Author: Phillip Jensen
Sovereignty = Kingship
Sovereignty is a word for kingship. God is King.
a. But what kind of King?
But what kind of King is God?To what extent is God the king in control of what happens? Is he a true king with absolute (total) power and authority over all that exists; dictating the events and course of history to and for his own purposes and ends? Or, is he a ruler like Queen Elizabeth II – a figurehead, a power and authority in name only, at the beck and call of all subjects, allowed only limited rights according to what the subjects allow? Or perhaps not quite as powerless as Queen Elizabeth II, more like a political leader – still a ruler but one who is often taken by surprise by the actions of his subjects and whose work therefore consists of making responses appropriate to decisions taken by people? Or, again, following another line of thought, is God a king who, having made certain decisions about the universe, is now an impassive, uninvolved observer of what goes on? There are other possibilities but those are sufficient to begin to spell out the issues involved concerning the nature/character of God’s kingship.
b. Our view affects life.
How we view God’s sovereignty will affect every aspect of our lives –
it will affect the way in which we relate to God;
our confidence in relationship to him;
our perspectives on life;
our understanding of purpose and whether all that is happening is to a plan;
how we pray;
our expectations of this world;
more importantly it reveals the extent to which we have come to grips with the God of the Bible.
Therefore, what view of the character of God’s rule (sovereignty) does the Bible present?
Obviously this is no ‘Mickey Mouse’ topic that can be completely dealt with in the limits of this paper. However, there are some aspects of God’s sovereignty that can be reasonably noted, as follows.
1. God is in complete control
a. Creator with purpose
The Bible sees God not just as the creator (Genesis 1, 2; Hebrews 11:3) but as the one who created with plan and purpose (I Peter 1:18-21; Colossians 1:15-20) and with the power and ability to implement His purposes (Isaiah 46:8-11).
b. Ruler of the nations
He is seen as being in control of the activities of nations (Deuteronomy 7:22-24; 9:4-5; Joshua 2:8-15; Isaiah 10:5-19) and even where people live (Acts 17:26, 27).
The clearest evidence the Bible gives of God’s control is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus comes as the fulfilment and completion of all that was promised in the Old Testament (Hebrews 1:1-3). The events of his life are frequently linked to the words of the prophets (Matthew 1:22; 2:5, 6, 14, 17; 3:3 …); his arrest, trial and execution appear to bring the triumph of man and his plans. Yet Jesus is aware of God’s control throughout (Matthew 26:3-5; 26:14-16; 26:20-24; 26:47-54; 27:41-44; Acts 4:25-30). His resurrection is a vindication of all his claims and a declaration of God’s sovereignty. Everything has happened according to God’s foreknowledge and control (Acts 2:22-24; 32-36) and it points to and gives notice of a day when God will end all things and require an account of all people (Acts 17:31; Heb 4:13).
2. God is involved in His creation.
a. Controlling the created order
The Bible regards God as the source of all good so that the joy and happiness we experience are from God (Psalm. 107; Acts 14:15-17); the food and clothing we have are God given (Matthew 6:25-32); and the rain that comes is from God. He is a Father who gives good gifts (Luke 11:11-13).
The Bible also sees God as withholding these benefits in order to cause people to question and change the way in which they are living – various plagues were sent upon the Egyptians to cause Pharaoh to set free the people of Israel (Exodus 7:1-5; 11:1; 13:14,15); drought and famine were the experience of the Northern kingdom of Israel when God called them to alter their ways and to return to Him as their Lord (Amos 4:6-10).
Again, Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s involvement – 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself …… that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself…”. He came to give his life a ransom for many (Mk 10: 45) and Ephesians 2: 8, 9 declares that even our salvation has been totally the result of God’s work – “by grace”, “not from yourselves”, “a gift”, “not by anything we could do (works)”, “we are God’s workmanship”.
3. God is working to a plan
a. Not haphazard
There is nothing haphazard about the events of this world; they are all under God’s control. The world will end when God’s plan is completed; our lives will end when God’s plan for them is completed (Acts 13:36-41). This is not a world of chance and accident. It is a world of plan, purpose and order (Job 42:2; Psalm 135:6-7; Psalm 139:1 6; Psalm 147:4; 1 John 3:20; Ephesians 1:7-10; ICorinthians 15:20-26)
b. Not arbitrary
God’s exercise of rule isn’t arbitrary or fickle – his rule is good and just (Romans 2:2-11 and I Peter 1:17). God doesn’t have favourites – all people irrespective of background, race, wrongdoing, are accepted by him if they turn to him.
c. Including the sinful human will
God’s plan includes the sinful human will. Though we rebel against God his plan expects, anticipates, includes and utilizes our sinful decisions. So the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord to turn it whatever way he pleases (Proverbs 21:1). This was seen in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21;7:3,13,22; 8:15,32; 9:12, 34-35: 10:1;14:8), in the crucifixion of Christ by sinful men (Acts 2:23, note use of ‘must’ and ‘will in Mark 8:31f; 9:31; 10:32-34; Luke 24:44-47) and in peoples’ response to the gospel (John 6:35-37,43-45; 2Thessalonians 2:9-12). Indeed it is God who ordains to eternal life (Acts 13:48, Ephesians 1:4-7), opens the heart (Acts 16:14) to receive the gospel in repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18) and even faith as well as suffering (Philippians 1:29).
d. Including the supernatural realm
God’s power and plans even extend into the supernatural realm where he is also sovereign. So while Ephesians 6:12 speaks of a supernatural battle there is little doubt as to who shall win (Luke 10:19; Romans 16:20; Revelation 12:7-11; 20:7-10). Even now Satan’s power is under God’s sovereignty (Job 2:1-6; Luke 4:5, 6; 1 Corinthians 10:13) and God uses Satan’s attacks to bring about his good purposes (1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 12:7). Everything now is being subjected to Christ by God the Father, as the Son will ultimately place all things in subjection to his Father (1 Corinthians 15:27-28).
“Sweet, pleasant and unspeakable comfort”
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Anglicanism describe one aspect of the sovereignty of God viz. ‘Of Predestination and Election” as ‘full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort”. The view of God presented by the Bible takes from our lives uncertainty and insecurity, for he who is in control of all things is our loving father who works all things for our good. This God who controls everything from the stars (Psalm 147:4) to the sparrow (Matthew 10:29) and whose knowledge is pictured as so detailed that even the hairs on our heads are numbered (Matthew 10:30, 31) is a God upon whom we can learn to rely and in whom we can have complete confidence. There is no detail of our lives too small for his sovereignty; no want too large. It is by coming to know these things about God that we are able to relax in our relationship with him and to serve him without fear. Nowhere is this seen more than in the cross of our Lord and saviour – for if he is for us who can be against us (Romans 8:31-39).
Some helpful references are:
R.A. Finlayson: “God” article in New Bible Dictionar, I.V.P.
B. Milne: Know the Truth I.V.P.
J.I. Packer: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, I.V.P.
J.I. Packer: Knowing God, Hodder & Stoughton
A paper originally developed by Phillip Jensen for the School of Christian Ministry (SOCM), part of Campus Bible Study (CBS) at UNSW where Phillip was chaplain 1975–2005.