. The execution was entirely His. There was no metaphysical “necessity” to create; it was a free action of God.

God is sovereign in providence. Traditional theism insists that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present. Each assertion is a variant of divine sovereignty. His power, knowledge, and presence ensure that His goals are met, that His designs are fulfilled, and that His superintendence of all events is (to God, at least) essentially “risk free.”

God’s power is not absolute in the sense that God can do anything (potestas absoluta); rather, God’s power ensures that He can do all that is logically possible for Him to will to do. “He cannot deny himself,” for example (2 Tim. 2:13).

Some people object to the idea that God knows all events in advance of their happening. Such a view, some insist, deprives mankind of its essential freedom. Open theists or free-will theists, for example, insist that the future (at least in its specific details) is in some fashion “open.” Even God does not know all that is to come. He may make predictions like some cosmic poker player, but He cannot know absolutely. This explains, open theists suggest, why God appears to change His mind: God is adjusting His plan based on the new information of unforeseeable events (see Gen. 6:6–7; 1 Sam. 15:11). Reformed theology, on the other hand, insists that no event happens that is a surprise to God. To us it is luck or chance, but to God it is part of His decree. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33). Language of God changing His mind in Scripture is an accommodation to us and our way of speaking, not a description of a true change in God’s mind.

God is sovereign in redemption, a fact that explains why we thank God for our salvation and pray to Him for the salvation of our spiritually lost friends. If the power to save lies in man’s free will, if it truly lies in their unaided ability to save themselves, why would we implore God to “quicken,” “save,” or “regenerate” them? The fact that we consistently thank God for the salvation of individuals means (whether we admit it or not) that belief in absolute free will is inconsistent. Continue reading

10 Things You Should Know About The Sovereignty of God

Article: 10 Things You Should Know About The Sovereignty of God by Dr. Sam Storms (original source here)

Few things are more controversial among Christians than the sovereignty of God. Is God truly sovereign over everything, including calamity, natural disasters, death, and demons, or is his sovereign control restricted to those things we typically regard as good, such as material blessing, family welfare, personal salvation, and good health? Today we turn our attention to ten things we should all know about God’s sovereignty.

Before we begin, it’s important to distinguish between natural evil, which would include such things as tornadoes, earthquakes, famine (although famine can often be the result of moral evil perpetrated by those who devastate a country through greed or theft), floods, and disease. Is God sovereign over natural evil? Does he exert absolute control over these events in nature, such that he could, if he willed to do so, prevent them from happening or redirect their course and minimize the extent of damage they incur? Yes.

Moral evil has reference to the decisions made by human beings. Does God have sovereignty over the will of man? Can he stir the heart of an unbeliever to do his will? Can he frustrate the will of a person whose determination is to do evil and thereby prevent sin from happening? When a Christian does what is right, to whom should the credit and praise be given? And how is it possible for God to exert sovereignty over all of life without undermining the moral responsibility of men and women? These are the questions that find their answer in Scripture.

(1) Numerous biblical texts explicitly teach that God exerts complete sovereignty and meticulous control over all the so-called forces of “nature.” I encourage you to take time to read Psalms 104; 147:8-9, 14-18; 148:1-12. Also consider Job 9:5-10; 26:7-14; 37:2-24; 38:8-41. Other texts include:

“It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom; and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses” (Jer. 10:12-13).

“Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things” (Jer. 14:22).

“I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither” (Amos 4:7).

“When he summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread . . .” (Psalm 105:16).

Jesus exercised this authority/sovereignty when he rebuked the storm on the Sea of Galilee, provoking this response from his disciples:

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. . . . And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:39-41).

Does this mean that God can put a halt to the destructive path of a tornado or redirect its trajectory, or that he can stop the waves of a tsunami? Yes.

(2) God is also sovereign over events that from our limited human point of view appear to be entirely random:
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).

(3) His sovereignty extends to the affairs of our daily lives and the plans we make for each day:

“A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs 20:24)

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21)

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. . . . Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).

