God’s Sovereignty

Week 1 of our Doctrines of Grace series is done. I’m thankful for how well it went, from Sunday morning, to Sunday night, to community group last night. I’m thankful that the church in whole has jumped full into this series with intent to learn and to grow.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned / reminded of after week 1:

1) THIS IS HOLY GROUND – to speak about God in such ways that shape peoples thinking and emotion response to who God is hit me like a brick yesterday. It’s sobering. People struggling through huge / massive sufferings in their life and trying to process what it means when I say “God is sovereign over all things.” This slowed me down yesterday, made me cautious and careful and resolved to only say what the bible clearly says (and at the same time, never NOT say what the bible clearly says). More than ever I realized how dangerous it is to teach God’s word.

2) THEOLOGY MATTERS – I go back to this about every week in my heart – theology matters. Deeply matters –  We live in such a pragmatic world that in the church, we expect the same. We say we want the gospel and grace, but in reality we hunger and thirst for the law. “Don’t tell me what to believe, that’s all heady stuff. Tell me what to do. Make it practical”. I’m all for that, but most people equate “practical” with multi-step doing – 3 ways to fix my marriage, 7 ways to raise teenagers, 5 points on how to live a holy life (which is funny, cause we’re going through the 5 points of Calvinism).

Last night at community group, we studied the horrendous life of Joseph. The summary of his life is: hated by siblings, rebuked by father, human trafficked, falsely accused, falsely imprisoned, forgotten by the one he helped – and all through that the narrative reminds us that God was with him. At the end of the day, when confronted with an opportunity for justice, Joseph says this:

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:18–21, ESV)

Joseph forgives (“do not fear”), he loves practically (“I will provide for you and your little ones”), he shows compassion (“he comforted / spoke kindly”) – in essence Joseph loved his enemies. He demonstrated grace. All of this was possible because of his belief. All this was possible because his heart was anchored in the deep waters of God’s sovereignty over his life.

If hard humble studying of things like God’s sovereignty leads to lives like Joseph – grace-filled and steady in massive suffering – then I pray all the days of my pastorate would be filled with not a casual focus on God’s soveriegnty, but a clear razor sharp one. These are areas not to back off from, but to press into.

3) A.W. PINK – I put this hear for my own records. Pink is not someone I normally read, but in this case, his words are about as clear as any I’ve ever read on the topic:

“How is it possible for God to DECREE that men SHOULD commit certain sins, hold them RESPONSIBLE in the committal of them, and adjudge them GUILTY because they committed them? Let us now consider the extreme case of Judas. We hold that it is clear from Scripture that God decreed from all eternity that Judas should betray the Lord Jesus. If anyone should challenge this statement we refer him to the prophecy of Zechariah, through whom God declared that His Son should be sold for “Thirty pieces of silver” (Zech. 11:12). As we have said in earlier pages, in prophecy God makes known what will be, and in making known what will be, He is but revealing to us what He has ordained shall be. That Judas was the one through whom the prophecy of Zechariah was fulfilled needs not to be argued. But now the question we have to face is, Was Judas a responsible agent in fulfilling this decree of God? We reply that he was. Responsibility attaches mainly to the motive and intention of the one committing the act. This is recognized on every hand. Human law distinguishes between a blow inflicted by accident (without evil design), and a blow delivered with ‘malice aforethought.’ Apply then this same principle to the case of Judas. What was the design of his heart when he bargained with the priests? Manifestly he had no conscious desire to fulfil any decree of God, though unknown to himself he was actually doing so. On the contrary, his intention was evil only, and therefore, though God had decreed and directed his act, nevertheless, his own evil intention rendered him justly guilty as he afterwards acknowledged himself—“I have betrayed innocent blood.” It was the same with the Crucifixion of Christ. Scripture plainly declares that He was “delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), and that though “the kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ” yet, notwithstanding, it was but “for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:26, 28); which verses teach very much more than a bare permission by God, declaring, as they do, that the Crucifixion and all its details had been decreed by God. Yet, nevertheless, it was by “wicked hands,” not merely “human hands”, that our Lord was “crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). “Wicked” because the intention, of His crucifiers was only evil. But it might be objected that, if God had decreed that Judas should betray Christ, and that the Jews and Gentiles should crucify Him, they could not do otherwise, and therefore, they were not responsible for their intentions. The answer is, God had decreed that they should perform the acts they did, but in the actual perpetration of these deeds they were justly guilty, because their own purposes in the doing of them was evil only.

 

Let it be emphatically said that God does not produce the sinful dispositions of any of His creatures, though He does restrain and direct them to the accomplishing of His own purposes. Hence He is neither the Author nor the Approver of sin. This distinction was expressed thus by Augustine: “That men sin proceeds from themselves; that in sinning they perform this or that action, is from the power of God who divideth the darkness according to His pleasure.”Thus it is written, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9). What we would here insist upon is, that God’s decrees are not the necessitating cause of the sins of men, but the fore-determined and prescribed boundings and directings of men’s sinful acts. In connection with the betrayal of Christ, God did not decree that He should be sold by one of His creatures and then take up a good man, instill an evil desire into his heart and thus force him to perform the terrible deed in order to execute His decree. No; not so do the Scriptures represent it. Instead, God decreed the act and selected the one who was to perform the act, but He did not make him evil in order that he should perform the deed; on the contrary, the betrayer was a “devil” at the time the Lord Jesus chose him as one of the twelve (John 6:70), and in the exercise and manifestation of his own devilry God simply directed his actions, actions which were perfectly agreeable to his own vile heart, and performed with the most wicked intentions. Thus it was with the Crucifixion.

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