In concluding our thoughts on man’s total inability to ever choose God out of his own volition, desire, or free will, the elephant in the room must be the question “If man is unable to choose God, how then can he be saved?” This isn’t all too dissimilar from the discussion between Jesus and His disciples over the salvation of the rich, young ruler to which Christ replies, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) So it was with salvation then, and so it continues to be a work of God to this day.
God’s sovereignty in salvation has often been considered the whole of Calvinism, and has also been referred to as election or predestination. As we have seen though, there is much more to biblically understand and Calvinism, even as it relates to salvation, is much more robust than simply election or predestination. This entire discussion, indeed Calvinism itself, begins no less with the sovereignty of God. And that is really what we need to come to terms with biblically if we are to understand God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.
Our question can be summarized: Is God sovereign over everything? And, by relation, does this extend to salvation?
When the term sovereignty is used it is sometimes confused with providence, but the two terms are distinct. God’s sovereignty refers to His rule and reign while God’s providence refers to how He executes His plan of ruling and reigning. What then is the extent of His sovereignty? To understand this, we begin where the Bible begins, at creation, with God as Creator.
Because God is Creator He is defacto sovereign over His creation. The Genesis account of creation begins with the very words, “In the beginning God” as foundational for all that follows. As Creator, God is sovereign over:
- Spiritual beings
Scripture is replete with references grounding God’s revelation of Himself in His role of Creator. Even a surficial reading of Job 38-40 or Isaiah 40 should be enough to answer the question of the extent of God’s sovereignty. In those passages we read of God as the One who “measured” and “laid the foundation of the earth” (Job 38:4-5), set the boundaries of the sea (Job 38:8-11), commands the morning (Job 38:12-15), possesses and controls storehouses of snow and hail (Job 38:22-24), directs the rains upon which streams to fill and which fields to water (Job 38:25-30), controls the stars and constellations (Job 38:31-33), directs the lightning, who reports only to Him (Job 38:34-38), provides food for the lion and raven symbolic for His provision for all creation (Job 38:39-41). Space prohibits comment on the remaining chapters of Job, 39-40 that continue the exaltation of the sovereignty of God. I encourage you to take the time to read through them.
It’s important to remember, God exercises His sovereignty through His providence, i.e. the methods He employs to bring His plan to fruition. In this sense, because God is sovereign AND providential, nothing can thwart or otherwise frustrate His plan because ALL things are in His hand. Satan’s rebellion in heaven did not cause God to be reactionary and wonder what He would do next. Satan’s rebellion in heaven was part of God’s plan to create and redeem and people for Himself. This is far from making God the Author of sin. It makes God the Orchestrator of the symphony.
God’s role as Lawgiver. If you’ve read the Genesis account of Adam and Eve in the Garden, then you’re no doubt familiar with the restriction that God placed on them with regard to what trees they may eat of and the one that they were forbidden from eating. This law, often referred to as the Covenant of Works, was given to Adam and Eve regardless of whether or not they agreed to it. There were no negotiations because as their Creator, God had the Divine right to impose law as He saw fit. Fast forward a couple thousand years to Sinai and the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses and the people of Israel. Again, God entered into a covenant with them and provided legal stipulations, which were non-negotiable. As one pastor I heard recently say, God did not negotiate the 10 Commandments with Israel. They did not say we accept #2,5,8 but would like to omit #1,4,9,10. That simply didn’t happen, nor should it have. There was no escape clause built into the covenant. It was do this and live. God, again because of His Divine right, imposed legal requirements upon the people. It was an exercise of His sovereignty that no less continues today.
God’s role as Judge is inextricably linked to His Creatorship and is a consequence of His role as Lawgiver. If God’s Law is to have any meaning at all, then God must be sovereign over the distribution of rewards and punishment of His creation; eternal punishment to those disobey and eternal life to those who obey. Contrary to the popular notion that somehow Satan is in charge of Hell while God is in charge of Heaven and the two equal forces are at continual odds until one prevails over the other, God is actually the one who holds the keys to Hell. More accurately, this is Christ (Rev. 1:18). Satan is not the authority of Hell, nor anywhere else for that matter. Though he is called the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2) and the ruler of this world (John 12:21), he indeed has no sovereign authority of his own. We need be reminded that neither Job (Job 1:6-12) nor Peter (Luke 22:31) were able to be touched by Satan apart from Divine permission from God. Let us also be reminded that this was equally true of Judas (John 17:12).
