Is God wholly – or only partially – sovereign over his creation?

by John Holbrook Jr.
A Biblical View, posted January 9, 2016

There is much confusion today over the issue of God’s sovereignty over his creation – i.e.  Universe. The atheist dismisses the issue because he does not believe in God. The deist grants God’s sovereignty over his creation of Universe, but believes that he subsequently left it to develop on its own. Christians have expressed a range of beliefs on the issue, which are mostly focused on how men establish a relationship with God.

Early Christians believed the following: that all men are sinful (the doctrine of original sin), that God entered his Creation in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (the doctrine of the incarnation), that Jesus lived a perfect life (the doctrine of the sinlessness of Christ), that Jesus died on the cross at Calvary as a perfect, one-time payment for some men’s sinfulness (the doctrine of atonement), that God-the-Father ordained just who those men would be before the foundations of the world were laid (the doctrine of predestination[1]), that God raised Jesus from the dead (the doctrine of the resurrection), that Jesus ascended into heaven (the doctrine of the ascension), that only God-the-Holy Spirit can enable men to accept God-the-Son as their Savior and Lord (the doctrine of grace), and that only God-the-Holy Spirit can enable men to resist temptation, turn away from sinning, and move closer to God (the doctrine of sanctification).

In the fourth century AD, some Christians jettisoned some of the above doctrines and began espousing the view that men are basically good and can establish a relationship with God on their own.[2] This view got them branded as heretics.

Soon other Christians began occupying a middle ground between the above extremes.[3] They expressed the view that, although Jesus’ death on the cross was a necessary payment for men’s sinfulness, all men could now establish a relationship with God on their own, without the help of God-the-Holy Spirit. This got them too branded as heretics, but it survived such opposition and has waxed and waned through the succeeding centuries. Called Aminianism, it is quite common in our era, in which so many people clamor for unbridled, individual autonomy and exhibit disrespect for authority of all kinds – particularly divine authority.

The Testimony of the Scriptures

Departing from the early Christian’s beliefs on these issues, of course, entails ignoring much of what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty over his creation. Consider the following verses concerning God’s sovereignty over people’s salvation, the goal of which is the establishment of a right relationship with God:

Jesus said to His disciples, “But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (KJV Matthew 16:15-17).

Jesus also said to His disciples, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (KJV John 6:38-40).

Jesus also said to his disciples, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (KJV John 6:44).

Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (KJV Ephesians 1:3-5).

Paul also wrote, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (KJV Ephesians 1:10-14).

Paul also wrote, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (KJV Ephesians 2:8-10)

Paul also wrote, “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (KJV 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

Paul also wrote, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (KJV Titus 3:5).

The common denominator among the eight passages above is the testimony that the triune God is the prime actor in a person’s establishing a right relationship with God. In temporal sequence: God-the-Father wrote the names of the redeemed in the Book of Life before the foundations of the world were laid. The triune God created them. God-the-Son died on a cross to atone for their sins. Now God-the-Father draws them to his Son. God-the-Holy Spirit enables them to accept God-the-Son as their Savior and Lord, then cleanses and regenerates them, sets God’s seal on them, and finally enables them increasingly to resist temptation, turn away from sinning, and move closer to God. Although the redeemed will die physically, God-the-Son will resurrect them on the Last Day to live with Him throughout eternity.

2 Peter 3:9

One reason that some Christians ignore the above testimony is that they misinterpret the following verse: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). They maintain that it indicates that God-the-Father is unwilling that anyone perish. As Moreno Dal Bello has pointed out,[4] what they overlook is the verse’s context. Peter is writing to the “beloved” – i.e. the faithful disciples of Christ – who are already saved, but who are impatient for the Parousia, which will bring an end to this world. He tells them that they must be patient, for God will not bring the end until everyone whose name is written in the Book of Life has come into the Kingdom. God-the-Father is unwilling to have any of them perish, which would happen if the end came before they responded to the Gospel.

 The Nature of Creation

Another reason why so many Christians reject predestination is that they don’t understand the nature of Creation. It is a drama.

Before I examine the drama of Creation, I ask you to consider this aspect of any drama or play: it has an outside and an inside. Outside the drama, its author predetermines its every aspect. He creates each character, determining his or her gender and whether he or she is good or bad. He also predestines what he or she will do and say. Inside the drama, however, each person is free – free to decide what to do and what to say within the constraints of the drama’s world. He or she can behave well or badly, nobly or ignobly, and will be held accountable for his or her deeds and words within that world.

Now back to the drama of Creation. It has an author, God-the-Father. It has a producer and stage-manager, God-the-Son. It has a director, God-the-Holy Spirit. It has a cast: its protagonist is Jesus of Nazareth or God-the-Son; He follows the Father’s script exactly.[5] Its antagonist is Satan; he also follows the Father’s script exactly.[6] Its lesser players are all the men, women, and children in history. If both its protagonist and its antagonist are controlled by God-the-Father’s script, isn’t it reasonable to assume that the lives of its bit players are as well? Finally, it has a plot: God-the-Father is preparing a bride[7] for his Son despite the opposition of Satan and his minions.

The Bride of Christ

Now here is where the doctrine of predestination is so important. Why did God-the-Father determine the makeup of the Bride of Christ before he allowed the other persons of the Trinity to lay the foundations of the world? The answer is pretty obvious. She is at the center of the drama’s story. She is the girl for whom the protagonist and the antagonist are contending (see my blog, “Will the guy get the girl?” which was posted on September 5, 2016).[8] Ask yourself the question, “Would God-the-Father leave the composition of his Son’s bride to be determined by the whim of bit players in the drama? Would he allow them to decide for themselves whether or not they will accept or reject God’s offer of salvation through faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. No. God-the-Son will have to live with His bride for all eternity. She must be perfect. God-the-Father designed her before Universe was created. Now she is being formed, educated, and trained to be a help-mete for her future spouse, to whom she is betrothed. When God-the-Father presents her to his Son, she will be perfect. There will be no surprises.

