by Vijay Chandra
God’s Sovereignty: An Introduction to His Omnipotence (Matt. 19:25, 26)
No rock could be as hard as the fallen human heart, especially when satisfied with idols. Christ warned that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, burdened as he was by his ‘great possessions’. Jesus’ disciples, disturbed by this saying, exclaimed, “Who then can be saved?”. He replied “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”. The infinite power of God is good news for sinners. Human inability to save ourselves and hostility to the claims of Christ cannot stop the Savior from rescuing those whom he wills, in his great love to deliver from their sins.
God is sovereign, that is, he is the supreme LORD who rules over all. This is one of the greatest doctrines of the Bible, pervading its pages. It is the nourishment root for us as believers, for our piety and comfort and strong foundation of his hope. This doctrine of God’s sovereignty is the most hated, unliked by some believers and unbelievers, because it destroys men’s pride and extols God.
God’s sovereignty has many facets. It resides in his ‘infinite’ divine nature, appears in His decreeing of all things (Gen 1:1-3, 4-6, 7-10), crystallizes in his election of those whom he will save by Christ’s grace and in his reprobation of those whom he will damn for their sins, and carries all things along by his works of providence, which are according to his will. The doctrine of God’s decree, election, reprobation, and providence will each require further attention but not now. Here we just want to offer an introduction to God’s sovereignty as one of the excellencies of his lordship.
A. OPPOSITON TO DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY:
- God calls his people to be his witnesses who know and declare to the world his unique glory as the sovereign Lord and Savior (Isa 43:10, 11, 12, 13). Spurgeon said “There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the dominion of their Master over all creation—kingship of God over all the works of his own hands—the throne of God, and his right to sit upon that throne. On other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldlings—men will allow God to be everywhere except on His throne.
- Secondly: Modern theology severely truncates the doctrine of God’s sovereignty because people assume it hinders love and relationship. [John Cobb and David Griffin] say that God “seeks to persuade” his creatures but “cannot control” [Process Theology]. Another modern liberal, John Sanders, says ‘God’s sovereignty is his freedom to limit his control over significant parts of reality so others can join him in a relationship and partnership’ [The God who is at Risk]. Another liberal, Brunner, said, “God limits himself by creating something which is not himself, ‘a self-limitation of omnipotence’ that springs from the love of God”.
- However, the Bible never views God’s creation of the world and its rational inhabitants as a limitation of his being and power. Creation displays his eternal power and confirms his ability to rule the world as he chooses (Isa 37:15-26, 44:24, 25, 26, 27, 28; Jer 32:17).
God has unlimited power to execute his will in all events. The Lord proclaims, “There is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isa 43:1 ESV). Isaiah was not declaring an ‘abstract deity’ or a tyrannical divine bully, for the Lord who is with his people to save them because they are precious to him (Isa 43:2, 3, 4).
We do not need to set aside sovereignty to affirm love. God’s love is omnipotent to do good to all (Psa 145:6-16).
We must proceed carefully as we contemplate upon this theme of ‘sovereignty of God’. Our hearts naturally oppose God’s sovereignty (Rom 8:7, 8). If the knowledge must illuminate us and then only we will understand as what is God’s sovereignty (Eph 1:17, 18, 19). Then our worship will be effective and God glorifying, then we will be edified by the Holy Spirit.
B. GOD’S NAMES OF SOVEREIGNITY:
- One way in which God reveals his sovereignty is in the names that he ascribes to himself in his Word.
a. The first divine name to appear in Scripture is Elohim—a name used for ‘God’ thirty -five times in the first thirty-four verses of the Bible (Gen 1:1—2:3).
b. God’s creation of the heaven and the earth presents Elohim as the powerful sovereign, for he made all things and controls them with his mere word, yet it reveals the God of love, who uses his power to give all good things. The occasional use of ‘elohim’ for human rulers shows the terms’ association with majesty and power. This simply means that God of all power (2 Cor 4:6, 7).
c. The Bible also names God ‘Elyon’ (Psa 18:13, 73:11], which means ‘Most High’. It is a title of supremacy over the world and implies the victory of God’s people over the world (Ps 83:18; 97:9, Gen 14:18-20, Ps 47:2, 3), the name of him whose power supernaturally worked in the virgin’s womb to produce the incarnate Son of God (Luke 1:35). The “Son of the highest God’ terrified a legion of demons and cast them out with a word (Mark 5:7).
d. The Lord revealed himself to the patriarchs as El Shaddai – God Almighty (Job 5:17, 6:4,14, 11:7, 13:3, 15:25, 21:15, 20).
e. Abraham and his offspring also addressed God as Adonai [an intensified form of Adon] which designates him as “Lord” or “Master”. It denotes a relationship of authority, on one hand, and of allegiances and love on the other. When Isaiah reported his vison of the exalted thrice holy King of angels above “the whole earth”, he said, I saw the Adoni (Isa 6:1, 2, 3).
