Three Basic Doctrines, #1: God's Sovereignty

13th March 2001

1. Introduction
2. God's total freedom of choice
        2.1. Jacob I have loved ...
        2.2. I will have mercy ...
        2.3. Can the pot say ...
3. Why God loves us
4. The conclusion of the matter
5. Application and response
        5.1. Security
        5.2. Submission
        5.3. Worship

1. Introduction

If we're going to understand God's grace or his fatherhood fully, then we must understand them against the backdrop of his sovereignty. If God is not sovereign, if grace is something that he in some way owes us, then it is not grace. And if God is not sovereign, then his fatherhood is nothing more than a pleasant thought.

That means that the first of this series of sessions is slightly hard work. It's dealing with an attribute of God that we are not comfortable with. But it's a necessary foundation for everything else that we want to go on to understand.

God's sovereignty means:

And Prof. John Murray writes:

[God's Authority] is not mere uniqueness or supremacy or even transcendence in the realm of Deity. It is not as if there were a host of lesser deities over whom God is supreme and therefore demands from us supreme worship and devotion. It is rather that He alone is God. ``The Lord he is God; there is none else besides him'', ``He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else'' (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39). ``Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord'' (Deuteronomy 6:4). ``See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me'' (Deuteronomy 32:39). ``Thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth'' (2 Kings 19:15).

This is the very point that Jesus makes when asked which is the most important commandment: ``The most important one,'' answered Jesus, ``is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.' '' (Mark 12:29) For Jesus, understanding this is the foundation for everything else.

What is God sovereign over? Everything! As a sample, R. C. Sproul's book Almighty Over All: Understanding the Sovereignty of God has chapters discussing how God is sovereign over Eternity, Authority, History, the Mighty, the Details, Men, the Devil, Suffering, Redemption and Sanctification.

2. God's total freedom of choice

We have no right to argue with God, or to try to coerce him into behaving in the way that we want him to. There is no ``higher court'' in which we can judge his behaviour. What he wants to do, he does.

Paul discusses this at length in Romans 9:

[...] Rebecca's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad - in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls - she was told, ``The older will serve the younger.'' Just as it is written: ``Jacob I loved but Esau I hated.''

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,

``I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
And I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.''
It does not therefore depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh: ``I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'' Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

One of you will say to me: ``Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?'' But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ``Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, `Why did you make me like this?' '' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

- Romans 9:10-21

The choices that God has made, he has made. We can speculate on why he made the choices that he did, but that's all it is: speculatation. Maybe he loved Jacob because he knew that Jacob would love him, and hated Esau for the same reason; or maybe not.

But the ``why'' is really beside the point. What if you don't like it? To whom will you appeal? On what grounds? God is the sovereign creator.

To follow Paul's argument, let's look more closely at the Old Testament passages that he quotes:

2.1. Jacob I have loved ...

``I have loved you,'' says the Lord.
''But you ask, 'How have you loved us?'
`Was not Esau Jacob's brother?'' the Lord says. ``Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.''
- Malachi 1:2-3

The choices that God has made, he has made. We can speculate on why he made the choices that he did, but that's all it is: speculatation. Maybe he loved Jacob because he knew that Jacob would love him, and hated Esau for the same reason; or maybe not.

But the ``why'' is really beside the point. What if you don't like it? To whom will you appeal? On what grounds? God is the sovereign creator.

``My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,'' declares the Lord. ``As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'' (Isaiah 55:8-9)

2.2. I will have mercy ...

The Lord said, ``I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.''
- Exodus 33:19

Our immediate response to this is that it's not how we would have done it. We think it's ``not fair''. Our problem is that we are stupid enough to think that we can judge better than God what is just and what is not. We simply lack the ability to see and understand what an infinite God can underastand. And so:

``Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?'' (Ezekiel 18:25)

2.3. Can the pot say ...

``Woe to him who quarrels with his maker,
to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter, `What are you making?'
Does your work say, `He has no hands'?
Woe to him to says to his father, `What have you begotten?'
or to his mother, `What have you brought to birth?'

``This is what the Lord says - the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children,
or give me orders about the work of my hands?
It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it.
My own hands stretched out the heavens;
I marshalled their starry hosts.''

- Isaiah 45:9-12

Not only is God fundamentally sovereign, but he has further earned the right to sovereignty by the work of creation.

3. Why God loves us

So if we have no rights before God, if he owes us nothing and we owe him everything, why should he choose to love us?

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
- Deuteronomy 7:7-8

The bible doesn't offer any answer to the question of why God loves us - it just tells us that he does. That's what he's chosen to do. ``The Lord [...] set his affection on you [...] because the Lord loved you'' (Deuteronomy 7:8)

Why does he love us? Because he loves us!

4. The conclusion of the matter

The the Lord answered Job out of the storm.
He said:

``Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you will answer me.

``Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set or who laid its cornerstone -
while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

40:1 ``Will the one who contends with the almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!''

The Job answered the Lord:

``I am unworthy - how can I reply to you?''
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer - Twice but I will say no more.''

42:5 ``My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.''

- Job 38:1-42:5

5. Application and response

5.1. Security

Because God is able to do anything he chooses, and because he chooses to love us, mould us and sustain us, we can rest secure in the knowledge that we will be loved, moulded and sustained. Whatever our circumstances, in the presence of a sovereign God, there is no room for anxiety.

I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ``You are my God.'' My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.
- Psalm 31:14-15.

5.2. Submission

God could justly have chosen to run the universe any way he wanted. Because he chose to make us, because he owes us nothing and because we owe him everything, it is absolutely right (not to mention sensible) that we should submit to his will.

5.3. Worship

God is the omnipotent creator. When we see what this means, we will worship him as Job worshipped him.

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