(4) God is sovereign over both life and death. Many are ready to concede that God is sovereign over the beginning of life but they do not like the idea that God is sovereign over the time and manner of its end. But note the following:

“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39)

“The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Samuel 12:6)

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15). Continue reading

The Sovereignty of God

Dr. Steve Lawson – The Sovereignty of God:

Session 1 – Radical Corruption: What Can a Dead Man Do?

Session 2 – Unconditional Election: Who Chose Whom?

Session 3 – Definite Atonement: For Whom Did Christ Die?

Session 4 – Sovereign Regeneration: How is one Born Again?

Revelation Chapter 5: “God’s Sovereign Lamb”

Job 1:6-12: The Invisible War

Understanding Evil

Philosophical, and Emotional Reflections on a Perpetual Question by Joe Rigney (original source here)

Joe Rigney (@joe_rigney) is assistant professor of theology and Christian worldview at Bethlehem College & Seminary and author of The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts. He is a pastor at Cities Church.

Introduction

Where was God?

The question is always the same.

After the initial shock and horror subsides, after the news crews go home, we’re always left with the same question: Where was God?

Did he know it was going to happen? Was he aware of the shooter’s plans? Does he have foreknowledge, foresight, the ability to peer into what for us is the unknown future? Christians can’t help but say yes. God knows the end from the beginning. Indeed, he declares the end from the beginning (Isa 46:9-10), and this exhaustive foreknowledge is one of the distinguishing marks of his deity.

Was he able to prevent it? Was his arm too short to make a gun misfire, to cause an evil young man to have a car wreck on the way to his crime, to give an off-duty police officer a funny feeling in his gut that would cause him to drive by an elementary school? If God can’t prevent something like this, then what good is he? Why pray for God’s help if he can’t actually keep murderers from executing children?

But, of course, the Bible says more than that God could have prevented it; it says that it occurs “according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11). Indeed, he works all things according to the counsel of his will. And when the Bible says ‘all things,’ it means all things:

This ‘all things’ includes the fall of sparrows (Matt 10:29), the rolling of dice (Prov 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Ps 44:11), the decisions of kings (Prov 21:1), the failing of sight (Exod 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Sam 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Sam 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Pet 4:19), the completion of travel plans (Jas 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Heb 12:4–7), the repentance of souls (2 Tim 2:25), the gift of faith (Phil 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Phil 3:12–13), the growth of believers (Heb 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Sam 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27–28). (John Piper, “Why I Do Not Say ‘God Did Not Cause This Calamity, But He Can Use It For Good’”)

All things — good, bad, ugly, and horrific — are ordained, guided, and governed by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

Does disaster befall a city unless the Lord has done it (Amos 3:6)? What about a school? I don’t say that lightly. I realize what I’m saying. Or rather, I know what the Scriptures are saying. I’ve wept with parents as they watched their child die slowly of an incurable disease. I’ve watched dementia rob me of my father, taunting me and my family with his slow death. I realize that confessing God’s absolute sovereignty over all things, including the pain in my lower back and the cruel disease stalking my dad and the horrific actions of a wicked man in Connecticut, is hard to fathom. But I’m not helped at all by removing God from the equation, by making him a spectator watching the tragedy unfold on CNN like the rest of us. If he can’t keep evil from happening on the front end, then how can he possibly bring us comfort on the back end?

It’s questions like these that have driven me again and again to the Scriptures. And what I’ve found there is a wealth of help in navigating the problem(s) of evil (there’s not just one, you know).

There’s the biblical-theological problem: What does the Bible teach on God’s goodness and the reality of evil, and how can we coherently put the pieces together? Continue reading

Salvation: A Sovereign Work of God

In this excerpt from a message at the Ligonier 2010 National Conference, John MacArthur considered Romans 9, the sovereignty of God in salvation, and man’s responsibility to have faith. (Original source here.)

Transcript

God has always been selective. The blessing came through Isaac. Then the blessing came through Jacob. “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.” (Rom. 9:13) You say, “Wow, you mean God is that discriminating?” Verse 14 then says (and this is what the responder would say) “What shall we say then? Is this unjust? There is no injustice with God is there?” M? genoito—the strongest negative in the Greek language—no, no, no, no. This isn’t out of character for God to be selective. God never intended every Jew to be in the kingdom. For He says to Moses, God says, “I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy. I’ll have compassion on whom I’ll have compassion.” And it doesn’t depend on “the man who wills or the man who runs but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16).

