Tuesday, November 8, 2011

God's Sovereignty and Man's Responsibility to Choose

God's sovereignty can be under-emphasized and diminished or it can be overemphasized. One over-emphasis, or misunderstanding, is that sovereignty means that God can do absolutely anything conceivable. Another way of stating this is that God has no limits in regard to who He is or what He can do. But the Scripture never teaches this, and in fact teaches that God is limited in some ways and there are some things God cannot do.

"in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago" (Titus 1:2).

"When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone "(James 1:13, NIV).

God cannot do anything that is against His nature. He cannot lie. He cannot do evil or even be tempted by evil. Since He is always righteous, He cannot be unrighteous. Since He is always wise, He cannot make a mistake or act unwisely or foolishly. If He is always faithful, then He cannot be unfaithful.

God could employ a very "hands-on," top-down" management style and originate or actively control every single event that occurs, making His creatures no more than robots. Or He could choose to use a more "hands off," "inclusive" management style and at times listen to the opinions of His creatures and give them a degree of freedom to make their own decisions, even if those decisions are not according to His nature and desire.

Does the idea that God allows humans to make moral choices that are contrary to His will nullify the sovereignty of God and make man sovereign (the supreme authority)? Not in the least. The fact that God has granted a degree of ruling authority to men does not decrease God's supreme authority whatsoever. He is the one who granted it, and He can withdraw it at any time or in any particular situation that He so chooses.

God puts limits on our power and ability to choose to do what we might want. For instance, men cannot choose the day of their birth, or seldom the day of their death. Men cannot choose the political or economic society that they are born into. No one can control the weather, or fully control his own health. And, ultimately, I am not free to take another breath unless God allows it. So, when we talk about "free will," we must realize that we are never totally free to do whatever we want whenever we want.

Each of us has a system of values that we have developed through the reasoning process that God has given us. Sometimes we reason well and sometimes not so well. And sometimes our desires are so strong that they overcome our reason and we do things that we know aren't good for us, or that we really wish we wouldn't do.

But God can use the evil choices of men (which He does not originate or encourage) to further His purposes and accomplish His ends.

The fact that God foreknows the future may not make the future any more unchangeable than it already is. For if we define the future as what will happen, then no one can change the future. By definition the future is set. It is what will be. And if it were to be any different than it is, then it would no longer be what will be. But the fact that no one can change the future does not mean that our choices don't affect what the future will be. For if we were to choose differently than we do, the future would be different than it will be. So the fact that God knows the future would not seem to make it any more certain than it already is by definition. Neither does God's foreknowledge in any way hinder or restrict man's ability to make real choices. The only way God's foreknowledge could restrict a man's choice is if God were to decide to overrule that choice, which He has every right to do, and sometimes does do-yet not always.

Why should we love our enemies, according to Jesus? Because our heavenly Father loves His enemies. We are to follow His example. He causes the sun to rise and sends rain upon not only the righteous, but the wicked. Certainly He sends rain on both the elect and the non-elect, implying that He loves them both.

We cannot ascribe the meaning "elect" to the word "world" in John 3:16 for it makes no sense that some of the elect would believe and some not believe and be condemned. Nor does it make sense that some of the elect would come to the light and some hate the light and be judged. Nor does it work that the Son came into the elect, for He did not come into the elect, but into the world of men, elect and non-elect alike.

God gave His Son and sent Him into the world as the light of the world to save the world. But there is a condition-men must believe. Some do and come to the light. Some hate the light and won't come to the light. Salvation is not automatic with the giving and coming of the Son. A response of faith is required.