God’s Sovereignty – Part 1

There were two theological concepts that brought real change to my life.  The first was an understanding of the Biblical Gospel and that salvation is a singular work of God’s grace in the believer where he or she is regenerated by the Holy Spirit and given new life, eternal life in Christ.  The other came several years later as I studied the Scriptures and was confronted with the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God.  Both theological truths were life changing.  Both are related and separate and both define the relationship the believer has with his Savior.

My study of the sovereignty of God came about as I studied the Reformation.  I was captured by the biographies of Luther, Zwingli, Knox, Tyndale and Calvin. Since that study, so many years ago, I have seen, in examining church history, how others, such as Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Tertullian of Carthage, Augustine, the Pre-Reformers; John Wycliffe and John Hus, and following the Reformation, the Puritans, to name a few, held a high view of the Sovereignty of God. In each case their views on the Sovereignty of God were birthed from a high view of the authority of the Scriptures. It was unmistakable, by any study of Church history, how much the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty dominated Christian thought by those who treasure the Scriptures.

It became clear to me, that a solid Biblical understanding of the Gospel cannot be correctly understood apart from a solid understanding of God’s Sovereignty.  The work of salvation from beginning end is a work of God Sovereign grace!  Paul plainly illustrates this principle in Romans 8:29-30:

Romans 8:29-30 (NKJV) 29  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30  Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Every step, every action, in salvation is a work of God’s sovereign grace by His will, for His purposes, and His glory (Ephesians 1:3-11).

But, as has been the case throughout church history, His sovereignty has had to be defended and proclaimed from His Word, in order that the pure Gospel could be preached and received. From Pelagianism[1], to Romanism, Arminianism[2], to various forms of semi-pelagianism[3] and modernism, which want to insert the efforts of men and relegate God’s grace as a help in salvation, God’s undiluted sovereignty has been attacked.  It has been my theological understanding and pastoral experience, that whenever His Sovereignty is diminished, the Gospel message is diluted and weakened.  It is also my pastoral experience that the fleshliness of men abhors God’s Sovereignty because it removes man from his self-made throne and idolatry.

For most believers, they would not dare say God is not sovereign.  But, at the same time, they argue over the “extent” of that sovereignty. They find themselves in conflict over God’s Sovereignty and man’s supposed “free-will.”  Let me just ask a couple questions.  If there is a limited extent to God’s Sovereignty, is He truly Sovereign, is He truly Lord?  Is the immutable, eternal, infinite God then saddled with a finite, mutable, limited attribute that is not true to His nature? I would like to explore over several posts God’s Sovereignty.  Possibly we can come to grips with an all Sovereign God, and worship Him for who He really is. It is also my hope we will, on our bent knees in worship, see how we who have experienced the sovereign grace of God in salvation are the objects of His grace, mercy, and love, unmerited and by His will for his purposes and glory.

1 Chronicles 29:11 (NKJV) 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, And You are exalted as head over all.

-Michael Holtzinger

[1] Pelagianism: The theological views associated with the British monk Pelagius (c. 345-c.420) who in theological debate with Augustine (354-420) argued for a totally free human will to do the good and held that divine grace was bestowed in relation to human merit. These views were condemned at the Council of Ephasus (431). [Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996, pg.205.]

[2] Arminianism: a.) The teaching of James Arminius (1560 – 1609), which conflicted with Calvinism , particularly on issues of human sinfulness, predestination, and whether or not salvation can be lost. It stressed human response to the gospel, conditional election, unlimited atonement, and resistible grace. [Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996, pg.18.]  b.) Arius of Alexandria championed the position that though Christ may be called God, he was not true God and in no way  equal with God in essence or eternity. Before time was, Christ was created. He the Logos of God, was the first-born of all creation, and the agent in fashioning the world. In the incarnation, the Logos entered into a human body, fully man.  Such verses as Mark 13:32; John 5:19l 14:29; and 1 Cor. 15:28 were used in support.  The Nicean Council, held in 325, rejected Arianism as heresy and declared Jesus Christ was begotten, not made, and was of one substance with the Father. [Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, Rev. by Vernon D. Doerksen, Wn. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000, pg.207]

[3] Semi-Pelagianism: A mediating view of human nature between that of Augustine (354-430) and that of of Palgius (d.c. 420.)  John Cassian (c.260-435) taught that the initial step of faith was taken by a person’s own will and that divine came later. This view was condemned by the Council of Orange (529). [Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996, pg.255.]

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