And then He goes to 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.’ So then He has mercy on whom He desires and He hardens whom He desires.” Wow. “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault?’” How can God then find fault with us if He’s the one who makes the decision? For who can resist His will? And the next verse says, shut … up. That’s what it says in the vernacular. “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” Pots don’t talk back. The potter has the right over the clay. “What if God willing to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” (v. 22).

Do you understand that God has a right to put His wrath and His judgment and His justice and His fury on display to His own glory as much as He has a right to put His mercy and His grace on display to His own glory? Do you understand that God gets as much glory out of His wrath as He gets out of His grace? Paul understands that. That this is a sovereign work, and that God is not unjust. Psalm 119 says, “Your righteousness is an ever-lasting righteousness.” Psalm 7:9, “You are the righteous one.” God will do what God will do. Paul understands that this work of salvation is a sovereign work done by God. But then come to verse 30. “What shall we say then? Gentiles, who didn’t pursue righteousness, attained righteousness.”

Isn’t that something? He’s talking about the church, the gentile church. They were not even pursuing it, but they received it. Even the righteousness which is by what?—faith. “But Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness,” that is righteousness by law, “did not arrive at that law.” Why? Because they didn’t pursue it by faith. They didn’t pursue it by faith because the one in whom you must place your faith was to them a stumbling stone and a rock of offense.

So he says it’s all the sovereignty of God. He hardens whom He hardens, He has mercy on whom He decides to have mercy. He loves who He loves, He hates who He hates. But Israel didn’t receive the imputed righteousness of God because they sought it by law and not by faith in Christ. They’re fully responsible for pursuing righteousness in a false way, and denying righteousness in the only way that it can ever come to the sinner, through faith in Christ.

The Sovereignty of Grace

beeke3_2The Gospel of Sovereign Grace – Joel Beeke

This excerpt is taken from Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel Beeke.

One New Testament book that especially emphasizes God’s astounding sovereign grace is Paul’s letter to the Romans. According to Paul, this grace makes both Jew and Gentile co-heirs of God’s kingdom with faithful Abraham (Rom. 4:16). It establishes peace between God and sinners who are His enemies (Rom. 5:2). Since only this grace is stronger than the forces of sin, it brings genuine and lasting freedom from sin’s dominion (Rom. 5:20-21; 6:14). Divine grace equips Christian men and women with varied gifts to serve in the church of God (Rom. 12:6). This grace ultimately will conquer death and is the sure harbinger of eternal life for all who receive it (Rom. 5:20-21), for it is a grace that reaches back into the aeons before the creation of time and, without respect to human merit, chooses men and women for salvation (Rom. 11:5-6).

This idea that salvation owes everything to God’s grace is the overarching theme not just in Romans but in all of Paul’s epistles. For example, Paul begins his letter to the Philippians with a prayer for the church in which he says, “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6). “God’s seed will come to God’s harvest,” Samuel Rutherford writes. Salvation is neither our earning nor our doing. That is why Paul prayed with joy and thanksgiving every time he remembered the Philippians. If man had begun the work of salvation, was continuing it, and had to complete it, Paul’s praise would be silenced. But because salvation flows from a divine work that persists day by day despite man’s struggles and setbacks, a work that most certainly will be perfected in the great day, everything is to the praise of the glory of the triune God. This is why Paul thanks God for all the doctrines of grace and is moved to joy whenever he thinks of believers drawn to Christ. By clinging to God’s grace, we, like Paul, can be joyful Christians who victoriously confess, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).

Grace calls us (Gal. 1:15), regenerates us (Titus 3:5), justifies us (Rom. 3:24), sanctifies us (Heb. 13:20-21), and preserves us (1 Peter 1:3-5). We need grace to forgive us, to return us to God, to heal our broken hearts, and to strengthen us in times of trouble and spiritual warfare. Only by God’s free, sovereign grace can we have a saving relationship with Him. Only through grace can we be called to conversion (Eph. 2:8-10), holiness (2 Peter 3:18), service (Phil. 2:12-13), or suffering (2 Cor. 1:12).

