June 18, 2014 Broadcast

God's Sovereignty

A Message by R.C. Sproul

As King of kings and Lord of lords, God is sovereign over all of creation. Christians of every denomination have always affirmed this fact, and yet many disagree as to the meaning of sovereignty. For example, does God's sovereignty mean that He could save everyone if He chose to?  And if so, why doesn't He? Dr. R.C. Sproul considers these questions as he explains the sovereignty of God in this lesson.

From the series: Chosen By God

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  1. article

    For the Love of God

  2. devotional

    God's Sovereignty

  3. devotional

    Why Sovereignty Matters

For the Love of God

Burk Parsons

When I first encountered Reformed theology I completely rejected it. For nearly two years I fought against it with every possible argument I could conceive of. It wasn’t until I embarked upon a journey through the Scriptures that I was confronted by the biblical teaching of God’s love for His people. At the forefront of my argument against Reformed theology was my desire to defend the biblical doctrine of God. It had been my contention, considering verses such as John 3:16, that the saving love of God had been manifest to all people without exception. That is to say, I did not believe that God’s love was demonstrated in varying degrees. According to my presuppositions concerning the character of God, I believed there was no difference between God’s love for the sinner and His love for the saint.

As I carefully contrived every argument against Reformed doctrine, I was frustrated time and again when it came to the Bible’s teaching about God’s special, saving love for His people. This perplexed me. How could a loving God not love everyone in the same way?

Towards the culmination of my study of the Scriptures, I joined a group from my church on a missions trip to Haiti. While there, a friend from the church shared about a recent experience she had had with her hair stylist who was a practicing homosexual. As she shared about her ongoing conversations with her hair stylist, she explained enthusiastically that she just keeps telling him that God loves him unconditionally, to which he would usually respond, “I know God loves me just the way I am.” To him, such a response was perfectly reasonable. To her, such a response was perfectly acceptable. To me, such a response was perfectly atrocious.

Afterwards, I asked her a very simple question: “How can you be so certain that God loves your homosexual friend unconditionally?” I went on briefly to explain what I had come to understand about the Bible’s teaching concerning God’s special love for His people, namely, that although God does indeed love all of His creatures in some way, He unconditionally loves only those who are His children in Christ. What is more, I asked, “if God unconditionally loves your homosexual hair stylist why would he ever consider repenting and believing on Christ? If God loves him just the way he is, why should he surrender his life to Christ?” That night, hours after our conversation, I was summoned by our pastor to follow him outside the mission walls for a little talk. Based on the conversation I had with my friend earlier that day, I was charged to be a “heretical Calvinist.” After fifteen minutes, and after many tears, I was fired from my staff position and stripped of all responsibility that very night.

When I returned from Haiti, I packed my books, and with great sorrow in my heart, I left the church in which I had become a Christian. Soon after, I began an extensive study on the love of God in the Johannine corpus. I immersed myself in John’s gospel account, his epistles, and the book of Revelation, attempting to provide the biblical definition of God’s love according to the apostle John. The biblical teaching about God and His love for His people burst forth from the pages of Scripture, and by God’s grace I finally came to grips with the doctrines of grace as biblically defined by Reformed theology.

John’s first epistle demonstrates the clear distinction between those who are in Christ and those who are of the world. At the end of 1 John chapter 2, John calls his recipients “little children” (v. 28). Then, at the beginning of chapter 3, John reminds the children of God of His love for them: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (3:1a). In verse 10, John goes on to explain, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” Further, in verse 16, John writes of the love of God in the death of Christ: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.”

Perhaps the most well-known passage about God’s attribute of love is 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” Too often, however, this three-word phrase is stripped from its immediate context in which John expressly defines God’s special, saving love for His people. Usually, this verse is used as a proof text for the unconditional love of God for all people without exception. However, as John clearly explains, the unconditional love of God is only manifested to those who are in Jesus Christ: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (vv. 9–10). “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (v. 16). “We love because he first loved us” (v. 19).

During my journey to Reformed theology, it was the doctrine of God’s saving love that convinced me of God’s electing grace, and it is the love of God that continues to sustain my life in Christ.

God's Sovereignty

Arminians (semi-Pelagians) know the Lord is all-powerful (Job 42:1–2) and can stop or start any event if He so desires. Arminians also affirm the Creator’s complete knowledge of the future (Isa. 46:8–10) even if they do not attribute causation to God in the same sense that Augustinians (Calvinists) do. Therefore, Arminians, no less than Calvinists, believe the Lord foreordains all things. For example, if God knows He will stop me from wearing every shirt I own today except my green one, then the Arminian has to admit that I must wear my green shirt. The event is established; it is foreordained. 

As Dr. R.C. Sproul has said, “There is no maverick molecule if God is sovereign.” If He cannot control the tiniest bits of the universe, then we cannot trust Him to keep His word. The Lord vowed to bring Abraham’s sons out of Egypt (Gen. 15:12–16), but if Joseph was not the object of his father’s favoritism, his brothers would not have envied him. If they had not envied him, they would not have sold him to the Ishmaelites, Israel would not have gone into Egypt, and God could not have kept His promise to the patriarch (37–50). 

Given that not everyone will be saved (Rev. 20:11–15), only two options exist as to how the Lord’s sovereignty relates to salvation:

1. God intervenes to ensure the salvation of some people. This is the Calvinist position, and, we argue, it is truer to Scripture than the second option. Because we are dead in sin, the Lord must directly change our hearts, guaranteeing His people will trust Jesus (Eph. 2:1–10). Those whom God chooses to save, today’s passage teaches, are chosen based on His own good pleasure and nothing else.

2. God provides an equal opportunity for everyone to be saved. Arminians believe this, saying Calvinists make God’s decision arbitrary since some are not chosen. But this criticism is not justified.The idea that God owes everyone a chance to be saved is assumed here, but the Lord is not obligated to redeem anyone, much less give a chance to believe (Ex. 33:19b). Moreover, many people never hear the Gospel and never have a chance to be saved. Even the Arminian position fails to meet its own conditions for fairness.

Why Sovereignty Matters

Affirming the biblical understanding of election is not usually a way to win many friends. Most Christians are shocked that anyone could believe God’s choice determines who will be saved. Others scratch their heads when Reformed believers get excited and promote the Lord’s sovereignty over all things. After all, what is the practical relevance of the doctrines of election and providence?

We ought not fault Christians who reject Reformed theology because they have heard it only from overbearing Calvinists. Nevertheless, we confess wholeheartedly that our Creator’s sovereignty is the most “practical” of all doctrines, as today’s passage reveals.

Joseph assures his brothers of his pardon, stating the lesson his life teaches us: God overrides the intents and deeds of wicked men to bring about good (Gen. 50:20). Or, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). What the Lord does and allows is always good — because a good and praiseworthy end is always His goal, and He always accomplishes it. God blamelessly works concurrently with men, even in their evil events, to achieve an ultimate good.

We can only trust with confidence a Lord who controls everything. If He is unable to use wickedness to further His plan, then evil remains free from His rule, and we could never be sure of His final victory. Some say God only foresees human decisions without ordaining them, but Scripture never teaches this. Moreover, if the Lord only looks into a future in which He has not ordained all things, then there are “chance” events to come that He will have had no control over. How then is He God in any meaningful way? How, then, can He prevent those events He finds undesirable?

If the Lord is sovereign over all things, then every wicked event is in His plan, not because He loves evil, but because He wants to work through and against the sin to achieve a worthy end. Knowing that God does this enables us to fight the good fight of faith and stand against the forces of darkness. Nothing they do to us is outside of the Lord’s will, and so they can never derail His good plan for us.

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