God is or is not Sovereign
On the journey to explore how to make decisions, this blog post may seem to be a detour. However, it is not. It will determine whether or not our decisions matter and our confidence in the results we will see and can expect from our choices and decisions. This is the third in the series, so if you start here you may want to see the other posts in the “Decision Making” Series.
Most of the people I know probably don’t think about the practical implications of their view of God or their rejection of the notion of a god. Of course, there is the obvious camp who have as their banner, “There is no God.” This camp is much bigger than you might first think. God, to this large majority, is not really God. Jesus made it clear that even the religious leaders of his day were sorely lacking in their knowledge of God’s character, power, and purposes. They hated Jesus’s declaration that before Abraham existed, he existed. This declaration sent them into a frenzy of anger because they knew Jesus was saying he was God. Jesus also said that many were on the wide path that leads to destruction and only a few were on the path that leads to life.
From a practical standpoint, if God isn’t sovereign, then everything that happens in life is just luck, chance or good or bad karma. That makes most if not all events and decisions unimportant and also uncontrolled. Furthermore, we would have to say that Jesus wasn’t sane when he talked about the paths and their respective ends. That seems like an unreasonable conclusion, so we should hear what the scriptures teach.
What it Means To Believe God is Sovereign
God’s sovereignty is a glorious truth. It is the bedrock of our trust, and how it gives me peace in decision-making. God’s sovereignty is the biblical teaching that all things are under God’s rule and control. Nothing happens without His direction or permission. God works not just some things but all things according to the counsel of His own will. Jesus said that even a sparrow falling to the ground wasn’t outside of God’s oversight. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matthew 10:29) This sovereign working includes my ruptured appendix in 1976, the jobs I have held in my working years, the children, and the grandchildren in our family line, and even the health we now enjoy. It includes the day of my last breath.
God is Sovereign Over Circumstances, Time, Decisions and My Heart
Joseph recognized his role in Egypt, and the way God moved him to Egypt, was part of a plan and purposes that he and his brothers did not understand as the events of his youth unfolded. Genesis 50:20 is Joseph’s declaration to his brothers that God was sovereign in this difficult series of events when he was sold into slavery by them. God also declares that he is sovereign over events in our past and in our futures. He has a purpose. (Isaiah 46:10) God is not limited by the clock or the calendar. Time doesn’t escape him. He doesn’t set appointments that he doesn’t keep.
God is also sovereign over my decisions. Psalm 33:10-11 says, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.” My bad decisions don’t frustrate his objective. He isn’t surprised by or limited by my clumsy living. Finally, God is sovereign even over my heart. Proverbs 21:1 states that God can turn the king’s heart whichever direction he so desires. The actions that flowed from the hearts of Pharaoh, Caesar, Herod, and Nero didn’t flow without God’s divine involvement. I don’t pretend to understand or appreciate the significance of this aspect of God’s power and control, but I believe it. In fact, if he is God, then he is God. If he is not Sovereign, then he is something less than God.
Universal, Absolute, and Immutable Sovereignty
If you are interested in exploring this some more, look at the following scriptures: Psalm 115:3, Daniel 4:35, 1 Chronicles 29:11, Psalm 24:1, Ezekiel 18:4, Isaiah 45:9, Matthew 20:15, Ephesians 1:11, and Romans 11:36. In these, and many other passages and historical accounts in the scriptures it is clear that God would have us to believe he is universally sovereign. No creature is outside of his control and direction. His authority is also absolute. Jesus said we shouldn’t fear the ones who could kill only the body, but fear the one who can kill both the soul and the body in hell. (Matthew 10:28) Finally, God’s sovereignty is immutable. God is unchangeable in character, purposes, and will. His sovereignty cannot be changed, ignored nor rejected. This would be seriously frightening if we had an evil god. But God is good, and he uses his sovereignty for good.
The Purpose Flowing From Sovereignty
Sadly, many view God as powerless, evil, inconsiderate, distant, and arrogant. That is not the God of the scriptures. God’s overarching goal behind all he does is to reveal how amazing he is. We call this the glory of God. What is God about? Himself. Who is God for? Himself. What undergirds all that he does? The praise of Himself. This only sounds arrogant if God indeed is not perfect in who he is and all that he does. Of course, when something happens that I don’t like (for example: my appendix rupturing shortly after Cindie and I were married), I don’t see things from God’s perspective. I feel the pain, the disruption to my schedule, the loss of income, and a host of other downsides. But, upon reflection, as I see what unfolded afterwards, I can see small portions of his bigger and better plans for my life.
We can see this in God’s sovereign plan for rescuing sinful man. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus came to reveal God’s glory.
Why did Jesus go to the cross to save us from our sins? Paul writes in Ephesians 1:11, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works out all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” Our salvation brings him glory. My salvation is for my good and for His glory!
Even the promised return of Jesus is all about God’s glory: 2 Thessalonians 1:10 says, “to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.”
Is God’s Focus on His Own Glory Offensive or Appropriate?
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that God’s control and purposes over everyone and everything is offensive. What about my say in the matter? Wait! What if my say is tarnished and distorted by my sin? Suppose that God’s plan and purposes are pure, just, holy, and loving. If God is who he claims to be, then what better thing could he magnify other than his own glory? C.S. Lewis put it this way: ““My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation .” – C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms [New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1958, 93–95]
My Responsibility is to be Focused Rest
If God is indeed sovereign, then it would be natural to question as to whether or not my decisions matter at all. They do. Jesus made it clear that every person on judgement day will be giving an account for not only their actions, but their very words. (Matthew 12:36-37) One verse known by many Christians is 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you want to hit a target, you aim at the target. If you want to know where the focus should be, “fix your eyes on Jesus and do everything for the glory of God.”
I will admit that I don’t even begin to understand how my responsibility intertwines with God’s sovereignty. However, it is clear that God is sovereign, and he has commanded that I be responsible. This is actually quite comforting. I don’t have to go through life worried that some decision I make will be the one that foils God’s plan for my good and his glory. I can rest in God’s sovereignty and focus on the things I can decide based on what God has revealed to me.
How to Apply This in Making Decisions
In my next post on this topic I will explore the applications of the truth of God’s sovereignty and my responsibility. My responsibility needs to flow from motives. What are the motivations that drive my decisions? What are my motives or goals in the decisions I need to make or might have an opportunity to make? Once we understand this, it is quite freeing. Jesus told his disciples to come to him if you are weary and burdened, because he offers rest. Restful decision-making is a delight.
Reminder: I highly recommend Kevin DeYoung’s book, JUST DO SOMETHING. Far too many decisions are made without a right view of God and our responsibilities. DeYoung helps bring a lot of clarity in this realm of life.