Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Sovereignty of God

by Pastor Paul Wolff

The Crown of Life
from Zion Lutheran Church, Columbus, Ohio
The Sovereignty of God is the Biblical teaching that God rules as King and there is no one above Him that He must answer to. This is one of the key attributes of God as the Holy Scriptures clearly show in many passages. One example of this is Deuteronomy 10:17 which says, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” However, though God is Sovereign, that is NOT His primary attribute. God’s primary attribute is His mercy, for which all Christians are eternally grateful.

The teachings of Calvinism hold that God is sovereign above all else, and His sovereignty never gives way to any of His other attributes. This leads Calvinists into false teachings such as double predestination, which wrongly says that God predestines some people to salvation and others to damnation. They rationalize that if God is sovereign above all else, then He determines all things that happen, both good and bad. As a result of this false teaching, Calvinists end up with a god who is essentially evil, because he is responsible for evil. This is one reason why many Calvinists end up as atheists. This teaching of Calvinism overlooks one glaringly obvious teaching of Scripture, and is refuted on nearly every page of the Bible, which I will do below.

Opposite to many of the teachings of Calvinism are the teachings of Arminianism, which holds that man has free will. In practice this means that they essentially believe man is sovereign. This is so obviously false that it would be laughable if it didn’t lead so many people to their destruction. If sinful man has free will then he can do as he wills, and therefore has this power over God. This is so easy to prove wrong that I have already refuted this in the first paragraph above in the Deuteronomy passage where God rules over all other gods and lords (including the willful Christian). Arminianism leads people to atheism (or the worship of one’s self as god) even more quickly than Calvinism. (If you wonder how both Calvinism and its opposite can both be wrong see my article, “Heresies and Half-Truths”).

Although God’s sovereignty is one of the main attributes ascribed to Him in Holy Scripture, it isn’t His primary attribute. This is to say that although God is sovereign, He doesn’t exert His sovereignty to the exclusion of all His other attributes. It is easy to show this, and I can do it with just one word: Jesus.

God humbled Himself to be born of the Virgin Mary
The life of Jesus shows us that God’s sovereignty is not His primary attribute. From the moment of His incarnation at His conception, Jesus humbled Himself to live as one of the people He created. This is so beautifully described by Saint Paul in Philippians 2:5-8, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Though Jesus was (and is) the sovereign God, He did not exert His sovereignty during His earthly ministry. If He had, He wouldn’t have been born in Bethlehem, and He certainly wouldn’t have been caught dead (so to speak) lying in a manger. And speaking of being caught dead, if Jesus had been sovereign above all else, He certainly wouldn’t have been caught dead (literally) nailed to a cross. But then He would have had to exert His sovereignty to condemn us all for our rebellion against Him, and there would be no forgiveness or salvation for anyone.

Jesus humbled Himself and did not succumb
to the temptation to rule on earth as king.
(See Luke 4:1-13)
Both in His life, and in His death, Jesus shows that His primary attribute is His mercy. Though Jesus is, and was, the almighty sovereign God, He set aside His mighty power and authority in order to win forgiveness and salvation for us poor helpless sinners. Jesus said, “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) and He lived that out from His conception to His death. Jesus did this on account of His mercy, so that He could save us from our sin. Christ’s death on the cross is not a sign of His weakness, but of His humbleness and love for the people He created. (See my article: “The Humble God”)

Saint Paul describes Christ’s humility when he writes that “(Christ) is the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15) This means that because Jesus is God incarnate as a man, He does exactly what God the Father or the Holy Spirit would do because He is One God with the Father and the Spirit. So God is not ashamed to humble Himself because Jesus is not ashamed to humble Himself and show mercy. Jesus Himself taught, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Not only is Jesus merciful, but He delights in being a servant for the sake of His beloved people in order to save us from the consequences of our sin.

What this means for Christians is that since the Son of God humbled Himself, we, too, ought to live humble lives. There is much admonition in the Scriptures for Christians to be humble. This is, in part, because we are God’s creation, and all people should humbly recognize Gods rule as our King and creator. But Christians especially ought to be humble in recognition of the humbleness of the almighty, sovereign God as we see how He acts through Jesus. God does not force anyone to believe in Him, so He does not exercise His sovereignty in that way also, but to all who believe in Him He rescues from sin and gives eternal life.

Jesus humbled Himself
to save you from your sins
(Window from Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Detroit, Michigan)
If God always acted in a sovereign way then He would never let adulterers and other sexual sinners harass Christians as they now boldly do here in New Sodom (formerly, the United States of America). Don’t get me wrong, I do not mind so much being called a bigot and hateful, especially since I know it isn’t even close to being true, and I certainly do not equate that with persecution. Though I know that such rhetoric is only a small step away from full-blown hate and the kind of persecution that ends in murder. I am aware that although we are likely to head in that direction (and sooner rather than later), we aren’t quite there yet.

Likewise, if Christ always acted according to His sovereignty, he would not let His children be tortured by Muslim Jihadhists (for example) nor crucified, nor beheaded. Muslims take this as weakness on Christ’s part, but even there it is mercy. Jesus died for the sins of the most murderous Jihadhist, and will forgive any and all who repent of their sins and look to Him for Salvation.

Not only is Christ a God who does not ask His followers to become murderers to gain a spot in Paradise, but He Himself paid the price to redeem the worst murderer and idolater. Jesus offers salvation as a free gift to all who trust in Him as their savior from sin. Jesus uses His sovereign power to rescue us from death and to give us eternal life. He doesn’t use His power to prevent the temporal death which must come to all sinners. This is why Christian martyrs are willing to forgive their murderers. Christians know that not only did Jesus pay the price to redeem us from sin and death, but He also has the power to restore us to life everlasting without sin, and He has promised to give eternal life to all who believe in Him.

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