God’s role as Judge means that it is within His authority ALONE, to determine the fate of man based on the standard He has set forth. Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, it is perfectly consistent with God’s sovereign rule as Judge to assign all men to everlasting punishment in Hell. Would God be any less just if He were to have done that? Was there anyone who actually deserved through their own merit to be standing in the day of the flood, Noah and his family included? Will their actually be anyone who deserves, through their own merit once again, to stand before God on the day of judgment and expect to receive eternal blessedness? I should hope not, otherwise God’s law has no meaning and God’s justice is violated.
God’s role as Redeemer. Again, as we have seen in the connection of God as Creator to God as Lawgiver and consequently to God as Judge, it is God’s own right to extend a verdict of mercy to whomever He wills. The question is how is God able to extend mercy to anyone without violating His own standard of law that He has given and still be just (Romans 3:26). The answer is that He is able to extend mercy through the work of Jesus Christ the only perfect Obeyer of His law. His death as a substitution and His life as the righteous fulfillment of God’s legal requirements are the means through which the mercy of God is able to be graciously extended. To whom are these benefits extended? If God is Creator, Lawgiver, Judge, and Redeemer, does He not also hold within His sovereignty the right to extend the benefits of His own Sacrifice to whomever He wills? (Romans 9:14-24) Or must we now insert some other being, man included, into the equation to help God orchestrate His plan? If these rights are extended to all, then all would be saved and the justice of God still upheld because of the universal substitutionary atonement of Christ. However, as we know and are aware Scripture does not affirm the universal salvation of all men. Because all men are not saved, then to whom are these benefits applied? If we were to answer, “to the one who has faith” this would certainly be the application of Christ’s redemption accomplished, but would leave open the question “by what manner or method has this faith come to them?” Is God’s sovereign plan of redemption awaiting the outside stipulation of faith to be added by man before it can be rightly implemented? This is what the Arminian posits. Though God is the Sovereign Orchestrator of the symphony, He awaits the penning of the redemptive notes by man who exercises his own faith and thereby receives the application of the benefits extended to him by God. Thus man intrudes on the sovereign plan of God and writes his own chapter or composes his own notes as it were. This would be akin to listening to a composition by Y.S. Bach, only to have the intrusion of Frank Sinatra’s I did it My Way. Or to put it more drastically, Bach intruded upon by Kanye West’s I am a god.
OR perhaps we would be better, more biblically aligned to say God has already finished the composition of His symphony, including the redemptive notes written before the foundation of the world and as He strikes each key, faith is extended by the Holy Spirit to those for whom Christ has purchased the benefits of salvation, predetermined by God alone according to the counsel of His sovereign will, thereby bringing to completion without any doubt God’s plan of redemption. Authored by the Father; Accomplished by the Son; Applied by the Spirit, from beginning to end a sovereign work of grace by God alone.
If none were to receive this extension of mercy would God still be just? Absolutely, as we have seen God has the right to judge, indeed it is His divine prerogative. Likewise, it is His prerogative to extend mercy as He sees fit. Who determines to whom mercy is extended? If it is anyone other than God, including man himself, then God has relinquished His own sovereignty as Redeemer, thereby as Judge, thereby as Lawgiver, and thereby as Creator. The Arminian doctrine that asserts the sovereignty of man’s free will is far more than an issue of whether man can determine his own fate. It strikes at the very heart and character of who God is and how He has revealed Himself in Scripture. It then is not in reality a secondary issue, but one of supreme importance.
We must then conclude with Scripture that God maintains absolute sovereignty. This must by necessity include His sovereignty over salvation. The Psalmist in Psalm 115:3 declares, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” and the prophet writes, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11) and again “for 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)
A right view of God, as absolute Sovereign would correct so much of our erroneous thinking about the nature and character of God. It would resolve our fears and worries when pressed against us from all sides. It would give us a sweet comfort to embrace all the circumstances that come our way. What guarantee can the church have that the gates of Hades will not prevail against her if God is not sovereign? What guarantee does the Great Commission have if all authority in heaven and on earth has not been given to Christ? What guarantee does the believer have that all things will work together for his good if God is not sovereign? What kind of promise could have been made to Eve in the garden for the coming of the Promised Seed, if it were not guaranteed by a Sovereign God? If God’s plan at any turn can be thwarted by any objection or frustrated by any means, then God has taken a backseat. Rest assured that this is not the God of the Bible. This is not the God who spoke creation into being ex nihilo. This is not the God who said it and will bring it to pass. It’s a false god, the product of an idolatrous mind that refuses to ascribe to God the worship He rightly deserves.
God is sovereign and as one theologian famously stated, “…There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!”