If you remain unconvinced on this issue, imagine a drama in which every member of the cast is free to say and do whatever he or she chooses to say and do. The result would not be a drama. It would be chaos. Consider Othello, The Moor of Venice. Imagine the thought and effort which the author[9] put into crafting the plot, the action and the lines for Othello, Desdemona, Iago, Cassio, Brabantio, Roderigo, Emilia, and Bianca. They create the drama. If the actors abandoned the script, there would be no drama. Consider what would have happened if Othello had decided to give Desdemona a dozen roses instead of a handkerchief. Or if Desdemona had tried to wipe Othello’s face with her sleeve instead of her handkerchief. Or if Othello had put the handkerchief in his pocket, instead of dropping it on the floor. Or if Emelia had decided not to pick up the handkerchief. Or if Emelia had decided to keep the handkerchief for herself instead of giving it to Iago. Or if Iago had put something else in Cassio’s room instead of the handkerchief. Or if Cassio had failed to notice the handkerchief in his room. Or if Bianca had showed no interest in the handkerchief that Cassio was carrying. Etc. The play would fall apart.

The Testimony of God’s Person

There is one more point that I want to make. Still another reason why so many Christians claim that they responded to the Gospel of Christ of their own free will is that they don’t grasp the infinite extent of God’s intellect, power, imagination, inventiveness, etc.

The Scriptures indicate that God designed, created, and manages Universe, which is the theater in which the drama unfolds, and the earth, which is the stage on which the drama occurs. He controls the movement of every atomic particle, every atom, every molecule, every drop of water, every grain of sand, every celestial body, every galaxy, etc. He ordains every sunrise and every sunset, every cloudless day and every thunderstorm, every meteor shower and every volcanic eruption.

The Scriptures also indicate that God designed, created, and manages the earth’s creatures. He controls every minnow or whale, every ant or elephant, every butterfly or eagle, and every man, woman, or child. He numbers the hairs on each creature’s body. He determines when, where, and why a sparrow falls. He selects the members of each family, church, and nation. He ordains when a nation can live in peace and when it will be engaged in war. Absolutely nothing lies outside his purview and control – particularly something so important as the makeup of the bride whom God is preparing for God-the-Son.

The point of all of the above is that God is wholly and absolutely sovereign over his creation.

© 2016 John Holbrook Jr.

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[1] The doctrine of predestination was strongly advocated by Augustine (354-430 AD) and Calvin (1509-1564 AD).

[2] Opposition to the doctrine of predestination may have started with Pelagius (c.355-c.425 AD) and been exacerbated by his follower Coelestius, a contemporary of Augustine. They rejected (a) the doctrine of original sin by claiming that children are born innocent and (b) the doctrine of the general depravity of man by claiming that men are basically good, and (c) the doctrine of grace by claiming that men have the capacity to resist evil, be good, and seek God without God’s help. This led him to claim that men can earn salvation by keeping the law – i.e. Christ’s death on the cross was an unnecessary ingredient in salvation. Pelagianism was fought by Augustine and Jerome (c.347-c.420 AD) and ultimately condemned as heretical by the eastern and western churches at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD.

[3] In the face of the church’s condemnation of Pelagianism, a softer version of it soon emerged, which was known as Semi-Pelagianism. Its adherents maintained that, while grace is necessary in order to receive salvation, God wills that all men be saved. Semi-Pelagianism was fought by Caesarius of Arles (468/470-542 AD) and condemned as heretical by the Council of Orange in 529 AD. Despite such condemnation, it was revived by Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609 AD), and later codified by his followers in the Remonstrants (1610). Its adherents today are usually called Arminians.

[4] See http://godsonlygospel.com/booklets/not_willing_that_any_should_perish.htm.

[5] See John 8:28-29; also Hebrews 10:7.

[6] See Job 1:6-12 and 2:1-6. Note that (a) Satan must appear in God’s throne room, (b) God requires Satan to give an account of what he has been doing, (c) God draws Satan’s attention to Job, and (d) God tells Satan exactly what he can and cannot do to Job.

[7] The Bride of Christ consists of all the men, women, and children in history who have faithfully trusted in and accepted God himself as their redeemer and Lord.

[8] Just as God put Adam to sleep, took flesh and bone from his side, formed Eve, and then presented Eve to Adam to be his bride on Day 6 of Creation Week, so God put Jesus to sleep on the cross, took blood and water from His side, is currently forming the “Bride of Christ,” and will present her to his Son to be His wife at the Wedding of the Lamb. Note that the Bible starts with a wedding between the First Adam and his bride and ends with a wedding between the Second Adam and His bride. These weddings are like bookends to the drama. Moreover note that, just as Satan tried to spoil the marriage of the First Adam, which he was able to do, so now he is trying to spoil the marriage of the Second Adam, which, according to the Scriptures, he will not be able to do. Nevertheless, the tension of the drama for God’s people in the audience derives from the fact that Satan seems to be succeeding in his efforts and only faith in the trustworthiness of the Word of God will sustain her through the trials which Satan has in store for her.

[9] Othello is attributed to William Shakespeare, but I believe Christopher Marlowe wrote all the plays that bear Shakespeare’s name.  See Calvin Hoffman’s The Murder of the Man Who Was ‘Shakespeare’, Julian Messner, New York, 1955.

 

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