The Sovereignty of God

by Mike Ratliff

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. (1 Chronicles 29:11 ESV)

I was involved in a theological “discussion” quite some time ago in which one who disagreed with the Doctrines of Grace attempted to say that his belief that Man’s Free Will was sacrosanct and God could not violate it was Biblical Christianity. After much consternation and prayer on how to respond to that that I simply told him that he was in unbelief. He shot back that that was not the case! He told me that he had his thinkology all lined up and was in need of nothing more than that. It reminded me of Revelation 3:17, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” The only ones who enter the Kingdom of God do so on God’s terms not their own. That means that no one comes in on the basis of pride.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3 ESV)

Who inherits the kingdom of heaven, which is the same as the Kingdom of God? Only the poor in spirit enter it. The poor in spirit are the humble who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy before our Holy, Righteous, Just, and Sovereign God. These are the ones who are have bent the knee to their Saviour and understand that their citizenship in God’s Kingdom is on the basis of the Righteousness of their redeemer, not on their own nor on their works nor on their understanding nor on how religious they are. These have been drawn to the Saviour by God, regenerated, and given the gift of faith. They have repented and believed by grace through faith all according to the will of God.

Sadly, for the last few hundred years, the Church’s grasp of God’s Sovereignty has eroded until, at this time it is attacked openly by many who call themselves Christians, but whose theology places Man on top and God as little more than a vending machine who must obey the claims and demands of people or that He has released Man from any requirement to be bound to His commandments, which is the Word of God. In 1930, a book was published by A.W. Pink titled The Sovereignty of God. Here are the first two paragraphs from chapter 1.

The Sovereignty of God is an expression that once was generally understood. It was a phrase commonly used in religious literature. It was a theme frequently expounded in the pulpit. I was a truth which brought comfort to many hearts, and gave virility and stability to Christian character. But, today, to make mention of God’s sovereignty is, in many quarters, to speak in an unknown tongue. Were we to announce from the average pulpit that the subject of our discourse would be the sovereignty of God, it would sound very much as though we had borrowed a phrase from one of the dead languages. Alas ! that it should be so. Alas ! that the doctrine which is the key to history, the interpreter of Providence, the warp and woof of Scripture, and the foundation of Christian theology, should be so sadly neglected and so little understood.

The sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the godhood of God. To say that God is sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Ps. 115:3). To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Ps. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.

A.W. Pink was right. The assertion of God’s absolute sovereignty in creation, providence, and salvation is basic to biblical belief and biblical praise. We find the vision of God reigning from His throne in Heaven throughout His Word (1 Kings 22:19; Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 1:26; Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:2; Psalm 11:4; Psalm 45:6; Psalm 47:8; Hebrews 12:2; Revelation 3:21). God’s Word persistently makes it known to us, explicitly, that the Lord reigns as king. He exercises His dominion over great and small alike (Exodus 15:18; Psalm 47; Psalm 93; Psalm 96:10; Psalm 97; Psalm 99:1-5; Psalm 146:10; Proverbs 16:33; Proverbs 21:1; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 52:7; Daniel 4:34,35; Daniel 5:21-28; Daniel 6:26; Matthew 10:29-31). His dominion is complete. It is total and unlimited. He wills as He chooses, and carries out all that He wills, and none can stay His hand or thwart His plans. He is sovereign over all parts of what we call the temporal and the eternal. He is sovereign over everyday life as well as the miraculous.

God has given His creatures, man and angels, free agency in that they have the power of personal decision. This must be so or we would not be moral beings answerable to God the Judge. The Word of God is clear in distinguishing between the bad purposes of Man and the good purposes of God, who sovereignly overrules human action as a planned means to His own goals (Genesis 50:20; Acts 2:23; Acts 13:26-39). However, Man’s free agency reveals to us a mystery. God has sovereign control over Man’s free actions. This sovereignty is complete, but God has not revealed to us how this can be so. He has left this a mystery. Even so, God is not the author of sin. God has conferred responsibility on moral agents for their thoughts, words, and deeds, according to His justice.

The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty! Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore. (Psalms 93:1-5 ESV)

God’s Sovereignty guarantees the stability of the world against all the forces of chaos. It also confirms the trustworthiness of all God’s utterances and directives and calls for the worship of His people. When Christians are broken in spirit, humble, and meek, God’s Sovereignty is understood to be the source of their joy, hope, and confidence in Him. Those who “have it all figured out” and are “in need of nothing more” have placed their hope in their decisions and religion. Their thinkology to them is what is the source of their comfort and confidence. These things are the fruit of pride and they are deadly in their deception. On the other hand, the Christian is not in God’s Kingdom because of any of these things. Instead, they have entered the Kingdom on their knees, on their face before their Sovereign Lord God, poor in spirit, humble, and meek. They believe, repent, and are justified by faith, all by the grace of their Sovereign God.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Addendum: For further reading, I wrote this piece the day after my grandson was born back in September.

8 thoughts on “The Sovereignty of God

  1. “Those who “have it all figured out” and are “in need of nothing more” have placed their hope in their decisions and religion.”

    I must confess, I am quite confused in this statement. You sound like Rob Bell, and that causes me no shortage of alarm. Please explain, brother!

