The Sovereignty of God – Part 5

For a great many years, as I mentioned in Part 1” of this series, there was an internal struggle going on within me as I studied the Scriptures, especially when I was dealing with the Gospel, the responsibility of man, and the Sovereignty of God.  There just seemed to be an incompatibility that I was struggling to resolve. What made this most difficult was that I clearly saw the doctrines of God’s Sovereignty, election, and the will/responsibility of man taught, with no ambiguity, in the Scriptures.  They seemed to be in opposition to each other and yet I knew that since these truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are clearly taught in the Bible, there could not be competing truths.  J.I. Packer makes this point clear:

“What the Bible does is to assert both truths side by side in the strongest and most unambiguous terms as two ultimate facts; this, therefore is the position that we must take in our own thinking. C.H. Spurgeon was once asked if he could reconcile these two truths to each other, ‘I wouldn’t try,’ he replied; ‘I never reconcile friends.’ Friends?- yes, friends.  This is the point that we have to grasp. In the Bible, divine sovereignty and human responsibility are not enemies.  They are not uneasy neighbours; They are not in an endless state of cold war with each other.  They are friends, and they work together.”[1]

There are a great many believers that feel that if you hold to sovereign election you make men robots and God acting with a capricious love.[2]  For many, it is hard if not impossible, to reconcile man’s responsibility and God’s sovereign grace.  They most often DO see these two as “enemies” and for most, sovereign election, as the enemy of the Gospel. The problem with this kind of a position is that you either they must ignore the doctrines of election and sovereign grace or try to reconcile God’s sovereignty through a tortured view of the passages concerning God’s sovereign grace and election. But if these doctrines are “friends,” then what? Can they be reconciled without doing violence to the Great Commission and the Gospel?

In Paul’s argument in Roman’s nine concerning God sovereign election of Israel, there is a revealing declaration concerning God sovereign choice of Jacob over Esau;

Romans 9:11 (ESV) 11  though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls (emphasis added)

Did you see it? There is a clear tie of God’s sovereign, unconditional election to the principle of “works” concerning salvation. It is because of God sovereign unconditional choosing, that it is not of works! This means, as the Scriptures declare, even our faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). We did not exert our own faith but rather we responded in the faith given to us by God. The work of regeneration and salvation is a monergistic[3] not synergistic[4] work. In light of that truth that we are saved apart from works takes on a whole new meaning and completeness.

Ephesians 2:9 (ESV) 9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

2 Timothy 1:9 (ESV) 9  who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

Titus 3:5 (ESV) 5  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

Romans 3:20 (ESV) 20  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Romans 3:28 (ESV) 28  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

So, as we consider God’s sovereign grace in salvation and man’s responsibility before God, we now can see that there is a strong if not absolute connection. A.A. Hodges puts it this way:

“It is the glory, the power, and the preciousness of the Protestant doctrine that makes Salvation of sinners a matter of Grace from beginning to end.”[5]

While we will never fully understand God’s sovereign work in salvation verses man’s responsibility, we must conclude that they are not only both taught in Scriptures, but that God’s sovereign grace stands fore-front in brilliant beauty, displaying his love and mercy upon the redeemed. It is the God of love (John 3:16; Ephesians 1:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:4,) mercy (Romans 9:16), grace (Romans 11:5), and wisdom and knowledge (Romans 11:33) acting on his own gracious prerogatives, hidden in the mystery of his will in election.

“ God’s election is part of an overall plan or purpose. This means there is nothing at all arbitrary about election. God has a purpose that was worked out in accordance with his love, mercy and grace, that was wise beyond imagination, and that is to be accomplished by means of election and predestination. Election and predestination are not ends in themselves but means to an end, practical ways of accomplishing God’s will. So the merciful and loving God worked out a gracious plan from within the depths of himself, based on his eternal wisdom, that he effects in time by means of election and predestination.”[6]

And let us remember, the ground of this sovereign grace in election to salvation is the good pleasure of God (Ephesians 1:5, 11; Matthew 11:25, 26; John 15:16, 19), and that it is in His prerogative and right to do so (Romans 9:16,21).

Next, we will look at human will in light of God’s sovereignty.

-Michael Holtzinger

[1] J.I Packer, ”Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” IVP, 1961, pg.33-34

[2] This kind of argument is seen most clearly in Dave Hunt’s book; “What Love Is This?: Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God

[3] The view that the Holy Spirit is the only agent who effects regeneration of Christians.  It is in contrast with synergism, the view that there is a cooperation between the divine and the human in the regeneration process. [Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996, pg.177.]

[4] a.) Working together in the Gospel (Rom. 16:3, 9 21) b.) Theologically the term is used for views of salvation, particularly, Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism, where the human will co-operates with the divine will in achieving salvation. [Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996, pg.274.]

[5] A.A. Hodge Systematic Theology (Banner of Truth Trust, 1991) ,pg.174

[6] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, ed., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Election and Predestination”.

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