I have taken only some names of the Sovereign Lord to remind ourselves as what kind of God we have. The names of God in their biblical contexts prominently feature his sovereignty. He is the God of creating and controlling power [Elohim], absolute supremacy [Elyon], majestic strength sufficient to keep His word [Shaddai], and supremacy and mastery [Adoni].
Such titles aim to teach us the fear of the Lord. This is the God who inspires both awful dread in his enemies and reverent hope in his servants (Psa 10:16). “God is King for ever and ever” (Psa 24:7-10), “the King of Kings” and a “great king over all the earth” (Ps 47:2). God is the “blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and the Lord of Lords” (1 Tim 6:15).
C. ASPECTS OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY:
Sovereignty means supremacy, which involves divine will, authority, and power, for God is supreme over all in his being, rights, and ability to reign and accomplish his will.
- God’s sovereign will:
It is evident from the Holy Scriptures that God is a ‘voluntary agent’, a personal being of “rational self-determination”. He works intentionally, not mechanically or automatically. He is a wise moral agent who performs praiseworthy actions (Rev 15:3).
- In the broadest sense, all God’s moral excellencies could be considered under the topic of His will.
- More narrowly, the divine will refers to the active, intelligent exercise of those moral attributes in God’s choices. As the Lord he ‘chooses” [Hebrew, bakbar, Greek ‘eklegomai’] his holy people, holy places, and holy offices with supreme liberty.
- God’s choice implies that he selects one possibility and passes by others that he might have chosen (1 Sam 16:10). All the redemptive history flows from God’s choice and reveals the goodness of the God who wills.
- The great object of God’s will is his glory. As the great ‘I AM” (Ex 3:14), God knows his own infinite greatness and goodness, and he loves himself and delights in his glory. After Paul celebrated the infinite depths of God’s way, he concluded with these words as we see in (Rom 11:36). In all His purposes for the world, he wills the manifestation of his own glory, as the highest end of all things and acts for the sake of same. God’s perfect sufficiency in himself implies that he wills the creation without any necessity (1 Chron 29:11, Acts 1:25). Nothing compelled him or required him to create the world.
a. What the Scriptures say of God’s will toward his creatures in two distinct senses.
- what they should do and what they will do, the first pertains to God’s authoritative regulation and the second to his effective reign.
a. Seen in Gen 22, illustrates this, God’s command defined Abraham’s duty to sacrifice Isaac, but God’s intention was not that Isaac would die. Rather, the Lord tested Abraham’s godliness to show its reality and strengthen its exercise. God also revealed that he would provide the sacrifice so that the chosen seed could live.
b. We may also express this distinction, perhaps most accurately, as that between God’s preceptive will and his decretive will.
- The first describes what God instructs us to do, the second what he has decreed to take place. God’s preceptive will is “the rule of man’s duty”, Gill explains, and, “every sin is a transgression of it”.
- The ‘preceptive will’. The Bible tells us that we should be “doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph 6:6), for “to do his will” by his grace is “well-pleasing in his sight’ (Heb 13:21). God’s will in this sense is made known for our understanding (Eph 5:17) and his law (Rom 2:18; 1 Thess 4:3; Psa 143:10).
- By “decreed will’, he wills what shall come to pass in history—God’s plan for his world. God “created all things” and literally, “for the sake of your will they are created” (Rev 4:11; Rom 9:18, 1 Cor 12:18, Eph 1:11).
- Gods ‘will’ in the N.T is preeminently his plan of salvation executed through the Mediator and lovingly applied by the Holy Spirit to the elect through the preaching of the gospel. This redemptive plan is also called his ‘good pleasure’ [eudokia].
The doctrine of God’s decretive will calls us to submissive trust. We read of God’s servants yielding their aspirations and fears about the future to the Lord’s will (James 4:15, Rom 9:19). This distinction between God’s decretive will and preceptive will guards two great doctrines: God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility (Acts 2:23) and this distinction also has enormous practical value for our lives as believers. We must learn to distinguish between what God will do with our lives and what our duty is toward God. When we pray for God to teach his will we must seek to know our responsibility and be content to leave his plan for our future hidden in the secrecy of his wise decree.
c. God’s Sovereign Authority:
God’s freedom to do with all creatures as he pleases is rooted in the fact that he is the Creator of all things (Ps 24:1, 2). Therefore, God has the right to impose his will both in what he decrees and what he commands (Ps 83:18. cf. Ps 97:9, Josh 3:11, 13, Zech 6:5, Dan 4:35, Isa 29: 16, 45:9).
We should obey God with a profound sense that it is right to command us as he pleases. And we should perform all duties to him with greatest care, diligence and reverence, and in highest degree, love him greatly, fear him greatly, praise him with all our might, yield to him a service proportionable to his incomprehensible greatness.
d. God’s Sovereign Power:
The Lord has infinite power to accomplish all his decretive will and enforce the full rights of his authority.