Sovereign grace crushes our pride. It shames us and humbles us. We want to be the subjects, not the objects, of salvation. We want to be active, not passive, in the process. We resist the truth that God alone is the author and finisher of our faith. By nature, we rebel against sovereign grace, but God knows how to break our rebellion and make us friends of this grand doctrine. When God teaches sinners that their very core is depraved, sovereign grace becomes the most encouraging doctrine possible.

From election to glorification, grace reigns in splendid isolation. John 1:16 says we receive “grace for grace,” which literally means “grace facing or laminated to grace.” Grace follows grace in our lives as waves follow one another to the shore. Grace is the divine principle on which God saves us; it is the divine provision in the person and work of Jesus Christ; it is the divine prerogative manifesting itself in election, calling, and regeneration; and it is the divine power enabling us freely to embrace Christ so that we might live, suffer, and even die for His sake and be preserved in Him for eternity.

Calvinists understand that, without sovereign grace, everyone would be eternally lost. Salvation is all of grace and all of God. Life must come from God before the sinner can arise from the grave.

Free grace cries out for expression in the church today. Human decisions, crowd manipulations, and altar calls will not produce genuine converts. Only the old-fashioned gospel of sovereign grace will capture and transform sinners by the power of the Word and Spirit of God.

The Sovereignty of God

john-piperIn an article entitled “Plunge Your Mind into the Ocean of God’s Sovereignty” Dr. John Piper writes:

Sometimes we need to plunge our minds into the ocean of God’s sovereignty. We need to feel the weight of it, like deep and heavy water pressing in against every pore, the deeper we go. A billion rivers of providence pour into this ocean. And God himself gathers up all his countless deeds — from eternity to eternity — and pours them into the currents of his infallible revelation. He speaks, and explains, and promises, and makes his awesome, sovereign providence the place we feel most reverent, most secure, most free.

Sometimes we need to be reminded by God himself that there are no limits to his rule. We need to hear from him that he is sovereign over the whole world, and everything that happens in it. We need his own reminder that he is never helpless, never frustrated, never at a loss. We need his assurance that he reigns over ISIS, terrorism, Syria, Russia, China, India, Nigeria, France, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, and the United States of America — every nation, every people, every language, every tribe, every chief, president, king, premier, prime minister, politician, great or small.

Sometimes we need to hear specific statements from God himself about his own authority. We need God’s own words. It is the very words of God that have unusual power to settle our nerves, and make us stable, wise, and courageous.

On the one hand hearing the voice of God is like a frightened child who hears the voice downstairs, and realizes that daddy’s home. Whatever those other sounds were, it’s okay. Daddy’s home.

On the other hand it feels like the seasoned troops, dug in at the front line of battle, and about to be overrun by the enemy. But then they get word that a thousand impenetrable tanks are rushing to their aid. They are only one mile away. You will be saved and the enemy will not stand.

Vague generalizations about the power of God do not have the same effect as the very voice of God telling us specifically how strong he is, how pervasive his power, how universal his authority, how unlimited his sovereignty. And that our times are in his hands.

So let’s listen. Let’s treat the Bible as the voice of God. Let’s turn what the Bible says about God into what God says about God — which is what the Bible really is — God speaking about God.

And as we listen, let us praise him. There is no other fitting way to listen to God’s exaltation of God. This is what happens to the human soul when we plunge into the ocean of God’s sovereignty.

We praise you, O God, that all authority in the universe belongs to you.

“There is no authority except from me, and those that exist have been instituted by me.” (Romans 13:1)

“You, Pilate, would have no authority over my Son at all unless it had been given you from me.” (John 19:11)

We stand in awe, O God, that in your freedom you do all that you please and all that you plan.

“Whatever I please, I do, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” (Psalm 135:6)

“I work all things according to the counsel of my will.” (Ephesians 1:11)

“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.’” (Isaiah 46:9–10)

We marvel, O God, that you share this total authority and rule completely with your Son.

“I have given all authority in heaven and on earth to my Son, Jesus.” (Matthew 28:18) Continue reading