  2. M.G.

    What I meant by that was in reference to people trusting in themselves for their salvation instead of in the Grace and mercy of God according to the Gospel. Sorry for the confusion…

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  3. i thought God cant violate our will because if he did we cant be considered free agents. we are free agents whose will is under bondage of sin. thought this was what the reformers believed in too. princeton vs old divinity, chapter 1, quotes Charnock and other reformers on this.
    what God does to fulfill his purposes is that he persuades us and reasons with us causing us to believe. While regeneration is a passive act faith must be an active decision by the user. can you verify if this is what they were saying or not? thanks.

  4. Abe, here is what I said, “However, Man’s free agency reveals to us a mystery. God has sovereign control over Man’s free actions. This sovereignty is complete, but God has not revealed to us how this can be so. He has left this a mystery. Even so, God is not the author of sin. God has conferred responsibility on moral agents for their thoughts, words, and deeds, according to His justice.”

    I also recommend to all who desire to delve into the “mystery” to read this. Here is an excerpt from it on this subject:

    Without the least reserve or hesitancy we subscribe to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith in its declaration that “God hath decreed in himself from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably all things whatsoever comes to pass.” This includes evil as well and as fully as good, though in a different sense; and is supported by both reason and revelation. See chapter on “The Will of God.” Also see Dan. 4:35; Isa. 46:10; Rom. 9:19; Eph. 1:11.
    When men say that the absolute sovereignty of God cannot be reconciled with the free agency of man by finite minds, they betoken a misunderstanding either of free agency, or the workings of God’s sovereignty, or both. Free agency is in perfect, full, and manifest harmony with the absolute sovereignty of God. The bond of union between the two lies in the fact that the will is subject to the character of its possessor. God has determined the character of each man, through either His positive or permissive decrees—positive in the case of all good, and permissive in the case of all evil. And God, having determined all circumstances, controls the motives that influence the will. Thus God controls the actions of men, and yet men act at all times as freely as God Himself does. If there were no God, man could not act more freely than he does.
    We see this harmony between the sovereignty of God and the free agency of man strikingly exemplified in the crucifixion of Christ. God determined that Christ should be crucified (Acts 2:23; 4:27,28). And He determined that certain ones should do it, but He did this permissively. All that took part in the crucifixion were only acting out their own natures, and were never freer in any act, nor was God ever freer in any act. Through wicked motives they chose to kill the Lord of glory. They killed Him because they hated Him. They killed Him because He rebuked them for their sin. They killed Him because He took away the glory that had been theirs. God did not cause them to do it, but He decreed to permit them to follow their own inclinations and desires in doing it.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  5. Hey Mike. Good article. I was having a discussion with someone recently about God’s sovereignty. He kept pushing the belief that we have ‘free will’, that somehow we have an active part in attaining our salvation. And while I agree, from our standpoint, it seems that “we” repent and “we” ignite our own faith to accomplish this; I know from the scriptures that “salvation belongs to the LORD”. And doing a study of ‘will’ in the scriptures clearly shows the direct conflict between the ‘will of the flesh’ (or human will), and the ‘will of God’. Our human will is not free. We are born in sin, slaves to sin, and unable to do anything about the state of our nature we inherited from Adam. And though men want to believe they can do something about their dilemma, they can do nothing. Romans 9:16- “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” John 1:12-13-“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the WILL OF THE FLESH nor of the WILL OF MAN, but of God.” Salvation is of the Lord… it takes the supernatural work of God to save a man. And funny how after the work of regeneration, we still are not free in the sense of ‘human free will’. We become slaves once again… to righteousness and to Christ. We are free to follow Him, and He gives us the will to follow Jesus Christ.
    I don’t mean to ramble, but I believe the greatest separation today, and to come, is the distinction and clear revelation of the SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD. Is this battle not a precursor to the falling away? The bringing of men back into the bondage of the law, which lays some responsibility of salvation back into the hearts of men. Really, this might be semantics in many cases. Many people say ‘free will’, yet seem to have a clear understanding of God’s sovereignty as revealed in the scriptures. And I really don’t care to argue the ‘terms’ we use or misuse in discussion. The fact is, (and I like to make this point whenever I get into this discussion with others,) if we are taking credit, even just a tiny little .01%, for our salvation… we are stealing glory from God! And maybe this all stems from the root of pride, and the same fall of satan. We want to be God… at least the god of our own lives. And really, the story is about Him, it’s about Jesus, not about us. And He shows us His abundant grace and mercy for His own sake, not for our great temporal benefits we hear so much about today.
    Thanks again for truth Mike. Your posts are so refreshing in this age of relativity. And one more quote to end… “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” – Isaiah 48:11

  6. “And God, having determined all circumstances, controls the motives that influence the will. Thus God controls the actions of men, and yet men act at all times as freely ”
    Am I missing something here? If God controls the actions of men, then men don’t control their actions.
    The above statement sure seems like a contradiction.
    I read the complete “mystery” link and whoever wrote that seems to me a bit confused. I think his preconcieved notion
    that God predetermines all of mens choices colors that whole article on God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.

  7. Keith,

    God does not force us to act against our will. However, He does work with each of our individual personalities to change our will. We still operate within our will, but he does change each of us to draw us into His will. I know that sounds confusing, but either God is Sovereign or He isn’t. We are fallible, but He isn’t. So, when God determines that I or you are to do something to serve Him he works in each of us within how He made us to change our thoughts and intentions so that we see that we are to do x. We decide and we do it. On the other hand, those who are not His, He just leaves alone and they work within their own will to reject Him and the Gospel.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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