- How he has demonstrated that power?
a. In the work of the creation (Gen 1:1, 2, 3, Psa 33:6, 9). God’s mere will is powerful and effective, as we see in creation by divine fiat (Matt 8:2, 3). Creation demonstrates the amazing fullness of God’s power. He made the whole universe out of nothing, but as Thomas Watson noted “All the world cannot make a fly. The majestic heavens express only a ‘little of his strength’, and ‘the thunder of his power who can understand?’ (Job 26:14, Acts 17:25, Gen 18:14, Job 42:2).
b. The Lord Jesus is the embodiment of divine power, the ‘arm of the Lord’ hidden in human weakness to save God’s people (Isa 52:10—53:1-3]. Christ is the divine Son of God, “by whom also he made the world’s”, the Son, who throughout history, has been “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb 1:1, 2, 3). Owen noted, “He who upholdeth all things by the word of his power is God”
(Luke 1:37, Matt 11:5, 20, 23). In the mystery of God’s will, he gave the greatest revelation of his power in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. At Calvary, we find no miracle such as the Jews sought, but, “Christ crucified” is “Christ the power of God” wedded to the exquisite “wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23, 24), for by shame and pain of the cross, Christ conquered sin and Satan (Rom 6:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Col 2:14, 15). Though God’s Son was crucified in human weakness, he rose from the dead in “the power of God” (2 Cor 13:4), to live by the energy of the Holy Spirit (Rom 1:4, 8:11], which presently energizes his people to live by faith (Eph 1:19, 20, 21, 22).
The living God is the mighty King (Jer 10:10). Even if we are in prison, we may exult with the apostle Paul (Eph 3:20, 21). Gill said, “As he is great, his power is great, there is exuberancy [superabundance], exceeding greatness of power in him, beyond all conception and expression”. God’s power is truly infinite. Therefore, we should believe his Word even when it says that God does what man cannot conceive.
Practical Application of God’s Sovereignty:
The doctrine of God’s power has nearly as many applications as there are verses in the Scripture. For it fills the Bible from beginning to end. For the sake of the believer’s meditation and spirituality, I will highlight several practical implications of this important truth about God’s power.
- First, God’s sovereignty calls us to repentance from rebellion [Job 9:4 says, He is wise in heart and mighty in strength; who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered. Thomas Watson said, “it is better to meet God with tears in your eyes than weapons in your hands”. In fact, it is the most foolish thing in the world to fight against the omnipotent God. The psalmist marveled, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” (Ps 2:1). Mankind has engaged in an impossible war. Their plots provoke only divine laughter by Christ, derision, and wrath” (Ps 2:4, 5). In the end, rebels will be crushed by Christ as a piece of pottery is shattered by an iron club (Ps 2:9). He will crush you in a moment. Will you not, therefore bow before Him”. If we have repented and have been reconciled to God, let us wage ceaseless war against our remaining insubordination.
- Second: God’s sovereignty calls us to trust in the promises; The eye of the flesh cannot see how it is possible for God’s promises to come true but the eye of faith looks to the Lord omnipotent (Gen 18:14, Rom 4:21).
- Third: God’s sovereignty calls us to reverent fear (Ps 33:8, 9, 90:11, Rev 15:3, 4).
- Fourth: God’s sovereignty calls us to humble We should sing unto the Lord and ‘make a joyful noise’ for he is “a great God and great king above all god’s” who holds the earth and the sea in his hands (Ps 95:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). All creation displays God’s power in order to awaken our adoration. Does your soul desire to praise him for his excellent greatness? Proud sinners do not stoop to praise God, but humbled man acknowledge that “his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation” (Dan 4:34). Perhaps you are weighed down with troubles, but even there, the godly may say “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
- Fifth: God’s sovereignty calls us to faithful service: Whatever authority and influence you may have, remember that these are delegated to you from the Lord. God entrusted dominion to mankind as his image (Gen. 1:26)—not as an independent god, but as representative of the Creator. You are a steward entrusted with the Master’s possession, charged to do his will for his glory and your good (Eph 6:9).
- Sixth: God’s sovereignty calls us to submission to sorrow. When bad news strikes our families, God’s grace enables us to say, “If it is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good” (I Sam 3;18). God has the right and the power to do with us as he sees best. Bowing before God who ordains good and evil in his righteousness, one finds new hope in God’s mercies and faithfulness (Lam 3:21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 37, 38). Believers can rejoice in God’s power, for, as Charnock said, “it is a power in the hands of an indulgent Father, not a hard-hearted tyrant”.
- Seventh: God’s sovereignty calls us to have hope for the salvation of others. When we consider the hardness of men’s hearts and their slavish attachment to this world, we may despair of their conversion and cry out, “Who then can be saved?” Christ answers, “With men it is impossible but not with God for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). We must preach this word to ourselves as we look upon the loved ones who seem a million miles from the Lord, reminding ourselves continually that with God all things are possible.
- Eighth: God’s sovereignty calls us to boldness in prayer. Paul’s prayers for the spiritual growth of the saints are staggering in their high aspirations, but he reminds us that the Father “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think”(Eph 3:20).